Near Disaster at Ginnie, May 2009
I spent most of the week before Memorial Day diving in Florida. I was planning on buying tanks, and did some experimentation with 108s. Edd had convinced me that if I slid the bands up on the tanks (which moved them down on my body), I needed shoulder weights to counterbalance my now heavy feet. By Tuesday everyone had gone home except that I was to be a last one before I headed home. Ken was able to find time to make a dive with me before heading to Orlando. We went to Ginnie springs, since most of the other caves were undiveable due to the rain ruining the visibility in them.
Our plan was simple. We would swim in the Ear without a line, drop our deco tanks at the sign, then I would lead in to the Keyhole. Ken would use a gap reel to head to the right and around to the Maple Leaf. We would do a visual gap to the main line and come out with the current. We’d pick up our bottles at the sign, and return through the Eye. Ken assured me that we could see daylight at the sign and didn’t need a line. He felt it was more trouble than you gained. Indeed, the last time I was there at New Year’s I struggled terrifically trying to reel back out to the Eye.
I’d dove the Eye/Ear several times over the previous New Year’s. On one previous dive, Daehag led Forrest and me in. He stayed high and to the left and kept out of the current. He’s a master. This time I tried to do the same, but I can’t recall where the line bumps around from one side of the passage to the other, so I wound up more in the current than I should have. I gave up and simply flutter kicked as hard as I could to force my way in. There’s no silt to stir up in this current! I was breathing hard, but figured I make up for the extra gas consumption once I was past this super strong current.
I managed to get to the Lips sooner than I expected (I guess all those other trips through the current blasted me even worse and it seemed farther). Soon I arrived at the Keyhole, so I waved Ken on. He went through the Keyhole and got the place to tie the line off to head to the side passage. I followed, then took the lead into the cave on the permanent line. The passage didn’t look as I remembered it. It was much more varied. Gosh Devil’s is an interesting cave. There’s so much to look at (which contrasted with Promise which we dived on Sunday where it was black and all you could see were the light colored crustaceans). I came to a pair of arrows indicating a passage to the left. Not the gap at the Maple Leaf yet, was it? The last arrow I saw said 500 and we had several hundred feet more to the gap. There was a big pit in the silt of the floor there. How odd.
Now the passage settled down to the way I remembered it. The line is along the left wall, there’s a broad silty floor, and the far wall beyond that. On we went. Just like last time, I began to be concerned about thirds. We had looked carefully at the map, discussed it, and I knew that it was longer on the way in . So if you broke thirds, when you got to the main line, you were in heavy outflowing current and a slightly shorter route. This time I felt I had a better grasp of the passage, plus I seemed to be feeling a little better. Last time I’d gotten light-headed from the early exertion.
We got to the gap and I was at 1750 psi in the left tank, 2200 in the right, down from 3550 in each. Normally I wouldn’t have normally broken thirds, but after careful forethought, I felt I was OK for this particular dive.
The way back along the line was much more pleasant than the time before. I was feeling totally healthy; not light-headed or nauseated at all. I did, however, begin to have some issues with buoyancy. I checked to see if there was still a pinch in the wing so that if I turned down on my left, air would gurgle up to the right. It did seem to do that some.
The bigger problem became my feet. I was having trouble keeping the air out of them. I had both my fin keepers and my gaiters on, but I still was getting too much air in my feet.
When we got to the gap reel to the other passage, there were two divers on their way in, placing their reel. I went just beyond and waited for Ken to retrieve the reel. I tried to help untying the line from the gold line for him.
I was really hoping to have fun riding the current from the Lips on out. So even when my buoyancy was all screwy, I was laughing in my regulator at how akimbo I was and still trying to enjoy the ride. Then the shit hit the fan.
We got to the sign and I had the *worst* time with air in my feet. I must have swum 4-6 times around the sign, hanging on for all I was worth trying to force my feet down. Ken tried at one point, and got at least one of my feet down, but I couldn’t get the other one down no matter what. In fact, during the struggle, the leg Ken had gotten down went back up in all the struggle.
At some point, at the sign, I picked up my O2 bottle. I unclipped the reg, pulled the hose free a little so it would be easy to pop into my mouth being sure not to breathe on it yet!. I can’t remember now exactly what happened, but later the bottle was clipped on, so I think I was able to communicate to Ken to hook it on my ‘D’ for me. It was about this time that my Goodman handle popped off my light head. Ken handed it back to me, and I snapped it back on, but the cable ties were loose and it was not firmly attached.
Our dive plan was to not have a reel in the entrance, but to head out the Eye and Ken assured me you could see light from the sign. Last time I was there I reeled out and it was trick in the current! Well, this time I was having real troubles. I saw daylight and decided that was where I was going. The sooner the better. But as I arrived, I realized I was in the Ear. The current was ferocious. I knew it was critical to not get blown out to the surface; I had no interest in dying of gas embolism--or getting bent! So I clung to the rocks as best I could. I was now completely upside down with my feet dangling above me. It was probably about this time, that my right foot, in its inflated state pulled out of the boot. The fin was still on, but was, essentially, useless.
