Alan Reiman, Georgia
I did a Cavern and Intro to Cave class with Rick, a very experienced and thorough instructor. He went far beyond expectations to provide the best educational experience I have had yet in dive training. I appreciated this very much considering the risks involved with cave diving. I'll gladly take his full cave course and any course again
Richard Sylvester, Orlando
Cavern Course, Learning line skills by the crawl, walk, run method is great. Starting with a demonstration of the skill on land then my practice on land, then eyes closed being quizzed before gearing up really helps. All demonstrations were professional and I have no doubt of your mastery of all the skills, the course was conducted professionally even with local rednecks acting up around you, you maintained focus, bearing and your professionalism. The check of my gear and help and suggestions for how to set my gear up was great, it helped me make adjustments to my gear that I thought was rigged correctly. All suggestions especially the ones for marking of gear (reels) knots in lines etc were all well articulated and you were even able to work in examples so that the suggestions would be reinforced. Your flexibility of the schedule is beyond anything I have experienced before. And a real plus for folks like me who have weird schedules. You also were not just running me through the course you went above and beyond what any other instructor would have to ensure I learned the skills. I had my gear; I also understood that I was required to have specific gear as a minimum for the course. You were able to provide me a canister light once after I ran mine down you also loaned me a spare mask for a few days until I purchased my own. I cannot think of any negative point to the course. Over all it’s a great course I have recommended it to all my friends and will gladly recommend Rick and GDI for only the highest quality instruction. On a personal note, I now have a new mark on the wall that I must strive to achieve, before I will consider myself ready to move on toward becoming an instructor. You set that bar high, Good Job!
Jeff Toorish - North of Boston South of Canada
Cavern/Cave Intro Training
A Report from the Dark Side - A Perspective of What to Expect
My dive buddy was beginning to panic. He had somehow become entangled in the gold line as we were exiting the cave. I signaled him to calm down and tried to reassure him that things would be fine as I looked for the entanglement point. I couldn’t see how he had managed to get so intertwined in the line. It was no use, he was good and stuck. To make matters worse, although he had calmed down a bit, he had managed to silt up the entire area reducing visibility badly.
Using hand signals, I explained that I would have to run an emergency line between two points on the gold line and then cut the line to free him. Eventually, that would necessitate trying to mend the gold line, but that problem would have to wait. I carefully checked my air and then, in silted-out conditions, began placing the first of two arrow markers that would be used to tie off the emergency line.
Somehow, my buddy managed to grab my SPG and was yanking in it, unclipped from my harness. He was also ramping up on the panic again. I pulled the gauge from his hand, clipped it to a D-ring on my belt and continued my work, getting ready to cut the gold line so I could free him. At least the moderately heavy current was beginning to sweep away some of the suspended silt. That helped but the current itself made every task that much harder. I could still feel the cramps in my calves from the past few days, although I was not cramping up now.
All of the sudden, I felt a tugging at my regulator, my buddy was out of air. I quickly unwound the long hose of my second stage, again signaling him to relax, made sure it was free by sweeping it, and handed it over in a fluid motion. My bungeed octopus was already in my mouth and I checked to ensure the valve was on, thinking “what the Hell else can go wrong.”
That’s when the lights went out.
Training Pays Off
That was the final day of my Cavern and Introduction to Cave Diving course with Rick Murcar of Genesis Diving Institute. Rick was the luckless “buddy” and it was all part of the training to ensure the new cave diver is prepared for some of the most precise and difficult diving there is.
Much of that first morning was taken up with checking, preparing and configuring gear. The training team consisted of Rick as instructor; his step-son, Steven and a former Coast Guard Master Chief also named Steven (who I will call Steve for the sake of clarity). How convenient! As ex-Navy, I felt obligated to josh the Coast Guard Master Chief about “shallow water sailors,” but that quickly passed. Master Chief Steve’ wife, Andy, also a certified diver, came along to act as topside crew for the next couple of days, something for which I will be forever thankful (especially for her true talent with tangled reels).
