Manatee wrestling & alligator diving

Once again it’s time for Team IVS to head south and enjoy the manatees and diving of western central Florida. 

Tony ‘one-glove’ Johnson, Jim “where’s that light” Dalhberg, Christian “I’m working on my screaming-in-terror” PADI specialty Johnson, and Dave Valaika headed down to Homosassa Springs Thursday evening for a five day dive adventure to the Crystal River area of Florida. We checked into the Homosassa Riverside Resort to two spectacular riverfront condo’s, complete with kitchens and patios.  First class start to what we hope ends up being a first class trip! 

Friday morning we headed up to see our friends at Adventure Scuba in Crystal River.  Carl & Dave run a first class operation, with the proper amount of “laid back” factor to fit right in with us.  We chatted for a bit, exchanged good diving stories, talked about the Lorinczy’s recent visit, and headed out with Capt. Henry for a morning boat dive on the Crystal River.  As we loaded the boat we had the opportunity to watch a pair of Osprey parents catching fish and flying it up to the nest to feed the young ones.  Pretty cool.

We loaded the boat and headed out to our first stop, Three Sisters Springs.  This is a cool little cut in the middle of an island in the river that has several natural springs boiling up through the sand, providing visibility in the 100 foot plus range.  Nice little 20 ft dive to explore the area, and the only thing missing was, the manatees!  Seems we planned our trip a few weeks late this year and the majority of the local manatee population was already off enjoying the warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  That didn’t deter our adventurers as there is plenty to see and enjoy even without the big mammals.

Second stop was King’s Spring, which is a cavern located right out in the middle of Crystal River.  The downside is that the viz in the river was maybe 10 feet (actualy better than last year!) and you have to plummet down about 30 feet into a hole in the rocks to find the cavern entrance.  But the adrenalin rush is worth it, as the cavern opens up to a nice large area, with a couple of tighter side shoots, and the vis inside is great.  Tons of fish hanging around made for some great photo opportunities too.

Well we’re heading back in now, and hey, we still have gas in our tanks!  Can’t send them back like that, where can we dive?  So we opt for Catfish Hole and head across the river to find it.  It is actually located directly underneath a private dock, so we geared up, make a hot-drop as we pass the dock, and swim on in, Helen Keller style, through the zero viz of the river.  Finally the clarity improves, and there’s the entrance – big enough for two divers at a time.  We slip inside, and sure enough, this spring is loaded with catfish!  Pretty cool to see, and quite a bit of flow too!  It’s small though, so definately not a headliner, but a great little stop on the way back to the dock.

We head back to the dock, unload, meet up with Dave at the shop, and head north to K.P.Hole state park, the launch point for our Rainbow River drift dive.  We board the pontoon boat and Capt. Henry motors us up to the headwaters.  We encourage him to take us all the way to the top, and he obliges.  As we motor upstream, Christian is thrilled with seeing the alligators sunning themselves on the shores and tree branches along the edges of the river!  Wooo hooo!

We drop in, and being a 100 minute drift down the river – yes, 100 minutes!  Way cool as we sail over and through all sorts of grasses, through rocky areas, boiling sands, and more, taking in the variety of cool life we see, including alligator gars, turtles, bass, and more.  Very nice way to wrap up the last dive of day #1.  On the way home we are trying to locate an Outback Steakhouse, and we stop for directions at a local gas station / convenience store / live bait distributor, and we connect with a local gal who happens to be “heading that way”, and was only stopping by to load up on Bud Light.  So we follow her, and it is like 45 minutes into the woods, as we all begin hearing the theme song from “Deliverance’ playing in the back of our  minds, before we finally return to civilization, and our Outback!  Whew!

 Saturday morning it’s time to head up to a few of the springs, but we opt to stop by Adventure Diving.  When we get there we learn about an open house being held up at Forty Fathom Grotto this weekend, so how can we deny ourselves that?  So we sign up, via fax, and head off to our first location, Blue Grotto.  The place is a’hopping, and we get the pleasure of watching the antics and procedures of some of the local shops and instructors as they prep for the water.  It’s always great to watch how others conduct their programs and see if there is anything we can take home to improve ours.  Today, that was not the case!  So we gear up and head in, with Jim & I taking the longer, deeper route, and Tony and Christian opting for the more cavern-like entrance area.  Tony, just recovering from some major ACL surgery, is feeling some pain in his shoulder so he stays shallow.  Interesting but clearly depth (or pressure) related.  We wonder whether it is the depth or his dive gear that is causing the discomfort.  After a few good passes through the darkness, we’re ready to head on to our next location, practically across the street.

It’s called Devils Den, and rightly so, for the intimidating entrance down a set of stairs and into the cavern.  Once inside, it opens up to a huge cave, complete with a hole in the roof for natural lighting, and filled with crystal clear water to a depth of about 65 feet.  They’ve got a couple of platforms there for training, and there are plenty of tight little restrictions to practice on as you swim around the edges of the cavern.  Lot’s of bars and signs clearly mark the recommended limits of diving here, but hey…am I hearing “guidelines”?  So Jim & I venture in a wee bit further, and even Christian got into the adventure, as long as we gave him a bright light to explore with!  Tony’s shoulder is really acting up so he surfaces early from this one.

