A short update for those who have wondered where I’ve been the last couple of months since I’ve not published anything since August. I’ll also write a little about things that have been going on that I didn’t cover previously.
If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I flew home to Texas a few months ago on July 12th. After two months at home it was time to travel somewhere that I could dive on a more regular basis (the last couple of years that has been the Philippines, but stay tuned!)… I did only 15 dives during the 2 months I was home, all of them in a 3 week period between July 29th and August 18th… great dives, but still only 15 dives! It was time to go again. In one sense I travel to dive and I dive to travel… it all fit’s together somehow 🙂 After boarding a flight in Houston on September 8th I arrived back in the Philippines on September 9th. (Yes I know I’m back to being over a month behind again!)
Obviously one of the first things I did after I got home in July was to set an appointment with a cardiologist to see where my recovery from my heart attack was. In March I was cleared to dive by my cardiolgist in the Philippines who put me at 80% then. I had both nuclear and treadmill stress tests in July the week after I arrived home and met with my new doctor there to renew my prescriptions. I had a second meeting with my cardiologist on August 10th to go over the results of my tests. He told me (although I already knew this) that the tests indicated that I’d had a massive heart attack with a significant amount of scarring around the top of my heart. He also said that I was lucky to be alive but I should make a full recovery. The tests indicated that my heart function was almost back to normal! I asked him to sign a PADI Medical Statement giving me clearance to dive and he did so.
A quick synopsis of diving while I was home… I started off with a couple of dives on the Texas Clipper, a very nice wreck dive off South Padre Island in Texas. My first time diving in Texas… Although I was born and raised in Texas somehow I’d never dived there! That was July 29th. On August 10th (right after meeting with my Doctor) I headed out to Florida. On the 11th I did two dives on the Oriskany, an Essex-class aircraft carrier and the worlds largest artificial reef. After arriving back at the marina, I loaded up the car and headed east on I-10 and then south on I-75 and the Florida Turnpike. After a night in a hotel along the way, I arrived in Venice, Florida (The Shark Tooth Capitol of the World) on the 12th. I relaxed on the 13th, and did two dives on the 14th coming up with a few fossils and two sharks teeth for my efforts. From Venice I headed south to the Florida Keys and Key Largo for 2 days of diving there and then north to Palm Beach County and two more days of diving. A very nice trip. I arrived back in Texas on August 21st, taking a few moments to view the eclipse along the way while passing through Alabama.
The first week of September I applied online for my certificate of eligibility from the Veterans Administration for educational benefits. This was in preparation to attend training to become a dive instructor (I got certified over 35 years ago… maybe it’s time!). On September 8th (as I mentioned earlier) I caught an EVA Airlines flight back to the Philippines, landing in Manila on September 9th. I caught a couple of hours of the DRT (Dive, Recreation, Travel) Expo that day and was there all day on the 10th. I ended up doing 33 dives between September 14th and October 1st (good to be back!). I dived in Subic Bay with Arizona Dive Resort, at Bauan Divers Sanctuary north of Anilao, with Anilao Scuba Dive Center in Anilao, and with Frontier Scuba in Puerto Galera. I’ll be writing more on these adventures in the next couple of weeks.
My certificate of eligibility for VA Educational Benefits was received the first week of October. After a fairly thorough search and corresponding with a few different dive operations with IDC’s (Instructor Development Course’s), I decided a trip to Hawaii was in my future! 🙂 I’ll be arriving in Hawaii on October 31st. My IDC starts on November 6th. I’ll be doing my training up through MSDT (Master Scuba Diver Trainer) with Dive Oahu, a PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Center. By the time I complete my training I should be ready to teach PADI courses up through Divemaster along with Emergency First Response and ten specialities. I’m really looking forward to the training and the opportunity to dive in Hawaii!
Finally, on October 10th I was privileged to attend the finals of the Miss Scuba Philippines pageant as a guest of Lourdes and Mark Lowings, the owners of Bauan Divers Sanctuary and one of the pageants sponsors. Congrats to Cindy Madduma, Miss Scuba International 2015 and the pageant director for this years pageant in the Philippines. Putting something like this together take an enormous amount of time, effort, and dedication! Great job and I know everyone enjoyed the show!
I’ve enjoyed my time in the Philippines as I always do, but I’ll be headed back to Texas on the 22nd for another short break before leaving for Hawaii.
Coming up will be posts on DRT, Subic Bay, Bauan, Anilao, and Puerto Galera so stay tuned!
