Adrenaline Junkies Cave Diving Vortex Spring [Pics, Videos]

June 28th, 2012 Permalink

Vortex Spring produces 28 million gallons of crystal clear freshwater, not saltwater, and holds at a steady year-round temperature of 68 degrees. It’s located right outside Ponce de Leon, Florida. Yet instead of the famed Fountain of Youth, the commercial dive location is famous for teaching people how to cave dive . . . and a bit infamous for all the cave divers who have died there. We had not heard of this unusual yet beautiful piece of paradise, but we hope you find it as fascinating and mysterious as we do. From professional cave divers to curious adrenaline junkies, adventurers travel far and wide to dive the Vortex. There are more than 1,600 feet of underwater passageways. At 310 feet down, there is a locked steel gate that bars the way into the cave so the inexperienced and uncertified will not risk the underwater grim reaper. Sometimes even qualified divers get lost; sometimes they dive into the Vortex but they don’t come out. [32 Photos, 5 Videos]

Friendly fish at Vortex Springs

When you think of Florida and diving, “freshwater” might not be your first thought. But Vortex Spring is a popular diving area for professional, experienced and even beginning divers. It offers training classes for scuba diving as well as being a top ranked spot to become certified. The water is cool, a constant 68° and does not become stagnant due to the constant flow of water that also helps keep it clear. The photographer called this ‘Larry’s pets.’ Photo #1 by © Barry Shively

Vortex Spring, STOP prevent your death stop go no farther

Vortex Spring, diving. STOP prevent your death. Go no farther. Photo #2 by © Giant Stride Dives


Nothing in this cave worth dying for -- Vortex Spring grim reaper

Nothing in this cave worth dying for — Vortex Spring grim reaper. Photo #3 by © Barry Shively

Vortex Springs in Ponce de Leon Florida

Let’s zoom out of the water to high above it. You are here. Vortex Springs near Ponce de Leon, Florida. Photo #4 by Google Maps

Vortex Spring, Florida

While it is famous for freshwater diving in Florida, there is an air of mystery that we found intriguing when the divers disappear below the surface. Photo #5 by © Vortex Spring

One of two free divers practicing breathholding skills at Vortex Spring

One of two free divers practicing breathholding skills. This photographer explained that box: “There’s a ‘talk box’ about 20 ft down. It’s filled with air, mostly exhaled from the divers who stop there just prior to entering the cave or surfacing. There’s a sign above warning free divers to stay out of the talk box.” Photo #6 by © Harry’s Dive Shop

talk box with air for scuba divers at vortex springs

The photographer wrote, “Just up from the gate there is a talk box. Its a five sided box that holds air. You can stick your head inside and have a conversation. Be sure to add a few puffs of ‘fresh’ air from your regulator to keep from CO2 from building up inside the box. Its a good place to look for effects of nitrogen narcosis.” Photo #7 by © William

Two scuba divers inside the cave at Vortex Spring

The mouth of the cave starts about 50 feet beneath the surface; the cavern begins at about 58 feet underwater. Photo #8 by © Glen Wentworth

Other divers in Vortex Spring basin

“Other divers in Vortex Spring basin.” Photo #9 by © Shannon Farrell

Scuba divers at Vortex Springs

Wikipedia states, “There are two underwater training platforms at 20 feet (6.1 m) which are often used for Open Water certification dives, and a “talk box” that divers swim into, allowing them to talk to each other while under the surface. The cavern entrance is at 58 feet (18 m) below the surface, and has an opening of 9′ x 12′. A handrail is mounted along the wall of the cave. The cave is accessible to 310 feet (94 m), further passage is blocked by a steel grate. Experienced divers are allowed to dive to 115 feet (35 m).” Photo #10 by © Barry Shively

Cave diving at Vortex Spring

After entering the cavern, it has a narrowing tunnel that descends into the darkness. It’s not for the faint of heart, nor for the inexperienced. It has to be an incredible adrenaline rush though. Facts from Wikipedia: Cave diving is one of the most challenging and potentially dangerous kinds of diving or caving and presents many hazards. Cave diving is a form of penetration diving, meaning that in an emergency a diver cannot swim vertically to the surface due to the cave’s ceilings, and so must swim the entire way back out in case of emergency. The underwater navigation through the cave system may be difficult and exit routes may be at considerable distance, requiring the diver to have sufficient breathing gas to make the journey. The dive may also be deep, resulting in potential deep diving risks. Cave diving has been perceived as one of the more deadly sports in the world. This perception is arguable because the vast majority of divers who have lost their lives in caves have either not undergone specialized training or have had inadequate equipment for the environment. Cave divers have suggested that cave diving is in fact statistically much safer than recreational diving due to the much larger barriers imposed by experience, training, and equipment cost.” Photo #11 by BBS.Godeyes

A new journalistic documentary film investigating the strange disappearance of Scuba diver Ben McDaniel. According to the filmmakers, “On a hot August night, Ben McDaniel attempted the adventure of a lifetime. He slipped beneath the clear waters of Vortex Spring, with one goal in mind: to make a name for himself in the extreme world of cave diving. He was never seen again. Was it an accident? A hoax? Or something more sinister?” Video #1 by Jill Heinerth

Stop sign, not DOT approved, underwater warning at Vortex Spring

The photographer wrote, “Stop sign in the cave at Vortex Springs. Somehow I don’t think that it’s DOT approved. haha.” This sign is located about 100 feet down and is meant to stop non-qualified cave divers from going any further. Photo #12 by © Greg Grimes

