Category: Scuba

Tarpon Buzz and Turtle Love

Tarpon Buzz and Turtle Love

SimoneLipscomb (1)The sun set over the mountains far from our entry point. Golden sky glowed with lingering day as night descended.

Twilight found me slipping beneath the surface….again. Into the turquoise water that appeared gray as light faded until my bright light illuminated it.

Small silver flashes zoomed past as I slowly kicked into the deep. Nighttime on the reef…a time of rest for some and action for others.

Not long into the dive a large hawksbill sea turtle was spotted foraging for food. We directed our lights away from it so it wouldn’t be blinded but another diver started shining his light directly on the turtle and began chasing it. Of course this lead to me kicking into high gear–quite literally–out of my relaxed blissful, happy place and I begin flashing his face. He didn’t stop until I intercepted and was about to grab his arm and direct the light away from the turtle. I felt molten lava stir within as this endangered species was harassed by a careless diver.

Once the turtle was safely moving on without the spotlight, my dive buddy and I moved away from the group and found in front of us another hawksbill, a bit smaller, and so we hid our lights so as not to reveal her presence.  We floated in the dark, gray ocean, barely able to see the outline of the turtle as we stayed between it and the other diver who was still searching for the original turtle. With loving hearts we fiercely protected our sea turtle friend.

After turning around and going into the shallower sand flat, tarpon began hunting with our lights. We came into contact with several other divers who were photographing and videoing the frenzy of these large, silver fish indulging in some easy dinners. We broke away from the crowd and swam on but had gotten just past the mosh pit of people when I felt a rush by my right side as a huge tarpon buzzed past me, using my bright cave light as a feeding beam.

The rush of such an animal, over five feet in length with shiny, silver plate-like scales and large eyes, zooming past me barely missing my side was wild. I knew he was going to come back yet each time he buzzed me I squealed into my regulator. We played a game of hunt the fish with Simone’s light. I loved every minute of it. It’s quite possible my face hurt from smiling so much while trying to hold the regulator in my mouth.

I sit propped up in bed now, yet still underwater moving and flowing with gentle surge. Nearly four hours were spent beneath the surface, communing with the Ocean and many creatures that live within Her. It was a dive of strong emotions….feeling protective, feeling ecstatically playful and mostly feeling immense love for all life. Oh…and grateful. Very grateful.

A Little More Kindness

A Little More Kindness

Journal entry from 8am this morning:

SimoneLipscomb (2)My hands are still damp, I’m still in my wetsuit, but I wanted to write while the emotions are still fresh.

I had just turned my solo morning meditation dive when in front of me glided a large spotted eagle ray. Her long, thin tail trailing behind–a thin, black line against the blue sea. Her face beautiful in its beak-like design, eyes watching me as I watched her.

She arched across my right side leaving the sand flats where she had fed and headed down the top of the reef. I stopped and witnessed her graceful beauty–the slow, steady beat of her wings underwater–and felt my heart open as it does when beauty such as this touches me softly with its unexplainable magic.

So close to this magnificent creature was I, our eyes connected and thus did our innermost being.

SimoneLipscomb (1)She swam on and I did, too, parting with joy and appreciation. As I slowly kicked back, away from the ray, I felt a renewed commitment to cultivate kindness and gentleness for all creatures and especially those who are innocent of the abuses humans perpetuate apon their homes.

Floating in a Kaleidoscope

Floating in a Kaleidoscope

SimoneLipscomb (8)The second dive today I found myself alone with no other divers around me. That’s not a bad thing…I enjoy solo diving. It wasn’t intentional but the two folks that went in at the same time wandered on while I floated weightless in a kaleidoscope of color. I couldn’t move, so mesmerized was I by stripes and dots and shades of the rainbow.

The Salt Pier is an operational salt production pier where ships are loaded with sea salt that is produced on Bonaire in evaporation ponds. When workers are not present, divers are allowed to visit and enjoy the amazing sea life that claims the pilings as home. It was here–amid hundreds of French grunts, a yellow-striped fish–where I experienced weightlessness as geometries and wild colors danced within inches of my mask.