When I was thinking about making my Florida trip in July, I made a post on Facebook asking for recommended dive ops. I’d been looking at different shark dives and had thought about going to Guadalupe Island in Mexico for the Great White Shark dives. In the end I decided I wasn’t going to be able to afford that nor did I think that a whole week sitting in a cage was something I wanted to really do! I wanted to photograph sharks, but I also wanted to see other things. I wanted variety! In Florida I could dive wrecks, reefs, and see sharks! For those who have been following my blog, I’d done two of the nicest wrecks in Florida (or anywhere for that matter) along with some great reefs with lots of fish. I’d even dived for fossils in Venice. Now it was time for sharks!
For sharks, my friend Jen Nelligan gave a recommendation for Deep Obsession out of Lake Park in Palm Beach County. I contacted them and heard back almost immediately (like within minutes) from Ryan Walton via Facebook and Amber Boutot via email who are the co-owners. I decided to dive with Deep Obsession after seeing how responsive they were and the strong recommendations from people who had dived with them. I booked a three tank trip on the 17th. As it turned out, it was also going to be the height of the 2 month spawning season for goliath groupers!
I might add that Palm Beach County in Florida attracts divers from everywhere. I made trips there whenever I could afford it back in the 80’s when I lived in Orlando. Why here? The Gulf Stream makes it’s closest approach to the US Mainland here. The end result is warm water, nice reefs, plenty of fish, and the chance to see pelagics like sharks. In other words… great diving!
As I mentioned in my last blog post, after diving Key Largo for two days I headed north. I got on the road about 2 PM. I opted to take the back roads, rather than the toll roads. I took my time and made a few stops along the way. By 5:30 PM I was pulling into the parking lot of the strip mall where Deep Obsession has a shop. Unfortunately I’d missed them and they were closed.
I walked in too Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures and Marine Life Art Gallery next door and inquired. I told the woman there I was diving with Deep Obsession the next day. She told me they were already gone for the day but were usually in the shop in the morning around 8 AM preparing to go out. I decided to take a look around the shop since I was there. I saw a very thin pair of gloves that I thought would be ideal for the shark dives. While I was paying I was asked if I had a hotel yet and when I said no she gave me a coupon for a discounted rate at Best Western!
I got back in my car and continued north up US Highway 1 until I reached the Best Western Plus in Palm Beach Gardens. At $75 dollars a night it was the second best rate I’d paid on the trip and turned out to be the nicest room! While checking in I asked for a room close to parking and downstairs because of all my gear and the desk clerk very nicely put me in a 1st floor room closest to the exit to the parking lot.
I got my things unpacked and messaged Amber that I’d arrived and would be in the next morning. Then I started setting up my camera gear. Before returning to the US I’d made a decision to upgrade my camera equipment and had starting ordering the week I came back. After a lot of research I opted for the Nikon D500. One issue was expense… which for an underwater photographer is going to be significant no matter what! By sticking with Nikon, it allowed me to use the lenses that I’d made a significant investment in already. I’d also decided to stay with Ikelite. Ikelite without a doubt makes some of the best strobes out there and I have and continue to receive good service from my DS125 and DS160. I also believe Ikelite makes a quality housing which is much less expensive than other systems. Yes I know other systems like Nauticam and Aquatica will go to 330 feet, but I don’t expect to ever dive that deep! The Ikelite is rated to 200 feet well beyond recreational depths so I don’t feel the need to pay for more safety margin I won’t use! I decided that all things considered I would be okay with Ikelite.
The first dives I’d done with the new system were on the Texas Clipper on July 29th. While familiarizing myself with the new camera I opted to use only my Kraken 5000 video light. My dives on the Oriskany in Pensacola and in Key Largo had all been done with just the camera, housing, and video light. I was still exploring exactly what my new Nikon D500 could do. I’d been getting decent results, but decided that now was the time to pull out my strobes. I got everything set up and tested to make sure it was all working. Then I went to sleep.
My alarm went off at 7 AM the next morning, Thursday, August 17th. I got up, grabbed a quick shower and dressed. I walked out to the lobby and got a cup of coffee, then walked over to the next building where breakfast was being served. After a leisurely breakfast I went back to my room and loaded everything in the car and left for the dive shop. I arrived there around 8:30 AM. Amber was there and we got all the usual paperwork out of the way including one that said I wouldn’t sue if a shark ate me… just kidding, it didn’t say that :)) After that I got directions to the boat which it turned out was only a couple blocks away.
I arrived at Lake Park Marina around 8:40 where there was a buzz of activity. The crew was loading the boat and told me to just leave my gear and tanks and they would take care of them. Those of us going out for the day just stayed out of the crews way and they took care of everything. They have a very large cooler with a top on it that was filled with fresh water. This was exclusively for cameras. Something nice to see! Once the boat was loaded I went aboard and started setting up my tank. A thorough brief was given about the boat by Scott, the Captain. We were underway shortly after 9 AM.
