NSS-CDS Cave DPV class with Dan Patterson was scheduled on Friday September 28th through Sunday the 30th. The week prior to class went by fast, because both of Tina and I were very busy at work. One thing that I hadn’t really taken into consideration when buying scooters, was how to get them, and all the other gear into the truck. On a given weekend, we normally have the following in the pickup bed ( which is only a 5’6″ bed with no topper):
- 4 sets of Doubled 104’s
- 4 aluminum 80 Stages
- 2 Aluminum 40 Oxygen deco bottles
- 2 drysuit bags and under garments
- A tote with spare gear and a medical kit
- A crate for wet gear
- An ammo can that holds our gas analysis gear, a volt meter, and marking tape
- Changing mats, fins, umbrellas, a foldable hand truck, and various other crap
- And now two scooters!
On the Monday evening prior to class, we spent about an hour and a half playing SCUBA JENGA with all the gear, trying to arrange it into the truck in some organized fashion. The problem I had, was that the scooters were just too long, and the truck bed was just too short. But we finally figured out a good way to arrange everything (actually it was Tina’s suggestion to do it this way). By using a set of doubles as a cradle for each scooter and turning the other set of doubles (and stages) sideways I was able to get everything in and have room for dry bags, fins, the crate and other acoutremonts. It works for now but t’s a temporary fix. The next important purchase we need to make, will be either a topper or a bigger truck. Anyway, with the truck packed full of gear, clothes, and our pup, we drove to Highsprings Thursday evening (the 27th). We were excited to begin class in the morning. The tentative schedule would be: Friday-Lecture, Saturday and Sunday-Diving.
The morning of class, Tina and I stopped at the High Springs Diner, which is now a tradition before any class. We had a big plate of pancakes, eggs, grits and a few cups of coffee. In a way, our cave diving started at the High Springs diner. This is the place that we met Mer for the first time. It was December 2014, and we had just driven 14 hours from Houston the night before, to be fitted for our first drysuits. Cora (the shop manager at EE at the time), kept the shop open till almost 10pm while we did the fitting. The following morning, we met Mer for breakfast at the diner to discuss taking fundamentals. I can remember talking to her about our goals and ambitions. The subject of cave diving came up, and both of us were unsure if we would ever do something like that. It seemed crazy at the time. That memory is often a topic of discussion when we have breakfast at the diner now. A lot can change in just a few years.
After breakfast, we met Dan at EE at around 8 and class began shortly after we arrived. We had to do some paperwork, including waivers and stuff, but this didn’t take much time. After the paperwork was finished, we went into the classroom to begin. Dan explained his expectations and a bit about the schedule. We would do lectures all day Friday, where we would go over gas calculations, different scooters, the pros and cons of different ways to handle emergencies, and theory. He also said we would start the in-water work at Ginnie on Saturday. Dan runs his class in a nice relaxed format. The lectures mostly resembled a guided discussion among friends. We had plenty of time to ask questions and go on tangents as needed. The day actually went by really fast and before we knew it, it was 5pm. We covered a lot of material, some of it was a refresher from DPV 1, and some was brand new.
At around 5pm or so, class wrapped up for the day. Tina and I went back to the house to feed Marley and relax for a while. Then we went back out and met some friends for dinner and drinks. A few people were in town that we hadn’t seen in a while, and the night ended up going a longer than we planned. By the time we got in bed it was nearly midnight or later. We had a good time but it’s out of character for us to stay up that late on a “school night”. I was able to fall asleep pretty fast, but that 6am alarm came way to early . I woke up full of regret for having one too many glasses of wine and not getting to bed early enough. I wasn’t hung over, but I didn’t feel all that rested. Tina was in the same situation. We kept asking eachother why we stayed up so late. None the less, after some coffee and food, we managed to get moving and head into town.
We met Dan around 8am at Ginnie, and since we did our waivers the night before, the sign in process didn’t take much time. It was pretty cool to see the “DPV” wrist band on my arm finally. After checking in, we drove down to the parking lot for Little Devils and began unloading the gear and discussing the dive plans for the day. Our plan was to do two scooter dives with lunch in-between. For dive one, we would go into the Devils Ear, and up the main line to 2000 feet or so, maybe swim into the insulation room and then do a little bit of swimming. And for Dive two, we would be taking the Hill 400 line, practicing jumps and parking the scooters. For each of these dives we would be on back gas only.
