Monday, January 29, 2007

Trip Report: Vortex Springs, 28 Jan 07

Warning: LOOOOOOOONG post today. If you don't have time, come back later. :)

Since I was in Biloxi, MS for a couple weeks, I decided to try and get some diving in while I was gone. My original idea was to get Wreck Certified in the Gulf, but the weather did not cooperate enough to get two full days of diving in (4 dives), which is mandatory for PADI Wreck Diving certification. The most I was going to get was one day (if that.) After watching the weather all week for the upcoming weekend, Sunday looked like it could be a decent day. I stopped by an LDS in D’Iberville (Club Caribbean Dive and Travel) and talked to those folks for a little bit about my options. I also asked folks on the forum. Most everyone said the same thing: Go to Vortex Spring in Ponce De Leon, FL. So, after checking with Mapquest and seeing it was only a couple hours down the road, I decided to try and give it a shot. Now, those of you that know me, know I do very little by myself, so I wanted to try and get a buddy to dive with me. I emailed all the regulars (Scuba Steve, Divemaster Donald and Dive Buddy Dee along with Ashley from my LDS) to see if anyone wanted to dive with me. Of course, I didn’t know I was going until late Friday, so it was a last minute thing for everyone. Lo and behold, Dive Buddy Dee was itching to dive and jumped on the chance. We emailed back and forth on Friday night and Saturday and set up our meeting time at Vortex.

Sunday came and I left the hotel about 6:00 CST. Dee had left her house about an hour earlier and we should get there about the same time if I did my math right accounting for a time change. I rolled in about 9:30 CST and Dee showed up about 15 minutes after that. We signed in, paid the fees, picked up our rental tanks and pulled the trucks over to our staging area. At this point in time, the air temp was about 50-52 degrees. It felt nice, but then again, we were dry. :) We geared up, did our buddy checks and went over weight removal for each other’s system. After that, we thinly discussed our dive plan. Since we knew nothing about the place, there wasn’t much to discuss. Drop down and explore. If you see something you want to see, get the other’s attention and go to it. We walked over to the stairs and started down. If you remember my exploits at Ginnie Springs back in November, I had one heck of a time keeping my legs down due to the 7mm wetsuit. This time, I decided to wear the legs over the top of my boots (instead of in them) to see if that would allow water in quicker and keep my legs from floating. (It worked perfect.. No buoyancy problems this time) As we went down the stairs and into the water, the 68 degree water started seeping into the suit and up my legs. HOLY COW!!! Now, for those of you up North, 68 degree water maybe “tepid” for you, down here to us Southern Folks, that’s dang cold!!! Dee was partially in also and as she felt the water temp, her only words were, “What have you gotten me into???” LOL.. We both got into the water and, as always, after the water gets into the suit, everything warms up and you feel fine. But some places were harder to deal with than others.. When “the boys” got in the water and when it got to the small of my back both took some time to get used to, but everything else was ok. Our first order of business was for Dee to go down in the shallows, fill and clear her mask. That was a weak point when she first started, so she makes sure she can do that before we hit anywhere with any depth. She did it and we were off.

Visibility left a lot to be desired. There were two or three O/W classes there and things were pretty stirred up. We had about 15 – 20 foot viz. There were a lot of fish. Koi, Brim, and some fish I had no idea what they were, along with eels. We couldn’t find the cavern for anything. We found the swim-thru’s (man made overhead environments they put there to practice) and other underwater things, but we couldn’t find the cavern. We were going through one swim-thru and saw my first eel. I shined my flashlight at Dee to get her attention, but by the time we got back it, it was gone. As we exited the swim-thru, I saw a “talkbox.” Basically, it’s a metal box upside down in the water that has air in it. You can swim up in it, remove your regulator and talk to each other. There is no air pumped in, so I figure it’s mostly C02, so we didn’t stay in there long. Just long enough to check it out and discuss the next move. At one point, we were near the edge of the basin and only at about 5 feet, so we surfaced and looked around. We figured out where we were and headed towards where we thought the cavern would be located. We found the opening and headed down. (Little did I realize that a BIG surface buoy marked the cavern opening) I signaled to Dee that we would go down as far as she was comfortable and stop when she said to stop. Of course, trying to hand signal that wasn’t as easy as it was saying it. She got my drift and we headed down. The cavern went to 55 feet and then the cave started and went to 110 feet. We only went to the mouth of the cave hitting 51 feet. Down there was an eel that we classified as “aggressive” and the Vortex people classified as “playful.” Depends on your definition. But, when he nipped at Dee’s fins and swam right to my face like he was going to eat me, I list it as aggressive. Actually, he was fun and I wished I had a picture of him, but I was more worried about getting out of his way than I was taking his picture. (Come to think of it, I left the camera in the truck for the first dive.) We raised back up and did our 15 foot, 3 minute stop. After that, I was pretty low on air and we had 55 minutes of bottom time, so we surfaced and started our surface interval.

