My Cave Diving Training Summary
If you have no interest in Cave Diving, this posting should be skipped.
I just returned from a week in Florida taking a cave diving course and this posting will summarize my experiences. Whenever you try something new, which could be a game at party poker or a recipe it is really nice to be able to share your experience with others. I apologize for the length of the following preface, but after much thought, I feel it is necessary:
Cave diving is not for everyone. Not only is it physically and mentally taxing, but it is expensive and the results will vary dramatically from person to person, depending on their psychological make-up. Only about 25% of all the certified cave divers actually do any cave diving. Cave diving is a field which seems to attract some of the biggest egos, but it is your ego that is the first thing that needs to be checked at the cave entrance. Safety isn't a matter of coming back with 500psi and taking along a whistle in case you don't make it... safety is EVERYTHING, and everything you do is directly related to your safety: certainly your equipment, your training, your preparation, and your following the rules, but more important is your ATTITUDE. A bad or cocky attitude will kill you as quickly as running out of air 1000 feet back in a tunnel.
Why make these statements, especially when so many are 'stating the obvious'? Because no one wants to be responsible (even remotely, as Steve Kelsay discovered) for the death of anyone else. I don't want anyone to read this description of MY training and come away with the _attitude_ that cave diving is easy. It may have been easy for me, but it isn't for many. My wife gets infuriated because I seem to have a knack for certain things (not ALL things, certainly!!!), never seeming to have to work at getting them right. I seem to have this kind of knack for diving. If you, too, have that knack, never having a problem with your current level of diving, always conscientious about equipment maintenance and configuration, always thinking about safety, always figuring out solutions to problems that haven't occurred yet, able to recognize and stay within your own limits, won't succumb to peer pressure, constantly trying to improve your technique, and feel completely comfortable in the water, and you are looking for new horizons, then maybe cave diving is for you! It is definitely for ME! I love it! The caves are stunningly beautiful, intricate and fascinating. Diving in caves is thrilling and challenging, requiring careful planning and preparation. The discussions held before (and after) the dive are just as important -- and interesting -- as the dive itself. Well, I'm digressing, but I just want to make sure that you understand that cave diving is not "just another course", but a whole new way of thinking, a new way of diving, very difficult, very expensive, but with fantastic rewards at the end of it all.
So, in May of '94 I took a Cavern Course at Ginnie Springs, Florida (taught by Jarrod Jablonski (JJ), Tyler Moon and Steve Masters). The course was terrific, giving me a look at a whole different world, the world of underwater caverns and the enticement of underwater caves. The material was almost overwhelming and the amount of task-loading encountered in the dives was - well - almost overwhelming! But it wasn't just the fun and physical challenge of the high flow caves at Ginnie, it was the intellectual challenge and the fascinating new equipment, methods, rules, configurations and attitudes that went with it. In other words - to my way of thinking - this was KEWL STUFF!
I quickly realized that I wanted to dive in caves, too, so I started educating myself as to what was involved. Joel Markwell and John Crea and the other cave divers on CIS were a huge help, and phone calls and brochures and several books and magazines as sources helped too. I started to list out all the equipment I would need and set down a schedule of acquiring what I needed. More important, though, was finding the right instructor. We all know that the instructor is what makes or breaks a course, so I had to not only find a competent, well-known and active instructor, but one who also matched my own personality and approach to things.
After a few months, I narrowed it down to five possible instructors: all 5 had the experience and qualifications needed, but only 2 matched my personality. I made my final decision between these two based on convenience and price. I selected John Orlowski of AquaSpeleo. John's home is near Live Oak, Florida, less than an hour away from 10 or more great u/w caves: Peacock, Telford, Cow, Madison Blue, etc. The "formal" lectures were held on his front porch, shared with his two cats - Shotgun and Attitude - and a dog. Surrounded by a pine forest, it would have been complete solitude except for the geese, roosters, turkeys, horses and chickens making a cacophony of sounds from time to time. From this description, you can probably guess that even the "formal" lectures were laid-back... and that is a good description of John, too. When it came down to business, John is all business, but his laid-back attitude took the edge off of everything and made me feel a lot better about the tasks I was taking on. John's wife, Shelley, is not just a significant-other, but an equal partner and contributor, and a damn fine cave diver. It was great having her there because she always had a valid but different point-of-view which always helped my understanding.
Although the best method of acquiring experience in caves is to take the Cavern course, then have several dives in caverns; take the Intro to Cave Diving course, then have several dives (within the limits) in caves; take the Apprentice Cave Diver course... etc. I did not have that luxury, since I did not live in or near Florida or other community with a number of underwater caves. I would have to take the Full Cave course all at once, due to time and money constraints. Now, in restrospect, I can certainly STRONGLY recommend NOT taking the course all at once. Practicing the skills you learn at each stage would be highly preferable over the all-at-one-time pace.
Here is a picture of my primary cave diving buddy, Joel Markwell, with me, during a not too recent cave diving trip.
This will jump you to a letter I wrote a friend who was about to do some cave diving training, and I was trying to describe it to him.