The week was flying by. It was the morning of December 22nd and our plan was to meet Mer at Peacock again at around 8 am. We got up a little early and we were making good time. So we stopped at this really cool breakfast place called The Great Southern Biscuit Company in Mayo Fl. Tina was wearing her santi BZ200 like a snow suit because it was cold outside. We walked in to the store like it was what we wear every day. I’m sure they thought it was strange, but the staff was super nice and it was total southern hospitality. We ordered an egg and cheese breakfast biscuit sandwich and it was delicious. I recommend them if you get a chance to stop.
We arrived at the gate of Peacock at almost exactly 8 and met Mer in the Parking lot of Orange Grove Sink. The parking lot is the first one you come to after checking in at the iron ranger. There are primitive facilities, and benches for gear. The sink is down hill from the first parking lot about 100 yards. There is easy access to the water and a nice deck to overlook the basin. The basin is typically covered in duck weed but the water below is often beautiful and crystal clear. The duckweed makes it a very unique dive. You do have to be careful no to jump directly off the end of the steps there. There is a shallow ledge below the steps and it’s best to do the giant stride off to the left. And another good idea would be to take your find and push the duck weed away so you can see what you are dealing with.
Mer asked us how we were feeling about the class so far and Tina and I felt pretty positive despite the challenges from the previous days. Tina and I were tired and sore but we had gotten our second wind and then some. Mer gave us the run down on where we were in the class regarding schedule and what we still needed to accomplish. We still had a ton of work to do but we had been rejouvinated somewhat from the beauty of the caves at Peacock 1.
Both Tina and I were ready to put some work in this day. Mer said she still needed to get some lecture done and field drills so we would likely only need our first set of doubles as long as we got through what we needed to do. Each day of cave class builds on the previous day and each day is progressively harder. But we quickly learned that some of the skills we struggled with on day 1 were coming a little easier.
We did our dive brief, got geared up and met Mer in the water. When we got down to the water there was a guy there gearing up for a side mount dive and it was none other than Paul Heinerth. So that was pretty cool to see one of the originals out for a fun dive. Once in the water we did our dive plan, calculated our gas and began the dive. I was running the reel on this on and I was feeling super confident.
I felt more solid in the water then I had for months and we began to enter the cave. Orange grove is amazing. It’s got a mostly clay floor with a mix of columns and passages. The ceiling is higher then peanut but not as high as Pothole. The best way I can describe it is that it’s like you are swimming up a parking garage but the walls are not as wide. The walls are orange and the floor is a darker gray. Orange Grove has it’s own challenges including some nasty line traps on the way in. You have to be careful when running the reel to the gold line and make frequent tieoffs. We turned the dive after about 20 minutes and started heading out. I really like orange grove. It’s a finess cave for me and gorgeous. We got through a couple more skills on the way out and we were feeling pretty good.
For our next dive, Tina ran the reel and she was going to try to take the line on the left side instead of the right. its a bit more of a challenge on the left because there are less tie offs but she did a great job. The dives were pretty darn similar once we tied in to the gold line and we turned the dive in about the same spot.
Once we were out of the cave we started our min deco ascent with stops in open water because the basin is pretty deep. We were on the 30 foot stop and it was just about noon time. The sun was beaming down through the crystal clear water and it was magic. I was watching Tina and noticed Mer below me. She had flipped on her back and was just looking up at the surface. I don’t know why I did it, but I flipped over on my back to see what she was looking at, and for a few seconds I hung in trim upside down just staring at the surface. I could see Tina in my peripheral vision and the view I had from 30 feet was like none other. I could see the leaves on the trees and the clouds in the sky. It’s hard to explain, but this moment in time was maybe one of my favorite memories of 2016.
After we surfaced we did our debrief and had some gas left to do some more open water skills. We needed to redeem ourselves from some of the day 1 skills that went awry. I think Mer could have thrown anything at us this day. Well maybe not anything but we were feeling very confident and having a blast at the same time. Mer did a fantastic job all week giving us just enough to mold us into what she needed without breaking us. I can’t recommend her enough honestly. She is a master of her craft and her love for cave diving is contagious.
Once the open water skills were done and we were on the surface I was in a super mellow mood. I may have become a cave diver right then and there. No longer was full of doubt that I could do it. I trusted Mer to work her magic and she did. I had to laugh because she is so good that I didn’t even see it coming. The magic just showed up.
The diving for the day was done and we headed back to high springs for fills. We planned on lectures till pretty late, so we wanted to get all the last minute gear stuff taken care of. I had to switch out an SPG hose and get a new spool because the spool I had started leaking. Cave diving is rough on gear even though we take very good care of our stuff. Eventually things break. Anyway we got back to EE at around 2pm or so and there was some guy blocking the fill station with a trailer. We didn’t mind however, so we pulled into the parking lot across the street and just waited for him to move his trailer. Mer pulled up beside us and said “hey I want you to meet someone” So we get out of the truck and walk around the trailer. Then Mer introduces us to the guy blocking the fill station.. Jarrod Jablonski. Holy crap what an honer! We geeked out a little, but played it cool and had a quick chat about how class was going. Tina always joked that if she ever met Jarrod, she would tell him that GUE was the reason we moved to florida and it has changed our lives for the better. Which is true, and she told him. He was super cool and very gracious. Shortly after that, Jarrod was done loading his trailer and we backed the truck up for our fills.
We couldn’t help but feel inspired. All the doubt in our minds that we could do this was erased on this day. We had an awesome couple of dives, saw some cave magic and Met one of our heroes. Really a pretty perfect day if you ask me.
I don’t remember what happened after that. Probably lecture and dinner. Who cares, we were just stoked on diving!