Wanting to eliminate weather as the main determining factor to where and when we could dive, we decided on making the jump from wet to dry. After weighing pros and cons of all available dry suits on the market we chose Santi. Since dry suits are a big financial commitment and involve a bit of a learning curve, we thought it would be best to get advised and fitted by professionals. So, in the wee hours of the morning, 03:00 to be exact, on 5 December, we loaded the truck and began our journey east to the good people of Extreme Exposure in High Springs, Florida.
Let me start off by saying everyone at Extreme Exposure, especially Cora, were more than accommodating. Our jaunt across the Southeastern U.S. took a little over 13 hours. Already busy hosting the Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) conference; Extreme Exposure were more than willing to work around our hectic schedule to make sure we got the suit we needed. Cora opened the store for us at 19:00 for our fitting. Talk about customer service! In addition, she spent the next five hours with us answering questions, educating, and measuring. Everything from types of wrist seals, wrist rings, boot type, undergarments, pockets, monogramming, and colors were discussed and decided upon. The Santi suit, particularly the Ladies First Suit I chose, is completely customizable, well made, and user friendly, not to mention absolutely bomber. As it was a big decision for us to go dry, it was such a relief to have a friendly and knowledgeable guide helping us thorough the process. Did I mention that Cora is an incredibly accomplished cave diver too?
After giving Cora one last hug and thank you we headed to the Rustic Inn where we would collapse for the night. A quant Bed and Breakfast located off of State Road 45 in High Springs, the Rustic Inn is known to cater to the dive community. The owner, an incredibly nice man and fellow expat of the East Coast, showed us to our quarters for the night dubbed the “Cat Room.” The Cat Room was incredibly spacious and welcoming. Because we skipped dinner for our dry suit fitting, we were more than elated to see the snack/breakfast basket of goodies. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy an extremely late dinner/very early breakfast of blueberry muffins and cereal. After our feast and a quick shower, exhaustion finally claimed us as we fell asleep to the sound of a driving Florida rain.
The next morning we were off to meet our future GUE instructor, Meredith Tanguay (www.wetrocksdiving.com), for breakfast. Having already been certified as advanced open-water divers through PADI, we decided to continue our dive education with GUE. Meredith has over 15 years of both technical and cave diving experience. It is very exciting that she will be guiding us through our GUE Fundamentals class in June 2015. Over breakfast Meredith told us about GUE and their active role in both education and conservation. Not only did this information excite me over future opportunities to participate in Project Baseline or Ghost-net removal, but also I was extremely inspired. Like Cora, Meredith is awesome. I cannot wait to work with her this summer.
Since it would be deemed blasphemous in some circle if we visited High Springs and not the springs themselves, after breakfast we set out on our inaugural visit to Ginny Springs.The springs in this area is an underground system of interconnecting caves that are filled with absolutely beautiful crystal clear water feeding into the tannin-stained Suwanee River. Not only being one of the premier dive sites for cave divers from around the world, Ginny Springs is an area for education and exploration. It is estimated that only fraction of the caves in this system have been investigated leaving more most of these underground passageways unexplored. Utterly amazed, we walked from one spring to the next watching cave divers as they disappear through large dark recesses. With so many underwater visitors a lot of spent air gets trapped in the caves and slowly releases through tiny fractures as a perpetual trail of bubbles racing to the surface. It was as though the water was boiling. Splashing some cool spring water on our faces, we were on the road once again. As the plan was to break up the return trip into a two-day drive, we were on our way to Orange Beach located on the Alabama Gulf Shores.
Having spent a good deal of time wandering the white powder beaches of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, I will be the first to admit I am a bit of a beach snob. Over the years I have grown accustom to white beaches littered with nothing but seashells being gently lapped by clear water. I may love living in Texas, but I certainly do not like the beaches. Sorry not sorry Galveston and Corpus Christy. Imagine my excitement as we drive into Alabama via Pensacola and got our first glimpse of the beautiful white beaches of the Gulf Shores. As Andy checked us into the h
otel, I was already busy finding my headlamp and sandals. Once again I was willing to put dinner on hold to search for creatures on the beach. However, after some persuasion from Andy in the form of a guilt trip on how hungry he was and something about hypoglycemia I decided to wait until after dinner to explore. Our night excursion on the beach was a lot of fun. We saw crabs of all sizes rummaging through piles of broken shells for a midnight snack. Jellyfish that had washed in with the tide lost their delicate forms and now resembled a creation of the gelatin variety. We stayed on the beach until we could barely feel our toes, but it was very much worth it. After a great night sleep and another early morning shell hunt, we were off again on the final leg of our journey back to the Lone Star State.