I tried climbing up the rock wall in my upside down state, aiming for the 20’ deco stop. Nearer the bottom, the rocks were great to hang onto with big jug handles. But the higher up I went, the smoother the walls became and the more algae-covered they became. Sometime around now, Ken must have gotten my legs below me.
I worked my way closer to the giant tree used for deco that wedged across the cleft, however, I was losing my ability to keep ahold of the rock. I finally took the risk to drift from the wall to the tree, knowing it would be really bad to miss the tree. Fortunately I arrived at the tree. My helmeted head against it from below, my hands raised over my head, and I “walked” my head along the bottom of the horizontal trunk about 10-15’ to the far end of the cleft which was out of the worst of the current.
At the wall I struggled some more. I thought I was “OK” and I put the O2 regulator in my mouth. Rocks! Just like Mike Young had described happening to him. Not big rocks like he had, but it made me think of a small pile of aquarium gravel in my mouth. I took the regulator out and tried purging helped a little. I went to switch gasses in my computer, but it wouldn’t let me. The computer beeped and the screen flashed. It said I had a ppO2 of 1.8. Hmmmm, how could that be? I checked and found I was at 29 feet. With thoughts in my mind of Wayne telling about the young woman who died switching to 1.2 in the Crack, I switched back to the nitrox.
I worked my way up to 20’ and Ken helped me some more. The Goodman handle fell off again and landed on a ledge. It looked like we were both using our fins to keep it from falling back down the cleft. Success. It was stable on the ledge. Hmm, there’s no gas coming through the regulator. No gas! During my struggles, I realized I had sucked my right tank dry. I switched to my O2 reg. This time I was really at 20’ and I was good to go with the O2. The rocks were gone, but unfortunately the cable tie that held the mouthpiece on was not tight enough, and the mouthpiece rotated and was a little uncomfortable. Oh well. I unclipped the right reg and let it dangle to get it out of the way. The three regs around my neck was too bothersome.
Somewhere during this ordeal, I realized, 'A person could panic about now.' But I didn't.
Since I was now at something of a stasis, I indicated to Ken that I’d like him to help me with my right foot. He took off the fin and handed it to me. He tried to shove my foot back into the boot, but it just wouldn’t go. Maybe without the fin keeper, it might have, but maybe not. Now that I was right-side-up, my feet were “vacuum” suctioned tight. I took my useless fin and clipped it to the dangling reg.
My deco had dropped from 14 mins to 7 with the switch to O2. I got Ken to dip down and grab my Goodman handle which I again snapped onto the light head. My deco ended (later than Ken’s, probably due to my staying on nitrox longer or my high safety setting), and the computer switched to my 3 minute safety stop. Fine. We’re in stasis with no acute problems. I was happy enough wait 3 more minutes. Then I gave Ken the OK signal and off we go to the surface and to swim up the run to the stairs closest the parking. I made sure my BC was nearly completely deflated, and made sure to exhale on the way up. I managed to surface without rocketing up.
But alas, I was suddenly in the river with only one fin. #*(*^&! I kicked as hard as I could with my one fin and even swam breast stroking with my arms. It was quite difficult and I realized I was being swept downstream! It seemed, though, that I would be able to make it over to the run and shore before getting swept completely downstream (and to the Atlantic!). It was difficult, but I thought I might just make it. Suddenly Ken (whom I’d lost track of) grabbed my arm and started towing me back up the run. Strong, helpful man! He let go once I was in the run, so I still had to use my one fin inefficiently to get to the first set of stairs. I tried pulling vainly at the hydrilla to arrive. Eventually (with no help from the hydrilla) I made it. Whew!!!!
There on the stairs I was able to lean back, my right foot out of the water and Ken jammed my boot properly onto my foot. The fin went back on and I was good to swim up the run. But before starting, I saw 3 divers on land at the top of the stairs. One of them looked like Paul H, but I couldn’t be sure, as his hair looked just a little different.
Ken and I swam back up the run, with me back on the left bottle of nitrox. The empty right tank had me listing again. When we arrived at “our” stairs, I offered to buy Ken a beer or lunch and thank him for saving my life. I also discovered that the Goodman handle was gone again. Ken offered to swim down the run to look for my handle. He asked if I would carry his bottles back to the vehicles. Gladly!
He didn’t find the handle, and after I shuttle the tanks, I walked down to the other stairs. Sure enough, it was Paul with two students. I asked him to look out for the handle. If anyone could find a lost item, it’d be Paul.
Thunder began rumbling loudly and close and it began to rain a little. We put on regular clothes and headed up to the lunch stop. I forgot to pay for Ken! Well, I owe him a lot, no matter what! I’ll make good sometime. I promise!
Ken took off quickly for Orlando, and I return to the water. Paul was now out, and he did get my handle. Thanks! I took a shower, bumped into the other Barbara, and Niel, and related the story. Then I headed over to Wayne’s. My story, though perhaps with a lower risk of lethality, had more Murphy incidents than the woman who gave her story of near disaster at the CDS workshop. I was a little more succinct in my telling and Wayne found a lot easier to listen to. He was on his way to the Post Office before they closed, so we each went on our way, me headed back to Virginia.
Any cave dive you come back from is a good dive. I figure it would have been OK if I could say I could have learned something from the dive. Really, the only thing I learned was take the shoulder weights off!