It was looking like another beautiful sunny day in Florida and the water was absolutely flat as we left the marina. I stood at the stern and chatted with Derek, one of the crew for the day. There wasn’t much traffic out as we made our way down the intracoastal, under the Blue Heron Bridge, past another marina, and then a left turn to the east and down the channel to the Atlantic Ocean. On the way out Autumn and Derek cut up fish and prepared a milk crate of chum that would be used to lure the sharks to us.
We pushed east towards our first dive site which Scott called Deep Ledge. Possibly because the water there approaches 150 feet deep! Plenty of sharks hang out there and the goal was to attract them up to a depth where we could have a prolonged interaction with them. Not much bottom time at a 150 feet!
Autumn and Tony gave a very thorough brief on the dive. Autumn would work with the sharks and Tony would be the safety diver. Her enthusiasm was contagious. She obviously really loves her job! For the dive we were to be completely covered. Hood, gloves, and no low top booties that would leave the ankles exposed. I’m thinking because light colored skin could be mistaken for a piece of fish and who want’s to feed one of their hands to the sharks? 😉 This would be a bluewater dive. Everyone would enter the water and arrange ourselves around Autumn who would stay with the crate to prevent the sharks from tearing it up to get at the fish scraps! The crate would be suspended from a buoy on the surface at a depth of about 30 feet. We were cautioned not to let our depth drop to low as this could have an affect on the sharks and cause them not to come up.
We were given a warning 15 minutes before arriving at the site so we could start getting ready and everybody started gearing up. When we reached the site and given the word by Scott we started entering the water. I stepped off the dive platform, turned and Derek handed me my camera. Autumn was already doing her thing and we formed a rough circle around her, hovering in the water column. It didn’t take long for the sharks to start showing up! What followed was almost non-stop sharks for the hour! There were bull sharks, silky sharks, and sandbar sharks… sometimes only one and sometimes in two’s, three’s, and fours, but always there were sharks! It really was an amazing experience! I have many friends that do not dive (and some who do) who have communicated a fear of sharks, but I can truthfully say I never felt threatened in any way. The sharks were obviously not interested in us, but in the scraps of fish that Autumn would periodically toss from the crate into the water to the water column. Before we knew it our time was up and it was time to say goodbye to the sharks and surface. The dive started at 10:02 AM and lasted 55 minutes. Average depth was around 30 feet, but I did drop as deep as 46 feet a few times to get shots looking up. Water temperature was 84F and visibility was easily 50-60 feet…. a great dive!
Once on the boat, the crew circulated offering drinks and people chatted about the dive. A discussion ensued about the second dive and it was agreed that combining the next dive with an opportunity to see goliath groupers was something we would all like to do. Captain Scott set a course for the Bonaire.
The Esso Bonaire was a tanker built in Honduras in 1926. It was seized by the US Government when the US Customs Service discovered 55,000 lbs of marijuana aboard. The Economic Council of Palm Beach County purchased it to be sunk as an artificial reef. She was sunk 4 miles E/NE of Jupiter Inlet on 23 July 1989. She’s sitting upright on her keel in 85 feet of water.
The dive was briefed and because of current we planned a negative entry and drift down and into the wreck. This will stand out as one of my best dives! Autumn perched on the stern while we gathered behind her and she was swarmed by goliath groupers, sharks, and clouds of fish! They all wanted what was in the crate of course and she had to be quite firm with them to keep them off. After several minutes we moved off the wreck and made our depth shallower. The goliaths stayed with the wreck but the sharks stayed with us. At one point I counted 7 sharks and they were there for pretty much the entire dive! The action really was fast and furious and the dive was over much too soon! I had sharks swimming close enough to touch and I did! This dive started at 11:45 AM and lasted 58 minutes. Water temperature was again 84F and our maximum depth was 84 feet. Visibility was over 50 feet.
During the surface interval we had a light lunch. Sub sandwiches that were quite good! There were plenty of sodas and water too. The crew was good about encouraging people to stay hydrated.
The last dive of the day was a site called Shark Canyon. Shark Canyon is just a half mile south of Juno Beach Pier. We didn’t chum on this dive and we didn’t need too. What we saw here were mainly Caribbean reef sharks. We also saw some nice corals and plenty of fish. I spotted a very nice size lobster near the beginning of the dive. This was a drift dive and we went with the current. There were places we could drop out of the current and be sheltered by the reef and we made a couple of stops. There were plenty of sharks about and they weren’t shy about approaching either! I really enjoyed this dive as well. We started our dive 1:52 PM and I ended up with a 42 minute dive. Water temperature was 83F for this dive and maximum depth was 82 feet. Visibility was 40-50 feet.