SimoneLipscomb (4)If divers are still and don’t flail through the water, fish can be surprisingly accepting of our presence. I know of nothing else in this world I’d rather be doing than floating relaxed and at ease with a large school of fish. Today they moved as one so once I settled in, I became part of their school and we swayed in the gentle surge together. Around we went, slowly…ever-so-slowly…winding our way through massive pilings filled with sponges, soft and hard corals and colors as brilliant as the fish. Christmas tree worms decorated sponges in brilliant colors. Blennys less than half the size of my little finger popped in and out of their tiny holes in the coral and sponges, their eyes smaller than a pin head. The variety of life expressed in the Ocean, in one small area, is simply mind-blowing to me.

SimoneLipscomb (6)Slow and steady breathing through my regulator, motionless except for small pushes the Ocean gave me and my fish friends, I was truly at home. At peace. At home within myself.

A turquoise, pink and yellow rainbow parrotfish would occasionally dash through our school creating a cooperative parting of the mass. A jack would dart in and out and we simply moved out of the way, creating space…floating…existing in harmony.

SimoneLipscomb (3)Right now green parrots are screeching outside the screen porch as I sit and reflect on the day. Palm fronds sway and rustle in the wind. The Ocean is 50 yards from me and one would never guess the amazing life that lives just below the surface. Such beauty, amazingly, profoundly present just 30 feet under the surface. It makes me wonder what beauty lies just beneath the surface of each of us. If we only realized this….


No Ego Needed

No Ego Needed

Pam Wooten, Jill Heinerth, Simone Lipscomb. Photo by Rick Crawford.

The weekend before the New Year found me in Cave Country–North Florida–once again. I was drawn there to take a course in side mount, or so I thought. It wasn’t until after the trip was over and I was home that I realized the deeper reason I made the trip.

My friend Pam and I decided to take the class with Jill Heinerth. Pam knew Jill but I simply followed the recommendation of another friend and cave instructor. I won’t go into the details of the course because that’s not my focus. But I would like to share about the women that were present that weekend.

Connie LoRe, a role model for me in cave diving.  She has led trips to the beautiful caves of Akumal, Mexico for many years. Photo by Ed Jackson.

Cave diving has progressed from a male-dominated sport to one in which women are routinely participating, instructing and exploring. I thought it was rather awesome to be in a cave course taught by a woman with a female classmate who excels in the field of dive instruction. One of Jill’s friend’s was teaching a cavern course. Renee was another outstanding woman. As we were figuring out our new gear yet another amazing woman showed up to dive. Barbara am Ende, cave explorer and writer, came over and started chatting. I was a bit distracted with all the learning to realize the powerhouse of women standing around us.

Renee Power
Renee Power

Our first day ended with a dive in the Ginnie Bowl and Ballroom. Renee accompanied us. I’m not sure if it was because Pam and I were giving Jill more challenge than she bargained for and she was about to pull her hair out in frustration or if Renee just wanted to come along for the fun. Regardless, it was a very nice dive once we got our gear situated. We played around for over 30 minutes in the cavern and it was quite lovely surfacing after dark to a beautiful sky and clear water surrounded by cypress trees. After we finished Jill left to join her husband for dinner while Pam, Renee and I chatted. I felt an immediate kinship with Renee as we shared about our experience instructing scuba with wounded soldiers. Exhaustion finally overcame me and I headed for a hot shower and food.

At lunch Jill was telling Pam and I about an expedition Barbara had been on and mentioned something about a book. I emailed a note to myself to read the book…Beyond the Deep.

Barbara am Ende. Photo by Mark Long
Barbara am Ende. Photo by Mark Long

The following day of class I got to chat a bit with Barbara. She was super-nice and was interested in my photography of the trees, water and light. She shared her card so we could keep in touch but we didn’t have a chance to really visit too much. And for some reason I didn’t associate her with the expedition and book Jill had referenced.

I had to end the diving a bit early due to a cold virus that had been challenging me during the course and the dives. I had no energy and had to focus really hard just to stay present so perhaps that’s why I ‘missed’ the profound women gathered together. Or maybe it was because there was no ego, no chest-beating, no race to see how far or how deep cave penetration was that day. It was friendly, supportive sharing and everyone was equally bringing her best self forward.

