Sunday I headed down to Arkansas and stayed with Cody as we prepared to embark on our epic journey. These kinds of trips are always adventures and we were just hoping this one would turn out well. We headed south on Monday morning... think it was about O’dark ridiculous or something. We had chosen to drive down and the journey down was pretty unremarkable. We were moving for time and not really lollygagging anywhere on the way. We did run across a bit of rain... ok, hours of rain.
We were following the directions of a Garmin Nuvi 880 and it did pretty well. Amazingly, with the MSN direct it still routed us right into traffic congestions and construction areas. Guess it’s not perfect. Our running joke with the thing was whether there was a gravel drive in Louisiana that it hadn’t taken us down. Somewhere in Alabama it put us in a tunnel going under some channel or something and when we emerged there were several road directions and it hadn’t told us the next direction yet. So while it decided that it could see satellites again we had gotten onto the wrong road. It did a quick correction for us though and got us right back on track. So can’t really complain much other than it would have been nice if it was smart enough to have realized it was going to loose signal.
We got to the hotel (we stayed in the Microtel in Gulf Shores, AL) and it was very clean. The people at the front were very friendly and helpful and other than the key cards deprogramming themselves one day we didn’t have any problems there. And that problem was quickly resolved by the lady at the front desk.. Gotta back up just a bit and tie two things together here. On the way down I had told a joke about being in the true south... gettin grits with everything. He thought I had been entirely joking and that the joke had no basis in reality. We had stopped at a Harley dealership to get a t-shirt (If I had to explain that one you wouldn’t understand). On the door of the motorcycle shop was a sign indicating grits. At the hotel was a breakfast area and of course grits were included. He was discovering grits everywhere. If you asked for change for the laundry you would get 4 quarters and some grits.
We called our outfitter (We had scheduled with "Tanked Up Charters" to dive on the Daisy D). He indicated that he hadn’t decided yet, but canceling for Tuesday and Wednesday was quite likely. The decision would be made at 4:30 when the buoy reports came in. We decided to venture out and check out the beach. It was still kind of gloomy with a mist and a reasonably stout wind. On the way down to the beach we stopped by "Down Under Dive Shop" and ran across Brian. He was very helpful for us. We talked about the whiskey wreck that was just off shore. He gave us current advisories and that the limited vis would make it not a good journey. We chatted about some other things and then headed on to the beach. Once on the beach we decided to check the vis a bit by getting out some snorkeling gear. We played in the surf for a while but decided not to gear up for a dive. It was coming time for the fateful call.
We called Tanked Up and got the news that he wasn’t going out due to seas conditions. That was pretty much it. On our way back to the hotel we stopped by "Down Under" again and asked if his boats were going out. He had also cancelled for the same reason. Brian recommended against most of the inland lakes and any of the shore areas due to currents, but did suggest Vortex Springs. We headed back to the hotel and got cleaned up and headed out for a steak. Vortex it was for Tuesday. We had come this far, we were going to do some diving.
Vortex Springs was about 2 and a half hours away from our hotel. A lesson learned in booking the travel. I had used Orbitz and had booked the hotel for the duration of our stay. I had chosen there as an opportunity to do shore diving down off the Gulf Shores beach. I won’t do that again. Booking that way locked us in there. I would have liked to have had the flexibility to have moved closer to Vortex Springs.
When we got to Vortex we checked in and started gearing up. There was only one other guy setting up to dive and we found out he was going down to vacuum the silt. The diving basin is about maybe 10 million gallons and the spring releases around 28 million gallons of clean fresh water a day. The water visibility was amazing... well over a hundred feet. It’s not a very big place, and the water is quite nippy at a brisk 68 degrees all the time all the depths. There is a cavern there that drops down at the entrance to 50 feet. Even from 50 feet, if it weren’t for the ripples I could have read the sign on the dock that just overhangs the edge of the cavern opening. Of course we headed down into the cavern. I don’t do a lot of penetration diving, but even if it silted up, it settled in just minutes and there were pipes headed down the cavern that were good for exit route assistance. So we dropped in. There were some waterproof lights along the sides that actually illuminated the place pretty well. I tried to take some pictures of it but the pictures really don’t do justice to what could be seen.
We did a few dives down into that area, exploring a bit more each time. We found a gate with a lock on it at 105 feet. The map showed the cavern went on for a very long time. But to go past that point required some specialized gear that we didn’t have. So probably good they had a lock there. While nosing around we found that down in the cavern lived several pretty decent sized fresh water eels. They didn’t seem too concerned with us. Apparently they are a bit used to visitors.
On one of the cavern dives I’m guessing I must have hit one of the limited clearances with my hoses. I wondered why I had less gas than Cody at the end of the dive (considerably less). Setting up for the next dive I realized that I had a leak in my high pressure hose. So I headed up to the shop to see if they had a hose and someone who could swap it out. When I was met by blank stares for asking if they had any repair capability I changed the question to if they had a high pressure hose and some tools. Lesson learned here... bring my own tool kit. I realized that the guy who had been vacuuming was the only one there who knew how to dive. And he wasn’t around anymore. It wasn’t until 6pm when another guy came in for an hour and he knew equipment and just did the change over quickly. I had done the electrical tape method to gain one more dive out of my hoses. We limited depth on that dive and kept an eye on it in case it decided to go bad. We figured if it did and we were prepared for it, then it wouldn’t really be an issue. I would breathe down and go on his octo at the safety stop depth if needed. The place was really nice, but it seriously concerned me that the level of diving being done there and the people attending the place have no concept of diving.
The next day we chose not to drive that far again (go back to the point of moving lodging if I had had the option). I was seriously beat on Wednesday from dealing with the drive (oh yeah, it rained gulf type rain on the way back to the hotel last night) and a full day of diving having just driven in an extreme distance. My frustration level was severely rising at this point. We chose a non diving exercise for Wednesday. We headed over to Fort Morgan. It was only about a half hour away and I’m a huge military history guy. I had a lot of fun looking over the place and picturing it’s use back in the civil war and even during the world wars. The ma