WHERE EAGLES DARE - 9/1/1999
As old stories
were once told, so will I tell you the tale of my experiences with the finding
of a lost sink. So much water has passed under the bridge since I first heard
of Eagle’s Nest. The first exploration into the system was by Don Ledbetter
in the early 1960’s. Not until the late 60’s did exploration move beyond
the main ballroom. With names like Exley, Wiggens, Stevens, Martz, and
Lockwood, exploration moved into the upstream and downstream passages of
Eagle’s Nest. Because of the limitations in equipment and technology,
exploration and survey had reached its limits by the mid-seventies.
encounter with Eagle’s Nest was in 1983, with. John Troutner, who introduced
me to Al Mizrahi (the owner of the property that contained Eagle’s Nest).
Mr. Mizrahi granted me the permission to conduct dives into the system, and
the authority to allow access for other divers that accompanied me. Who would
think that this small, "now" greenish pond that simmers just a
couple miles in from the Gulf of Mexico is one of natures most magnificent
geological phenomenon’s , a karst window into the underwater world of our
aquifer. The realism is first discovered when one penetrates the wide
dome-shaped cavity. Unique by its exaggerated scale, it is ranked as one of
the grandest deep water caves ever to be explored.
until the late 1980’s, with new growth in scuba technology, that it became
possible to continue exploration. With the use of mixed gas, computer
generated decompression tables and diver propulsion vehicles, we gained the
ability to safely go to extreme depths with extended bottom times. This made
it possible for us to reach distances that no one had ever gone before.
In fact, in
1989 as co-director of "The Eagle’s Nest Project", we were the
first group of civilians in an organized project to use the
"Doppler", to safely customize our Trimix decompression tables. The
Doppler Sonar Probe was used for measuring bubbles in the bloodstream, since
there was no data available at that time for Trimix dives. Additionally,
techniques and equipment allowed us to accumulate accurate survey data, using
sonar and profilers with azimuth and measurements we downloaded to computer,
using autocad to create extremely accurate maps of this underwater cave. We
not only increased the amount of passage explored, but also laid the
foundation for others to follow, creating new standards upon which today’s
technical diver has evolved from.
The first dive
of "The Eagle’s Nest Project" occurred on Nov. 26, 1989. On that
eventful day, King and I had a third dive partner we were unaware of named
"Murphy". We were about 1600’ into the cave at 240’ when I
noticed King unclip his scooter and watch it torpedo to the floor. This
scooter became a landmark for future dives into the upstream tunnel for months
to come. The next dive upstream, I tied into the end of Sheck’s line and
continued passage into what is now known as King’s Challenge. We surveyed a
circuit around King’s Challenge before I found the balcony that led us into
the last known passage called Green’s Tunnel.
frustrated with not finding any continuing passage upstream, I began to search
the surface also. A compass heading from an aerial photo gave me the direction
to the next possible dive site. On April 10, 1990, I hiked into the swamp
northeast of Eagle’s Nest to look at some ponds. I was hoping to find
another window through the karst which would lead me to the upstream passage
of Eagle’s Nest. After walking in very thick brush waist high for 45
minutes, I came across the first of three ponds connected by runs, about
2500’ from The Nest. The first and second ponds were restricted spring
vents. Swimming down the run to the third pond, I came across a small vertical
opening in the lime rock, large enough passage for backmount. My first attempt
to dive there was cut short because I had unknowingly backed a gator down
inside the entrance of the cave, creating my very quick exit. Rumor had it
that Sheck had located another sink near The Nest, so I contacted him to
verify any information that he might have to offer.
He stated that
when he had found this sink, he was run off by a gator, and that he never
attempted to dive there again. He also told me that if I make it past the
entrance, I had been farther than him. This was all the incentive that I
needed. I went back a couple more times and was able to run out almost 2 reels
of line until I encountered a tight, side-mount restriction. My survey data
indicated an almost straight line toward the upstream passage of Eagle’s
facts in hand, I influenced Sheck to hike back out to Gator Slough with a
couple gallons of dye in hopes that this syphon was headed toward The Nest.
During the dive the following morning in upstream Eagle’s Nest with Sheck,
the dye was identified. This was my encouragement to continue searching for a
passage that I had apparently missed over the years.
After the team
conducted numerous dives upstream, without discovery of any new leads, our
efforts shifted to the downstream. Only 1400’ of line existed in this
passage, mostly laid by Exley, Wiggens, Stevens, and Lockwood.
On my first
dive to the end of the downstream, I found the line tied off before a
descending restriction. We decided to investigate other options before trying
to push this restriction. King discovered another opening through some
breakdown rock on the left wall. This opened up into another 300’ deep
section. This section was quite unusual because of the flat characteristics of
the floor and ceiling. The tunnel ran less than 200’ before ending into
breakdown. Jim named this section of cave after his son Andrew.
After a couple
more dives in this section, I located an opening through the breakdown leading
up into another room. The ceiling and walls disappeared immediately as I
entered into this immeasurable profound void. After several dives into this
unnamed section of cave, without new discovery, the "Eagle’s Nest
Project" drew to a close.
could not have taken place without the help of everyone on the team. Our
safety divers consisted of Tom Bussell, Curt Deremer, Richard Nicolini, and
Jim Schlesinger, and many others that helped along the way.
curiosity continued to drive me to explore this last room. Every dive
increased the size of the void.
The next dive I
did that gave some return for my investment was with Sheck and George. After
entering the last unnamed section, Sheck and I both tied our lines into the
existing line, and ran in opposite directions looking for leads. After I
returned empty handed, I saw Shecks light in the distance coming toward me as
he was surveying his line back to the tieoff. Sheck had discovered a new
chamber. Visibility being poor at the time, he had informed us that he had
ended his line on a rock in the back of this new room. This line I believe to
be the last line that Sheck laid in the U. S., since this dive occurred a few
weeks prior to his trip to Mexico.
still intrigued me to continue my search. Since this time, I have returned to
the room that Sheck discovered, to find unlimited visibility. I found that
what Sheck thought to be the end of the room, was only the beginning of
another restriction. Even in poor visibility, his senses were always acute. I
dropped through this restriction descending into continuing clear water. I
decided to move out into the room, ‘"just a little bit", to
evaluate the need for continuing line. "BIG MISTAKE". I immediately
lost visual focus, as I had disturbed a salt-fresh water interface. Because of
the breakdown being distinguishable from the rest of the chamber, I was able
to find my way back, and decided it was time to go home. This halocline is
something I never expected to encounter.
dives into this last section has only increased the underestimated size of
this room. I now feel confident in applying the name "The Abyss" to
this enormous chamber that I first discovered in 1990.
Nest Cave is known and respected around the world by all who dive water filled
caves. It would prove to be disappointing if access to this site was lost
As of August
30, 1999, Southwest Florida Water Management District has purchased the
720-acre tract that includes Eagle’s Nest.
I have strong
concerns for the preservation of this property, and as strong a desire to
complete work in the system, in hopes to better understand and protect our
aquifer. I would like to make a proposal to develop guidelines (Standards and
Procedures), and waivers, that will eliminate liability to the state, and to
maintain access to this very unique site for qualified divers. I would like us
to come together as a community to go forth and regain access to this site.
adventure continues, safe diving,