A Dive in Peacock III

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P3-Photo By Dominick Gheesling

We’ve been wanting to dive Peacock III or P3 as it’s called for quite some time.  This cave system is adjacent to Peacock I  or P1, in Peacock springs state park in North Florida.  It’s considered a more advanced cave dive because of a number of factors. First, the system often siphons, which means it gently sucks you into the cave. So while kicking in seems efforless, kicking out will be a fair amount of work. Second, the visibility is not always very good. Third, there are a few restrictions that can be a bit tight.  And Lastly, because it’s a lesser traveled cave it can get pretty silty in the low areas and restrictions.  Per GUE training requirements, we wouldn’t have been allowed to do P3 at the GUE cave 1 level anyway because of the things mentioned above.

We are very familiar with the P1 cave system,  because not only did we do a good bit of our cave training in it  (as most people do),  but we have gone back and explored the tunnels on our own often.  When I say explore, we are going in areas that were previously explored and have line already in them.  The exploration is what I like to call “new to us cave”.  And I really enjoy “new to us cave”.  We will often try to get information on the cave or passage ahead of time, enough to feel comfortable, then we will take a few dives and scout it out, progressively making the dive more complicated .  We did that with the dive to Cisteen and the crypt.  Really some of this is my own enjoyment of the process of taking it slow.  I really love the experience of seeing something new for the first time.  So if I would just kick has hard as I can past something cool, it sort of loses it’s luster the next time I’m in the cave,  because I’ve already been there. But on the other hand if we go nice and slow, have a chance to look around, see new things and then I have more motivation to come back and peek just beyond the next corner or down that passage that we saw.  It’s just so much more enjoyable. Who cares if we only make it 500ft in.  It’s not about distance for me.

One of the more interesting things about P3 is that it has a few very deep sections in the starting at about 1000ft in.  One called Hendleys castle goes down to something like 180.  There has been some talk among our friends of setting up a tech 1 dive in there but we wanted to do a reconnaissance dive before getting into all that.  I’m a firm believer of going slow and taking a few dives to scout out a new area prior to committing to something bigger as mentioned above.   This is a good example of that type of idea because much of the cave is shallow, with an average depth of around 50 feet but with a deep section pretty far back into the cave.  So logistically we could go look for the jumps to the deep sections without committing to actually doing a tech 1 dive  right off the bat.

The P3 Cave Map, The red line represents our dive on this day.

On the morning of September 15th 2018,  we arrived in the parking lot of Peacock Springs. P3 is literally at the other end of the lot from P1 and we’ve seen many people going in to it but never had a chance to try it ourselves.  Tina and I looked at the cave map in the mounted to the large sign in the parking lot to formulate our dive plan.  We decided to do a dive on the main line only and see where the jump to Hendleys castle is.  That way we are familiar with the cave for the next dive, should we decide to set up a tech dive in there.   Overall the cave isn’t very long and even though it’s right beside P1, I don’t think they connect by any viable passage that I know of.

After we got the dive plan sorted out, we carried our stage bottles to the water. The idea was to do a stage dive and drop stages before the first major restriction known as the sand slide. This is a part of the cave that gets choked by sand and rocks, and can sometimes be very small.  It starts at about 8-900 feet in. Then we would proceed on back gas through the restriction to the end of the line where there is  a T going North East.  The T is roughly 300 feet (max) past the sand slide so we would have plenty of back gas even for a siphon to complete the dive. However we did do an extra reserve of back gas in our gas calculations as an added layer of conservatism, since we did’t quite know how the siphon and other conditions would be.

We geared up and walked down the the water.  The water was really clear which was a great sign (you can see in the image above taken by Dominick how nice it was that day), but full of algae. Any errant fin kick would send green fluffy algae floating up from the bottom.  It’s really sad how much algae is all over the rocks there. it’s not natural and really degrades the water and chokes out wild flora and fauna. Anyway, I’ll save my rant on water conservation for another blog.   We did our GUE edge and began the dive.  I was leading the dive, and Tina was number 2.  As I began swimming towards the mouth of the cave, which was not obvious at first, I noticed a bunch of logs cluttering the entrance. I could also see that the mouth of the cave was very silty.  So I carefully tied into one of the logs with my reel and began to head into the cave. I gently kicked down a slope, found a nice secondary tie off rock and gently tied my secondary on it. Then I proceeded further down the slope to find the “Stop, go no further unless cave trained” sign, next to the gold line.   My senses were pretty sharp as I looked around.  It’s very calming in a way.  I get very focused on my buoyancy and make very methodical slow movements.  The last thing I want to do is blow the vis for my buddies.  I could tell that this silty was very pillowy so extra caution was needed.

