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Archive for April, 2010

Scooter Rigging 101

Since I started this blog, people have been asking me to put various things up on it, talk about cave training, my expectations, student’s expectations, skills and drills or simply pass on some neat tricks and in general provide info that they can’t seem to find elsewhere! Hopefully these upcoming training blog posts will oblige their wishes!

Today I figured we’d talk about scooter rigging since I was just teaching a scooter class and helping my bud rig his Silent Submersion in the process! Trying to come up with a visual and written portrait, we took some pics while rigging his ride in the shed and hopefully this’ll explain why I have my SS rigged the way I do…..

Rodney and Susie make absolutely wonderful scooters, to take a closer look at their fantastic selection of products click here.  Anyways, they come direct from Jupiter with a tow rope run from the 3.00 to 9.00 position using two Prussic knots for length adjustment and a sliding bolt snap to attach to the crotch d ring. This is the set up I used for many years and I liked it a lot, but one thing I noticed is that when getting off the trigger and carrying multiple stages, the tow rope (due to its orientation) liked to get hung up in the stages if I wasn’t careful.  After talking to some older and wiser heads than mine, a solution was presented. What if we were to run a piece of rope from the 3.00 to the 9.00 position that was just long enough to pass over the handle and then attach a free swinging quick link attached to another cord that went directly to the pilot using a double ender for attachment? This kept the cord on a much shorter leash so to speak… 🙂 and also stopped it from dropping behind the stages when one got off the trigger. All of this was probably just user error on my part to begin with but after trying this new idea, I really fell in love with it! We also decided to knot the rope going to the scooter pilot at various intervals, thereby providing attachment points for those who wanted a shorter leash and of course if you wish to lengthen the leash you can just add more double enders…..

Now remember, one of the most important things we need to have while operating our scooter is a tow cord. This enables us to tow or be towed in case of a mechanical failure within the scooter. I’m not going to get into the drills and protocols of towing as it’s outside the scope of this article, but if you have any questions or comments please feel free to post them here or send me an email at rich@divecaves.com.

Another thing that we need to have on our scooter is a way to clip it off when we’re not using it. Of course we can always cradle the scooter behind us with our legs but this seems to be a bit impractical when all you’re doing is placing a 5 ft jump spool! One of the things I like, is for my gear to be as alpinist as is prudent for the situation. I’m not a big fan of having handles on my scooter to lift it etc; I just want to have what I need to dive on there. After all, they’re such sleek machines; it seems a pity to cover them with extraneous stuff, although a couple of cool stickers do go a long way to adding character….

Now, if we could just combine these two cords, we’d be all set right? Well, here’s how….. Grab a 1” d ring and place it in a small d ring holder on the SS webbing hose clamp directly above the shroud strut that is 90 degrees counter clockwise from the shroud strut that sits below the handle. The reason for this is that the SS is designed so the handle sits at 90 degrees from the vertical at rest (and comes up to the top via torque when the handle is rotated) so this gives us an ideal attachment point to clip the scooter off with when we’re not using it! Now this also means that the ideal tow point for the scooter is 180 degrees from where that attachment point is, so we can now attach a tow cord to the ideal towing position and then run that through our 1” d ring, when we’re not using it to tow, then use it as to clip off the scooter while running a jump since by running the tow cord through the d ring we’ve now created a different attachment point!  When the tow cord needs to be deployed it is simply a matter of pulling it out from through the 1” d ring and running it straight up as demonstrated in one of the pictures.

I then also add two double wraps of shock cord around the body of the scooter up by the nose cone which can be used for various things, cookies, clothespins and line arrow storage and also to clip off our tow cord when it’s not in use to prevent it from dangling.

Last but not least, I attach a double ender on a loop to the end of the cord where it’s attached to the shroud. I do this for a couple of reasons, one is so I have an extra double ender with me at all times and the other is to be able to attach the scooter “shroud first” like a stage bottle. This can be extremely useful when pulling a line in a high flow situation as it gives you the ability to get your elbow in front of the shroud to stop it from being blown past you during a high flow exit. When traveling, the double ender is simply clipped back to the tow rope which keeps it out of the way.

The picture of the scooter with the blue tail cone is how it should look after all the rigging is completed, but please remember to add the nose cone before putting it in the water! Seriously though, note how the one rope comes just up over the shroud and then is attached to another knotted tow rope via a quick link. If you look closely, you can also see the loop (on the rope by the shroud attachment) where that extra double ender goes. The tow cord up top is run through the 1” d ring but not clipped off on the shock cord as it would be if you were traveling. In case you were wondering what the yellow duct tape on the top of the blue coned scooter is, its data from the burn test that I pull every three months on all my scooters. It’s a great way to keep track of individual scooter battery burn time and should be common practice for all those that own scooters.

