Tec Dossier – Jim Wyatt

Any PADI/TecRec qualifications:
PADI Master Instructor, PADI Cavern and Tec Cave Instructor, PADI Tec Rec Deep Trainer, PADI Tec Rec Gas Blender Trainer, PADI Tec Rec Trimix Blender Trainer, PADI Tec Rec Trimix Diver Trainer, PADI TMX 45 and TMX 50 instructor, US Navy Diving Salvage Officer, one tour of duty, and Training Director National Speleological Society Cave Diving Section.

Country: United States

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What is your background and involvement in diving?
I’ve been diving since I was 12-years-old, and by the age of 18 I became a PADI scuba instructor. I’ve spent my entire career in the dive industry, and I am now the owner and operator of Cave Country Dive Shop in High Springs, Florida, USA where I focus on everything related to cave and technical diving.

How did you get into cave diving?
I’ve been captivated by diving since I was a kid. My uncle was a navy contractor, and he was working at the submarine base in Key West, FL doing some work on navy submarines. I spent two or three summers down there with them because they had a son my age. My uncle brought a scuba unit home, which had a double hose regulator and a steel tank attached to a backpack, and my cousin and I learned to dive on that by dragging it down to the beach and figuring it out on our own. My uncle could get the tank filled for us every other day since he was at the sub base.
When I was 16-years-old I went down to Morison Springs in the Florida panhandle, which is north of Panama City, Florida, and was introduced to clear water spring diving. I fell in love with the springs, the clear water and the overhead environment. I got certified as a cave diver when I was 17, and then as a cave instructor through the National Association for Cave Diving when I was 18.

What do you think the greatest challenges in cave diving are?
Not being complacent and keeping the proper mental attitude. I do accident analysis of cave diver fatalities. Each time a cave diver dies, I try to look at what caused the fatality, and it isn’t equipment failures that cause fatalities. Instead, it’s choices that people make that cause the fatalities. Accidents occur when people chose to bend some of the established rules, think that those rules don’t apply to them or generally act with complacency.

What is unique about cave diving?
It’s equipment intensive. It takes a lot of equipment to do it and do it correctly. So, there’s sort of a technological challenge to it that really interested me early on in my diving career.

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What is unique about cave diving in Cave Country Florida versus other parts of the world?
If you compare this part of the country to other parts of the United States, there are more places to cave dive in this area per square mile. The caves in this area aren’t decorated with stalagmites and stalactites, like the caves in Mexico for example, and, the caves here are generally deeper and colder than caves in other areas of North America. One of the challenges of diving in these caves is that many of them have fairly high outflow that makes it kind of difficult to even get into them. We find that people who train to cave dive in other areas really aren’t trained to dive in North Florida.

How does Cave Country Dive Shop cater to divers who aren’t familiar with the conditions in North Florida?
We have a lot of different instructors who work with our shop. The shop layout includes a large classroom area so that we can accommodate the academic side of cave diving in the area. We also carry a variety of cave diving specific equipment that people need to dive safely in this area, and everyone on our staff is a cave diver. When someone comes into the shop with a question, regardless of who is asked, the answer will be coming from an experienced cave diver who knows the area well.

Why did you pick High Springs, Florida, USA (the heart of Cave Country) as the location for Cave Country Dive Shop?
I had been cave diving in the area for years. I started living in Cave Country in the summers when I was a college student at the University of Georgia. I spent my summers here teaching cave diving. Then years later, my wife and I were living in the Florida Keys, and we decided to move up here so that she could go to graduate school at the University of Florida. I was teaching cave diving classes, and we were in the area for several years before we decided to open the shop. We realized that there was a need for a dive shop in the immediate vicinity that catered to cave diving specifically. So, we decided to open up Cave Country Dive Shop. We’ve done our best to establish both a professional and friendly environment for cave divers from novice to expert level.

What are the most common mistakes you see cave divers make in your area?
First, I think that cave diving is safer than driving down the interstate if all the rules are adhered to. When people dive beyond their training or don’t adhere to the rules, that is when they run into problems.A mistake we sometimes see is the diver’s failure to properly analyze gas. Just a few months ago, a diver in the area had a bottle marked oxygen that he thought he had filled with air, and he dove it as if it was filled with air. The bottle was actually filled with oxygen, and when he dove to depth he suffered from oxygen toxicity and drowned in the cave. This is one of many examples of complacency.
Another problem we have seen with some of the more experienced cave divers is failure to properly manage gas. In making a cave dive, if following the guidelines, a diver should complete the dive with a minimum of one-third of the starting volume remaining once they complete their cave dive.
Another common problem is failure to run a continuous guideline to the surface, and when divers do this they run the risk of getting lost in the cave.
All these issues go back to complacency and can easily be avoided by following principles taught in all cave diving courses. Problems arise when people decide to cut corners.

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What are the steps to becoming a cave diver?
The first thing someone should do is take a cavern course to determine whether or not there’s an interest in being in the overhead environment. Some people think that they might be interested in cave diving, but then realize they don’t like the overhead environment. So, it’s better try it out before investing in all the equipment.
Next, if you like the cavern course you need to learn the specifics of tec diving and then specifically cave diving. You also need to be able to buy most of your own equipment. In cave diving, it’s pretty common for people to rent tanks and sometimes even rent primary lights, but other than that cave divers should own all of their own equipment.

Why is so important to own your own equipment for cave diving?
Cave diving equipment is specific to each individual diver in both configuration and in fit. The gear must be configured in accordance with the specific requirements for cave diving. There are several configurations that can be considered correct, but only two or three. Fit is also very important for cave diving. If your equipment doesn’t fit properly it can make it very difficult to move through a cave. The nice thing is that properly configured and fitted cave diving equipment can be used for any other type of technical open water diving situation.

What was your worst cave diving experience?
Back in the 70s, I had a buddy that did not turn his air on all the way. Once he got down to depth in the cave it quit delivering air to him, and he grabbed my regulator out of my mouth. We had to do gas sharing out of the cave, but by that time we had stirred up the bottom and had no visibility. Fortunately, we had trained for that sort of emergency, and we were able to get out of the cave safely. But when out-of-air emergencies happen, they happen fast. In the interim of getting to me and getting air from me, he was on the verge of panic. Once he got air from me and we had gone through two or three breath cycles he was able to calm down and we reverted to our training to exit the cave.

What was your best cave diving experience?
Exploring the Lost Sea. The Lost Sea was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest underwater lake in the world. You walk about a quarter mile or so into the cave to find the lake, and it’s a pretty big lake. In college, I was part of team working with the US Geological Survey who first explored this lake. No human had ever been there before. We were diving and exploring the portions of the cave beneath the water. One of the reasons we stopped is that we were on open circuit scuba and the bubbles were dislodging large chunks of rock that would fall down above us. Nobody ever got hit, but one team almost got hit by a rock that they say was about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It would be great to go back and do it on rebreathers.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of getting into cave diving?M
ake sure you like the overhead environment before you go any further. Then, if you like it, you can take courses to learn some of the important technical elements. After you’ve gotten comfortable with tec diving in open water, you’ll be ready to take cave diving courses.

What do you find the most rewarding about owning Cave Country Dive Shop?
Cave diving is my passion. Having a shop that really caters to cave divers and knows what their needs are means that we can fulfill all their needs from equipment to instruction to a place to socialize. http://www.cavecountrydiving.com/

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