Thursday, 15 August 2013

TDI FULL CAVE COURSE

In May this year (2013) the wife and I headed out to Florida to complete our TDI Full Cave Course with Guy Wallis of Deep-Tech followed by diving out of Florida Keys (blogs here and here).  This was to be our first cave dives since our TDI Cavern and TDI Intro to Cave with Guy in May 2010 and our first overseas cave dives.

This blog is a quick review of the course along with some background and planning information for anyone planning a cave trip to Florida.  Unfortunately 2 months after the trip some of the finer detail may have been forgotten however I’ve tried to describe the dives as accurately as I can using my logbook.  I’ve also tried to list costs as accurately as I can but please remember in America all prices are excluding tax.

Flights
Because we had decided to fly from Birmingham and RV with Guy in Columbus where he worked before driving down to Florida we had a bit of a long winded journey, however it was as follows:
Outbound:
·                Operator; KLM.
·                Itinerary; Birmingham International – Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport – Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. 
·                Total flight time; 10 hours 45 minutes.
Inbound:
·                Operator; Air France.
·                Itinerary; Hartsfield-Jackson Airport – Charles de Gaulle Airport Paris – Birmingham International. 
·                Total flight time; 9 hours 50 minutes. 
The cost was £593.74 (per person) which included meals, drinks, TV, controller and USB charger located in the headrest in front of you, 1 piece of hand baggage and 1 piece of hold baggage (max 20kg).  Additionally at a cost of £46 (per person) we booked an extra piece of hold luggage.  Cattle class offered sufficient legroom but one day I vow to travel first or business class!
Unfortunately however our trip was nearly ruined as on the way out Henrietta’s dive bag was left in Amsterdam by the airline.  Although we managed to hire, beg, steal and borrow kit (see below) diving in equipment that isn’t your own just isn’t the same.  Long story short, despite the airline stating the equipment would be delivered by courier the following day we did not receive it until 4 days later.  And this was only when we bypassed the airline and contacted the courier direct at a significant cost to ourselves.  I can announce however that the airline have since refunded all costs.

Transportation
Once we had arrived in Altanta we took the Groome Transportation bus to meet up with Guy in Columbus.  The buses run every 30 minutes from just outside the domestic terminal at a cost of around $40 each; the downside is that you have to get the free shuttle bus from the international terminal. 
Guy then picked us up from the bus terminal and we spent the evening at his.  In the morning we collected our hire car from Hertz; a V8 Dodge RAM which cost around £280 for the week.  We then added around 3 tanks of fuel on top of this.  Obviously if flying direct this would be much less.  We chose a pickup as it could easily accommodate 3 twinsets in the back plus stages, suits etc… plus there was plenty of room inside.  And boy was it a dream to drive.  The only downside was that the load bay did not have protective matting so as the days progressed there was more and more paint missing and ever increasing red stripes on our cylinders after dragging them in and out.  Finally navigation was provided by Guy’s satnav.  Lastly, at the end of the week we were dropped off at Gainsville to collect our hire car down to the Keys whilst Guys headed back up North.
 
Accommodation and Feeding
We based ourselves at Dive Outpost (Cathy's) on the recommendation of Guy as he’s a regular there.  We opted to stay in at cottage at $75 per night ($55 single occupancy plus $20 per additional guest).  Guy stayed in the bunkhouse at $20 per person.  All cottages are en-suite and the bunkhouse has a communal wash facility and towels are included.  There is also a full kitchen and BBQ for all guests to use as well as free wifi. 
For food we went to the local supermarket and bought supplies, making the most of the kitchen.  Breakfast was generally cereal, omelette or toast, lunch was generally sandwiches however when at Ginnie Springs we decided to go for a fat boys lunch which I can thoroughly recommend and for dinner we made the most of the BBQ.

Cylinder Hire & Gas
We hired cylinders from Cathy's at a cost of $12 per set per day; we opted to use steel twin 94s (15l in our money).  These were fitted with nice wide bands and Dive Rite valves. 
Gas fills were excellent with 32% banked.  We would get bank from the site, throw our sets in the bath and Tim or Cathy would fill them up whilst we had lunch.  By the time we had eaten they were good to go with constant 240-250 BAR fills.  The fills were $12 a set.
 