As they’ve done on every boat I’ve dived with in Florida, roll was called after each dive. Nothing was left to chance in that respect! On the way back in I decided that I would stay and dive another day. The diving was that good! Before reaching the dock I went below and changed into dry clothes. When we arrived back at the dock, I took my camera and the crew assured me that they would take care of my gear and have my tanks filled for the next days diving. The next days diving had a departure time of 10 AM and I was asked to be at the shop around 9 AM to do paperwork. I said goodbye and headed to the car.
After getting back to the hotel I showered and rinsed my camera gear again. I put my batteries on charge and then started going through photos as I’d promised a shark photo to my friends and after picking one sent it out to them. I went out to Burger King for dinner later and then headed back to the hotel. I caught up on Facebook and then went to sleep.
I was up about 8 AM. I got dressed and went to breakfast. After breakfast I went back to the room and installed freshly charged batteries to my strobes and camera. Once everything was set up to my satisfaction I put everything in the car and headed to the dive shop. I was there about 9:15. Once I’d finished my paperwork, I headed over to the marina. My gear was on the boat and my tanks had been filled. I was ready for another great day of diving!
Everything from the day before pretty much repeated itself. Autumn and Tony were leading the dives. They were both very professional in their briefs as they’d been the day before. The first dive of the morning was North Double Ledges. The dive started at 10:26 AM. This was another drift dive. As in the previous day, there were loads of tropical fish. Only a couple of sharks, but that was to be expected almost as the day before had focused on sharks so they took us to sites where we would see the maximum number. I was diving air and my maximum depth was 85 feet. Sooner than I would have liked my computer was telling me it was time to surface. Most of the group was on nitrox, but as I was thinking about sending up my SMB I noticed one of the other divers in the group pulling his out. I did my ascent with him and his friend. Dive time was 37 minutes.
The second dive was at a site called The Corridors. Tony did a very thorough dive brief. This was another drift dive. In “The Corridors”, there are four wrecks and two rock piles so there was plenty to see. How much we got to see was going to depend on air and our computers.
This dive starts about a mile northeast of Lake Worth Inlet. The first wreck is the Mitzpah. She’s an old Greek luxury liner sitting in 86 feet of water. She was cleaned up for diving and has had all the doors and hatches removed and cleaned up for diving before being sunk as an artificial reef way back in 1968 making it the oldest artificial reef in Palm Beach County. We found several goliath groupers there. I managed to fight the current long enough to get some photos then drifted along the bottom to the end of the wreck and up to the deck. There were plenty of fish, but I was ready to go as I was watching my no-deco limit approach. I’d spent most of the time allotted for this wreck photographing the goliath groupers.
After a few minutes we started towards the second wreck in the lineup, the PC-1174, and old patrol craft. It’s heavily deteriorated and I spent almost no time there as by then my computer was starting to flash at me to go up. I grabbed a couple of shots and drifted as I started to go up. Nearby is an old rock pile.
I saw the next wreck, the Amarilys, as I drifted by. I looked down and saw another goliath grouper. This is a 441 foot long banana freighter that was blown ashore in a hurricane in 1965. The upper deck and helm were removed, but the lower deck, including the engines is still there. It was towed to the present site in 1968 and sunk in 85 feet of water as an artificial reef. Beyond that was is a sunken barge and then a pile of old concrete. I would have liked to explore it, but it was time to go up.
I sent up my SMB and after completing my safety stop surfaced. Captain Scott was nearby and came over to pick me up. My dive started at 12:16 PM and lasted 38 minutes. Water temperature was 84F and maximum depth was 85 feet once again. I estimated visibility at 50 feet plus.
Once back at the dock the crew unloaded my gear for me and I stowed it in my car. Then met a few of the other divers for a late lunch.
On Saturday morning I headed to Ft Myers to visit an old friend and his family. After spending the night I left Sunday afternoon, stopping in Orlando to have dinner with my step-son. From there I drove to Tallahassee where I stopped for the night. I got home to Texas late on Monday night.
After surviving Hurricane Harvey over the weekend I’m in the planning stages now for my next dive trip. I’m expecting to return to Dauin where my friend Mark Gormley, from Australia is very close to completion of a new dive resort. Beachfront at the Marine Sanctuary… It doesn’t get better than that! Stay tuned!
If you enjoy my blog why not take a minute to subscribe so you never miss a post… just go to the top and click on Subscribe. It will only take a few moments!