Well it’s only 3:00 and our gear is already wet, so hey, let’s go diving at Forty Fathom Grotto!  We motor up and as we pull up, who is there to greet us but John Galetsky, our OMS sales rep!  Small world, eh?  John gives us the nickel tour, and we learn all we need to know about this 240 foot deep hole in the ground.  As we are touring, I think I hear another voice I recognize, and as I turn, there is my favorite mermaid Angela, so how can we resist pulling up a chair, grabbing a microphone, and sharing a little IVS live with America? And all we kept thinking was “where is Eric?”.  If you missed the live broadcast, you can go to www.scubaradio.com and click on the archives for the show that day!

After that radio interview session, we decided to explore this new Florida dive site. So Jim & I slipped beneath the conspicuously dark waters to see what lay below.  And guess what it was?  More darkness, as you might imagine.  At 70 feet we completely lost sight of any indication of light above us, and the viz remained a solid 5 to 8 feet, so Jim & I enjoyed a ‘night dive in the Cooper River’ experience.  We dropped down to about 140 feet but there was no sense in going any further, as this was never going to clear up.  So we circumnavigated the main area a few times, saw all we could see, and finally called it.  We got topside just in time to see the last of the free hamburgers being given away, so we settled for chips and some leftover salads.  Not exactly the Indian Valley Scuba foodfest we’re used to, but hey, a new experience.

Sunday morning Tony decided to sit out, with his shoulder really bothering him, so Jim and I decided to up the ante on adventure and add another new location to this trip.  So we headed out to find Paradise Springs, which was pretty highly touted as a good cave location.  We drove along and finally saw the dive flag under the mailbox, and turned up a long dirt trail into the woods.  We must have traveled 5 miles up that road and were just beginning to think this was a joke, when we saw another little sign, on the other side of the railroad tracks.  So we kept going another mile, and entered a property with another sign, continued driving further through the woods, past the horses, past the fields, and finally pulled up to a single family home.  A young lady greeted us outside, asking if we were there to dive (not sure what the other options were!) and of course we said yes, so she said come on in here to the combo garage / orientation center / full-service dive shop, and watch the video and fill out the forms.  The desk was a tailgate from the truck which was conveniently parked in the garage and obviously had not moved in years, and the video was informative.  Jim & I headed down to find the spring, and there it was, a little hole deep in a hollow, measuring maybe 15 ft x 25 ft in size.  And it sat about 50 feet below grade, so we humped our gear down into the hole to check this out. 

We were not disappointed at all, as the small opening really widened as you went below into a very wide area, chock full of fossils in the walls and a lot of cool fish, including large plecostomus catfish.  Jim and I explored the cavern area, then headed down into the abyss, to lay some line and explore the cave down to about 165 deep and maybe 400 feet of penetration.  Jim handled it very well, and it was a good dive overall.  He was gushing when he came up…he’s hooked!

After that we headed over to Ginnie Springs.  This is a first class operation, with a professional staff and a system that is both efficent and customer friendly.  We got our gear and headed up to the first spring, and who do we run into but Larry Green, training director of NACD (National Association of Cave Divers).  Great chance to chat and get caught up, and finally we’re ready to dive.  The area was completely flooded with the Santa Fe river running about 4 or 5 feet above it’s banks.  The river was completely black, and the folks at Ginnie had erected canvas barricades to keep the river water out and let the spring water flow outward, keeping the cave inlets clear.  Smart folks there!  We dropped into Little Devil, and explored this fissure down to about 40 feet, just checking out the “no-mount” entryway into the limited cave system beyond.   There is something fundamentally wrong when you have to take your tanks off to get INTO a tight space to explore….maybe it’s me?  In any case, we opted to keep our gear in place, and swam down to the next inlet, Devil’s Eye, where we dropped in, and explored about 200 feet of penetration, finally emerging through Devil’s ear, but out in the river.  The water was so black and moving so fast that as soon as we cleared the opening, we could not relocate it to go back in and reverse our path.  Absolutely amazing.  So we swam back over the barrier, and dropped back in, and this time laid line to explore the cave system under the riverbed, penetrating about 300 feet into the labyrinth.  Again, very cool system, and Jim did really well.

After that we drove the car over to the main spring, past the flooded campsites, and got in a nice dive in the ballroom.  Nice wrap up to a great weekend, and we headed back to pack and head back to the airport (and reality) tomorrow.

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One Response

  1. Just ran across your site and thought I might let you see my 1/3 finished
    site. I have been working on it on my time off. Have’nt even done a spell check yet! Please watch it in the future. I’m going to add a place for Rainbow River divers to upload some of their picts and videos. I’m also a part time Capt. on Rainbow and hall divers for Crystal Lodge Dive Shop in Crystal River. Check them out when you come back to FL. They rent boats on Kings Bay and run Manatee snorkle tours at the Best Western C.R.
    Dave……kphole.com

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