Weeki Wachee Spring
2007 Exploration Report

Past/Related Exploration of the Weeki Wachee Karst Region
In the early 1980's, Sheck Exley, Jamie Stone and Jim Benz started exploring Weeki Wachee Spring and laid approximately 220 feet in the first room below and beyond the restriction at the bottom of the fracture. They ended their line at a breakdown pile that spans the western edge of room and believed they had walled it out. They also put in approximately 100 feet of line in the "dead syphon" tunnel. Around the same time at Twin Dees Spring (about .5 miles away), Paul Heinerth had explored the first 1,300 feet of this spring to a large terminal room known as the Pleasure Dome.

In the mid-1990s exploration of Twin Dees Spring was restarted. This restart, by David Miner and Jeff Petersen, was the second Karst Underwater Research (KUR) project and was responsible for the discovery of a new lead 1,000 feet into the system. This lead turned out to be the source of the water and led to the discovery of a very large room, dubbed Middle Earth, and the primary conduit for the system with average depths of 270 ffw to a maximum penetration of approximately 3,300 from the entrance. This source tunnel continued on from there. However, subsequent exploration got deferred as the spring's discharge velocity swung back and forth from stagnant to a raging torrent and other distractions prevailed.

Due to an extended drought, in June of 2000, Scott Pulliam, Bill Lester and Paul Heinerth managed to get in with steel 104's and swam Sheck's line. The next day, Paul tried to get with his CisLunar MK5, but only got to 160 ft. because the force of the flow was collapsing the breathing bags. Within the next few days the flow recovered and no more diving was permitted by Weeki Wachee's attraction management.
2006 - Planning Ahead
In anticipation of the increasing drought, KUR re-established permission from Weeki Wachee's attraction management and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) for cave diving exploration at Weeki Wachee. KUR project members then installed heavy climbing rope in the fracture from 40ffw down to the beginning of the pivotal restriction at the bottom of the fracture at 145 ffw.
Exploration in 2007
The team hoped to get inside the system and explore as much as possible. We specifically wanted to make connections to the Twin Dees tunnel as well as a nearby sampling well, the "F" well, which had intersected a large tunnel between 270-300 ffw (and captured a crayfish on camera! - see Walter Pickel's article in the 2nd Quarter 2007 issue of the NACD Journal).

KUR project members moved climbing rope in the fracture from 40ffw down to 70ffw to address the "attractive nuisance" effect the rope was having for open water divers. Additionally, we installed rope from 145ffw to Sheck's existing line inside the system creating a continuous guideline from the cave through the fissure.

Over the course of May and June, over 20 working dives were performed with each requiring two or more set-up dives where teams brought scooters and tanks through the restriction and staged them within the system. Aside from other set-up dives, surveying dives and video dives, here are the exploration hi-lights. The system-wide morphology of this cave is almost all gigantic, white wall tunnels with break-down covered floors, punctuated with even broader chambers, like numerous large meals along the body of a python.

Within a few days after the July 14th dive, the flow increased to where entry/exit in the restriction at 155ffw became too risky to continue. The exploration project is on hold until the flow decreases again into the acceptable range for exploration activities.

We'd like to thank everyone on the team for their sacrifices and being integral part of making this exploration project a huge success.
The Weeki Wachee Karst Project Team
Robert Brooks
Jacki Clark
Joel Clark
Eric Deister
Kelly Deister
Paul Heinerth
Brett Hemphill
Lindsey Hodges
Corey Mearns
Dali Mearns
David Miner
Bill Oestreich
Jeff Petersen
Walter Pickel
Micheal Poucher
Sandra Poucher
Scott Pulliam
Steven Straatsma
Ben Wilcher
Bert Wilcher

A special thanks to:
Chris De Felice (Dive Weeki Wachee)
John Athanason (Weeki Wachee Springs)
David DeWitt (SWFWMD)

Salvo Diving
Silent Submersion
Tampa Adventure Sports

Key Exploration Dives

May 27, 2007
Brett Hemphill added just over 700 feet of line past the restriction/breakdown where Sheck's line with depth averaging 250ffw. On this solo swim dive with his KISS CCR, Brett Hemphill swam to the end of Sheck's line and then found an easily passable keyhole restriction through the breakdown collapse. After the restriction, Brett found himself in very large tunnel that averaged 15 feet high by 50 feet wide, with breakdown covered in a layer of silt and sand giving it the appearance of a winter mountainscape. Then the tunnel size expanded to average 25 feet high by 80 feet wide. He followed the tunnel and flow westward to another restriction at a depth of 278ffw, dubbed "White Death" because of the clay composition of the tunnel. We suspect the tunnel beyond this restriction is the primary source of the silt in the first 1,200 feet of the system and it is probable that this passage leads to a sink that was covered when the Weeki Wachee parking lot was laid.

