By Brian Williams
Often times I am asked, “What is my favorite cave dive?” Usually the answer is the last safe dive I have returned from. But thinking back on all the dives in Florida, I would have to say one of my favorite spots is “Jug Hole” aka Blue Hole, at Ichetucknee Springs State Park.
Diving here is a religious experience. When the sun is high on a clear day, the entrance shaft is a cathedral of light that leaves an impression you will not soon forget. For the past several years, “Team Vinzant” and I have made it a tradition to dive this site at least once a year. Cave diving is only allowed here from October through March. This year I was able to take time out to dive during the week with Matt Vinzant. The park was almost deserted and the weather was sunny and cool, a perfect day for a dive at the Jug.
I have always hesitated in writing about this site as it really is a secret treasure to those who have been there. With the advent of the internet and more and more cave divers being certified each year, the site sees a bit more traffic than in years past. Fortunately there are several “nerd gates” that keep the novice diver out, and hence much of the cave damage is limited to the restrictions. The cavern zone can be beautiful in itself and one could spend an entire dive here without ever entering the cave. The high flow makes it difficult just to get down the entrance shaft and this causes some divers to use up much of their air just getting into the cave. Beyond the bedding plane, the cave really changes character and there is little damage to the walls and floor. On this last dive we did notice a few new deep hand prints in the clay floor near the end of the line. This should be avoided as this damage will not heal back in a low flow environment and the hand prints are permanent graffiti that marks a novice diver’s mistake.
You must be cave or cavern certified to dive at Jug Hole and thankfully, being inside a State Park, this rule is enforced. It is considered an advance dive due to numerous restrictions. Another “nerd gate” is the long hike through to the site which is just too much for some recreational cave divers. Side mount configuration is recommended to go past the cavern zone as the permanent line begins at the bedding plane. Further into the cave is the infamous “Diamond Sands” Restriction. For those of you have seen Wes Skile’s film, “Water’s Journey” you will recognize this restriction as the one which Jill Heinreth grunts and groans as she squeezes her way through.
Beyond the Diamond Sands the passage trends downward to a maximum depth of 90 ft where an in-feeder provides most of the flow. This small passage is a jump off the main line and is mostly “no mount”. It has been pushed by Woody Jasper and others but this route should be avoided
as you can easily damage the cave walls, not to mention the difficulty in turning around to get out. Past this in-feeder, the flow is almost non existent and you must be careful not to stir up the sediments as it will remain silty for quite some time. The floor alternates between sand and clay but most of the silt comes from ceiling percolation. There are beautiful hues of brown and grey back in this part of the cave from the clay sediments and iron deposits.
The permanent line, or “Gold Line”, runs the length of the main passage at roughly 580 ft penetration distance for total length. There is another 20 ft of small passage past the end of the line where it dead ends into the wall. Numerous line arrows left at the end of the line are referred to as “Glory Markers” from cave divers that want to show they have been there. Although this practice is a bit ridiculous, I guess it’s better than writing your name on the wall!
If you plan on a dive at Jug Hole someday, the best rig to use is a sidemount configuration that you should be proficient with its use. It’s also best to go with someone who has been there and can help you through the restrictions by showing you the best routes. Sometimes the line is not in the best way to go. The high flow in the first half of the cave keeps the silt moving after you go through the restrictions and that helps to keep the route clear but expect some silty conditions and restricted visibility if you are behind the lead diver.
Once you dive this cave you will be a stronger proponent of cave protection and you will realize why this hidden treasure has remained one of the more pristine dive sites. Have fun, stay safe but more importantly… Please help protect one of the crown jewels of Florida cave diving by “caving softly.”
- Matt Vinzant enters Jug Hole shaft
- “Cathedral of light”
- The bedding plane restriction
- Brian negotiates the Diamond Sands restriction
- Line arrow “Glory Markers” at the end of the line
- Matt coming back out through the Diamond Sands
- The view from the cave looking out to the entrance
- Matt ascends into the light
- “Dive till it hurts, hang till it stops”. Deco stop in entrance shaft
- A school of mullet cruises the basin
- A view of the sun from the deco stop
- A water line shot