Clear Water Exploration (John Todd)
Other Dives Conducted During Down Time
by John Todd
During the extended periods of dark water in Tallahassee, the WKPP continued to work on gear, techniques, and new team members, mostly at sites that were barely diveable, like Indian Springs. This accomplished two things: one , the bad conditions brought home the need for good teamwork, and two, we are able to train some great divers.
Indian Visibility stayed in the 10-20 foot class for most of 1994 and 1995, so we decided to go ahead an survey the outer reaches of the cave. In doing so, we found all kinds of passage that had not previously been noticed. In one dive, Steve Irving and I found a huge room right before the Wakulla Room ( really a tunnel ). This room looks like a basketball arena, and is now a favorite destination of divers at Indian. On a separate survey dive, Casey McKinlay and I went to the end of Exley’s original line to start a survey back towards the entrance, with the objective of completing about 1500 feet of missing survey ( Schile and Irving had surveyed the rest).
When we reached the end of the line in the Wakulla Room at a depth of 260, we found Exley’s original reel laying on top of the rock he had tied off to. I got out my book, and began to take a reading. Casey was floating above me, and handed me his notebook with a message that read, “Looks good, give me the reel”. All I could see was the ceiling disappearing into the mud, and thought he was kidding, so I handed him Exley’s reel. He put it back down on the rock and took the Gavin reel off of my d-ring, tied in, hit the trigger , and I saw him frame a huge tunnel heading away – the missing link that Gavin and Parker had been looking for in 1991. I had the book out, so just followed behind him , surveying. The tunnel went over a rise and then plummeted to 300 feet where there was a three-way split.
We took the dark tunnel, which looked like the Leon Sinks stuff and dumped the reel at 285 on the roof. In subsequent dives by many members of the team, the three passages were explored to distances of 8,000 feet and depths of 310, and continue to be explored today. This was a great training ground for complex multi-level, long range deep mixed gas scooter diving, and ended up giving us a great team of top divers able to run the main systems when they cleared.
At the same time a dispute developed between the Florida Wildlife Federation and a local landowner near Wakulla Springs and Indian Springs over the proposed construction of a gas station and RV park at the intersection next to the Park. The WKPP was asked to have one more look at the Sally Ward system to see if it extended off of the Park property. The previous exploration group had claimed that the cave was “walled out” and their survey indicated that the passage ran east-west. Not only did the cave run northwest-south, it extended another 4,000 feet in one direction, and 2,000 in the other through passage so big that a 747 jet could be flown in it.
On our first attempt at this cave, Casey McKinlay and I dumped a full 1000 foot reel off the end of the downstream line in large, deep passage, and then team continued to push the downstream maze and still does today. On the upstream, Bill Gavin, Barry Miller and I went in with a camera to see what was there, and found the way on immediately, and videoed the tunnel now known as “King’s Retreat”. Gavin and I went back with Casey McKinlay, and continued on past the old end finding two huge new rooms and popping out into a giant tunnel. In subsequent dives we added thousands of feet in this new tunnel, which ended up going all over the property in question, and provided evidence that caused the judge to rule in favor of the Florida Wildlife Federation in blocking the RV park, but not before the work from the previous group had cost everyone , including the State of Florida , a fortune.
During this time we finally got clear enough water to begin diving at Wakulla Springs. A Tunnel, the conduit, was still dark so we targeted B Tunnel for practice. On our first dive, Jarrod Jablonski, Casey McKinlay and I added 1800 feet to the end of the B Tunnel, putting it out to 6,000 feet on a triple stage dive. The previous group had said that they could possibly go another 1000 feet if they had rebreathers – a real joke. In subsequent dives, the team added to both the end of B and several tunnels off of B, before going on to complete C Tunnel, and the G,H,I Tunnels off of the C Tunnel, adding immensely to the clear water side of the system.
The C and B Tunnels had originally been discovered by WKPP divers Bill Gavin, Lamar English, and Bill Main on a mixed gas sneak dive conducted a week before the original Wakulla “project”, which specifically excluded all WKPP divers, took place. It took the illustrious usdct a week to get to the end of this sneak dive line. It should also be noted here that most of what the usdct did was actually done by Sheck Exley before the project officially started, and that Exley was restricted by the team management from doing any more exploration dives other than in A Tunnel, which later went dark, and D Tunnel, which is the only tunnel that was walled out by that project ( By Exley ). Since the true heart always wins out, Exley, who had since joined the WKPP, was able to go back with me and Gavin and continue his exploration, pushing A Tunnel out over a mile.
During this time we had a brief window where Big Dismal Sink cleared. The WKPP holds permits for all of these areas so we went in with climbing gear and a modular platform. Employing our famous teamwork, we were able to install the platform, connect in on the surface of the water, and lower the gear into the sink, while filming the whole event. Using advance teams, we reconstructed the line from Exley’s map, marked the correct way, and set up an exploration dive in one shot. Brent Scarabin and Rick Sankey were able to get all the way downstream to the end of the line in one dive, simultaneously marking, repairing the line, and setting up the next team with gas for the next trip.
When they returned and passed us notes with the path drawn out , Casey McKinlay, Jarrod Jablonski and I made our dive, dropping our stage bottle at the end of the downstream line and picking up the gas bottle as we tied in and headed towards the end of Gavin’s line from three years earlier. Casey was running the reel using his magnum scooter, but was having trouble seeing in the bad visibility, so signaled Jarrod to take the reel. I was behind them with the books, trying to give them some indication of which way to go in the giant black void. JJ got twisted around in the current, and headed back North by accident, but immediately bulls-eyed a side tunnel the size of the main tunnel. I ran him down, and signaled a right turn. Right there was a second intersection with a tunnel going South. He turned in there, and it popped back out into the main tunnel, and after a few hundred feet of blind scootering, we hit Gavin’s line exactly, connecting Leon Sinks Cave and Cheryl Sink to Big Dismal Cave, thereby adding 15,000 feet of surveyed passage to the system.
In subsequent Big Dismal dives, Brent and I added a few thousand feet in the upstream deep side of the downstream connection, and Rick and Brent added a few grand in a whole new clear system discovered by Barry Miller and Wayne head in the upstream of the main upstream. This exploration continues today.
Using the brief periods of Leon Sinks clarity , various team members began working Turner Sink, the Southern most connected sink in the Leon Sinks Cave System. Steve Irving , Barry Miller and Dave Miner found numerous tunnels starting from the upstream side of Turner, which went deep and paralleled the downstream , and are still under exploration. Rick and Brent discovered a giant split in the main downstream of Turner in the deep section which we believe goes towards Spring Creek, while we think the other side mates up with the Wakulla A Tunnel. Exploration continues there when possible.