After leaving Venice on Monday, August 14th I was still debating where I would go next. I stopped and got something to eat at Burger King (no breakfast or lunch) and thought about it. After checking Google Maps, I decided that Key Largo was doable and got back on the road. A little after 9 PM I was there!
Why do divers travel from all over the world to visit Key Largo? Key Largo caters to divers in a big way and this has been going on for decades! John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established back in 1963, making it the worlds first underwater park! It covers approximately 70 nautical square miles. With the addition of the adjacent Florida Key’s National Marine Sanctuary, established in 1990, this protected area now covers approximately 178 nautical square miles! It is approximately 25 miles in length and extends 3 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Within it’s boundaries are mangrove swamps, seagrass beds, and of course coral reefs. I did my first trip to Key Largo back in 1983 and am always happy to visit!
On the way there I did a search on Agoda and found that about the cheapest room I was going to find was $99 bucks a night. I stopped at one place that didn’t come up on Agoda, but they wanted $105 a night plus tax for an RV! I asked about Wi-Fi and was told that there were hotspots around the property but not inside the accommodations. That actually made a bit of sense, since they’re accommodations seemed to be cabins and RV’s, but still I felt a bit steep for what I was getting. I opted to keep looking.
The next place I tried was one of the ones that had come up on Agoda. Key Largo Inn was $99 bucks a night and breakfast was included. There was a pool (that I ended up not using) and nice rooms with wi-fi. While talking with the owner I mentioned I was there for diving and he told me they had a dive shop across the street. I made the decision to stay and checked in. With tax the room came too $111.38 a night (a little steeper than I normally pay in the Philippines to be sure!). I unloaded my gear and then after a quick shower, I worked on finishing up my previous blog post on diving in Venice.
The next morning (Tuesday, August 15th) I was up about 8 AM. I wandered over to the bar/restaurant where they had plenty of fresh pastries, fruit, yogurt, and coffee. I got myself a muffin and a cup of coffee. After I finished eating I walked across the street with my coffee to Scuba-Fun Dive Center. There I met Dan who initially told me that it was to late to dive that morning. After about 5 minutes of conversation and discovering that I had my own equipment and was experienced he asked me to give him a minute and let him make a phone call. He ended up being able to get me on the boat with Horizon Divers for a 2 tank trip out to dive the Spiegel Grove! Since that was the dive I most wanted to make I was very happy!
I ran back across the street, poked my head into the office to let them know I’d be staying an extra day, and then went to my room and grabbed my gear. Everyone was already on the boat when I rolled into the parking lot at the marina about 20 minutes later. I’d made it with about 5 minutes to spare!
The boat was the Pisces with Bruce as the Captain. There was a quick brief and the boat got underway for the Spiegel Grove. I started setting up my gear as the boat pulled away from the dock.
The USS Spiegel Grove (LSD-32) was a Thomaston-class dock landing ship constructed by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She was laid down on 7 September 1954, launched on 10 November 1955, and commissioned on 8 June 1956. She spent the greatest part of her active service participating in amphibious exercises as part of the US 2nd and 6th Fleets. She made two goodwill tours to Africa carrying tons of supplies. In May 1962 she was one of the ships supporting Scott Carpenter’s Mercury-Atlas 7 space flight. The Spiegel Grove’s nickname was “Top Dog” and as I’ve seen in many Navy ships this was incorporated into a ships logo that can still be seen emblazoned into the ships deck in one of the passageways. In 1974 she participated in the evacuation of American citizens from Cyprus and performed this service again in 1976 in the evacuation of Lebanon.
USS Spiegel Grove was decommissioned on 2 October 1989 and her name struck from the Navy list on 13 December 1989.
She was then transferred to the United States Maritime Administration and the James River Reserve Fleet near Ft. Eustis, Virginia. On 13 June 2001, the Spiegel Grove was transferred to the State of Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Largo, Florida. The ship was to be sunk near Key Largo as part of the artificial reefs program. After delays due to red tape and financial problems in preparing her to be sunk, she was finally moved from Virginia to Florida in May 2002. $1 million dollars was spent on preparation.
On 17 May 2002 she sank prematurely and ended up with her stern resting on the bottom and her bow sticking out of the water! To make matters worse, she was upside down! Over a 2 day period, 10-11 June 2002, and at an additional cost of $250 thousand dollars, the Resolve Marine Group got her rolled over on her starboard side and laying on the bottom. She was opened to divers on 26 June 2002. At 510 feet long and 84 feet at the beam, the Spiegel Grove was the largest ship ever to be reefed at the time of her sinking (bigger ships have been reefed since). The Spiegel Grove proved to be enormously popular with scuba divers performing an average of 50,000 dives a year on her the first two years! Just 3 years later after Hurricane Dennis passed by in July 2005, divers were surprised to find that the storm at righted the ship and she was now sitting on her keel!
