With the anticipation of GUE Cave 2 training starting bright and early the following morning (December 26, 2017), Tina and I went to bed at our normal time-ish (10pm). Unfortunately neither of us slept very well. I ended up sleeping on the couch because we were tossing and turning keeping each other up. I suppose we were just anxious about what the class would be like but in my mind i’m thinking this is not the start to a GUE class that I want.. Then again, I recall just about all of our GUE class starting the same way, so why break tradition?
I was up before my alarm went off at 6am and Tina followed shortly behind. We did our usual routine of breakfast stuff, vitamins, and protein powder. Tina packed the cooler, while I went out to the truck to prep gear. There was some small odds and ends I needed to mess with and rearrange the doubles and deco bottles. It was cold outside and there was a thin layer of ice on the underside of the tonneau cover. My fingers were cold as I stowed the backup lights and put primary lights back onto the harness after charging all night. Daylight broke and I had a surprising amount of energy. The excitement of the day was building. Since this wasn’t our first GUE class we knew what to expect somewhat. Mark Messersmith would be our instructor and Meredith Tanguay would be interning and diving with us off and on throughout the week. Mark is a very accomplished instructor and explorer, He is one of the originals, and he came highly recommended. Mark has been a key figure in GUE and an explorer with the WKPP (Woodville Karst Plains Project. Part of our excitement was to dive with Mark and get his feedback on how we are doing. A temperature check if you will. Tina and I had a little discussion a few days prior to class about just diving how we normally would, as if no instructors were around. This way they can spot any bad habits or help us refine points that we may be weak on. Its a learning process and we are’t afraid to learn. That being said; of course we want to do a good job.
We Met Mark and Mer at EE at 8:00am sharp. Mark set the stage for the day, and discussed the dive plan. After some field drills, we would go to Ginnie and have some fun. We would be working on using new gear, including Oxygen decompression bottles, and dive skills that we have never done before. Since we were used to diving only on the main line, our dive plan for the day, which included a few jumps seemed like a lot to digest. However, as with all GUE classes, you build the skills on land first, then take it to the water. We did the jumps and skills in field drills first, worked on refreshing our memory on some of the Cave 1 skills we had not done in a while, followed by the new stuff. Then we went over to Ginnie. By this time it was about 11am, so Tina and I ate a sandwich on the car ride over.
Ginnie was surprisingly quiet. There were a few other divers in various stages of gearing up or tearing down, but for the most part we had the water to ourselves. So before the dive we had a discussion about handling and dropping the deco bottles that we would be using, and did a once over on the dive plan. After that we all geared up and got into the water. Mark had us do some fundies skills to shake out the rust, which went ok. Once we completed the GUE-EDGE it was time to do our first Cave 2 dive. Tina was leading the way and I was number 2. My initial thoughts were excitement and I also thought “holy crap I’ve got 1200psi to play with!” Because we were on thirds now, we suddenly have another 4-500 psi of penetration gas. This may not seem like a lot but some Cave 1 dives that we have done, we only had 400 psi. So this was quite a step up.
Tina did a good job the reel into the ear and we dropped the O2 before the gold line. Fortunately Tina and I had a chance a few months prior to class, to work with stages in open, which helped a lot just having a mental picture of how do handle the O2 bottles. Around August we hired Mer for a day to prepare are us for Cave 2 and some of this preparation was bottle switches, and stage handling; all in open water of course. Still it was a very new skill for us, and doing something in open water is a different animal than in a cave, in the flow. We were at the gold line in 9 minutes and continued our dive. Normally i’m pretty amped up in Ginnie. Somehow, (maybe lack of sleep) today I was excited but relaxed. We had a really nice relaxing swim to our first jump just past the park bench, which was the bone room jump. This was now unexplored territory for us. I was almost giddy as Tina tied in the jump spool. We’ve swam past this area and looked longingly down this tunnel for nearly a year now and FINALLY we get to see it. We swam further and put in a few more jumps. Finally we hit our turn and we thumbed the dive. On the way out, we had some “faulty” gear to deal with, but we managed it The key for Tina and I is to just keep it slow. Don’t let the dive snowball out of control. Failures happen but you deal with them as they come. Part of our training is that the instructors simulate things going wrong in a cave. We have to make the best decisions with the available resources and get out in a controlled safe way.
We finished the dive and did some deco for the first time on our o2 bottles. This was exciting for me because we have always been diving under the minimum decompression limit. In reality the decompression on oxygen wasn’t much different than what we normally do, only this time we were just using a different bottle. The next dive was much of the same, and we ended the day at ginnie around 4:30. After gearing down, we met back over at EE for a lecture, gas fills and to excitedly tell Kyle Harmon (who was working and filling our tanks) about our day. We finally got to leave the main line and we were excited to say the least.
Our overall impressions on the first day were just general excitement and we had lots of fun. Bringing an extra bottle into the ear makes your profile bigger and it’s a little more difficult to fight the flow. I’m glad we had a chance to work with Mer on swimming with stages prior to class. We were able to see some new (for us) cave and learn some new skills. So far the class is laidback and fun yet with a serious undertone that you would expect with a GUE class. We still have a long way to go and lots of things to work on but we are looking forward to the challenge (a little anxiously).
Here is a video of us diving Ginnie just after cave 1. Ginnie is such a beautiful cave. It’s dark walls and flow make it such a mysterious place. Many of the places I mentioned above are shown in the video, including the park bench (at 1:28)