Vortex Spring diving profile of underwater passages

According to this profile, it goes 152 feet deep and the cave passages have a length of 1426 feet. Vortex Spring has now been measured to extend to at least 1,642 feet. Photo #13 by © Paul Clark

Cave divers and caverneers Vortex Spring Cavern

Some cave divers and caverneers go into Vortex Spring Cavern, but do not come back out on their own steam. However, don’t get the wrong idea . . . it’s not all bad. Photo #14 by © Glen Wentworth

Scuba -- cave diving at Vortex Springs

Plenty of people would such as these scuba cave diving students. Photo #16 by © Greg Grimes

Vortex Spring koi

Vortex Spring koi. Photo #17 by © Barry Shively

From the Cavern at Vortex Spring

There are all kinds of training for cave diving. Each level seems to be certified for more activities. For example, the Vortex Spring site talks of “PADI Open Water Certification training will prepare you for a lifetime of adventure. Once you complete this course you are certified to dive anywhere in the world up to a depth of 60 ft.” The next class up “The Advanced Open Water Diver course Deep Diving” offers “Exploration, Excitement, Experience. Diving typically anywhere from 18-30 metres / 60-100 feet.” Another includes “scuba diving with enriched air nitrox gives you more no decompression dive time.” And then there is the very important next step: “Rescue is by far one of the best confidence building courses you can take. In this course you not only expand on your own self-rescue abilities but you learn how to recognize problems and stop them before they become threatening. Rescue Divers also learn in-water rescue breathing and egress of divers.” Photo #18 by © Reptar, King of the Ozone

While I don’t know Ben and have never been to Vortex Spring, this clip shows just how challenging diving here might be. Rescue divers are very important since many divers have died there, more than 300 as the Grim Reaper sign indicated. According to this article, “13 people died at Vortex in the 1980s, when cave diving was young. Those numbers fell as safety improved. Now, only about a half-dozen die a year in underwater caves worldwide, and most are open-water divers not familiar with the dangers. Caves can collapse. Chambers can disorient and steal one’s sense of direction. Silt can blind. Tight restrictions can snare hoses, tanks and people.” No offense to the video maker, but it’s not in the best English. Just the same, our online brains can read typos and the “Lost Diver” video gives a good indication of what rescue diving must be like. Video #2 by deepswim

Frog kicking out of the cave at Vortex Springs

The photographer wrote, “Yarg frog kicking his way out of the cave. A frog kick is the proper kick to use in an overhead environment. It does not stir up sand (or silt) maintaining visibility in an overhead environment. Otherwise you have to feel your way out. Hmm…did I check my remaining gas (air) lately?” Photo #19 by © William

Black & white photo Vortex Springs divers

While professional exploration expeditions were able to map the cave to 1,642 feet, the cave probably stretches far beyond that in the pitch blackness. Some areas are like caving, meaning you literally have to crawl/squeeze through. Who knows, Vortex Spring underwater passages might not ever be fully measured? Photo #21 by © Glen Wentworth via Scuba Boards

Air pockets on the cave ceiling - Vortex Springs

Air pockets on the cave ceiling. Photo #22 by © Harry’s Dive Shop

Looking up from the Vortex Spring basin through a rock chimney to the surface of the spring from about 35' underwater

Looking up from the Vortex Spring basin through a rock chimney to the surface of the spring from about 35′ underwater. Photo #23 by © Shannon Farrell

Gate of the cave at Vortex Spring - The depth at the Gate is about 110 feet

The photographer wrote, This is “The Gate” in the cave at Vortex Springs. The depth at the Gate is about 110 feet. You must have cave certification$ to get the key. From here it gets deep (over 160 feet), and much narrower. Leading to mandatory decompression stops – another training requirement and even more dive gear to carry around. Well I can’t imagine anything beyond the gate that would excite me enough to spend several thousand dollars to see it. Sorry Phil…Perhaps a mermaid or two enticing me to enter…but none here to be seen.” Some other sources quote the gate as being 310 feet down. Photo #24 by © William

Why do so many cave divers die? In this video, apparantly some choose to squeeze through “The Gate.” 10 March 2012 Vortex Spring cave: Demonstration of how a Lost Diver can bypass locked gate. Video #3 by © deepswim

From inside the man-made 'cave' at Vortex Spring

“From inside the man-made ‘cave’,” noted the photographer. Photo #25 by © Shannon Farrell

Peering up from the cave entrance to the cavern (twilight dive)

Peering up from the cave entrance to the cavern (twilight dive). Photo #26 by © Andy Little

Freshwater eels eating sausages at Vortex Spring, Florida

Freshwater eels. Apparently they like little sausages, since the photographer said that was what they had been eating. Photo #28 by Greg Grimes

Vortex Spring cavern operning -- Hmm, I wonder if they care if I'm down here all alone

The photographer wrote, “Hmm, I wonder if they care if I’m down here all alone…with the eels?” The next image he called, “Up and out, cheated death one more time.” Photo #29 by © William

Happy eel -- wildlife of Vortex Spring

Yet this photographer was unafraid and called it a “Happy eel.” It sure does look like it’s smiling. Photo #30 by © Barry Shively

“Vortex Spring playing with the eels.” Video #4 by VortexSpring

No Diving -- Vortex Spring

A bit of irony? No Diving — Vortex Spring. Photo #31 by © Paul Badalamenti

Larry and the fishes at Vortex Spring

“Larry and the fishes at Vortex Spring.” Photo #32 by © Barry Shively

Delivering submarine into The Piano Room, inside cave at Vortex Spring. Video #5 by © deepswim


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