For Jack, a 19-year-old boarding student from Houston, his journey into the miraculousness has included a two-year stint as a student in the Scuba program at Farragut, expertly taught and run by Mr. Scott Davenport. Having completed the introductory courses throughout his first year at Farragut, Jack used the beginning of this academic calendar to obtain the necessary certifications to move into the high-risk, high-reward world of cavern and cave diving — which occurred over the winter break in Ginnie Springs and Peacock Springs, just north of Gainesville, Florida.
Scuba diving, in general, is a task in and of itself. You go from a natural, subconscious form of breathing to a concentrated focus on inhaling and exhaling at a certain rate.
As I (Chris Girandola, Farragut Staff Writer) listen to Jack Seabrook ‘16 describe his recent foray into cavern diving, I am reminded of Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
“There’s no moisture in the air you breathe from the tank but you get used to it,” said Jack, who has plans to be a naval aviator. You also have to make sure you have enough gas (scuba diver’s lingo for air) in the tank. You check your pressure gauge often, making sure you have enough gas to get back up to the surface to finish the dive so you stay calm, get your breathing slower than normal, get your breathing rate down.”
You also adapt in an environment with a different variance of sound – snapping your fingers becomes the best medium for your message. Jack learned how to communicate effectively this way while serving as a teacher’s assistant to Mr. Davenport in the Divemaster class.
“It helped out with understanding on how to critique people and how to help them perfect their skills,” Jack said. “For myself, I learned how to manage myself better underwater because I was focused on teaching others. This improved my breathing and navigating skills.”
In addition, most scuba divers swim with sunlight as the best friend.
“Light means the way out, essentially,” Jack explained before going into the full description of diving in the springs versus venturing into a cave.
Cavern diving, by definition, is “the exploration of permanent, naturally occurring overhead environments while remaining within sight of their entrances,” according to Mr. Davenport. It differs from cave diving in that, while cave divers may penetrate thousands of feet, cavern divers – who are considered recreational divers – limited to no further than 200 feet from the surface.
Or, as Jack put it, “the cavern is the entranceway to a cave so you can still see the light from the sun.”
Video of Jack cave diving
“It’s still a little bit dangerous and there’s some edginess and nerves that creep in because you have an overhang as if you were in a cave,” Jack said. “You can still see light, but unlike swimming in open water, you have something above you.”
For Jack, his cavern diving expedition turned into a cave diving jaunt as well. Fortunately for Farragut students in the Scuba program, they are able to immediately experience cave diving once completing the cavern certification.
“There’s only a handful of cave diving instructors in the world, let alone Florida,” said Mr. Davenport, who began teaching marine biology at Farragut in 2008 and now focuses on combining that knowledge during dives. “Taking scuba classes at Farragut allows students to move seamlessly from one certification to another.”
Better yet, James Hales, a 2015 graduate of Farragut and past scuba student of Mr. Davenport’s, joined along as Jack’s training partner while also completing his Full Cave Certification. James, who now lives in his hometown of Leicester, England, was in town for the holidays with his family, which includes his brother, Patrick, a junior currently attending Farragut as a seven-day boarder.
While the cavern diving elicited a certain realm of excitement, entering into caves provided a certain challenge unlike any other dives.
“A cave instructor friend of mine who was in the best boarding school and flew fighter planes once said, ‘Open water diving is like flying a Cessna whereas cave diving is like flying a fighter plane,’” said Davenport, whose experience also includes seven years of scuba instruction at Texas A&M University and in the British Virgin Islands.
When describing the two different cave dives (one that went 1,000 feet in and another that went 700 feet in, lasting approximately 45 minutes each), Jack, who will be attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, reveals the enhanced level of maturity he has inherited at Farragut through the guidance of his instructors – in this case, Mr. Davenport.
“It’s definitely different,” Jack said. “It’s somewhat intimidating when you first get in there. As opposed to the springs, where you lean on the sunlight for perspective, you have to carry your own light to see in the cave. You also have a line, a reel that you take in with you as a guide for going back out, so it’s a little bit challenging because you have to focus on the reel now. So there’s a bunch of task loading involved. Once you get into the cave, it is a bit scary and my breathing rate did go up a bit because you start to think how far away from the surface you are. You also remind yourself of the silt-out where the bottom composition of the cave can be like sand but finer, so if you kick it up, it will hold in suspension in the water so you can’t even see your hand in front of you. But then, you also have that level of awareness that you are in a dangerous environment so you maintain a sense of calm and composure and treat it like a normal environment. You follow all the procedures that you learn, follow the line so you know where you are so if anything does happen, you can manage the situation correctly.”
More so, the caves give a unique insight into how the world was formed and how it exists without wind, waves and light.
“It’s so quiet and dark that it’s calming yet scary,” Jack said. “We were swimming along and James suddenly circled something with his light. I looked down and saw a cave adapted crayfish which has no pigmentation or eyes, something that is only found in the Florida caves. Few beginning cave divers see those.”
As Jack later points out in our conversation, the experience is something that would never have materialized had he not come to Farragut.
“It’s somewhat ironic because cave diving allows you to go to a place hardly many other people get to enjoy and if I hadn’t come to Farragut, I would never have been able to experience something that incredible,” said Jack, who transferred to Farragut from a Houston public school with a student body population that typically hovers around 6,000 kids.