Cave Diving Conference & Trip Report, Nov. 2009

I just returned from five days in north Florida where I attended/presented at the National Association for Cave Diving’s (NACD) 41st Conference. After the conference, Marshall Allan and I hung around for a few days of cave diving.

We arrived in High Springs, FL on Friday Nov. 20. After checking into our motel, the very nice Rustic Inn (which actually isn’t that rustic), we headed over to Ginnie Springs for the Friday Night Social that the NACD has each year the night before the conference. It was a very nice affair, with free food, free beer and a Chili Cook-Off. We had a good time seeing old friends and meeting some new ones. We called it a night early since I had to do a presentation at the conference the next day and preferred to do it without a hangover.

Saturday morning, we drove to Gainesville for the conference. This was my first time to the NACD conference and I was impressed. There were probably 15 or so exhibitors displaying their wares in addition to the presentations that ran from 9-5. I won’t go into detail about all the presentations, but my favorite was Becky Kagan’s video of Weeki Wachee Springs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an expanded version of it air on Discovery Channel or some other entity. Other presentations covered training and safety issues in cave diving, updates on various surveys and explorations and some joker from up north talking about cold water wreck diving. Oh wait, that was me. I talked about Great Lakes wreck diving and showed some footage of the North Wind, one of the best wrecks in the Great Lakes (that I’ve seen anyway). The gist of my talk was about overhead diving in cold water/limited vis. When I was invited to give the speech, I honestly couldn’t figure out why a bunch of cave divers wanted to hear about wreck diving. The presentation went pretty well. If they fell asleep, they were at least polite enough not to snore! Much to my surprise (and delight), a couple people actually found me after the show and told me they enjoyed my talk, had no idea Great Lakes wrecks were so well preserved, but we’re nuts anyway to dive in that cold water.

That evening, we were invited to Larry and Debra Green’s house for drinks and to shoot the breeze. Larry is a true diving pioneer and it was amazing to just sit back and listen to his stories and marvel at the history he lived through. This guy was experimenting with trimix in the Eagles Nest cave system back in 1989! As the evening progressed and the stories flowed, it became obvious Larry has forgotten more about cave diving than I’ll ever know.

Sunday morning was rainy and chilly. About noon, the weather started to clear, so Marshall and I headed up to Peacock Springs for a couple dives. We did two, one hour dives there. It was a good way to reacquaint ourselves with cave diving since we hadn’t been in a cave in about a year. We headed back towards High Springs, stopping by Amigo’s to fill our tanks on the way.

Monday we got an earlier start. We stopped by Alice’s Parkside Restaurant for breakfast, and then headed to Madison Blue, a cave system we had not dived before. Other than the park ranger and a couple of her friends, we were the only ones there. The spring is probably about 60 feet in diameter and very clear. We could easily see the cave entrance at the bottom of the pool. We geared up and jumped in. After our S-drill, into the cave we went. The flow wasn’t as bad as we expected, so entering was easy. The cavern area is fairly large and interesting to dive in it’s own right. To enter the actual cave passage, we dropped down a crack into a relatively low passage. The low part only last the first few hundred feet and then it opens up a bit. It’s quite a nice dive and even though the flow isn’t all that bad, it only took us 15 minutes to exit the cave, after spending 35 minutes swimming in. On our second dive, we went in about 500 feet and then jumped off to a side tunnel. We think it might have been the tunnel to the Banana Room. After our dives, it was back to Amigo’s for gas fills. Then dinner at the Fleetwood Diner where I had the meatloaf platter. I’m a pretty good eater, but even I couldn’t finish the two huge slabs of meatloaf and pile of mashed potatoes.

Tuesday was departure day. We cleared out of the Rustic Inn, packed the car, and headed back to Madison for one last dive. After all, it was right on our way home. We did one dive, an hour long, and just stayed on the main line. It was loads of fun. There’s a lot to be said for diving in warm, clear water with no waves. If only Florida and Ohio were a few hours closer. Anyhow, we packed the car and started the trek home. We made good time (except around Atlanta of course). We felt pretty good and not a bit tired, so drove on and on. By the time we started to think about calling it a night, we were crossing in to Kentucky, so we said what the hell, let’s keep going. So while one of us slept, the other was awake. We just had to make sure the awake guy was driving and the sleeping guy was in the passenger seat. We pulled into my driveway at 5 am Wednesday morning.

It was a great trip and I loved seeing some old friends and doing some cave dives again. I need to get down there on a more regular basis and not wait another year and a half like I did last time.