Sunday, December 4, 2011


See all of my photos from the weekend here, it's a link to facebook but you don't need it to see them :) 

On Saturday, Kate, Will, and I drove out to Ginnie Springs to check it out for a "winter" dive. Last time I was at Ginnie, there were essentially no other people because we were doing a galaxy dive late at night, but every weekend I had been there, it was a crazy epic drunk party of so many people floating down the river that the river itself turned into a sea of inflatable tubes, air mattresses, and a few pirate ships. But this weekend was a little different.
Looking up at Kate snorkeling over Devil's Eye.
As you can see in the picture above, there were really no other people around. Harry brought his awesome camera, as did Will, so we took endless amounts of pictures throughout the day. Aka I was absolutely in my element. 

Crystal clear water at the end of the spring run before it hits the river.

Our first dive was Devil's Eye/Ear/a little rock crevice. After exploring the crevice, we swam out the spring run to Devil's Eye and Devil's ear.

This is a picture I took of Kate swimming out the spring run. I am SCUBA diving below her as she snorkels out.

She was also taking pictures with my camera at the same time, so this is me swimming out simultaneously.
At the end of the spring run, Will and I dove down into Devil's Eye (the first picture of Kate above). There was also a little cavern with cool white rocks inside that we explored for a while. We also checked out the shells at the bottom of the basin and played around with the sunfish in the hole.

This buoy marks the entrance to the cave. The bubbles to the right are from a cave diver on deco and the seagrass in the background is at the edge of the river where the water turns tannic and starts flowing quickly.
We dove down near where the bubbles are coming up and played around in the intense flow coming up out of the spring. It was really hard to swim down!

Sunfish in the spring run near some cave diver's bottles. There were bluegills and red ears among others. I need to look up the different types, there are so many and they are not very shy... They will swim right up to your mask!

Will and I swimming back in the run. Photo by Kate. 
After our three mini dives, we went over to Ginnie Cavern. This is a cavern but is considered an open water dive, so we could bring lights in to explore. I left my camera behind for this dive because I wanted to get used to my new drysuit!!!! I was a little nervous because it's a little different than diving in a wetsuit, but after a minute or two of swimming around in the basin and learning to let air out of the back of my left arm and add air to the drysuit instead of the BC, life was good and I was dry and happy. The suit was amazing and once I get all of my sailing underlayers, I will be toasty warm and in the springs 24/7, not worrying about being a frozen fish anymore :)

Will and I getting out of the water after drysuit dive #1. We were the only people in the cavern... no crowds here in December!

Monday, November 21, 2011

#6: (Jackson) Blue Spring

This was actually the only diver we saw in the water! Just finishing his deco stop after diving the cave. I am ~30' into the cave at this point looking back at him heading to the surface.

After a second dive in Morrison in the morning, we drove an hour East for our final dive of the weekend: Jackson Blue Spring. This is the first 1st Magnitude "Blue" spring I have dove (there are 4 of them... so confusing/unoriginal). We stopped at Edd's dive shop on the way so that we could check in and fill up our tanks. Jackson Blue is technically a cave and since we're not cave certified, we dove it like a cavern (aka always stayed where we could see the entrance). Our maximum distance into the cave was 200 feet, because past that point, the entrance and daylight would have no longer been visible. Upon entering the water, we were immediately joined by lots of bluegills (type of sunfish common to FL springs, Lepomis macrochirus). There was a beautiful sandy bottom outside the cave entrance and a huge patch of beautiful green seagrass. Harry led us around inside the cavern for ~30 minutes and the view from ~30 feet in the cavern was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It's hard to capture it on camera, but the way the air pockets reflect on the ceiling and the way the crystal clear water seems to suspend you and the fish without actually being visible, is an experience entirely impossible to describe.

Jackson Blue from the surface. The cave entrance is actually just to the left of this picture, right under a diving board. This spring is also cool because it's in a lake rather than a river. There are 2 other cave dives in the lake (but you have to take a boat) that I hope to do some day.

