Sunbeam Spring (Action Fracture), FL

The entrance to Sunbeam Spring is in the middle of the Santa Fe River. Here, Laura takes in the view.

I was introduced to Sunbeam Spring by Drew Dalton following a video he posted of a dive there with Kyle Jones. I was intrigued by rumors of its tiny entrance and small passages, with hopes of being able to wriggle into little bits that nobody else had done before. It was made more inviting following my purchase of a house in Fort White, as Sunbeam was the closest cave to my home at about ¼ mile from my back door.

The entrance into the cave is through a small fissure. There are two fissures leading into the cave- you will NOT fit in the northern one.

               On August 8th, 2020 Derek Dunlop and I took my boat up the river from the nearest launch. We were both diving LP45/50’s, wetsuit, open circuit. We took turns diving so that one of us could watch for boat traffic as the entrance is almost in the middle of the river. On Derek’s dive he turned at the end of the “great sand dune”, about 500’ from the entrance. On my dive I was able to make it to the EOL, placed there by Marissa Eckert. The last bit of passage leading to her EOL caught my eye, as it transitioned from a high-flow, no silt cave to something with very soft limestone and quite a bit of silt. It was remarkable how little flow was coming from this passage. After looking around the EOL and finding no easy way forward, I backtracked until I found the source. Emanating from a small crack in some breakdown was a lead. I could see down it about 4’ but the bottom was coarse sand, with lots of flow coming out of it. I figured this was the way on, but could see it would need some serious maneuvering.

On August 10th, Derek and I returned. This time we dove together with me in my KISS Sidewinder and 45’s for bailout, and Derek in his open circuit LP85’s. We reached the lead and got to work. We moved a few breakdown rocks from the restriction and I took off my fins and tanks, and tried to get in feet first. No luck. Derek ditched his tanks and also tried, no luck. He removed his harness/wing and going feet first with a 45 was able to wriggle into the restriction. After passing the reel and a light off to Derek he went in about 20’ in large passage, confirming the lead and getting us very excited for what was to come.

Navigating my way through the restriction for the first time

               The following day, August 11th I returned to Sunbeam Spring with Drew Dalton. Drew and I were both diving LP45/50’s with an 80 stage bottle each. It took us about 25 minutes to reach the restriction, through some incredibly high flow. Diving the cave over these few days was like crawling into a fire hydrant. Losing grip on the first 50’ of cave would send you hurtling backwards, blown towards the exit and scrambling for something to grab onto. We breathed down our stages by the far end of the “great sand dune” and dropped them there. When we reached the restriction, I got to work removing gear. My tanks, lights, reels and fins all came off. I was wearing a minimalist harness with an MSR style bladder, enabling me to just barely make it into the restriction. Drew passed me my reel and off I went! I quickly passed the point Derek had reached, with the cave continuing in passage approximately 10’-15’ wide and 3’-5’ tall. Progress was slow as I fought the current and essentially crawled on the sand bottom, finless. I passed one lead off to the left, but continued N/NE through conduit never getting smaller than 15’ wide and 3’ tall. I laid 160’ of line before hitting my turn pressure. I made my way back out in about 2 minutes, being absolutely blown with the current. Getting out of the restriction required some assistance, in that I really appreciated having Drew there to pass gear to. It was a tight fit, and on the way out I tore my wetsuit in 5-6 places. We exited the cave more or less uneventfully, minus tearing a few new holes in our suits.

Derek and I diving from my RHIB.

Following a series of setup dives, Derek Dunlop and I returned to Sunbeam to continue exploration on August 16th. In preparation for the dive we practiced removing our rebreathers and passing them around. Our plan was to take off the rebreathers, bundle them up and pass one at a time through the restriction. We had staged plenty of open circuit gas at the restriction to use for the time we would be off-loop working our way through. We were both diving KISS Sidewinder CCRs, mine on an old Nomad EXP and Derek’s on a Katana 2. For the dive I modified my 02 to be completely and easily doffed, as well as making some giant loop bungees to “taco” my entire harness/BC/rebreather setup together. The TacoWinder.

               In addition to preparing ourselves, I modified the restriction slightly. Knowing there was at least a bit of promising passage beyond, I removed a few small projections that didn’t really make the restriction larger- but made it much safer to pass through. There were these finger-like nodules that were hanging up on me every time I tried to pass, and by doing so it made it far safer. That being said, the restriction remains about 10” wide and almost 4’ long…

               The dive went well. We passed through as planned and at 60 minutes we were at my EOL and tying in a new reel. Unfortunately, the passage quickly split into two. We chased both side as far as we could but on each leg we only made it about 100’. The cave changes from 15’ wide and 4’ tall to about 10’ wide and 1’ high, with high flow and a LOT of projections to get caught on. I wasn’t feeling it on this dive, so I didn’t push very hard. I’ll be back, someday. Total line laid beyond the restriction, about 360’. I’m still working on the front end of the survey, but the cave is probably a little over 1,000′ long now.

My survey and map of the entire cave is in progress, please reach out if you’ve been a part of exploring this cave in the past and want to be credited! Thank you, Teddy