Cathy's also has a well-stocked shop with dive equipment for sale and hire.  The hardware is mainly Dive Rite and everything you need from arrows, cookies, spools and line, p-clips etc… can be found.  Henrietta hired the majority of her kit until her bag was returned including a wetsuit however she was fortunate as her back plate was in her other bag.
I can say that I will definitely be returning to Cathy's.  Very friendly, great service and cave divers to boot.  However be warned if you’re not an animal lover; she has a number of dogs and a cat although all are very friendly.

Weather and Temperature
May and June is a great time to visit Florida.  During both the day and evening, we were in shorts.  In fact the only time I wore trousers/jeans was on day 1 when I was still in my kit from the UK.  The water temperature was equally warm.  I wore my O’Three drysuit with a thin wicking layer underneath.  Henrietta and Guy wore a semi-dry until her equipment finally turned up and then we were all diving dry. 

Day 1
·                Site; Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park.
·                Route; Peacock 1 – Peanut Tunnel – exit at Peacock 1.
·                Run time; 19 minutes.
·                Maximum depth; 20m.
·                Gas; Rule of sixths, twin 94s, 32%.  7l stage cylinder, 32% for emergency use.
·                No flow.
·                No deco.

Peacock Springs Map © Michael Poucher, Tony Pate
For the first dive of the trip we planned to dive Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park, only a 5 minute drive from Cathy's.  Peacock is a system of sinkholes and submerged cave passageway below a wooded public State Park.  The diving facilities are very good with changing areas, kitting up and picnic benches located throughout the park.  There are wooden walkways and steps going from the various parking areas down to the water entrances along with information boards at appropriate points plus a memorial to the legendary Sheck Exley.  Generally Peacock is quiet during the week with only a few cars.  It’s busier at the weekend but not overcrowded.  Entry fees are $4 per vehicle.  As you arrive, you place your money in an envelope, tear off the receipt which goes on your dashboard and place the envelope in the box.  Also whilst diving, your cavern or cave c-cards must be visible on your dashboard.

In addition to Guy, Henrietta and I, we were joined by Eli who had already completed all his skills and drills for his full cave but needed to get an additional few dives in.  It was already afternoon by the time we arrived so we knew we didn’t have much time.

The first day was just going to be a shake out to get used to cave diving again based on rule of sixths.  Before we descended bubble checks and s-drills were conducted.  The entrance to the system is directly below the entry steps.  As a team of 4 we entered the cave; me leading followed by Henrietta, Eli then Guy.  There are 2 main lines at Peacock 1; 1 left and 1 right.  Although they’re only a few metres in and well within the daylight/cavern zone I laid a primary line from outside to the main line to the left.  Whilst in the cavern zone I dropped the emergency stage cylinder, through the low passage and dropped down the shaft into the main system.  The first thing I noticed about Peacock compared to the UK caves/mines I had dived was how silty it was, and how easily the visibility could go.  At the Breakdown Room I hit sixths so thumbed the dive.  Just before we surfaced we all did a valve drill and just like the bubble checks and s-drills this process was repeated on every dive.
Dive 2:
·                Site; Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park.
·                Route; Peacock 1 – Pothole Sink – exit at Peacock 1.
·                Run time; 37 minutes.
·                Maximum depth; 21m.
·                Gas; Rule of sixths, twin 94s, 32%.  7l stage cylinder, 32% for emergency use.
·                No flow.
·                No deco.

Peacock Springs Map (c) Michael Poucher, Tony Pate

Following a quick de-brief we descended back down.  Henrietta laid the primary line but this time we took the passage to the right.  I again dropped the stage as we descended in.  The lines in Florida are either gold or white cave line, not the blue polypro rope you seen in the UK so arrows and cookies are used rather than clothes pegs.  As we got to the jump into Nicholson Tunnel I again thumbed the dive as I was on sixths.

After 2 great but short dives we loaded the truck and headed back to Cathy's.  We finished off the day with some theory followed by a BBQ.

Day 2
Dive 1/2:
·                Site; Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park.
·                Route; Peacock 1 – Peanut Tunnel – The Crossover – Olsen Sink – exit at Peacock 1.
·                Run time; 78 minutes.
·                Maximum depth; 20m.
·                Gas; Rule of thirds, twin 94s, 32%.  7l stage cylinder, 32% for emergency use.
·                No flow.
·                No deco. 