Once we were tied into the gold line, I proceeded to lead into the cave.  The visibility was pretty good. I’d estimate at least 50 feet or more, and there wasn’t much in the way of particulates suspended in the water.  I was pretty pleased to see this, since I’ve heard it can be really nasty in there.  The main thing I noticed was the walls are a bit more white compared to P1. Very pretty scalloped walls and ceilings.  The cave reminds me a bit of the Olsen line in P1 but smaller.  We swam very slowly, looking around.  I love to do that.   We would even stop occasionally and look in all directions at all the neat formations.  Also part of this stopping was to assess the siphon.  There were  10 inch long  (or so) stringy  bits of algae or something on the gold line and they were gently flowing in the direction of the cave indicating that we were indeed in a siphon. So stopping to float for a few seconds and see how much we were being sucked into the cave was an important piece of information.   When we did stop,  we moved ever so slightly into the cave.

The formations in the cave were very neat.  There was one formation that almost resembled a stalagmite sticking out of the floor.  I imagined it was a column years ago that eventually wore away and fell.  Next we came to an area that was very much like a small canyon. Narrow but high walls. Then there was a room that had a huge perpendicular slice taken out of it. The ceiling shot up to at least 40 feet from the floor, There couldn’t have been much roof above that part of the cave considering we were only about 50 feet deep. Eventually it will become a new karst window.  There were sizable rocks on the floor that look like they had fallen somewhat recently (in a geological time scale)

Around 600 feet in , we began to swim slightly up hill and there were the cave adapted crayfish everywhere. I’ve never seen so many in one location.  After about 800 feet I began to look for places to drop the stages. It’s not a good area to drop them really.  It’s low and there aren’t many rocks to put the stage on.  Tina found one and I ended up having to put my stage next to the restriction, which in hindsight,  I would have dropped it 100ft earlier in a better spot had I known it was such a bad area. However this is part of the reason I like to scout out dives.   The sand slide restriction wasn’t that choked out and we made it through clean to find a medium size tunnel on the other side.   After a bit more swimming we came to an even larger break down room where the jump to Hendleys castle is.  This jump is just below the gold line on the floor and it goes back to the north west (to your left at about 9 o’clock) from the direction that you would naturally swim to follow the gold line.

We kept swimming east and finally came to a T.  At some point just after the big breakdown room the gold line changes from thick gold line to old exploration knotted line.  It’s easy to miss this because there is enough silt that sits on the line that it’s hard to tell the difference. So if you are in there, watch out for that.   At the T Tina and I stopped to look around. The tunnel to the left looked a bit small for back mount so we proceed to go straight past the T down into a well.  The line basically ended there at about 80ft.

We got back to the T and thumbed the dive.  The swim out was much harder because of the siphon but not unmanageable.  Neither of us actually hit our turn pressure on back gas so it wasn’t an issue.   We got back to our stages and carried them 50 feet or so to a better area to do our gas switch and it went fine.    However with the added drag of the stage, the siphon was much more noticeable.

We got back to our reel and I actually used nearly all of my stage gas. So instead of trying to complicate things and running out of stage gas while managing a reel on the way out, I decided to go ahead and switch back to my back gas before pulling the reel.  I probably would have been fine because I still had 300 psi according to my gauge, but since  I had tons of back gas, it was the best decision.

Tina and I carefully pulled the reel and made our way to the surface.  It was a really great dive.  So now we have a better mental picture of what the cave looks like for future dive plans and I’m looking forward to going back and seeing some of the lesser traveled passages in there.    You can see our path that we took denoted by the red line on the cave map above.