... and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
When most people think of Florida, they think of sunshine, palm trees, sandy beaches, and theme parks such as Disney or Universal Studios in Orlando. Few tourists ever venture to "the real Florida" which is the slogan of the Florida State Parks system. Places like Madison Blue Springs, Morrison Springs, Peacock Springs, Lafayette Blue Springs, Manatee Springs and Wakulla Springs are nestled in the woods in near small towns found along the I-10 and I-75 corridors and feed into rivers such as the Santa Fe and Suwannee. You'll find amazing beauty in these parks with so many native species of plants, trees, birds, reptiles, and mammals to see. The gin clear water springing forth from the aquifer makes the water appear to be the bluest on earth. Below the surface, you'll find aquatic life such as bream and snapping turtles. You'll find history like a Confederate shipwreck called the Madison scuttled in shallow water in Troy Spring in 1863. And, you'll find geology. Underwater caves run for miles underneath the earth. Seemingly endless tunnels form labyrinthian routes like ant farms taking you beyond the daylight zone into a world of perpetual darkness where you can meet tiny blind albino crayfish and remipedes. Scientists have discovered that each cave system has a different species of remipede. The clarity and health of the water is important because it is what Floridians and tourists drink. Exploration of these aquifers began in earnest in the 1950's after Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan invented the first practical Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) in France during WWII.
Divers quickly learned the perils of venturing into underwater caves. Around 400 people have died cave diving in the United States alone. You'll find diveable caves where you find karst terrain such as the Caribbean, Mexico, France, Russia, Africa, Australia, even Canada. The deepest underwater cave in the world is in the Czech Republic over 1,300 feet deep. The deepest underwater cave in the USA is in Texas at 450 feet deep. Most people who learn to dive are interested in diving in the ocean on vacation to see coral reefs in relatively shallow water usually no deeper than 60 feet. A few more advanced divers learn to dive to 130 feet. Diving below 130 feet is no longer considered recreational sport diving. We call it technical diving. Technical diving involves using double tanks or rebreathers with extra decompression tanks containing higher percentages of oxygen than found in air. Air is approximately 21% oxygen. Technical divers use mixtures of 50% to 100% oxygen to speed up the mandatory decompression stops required for deep diving. The combination of cave diving and technical diving skills allows deep exploration of underwater caves.
"In the beginning was the Word ..."
The godfather of cave diving was a high school math teacher from Jacksonville, FL named Sheck Exley. By the mid-1970's so many divers had died that the state of Florida was going to ban the sport. Navy Underwater Demolition Teams were called to Morrison Springs which had scene the most fatalities and blew up the cave leaving only an egg-shaped cavern to explore. Sheck looked at the accident reports and analyzed the reasons for fatalities. He determined 3 primary reasons.
1. Divers got lost in the tunnels and drown.
2. Divers ran out of air. Unlike diving in a lake or ocean, you can't surface when low on air. You have a rock ceiling over your head.
3. Diving deep on air caused the diver to be affected by narcosis and led to poor decision-making.
Sheck wrote a book called, The Blue Print for Survival. He put forth these three rules:
1. Always run a continuous guideline into the cave from open water using a safety reel.
2. Always reserve at least 2/3 of your air supply for exit. Each diver is allowed to only use 1/3 of his tanks to go into a cave. If a diver runs out of air at the furthest distance from the exit at that point, each diver has 1/3 of the remaining donor's air supply to swim back.
3. Never dive deeper than the maximum recreational diving limit of 130 feet on air a cave.
The Ten Commandments of Cave Diving
By the 1980's, another cave diver named Wes Skiles figured out that dive light failure and lack of training were two additional problems still contributing to cave diving fatalities.
4. Always carry at least 3 dive lights.
5. Be trained for cave diving and don't exceed the levels of your training.
These became known as "The 5 Rules of Accident Analysis." These rules saved many lives and the deaths of untrained divers venturing into caves became rare. Yet, divers were still dying. I personally lost my friends Mike Nast and Kent Hirsch. They were highly experienced divers who died in Mexico. Mike was a prominent prosecutor and Kent was a dentist. Mike was on a bit of a honeymoon with his wife Julie, a physician, when he and Kent didn't make it back. Their bodies were recovered 250 feet from the exit. A California cave diver named Jeff Bozanic wanted to figure out why trained cave divers were dying. He discovered an additional 5 rules that would save lives.
