Lamar Hires

Lamar Hires

Lake City, Florida

Return to Azure Blue

After twenty years Lamar Hires and Wes Skiles return to Azure Blue, an incredible cave that is off the beaten path. Click the title to read the full story. by Lamar Hires

Zoom+ Lamar Hires during the initial exploration of the cave in the 1980s. Wes SkilesImage of Lamar Hires during the initial exploration of the cave in the 1980s.

It has been over twenty years since I last dived in Azure Blue. Yet I still remember those dives like they were only yesterday. Wes Skiles, Woody Jasper and I explored Azure and when you explore and map a cave, every detail of each dive stays imprinted in your memory. We did some amazing dives and had many unforgettable experiences as we pushed ourselves and our gear to the limits, often in zero visibility conditions.

Zoom+ The team lowers dive gear into Azure Blue Kathleen ByarsImage of The team lowers dive gear into Azure Blue

Returning to Azure was like a reunion for Wes and I. Wes wanted to capture the beauty of the cave using the latest digital equipment. So we assembled a team of Dive Rite divers to help out with the logistic, because getting into the cave is the biggest challenge. The entrance is a series of solution tubes and the water is about 30’ (10m) below the surface. To actually access the water you need a series of ropes, climbing gear and a ladder… not to mention a good set of muscles. It takes longer to get the team in and out of the water than the dive itself does but it is well worth the effort.

Zoom+ Lamar Hires returns to Azure Blue after twenty years Wes SkilesImage of Lamar Hires returns to Azure Blue after twenty years

Azure Blue is a truly amazing cave. The cave is a series of three big rooms with tight, flat passages joining them together. The last room has a skylight, beneath which lies a huge mound of sticks and debris that has accumulated over many, many years. There are beautiful clay banks and highly decorated walls and ceilings. The flow is nonexistent, so poor technique or a sloppy fin kick can leave silt in the water column for days. Due to the extremely delicate nature of the cave, Azure is not opened to any form of recreational cave diving. Being able to access the cave and see its beauty is a unique and special experience.

Wes took some great pictures and managed to capture the very reason why we go cave diving. Diving Azure after twenty years reminded me why I enjoy and love cave diving. The hard slog of lowering gear in and out of the solution tubes on the other hand reminded me why it has been twenty years since my last visit. Everyone has dives they never forget. Azure blue is one of those special places for me.

Click on the SLIDESHOW tab above to see more inspirational underwater photographs of Azure Blue taken by Wes Skiles.