Diver One's Account
Rain threatened to start at any time while we geared up. It had rained more than normal in northern Florida this year and temperatures were cooler than normal. We had originally planned to dive Cow Springs, but the surface pool there had inches of visibility. We then decided to go the the Peacock system. We were to dive as a three-member team, something my usual cave diving buddy and I seldom did. Our normal custom is to dive as a two-man team, a procedure with which we had become very comfortable. We had decided to place the third member in the middle of our team to compensate for any shortcomings due to our lack experience with a three member team.
We talked with a dive team which was in the water when we arrived. They indicated that they were going up the Peanut tunnel to the Crossover and then would leave the jump reels in place over to the main line in the Olsen tunnel for a dive they planned the next day. Since the lines would already be in place, we decided to do the mini-circuit from Peacock One up to the Crossover tunnel, over the Crossover to the Peanut line, and down the Peanut tunnel to the line we would run. We confirmed this with the other dive team. Based on the other teamís report of their previous dives, we anticipated fair visibility in the system. Therefore we planned on doing a visual jump across the main lines at Pothole, a gap of about 3m (10 ft). Our rationale was that if we had a problem we could exit at Olsen, which is less than 15m (50ft) from the Crossover jump.
As a team we entered the water, and did our S-drills (safety drills). The plan was simple enough. The rear diver (RD) was to drop down and set the exit line at Peacock cavern to the Peanut line tunnel. Then we would begin the circuit. I, as lead diver (LD) would set the entrance line into the main tunnel at the start of the dive. We assembled as planned with our new buddy in the middle.
As I ran the primary to the main line, I noticed that the reel was very stiff and didnít want to pay out the line easily. I ran it none the less and made an uneventful tie-in. We then proceeded up the main line in less than 6m (20ft) of viz, something we hadnít expected! The viz wasnít as bad as I have seen on a cave dive, but it was worse than I had encountered at the beginning of a dive. We chose to continue as we had already less visibility in the past.
It took a great deal of attention to focus on the main line. I began seeing formations of the cave wall I did not recall seeing before, and I felt some sense of confusion. I knew I was on the main line, but I was seeing things that I should not have been seeing. Since I was also ascending, I thought I must have followed the line too far and was headed up the exit at Pothole. When I looked up and saw light, I knew this was the case. I had missed the jump between the Pothole and Olsen lines, something I had never done before. I then signaled the middle diver, (MD) that we had to go back down. He, in turn, signaled the RD to back up as well.
I dropped down to the point where the line started more or less vertical, I looked across and there in the dim distance was the main line to Olsen. As the visibility was so bad, I elected to run a gap reel between the two lines.
We continued to follow the main line to the Crossover tunnel. There we verified our gas supplies and made the jump which the previous team had left in place. Visibility improved in this trunk of the system to over 9m (20ft) and in places perhaps 12 m (30ft). We made the transit over to the Peanut line and down the 300m (1000ft) to the end. The RD then pulled up the exit line from the Peanut tunnel on our way into the cavern. At this point we had completed the circuit as planned.
Then things kind of fell apart, though we didnít realize it at the time. I signaled the RD to follow me down to retrieve the gap line we had placed Pothole. Since my gas supply was now down to 1800 psi, I recalculated thirds, dropped down the wall and proceeded up to Pothole. I didnít see the RD and thought he had not followed when I signalled, so I continued alone. When I arrived at Pothole, I immediately pulled the gap line and in attempting to disconnect it from the tie-in, I inadvertently looped it twice. I am the first to admit that I donít like being 150m (500ft) in a cave with 1500 psi, even though it is more than adequate for me for six times that distance. I was reaching for a line cutter to cut the gap line since I couldnít untangle it when I finally saw the RD. He had apparently been there all along., but I had not seen him due to the poor viz. He signaled me to hold, and he then untangled my double loop. When I had stowed the reel, I gave him the OK signal, turned and headed out. I proceeded about 30m (100 ft) when I noticed he wasnít behind me so I stopped and he then came up. We exchanged signals, and I started off again.
At the main reel tie-off I signaled the RD to go around, and I started to take up the reel. I immediately had trouble with the reel (remember it was hard to wind at the start of the dive?) I continued winding it up, and it became easy to reel. ëGoodí, I thought. A couple of turns later, however, something felt funny. I looked down at the reel, and to my amazement saw that the spool had split in two and now looked like a butterfly. So, as I was taught in cave class, I wound it up on itself.
When I got to the decompression bottles at the entrance of the cave, I noticed I had about 3 minutes of decompression obligation before I could surface. During the deco stop the RD wrote on his slate and asked where the MD was. I, of course, had no idea. I thought he had gotten out of the water when the RD and I went back to retrieve the gap reel from Pothole. If he (the MD) had been on the dive, I should have seen him at Pothole since he was the middle diver. The RD then pointed to the MDís deco bottle, which made me wonder what had really happened. We completed the decompression stop and then surfaced, at which point I asked the RD if he knew where the MD was. He replied ìThe last time I saw him, he bailed at Pothole.
Needless to say, the adrenaline started flowing. We had lost one of the team, obviously not a good thing. I told the RD to exit the water and proceed to Pothole to see if the MD had indeed exited there. I dropped back down to the main line tie-off at 20 mfw (66 ffw) and anxiously waited to see if the MD had come up behind us, finding no exit line when he reached the end of the main line. I waited just a few minutes as my pressure gauge slowly dropped to about 1000 psi. I was at the start of the main line, well out of the view of the exit without a line to the surface. This was also not good.
I exited the cave, then surfaced, got out of the water and proceeded to the car. The RD informed me that the MD was not at Pothole. That is not what I wanted to hear. We feared the worst. The RD asked for a stage bottle so he could re-enter the system and initiate a search. While I was getting out of my gear I told him to get me a phone. It had started to rain, my glasses were wet, and I couldnít see. Were we having fun yet?
To my amazement, I had cell phone service. I called 911 and informed them of our location and that we had lost a diver and needed help. To my surprise, the operator asked me if we were in Lafayette or Suwannee county. I, of course, had no idea; and worse, at that instant the phone went dead.
I then pulled out a stage bottle and a regulator and to my surprise (It seemed I was surprised a lot), I had grabbed the only bottle in the car with a yoke K valve. By that time I was a nervous wreck and was spewing out a full line of expletives. I started reaching for another bottle when off in the distance we heard someone calling our names. Yes, it indeed was our missing diver walking down the road.
When he got to the car, we asked him where he had exited the system. He said that he had inadvertently ended up on the wrong line. (He had passed over the two of us at Pothole somehow. When he dropped back down to find us, the gap line was gone: and he was on the wrong side of the gap. He had plenty of gas, and therefore proceeded to Olsen.
We informed him that we had called EMS and were setting up to re-enter the system to search. He didnít believe us and thought we were joking until the police arrived. We advised the police that everything was cleared up, and we started to knock down the equipment and analyze where we all went wrong. By then it was raining steadily but only lightly. What a mess! But it didnít matter as the team was back together.
Look for the next installment for another view of the problems encountered on this dive. By the way, we learned that the team went on to do some follow-up dives that went off without a hitch. They encountered equipment problems, high currents, and fairly long penetrations in another system. This three-man team is learning to be a single cohesive unit. This is good news.