6. Do not solo dive in caves.
7. Maintain high levels of physical fitness.
8. Always analyze the gas you are breathing and properly label your air, oxygen, and helium cylinders.
9. Maintain your equipment properly.
10. Don't go "too far too fast" when using diver propulsion vehicles and technical diving equipment in caves. Build experience slowly.
Skills cave divers learn are how to properly run guidelines, how to use directional and non-directional markers to create road signs on the line, how to deal with lights being out, finding your way home in the dark while holding a line and communicating by touch, how to deal with sharing air using a 7 foot long regulator hose for the out of air diver while the donor breathes a back-up regulator worn around the neck like a blingy necklace, how to share air in the dark, what to do if you get lost, what to do if your buddy is missing, how to swim without stirring up silt, how to swim into caves with extremely high current, among many other things. Most cave classes take 10 days to complete if the diver spends a year practicing perfect buoyancy control and propulsion techniques. Otherwise, it usually takes 2 years to complete. A four day class in basic propulsion and cave skills combining the Cavern & Intro to Cave courses, then a year of practice, then Apprentice Cave Diver followed by Full Cave Diver.
Moses and the Prophets
Signs were installed at the entrance to all the cave systems with a picture of the Grim Reaper, beckoning over a pile of dead divers, warning of death if you did not heed the sign and ventured forth without the proper instruction. The next big leap in cave diving became known as the "Hogarthian Configuration." A diver named William "Hogarth" Main developed a way of wearing equipment that would allow divers to wear twice the equipment a recreational diver would wear, but in the most streamlined way. Cave instructors began to teach this system far more than any other and continued to warn recreational divers of the hazards. Some were quite vocal, like the prophets of the Old Testament.
John the Baptist
One challenge for cave divers was the exploration of Wakulla Springs where the 1950's horror movie, The Creature from the Black Lagoon , was filmed. The cave is so deep that the opening to the cavern zone where daylight still penetrates is 150 feet deep. The cave is 300 feet deep. During the filming of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, two divers who loaned an air compressor to the movie company for filling scuba tanks did a few dives to the cavern that they couldn't access on their own since the spring was on private land. Various attempts over the years by private sector and government divers failed to map the cave. The state of Florida wanted to know where the water went and who was drinking it. Enter the WKPP or Woodville Karst Plain Project. The WKPP was a group of passionate cave divers who were drawn to explore Wakulla Springs. The project director was a middle-aged super fit, tough, gruff stockbroker who became a Christian. His name is George Irvine III or GI3. He is most known as "the voice crying out on the internet" with expletive-driven rants telling people about this new cave diving philosophy created by the WKPP. If every diver on earth didn't use their system they'd end up in a body bag. The philosophy was called Doing It Right or DIR. The WKPP set world record after world record exploring Wakulla. They pulled off miraculous dive after miraculous dive surveying 32 miles of underwater passages in 2 decades of work with a perfect safety record. Jarrod Jablonski & Casey McKinlay made the longest dive, a 27 hour dive, surveying over 8,700 feet of new passage, covering over 25,000 feet, a new underwater cave diving distance record for a single dive. Average depth of 260 feet, approx 11 hours of bottom time, 16 hours of decompression. They connected Wakulla Springs to Leon Sink and discovered mastodon bones deep inside the cave.They also continued the US Geological Survey information that springs are so connected that a major farming disaster or chemical run-off polluting the water in Tallahassee would also affect people in Tampa.
It got attention. Divers wanted to know more.