After a drive exacerbated by a Florida State football game traffic gridlock, we arrived at Ginnie Springs, in High Springs, Florida. Genesis Diving Institute is an extremely professionally run operation. Rick’s van attaches to a dive trailer complete with compressor, tools and pretty much every ‘save-a-dive’ doo-dad you would ever need.
For Florida, the temperature was brisk with a bit of snappy wind. We spent the afternoon on land drills, practicing working with the even present line reels that are a staple of cave diving. To an observer, these drills with Steven, Steve and I wandering around a corral-fence area outside the gift shop probably looked like a feeble attempt to play full sized cat’s cradle. Rick had us stringing lines at odd angles and then closing our eyes and finding our way back to the beginning. I was lucky as Rick and I had been on a diving expedition to Mexico earlier in the year where we had casually begun my training. I remembered a great deal of that work, which was helpful.
The sun was beginning the final leg of its daily journey as we began gearing up for our first dive. The air now had a decisive chill. We had gone over gear configuration earlier in the day. My set-up was lean and concise, if slightly unfamiliar. I now had a pair of back up lights to go along with a Salvo canister light. There were some minor changes to my configuration but all-in-all, I felt comfortable.
For gear, in addition to the Salvo canister light, two pelican back-up lights, a pair of cutting devices (one small knife in a pocked on my waist-belt and a pair of shears on my right) I was diving in a DUI CLX 450 Tri-laminate dry suit and a pair of extra-large ScubaPro Jet Fins. I use a DiveRite aluminum back plate with the deluxe harness and because of the doubles, a DiveRite Trek Wing. I wore three reels, a primary, safety and backup. The primary would eventually prove a problem for me and I would swap it out for a Halcyon Pathfinder side grip reel with 400 feet of line the next day. I also wore two computers, a ScubaPro Xtender and an Uwatec SmartPro Computer. As a final backup, I wear a Citizen Eco Drive Dive Watch.
And So, We Learn
After strapping on a set of double 120s and dropping into the 72 degree waters of Ginnie Springs, I soon realized I would be learning to dive all over again. The fresh water and weight of the doubles, nearly a hundred pounds, meant I didn’t have to wear any additional weight. But the wing was hard to manage and the weight of the doubles was much greater in the water that I expected. The lag between adding air and stopping a descent was longer than I was used to, leading to occasional over-inflation. A problem I would work on for the next two days, eventually learning the proper amount to control my buoyancy.
The wing itself seemed just barely enough to handle the tanks I was using, and to make matters worse, I felt that I was pitching forward and unbalanced. I never felt panic, but I had a growing sense of frustration that I was having so much trouble with buoyancy control, something I had mastered with a single tank, even in rough oceans or strong currents.
Later that night, Rick and Steve, who had been through this before, reassured me that the first time with doubles is often tough. It was reassuring but not particularly comforting. I was impressed with Rick’s patience and professionalism and Steve’s willingness to offer advice from his own training.
We were at the Ginnie Springs Ballroom, one of the more famous caverns around. As I worked on getting my gear and buoyancy under control, Rick began taking us through drills. I don’t remember exactly when I started making up unflattering names to call him, often as loudly as possible through my regulator, but it was sometime around then.
At the time, I thought the drills were relatively advanced for the first dive. I had some sense of pushing too far too fast. Now I smile at that notion, for I had little idea of what was to come. I would interject at this point that never did I feel in peril, in fact, I would say things were more in control than a lot of basic Open Water courses I’ve seen. But the task loading on these dives is intense. For some reason, I had neglected to tie a snap-bolt to the light head of my primary light, requiring me to hold it all the time. That didn’t help. I was also dealing with leg cramps, a problem I have rarely had. They were brought on by new, larger fins needed to accommodate the boots of my dry suit. Apparently, using the frog kick can also exacerbate the cramps.
The drills were similar to the work we had done on land earlier in the day. We created a spider web of primary reel lines throughout the cavern, and then had to find our way back, eyes closed, no peaking. During the early part of the training, we toured the cavern to gain familiarity with in and our gear configuration.
