WKPP: 1992 to 1995

WKPP: 1992 to 1995 (John Todd)

by John Todd
May 1997

WKPP teams made of up Turner, Gavin , Irving and Schile continued working Leon Sinks at Innisfree Sink. There was a brief pause while everyone picked themselves up off the floor laughing about a letter that Jim King wrote to the State indicating he was better qualified to explore Innisfree than the WKPP, and the team went in only to discover that Sheck Exley had missed the true downstream, and that the cave continued . Schile and Gavin executed a record deep dive , penetrating one mile downstream at 260 in the syphon, where they discovered an upstream spring , which the WKPP continues to push to this day .

Working from Dark Water Sink, Schile penetrated past a restriction where Exley had ended the line only to discover the big-bore Leon Sinks passing by. It was only a short time later that Irving, Schile , Norkus and Gavin began diving at Turner Sink, later renamed for Parker Turner who died at Indian Springs in November , 1991. Diving upstream from turner, they connected to Dark Water ( an offset sink), and to the end of the Innisfree line. Since that time, many more passages have been explored by the WKPP in that part of the system. Irving and Norkus pushed the downstream of Turner , where they found that the cave dropped off again into a deep syphon at 260. Gavin and Schile went in and pushed this to 2500 feet downstream, but visibility was bad and the current howling, and the cave was so big that they had to bury the reel in the floor for lack of a tieoff. The system went down, and they turned their attention to Indian , in hopes of finding a deep passage past the “Wakulla Room” that would connect. This brought about Turner’s fateful dive, and a few years later, the ongoing passage was discovered by McKinlay and G. Irvine on a survey dive, but it went north.

After Turner’s death, Bill Gavin took over as Project Director, but many team members threw in the towel on cave diving after that, and many , such as Bill Main, had already retired from deep exploration. George Irvine, a diver from Ft. Lauderdale, who had been trained by Turner and had spent most of his cave diving time with Lamar English, began diving with Gavin in an effort to put the pieces back together. At this time Jarrod Jablonski and Irvine were also diving together, and Jablonski was actively exploring several springs , including Manatee, where he eventually set the U.S. Distance Record. With the help of Jablonski’s group and Steve Irving’s group WKPP was able to rebuild.

In the Spring of 1993, a drought hit Tallahassee, and two years of black water turned clear, and the WKPP began exploring back at Cheryl Sink. Gavin and Irvine went in using scooters designed by Gavin and built by Irvine which would operate effectively at these depths and began a systematic scouring of the system from the Black Abyss on . Amazingly enough, most of this passage was unexplored beyond a few hundred feet into the deep sections, and the two spent many weekends laying line in new cave before hitting the “mother lode”. After several trips to the “Bitter End”, so named by Gavin since it looked so promising to be the Big dismal connection , but had stopped dead, we had put away the survey tools after hitting another dead-end lead, and were on our way out when Gavin disappeared over my head in what seemed to be one passage. It was in fact two passages, like an over/under shotgun, with a big bore tunnel headed away. We added 800 feet that day (Sherwood Schile was with us), and began a series of exploration dives which took us out 8,000 feet at 220, for a new distance at depth record, but which resulted in Schile’s death in the “shortcut” restriction on the way out.

This pretty well took the wind out of the sails of Gavin, who had seen three good friends die in cave-diving accidents, and he told me to get ready to take over the project after the next series of Wakulla dives that we had scheduled. I began working on access to Big Dismal Sink in the interest of not having to travel so far underwater, but also began working on techniques for more distance as well, really not expecting much success with the Federal Government, but look at us now.

Gavin and English never really recovered from that dive, but with the cave clear and a little prodding from me, Bill and I went back to Turner and pushed that out to 3500 feet, and then got Lamar and went back for a 4400 push in preparation for our upcoming dives at Wakulla. In retrospect, since we still have not been further in Turner, it is in fact Wakulla that is the preparation for Leon Sinks, and the spot we have learned enough tricks to deal with the true Tallahassee Power Cave that still awaits us there and elsewhere in the WKP.

That fall, 1993 and early 1995 the WKPP executed three dives at Wakulla Springs. Operating on a limited allowance of dives, as we do now, we had to go in with a crew who had never seen the cave to set it up, and had to work from Bill Gavin’s memory . At the last minute, Sheck Exley and Bill Gavin had a meeting of the minds, and at a meeting called by Exley and Gavin at Greg Knecht’s house Exley agreed to join the WKPP and dive with us. Sheck and I got going with this immediately, and when it came time to dive Wakulla, he and I did the setups with Jarrod, Bill Main, and Jerry Messick, who is just now returning to the team along with Todd Kincaid to add a little extra power to our efforts at Wakulla.

On the first dive, Sheck, Bill Gavin and G Irvine added 1400 feet of line to Steve Irving and Bill Gavin’s line, which had been added to Sheck and Paul’s line, which had been added to Bill Gavin, Lamar English, and Bill Main’s sneak dive line the week before the first project at Wakulla. On the second dive, Gavin , English and Irvine put it out to 6400 feet at 285 in A Tunnel. The cave went black , and four months later Casey McKinlay, Jarrod Jablonski, Todd Kincaid and G Irvine went in to pull the safety bottles out of the D/A Tunnel Junction, and finished C Tunnel on the way out, pushing it out to 3,000 feet and explored a side tunnel , as the first dive with George Irvine now Project Director and Bill Gavin as Project Engineer.

In the meantime, Irvine negotiated permits to the National Forest, Shepherd Springs, Wakulla and Sally Ward. The Forest permits were reissued twice before an MOU was issued to the WKPP on a long-term basis for research and exploration in the Forest. A similar arrangement was reached with the Department of the Interior, and just recently with the State of Florida after three years of continuous permits at Wakulla, interrupted only once for a one-shot project this fall.