The Spiegel Grove is located 6 miles off Key Largo on Dixie Shoal in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. She sits in a 134 feet of water with her top deck at 60 feet. This is considered an advanced dive due to the currents. Every time I’ve dived it there has been strong current there and this is considered pretty normal due to the location. Not a dive that you want to be fumbling around on. A diver really should be comfortable in the water to make this dive.
I’d been asked before I left the dive shop if I wanted to hire a guide and I’d said no, they could just buddy me with someone on the boat. As I was getting my gear setup I met DJ Hall who was my buddy for the morning and it turned out was also an instructor for Horizon Scuba. We turned out to have quite a bit in common as we’d both served in the United States Navy at the same time. We had both been Petty Officer First Classes, and both served our share of sea duty which gave us plenty to talk about! DJ also, it turned out, teaches tech diving and we chatted about that a bit as well since I’m thinking about taking a course at some point. He’d gotten a call and asked if he wanted to go dive the Spiegel Grove and he said of course he said yes! That worked out pretty well that there were openings and we both got to dive 🙂
Once we arrived at the site, the boat was tied off to a mooring buoy and lines were rigged. As with other boats I’ve dived with where we were off-shore with current, a trail line consisting of about 50 feet of line with a float on the end was attached to the stern of the boat. From the stern to the mooring line a tag line was run. The idea is to pull yourself hand over hand along the line saving your energy for dive. We did a giant stride off the dive platform and then followed the lines down to the wreck.
Our first dive started at 9:48 AM. I was diving 28% nitrox. Once we had pulled our way down to the wreck, we were able to use the wreck itself to block the current. I have to say that I never get tired of diving this wreck. There are tons of fish and it’s a very picturesque wreck as well. We planned to explore the outside of the wreck on this first dive and we made our way around the upper deck. I had told DJ before the dive that I would just follow him as photos are more interesting with a diver in the picture. He ended up being a pretty good underwater model! We stopped to take photos of the flag of course and DJ obligingly threw a salute to the flag for me. Rather than using my strobes, I’d opted to use a single video light for photography on this dive.
One of the things that really strikes me about this dive is the huge numbers of fish around the wreck. That we were in a marine sanctuary was quite obvious! There were big schools of grey snapper. I also spotted grouper, angelfish, and of course, barracuda. There were many of “the usual suspects” as I call them as well, including butterflyfish, squirrelfish, grunts, and damselfish. Jacks out in open water, and the occasional school of jacks.
Much of the outer ship is becoming encrusted with coral. It’s a really beautiful dive! We explored the outer hull and towards the end of the dive did one limited penetration into the area where he mess deck used to be. The metal pedestals for the tables are still there along with the salad bar! Before I knew it my computer started yelling at me to come up. The maximum depth on this first dive was 100 feet. Water temperature was 83 degrees Fahrenheit. Visibility was easily 50-60 feet. Dive time was 37 minutes. I was back on the boat with about 900 psi. Even with nitrox the computer will normally determine the length of the dive!
During the surface interval I tried to stay out of the sun as much as possible… a sun worshipper I’m not! As we approached one hour we started gearing up. The second dive started at 10:26 AM, exactly 61 minutes after the previous dive had ended. I was diving 28% nitrox again. During this dive we made our way along the superstructure towards the bow. There we made a penetration into one of the forward machine spaces. Down and through and then back out. We then made a penetration down some of the main passageways in the superstructure where I spotted the ship logo I mentioned earlier, on the deck. There were plenty of fish in the dark of the compartments wherever I shined my light. Maximum depth on this dive ended up being 99 feet with water temperature and visibility the same as the first dive. Total dive time was 41 minutes.
After returning to the dock I was able to rinse my equipment there and hang it up in a portable building that Horizon has set up near the dock. The made diving with them very convenient! After stowing my gear away I made the rounds. I stopped at the dive shop and picked up a t-shirt and a couple of books. Later I stopped by the drugstore and picked up a few odds and ends, including some snacks and some drinking water. I also bought myself a Panama Jack hat as I’d decided I was getting a bit to much sun! After that I saw a homemade ice cream shop and decided I needed ice cream 🙂 I am on vacation after all 😉
I went by Scuba-Fun and settled my bill since I planned to leave the next day after my dives. The rate for 2 wreck dives including tanks and weights is $85.00. There was a $12.00 per tank charge added on for nitrox. The reef dives were $80.00 for two dives including tanks and weights. The State of Florida has to get their money too so the total came to $203.18.