For me, the first day was frustrating but certainly positive. We came up to a moon-lit night (with plenty of light for a cavern) and cottony mist rising from the surface of the spring. The air was cold and Steven, who was unmercifully diving in a wetsuit, headed to a warm shower while the rest of us began to remove our gear.
After dinner and a slight scare that because of the college football game, we wouldn’t be able to find a hotel to accommodate our little band of travelers, we managed to check in and bed down.
Day Two—It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye. (Then it’s a Sport.)
An early start, an uneventful breakfast and then back to Ginnie Springs; this time we would be heading to The Devil’s Ear to continue our cavern work because the Ballroom was packed with some sort of convention. We checked gear, filled tanks and suited up. Once again I was grateful for Steve’s wife who managed to help everyone get ready.
It is astonishing to me how quickly we can acclimate to things. Yesterday, those doubles seemed so heavy and this morning, I donned them quickly and they felt far more comfortable.
We made repeated dives into the cavern. Entering the Devil’s Ear Cavern can be rough the first couple of times. There is a powerful current and often divers coming and going from deeper in the cave itself. Divers swim past a fallen tree into a narrow crevice, making the first tie off of the primary real. Working a bit deeper into the cavern, making the second tie off and then the cavern itself, right up to the STOP sign, warning that only certified cave divers should venture deeper. The current is pronounced and a constant issue during drills. In there, we worked on lost line and lost diver drills as well as continuing to fine tune buoyancy. I had made adjustments to my harness that seemed to dramatically help my buoyancy.
Prior to each dive, we went through a checklist of gear. It is similar to the checklist used by pilots prior to takeoff. From the top, we check air, regulators, hoses, masks, cutting tools, reels, computers and line markers and arrows. It is a thorough and professional check that everyone takes seriously. The one difference between this check list and the one used by pilots is, for flying the list must be written down. Next we compare air, determining which diver has the smallest tank. Using a calculated baseline, we then work out each diver’s turn pressure. This important bit of mathematics is a bit daunting in the water for those of us who are mathematically challenged but it is critical because each diver may have different sized tanks. For me, this attention to the pre-dive details truly separates this type of diving from the more casual open water dives. Every part of the dive is meticulously checked and re-checked. Once we submerge, we perform the ritual S-drill, where each diver simulates an out of air emergency as both the donor and receiver. This allows all divers to regularly practice this crucial set of skills.
Before submerging, we would discuss the dive plan itself, with clear instructions about our objectives and make our next foray into the cool waters of the Devil’s Ear. It was during one of these dives that Rick produced his infamous “Fickle Mask of Fate.” This truly hideous creation is a whited out mask with insane eyeballs. “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye!” I said.
“Yes, then it becomes a sport,” intoned Rick, not missing a beat.
The mask helps simulate a whiteout condition. It is effective on a couple of levels: your eyes are open and you are looking around, just as you would in a real silt out, but there is no temptation to peak, as when your eyes are just closed. Secondly, it reinforces an important skill, removing and replacing a mask underwater. In caves and caverns, the current can be intense and it is pretty common for a mask to be dislodged. Being able to quickly grab a backup mask and get it on, while maintaining the critical neutral buoyancy and handling the current is a necessary skill.
I was relatively comfortable with the mask. I won’t go into too many specifics about the drills themselves so future students can experience their true joy in an unbiased manner.
This would be the last day of team training. Beginning tomorrow, it would be just Rick and I continuing our cavern work and then, hopefully, moving on to Intro to Cave Diving.
The sushi at dinner was great.
The Blue Grotto
The third day finds us at the Blue Grotto Cavern in Williston, FL. It’s a charming dive site, not large but certainly with its challenges for the student. Grotto means cavern or cave, it comes from the Italian grotta but the genesis of the word is Latin, crupta or crypta which means crypt. I tried not to think about that.
