Tortoises Aren’t Good Cave Divers…

Survey tools

Fossilized tortoise shell

Andy sharing cave photos at Kelly Park

Sand ripples in newly explored section

Bottoms up!

Dressed for success

After a traditional British breakfast consisting of Thanksgiving leftovers and tea, Andrew, Rhiannon and Renee loaded the vehicle and reviewed their operational diving checklist in preparation for a long dive at Rock Springs in Kelly Park. These dives today and Sunday are to be ones of pure exploration and survey and are part of the Cambrian Foundation’s ongoing Central Florida Springs Project.

The team arrived at the park and was eagerly greeted (as usual) by the park staff and managers. And…a giant inflatable Santa. Once all of the cylinders were spring side, Andrew and Renee began to gear up. The water temperature was a brisk 72 degrees and it was the perfect shelter from the ravenous mosquitoes. Rhiannon served as surface support and she was quickly put to work to help repair a leaking high pressure hose. Better to manage that sort of thing anywhere except back in a cave. The repair was complete and off they went into the relatively lower flow. It was hard work getting to the back of the main passage about 650 feet back. Doesn’t sound like much but in normal conditions this is a second magnitude spring which means it can put out as much as 64.6 millions of gallons of water per day. A few minutes were needed to catch a breath and drop the stage cylinder before pressing onward. This cylinder was used to get from the surface to the back of the large main passage in order to save 2 full cylinders for the journey into the smaller and more challenging sections.

Andrew headed off following the line into the now increased flow due to smaller passage. Thank you Mr. Bernoulli for your principle! Renee followed Andy with an eye on the line and sometimes a hand at all times. Visibility deteriorated very quickly. Good team communication is essential especially for dives like this. Andrew and Renee were not able to speak to each other and rarely saw anything except each other’s fin tips. The passage is quite small and there are several very tight restrictions that require precise maneuvering and a bit of slithering between a very jagged and crumbly ceiling and floor that were often touching their fronts and backs at the same time. Needless to say, the equipment configuration has to be streamlined and slightly untraditional due to the dimensions of the passage. The end of the line came and Andrew visually inspected the route ahead to place new line. He tied off and they headed under a low ledge. Eventually the passage opened up into a larger area and several fossilized tortoise shells were spotted in various locations. This room was therefore named the “Tortoise Tunnel”. Many bones were noted as well as tiny little isopods creeping about on the craggy rocks. They continued on through typical small cave passage lined with friable limestone, finally reaching yet another restriction which may or may not be passable. Andrew and Renee had the same thought at about 90 minutes into the dive – enough for one day: time to turn and survey. As usual the survey was laborious in the conditions, but important to do well in order to produce an accurate map. The new extension to the cave came to about 270 feet. The sunshine and a group of eager park visitors were standing spring side as the divers popped into the open air. It was quite an honor that they waited 2 hours so they could meet the rest of the team. They even did the wave!

A huge thank you to Roxanne Lewis and Joe Brandon for continued access to this special place. The staff always rolls out the red carpet and makes us feel at home.

Andrew Pitkin
Rhiannon Pitkin
Renee Power

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