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 :)