Brett Hemphill and Marc Singer late night decompression in Catfish Hotel
Photo by Michael Barnette
Mapping Manatee Springs
09/12/2009 - We return to Manatee to resume the survey in the Sewer Tunnel. Bob Giguere, Sandra Poucher, and Renee Powers come to provide support. We meet at the gate at 8 am and after signing in with the park, we begin unload gear for the dive. Thanks to rebreathers (I dive the Optima, Andy dives the Prism) our bail out consists of two staged 80's plus we each carry two, sidemounted steel 85's and we have bailout deco gas in the basin.
We get into our drysuits and by 10 am we are geared up and ready to begin the scooter ride into the Sewer Tunnel. Scooters here are a necessary tool to get out far enough, fast enough, to allow us time to survey. The tunnel is small, silty, with low visibility, so you have to be constantly vigilant of the line and passage to avoid painful, contact with rock or damaging the cave. In just over an hour we drop the scooters and bailout gas - the passage beyond is too small and silty to continue, and we start to swim.
This section of cave is very low, very silty and very difficult to negotiate. The second diver is pretty well resigned to zero visibility for the majority, so its slow going. As we get farther back to more open passage, there are sections where the flow makes it difficult to make any headway without pulling on the rocks. Finally at 100 minutes in, we get to the cookie marking the end of our survey and continue.
After about 600 feet, we come to a tee in the line. This is where Mark Long connected to the WKPP line when Jarrod Jablonski and Todd Kincaid explored the Siphon Tunnel at the end of the main line. There 11,000 feet of passage in front of us to get back to Catfish, 6400 feet behind us. We continued to survey another 800 feet of passage and turned the dive at just over 200 minutes of bottom time.
We now began the long journey out and after 4 hours and 45 minutes in the cave, we exited into the basin at Catfish hotel. Three hours later we exited the water, and this is where we are most grateful for the support crew. They took all our gear out and packed it away while we got out of our suits and into dry, warm clothes. By 7 pm we were ready to leave the park and get some FOOD!
Photo by Andrew Pitkin
8/29/2009 - Andrew Pitkin and I return to the Sewer Tunnel to re-line another 1600 feet of passage. Visibility was only about 10-15 feet today with a lot of milky particulate in the water. We tied in to where we left off in July and I swam the reel while Andy made tie-offs. We got all 1600 feet installed, passing over two new breaks in the line in the process, which just reaffirms the need for the new line.
We spliced the new line into the old and began the tedious process of reeling the old line back up. Andy went ahead to pull the old tie-offs while I reeled in the line. This is the worst part of the work, especially in low visibility and high flow. Invariably, the line gets slack and the lead diver finds themselves faced with giant loops of potential entanglements coming towards them! Luckily, we had no serious problems on the exit (nothing a sharp knife can't fix!) and we made our way back to Catfish Hotel.
Finally, after three hours of bottom time, we see the green glow of Catfish Hotel. We have just over an hour of decompression ahead. We pass the time with sips of gatorade and listening to underwater mp3 players. On surfacing, Renee Powers is there to help ferry gear back to the parking lot. Thanks Renee! After a long dive, its great to have help with all the gear. So, we've finished the re-lining and the Sewer Tunnel is now a safer place to dive - time to get back to surveying!
1600 feet of #72 - ready to lay some line! 3000 feet of old line from the Sewer Tunnel
photos by Andrew Pitkin
Update 11/17/2008: We have been surveying in Manatee Springs off and on since 2001 and we currently have 21,694 feet of survey making it the 26th longest underwater cave in the world. The latest addition to the survey was a dive by David Rhea and Marc Singer to the Spring Tunnel at 8,000 feet. They collected 1600 feet of survey with a total dive time of 10 hours. Brett Hemphill, Andrew Pitkin and myself continue to survey in the Milk Tunnel and the Sewer Tunnel. We published the map of the first half of the cave system this month (November 2008) and it will be available through the NACD, NSSCDS and some of the local dive shops.
On July 26th, Andrew Pitkin and myself began re-lining in the Sewer Tunnel. Dave Lizdas and Andy had started re-lining the first 400 feet of passage using open circuit. We came back with rebreathers and did another 1200 feet. The Sewer Tunnel was very sewer-like today. High flow made swimming a challenge and visibility was poor with all the particulate in the water. Thanks to the NSS-CDS for donating 4000 feet of #72 white nylon line for the project.