Welcome to the Cave Diver's Forum.
  • Old Bellamy and Beyond

    by Alan Heck

    Exploration of the cave system around and between River Sink and River Rise on the Santa Fe has been going on for over nine years. What began as a dive into a local farmers sink hole gradually grew into one of the largest cave systems in North Central Florida with over 60,000 feet of explored passage and probably that much more unexplored. Its been fun being one of the primary explorers on this project but, although the decision was not left to me alone, its time to move on. Much was learned about the cave geography but, equally important, much was learned about exploration technique and the politics of 'team' diving.

    During the severe drought conditions of the past several years, visibility in the system remained relatively good. The system was receiving a large proportion of spring water relative to tannic river water. Visibility in the lower portion of the system, Sweetwater Lake and Two Hole area, at times would reach 50 to 60 ft and exploration was easy. Large teams of multiple divers could be put into the various sinkholes and lay over a 1000 feet of new line on a dive. 'Scootering' was easy and deep penetrations were possible. Things were good. The team was busy and content.

    New divers were brought on to the team. Many of these divers showed up for several dives and then faded away but a few such as Alex Warren and Cindy Butler became dedicated members of the team. Alex built and installed the 'deco' trees in Bee Tree Sink and Little Blue Sink and made numerous dives in Sweetwater Lake and River Rise when he could spare the time away from his primary project at Beacon Woods and Wayne's World. Cindy, who would dive anywhere or anytime, was a huge help in exploring the low-visibility tunnels in the northern end of the system where river water intrusion tends to be higher. I would like to thank whoever recruited them to the team because they alone sustained the exploration until they were both unceremoniously 'booted' from the project.

    In late 2002, beginning with the winter turn-over, and continuing through the flooding of early 2003, visibility in the system dropped to near zero levels. Several dives were made to check water conditions, hoping perhaps the water had stratified and clearer lenses of water might be found to continue exploration. No such luck. Visibility cleared to 10ft on occasion but remained closer to 5ft most of the time. This, obviously, is not a good condition for exploration, especially in large tunnel such as that in the Old Bellamy system. Frustrated by the visibility but eager to continue exploration, new techniques gradually evolved.

    Evolution of New Techniques
    A lot of time was spent 'ridge walking' the park and becoming as familiar as possible with the terrain of the area through which the cave ran. This is something that is often overlooked in the eagerness to get in the water. With a better understanding of the terrain, a better decision can often be made as to which wall to follow in the system or which general heading to take over a debris mound in low visibility situations. Running out of patience as the water cleared all too slowly if at all), but armed with a better understanding of the topography, we felt more comfortable with tackling the conditions.


    Its not an uncommon thing. When deprived of one of our senses, the others become more acute. Deprived of our sense of 'sight' in the Oleno system, we became more attuned to other clues - water movement, bottom contour, and bottom conditions - to navigate through the system. Water movement kept us heading in the same relative direction. In some cases, when the flow abated, ripples on the bottom were used. The composition and type of debris on the bottom would often indicate a sinkhole above. These techniques were not foolproof and some time was still spent swimming in circles but , slowly but surely, we worked our way from sinkhole to sinkhole.


    You are probably wondering why even dive in these conditions. And you could probably argue that point very effectively. If we drove to Peacock or Little River and the tunnel was tannic, certainly we would abort the dive. Nothing would be gained by diving in such conditions. But now consider the same conditions, but someone or something was lost in the system. Now there may be some value to diving in such conditions. I can think of more than a few cases where this has in fact occurred.
    Well, I attached a lot of value to determining the path of water flow between River Sink and River Rise and was not alone in this although I will admit that perhaps I attached a disproportionately greater value to it than others might. At any rate, the lure of the exploration was there as well as the perceived value in continuing in spite of the conditions. We made sure we went slowly, paid more attention to detail in planning and executing the dive, and fine-tuned our buddy techniques. We tried not to think about the gators, who left us alone for the most part. Big Alligator Lake was appropriately named.


    The area of Oleno State Park which was being explored was somewhat unique in that it was characterized by a lot of sinkholes. It was not apparent what the path was between these sinkholes but it was obvious that they were connected somehow. Even with the survey data gathered during a dive, the exact sinkhole traversed was not always conclusive. We couldn't usually surface in these sinkholes because of decompression obligations. And trying to relocate our line by entering from the suspected sinkhole likewise was very inefficient in the limited visibility. The technique we devised was to release small floats (e.g. Clorox bottles) whenever we suspected we were in a new sink. After the dive, we would then walk to the suspected sinkhole and could unequivocally verify that we had traversed it by locating our float. In this manner, Big Alligator Sink was connected upstream to Ravines, through three intermediate sinkholes, and downstream to Jim's Sink, again through three intermediate sinkholes.