In this case, the Blue Grotto would be a classroom or sorts. It is technically a cavern because there is daylight visible throughout. The entry is steep and there are portions where that daylight is very difficult to see. The cavern allows for dives of a hundred feet and because of its configuration, there are several areas to perform drills.
This was the beginning of the more challenging part of the class with ever increasing intensity in the skills and drills. I was still having the occasional leg cramp which is incredibly annoying. It is also where the Fickle Mask of Fate got me! For me, with the increased task loading, I was taking longer to get my buoyancy under control; Rick patiently helped me with. This is also the first time I have removed a fin during a dive, something that should be taught in open water scuba classes in my opinion.
While I wasn’t quite as pleased with my performance today as I had been yesterday, I also knew we were venturing into more difficult training with greater task loading. In addition, with the one-on-one training, I was always the first up at bat so there wasn’t the option of learning on someone else’s mistakes. I was still making up names for Rick, but not as often I noticed.
The day ended with a ten minute stop and more skills review. Whenever we had a moment, Rick would indicate some skill he wanted me to perform. Often it was a manifold failure drill, during which each first stage regulator is turned off and on, with appropriate switching of second stages and the isolation valve being turned off and on. Reaching those valves was a chore at first, but certainly became easier, as did the routine, with practice. I had been worried about being able to reach all my valves, but that was never really a problem and I found myself checking the left valve often. It is the valve that can be “rolled” shut in an overhead environment.
The Cave—“I’d debrief you but I’m dead.”
Day four and I am feeling more confident. The tanks feel relatively comfortable and I can think through all the drills and skills in my head, an important step in truly learning something, at least for me.
The morning is cold. While filling tanks with Nitrox at a dive shop, the young woman attendant was wearing a down jacket and still looked freezing. I also found when I was maintaining proper trim my dry suit neck seal leaked a bit. On one dive, it actually flooded. Seventy two degree water may be warm for New England where I live, but it is still cold water. Fortunately, I managed to generate plenty of heat and never felt really chilled. If I did, I would have called the dive.
This cold morning finds us at Peacock State Park which has three cave systems. We would be diving Peacock I. Peacock II is not accessible at the surface. Peacock III is for more advanced cave divers. Peacock is complex Karst system with nine entrances and exits; three of which are for emergencies only. Without going into too much technical detail, Peacock also allows students to experience different conditions, such as spring, siphon and in-line sink. It is also a beautiful system with light walls and fascinating fossils.
Rick’s approach is to make a normal dive into the cave, taking time to observe the surroundings and experience the wonder of it all. On the way out, the fun begins with various drills.
This is the first time I experience an actual cave blackout, all lights off and we use touch-feel to exit. Just to spice up the brew a bit, there is also an out of air diver and a bit of panic thrown in to round things out. Frankly, not having a light on was not as tough as I expected it would be for the most part. There was one moment when I felt trapped and that led to an uncomfortable feeling.
Okay, uncomfortable feeling may be underselling it a bit. I started to feel out of control. Rick was pushing me as a panicky diver might, I was negotiating a very tough bit of the cave, I had the gold line but couldn’t seem to find a way to hold on to it and move through a narrow part of the cave. Some new choice names for Ricky on that one.
An observation: every diver hears about the risk of entanglement. Open water classes touch on it and many of us carry nice big dive knives strapped ceremoniously to our legs or belts or BCs. Personally I’ve never seen a serious case of entanglement in open water, that’s just me, but I haven’t. I’ve gotten mildly wrapped in a dive flag line once or twice, mostly because I was wearing split fins. But I also got out quickly. While I would certainly never minimize or underestimate the danger of getting entangled in open water, I also considered it relatively unlikely if proper care is taken, especially diving in areas with fishing line.
In a cave, entanglement danger is everywhere. The simplest act can cause some previously unnoticed piece of improperly rigged gear to snare. Between the current, lines running at odd angles and visibility that can disappear like the moon behind a cloud…I now understand the near-religious attention paid by technical divers to proper gear configuration.