WAWhandLOGOwebsiteOnce I got home and was recuperating on my sofa, I watched Jill’s video. We Are Water is a beautiful story of water and the importance of it to us but more than that, it is the story of Jill’s passion and love for the planet. And that resonated deeply with me. Her words echoed my own as she described entering the caves as a spiritual experience; a kindred soul indeed. I’m not an explorer into the deeps of caves or icebergs but I am an explorer of our relationship to nature. I see that in Jill as well.

After the movie, I wanted something else to help me make the best use of my down-time so I downloaded Barbara’s book to my iPad. As I started reading I thought, Oh, my goodness! This is the woman I met? The expedition to the cave in Mexico in which Barbara participated was intense. Over a ton of gear was transported by a system of belays to sumps far below the surface. I couldn’t put the book down and so stayed up late reading in awe of such an amazing journey. It was a powerful venture into the unknown.


I emailed and chatted with my friend Pam after the trip and shared with her my disbelief that such powerful women came together that weekend. It wasn’t planned. The timing of meeting Renee and Barbara was truly profound. I think this is so because there was such friendliness and approachability with everyone present.

It wasn’t just Jill and Barbara that brought tremendous strengths and gifts to those picnic tables at Ginnie Springs. Each one of us has an authentic way of interacting with the world and we each have something beautiful to offer the world. But so does every woman…every person.


Pam Wooten, PADI Course Director.
Pam Wooten, PADI Course Director. Photo by Simone Lipscomb

The weekend was made especially meaningful as Pam and I shared about our lives…openly, honestly. What a gift to experience the deepening of friendship.


Simone cave diving in Mexico. Photo by Ed Jackson
Simone cave diving in Mexico. Photo by Ed Jackson

Terry Tempest Williams said that if a woman ever honestly wrote about and shared her life story, the world would split open and be forever changed. As I reflect back to that weekend, gratitude overflows as I treasure the gift of wisdom each one shared. Perhaps the biggest gift I received was the assurance that wisdom comes with gentleness, straightforwardness, honesty, play, self-awareness in a space where no ego is needed.



jill's photo 2 (2)The last time I was in an underwater cave was April 6th, 2010. Over three and one-half years ago I was at Peacock Springs State Park and dove in 25 foot viz in green water. I spent 54 minutes with two dive buddies and went up the Peanut Tunnel entrance. My gas was 31 % EAN (enriched air nitrox). I wore two steel tanks in a backmount configuration (meaning they were banded together and joined by a manifold with an isolator valve). It was my 85th cave dive.

Over ten years ago I was riding on the back of a motorcycle and the guy operating it hit a pot hole on the interstate going about 70mph and the result for me was a compression fracture of L5 and a small piece of bone that floats around a bit…not much but just enough to cause a lot of pain when my hip is compressed by carrying anything heavy on my back or doing exercise or movement that pushes the bone fragment against my sacrum. It’s not serious or debilitating but carrying heavy steel tanks on my back created too much compression to enjoy cave diving. Additionally, I lost my dive buddy due to divorce.

I’ve missed cave diving–or certain aspects of it. The feeling of being surrounded by earth while underwater is one of the most holy experiences of my life. This is especially evident in caves found in the Akumal, Mexico region of the world where the once-dry caves are heavily decorated with stalagmites and stalactites and the water is crystal clear and 78 degrees. And still. The water generally has no flow in the Mexico caves.

It’s different here in north Florida. First, there are no decorations in the caves. They are seep caves formed from underground aquifers that create tunnels–lots and lots of underground tunnels filled with water.And it’s different because it’s only six hours from home by way of I-10 instead of a jet ride down to Mexico. However, the most important distinction for me is that many of the caves here have significant water flow.

In my first book, Sharks On My Fin Tips, I related a story of my first attempt to enter an underwater cave at Ginnie Springs. I compared it to feeling like a mosquito trying to grab the windshield of a car while it’s traveling at a high rate of speed. I stuck with it because I wanted to experience the caves of Mexico and basically, it’s a unique experience that is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Photo by Jill Heirneth

Sidemount diving gives the opportunity to carry two tanks attached to the diver’s sides, carried to the water independently and attached in shallow water, taking the stress of the diver’s back. Many divers switch to sidemount due to back issues after carrying heavy doubles on their backs. This seemed like the perfect solution for me.

