2/27/2016 Deeping Stream

On Saturday February 27, 2016, KUR divers Brett Hemphill and Matt Vinzant conducted a dive to investigate a potential lead identified on February 13 by Pitkin and Vinzant. The lead was located at the end of the recently discovered ‘Sirion’ Passage in the ‘Not Dead Yet’ room.

The entrance shaft at Twin Dees is restrictive and requires significant setup for a dive of this magnitude. 12 bottles and a decompression habitat are currently deployed in the system. An additional 12 cylinders, 4 DPVs, 4 heater packs, food, hydration, deco entertainment and 2 deco micro rebreathers were required to be staged in the system for this dive. A team of volunteer divers conducted the arduous work of setting us up. Success is dependent on the entire team.

Hemphill and Vinzant entered the system just before 10am with Eric Deister as an escort. They made good time scootering through the low restrictive 1200 feet of passage to reach the Beach. Once there safety gasses were checked and a final assessment was conducted before moving deeper into the cave. All was well.

Hemphill led the way piloting a Bonex Discovery DPV with Vinzant on a Magnus. Quick DPVs are utilized to minimize time at depth. It took 44 minutes to reach the Balcony (entrance to Middle Earth) from the surface. Once there Vinzant checked the staged gasses and dropped a heater pack.

From Middle Earth it is 5700 feet to Weeki Wachee at nearly 300 feet depth. Visibility in the Alph Tunnel was reduced from two weeks prior and had patches of very hazy water. The team made good time: 20 minutes to F-Well while stopping to check all five deep stage bottles for pressure and 30 minutes to Weeki Wachee.

At the connection ‘T’ in Weeki Wachee, at the relatively shallow depth of 250 feet, scooters were swapped and video lights were deployed. Hemphill was now on a Suex XK1 and Vinzant on a Submerge Valkyrie. Vinzant led the way, recalling every detail from two weeks prior. Traversing this passage is awe-inspiring and sends goosebumps up one’s neck.

Once the team arrived at the Not Dead Yet Room, Vinzant tied in his Light Monkey explorer reel and started shooting video. Hemphill scouted ahead with video lights on his DPV. The target lead was located at the southern end of the room. It was roughly 15 feet tall and 30 feet wide and partially hidden by a large block of breakdown. The lead quickly descended to 360 feet and remained stark white. The passage size was reduced and everything was covered in a fine talcum-like silt. Hemphill pushed forward with Vinzant in on his fin tips. The breakdown piles were stacked like Lego blocks and the duo searched for a route beyond. The tunnel continued to trend to the south and stepped deeper and deeper through a series of pits. The passage resembles Dipolder with a hint of Post Mortem. At times the team scootered over broad flat breakdown through tunnel only a few feet tall until it would open up again. At the final picturesque pit the divers reached a maximum depth of 400 feet. After 600 feet the tunnel trended upward slightly and another line was visible. The new tunnel, dubbed the ‘Deeping Stream’, connected 150 feet from the end of the 2007 exploration line at the White Room. Vinzant tied in the new line to the existing line at a white line arrow dropped by Paul Heinerth in 2007. Regrettably his GoPro battery had died at this point.

Vinzant was stowing the reel and Hemphill motioned to scout ahead to see exactly where we had connected. The White Room was spectacular. A flat ceiling composed of a harder limestone was visible 50 feet overhead and incredibly white walls created a perfect dome reminiscent of a planetarium.

While Vinzant was admiring the room and contemplating the task of surveying at 400 feet depth, Hemphill had deployed his reel and was pushing through a narrow restriction 24 inches tall and 8 feet wide. Vinzant waited to see what the outcome would be. Within a few seconds Hemphill was back on the trigger and laying more line. Vinzant navigated the restriction and corrected a potential line trap. Another 400 feet of line was added through passage averaging 6 feet tall by 20 feet wide. The tunnel dead ended in a broad flat room with no promising leads. Vinzant deployed a silt stake and the line was tied off. Hemphill began surveying the newly laid line; he ran the book while Vinzant collected the azimuths. A dropped compass and a broken compass reinforced the decision we made to bring a few extra along.

Survey went smoothly except for two small inconveniences: Vinzant got his compass lanyard in the prop resulting in the clutch slipping although it was dislodged in a few seconds. Some 200 feet later Hemphill’s pencil got sucked into his propeller. This resulted in the prop coming off, naturally right at 400 feet. He signalled Vinzant to tow him to a shallower depth to fix the issue. The entanglement was resolved and the prop reinstalled. The trip out was uneventful and efficient.

The explorers made it back to Middle Earth at 147 minutes giving 103 minutes in the Alph Tunnel, 60 of which were commute and 43 minutes to survey and explore 1000 feet of passage. The Shearwater computers display a time to surface value in minutes and max out at 999 which is rather disheartening at 240 feet. An accurate TTS was not seen until the 190 foot stop. Decompression was long: it was 2 hrs from Middle Earth to the Beach, 5 hours from the Beach to the habitat, 5 hours in the habitat at 40’, almost 2 hours from 40’ to the surface.

Decompression was made more enjoyable with micro rebreathers and an iPad with a waterproof speaker; we enjoyed two movies, and had cheeseburgers delivered.

Total dive time was 976 minutes, max depth 400 feet, total penetration 9000 feet.

Thank you to our support team of: Eric Deister, Derek Ferguson, Michael Barnette, Kyle Moshell, Forest Rothchild, Andy Pitkin and everyone else involved.

Matt Vinzant

Author: Robert Beckner

Bob Beckner has been diving for 36 years and technical diving for 27.  Growing up in Florida led him to cave diving and wreck diving and working in several dive shops along the way.  He was fortunate enough to have had Terrence Tysall as a technical instructor and learn in a very “GUE” like fashion before GUE existed.  He has participated in several USSR Monitor expeditions with the Cambrian foundation, gone with Mote to the Gulf Blue Holes and worked with Karst Underwater Research for 13 years helping Explore and Document Florida’s Karst features. His favorite KUR projects are Weeki Wachee Springs, Peacock Springs, Werner Boyce State Park/Deep Salt Springs and any site that needs photo documentation. Number one bucket list dive type: mine diving.  He lives in Central Florida under the watchful and protective eye of Sheriff Grady Judd.

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