Key West has never been known for spectacular diving. However, just this time last year they hit the big time. In an effort to establish an artificial reef, the U.S.S. General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, a 522-foot WWII transport ship, was sunk six miles off the coast of Key West. That sinking was pretty spectacular in its own right.
This is one of the main reasons we travelled to Key West during our recent trip – to dive two dives on the Vandenberg with SubTropic Divers. Unfortunately the visibility was only 30-40 feet on the first dive. With a mild current, we managed to see only part of the ship. On the second dive, the visibility had increased a little to about 40-50 feet. Matt and I went off on our own and managed to go from the middle of the ship (where we were dropped) to the bow, then back down the full length of the ship to the stern. We didn’t have enough time to look in all the holes of the ship or swim through all the swimthroughs purposefully blown out for divers. Not much marine life has moved in yet but I did find several Arrowhead Crabs and other small creatures already staking out their claim.
On the way home from our ten-day trip around Florida, on a whim, we decided to stop off in Jupiter and dive two morning dives with Jupiter Dive Center. Matt had been diving with them several times and loved the dives. BUT….where the water temperature in the Keys had been between 80 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, recent storms had left the waters around Jupiter hovering between 66 and 68 degrees. I thought the Dive Guide was joking with us when he mentioned this. He wasn’t.
For anyone who knows anything about diving and wetsuits, my suit is a 4/3 (4-mil on the core, 3-mil on the arms and legs). This accompanied by tropical gloves and a thin beanie (hood) does not equal adequate coverage for 66-68 degree water! Somehow, though, I managed to tough it out. I would find a warm spot and try to stay in it as long as possible. The visibility was horrible, maybe 20 feet if you were lucky. It was very easy to lose sight of the Dive Guide and my dive buddy (Matt) for that matter. This was one of those times you really had to stay tight as a group. Three of us, along with the Dive Guide, stayed down for the entire dive, somehow surviving the cold and low visibility. A few times I could just make out large shadows in front of me, unaware of what type of marine life it was. I did however see some of the largest Goliath Groupers I have ever seen. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. From turtles to Great Hammerheads, South Florida waters seem to grow everything big.
I have yet to dive for fossilized shark’s teeth in Venice, or dive the aircraft carrier Oriskany sunk off the coast of Pensacola. With all these great diving opportunities in the state of Florida, adding Florida scuba diving to my List of 50 Things to Love About Florida is a must.