Peacock Springs Map (c) Michael Poucher, Tony Pate

Today was initially TEKCamp day; not only did I decide to wear my TEKCamp t-shirt but I also got to meet Dive Rite founder Lamar Hires.  It wasn’t hard to figure him out as he was dressed top to toe in Dive Rite, as was his buddy.  Both were diving CCRs.

Sheck Exley memorial on TEKCamp day
I led and laid the primary reel onto the main line, dropped the stage and headed through Peanut.  Once we got to the double arrows at The Crossover the others waited whilst I jumped the gap.  Just as I had done so Lamar and his buddy were exiting so as per protocol we pushed into the side to give exiting divers the priority.  So far the water had been gin clear however as we passed through The Crossover the visibility was very poor and the silt had been disturbed.  It was so bad I even contemplated thumbing the dive due to the risk of diver separation. 


Once past half way the arrows start to face the opposite direction.  This is important to remember as although the Sink is a closer exit, we would have to travel back along the ‘proven route’ in the event of an emergency, and in the event of a silt out or a lost line, not to follow the arrows in the direction of travel.

We jumped another gap and followed the line until we hit the end.  I then tied a line off to the surface completing the loop to Olsen Sink.  Although you can surface here there are no steps leading directly to the water as non-emergency entry/exits are forbidden however there is a viewing platform above.

We descended back down in reverse order and headed back to Peacock 1 but left all our reels and spools in place for the next dive.  One the way back I was given a primary light failure.
After the dive we learnt that the poor visibility may have been due to either Lamar or other divers trying to remove a reel that had been tied to the main line in The Crossover which went into Dark Water Tunnel.  Apparently the reel had been there since earlier on in the year and locals want it removed to stop others from going into the tunnel.
Dive 3:
·                Site; Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park.
·             Route; Peacock 1 – Pothole Sink – Nicholson Tunnel – The Crossover – Peanut Tunnel – exit at Peacock 1.
·                Run time; 42 minutes.
·                Maximum depth; 17m.
·                Gas; Rule of thirds, twin 94s, 32%.  7l stage cylinder, 32% for emergency use.
·                No flow.
·                No deco.

Peacock Springs Map © Michael Poucher, Tony Pate
This dive was to be a complex circuit heading from Peacock 1 past Dark Water Tunnel, up to Olsen and back the previous route recovering all the spools and reels.  I had another primary light failure as did Henrietta and Eli had an OOG with Henrietta being the donor.  Oh, and I love the new Shearwater Petrel (blog here).

So far so good.  At this point I should point out some of the kit I was using.  My twinset and standard diving equipment was the same as the UK except I was using the Halcyon 55lb Explorer wing instead of my 40lb Evolve wing.  With regards to reels and lines, I used a Pathfinder for my primary reel, everything else was a mixture of 30m and 50m spools. 

This was Eli’s last day; his Full Cave was complete and he had to go back to work.  A week or so later we sent us a link to his video footage which can be viewed here.

Day 3
Dive 1/2:
·                Site; Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park.
·                Route; Orange Grove Sink – Challenge Sink – exit at Orange Grove Sink.
·                Run time; 97 minutes.
·                Maximum depth; 21m.
·                Gas; Rule of thirds, twin 94s, 32%.  7l stage cylinder, 32% for emergency use.
·                No flow.
·                No deco.


Peacock Springs Map © Michael Poucher, Tony Pate
Orange Grove Sink is approximately half a mile from Peacock 1, but much closer to the entrance of the park.  The sink itself is covered in duck weed which isn’t shy to stick to your dive kit.  Entering isn’t so bad as you’re about to descend however before you exit ensure you clear an area above you with your exhaust bubbles then you can walk out free of weed.

We descended into the sink and headed to the entrance which is located at the far side.  Henrietta did her primary and secondary tie-offs before attaching the primary reel to the main line.  The stage was dropped off and we followed the main line.  Once past half way the direction of the arrows changed and after 39 minutes we could see the blue window.  Just before surfacing there is a rise and a twist.  Once through this I noticed there was no continuous line so I stopped Henrietta and turned around to place one only to find Guy behind us attaching his reel.  We surfaced at Challenge Sink to receive our bollocking.  Always ensure you have a continuous line to the surface.

