During the 1970’s Pot Spring was a little known spring in Florida on the Withlacoochee River. It is situated downstream from Madison Blue Springs on the left bank. I first saw the spring in July 1978 while Hal Davis, Buddy Sanders and myself were canoeing from Madison Blue Springs to the Suwannee River for the purpose of locating possible springs to explore.
A few weeks later on August 29, 1978, Buddy Sanders returned to Pot Spring with Court Smith and Doug Douglas. At the time we didn’t know it’s official name was Pot Spring. So we had been referring to it as Blue Pea Spring. Upon diving, Buddy, Court and Doug discovered that the cave was completely virgin after squeezing through the entrance restriction in strong flow at 17 feet of depth. Court laid 250 feet of line before turning the dive and exiting for a total dive time of 30 minutes. Shortly after surfacing they decided to go back into the cave and push it a bit further, especially since they had plenty of gas. So, back into the cave they went. Upon reaching the end of the line Court laid an additional 50 feet of line for a total penetration of 300 feet. Up to this point they had been following a typical phreatic tube. At the 300 foot penetration mark the cave became smaller as it transitioned into a low bedding plane area. Since there were three divers, they decided to call the dive at this point. In Court’s words, “the cave broke up and got smaller”.
This cave sat for two years without being dived again since the tunnel got small after only 300 feet of penetration. There were so many others things to explore in those days. But, I had been thinking about it and decided to check it out. On August 17, 1980 Lee Sams and myself decided to have a look. We launched our canoe at Madison Blue Springs and canoed down river to Pot Springs. At that time there was no road access to the spring. When we arrived at the spring it was crystal clear. Just based on the water clarity, quality and location we surmised that it was probably linked to Madison Blue somehow.
We quickly donned our steel double 104’s and I grabbed a reel with some knotted line just in case we were able to push the end of the line. We were able to easily squeeze through the entrance restriction and reach the end of the line. Upon careful study of the tunnel ahead, I decided we could definitely push the cave. I tied into Court’s line and we cautiously moved forward into the low area. Wow! A cave diver’s dream! It opened back up and with adrenaline rushing we proceeded to add more line.
Just 50 feet down the tunnel we came to a fork in the cave. The right fork was smaller than the left fork so we decided to veer left. About 50-75 feet later the tunnel opened up into a small room that dropped down to 70 feet of depth. At the bottom was a huge boulder blocking the tunnel. I could look through the restriction and see nice size tunnel continuing on. I tied off at the boulder while Lee tied into my line and headed upward into the room. We didn’t find anything of interest in the room so we decided to go back to the fork and check out the smaller right side section of the cave.
I tied into the line and off we went. I added 300 more feet of line in this small but beautiful passage. Being out of line, not gas, we turned to exit. Oops! This part of the cave was extremely silty with no way to avoid it due to the small size. Hence, we enjoyed about 2 to 3 feet of visibility while exiting.
Lee Sams and I returned on September 21, 1980 to map the cave and extend the line in the right fork. As we extended the line in the right fork we soon noticed a small lead on the right as I laid line. I marked it for future exploration and continued on. Again, another fork in the tunnel was encountered. I chose the left fork which quickly pinched out and I had to back out while mapping at the same time as well as fining Lee in the face while backing out. We named this short tunnel the Backout Tunnel. Once out, we went to the right until it dropped down into a small pit room from 60 feet to 70 feet of depth where the tunnel quickly pinched down.
The following month Lee and I returned on October 5, 1980 to tie up some loose ends on the map as well as to check the side lead we had seen on the previous dive into the “right” fork section of the cave. Lee was to go first into the small lead and I was to follow surveying as he laid line. As Lee started into the tunnel, poof! … a total silt out. I waited about 30 seconds for things to clear then started into the tunnel. I only got about 10 feet in before running into Lee trying to effect an exit. I was able to back out but Lee was stuck a bit more securely. He had to perform a tank removal and push his tanks ahead of him to get out of the tunnel. Once out, he managed to put them back on and we made a prompt but slow exit in visibility of about 1 foot for most of the cave. But, I was able to complete the survey of all that we had explored bringing the cave to 1540 feet of explored passage. The survey distance was correct but due to low vis my compass readings were suspect.
Below are some old point and shoot photos from the right fork tunnel. The lighting was bad and the camera was slow, hence blurry photos. But, they will give you an idea of the appearance of the right fork tunnel.
