A-Tunnel Exploration (John Todd)
“A” Tunnel Exploration
by John Todd
In 1996 the A Tunnel of Wakulla began to clear, and we knew exactly where we wanted to go. In the original three-dive permit we were given in 1993, Bill Gavin figured they would never let us back in, and with Bill Stone telling the Government that we were exercising “open circuit heroics”, and that he could “triple our distance” ( despite the fact that neither he nor any of his divers have ever to this date in June 1997 done a deep cave dive beyond 1800 feet penetration, it was difficult to get another permit. When you get out of the water from a 6,000 foot triple stage with more than two thirds of your back gas, it is not open circuit heroics – it is a walk in the park.
I knew I was going back before I did the dive, and I knew that I would have to jump through a lot of “hoops” as Sandy Cook put it, to do so. I have always been the WKPP survey man, and I was that on this series as well. What I did was jack my helium way up, and take meticulous notes and survey data, while marking every lead I saw on that 6,000 foot dive. I was last and by myself, so the others did not notice the time I took to do this, and my scooter was as much as 30% faster than theirs, and was nicad powered, and I had two scooters to their one, so could catch them between stops. I got them all, as it turns out.
When we went back, I was pleased to see that everything was as I thought it was, but our first dive was to push the A Tunnel. Casey McKinlay, Jarrod Jablonski and I did a five stage dive, hitting the end on four and adding with the fifth. Visibility was bad, but we managed to push A to 7,800 feet and turn it North towards Leon Sinks. This was our first two hour bottom time. Satisfied as to how we wanted to play that, we started back at the beginning filling in the side tunnels. Our best hope was L Tunnel, a giant conduit headed Northwest from A Tunnel near the entrance which had been totally missed by the previous teams. I marked it on my fist dive in the cave. As it turned out, the tunnel intersected F Tunnel, and solved both of those mysteries at once, and provided a great circuit dive in Power Cave. This was explored by Todd Kincaid, Rick Sankey, and Steve Berman. This same group plus Barry Miller explored the “Fingers” , J Tunnel, and the Alcove. The “G” Tunnel did not exist, and is just a falsification by Stone on his map. Also in that category is the appearance of a connection between A and C Tunnels, again a falsification. What is really there is C going more East than the air-diving usdct thought, and E Tunnel which was explored by Bill Main and Sheck Exley.
Having resolved the first 3900 feet, we went in on an exploration dive to check the room before the Mountain. This dive was myself, Brent Scarabin, and Jarrod Jablonski. Here we mapped the Wall Room, and found the Kahuna Tunnel. Tying in at 3900 feet, we pushed the K Tunnel 1700 feet in one dive, and another 600 in another before hit the Chamber. This tunnel is one of the 290 on the roof cathedral-type runs.
Moving on, the same team explored the Mountain and then hit the first Split in the Chamber. This produced an 8,600 foot dive before it petered out, but in a giant clear spring called M Tunnel, where we added 2800 feet of line in one dive. This finally broke our deep distance record established in upstream Cheryl going towards Big Dismal. This produced another two hour bottom time . Using the same team, we went back and circled the chamber, looking at the originally marked leads. One was the other side of the Kahuna, and one was the Second Split.
Going back on a setup dive, Rick Sankey, Brent Scarabin and I took stages out to 6,000 feet, and then added 1000 feet of line in the Split to get the next setup bottle down for the following dive. Rick, Barry Miller and Derek Hagler then ran bottles out to a mile, and JJ, Brent and I went in diving a seven stage dive and added 3,000 feet of line to the end of the Split for a 10,000 foot penetration and a 155 minute bottom time. On the setup for that dive, one of the support guys drowned and was revived on the beach, so we got booted out for seven months while our good friends in the cave diving community did everything they could to get our permits revoked. This did not work, and we in fact got longer-term permits and came back in 1997 on the first clear water.
During this time, and for the previous year and one half, we had been quietly working on developing a cave-diving rebreather, and a sonar mapper. The usdct caught wind of the mapper, and told the government they had one of their own in order to get a permit to try to displace the WKPP. Arrogance prevented them from recognizing in time that we had them totally beaten on the rebreather, and it went into service in Wakulla in 1997 after having been proven in Leon Sinks the previous year, setting rebreather distance records at upstream Cheryl and Indian Springs. With myself, Jarrod Jablonski and Brent Scarabin totally trained on their machines prior to the water even clearing, it was only a matter of one practice dive in B Tunnel, where we made film for DEMA, before we were off using this new exploration tool.
With the WKPP team having been totally prepared to dive by all of the practice in Leon Sinks, we were able to completely set up Wakulla in one day, and dive it the following Friday for a 11,000 foot rebreather dive and a new World’s Record deep cave dive. Using this tool we were able to do a massive amount of exploration in one 210 minute bottom time, and decompress from it with very little gas used. See the stories about that dive.
The WKPP currently operates under five permits, several MOU’s, several contracts to dive, and under a complete set of agreements with four Federal and four State agencies. We keep data bases for these agencies and for two universities, and for all geologic and scientific interests ( legitimate ones, not the usdct). Our permits and MOU’s extend indefinitely into the future, and WKPP maintains a commitment to train and develop divers to meet these needs.
It should be noted that we have not done 20 dives in Wakulla in the last six years, and that our access is severely limited. It should also be noted that when we dive, their is little or no sign of our presence, and that we do in one day what the usdct could not do in 129 dives over a three month period of time. It should also be noted that we tripled the surveyed passage done by these dilettantes, and that the only diver they had, Sheck Exley, joined the WKPP before he died.
The bottom line is that the WKPP explored and mapped Wakulla Springs, Sally Ward Springs, Leon Sinks, and everything else up there, and continues to do so, and will always continue to do so. We have 93 members, and the best divers in the sport.