Anyways, I hope that you were able to make sense of all of this and that the photos have helped. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to write them below or contact me and I’ll do my best to help you out. I’ll publish some more things like this as soon as I have some more spare time, but for now, it’s time to put Kaley to bed and get ready for scootering Manatee tomorrow…

Manatee Springs – 4/20/10

Well here we are at gorgeous Manatee Springs for the last day of my buddy Dave’s scooter class. Allen is also with us, he completed his course last week and is just along for the ride so to speak… 🙂 Dave’s been here many times before, but Allen’s somewhat new to Manatee so on our way to Catfish Hotel, we stop and check out Friedman’s sink, the furthest entrance into the system. There’s a possibility we may come back here on Thursday and scooter, so this is a water level scouting mission also!

We hop in the vehicles and head down to Catfish Hotel. We run into TJ from Dayo Scuba who’s teaching a cavern class, so it looks like we’ll have the cave all to ourselves, sweet! Luckily, two of us have hand carts and yes, the one who forgot would be me. My faithful van died a couple of weeks back, so while it’s getting repaired I’m diving out of my Ford Explorer, which is taking a bit of getting used to! Anyways, the guys are nice enough to let me borrow a cart to haul the UV-26 down to the water and eventually we get all geared up. We covered all the needed drills apart from one yesterday at Devil’s, so today should just be a nice relaxing scooter ride to finish up the class.

Dave’s volunteered; okay read commandeered, to run the reel down to the gold braid, so after our pre dive checks and an S drill we drop down into the cavern area. I’m part of the team today, as I don’t really fancy scootering Manatee in the dark. This is my usual practice at Devil’s, but the ups and downs and dark walls here don’t lend themselves well to scootering by someone else’s light…. J Dave flips the scooter between his legs, the leash is still a tad too long but he’s cradling it nicely, and deftly ties in the primary and heads into the murkiness ahead. A little ways in, he puts in a very professional looking secondary tie off and soon enough ties us into the gold braid. The scooters get unclipped and we are out of here!

Vis is the usual 20’ to 30’ in the cave and the flow is it’s usual resilient self, but we knuckle down and motor off into the depths. Allen’s leading and he settles into a comfortable pace, but my eyes are on Dave just ahead of me who’s trimmed out just above the shroud and looking darn good! I know that he’s being having some ear issues lately and the ups and downs of Manatee are probably not helping any. We go by Sue’s Sink and I glance up, but nothing, the vis just isn’t good today. I’ve gone by here before and the sun has been shining down from a perfect round hole, but no such luck. We negotiate a couple steep up and downs and come across the T that leads up to Friedman’s. We stop and take a moment to admire the beautiful little cavern above us and then we’re back on the trigger and heading into power passage, I keep thinking I’m seeing Dave wince ahead of me and sure enough at one of the low points in the tunnel, he flashes Allen and gives us the hold sign and points to his ears. I feel bad, as we have to go back through all this stuff, and I’ve seen enough so I give him the thumb and back to Catfish we head.

I pull my last remaining drill a couple of hundred feet past Friedman’s on our return, the guys handle things just fine and pretty quickly we’re back at the primary reel. It looks like a placement has come off so I do my best to get entangled in our primary line and Allen gives me that yeah right look, swims over and untangles me staring me down as if to say, hey this isn’t my class!

After a little bit of deco we’re back at the steps, lifting our gear out, quite to the amusement of some tourists whom I believe thought we were quite insane! We take all the gear back to the parking lot, debrief, say “bye” to the rangers after collecting our C cards and head over to the BBQ joint back on the main drag for a late lunch. After reviewing the test, I congratulate Dave, we make plans for some future diving and head on our way after a great day of scooter diving, heads full of that after dive buzz which my friend calls “the mellows”….

Eagles Nest – 4/6/10

I awaken groggily to the sound of the alarm, and roll out of bed soundlessly.  Quickly grabbing a handful of clothes, I check on my daughter, then pad out to the kitchen and blearily brew some coffee. A few minutes later I head outside to the shed, grab some last minute items and soon Allen’s truck pulls onto the property.  We throw some extra water bottles and O2 in the Tacoma and head out to the road. What a gorgeous morning, the sun’s traversing slowly over a clear blue sky and we’re heading south down to Chassahowitzka Wildlife Refuge for Allen’s first trip to the “Everest” of cave diving, that deep, dark labyrinth known as Eagles Nest.