I also went by Divers Direct, a dive store chain in Florida with a huge selection of gear. I couldn’t resist a t-shirt featuring Florida Keys wrecks 🙂 Dinner that night was at The Fish House, which is a local favorite. They feature fresh-caught local seafood which is quite good!
On Wednesday, August 16th after a good nights sleep I was up in time to pack the car and grab some breakfast at the hotel. My plan was to check out of the hotel before going to dive and then leave after that for the drive north. I was due to be at the dock at 8:30 AM. I was a few minutes early and got my gear sorted out first. I was on Pisces again with Bruce as the Captain. I wanted to do a couple of reef dives. The first dive we went out to dive Key Largo Dry Rocks where the Christ of the Abyss statue is placed.
Christ of the Abyss is a bronze statue. Guido Galletti, an Italian sculpted the original which was placed in the Mediterranean Sea on 22 August 1954. It was placed near the spot where Dario Gonzatti died in 1947. He was the first Italian to use scuba. A second statue cast from the same mold was placed in the waters near Grenada on 22 October 1961. The statue at Key Largo was also cast from the original mold and was a gift to the Underwater Society of America in 1962. On 25 August 1965 it was placed in 25 feet of water at Dry Rocks in the John Pennekamp State Park. The statue itself is over 8 feet tall and weighs approximately 572 lbs. It is attached to a concrete base that weighs 9 tons!
There are several permanent buoys here for boats to tie up too. The reef in this area is shaped like fingers and a diver can follow the bottom along the “indentations” between “fingers”. In one of these indentations is found the statue which is quite popular with snorkelers and divers. One thing you don’t want to do is touch the statue as it’s now completely covered with fire coral! The corals are in great shape!
For this morning I was buddied with a father and son who were on vacation. The dive started at 9:28 AM and would last 59 minutes. We were all told that we should be back on the boat with 500 psi or 1 hour whichever came first. Visibility was not quite as good as on the Spiegel Grove the day before and it was a bit warmer, but the water is quite shallow here. My maximum depth was just 28 feet and water temperature was 86F. Visibility was probably about 40 feet. As you would expect in an underwater park that has been around for over 50 years, there were plenty of fish! Lots of reef fish including parrotfish of various varieties, angelfish, butterflyfish, hogfish, and groupers. Sweepers and damselfish, plenty of grunts, and of course barracuda everywhere.
After seeing the statue, which was swarmed by people (divers and snorkelers), we checked out other areas of the reef. As time started to count down I ran a compass course back to where the boat was and made sure my buddies stayed within sight. When we got back to the area of the boat they went up and I stayed down a bit longer while they were getting onboard, then I surfaced. I still had 1300 psi.
We traveled a fairly short distance and tied up to another mooring buoy. This site was North Dry Rocks. We started getting ready to dive pretty much as soon as we got there. With such shallow depths, no-deco limits really weren’t an issue. Our second dive started at 10:43 AM. This dive was very much like the first dive and lots of fish. Similar reef system, but a bit of current this time. Maximum depth for this dive was 29 feet, it was again 86F and lasted 55 minutes. I came back from this dive with almost 1500 psi.
That was it for Key Largo. Once back at the dock I washed my gear and packed it in the car. I took advantage of the outdoor shower there to give myself a good rinse and changed into dry clothes for the trip north. I stopped at Buzzard’s Roost and grabbed some lunch (a chicken caesar salad… I have to eat healthy sometimes!) , then headed out. It had been a great couple of days in Key Largo, but the sharks were waiting for me on the Atlantic side of Florida off Palm Beach County and I was ready for them!
If you enjoy reading about my adventures why not sign up so you never miss a post. It will only take a few moments. Just click on the subscribe button!
In my next blog post I’ll be writing about my visit to Palm Beach County, Florida where I dived with Deep Obsession. You’ll get to hear about my experience diving with sharks in open water (without a cage), and goliath grouper (at 8 feet and over 700 lbs they could swallow a diver whole I think!). Stay tuned!
Venice, Florida is known as the “Shark Tooth Capitol of the World” and for good reason. Due to a set of unique circumstances this is the number one place on the planet to find fossilized sharks teeth! Although they can be found through digging and even just washed up on the beach, one of the best ways to find them is through scuba diving. Divers come here from all over the world to find them along with other fossils. Every April they even have an Annual Sharks Tooth Festival. April 2017 was the 25th year!
Why are so many sharks teeth and other fossils found here? First we go back 50 million years ago to the Cretaceous period. During this period sea levels were high and the area we know today as Florida was underwater. During millions of years, layers of limestone accumulated on the seafloor creating what is today the bedrock of Florida.