    Because many of the sinks were small, somewhat remote from the road, with steep sides, access was difficult. Traditional doubles were too heavy to tote these distances up and down the steep inclines. Some of the inclines were so steep that a chain ladder had to be used to reach the water level. The easiest configuration to use in these situations was to sidemount. The tanks could easily be carried to the water individually and donned in the water at the entry point. As penetrations became longer, one or two stages were added to the configuration. Coincidentally at this same time, Brian Williams had shown us several sumps off the park but with possible Old Bellamy connections. With his assistance and the assistance of several of his dry caving friends, we had begun experimenting with sump diving. They helped us repel into several sinks which we then explored with sidemount configurations. The accessibility and visibility problems of the Oleno sinks were tame in comparison.


    Beyond Old Bellamy
    Armed with these new techniques, the project surged (if a snail can surge) ahead. However, the exploration, at this point, started to transform and take on a life of itself. There were signs that the team was disintegrating and I found myself putting off other dives that I wanted make and postponing other projects to be available to dive at Oleno when I could get someone to accompany me. Its time to back away. I can look back on what was accomplished over the last nine years (and over 200 dives in the Old Bellamy system) and take satisfaction in it. The ultimate connection is imminent with only a short gap in the Sweetwater/River Rise line segment and a slightly larger gap in the Jug Lake/Jim Sink line segment. The amount of unexplored passage, however, is still tremendous.


    I think ultimately what will be found is that River Sink is not the main source of water entering the system and that several swallets, such as Vinzant's Landing, and in-feeders, such as the Derrickson Tunnel, contribute much more water to the system. Likewise, I don't think River Rise is the only outlet for the system. I think a lot of 'things' are happening in the Downing Lake area of the system and that there are major branches in the system in that area which vent further downstream from the Rise, perhaps springs such as Columbia Spring or others yet to be found. I don't think the true magnitude of the system has been imagined. Hopefully, as future exploration unravels this immensity, the recharge areas of the system can be identified by DEP and protected to the maximum extent possible. The segment of tunnel between Ogden Pond and Ravines is as 'alive' as any cave I've dove in and, ultimately, this is what it is all about.
  • Recent Forum Posts

    Kelly Jessop

    Jackson Blue Exploration

    Thanks Ben. Didn't somebody find a means to go around the collapse you mentioned?

    Kelly Jessop 04-21-2018 05:19 AM Go to last post
    bamafan

    Ss uv40

    There are a substantial amount of lead weights on them. Apparently Rodney's 40 a/h life battery is substantially lighter than the normal lead acid battery that comes in s UV-18

    bamafan 04-21-2018 05:16 AM Go to last post
    sinisa

    GoPro Hero 3+ Silver, LCD BacPac and extras

    Good working condition. With LCD touch screen BacPac, standard and waterproof dive housing, charger and 3 extra batteries. Shipping included for CONUS.
    18158

    sinisa 04-21-2018 01:01 AM Go to last post
    sinisa

    Shearwater Petrel 2 with VPM upgrade

    Used for around 250 dives. Perfect working condition with normal wear and tear. Includes VPM algorithm upgrade and a set of new wrist straps.

    $550 including shipping CONUS.

    sinisa 04-21-2018 12:59 AM Go to last post
    jblack

    Devil's Ear 4-14-18

    the place was a mad house..... still a fun dive. i enjoyed it..

    jblack 04-20-2018 11:39 PM Go to last post
    patpicos

    WTB - Reef Scuba Pony Bottle X Bracket

    Hi

    interested in a Reef Scuba Pony Bottle X Bracket....looking to buy quick and pick up fast...will likely buy online tomorrow if no quick local options in Cave Country :)

    Let me know

    patpicos 04-20-2018 11:35 PM Go to last post
    Sidemountdiver1999

    Ss uv40

    Rodney built it. It was an 18 conversion as well. The previous owner was saying something about special weights on the battery to trim the scooter out. I?ll have to look at it more when I test dive...

    Sidemountdiver1999 04-20-2018 10:47 PM Go to last post
    Rhino

    Jackson Blue Exploration

    Alright! Only 10,000' more penetration and about 40,000' more of passage for me to get to. Almost thought I was running out of new places to see in JB.
    Thanks ya'll for paving the way.

    Rhino 04-20-2018 07:07 PM Go to last post
    Pullnglide

    Ss uv40

    I had one but it was homebuilt and I could never get it to trim the way I wanted while towing. While on the trigger it was great! Good power and great range! Weight was 72lbs, not as bad as a 26...

    Pullnglide 04-20-2018 05:32 PM Go to last post
    bigdave

    New York Times Bat Op Ed - an update

    Personally, I think the NSS is right and WNS is going to have to run its course.

    WNS is still spreading despite the best efforts, and seems likely to continue to do so.

    An annual count of one...

    bigdave 04-20-2018 04:10 PM Go to last post
    Ramseyedu

    Urgent: Buddy needed for cave diving.

    Please tell me there's someone out there who doesn't mind diving Gennie or Peacock, or anywhere near high springs tomorrow 4/21????? I was supposed to meet a buddy here but they canceled last minute....

    Ramseyedu 04-20-2018 04:02 PM Go to last post
    sandy

    Jackson Blue Exploration

    Thanks for the update Ben! Look forward to seeing the new map. Sounds like you may be close to connecting to Ginnie!

    sandy 04-20-2018 03:37 PM Go to last post