We descended in reverse order and headed back.  Just before we reached the danger sign by the entrance we stopped and simulated silt out/nil visibility exit.  Our masks were blacked out so it was touch contact all the way.  Unfortunately whilst following the line we managed to get it caught in a trap which needed a little manipulation to free it.  Once we were by the exit the drill was cut, the primary reel was left in place and we surfaced for lunch.
Dive 3:
·                Site; Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park.
·                Route; Orange Grove Sink – Distance Tunnel – exit at Orange Grove Sink.
·                Run time; 112 minutes.
·                Maximum depth; 21m.
·                Gas; Rule of thirds, twin 94s, 32%.  7l stage cylinder, 32% for emergency use.
·                No flow.
·                No deco.

Peacock Springs Map © Michael Poucher, Tony Pate
Henrietta led and followed our primary, then the main line to Distance Tunnel and jumped the gap.  As we headed down Distance Tunnel the passage was very small, dark and silty but we continued until we hit thirds and thumbed the dive.  On the way back we stopped to conduct a lost diver drill.  Henrietta and I waited for a minute whilst Guy got ‘lost’ before heading back into the cave to find him.  As we approached one of the side passages we could see it was silted up so I attached a spool and an arrow to mark the exit and jumped the gap.  Just before I headed into the passage I told Henrietta to hold whilst I went in and there was Guy.  Once the drill was over all lines were recovered and we exited the cave.  During our fizz off, as well as the valve drill we replaced our primary mask with our backup. 

Today was a great day and we looked forward to tomorrow.  In addition to the diving I had also booked a visit to the Halcyon factory (blog here).

Day 4
Dive 1:
·                Site; Little River Springs.
·                Route; Main Line – Merry Go Round – Florida Room – exit out of the Mainline.
·                Run time; 80 minutes.
·                Maximum depth; 30m.
·                Gas; Rule of thirds, twin 94s, 32%.  7l stage cylinder, 32% for emergency use.
·                Out flow.
·                17 minutes deco.

Only one dive today.  We drove a little further afield to Little River Springs.  Entry here is free and the car park contains similar benches to Peacock.  The site is also popular for training and for tourists as there were both whilst we were there.


I led the dive and laid the primary line in.  The flow was very strong and at one point I didn't think we'd make it in; less finning and more pull & glide required.  Once inside there was a steep drop to 30m and we continued to follow the Main Line.  Once we hit the T at the Merry Go Round I marked it with a cookie and went right.  At the next T the process was repeated and we entered The Florida Room.  One thing that was noticeable was how much deeper this cave was compared to Peacock so I kept a good eye on my gas.  In addition to the extra gas used at depth I ended up using more gas than anticipated as I wasn’t pulling and gliding as much as I should have been against the flow which resulted in us not exploring as much as we would have liked.  My bad!  The way back was much easier as we let the flow push us out however it didn’t stop me being given an OOG which also turned into a simulated silt out (touch contact exit still breathing off the long hose).  We briefly paused in the Chimney to off gas before finally exiting the cave.

Little River Springs is a visually beautiful cave system; both above and below the water.  It’s all rock and heavy gravel compared to the silt of Peacock Springs but I don't think my GoPro mounted on my primary light will do it justice.  Best dive so far and finished off with our visit to the Halcyon factory (blog here).

Day 5
Dive 1
·                Site; Ginnie Springs.
·                Route; Devils Ear – The Lips – Keyhole Bypass – Hill 400 – Syphon Tunnel – exit at Devils Ear.
·                Run time; 105 minutes.
·                Maximum depth; 29m.
·                Gas; Rule of thirds, twin 94s, 32%.  7l stage cylinder, 32% for emergency use.
·                Out flow.
·                17 minutes deco.

Devil's Map © Steve Berman, Gordon Roberts
Ginnie Springs is local to the town of High Springs where the Halcyon factory is located.  It’s a commercial camping and watersports area hiring kayacks, inflatable tyres and diving gear.  There’s also a diving and tourist shop.  The area was fairly busy, mainly with holiday makers however there were a few other cave divers present.  There are several springs at Ginnie and today we would only dive 2; The Devils System and the Ballroom.  Despite some of the holiday makers playing their music far too loud Ginnie is a beautiful place and I can see why it’s such a pull for cave divers.  The only thing that would deter me is the $32 entrance fee.