After a couple of hours of serious hydration and a few rest stops we finally pull into the hunting camp, throw our cash in the iron ranger and begin the half hour drive down some winding dirt roads. Lots of deep ruts and potholes, but it hasn’t rained lately so at least everything’s dry. The scenery changes from scrub dirt and scattered trees to lush ferns forming a canopy over the road, looking remarkably like Costa Rica or Mexico and after a wild drive we pull into the parking lot. Cool, it looks like we have the place to ourselves, even though the sign in sheet says there was a fellow cave diver here much earlier in the day.
Eagles Nest offers the opportunity for some extremely deep cave diving with depths up to 310 feet. There is an excellent description of the site along with maps and other data on my friend Walter’s site and I encourage you to check it out for some great info on this world class cave system.

We’ve decided to dive the Lockwood tunnel today since it’s relatively shallow (225’) compared to the rest of the system. We start gearing up, taking deco bottles and stages to the waters edge and I can tell my buddy’s excited! Looking out at the surface pond we try to get an idea of what the vis will be, but as usual there’s no telling what it’s like after dropping through the solution tube.  Sooner rather than later, we’ve got all our bottles on and after some safety checks and drills we drop down into the bowels of the earth. I hang my O2 bottle around 25 ft, watch as Allen does the same and then we start dropping down the tube. My first thought is oh crap, this is terrible vis, but we’re committed now, so I drop down to the 70ft loops where we hang our 50% and spiral down into the all consuming void beneath us. The huge debris mound and sign come into view finally and seriously, this has to be the worst visibility I’ve seen here in years.  Oh well, I head downstream, staying close to the gold braid as I can only see five feet  and keeping a close eye on Allen’s light behind me. It’s a nice, steady beam and I flash him a quick okay to make sure all is good and he returns it. We drop our stages and continue on and it’s such an eerie feeling knowing how big this cave is and how confining the visibility is, trust me this is not the place you want to do a lost line drill! I’m watching the depth drop and finally we hit the jump and bear left into the Lockwood tunnel. I feel bad, ‘cause we can’t see a thing but we’re not at our turn time yet and gas is just fine so on we go, the cave feeling really oppressive. As the line starts to rise, my heart pumps up a beat, is that clear water ahead?

Sure enough a minute later about 400 ft in, we run into sparkling blue water and the visibility goes from 5-10 ft to as far as our lights will shine! I flip around, give Allen the “hell yeah’ sign and he’s hooting and hollering through his reg. Wow, finally we can see how big and cool this cave really is! The difference is amazing and we can get off the line and start poking around. Our HID’s play cool blue light off the massive boulders beneath us  and the immense rock walls to either side, this is what cave diving is all about, to have moments like these that just defy description. I’m on sensory overload, luckily our back gas is good, we have enough deco gas for a small extension of our planned bottom time, so we spend an extra few minutes enjoying the clear water, knowing we’ll have to pay for it on deco. Finally, discipline kicks in and reluctantly we turn and start our exit.

Once again, we’re back in the nothing vis and it still amazes me how benign this cave seems when you have good visibility and how dangerous it seems when you don’t. It’s always a relief to get back to the stages and the mind starts to relax a little bit, even though we have well over an hour of deco ahead of us. Usually exiting the Ballroom is a pleasure but we can’t even see a glow from the surface at 100’. I concentrate on the bottom timer and settle in for a long hang. Our gas switches go smoothly and finally we’re in the surface pool doing the longer stops.

After what seems like the usual eternity, we’re out of the water and blathering on about how cool that was. Allen’s stoked and we make plans to return here, but hopefully not until the visibility improves some! We’re driving home and decide to stop by Birds, unfortunately he’s out of town, but Marty’s there, so we chat and I introduce him to Allen. Of course I pick up one of Bird’s famous UDIE shirts and a little something for Kaley and eventually we’re on the long drive back home. Allen’s driving, we’re both acting a little goofy and I start chuckling inside and thinking, what a crazy bunch we are, spending a couple of hours in the water for maybe 10 minutes of being able to see something special! But then again if it’s what you love to do, maybe it’s not that crazy after all……:-)

If you’d like to see what Eagles Nest looks like when there’s good visibility, my friends Becky and Dave took some great video of the system (including the drive there!) and were kind enough to let me post it here. Please be sure to stop by their website at liquidproductions.com to see some more great cave diving videos.

Cave Diving Eagles Nest Sink Upstream & Downstream HD from Liquid Productions, LLC on Vimeo.