Text and Photography by Kristi Bernot
Vivid beams of sunlight stream through the crackling, gin clear, cyan tinted water and into the entrance of the craggy chasm where the cave begins. The stark white limestone inside the entrance has taken thousands of years to shape and is still changing every single day. The water, at 72°F, (22°C) is quite comfortable. In fact, it’s a constant 72° year round in this part of Florida, and it’s not unusual to see several species of freshwater fish, turtles, and even river crayfish in the spring basin as you hover in the cavern entrance. If you’re lucky, during certain times of the year, you may even see one of Florida’s most popular aquatic denizens; the manatee. This is just the beginning of a world that most people will never see. Spectacular under water cave systems await those that wish to further their skills as a diver and challenge themselves to become the best that they can be. For those that choose to rise to the challenge, cave diving is an experience unrivaled in the sport of diving and a ticket to a life of adventure.
Cave diving in Mexico.
For many, the idea of diving into a cave brings to mind tiny passages with barely enough room to move around, fear of running out of gas to breathe, and possibly never finding the exit. Fear not my claustrophobic friends! Most of the passages in caves like this are rather large and accommodate a team of divers quite easily! The cavern zone, where divers will stay for the first of four levels of training, is normally an ample sized space always within easy reach of the exit, and with the sun streaming in. It is a breathtaking place to be.
Paradise Springs Cavern entrance.
To further alleviate your concerns, these systems are lined with a guideline, and arrows are used on the line in order to indicate the nearest exit. There are also many safety drills and skills to practice during the required courses to become a cave diver to minimize the risk of this sport. Though some amount of risk always remains, when you obtain the proper training and have the proper equipment, ‘the most dangerous sport on earth’ becomes a lot more manageable.
Spring basin and chasm entrance to Little Devil Cave.
What makes this sport so extraordinary? It’s a very specialized niche of diving; it’s certainly not for everyone but those that meet the expectations are some of the best trained divers out there. It takes the right attitude and mentality to really excel; adrenaline addiction and ego can get you killed in this world both underwater and underground. Aside from that, a serious amount of gear is required to dive safely. A diver needs two, and sometimes three or more, of just about everything. Two tanks; two dive computers to track depth, time, and other factors; three lights (yes, it’s dark down there without those). We call this redundancy, a fail-safe in-case of an equipment failure. We carry this ridiculous amount of gear, weighing altogether 100 pounds-plus (45 kilograms) in most cases, all so we can dive someplace where no human was meant to survive. Sounds crazy right?
My husband Jon Bernot inside the cave at Ginnie Springs.
So why do people like me do this to themselves? Reasons vary by diver and we certainly don’t expect the general public to understand. Some do it to reach that next level in their dive training, some for scientific purposes, and some do it to see places that very few people ever get to see. Most of us have more than one reason why we got involved and still continue to be involved in this very unique sport. One thing is certain, though: cave diving is an extraordinary experience full of memorable adventures that will be carried with us the remainder of our lives.
Photographer and author Kristi Bernot dons her heavy equipment exiting from a dive at Little River Springs.
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Kristi Bernot is an active cave diver and manager of a technical dive center in High Springs, FL.; Cave Country Diving. Her underwater photographs and words have been published in several local and national publications. To learn more about training to become a cave diver, visit CaveCountryDiving.com.