Monday, November 21, 2011


...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...)

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