Florida Diving – Part II

June 22, 2010

KEY WEST

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. 

JUPITER

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.

WHAT’S NEXT?

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.

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Florida Diving – Part I

June 18, 2010

 

Florida provides ample opportunities for scuba diving. On a recent trip around the state I managed to dive in three different locations – Key Largo, Key West, and Jupiter.  Happily I can say I saw no oil from the BP oil spill, and none had been reported.  I did ask a Dive Guide in Key Largo about the oil. As soon as I did his body went rigid, and his voice grew less friendly as he shook his head no and blamed much of the fear on media hype.  He compared it to the threat of hurricanes.  The sky could be clear blue and a reporter would still be standing there talking doom and gloom.

KEY LARGO

We had plans to dive two morning dives and two afternoon dives in Key Largo with Conch Republic Divers.  Since I had not been diving in several months, I wanted to start out with a relatively shallow, easy dive to acclimate myself to the gear and the underwater environment. The two morning reef dives were no deeper than 30 feet. During one of these dives, we saw four large green moray eels tucked up under the reef.  I never get tired of seeing these graceful creatures. Before I started diving I thought moray eels were evil, like the one in the movie The Deep.   That’s hardly the case.

Prior to striding off the boat for the second dive, the captain informed us that lightning cells were in the area and he might call us back to the boat early.  The method for this is loud banging which can be heard underwater.  Fortunately he had no need to call us back before the dive ended on its own.

Unfortunately the afternoon dives were cancelled due to 6-foot seas.  Many times I have ridden 2-4 foot seas waiting for a dive boat to pick me up.  But 6-foot waves are pushing the limit.  Not only could divers get lost in the ocean, they could get pretty beat up hanging on to the boat ladder and trying to climb aboard. 

The cancelled dives were a disappointment because we were to dive two wrecks in the afternoon – the infamous USS Spiegel Grove, a 510-foot long U.S. Navy Landing Ship, and the USCGC Duane, a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter.  I have been diving on these wrecks before and the Spiegel Grove is one of my absolute favorite dives to date.  It sits at 134 feet, with the highest part of the ship between 60 and 65 feet.

Neither words nor photos can express the sensation you get as you descend deeper and deeper and, suddenly, a ship, resting on the sandy bottom, comes into view.  At first your mind thinks it must be a mirage.  But then you realize it is real, and you can swim alongside it, and sometimes through it.  I am not wreck diver certified, nor do I want to be, so I would never penetrate a wreck where no light is present.  A few certified wreck divers have already lost their lives on these wrecks, so I always think twice about whatever I do.  I have to admit sometimes I grow curious about the stairwells or entrances.  I shine my light and allow myself to peek inside but I never enter.

To be continued…..