A Brief History of the Grotto


Diver Silhouette

It’s the early 1950s. Scuba diving is in its infancy. Word spreads slowly throughout the tiny Florida diving community of a mysterious hole in the ground, northwest of Ocala, known locally as Zuber Sink. (At the time, Zuber was the closest town of any consequence; ironically, it is eight miles away, on the opposite side of I-75 from the Grotto.)

Early exploration of Zuber Sink are limited by the primitive nature of the scuba equipment available at the time: Double-hose regulators that are almost impossible to breathe from past 40 m/130 ft; no pressure gauges or BCs; small cylinders; ill-fitting wet suits.


Eventually, though, divers establish a maximum depth for the sinkhole: 73 meters or an even 240 feet. It is this discovery that gives this natural wonder the name that will stick: 40 Fathom Grotto.


For the last four decades, the name most frequently associated with the Grotto has been that of Hal Watts. An early Orlando-area dive retailer, Hal recognized the Grotto’s potential and acquired and developed it as a dive site.

Fast forward half a century: Hal retires from active management of 40 Fathom Grotto. Commercial Diving Academy (CDA) of Jacksonville, Florida, becomes the new operator of this historic property.

Commercial Diver

CDA is looking for a place to conduct both commercial diver and dive instructor training — but also recognizes the Grotto’s potential as a site for all levels of diver training, exploration and enjoyment. An extensive reconstruction project begins to upgrade and modernize the Grotto’s facilities.