Looking back at the entrance from our farthest point into the cavern - the fact that we can still see the light is important. There are also really cool fossils embedded in the rocks in the foreground (and all throughout the cave). Most were from sea biscuits, kind of like those in 40 Fathom Grotto, but on a much smaller scale.

Kate's legs above the typical cave STOP sign with the Grim Reaper...

Some bluegills inside the cave shimmer as I shine my light on them.

Back at the entrance. 
Safety stop with the bluegills (Lepomis macrochirus).


...and by Panhandling I guess I mean Florida Panhandle-ing aka a road trip up to the Panhandle to dive 3 springs!! Kate, Angela, and I left Gville bright and early on Saturday morning to start our adventure North and meet up with Harry in Alachua. It was 4 hours out to our first stop: Vortex Spring.

The main point of seeing Vortex was to observe other dive instructors to see how they conducted classes and taught different skills. As part of our divemaster training, Harry is making a point of letting us see a variety of teaching methods and to observe the pros and cons of different methods of teaching. Unfortunately, the water level at Vortex is so low that there is basically no flow out of the spring, so there were few other divers and the visibility was shot.

But Vortex was still pretty awesome and I'd heard a lot about it, so it was cool to see the whole operation. This is a picture of the spring from the covered dive/picnic table area. There are some sweet water slides that would have been awesome had the temperature been 30 degrees warmer... and had there been no SCUBA tanks on our backs... Another cool thing about Vortex is the Koi in that swim around the basin. They are HUGE. Like those fish at Japanese restaurants... except on steroids:

View of the Koi from the dive dock. There is nothing here for scale but they are MASSIVE.

We suited up in the drizzly weather and hopped in the water for a ~30 min dive to explore the spring. Even though the vis wasn't great, it was neat to explore the cavern, see lots of fish, and check out the metal man-made "caverns":

These fish were fun because they were quite curious and would swim right up to your mask. I kept trying to catch them and actually almost succeeded a few times... I definitely touched them and almost grabbed their tails! 
The visibility left much to be desired but we were glad to explore a new place!
After the dive, we were all sufficiently chilly, so we had a quick lunch and grabbed tea/coffee on the way to our next location: Morrison Spring.

Morrison was breathtaking from the surface but this pales in comparison to what lies below...

Morrison was nothing short of the most amazing spring I have dove so far. From the crystal clear water (just like Ginnie) to the 2 caverns and views of treetops from 30+ feet underwater, there are really no words (or pictures) that can describe the feeling of being in this spring. Since Kate wasn't feeling well, Angela, Harry, and I did a ~30 min dive, first exploring the lower cavern (full of eels and catfish!! and tons of water flowing out of the spring... fun to pull yourself up to then let go and go flying back with the force of the rushing water) then the upper cavern, which had an absolutely beautiful view looking back out into the spring. There were also multiple spots at ~30 feet where you could stick your head near the ceiling, take your reg out, and have a conversation in the air pockets! The dive was so amazing that we came back early the next day and dove it again, this time just Kate, Angela, and me. I was also excited to do the dive again because my camera battery ran out a few minutes into the dive on Saturday, so most of these pictures are from Sunday morning:

First view as we entered the water and swam towards the spring from the beach. Sunken dock and floating dock.

Looking down on the lower cavern entrance. It is to the right in the dark spot under  a rock shelf.
Closeup of the cavern entrance. You enter then go to the right (under the cave STOP sign)

The lower cavern was very dark, so we usually had our lights on. There were probably about 50 eels in the lower cavern and it was cool to see their eyes glowing. Some were swimming in the water, others were shy (like this one), and others hung from the cavern ceiling. I got close enough to touch 2 of them :)

Looking up at the trees from the middle of the spring... on our way to the upper cavern.

Looking out at Kate (left) and Angela (right) at the entrance of the upper cavern.

Surprisingly enough, only one of these is an entrance and neither is actually clouds or a cloud reflection. The cavern entrance is the one at the bottom of the picture, and the one at the top is an air-filled compartment on the cavern ceiling that is reflecting light from the cavern entrance. When you stick your head up the indent in the ceiling, there is a few inches of air. It's always fun to breath or have a conversation with no regulator at 30' depth.