On the second dive, Rick somehow became “lost” as we were swimming out of the cave and into the cavern. I had mistakenly let him get behind me as I negotiated the steep ascent. I love that cave, but it has a very steep wall going in and out and it takes work to keep that reel working on the way out.
Realizing my buddy was not on the surface, and figuring the devious mind at work there, I was getting ready to start back down when I spied Rick on the way up. He stopped and signaled me back down. I swam down, tied the primary tie and we went back into the cavern. Rick signaled a lost buddy drill, which I began. I found my buddy, not breathing and floating near the overhead. I started standard rescue procedures, moving him up along the reel and making sure his regulator stayed in his mouth. This was far more complicated that in either Rescue or DiveCon classes because of the gear, dry suits, overhead and nature of the emergency.
I did get Rick up, and as we surfaced he dryly intoned in his Canadian Accent, “I’d debrief you but I’m dead.” A serious point delivered with humor can be so much more effective; it is now my new ScubaBoard sig.
In spite of the mortal lack of a debriefing, I felt overall positive about the day’s training. A few cramps and a moment or two of fear, but overall a strong training day.
Just gotta’ make sure my dive buddy survives next time
The Final Day –Manatee Springs
The park is west of Chiefland, FL and we are greeted on this unusually cold morning by hundreds of Black Vultures, sometimes called Carrion Vultures. I really, really, didn’t want to think about that. The water level is low and that will make entrance and exit more challenging. On top of that, the water itself is covered in Duckweed, not particularly a problem but certainly a factor when ascending. There are occasional alligators in this spring as well as manatees although we will see neither today.
The sinkhole itself is called Catfish Hotel; it is on the east side of the Suwannee River. The bottom is sand and there are a lot of sunken logs, great for tying off. The flow was strong on one side, so strong you have to dive along the sides and then move to the center of the cavern to tie off the primary reel. This cave is also much darker than Peacock, with black walls. The leaves along the bottom look as if they have been burnt.
On the first dive, we did the standard skills and drills, lights out, sharing air, touch-feel. It was all very comfortable. My buoyancy was under control and, I realized, had been for a long time. I stopped having to make constant corrections. The cave was terrific and even the skills on the way out were feeling like second nature. Clearly, practice was still needed but now each skill set was happening smoothly and efficiently.
The second dive took us to a different part of the system, with strong current a more complicated entrance regime. We made our standard entry, although it took a bit for me to fight my way through the cavern and into the opening of the cave because of the current. Once in the cave, we looked at the dark tunnel walls and I searched for any visible fossils.
It was on the way out that all (training) Hell broke loose, with Rick becoming entangled, silting up the area and then the out of air emergency and, finally, lights out. Using the skills and training I had been practicing, we exited the cave using only touch contact and the guidance of the gold line. Remarkably, it does not take much longer to exit in the dark, buddy breathing and feeling our way along. The training and skills kick in and we moved smoothly and efficiently to the exit. Upon exiting, I “lost” my mask, and had to reel in through the cavern without a mask. It is an odd sensation, I was able to keep my eyes open, but before me the light refracting through the water made it appear there were 4 reel lines before me, not just one.
We ended the dive with another set of skills drills and then, as we headed to the top, Rick motioned me back down a bit purporting to want to show me something. Just as I came within arms reach, he stuck out his hand. That hearty handshake felt pretty good!
After finishing up this part of my cave training, I headed back to Southern Florida to meet up with my family for Thanksgiving. My 11 year old daughter had brought her gear along and wanted to dive. We made a couple of shore dives from West Palm Beach, they were terrific.
I have to say, the single AL80 strapped to my back felt light and My buoyancy was never better, even though we were relatively shallow and in a strong current. Aside from the change in tank configuration, I left my gear pretty much as it was for cave diving. I like the clean, unencumbered feeling of all my gear being where I wanted it, with simple movements to grab what I wanted.
During the dives with my daughter, Sammi, I decided to practice some skills with her. At one point, I simulated an out of air emergency. She quickly gave over her octo and we made a controlled ascent.
Oddly, through her regulator, it sounded like she was saying something. I wonder what it was??
