Monday, November 20, 2006

Dive Trip 18-19 Nov 06

I have just returned from a great trip. A few months ago, a friend I work with, Dee, received her Open Water certification. After discussing the training, she said we needed to put together a trip to go and see the Manatees after they migrate to Florida for the winter. I hadn't been diving for awhile and #1 Mom granted me a "kitchen pass" for the trip, so I started planning. We found a group of about 4 others that wanted to go and I made all the arrangements from the itinerary to the lodgings for everyone. Of course, I sent countless emails out get every one's vote on everything. After it was all decided, we had a trip to Ginnie Springs on Saturday and then we would head to Crystal River, Fl that evening, crash there and do a Manatee snorkel and cavern dive on Sunday with Bird's Underwater. Everything was set. Of course within a week or so of going, the first 2 people fell out due to other commitments and finances. But, we still have a group of 4 going. The week of the trip, all communication stopped coming from the other two and I had feeling it was going to be me and Dee, but, because I wasn't hearing from the other two, I didn't know for sure. Well, just as I thought, we never saw them all weekend, so they just blew us off. Oh well, it's times like that, you realize who you can rely on and who not to count on. Scuba Steve told me, "Welcome to a large portion of the dive community. Everyone will talk a good game, but when it comes time to put out the money, you'll see who's serious." Lesson learned. People not going doesn't bother me, but when the cavern tour had a minimum of 4 people before they would take us and 2 of our 4 are no-shows, that cancels the tour for the rest of us. And that's what happened. I got a call on Friday telling me that no one from my group had scheduled for the Cavern dive and they couldn't do it with only 2 people. I told them I understood and to just put us with a snorkel group and we'd go dive another site after the Manatee thing.

So, Saturday morning we head out of Warner Robins around 0830 and get to Ginnie Springs around 1130. I was shocked at the lack of people there. There were two O/W classes and a few cave/cavern divers. At the most, I saw 10 others in the water at any given time. We had a blast. Dee had never been to Ginnie and so we did the complete tour from the basin out to the river and back. We did an hour and then did about an hour and a half surface interval. I wanted her to check out the Ginnie Cavern, but, since she is newly certified wasn't going to push the issue. During our first dive, she got to the edge and peered inside for a long time. I figured she looked interested. During our surface interval I asked if she wanted to try it. She said she would go in a little bit and see how it is. We dove in and I went in first. She followed and was just amazed at the sites you see in an overhead environment. Next thing I know, we're all the way at the back of cavern hanging on the grate feeling the rush of water coming out of the floor. It was an awesome time!!! She was bit by the "cavern bug."

After Ginnie, we headed to Crystal River. We got in about 1830, check into out rooms, hung our equipment up to dry and headed out to eat at Cracker's Bar and Grill. AWESOME food!!!! And a LOT of it!!! I was stuffed when I walked out of there. We retired to our rooms, called home to our families and crashed until the alarm went off at 0515. I got ready, loaded all my equipment and the tanks back in the truck and went and picked up Dee from her room. We headed to Bird's Underwater for our Manatee swim. After we got there, we found out our luck had changed. On Saturday, a group of 3 other people had come in and signed up for the cavern tour package so we were back on for the snorkel/dive day. Awesome!!! The only thing, we could have slept another 45 minutes if we had known that. :) We got our gear ready and waited for the rest of the folks to show up. After we watched the video on how to behave around the Manatees and what all the rules were, we loaded into the boat and headed out to the Manatee site. Before we got there, a dolphin came up next to the boat so we stopped and watched him. Our Dive master, Michael, says that although dolphins do come into the area, they hardly ever come near the boats, so we were getting a special treat. After a few minutes, the dolphin swam off, so we headed towards the Manatee site again. We arrived at the site and got another quick briefing. After that, we entered the water just hoping to see a Manatee. Seeing a Manatee is fairly easy, but find one that is playful isn't guaranteed. I was in the water about 4 minutes thinking, "I'm never going to even see one" when all of a sudden I got bumped in my right side. I turned and there was a Manatee. He found me and came to me. I reached over and started rubbing it's back and it rolled over to have it's tummy rubbed. As I was doing that, I got bumped on my left side. A second one had found me and he wanted to be rubbed also. So, after thinking I wasn't going to see any, I one on each hand and then a third one bumped my from behind. I didn't have three arms, so I was just spinning around between the three taking turns. # 3 left for better waters I guess, but my first two buddies stuck around. #2 is the one in the picture up top. He was covered in barnacles from living most of his time in the ocean. #1 was smooth as they come. (Which is about as smooth as elephant skin) At one point, #1 came straight at me and pressed his nose right up against my mask and smashed it into my face. So, I guess I was kissed by a Manatee. :) #2 actually scared me at one point. He had rolled over and I was scratching his belly, when, all of a sudden, I felt his flippers on each side of me and he was trying to hug me. It kind of freaked me out and I slowly pushed away. Michael says they do that, but they also sometimes drag swimmers down not realizing what they are doing. So, it was a good thing I did push away. But, he still said it was a privilege to be "hugged" by a Manatee. I took a group of pictures and Michael videoed us with the Manatees. It was truly an AMAZING 30-45 minutes!!! After that, the divers in the group geared up and we hit the cavern. Viz was only about 4 feet in the open water and when we dropped the first time, we all got separated. We did the "look for one minute and surface" drill. After we all surfaced, we re-grouped and dropped closer together. We stayed together and entered the cavern. It was cool. Viz was about 15-20 feet inside. I really think that after the manatees, nothing was going to awesome, but we still had a good time. We did about a 35 minute guided cavern dive and then surfaced after our safety stop. Back to the boat and back to the Marina. After that, we went to eat while they were making the DVD of our Manatee swim and then we headed back to GA. We got back home about 1740 on Sunday. It was an amazing trip!!!

For anyone that wants to join us next time, just drop me a line and we'll include you the next time we plan a trip.

For those of you that cancelled due to other reasons, maybe next time.

For those of you that blew us off: Your Loss.

All of the pictures and the movie I took will posted on my website in the scuba gallery as soon as I can get them downsized and loaded up. This bottom picture is one taken at Ginnie Springs. As you can see, like they say: “Visibility forever.”
I also want to say a special "Thank You" to #1 Mom for giving me the Kitchen Pass and allowing me to go on the trip. It won't be forgotten.

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