After Morrison, we headed off for to finish our weekend adventures at (Jackson) Blue spring, which is actually another 1st Magnitude!!! (So it gets its own post...)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Frozen Fish ><((((°>

It gets cold in Florida? There's frost? We confirmed this fact on Saturday morning as Kate and I headed out to Amigos in Fort White to meet Harry. Most of the fields were frosted over and the temperature when I woke up in the morning read 34 degrees. Brrrr. Thankfully the springs are still around 70 degrees, so the only hard part is putting the wetsuit on (especially if it's wet from a previous dive...) and taking it off at the end of the dive. Kate and I jumped in for a beautiful dive at Troy in the morning. The water was crystal clear and we had the entire spring to ourselves. We explored from the bottom up, sticking our heads as close as we could to where the water comes out of the spring until it pushed us up and away then coming up in a spiral to explore all of the different nooks and crannies. But, upon getting out of the water and changing as quickly as possible into every layer I brought (and later wearing almost every layer Kate brought too), I immediately froze into a popsicle. Like the kind of cold that once it starts, it doesn't stop... inner core freezing means it's all over. So, basically I was out of the water for the rest of the day and not feeling so hott, so I documented Kate and Harry's entrance into Orange Grove below. They picked a great time to enter the water, seeing as the entire parking lot was full when we arrived and the sink looked like a hot tub with all of the bubbles from divers doing deco stops below. By the time they got in, Kate said they really only saw one other diver and there was beautiful visibility.

A tiny glimpse into the crystal clear water beneath the little layer of duckweek

This is Florida?! Waiting on the stairs of Orange Grove Sink while Harry and Kate explored 100 feet below... soooo sad to miss the dive... this is when you know I am FROZEN/sick :(

I took these two final pictures at Peacock Spring before we called it a day. Harry said the water level is the lowest he's ever seen it in 40 years. It was pretty crazy to see the remnants of an old rope swing that would send you flying into exposed rocks and see the stairs that end 4 feet above the water level. The small amount of water still makes for a pretty reflection though :) Sad to be missing the dive at 40 Fathom this morning, but recovery is necessary so I will wait until next weekend's adventures!

Friday, November 11, 2011

#5: Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

King's Bay (3 Sisters Springs)

Went to these springs by pontoon boat (first pontoon boat ride ever!) after the morning manatee capture on Crystal River. Jumped in the water and saw 4 manatees, a snook, catfish, and 3 beautiful little springs. Lovely snorkel down the spring run and an amazing first time swimming with manatees... all on the job :)

Kind of looks like a rock... but it's a manatee...

3 Sisters is part of the King's Bay spring system, which is a first magnitude spring group... first  First Magnitude spring I've checked off in a while because of so much diving in other (awesome) places! For more pictures of the manatees/springs, see in&aroundTHEswamp .

Sunday, November 6, 2011


 On Saturday, I trekked down to Orlando for the DEMA show at the Orange County Convention Center. DEMA apparently stands for Diving Equipment & Marketing Association and the show is essentially a massive gathering of people in the SCUBA industry/community. I started off the morning listening to Harry and other NASE representatives give presentations on the organization and give information to Instructor Trainers associated with NASE. I learned a lot about the organization and the improvements it is making regarding diver training. That lasted from 10-11:30 ish then we went down and explored the huge room with all of the booths. The size of the room and number of exhibitors was quite daunting... I think the room and number of people was probably similar to that of Manchester, MA...
This is me standing near the entrance of the huge showroom with a massive blowup diver. Behind me is a demo pool... unfortunately didn't get to actually go in the pool but saw a few people in it.
The show was really cool and I met some absolutely amazing people. It opened my eyes to a whole new dimension of underwater photography and videography and I tried on a drysuit that I hope will keep me warmer in the coming chillier months in the springs. Harry introduced me to diving legend Christina Zenato and also David and Dee who do breathtaking underwater videos and live by me in Gainesville. Made me sosooo excited to hop in the water next weekend. My first swim in the Y pool since my ear infection was this afternoon and it seemed fine, so hopefully I'm back on track for some more underwater adventures soon :)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fish out of water

Can a fish survive for a week out of water? I'm about to find out. Apparently 4 days of snorkeling/diving last week caught up with me and now my left ear is keeping me on dry land until at least part way through this coming week. According to the doctor, I can't even go in the pool, let alone underwater to depth. I don't think she understands, although she realized my frustration because she compared me to her pediatric patients who she tells they can't go swimming at the beach in the middle of summer. Soo I've been getting my fill of pool time by going water running and using every ounce of self restraint to keep my head above water for just a few more days... almost there!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Orange Peacock!

