May 22

Ginnie springs dive: the “Ballroom”

Category: scuba

I was visiting a friend in Gainesville so I thought I’d do some fresh water spring diving. I’ve lusted to dive in a spring since seeing the beautiful clear water years ago; Ginnie springs is special because it has a site where non-cave-certified divers can experience a little bit of cave diving.

Ginnie springs is a privately owned park that offers camping, swimming, tubing, cave diving, river drift diving, and general redneck fun (Lots of drunken north-Florida types mix with college students from the nearby UF Gainesville campus and consume enormous quantities of alcohol). There is an admission fee; it costs more to get in if you intend to dive. You’ll drive through a guard shack where they will ask you what class of visitor you are: diver, cave diver, or just hangin’ out. You actually pay inside the visitor center/dive shop, where they can rent you everything you need. They have decent rental gear: scubapro regulators and 7 mm wetsuits. They also have a good collection of books on cave diving and local dives. At the time I wrote this, they didn’t offer nitrox, but you won’t necessarily need it if you’re just open-water diving or venturing into the ballroom – your dives will probably be fairly short.

There are a couple of interesting things to do in the water here. One is the “Ballroom.” This is a cave with a large entrance chamber that is aptly named; about 20 feet beneath the surface, a crevice approximately 4 feet high and 20 feet wide opens up into a large cavity with a bottom at about 50 feet. The chamber is a “high-ceiling three-car-garage” in size. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, and some inverted potholes on the chamber’s ceiling which are filled with diver’s exhaust air and so form little diving bells. You can stick your head in and be partially out of the water, although at a depth of maybe 25 feet. The sound of the water slapping and changing the pressure is very strange in those little diving bells. The exhaust air can be seen all around the cave and is very pretty, particularly when it eventually escapes through cracks and rises to the surface; it is pleasant to watch it from outside the cave.

At the bottom right of the ballroom is a narrow tunnel pouring forth huge quantities of fresh spring water. A steel grating protects uncautious divers from themselves, and no doubt also protects the Ginnie Springs owners from lawsuits over dead divers. Surface light penetrates into portions of the cave, but you will need lights in here (the little flash on my camera could not light up the ballroom, and so I didn’t get any images inside). A safety line is permanently rigged so that in a silt-out divers can find their way out. The grating, the guide line, surface light, large opening and large internal volume of the ballroom all contribute to this site’s “safe for open water divers” reputation. The official Ginnie Springs web site says it best:

Ginnie cavern is among the handful of sites that experts consider sufficiently safe to allow exploration by divers who lack formal cavern or cave diver training.

img_8460.jpgI am not cave-certified, but am very comfortable in the water and had no problems with the confines of the site. I can imagine claustrophobic people getting a little antsy – there are places you can explore in the cave that are pretty tight, and the darkness and other divers could freak people out (I was lucky – only my dive buddy and one other diver were present). It is also cold in there. The water gushes out with high velocity from the cave at the bottom, which you can swim to – something of an effort against that current – and hang on to the grating while you contemplate the inaccessible cave beyond. Where does this water come from? How old is it?

img_8465.jpgThe only thing I had difficulty with was my diving profile. While exploring the ballroom it is easy to create a very jagged up-and-down depth profile that violates what I’ve been taught about doing the deepest part of the dive first and then gradually ascending. If I dive here again, I’ll go straight down to the grating, and then explore the other parts on the way up, saving the ceiling for last. I suppose that a diver could spend a long time here, but it’s easy to see the place thoroughly and exit with the recommended 2000 PSI after only 25 minutes, which is what I did. There are few fish, no growths, nothing but geology and some leaf litter. In that way it does not compare to a reef dive, but it is very worth doing and I recommend it highly. Where else, as an open-water diver, can you go into a cave and marvel at the special geology of a spring? Only a small handful of places.

Only a few hundred yards away sit the three Devil’s spring entrances, which true cave divers can enter, and open water divers can at least look into. I did not do these dives but someday I’ll be back for them.

3 comments

3 Comments so far

  1. Tony February 13th, 2012 3:34 PM

    In the Ballroom in the top you missed a memorial. It is in one of the holes that you can just get your shoulders and head into. It is for Tim Collins. I have no idea about the story behind it but it would be interesting to know.

  2. Leandro June 8th, 2015 8:53 AM

    I did my Cavern Course at Ginnie Springs’s Ballroom and and Devil’s Ear Cavern – much more smaller. I have to say that I was a little afraid of getting inside any submerged cave and the ballroom was not very appealing to me; but, I decided to continue my training to become a full cave diver (my current level today is Apprentice
    Cave Diver. After having recorded more than 800 minutes inside caves like this one, I can tell that it is an addictive kind of sport. If you like the ballroom, you’ll love getting inside Devil’s Ear cave system.

    Good luck!

  3. tấm sàn grating May 2nd, 2018 11:43 PM

    Thanks for posting this Information.great

Leave a comment