Bottom Time:   1.5 hours
Deco Time:   4 hours
Exploration Team:   Brett Hemphill
Support Team:   Eric Deister, David Miner, Jeff Petersen, Walter Pickel, Micheal Poucher, Sandra Poucher, Bert Wilcher
June 16, 2007
On a solo scooter dive with his KISS CCR, Brett added almost another 1,300 feet of line. Just before the White Death restriction, he spotted the real primary tunnel and followed it to the very large room, dubbed the River Room, with two very minor tunnels extending off of it. Brett doubled back, realizing that the primary tunnel must have split on him, again. With tunnel this large and only one diver's light, the "main" tunnel isn't as obvious as you would expect. Again, back in the true primary tunnel, he scootered on southward, passing through a short, restricted area of breakdown collapse which then opened up back into large tunnel and then yet another amazingly large room dubbed, Helm's Deep. On the southern end of the room, two large leads appeared evident.

Bottom Time:   1.5 hours
Deco Time:   4 hours
Exploration Team:   Brett Hemphill
Support Team:   Robert Brooks, Jacki Clark, Joel Clark, Eric Deister, Kelly Deister, Lindsey Hodges, Corey Mearns, Dali Mearns, David Miner, Jeff Petersen, Walter Pickel, Micheal Poucher, Sandra Poucher, Ben Wilcher, Bert Wilcher
June 29, 2007
The dive plan was to explore simultaneously the two leads off of Helm's Deep, Brett, on his KISS CCR and Paul on his Dive Rite Optima CCR scootered to Helm's Deep. From there, Brett took the more southern trending tunnel. Paul followed for a short distance and then separated to explore a large side tunnel heading west. Brett added approximately 1,900 feet of line through amazingly large tunnel (averaging 70 feet high by 100 feet wide) to a depth of 342 ffw until the tunnel began to pitch steeply downward. This drop off was named Mount Doom. Brett also identified two more possible leads along the western wall between Helm's Deep and Mount Doom. Paul added approximately 1,200 feet of line in the large west tunnel. However, this tunnel, nicknamed the Dead Marshes Tunnel had no discernible flow, the water was darker and clearly stratified and stagnant with bacteria colonies. At present time, the question remained if this could be the connection to Twin Dees, since the spring has been stagnant for the last two years.

Bottom Time:   2 hours
Deco Time:   7.5 hours
Exploration Team:   Brett Hemphill, Paul Heinerth
Support Team:   Robert Brooks, Eric Deister, Lindsey Hodges, Jeff Petersen, Walter Pickel, Micheal Poucher, Sandra Poucher, Scott Pulliam, Ben Wilcher, Bert Wilcher
July 14, 2007
Brett Hemphill (KISS CCR), Paul Heinerth (Dive Rite Optima CCR), Corey Mearns (ISC Megalodon CCR) shoot video of the first 2,000 feet of the system using Silent Submersion's new Death Ray and add 1,600 near Mount Doom; they confirmed (via 3 computers) a depth of 403 ffw at the bottom of Mount Doom - and this was not on the "very bottom". From there the tunnel got shallower again (in the 370ffw range) but ended in a room with a much smaller springing tunnel extending off of it. After doubling back a short distance, they found main trunk again and added the remainder of the line there. In the main tunnel near the end of the dive, the team passed a section that looked as if they may have hit the spot where the "F" well's drilling breached the ceiling of the tunnel. The large, main tunnel (where the "F" well connection may have been made) continues, but the dive was terminated on time.

Bottom Time:   2 hours
Deco Time:   9.25 hours
Exploration Team:   Brett Hemphill, Paul Heinerth, Corey Mearns
Support Team:   Robert Brooks, Jacki Clark, Joel Clark, Eric Deister, Kelly Deister, Lindsey Hodges, Dali Mearns, David Miner, Jeff Petersen, Walter Pickel, Micheal Poucher, Sandra Poucher, Steven Straatsma, Ben Wilcher, Bert Wilcher

Penetration Distances
The table below lists summary distances to point of penetration from the Weeki Wachee Spring cave entrance.

Location     Distance
"Sheck's Folly" Restriction     220'
White Death     997'
River Room     1,158'
Helm's Deep     1,700'
End of Dead Marshes Tunnel     2,442'
Mount Doom     3,655'
End of Moria (after Mount Doom)     4,229'
"F" Well Intersection     3,961'
End on "F" Line     4,271'
Total New Line Laid     6,728'