Saturday, October 22: 3 dives at Troy Springs, Orange Grove, and Peacock Spring

Stop 1: Troy Springs

Harry and I started off the day at a hidden outdoor dive shop in Fort White then headed over to Troy Springs. There were a few divers just getting out of the water, so we had the whole spring to ourselves. The air temp was very chilly (about 45 degrees), so my new 7mm and hood were 100% necessary.
A beautiful (chilly) morning at Troy,
just before jumping in the water for the
first dive of the day.
Checking out the spring before the first dive in the morning.
  I have been excited to dive in Troy after snorkeling in it twice, and the dive was amazing, as I expected. The water was crystal clear (the overall color was not as green as it looks in the pictures, but there was quite a bit of algae) and the view looking up from the bottom (just barely 70 feet because the water level is so low) is breathtaking... the camera can't entirely capture how it really feels to be at the bottom of a 70' hole underwater looking up and seeing the tops of trees as close enough to touch:

Taken at ~20-30 feet below the surface.

Looking down at Harry...crystal clear :)

This is where we entered the water... there is a little sandy beach just above the water in this photo.

 We had a total dive time of 36 minutes exploring from the bottom up, making a spiral approach to the surface around the spring. Harry let me practice leading the dive, more training for my divemaster. We reviewed the hazards of the spring, including the dangerous entry into the water, depth (up to 80 feet), and overhead environment (at depth).
Me in Troy Spring :)

Orange Grove

Don't be fooled by the duck weed on the surface...
what lies below is a crystal clear sink with an amazing,
crystal blue cavern.
Next, we drove over to Orange Grove, which is a technically a sink, not a spring. This was very exciting because it was my first real guided cavern dive (besides Ginnie Cavern). SO AWESOME!! I didn't bring my camera on this dive because there was enough to focus on and take in without a camera. I had a reel (just in case) attached to my BC for the first time and didn't need extra things hanging off my BC that could potentially get caught or tangled.

In the picture on the right, you can see that the duck weed (which is actually not slimy, it's just like miniature leaves) moves aside when you jump in the water. From below the surface, the sun makes its way through the duckweed and adds a greenish tint and looks like you could get out of the water and walk on top. If you do your safety stop right below the exit, your bubbles move the weeds away and you can get out without getting covered! This is Reggie in the water waiting for his cave student:
No open water divers allowed!! I am not cave certified, but since I was with Harry (a cave instructor), I was allowed to safely enter the cavern portion of the sink. The difference between a cavern and a cave:
in a cavern, if you cover your light, you can always see the entrance. In this case, when we covered our lights at the farthest point we attained from the cavern entrance, you could see crystal clear blue light shining into the cavern. When cave diving, you need 3 sources of light, and in the cavern, the light coming in the cavern is your third source, so you carry a primary light and a backup. This dive was really cool too because there were quite a few catfish that were not shy at all and would swim right up to your light and hang out :)

On the right is a picture of the cave system extending from Orange Grove. According to Harry, you can actually swim ~1 mile underwater from Orange and end up popping up in the Peacock Spring!

Peacock Spring

From the surface, Peacock also doesn't look too exciting. But again, don't be fooled. Directly below the stairs is the entrance to a cavern and an extensive cave system (As seen in the picture on the right and the huge, crazy looking map below). We did a quick 15 minute dive to check out the spot (and avoid hypothermia... can't wait to dive dry!!). Amazing introduction to caverns, I'm hooked.

Further proves the point that you seriously don't want to enter the caves without proper training. Think you could navigate and come out without getting lost, stuck, or running out of air?! Pretty tricky...but awesome.