Education, Enjoyment and Exploration…

Common Courtesy – NACD Journal 4th Quarter, 2006

Ah, it’s one of those wonderful, cold crisp Florida mornings, and you’ve been anticipating this dive for a while. After getting geared up and heading down to the water, you’re finally at the cave entrance. Wow, look at all those reels!! You finally figure out where you’re going to lay your primary, and now you’re heading into the cave looking for an appropriate secondary tie-off, using placements to keep your line low. It seems like everywhere you’ve used before is already taken so you decide to run your line a little further in…..ah, there’s a great little nub, so you use that and head towards the main line to tie in. You’re going to have to cross somebody else’s line and you think back to cave class, hmm was that over or under the line? Hopefully you’ll remember your line protocols and realize that you take your line under some one else’s and your body over it. This time of year, there tends to be a larger than normal amount of cave diver traffic, forcing meetings at the entrance, other times in restricted passages so I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about some stuff that we don’t always seem or want to remember, common courtesy.

I’m hovering in the dark watching a student do a lost line drill as part of a Full Cave class, when suddenly we’re overrun by lights. I’m immediately blinded as I turn around to see what’s going on. We’re over to the right of a big room, and the divers pass within a couple of feet of us, shining their lights on us the whole time. Next day, we’re at a different cave system, completing another skill set and as we were passed by other divers, lights were shielded and care was taken to stay away from us. Who was right here, who was wrong? Well, I don’t think anybody was wrong, but when the caves are busy with diver traffic, it can make one’s cave diving experience a whole lot better when teams are courteous to each other.

Believe me, I can relate to the diver who gets frustrated while waiting for five or six people to exit the Eye, divers getting annoyed by the amount of people they see in the system, but we have to realize that our beloved sport is becoming more popular day by day.  I don’t really have any solutions for you, but I can suggest to you that you use this excess traffic to your advantage! Instead of just waiting for teams to exit while holding yourself on a log, practice your hovering skills, back kick or helicopter turn. Try running your reel different ways from where you have before, you’ll be amazed at the amount of tie offs, little nubs of rock available to use that you’ve never noticed.

If you are one of the first in the system, run your reel knowing that others will be coming behind you, and give them room to work. Take pride in the way you run your line and use it as an example to other cave divers as to how they should run their reel. Become an original thinker, try to get in the habit of never using the same tie offs; it will improve your cave diving skills and also help you the first time you enter a new system. Don’t be afraid to swim into the cave a little bit before tying off to the mainline, and try to avoid high tie offs whenever possible.

While in the cave, if you don’t want to see other divers, try exploring passages that you haven’t been in before, making sure you temper that with safety, conservation and mature judgement. Go and visit one of the less popular caves and take your time exploring new passages and “learning the cave”. The sign of a knowledgeable cave diver is one who does not need to rely on the lines to exit, but has a feel for the cave, where the most effective path of travel is, the ability to anticipate buoyancy changes before they occur, passages to avoid when diving with newer divers and that sort of thing. Another option is to improve your skills, take a sidemount class which will open up new cave, or enroll in a trimix course so you can explore some of the less traveled deeper stuff.

Cave diving is a team sport and part of that is being courteous when you see others in the cave, giving exiting teams the right of way, as well as pointing your lights down when passing other divers. People in the dark with shielded lights usually mean there’s some kind of class drill going on and flashing a quick okay if in doubt is usually a better idea than bathing them in your megawatt HID! This is a very popular time of year for people to learn cave diving and also to participate in it, as those of you who have been out diving the last couple of months can attest to! Some of these people have never been diving in our caves before, so offer advice on choice of sites or passages, be friendly and open to other opinions and just because some of us get to dive the caves on a regular basis, remember that there are plenty out there who do not.

At this time of year there are usually a lot of cave divers here in North Florida from out of state and out of the country, and part of being a cave diver is taking the time to be an ambassador for our sport and lifestyle. These people have generally devoted a great deal of time and effort to make this cave diving trip and the least we can do is be polite, friendly and help them integrate into cave country culture for the short time that they are here.

When I’m out cave diving with friends, or for that matter teaching students, I’m always talking to people, and if possible I’ll try to find out where they have are planning on diving within the cave system and modify our plans accordingly. This eases the pressure on some of the more popular passages and allows various teams to dive within the system while never running into each other. Another thing that can help is staggering starting times, so we don’t have multiple teams trying to enter at the same time.

There is still so much beautiful passage out there that’s not to far away from the mainline in the more popular systems, so why not take some extra time and look for some of the more obscure passages you’ve maybe heard about or seen on the latest map. There are plenty of them if you slow down to take a look, and don’t get caught up in the whole “how far can I get into the system” syndrome!

Well, thanks for taking the time to read my viewpoint, and please have fun out there. When you see other cave divers at the various parks and sites around cave country, please try and be polite and courteous. Remember that they are there for the same reason as us; to enjoy the experience of swimming through these wondrous underwater halls of geological time. As always try to slow down and think a little bit before you act, keep your cave diving safe and please take good care of our underwater cathedrals.

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