This is where we figured something out: 68 degree water works great with 52 degree weather. 52 degree weather SUCKS when you’re coming out of 68 degree water. Again, we are from the South, so you Northern folks can keep your comments and snickering to yourselves. :) We made our way back to our table, got out of the gear and dried off as much as possible. I had a hooded sweatshirt to put on and Dee wrapped herself in a big blanket and a huge towel around her head. (Fashion statement picture) We got as warm as we could and got our tanks refilled for the second dive. Dee also was kind enough to share her “snack” with me. (Known to her as Dried Bagels, known the rest of the world as Stale Bread)

After an almost 2 hour surface interval, we headed back into the water. Not near as cold to us this time and everything felt better in the water. The plan this time was for Dee to lead and I’d follow. We went back to the swim-thru’s and worked our way back over the cavern. This time I had my camera, so I was taking pictures here and there. We went back into the talk-box and took each other’s picture in there. The she headed back to the cavern. We dropped down slowly and was going to get a picture of the eel. The friggin camera broke and wouldn’t turn on once we got down there. We saw him, but I couldn’t get a pic. We stayed down there for a bit and then headed to another part of the basin after doing a 3 minute stop at 15 feet.. We then saw a school of HUGE fish. I had no idea what they were, but each of them were at least two feet in length. The folks in the Dive Shop told us what they were, but I forget.. I got so mesmerized watching them that by the time they left, I turned around and didn’t see Dee anymore. Remember, there was only about 15-20 viz, so it wouldn’t take much to get separated. After a few minutes of looking, I decided to surface to find her. As soon as I broke the surface, so did she about 30 feet away. We met back up and dropped back down after I fixed the camera. I dropped back to the eel in the cavern, but he was no where to be found and since he wasn’t very nice and I had already dropped down to that depth once already in that dive, I didn’t want to stay down there for very long at all. Even so, my computer caught it and made me do a second 15 foot, 3 minute stop. I did, then we swam around the longest swim-thru and by the time we were done with that, 1 hour and 10 minutes had passed and I was down to 640 psi in my tank. No surprise. I keep good tabs on my air, so I always know what I have. (I had a good teacher.) So, we surfaced and called it a day.

It was a good day. Vortex Spring is a nice place to dive. Personally, I don’t think I could make a habit of going there like I could Ginnie Springs, but it is a nice one to say, “Been there, done that.” Morrison Springs is close to there and a trip for the weekend to hit both would be worth the trip. Plus, I would like to see further into the cave with someone that knows more about it than I do. So, I will go back to Vortex to see that, if nothing else.

I really appreciate Dive Buddy Dee for making the trip from Georgia to come down and dive with me for the day. I promise to give more notice and to have warmer weather next time.

If any of you that are reading this are certified and want to get on my list of Dive Buddies to know when we are planning trips, just send me an email and tell me so. EZ, I know you are reading this, and although you aren’t finished with your cert just yet, I know it’s right around the corner. This offer includes you. :)

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At 29 January, 2007 19:52, Blogger **D** said...

Dee emailed me.. The big fish we saw were "Grass Carp."
Thanks Dee.

At 30 January, 2007 17:05, Anonymous E.Z. said...

Sounds like a blast... Hoping to make the Feb trip, been looking at gear off and on all day heh, so hope I'll have the cert done soon so we can do just that.



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