Today was to be another great day and hopefully we would complete our TDI Full Cave Course.  The first dive of the day would be in the Devils’ System; the main system within Ginnie.  There are 2 entrances to Devils; Devils Eye and Devils Ear.  We entered the water by Devils Eye but entered the system at Devils Ear.  There was a very strong flow at the entrance so Henrietta had an interesting job of tying off the primary line.  As we dropped down the vertical slope we had to pull along on the cave walls.  Quite often I’d have to jam myself in to re-tie one of the tie-offs.  Once tied off onto the main line we followed it through The Lips, past Park Bench and Keyhole Bypass.  We then jumped from the Main Line to Hill 400 and finished at the Siphon Tunnel.  The key is to stay high and pull and glide which I managed to better effect compared to Little River Springs, so much so it was Henrietta who thumbed the dive as she hit thirds first.  On the way back we let the flow take us, just using our fins like a rudder to steer.  Just before we ascended into Devils Ear we both did a lost line drill and another backup mask replacement.  The cave was spectacular and I can see why so many people love it; I definitely need to go back. 
Dive 2
·                Site; Ginnie Springs.
·                Route; The Ballroom.
·                Run time; 23 minutes.
·                Maximum depth; 15m.
·                Gas; Rule of thirds, twin 94s, 32%. 
·                No flow.
·                No deco.


The final dive of the day was in The Ballroom, a nice little cavern dive located in a separate area of the park.  The cavern is quite large with a metal grate at the far end preventing access to a small silty cave.  After about 10 minutes I had seen all I wanted so I practiced valve drills, mask replacement back finning etc…

So that was it, our TDI Full Cave Course was complete and we were certified Cave Divers.  Additionally Henrietta has succumbed and is getting rid of her bungeed wing and harness with a break, and is replacing it with a Halcyon  system.  Also she’s no-longer bungeeing the long hose and has decided hog-looping is a better option.  After years of ignoring me she listens to someone else and it’s suddenly a great idea!  Go figure!

Day 6
Dive 1:
·                Site; Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park.
·                Route; Peacock 1 – Pothole Sink – Nicholson Tunnel – Cisteen Tunnel – exit at Peacock 1.
·                Run time; 80 minutes.
·                Maximum depth; 21m
·                Gas; Rule of thirds, twin 94s, 32%.  7l stage cylinder, 32% for emergency use.
·                No flow.
·                No deco.


Peacock Springs Map © Michael Poucher, Tony Pate
Only one dive today and last cave dive of the trip.  I led the dive.  We started at Peacock 1, went past Pothole Sink and jumped into Nicholson Tunnel and jumped again into Cisteen Tunnel.  At this point the arrows we pointing away from us, again something to note in an emergency and you have to follow the proven route out.  Finally we jumped back to the Nicholson Tunnel before retracing our steps and recovering all spools.  What a lovely dive to finish off on.  Tomorrow; a visit to the SDI/TDI HQ at Jensen Beach before heading down to the Keys.

Summary
A total of 12 dives in 6 days; 10 of those dives were on the course and Henrietta and I are TDI Full Cave divers.  It was a great course and it’s been great to see Henrietta’s skills improve over the week and see her mind-set change to the DIR approach. 

Overall we dived for 673 minutes over 12 dives versus the minimum requirement of 240 minutes over 8 dives.  Generally the run times were between 90-120 minutes; I couldn’t imagine doing that in UK.  Florida is an excellent place for training with a variety of cave systems on offer.  Guy is a great instructor and Cathy's is an excellent facility.  Henrietta and I will definitely be back but the question is will that be before or after the Cenotes of Mexico?

The video of our week can be found below; unfortunately the GoPro mounted on top of my HID doesn’t do the cave systems justice.
 The overall cave coverage is as follows:

Peacock Springs Map © Michael Poucher, Tony Pate


Devil's Map © Steve Berman, Gordon Roberts
Final plug
Just another plug for SDI/TDI if you're thinking about doing any training; the day after I completed my TDI Full Cave Course I received an email confirming my application had been processed.  One week later when I arrived back from Florida the c-card is waiting for me on the door mat.  SDI/TDI, and in particular SDI/TDI UK strive hard for their divers.  Why not find out for yourself?

The boring bit!
All opinions expressed in my articles are my own and may differ to other instructor’s and agency guidelines; by no means are they wrong and I would not wish to disrepute any of them.  This article is for information only and should not replace proper training.

Safe diving!

Timothy Gort
BSAC, PADI and SDI/TDI diver training
l Mob: 07968148261 l Email: tim@rectotec.co.uk l