When I had finished plotting out my “rough” survey data we noticed that all the tunnels seemed to pinch out in the same direction. This caused me to surmise that they may all come back together on the other side of the boulder blocking the largest tunnel. So, I began to formulate plans to return and see if I could open the passage at the boulder with special cave widening tools…a hatchet and sledge hammer. You place the hatchet on some rock and hit it with the sledge hammer thus slicing off a piece of rock. It’s slow, but does work.
Other dive projects were of more interest than Pot Springs for the next 3 years. Finally, I decided to try and widen the passage and/or remove parts of the boulder blocking access to the tunnel in the left fork. I returned on November 11, 1983 with Court Smith and Lamar English. They were more or less to be my support divers to help me widen the passage. Court carried the hatchet while I stuck the sledge hammer into my waist belt. Using dual steel 104’s (plenty of gas) we made our way to the boulder. Court handed me the hatchet and I placed it on specific areas of the boulder. I then took the sledge hammer and banged on the hatchet using one arm like I was hammering. I managed to remove parts of the boulder but it was tiring work. Court and I alternated back and forth taking turns. This stirred up a lot of silt. Poor Lamar was not able to see anything from his position so he indicated to us that he was going to exit and leave it to us. An hour and 4 minutes later we had managed to open the restriction enough for a diver to slip through carrying a single 72 cubic foot tank. We decided to call the dive at this point and exited in mostly zero visibility. When we reached the spring basin the visibility in the basin was about 3 feet. Wow, did we ever silt up the place!
Five years later I finally got back around to seeing if slipping through the previously widened boulder restriction warranted further widening. On September 19, 1987 Lamar English and I returned to have a look. Lamar used steel 72’s in a sidemount configuration to slip through the restriction. When we arrived, there was a fresh looking white line already running through the restriction. Someone had scooped us, but I couldn’t blame them being it took me so long in between dives at Pot Spring to accomplish anything. As it turned out, I later discovered that Tom Morris had put the line in. Anyway, while we were there, Lamar removed one of his side mount tanks and handed it to me. He was then able to slip through the restriction and see what was on the other side while I waited on him. He went about 150 feet then turned and came back to report the tunnel was definitely going at about 4 feet wide and 6 feet high. Tom later told me that the tunnel didn’t go real far and eventually pinched down around 480-500 feet past the boulder restriction.
Fast forward another five years. I was diving some with Rick Green and decided to take him on a tour of Pot as he had never dived it. We canoed to the spring from Madison Blue (still no road access at that time) with steel dual 104’s. I took Rick back to the fork in the line and we went left to look at the boulder restriction. Wow! The boulder had slid down more toward the opening I had worked so hard to widen years ago and had almost completely closed it off. It was too small for a diver to fit through even using a no-mount technique. Good thing no one was on the wrong side when that boulder slid!
Next, I took Rick down the right fork tunnel to the end of the line where we turned and slowly exited. As we were exiting with our silt, I noticed some clear water to my right which was about 650 feet from the cave entrance. I stopped, looked and behold, it was another tunnel I had never seen on all my previous dives at Pot. It was “hidden” when one was penetrating and never seen when exiting due to all the stirred up silt. I deployed my reel, tied into the main line and took off down the tunnel. Ninety feet later I came to a pit which dropped from 57 feet to a depth of 81 feet. When I hit bottom, lo and behold, I was on top of a line. I had popped out of the ceiling into the tunnel on the other side of the boulder restriction! If I had only seen that tunnel years ago I could have totally bypassed the restriction. To verify I was where I thought I was, we went with the current and soon arrived at the boulder blocking the passage. We then went back upstream 150 feet from where I had tied in. The tunnel was becoming small and very silty when we turned. Needless to say I was stoked about this find.
It wasn’t until September 20, 2006 that I returned to have a decent look at the tunnel on the far side of the boulder restriction. For this dive I solo’ed with side mount steel Navy 95’s. I went back to my bypass around the boulder restriction, dropped the pit and headed upstream. After a while the tunnel started getting very small but pretty. Eventually, it got so small that I was plowing through silt. A hundred feet or so of silt plowing made me think what fun it would be exiting in a total silt out. So, I decided to turn and exit. Yeap, a total silt out for about 10 minutes until I arrived at my line leading up the pit. The vis in the pit was much better, around 20 feet. I then exited without incident.
This was basically all the exploration of Pot Spring that I was involved with. Between 1987 and the present, I have returned several times to Pot acting as a guide to other divers. On several of these dives large chunks of ceiling had fallen onto my original line and I had to lay additional line across the newly fallen boulders. Needless to say, the cave is not one of the most stable I have seen.
GPS Coordinates: 30.470803, -83.234399