Once we had the dive plans figured out, we finished gearing up and went down to the water. Tina and I were pretty excited to finally have the chance to scooter into the Devils Ear cave entrance and nervous. Before we took off, Dan gave us some tips on getting into the cave through the Ear and through the lips (a pinch point located about 200 feet into the cave). These areas of high flow are difficult without a bunch of gear, so the scooter can help or hinder depending on how you manage it.
Once everyone was ready, we scootered down the run to the cave entrance, where I handed my scooter to Tina so she could tow it in for me while I set the reel. I made my way into the cave with Tina and Dan behind me. Normally Tina and I work together setting the reel. The person making the main tie offs, just gets the line into the cave, and the second person tries to clean up the line, making it neat and tucked away, adding placements where needed to make it look pretty. However as i’m making my way in, the thought occurred to me that Tina may have her hands full driving her scooter and towing mine for the first time into the ear. She may not be able to mess with the line much. I tried to make sure the line was nice and neat, however I’ll admit It wasn’t my best work. Anyway, within a few minutes we were tied into the main line with our reel and we dropped our deco AL40 Oxygen bottles on our line. Tina drove her scooter up beside me in the gallery to hand me my scooter. It seemed like she made it in just fine.
I got my scooter situated and Dan led Tina and I through the gallery and the lips to show us how to get through. What struck me was how fast we made it to the lips. Normally if we set the reel in the ear it take between 4 and 5 minutes until we are ready to move through the gallery. From there it’s another 4 or 5 minutes to get to the lips, swimming casually along the ceiling. However with the scooters, we were at the lips in what seemed like maybe 1 minute. Dan weaved his way through the lips in front of us and we followed. I cringed as my tanks banged on the ceiling and I had to pull with my left hand as I throttled the scooter through. It wasn’t graceful by any means. I know it will take practice but yikes. Next we followed Dan through the Key hole and past park bench, where we switched places and I began to lead the team.
I was just sucking down gas even though I didn’t have to kick at all. Part of that was likely the anxiousness and part of it was that there was just so much going on that I couldn’t relax. Everything was harder. Just checking my pressure while scootering took extreme concentration. I felt like my right hand (the hand holding the scooter) was totally useless unless I stopped scootering. I tried to drive the scooter with my left hand to check the valves with my right, after coming through the key hole, but I realized this was something I hadn’t practiced and should have maybe, because I nearly crashed into the ceiling when I tried it. On top of that, I couldn’t seem to illuminate my pressure gauge very well while scootering either. I had to keep shining my light on it with my left hand, then switch the light to my right hand without wrecking into the wall. Then lifting the pressure gauge up to see it, of course takes your focus off of where you are going. It was much easier to dial down the speed and do these things but completely stopping was also a reasonable fix. It would be so very easy to just scooter past a land mark or make a blind jump by taking your eyes off “the road” so to speak, for a split second. So all of those things that I take for granted of being able to do with two hands, were just 10 times harder while driving the scooter.
We scootered nice and slow up the main line, past the mud flats, past the maple leaf (~1000ft) and around the dog leg to the jump for double domes (1500ft). I couldn’t really get my breathing figured out. I did start to relax a bit and settle in as we reached 1800ft, I saw what i thought was stage bottle rock (a common feature indicated on the maps of Ginnie). At that time the jump for double domes was the furthest I had been in the cave on the main line. Now this was all new cave for me. My brain was in overload trying to process it all. Everyone says that you have to learn to think 3 times faster on a scooter and pay attention much more (not that we don’t pay attention now). But with an average swim pace of 30ft/min that we were used to and now a scooter pace of over 100ft/min, we were seeing things much quicker. Everyone was right, it’s crazy how fast things seem to be happen on a scooter.
It took about 22 minutes to reach the jump for insulation room from the time we set the reel. I checked my gas at this point and I was too close to my turn pressure for us to park the scooters and swim into the Insulation room. From there we began to swim out of the cave. This was to simulate a scooter failure and prove to ourselves that we can swim out fairly quickly while swimming with the flow. We swam back to the jump for double domes and tracked the time, gas and distance. I was fairly surprised how fast we swam while leisurely kicking with the flow. I know this is the case from our swim dives in ginnie where it normally takes about half the time to swim out if you actually kick but I never actually calculated the swim speed on the exit so It was still surprising to to see that we were making on average about 70-80ft/min. From Double domes, we scootered the rest of the way out of the cave and left the reel in for the second dive. Getting back out the ear with the scooter was a challenge. Tina was in front of me and she went just a little to high, the flow caught her scooter and she got pinned against the ceiling just in time to come face to face with Mark Messersmith (our cave 2 instructor) waiting under the log for us to come out. I could see Tina was stuck for a bit but she did manage to get free. I wasn’t worried about her, though she was embarrassed because she did that in front of Mark. I also felt 10 feet wide and very much like a cork plugging a very small hole. I had the scooter clipped off on my side and the flow was throwing it sideways, getting it hung up on every little protruding rock that was there. However we made it out just fine with a bit of effort and did our deco as normal on the log. Our first scooter dive in Ginnie was in the books.