After making inquiries about sidemount instructors I chose one and a friend of mine decided to take the class with me. We are both competent divers and in fact both function as open water instructors. She also teaches scuba instructors how to instruct. The first day of class we were both humbled by the new gear and configuration. It was like learning to dive from the beginning.

jill's photo 2 (6)When I first began cave diving and switched to double tanks I felt the same way. So much gear and such a hassle to even get in the water….it seemed very tedious and there was a lot of task-loading. But over time and through practice, backmount diving with doubles became like second nature. But never was the setup easy. It was a pain in the rear. And in my case…a pain in the back.

There is a lot of redundancy in gear for safety reasons so a diver still has to carry three lights, extra air, extra reels but with sidemount the configuration is different. The harness and wings (that provide lift) are all different. So it is like starting over yet again.

It’s funny how activities I am drawn to perfectly mirror my inner life. I am starting over again after a ten year relationship ended. It’s not easy. Over the past two years I have had to learn to be single again and at times it has been incredibly challenging. But over time it has gotten easier and I’m comfortable with ‘just’ me now. The sidemount class mirrored my challenges of the past couple of years.

It took a while but by the end of the first day I felt comfortable in the harness, with the tanks and was in a good position in the water…all vital to successful diving. We went on a night dive into a beautiful cavern at Ginnie Springs called the Ballroom and practiced. I liked the feel of the gear and felt comfortable in my body. It was great to be surrounded by earth while underwater.

But I knew I wasn’t ready to face a high-flow cave in my new gear. I was clear with the instructor. It had been over three and one-half years since being in an underwater cave. But it’s not the overhead environment that bothers me. It’s the flow. It has always been the flow. I abhor it. I don’t know any other way to explain it. I simply detest the high flow because I have to pull against it. After two years of fighting to find myself again and get comfortable in my own skin once more, the thought of fighting against anything made me tired–emotionally and mentally.

Photo by Jill Heirneth

Day two of class and I felt great in my gear. I changed a couple of things in the configuration and trimmed out nicely in the water once again. No issues really. But since our instructor chose Ginnie as a place to do our penetration dives I was apprehensive. Have I mentioned how I dislike high-flow systems?

I shared my concerns and our plan was to do a short penetration through the Eye, one of two entrances into the cave. As we descended into the small bowl leading into the eye I felt good. The instructor tied off her reel and I followed with my buddy behind me. We descended through rock and sand and lines of other divers. I was doing okay with the overhead but as the opening got smaller the flow was more forceful. I struggled to get my buoyancy balanced. It was difficult to continue. I stopped and regrouped and moved forward. Little-by-little I progressed until I came to a point where three lines covered the bottom. I knew because I wasn’t able to get the proper buoyancy I would most likely drag on one of the lines. So I made the decision to turn the dive.

Upon turning I realized I was already caught on one of the lines. It wasn’t a big deal though. I reached under my body and ran my hand down and removed the line from my pressure gauge then slowly ascended behind my buddy up to the light zone and into open water.

jill's photo 2 (3)One thing I have always insisted upon in myself is that I can call a dive at any time for any reason. This way of thinking is taught in the cave diving community as we never want anyone to push when they should really draw back. It’s not always an easy decision to make, however. You don’t want to let your buddies down. You want to succeed. You want to be masterful in your skills.

But what I have come to understand through over fifty years of making mistakes and growing from them is that success isn’t about pushing myself to succeed at any cost. Monitoring my thoughts, emotions and physical body helps me learn self-mastery and this leads to self-trust. And this is far more important than mastering a high-flow cave in new gear.

And too, fighting the flow of life’s journey is futile. People float in, people float out. Jobs, homes, geographic locations, experiences….all of these components of our journey come and go and to try to hold on to them, to keep things static, is futile. Success comes from surrendering to the flow, not from fighting it…not from pushing against it. I told my instructor and my dive buddy yesterday at lunch that I’m so weary of pushing against the flow of my life. I don’t have any fight left to try and make things work out a certain way. The cave flow reminded me so profoundly of this truth.

Life provides opportunities to refine the relationship we have with our self and learn the sacred art of self-mastery.

jill's photo 2