Jesus and the Twelve
While George Irvine III was the voice and director of the WKPP, the man who would become known to the world was a quieter, calmer, extremely brilliant messenger. Jarrod Jablonski or "JJ," was the brains and leader of the entire outfit. JJ had started cave diving while a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He worked at Ginnie Springs, a popular tubing and camping resort which is also the capital of Florida cave diver training. JJ had a talent for carrying a lot of equipment and modifying the Hogarthian philosophy to allow divers to use DPV's (diver propulsion vehicles) and carry multiple stage bottle. A stage bottle is a full sized scuba tank with it's own regulator. We breathe stage bottles down to 1/3 or 1/2 gas and leave it, switching to another stage and continuing forward, the repeating the process on the way out. DIR improved upon every cave diving rule, improved the Hogarthian philosophy, standardized every piece of equipment to be worn in an exact location down to the finest detail of how to tie a bolt snap to a dive light, incorporated fitness and unified every diving procedure. Mostly, DIR demanded the highest level of diving skill achievement. It was like learning a martial art. It takes a lifetime to master. The passion and zealotry for the system became almost a religion. A small band of divers from the woods in Florida would soon change the world. No existing training agency would listen to JJ. He tried to bring the message to several agencies, but they were set in their old ways. They mocked the WKPP divers. Eventually, JJ created Global Underwater Explorers (GUE). GUE is now considered to be the absolute best diver training organization in the world. No one wanted to produce the gear they needed, so JJ also created his own manufacturing company called Halcyon. The gear is "expedition ready" right out of the box. Much of it made in the USA.
One of the original WKPP divers betrayed JJ by stealing intellectual and material property to create his own company, but was arrested and sentenced to prison. His reputation in shambles, he disappeared.
Paul of Tarsus
A dive instructor named Andrew Georgitsis or "AG" (who was my first DIR instructor), who was not affiliated with the WKPP, became the training director of Jarrod's Global Underwater Explorers (GUE). He was a Greek South African and also a US citizen who traveled the world creating small pockets of DIR divers. They started out as small, silly named clubs like Team Foxturd or Team Roadkill. But, became organized into "churches" each ending in "underwater explorers" such as Northeast Underwater Explorers or Bay Area Underwater Explorers with leadership intent on following the rules of DIR and preaching to others. Andrew is credited for the explosive spread of the DIR philosophy. While DIR was originally for cave divers, Andrew adopted it to open water diving, shipwreck diving, and recreational diving and became the voice and the "go to" leader of the philosophy for much of the diving world while JJ was enshrined in myth and legend. Most of the DIR world never met JJ. Right away, as pockets of DIR believers and churches sprung up, they began to misquote, misapply, do things incorrectly, and needed constant chastisement.
Eventually, the disagreements became so polarizing that people sided with JJ, AG, others and groups fractured away from GUE creating their own training agencies and belief in the "true" DIR. Unified Team Diving (UTD), created by AG, and Innerspace Explorers, created by Achim Schloffel of Germany, along with GUE are three largest DIR training agencies. Some instructors teach DIR, like myself, outside these agencies almost like non-denominational churches. I was the training director with the Professional Diving Instructors Corporation (PDIC) and the Professional Scuba Association International (PSAI), but I taught DIR in my classes. There was no one standard in these organizations. What's really crazy is that JJ is still alive and you can talk to him or the other WKPP divers about all the rhymes and reasons for what became DIR, but people are caught up in their own philosophies so much that they don't bother. Now, when I look up DIR online, I see people who have poor skills, the wrong gear, and have no idea what they are talking about writing about what it is to be DIR.
DIR has already been written down like the Bible, but like theologians today and churches today, people have corrupted DIR that JJ no longer has it on his gear. Halcyon used to be "the DIR equipment company" now the gear just reads "Halcyon."
Halcyon means "denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful."
I would imagine the twelve disciples missed the days together with Jesus around the Sea of Galilee like I miss the days of walking into JJ's dive shop, Extreme Exposure, in High Springs and talking to the source and meeting the small team of WKPP divers who were the epitome of humility while being extraordinary. Most of the WKPP divers were Christians. Some divers had Christian symbols on their cylinders. The cave training director of GUE is a devout Christian and another instructor is a deacon.
Someone should make a documentary about the role their belief in Christ played in the courage and faith needed to do what no one else could do.