We had some lunch and relaxed a bit on the surface for about an hour and a half. Dan did his debrief while we ate. We discussed the gas planning from the first dive and what we would do on the second dive. We calculated our SAC (Gas Consumption) rates and mine was just monstrous on the way in at 0.94 cubic feet per min (surface). We also talked more about tips while driving the scooter in a cave, and general best practice things like what order you stow the light to make life easier when managing the scooter and dropping stages. After lunch we got back into the water with a fresh set of doubles and Made our way back to the ear. Since we left the reel in the first dive, we all got to scooter in. I followed Tina this time and she led the dive. This was the first time I got to drop the deco bottles with the scooter and it was a challenge. Normally I stow my primary light, then unclip the bottle and clip it to the line. Now I had to stow the scooter, stow the light, unclip the bottle, kick against the flow with the scooter clipped to me, and clip the bottle into the line. It was so much more work. I doubt I could do it with one hand and just not stow the scooter, but maybe it’s something to practice.
We made it through the lips, keyhole and park bench about the same as we did before. Within no time made it to the Hill 400 jump. Tina temporarily parked her scooter on her side and put the jump in. She did a good job but I could see it was much more effort and it took twice as long as we normally take to put the jump in because of managing the scooter. That’s not a criticism on Tina, it’s just more stuff to manage. Even just getting crap out of the pockets while scootering is a pain. Once we had the jump in and began to scooter, we saw another team coming out. It was Mark and the other diver so we gave them the right of way and stopped scootering while they passed us.
Going up hill 400 was really nice. I was much more relaxed on this dive and felt like I could take my eyes off the line a bit more. I know this part of the cave fairly well so it was nice to look around some. We reached the 1000 foot mark in about 20 minutes total dive time, and parked the scooters. Tina set the second jump for Double Lines. I was about 200 psi from turn and indicated that to Dan that we could go a little bit further. Dan had other plans anyway and I had some failures happen shortly after that. I thumbed the dive, we picked up our jump and scooters, and began to scooter out. I quickly realized that scootering on a backup light was less fun. This time I couldn’t take my eyes off the line at all. Tina also ended up on a backup which made the cave very dark and though we did scooter on backups, it had to be at such a slow speed, we should have just swam to be safer (lesson learned there).
Once we got back to the main line our failures were “fixed” and we made our way out of the cave. I picked up the reel because I said I wanted to try it. I was definitely nervous because of how difficult it was to exit the ear with a scooter without a reel. I took my time and Tina was in front of me. She made sure to go lower and didn’t get blown into the ceiling this time. I also went much lower and used my legs to steady the scooter as we made our way out. This time there was another teams line and and it had come loose creating a large arching loop in the flow. Numerous times the handle of my scooter got caught on the loose line as I did my best to keep our line tight and to avoid getting tangled up any more. At one point, Tina had the other teams line wrapped around her ankle and it took a almost a minute to get it undone. This kind of thing happens though. You just stay calm, we budget tons of gas so you have to just work through it. Anyway, I managed to get our line reeled up and I fixed the other teams line making it nice and tight, since we were likely the reason the line came loose anyway. We did our deco on the log and finished the dive with a nice slow scooter up the run. I was much happier on this dive.
Dan did the debrief while we geared down and gave us tips on what we could do better. The learning curve is steep but we were doing ok. We planned to go to Manatee for the next day and we discussed that some as well. Overall it was a really cool day, it was awesome to finally scooter in ginnie. I felt like a mess and my SAC rate was through the roof (quite the opposite of what I was hoping for) but it was still really cool. We left ginnie and went to EE for fills and since we were both starving and super tired, we grabbed some fast food (I think arby’s?) on the way back through high springs. We were both really feeling the effects of not getting enough sleep too. On the drive home, I said “Tonight is a mandatory early bed time, we owe it to Dan to be more rested than we were today.” Tina agreed and that’s what we did.