Again Thank-you Rick I'll be back for full cave training soon enough.
Bill and Vince, Rochester, New York
From the New York Boy's;
We'd like to thank Rick and Diana, and classmates Steve and Andy for their hospitality, friendship during our stay in Florida. The training in the area of Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures along with many extra in water techniques and dive planning procedures at GDI were first rate. At GDI instruction is one thing but teaching with patience and a real plan is always imperative to a successful outcome. This is what Rick Murcar does very well. Thank you Rick. Bill and I would also extend our appreciation to all at the dive shop (Aquatic Adventures) Gene, Dave and the Dalmatian dogs for making our trip to Zephyrhills a great one.
See ya soon,
Vince Finocchio & Bill Murphy
Steve Weygandt, Ridge Manor Florida
Just wanted to say thanks for the great experiences and training over the past several months!Advance Nitrox and Deco Procedures It would be difficult to find another instructor with the same level of enthusiasm, professionalism and dedication to the student! My business travel is hectic and caused the training to continue over several months. The course was very challenging and rewarding! I am thankful that you never gave up on me! I think every diver should take this course, the knowledge and experience would make us all better divers. I appreciate the way the class was conducted. I never felt rushed, regardless of how long it took me to master a skill. I knew I could ask any question at anytime. The last week was even better with Vince and Bill from New York. The diving, friendship, and experiences all top notch! I just hope we can all get together for more diving in the future. And, oh by the way I CAN reach my valves!
Bryan and Vickie, Temecula, California
Thank you very much for the cave/ern Training last week. For us, it started out as a way to learn how to explore the underworld of underwater. But what we really learned is there is a hugh difference between performing skills and mastering skills. And that the standards most people settle for in diving are far below mastery. When properly trained and motivated we are capable of far more than we realize, and this allows for greater enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment exceeding our imaginations. We look forward to our next opportunity to learn from you!
Debby Anderson, Mims, Florida
In February of this year I signed up for a Rescue Diver class. I had no idea how hard a class this would be. It was informative and very challenging. The information presented and the skill building sessions I found to be very useful. I liked the one on one attention that Rick gives all his students'; it was easier to ask questions and get full answers. On one occasion as a result of an actual equipment failure I learned the importance of having ones equipment annually serviced and conducting routine inspections. The course met my expectations and I recommend this class to anyone. I feel this course has made me a more confident diver and a better dive buddy; there wasn't anything I didn't like about it!
Michael Howard, US ARMY deployed
Just want to thank yall for the good times your giving my brother. I know he really appreciates them and he can't stop talking about it to me and how he would like to be a scubadiver in the military. I myself am in the Army. I just wanted to say thanks and show my support for the good things yall are doing for the youth of this great country.
Wayne Fasnacht, Dayton, Ohio
During my Florida trip, traveling in my RV, I heard about scuba diving from an acquaintance while attending a seminar on legal services. After thinking about it I decided to check things out and boy was I hooked! Scuba diving is really an exciting sport. I called GENESIS DIVING INSTITUE OF FLORIDA and talked to Rick about how the classes were done. His explanations, reassuring manner and professional attitude gave me a sense of comfort. He also permitted me to park my RV right in his driveway providing me water and electrical hook up.
I had a great time and there is so much more to learn! I recommend learning to scuba dive to anyone. GENESIS DIVING INSTITUTE OF FLORIDA really took care of me throughout my entire training. I loved it so much that I came here wanting to learn to scuba dive and by the time I had to leave I completed three different specialties. I was there for six weeks.
The course information and skill sessions I found to be very useful and presented in an easy to learn application of techniques. The classroom environment fostered good moral and helped the learning process. When required Rick took to a more individual approach to training with each student. Rick is always prepared for teaching and took the time to ensure a thorough understanding of the topics. Today I feel confident to be able to use my newly learned skills safely and look forward to exploring the waters of North America. I found the class to be rewarding and learned many things about myself. I recommend this class to anyone interested in learning to scuba dive.