During the Oligocene period 28-40 million years ago sea levels began to drop as the planet cooled and the ice caps expanded. An island appeared in what is today North Florida. Geologist have named this island “Orange Island”. Rain created many cave systems and sinkholes in the porous limestone.
During the Miocene Epoch 12-28 million years ago we begin to see land animals moving into the area. Sea levels were constantly changing up and down during the Miocene with the coastal areas still covered by shallow seas. There was also heavy sediment with rich deposits of nutrients that were being washed down from the Appalachian Mountains in the north which were uplifted during this period.
The Pliocene Epoch that began 12 million years ago and lasted until 2 million years ago, was a period of extreme climate and sea level changes with levels as much as 300 feet lower and a 100 feet higher than they are today (long before people were a factor, but I digress). When sea levels would rise during inter-glacial periods many of these animals were buried and preserved through the fossilization process. Sediment also buried and preserved many marine species, as it was deposited into the sea. Sharks continuously shed teeth with some species shedding as many as 10,000 in their lifetime which explains why so many teeth are found in the area. This whole process continued into the early Pliocene Epoch, about 5 million years ago. These deposits created phosphate rich layers or formations which today are mostly underground. One of these is the Peace River Formation, so called because the Peace River cuts through and exposes it. The Peace River flows into the Gulf of Mexico just south of Venice.
Finally during the Pleistocene Epoch that began about 2.5 million years ago and lasted until 11,000 years ago there were several ice ages where again the polar ice caps expanded and contracted which raised and lowered sea levels. During this period Florida’s land area would sometimes double in size, while during other periods it would be largely underwater. Many ice age animals that lived in Florida during that period have been preserved in the sediment through the fossilization process.
The Peace River Formation is exposed just off the beaches of Venice, Florida. Although wave and tidal action can and does wash many teeth and fossils onto the beaches in this area, the best action can be found where the beds themselves are exposed just off-shore. The best areas are found between depths of 18 and 35 feet. This area will begin about a quarter mile off-shore and extend to about a mile and a half from the beach. From Venice Beach Park to the north to the Venice Fishing Pier to the south, this area encompasses about 4 square miles. Because of erosion fossils from the Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene are all intermixed with each other.
I’ve been aware of Venice as a place to find fossils and especially fossilized sharks teeth, for several years. When I was planning my trip to Florida I decided to focus this trip on places I’d not dived before. That was why I dived the Oriskany last Friday and then came to Venice to look for fossils.
I did a web search as I normally do and the operation that I saw consistent recommendations for was Florida West Scuba. That their website is: http://www.megalodoncharters.com/ should be a giveaway! According to many scientists Carcharodon Megalodon sharks went extinct 2.5 million years ago, but their teeth are abundantly found here. Why the fascination? This was the largest shark that has ever lived. Scientist have estimated that they could have reached lengths of 80 feet! Just to give a small idea, the boat we dived off of was 35 feet!
On Sunday, August 13th I stopped by the shop where I met Gary and Jerry. There was a trip going out for a 2 tank dive the next day and I signed up. Cost was $84 dollars for a 2-tank trip and included tanks and weights. I also picked up a couple of books. “Hunting Fossil Shark Teeth in Venice, Florida-The Complete Guide:On the Beach, Scuba Diving, and Inland” by Robert L. Fuqua and “Fossilized Sharks’s Teeth & Fossils-A Photo Identification Guide” by Byron Fink. Lot’s of good information in both books. In addition I purchased a mesh bag to place my finds in and a pair of gloves. Gary suggested that I might not want to tear up my good dive gloves as searching for fossils can be quite hard on a pair of gloves! Before I left I took a look at the boat we would be going out on the next day.
I was up about 6:45 the morning of Monday, August 14th. Grabbed a quick shower then loaded everything in the car and checked out of the hotel. I was at the dive shop by 7:15. There I met Captain Steve Jones, the owner of Florida West Scuba. I’d not signed my waiver the day before so I took care of that. I then drove across the parking lot and parked by the dock. I unloaded my dive gear from the car and took it down to the dock where I met Dan Sansiveri, the divemaster for the day. Dan I discovered later, is also a NAUI Instructor and a USCG 100 Ton Master. He put the gear on the boat while I went and changed into my swimsuit. When I got back I let him know I needed DIN tanks. He had two set aside and brought them over and removed the plugs for me Steve showed up and did a brief of the boat. Then we were underway. On the way out Dan did a brief on how the diving would be done and gave a really interesting talk with lots of anecdotes, about the history of Venice and why there were so many sharks teeth there. He gave us tips on finding fossils and had examples of various fossils so we would be able to recognize them when we saw them.
It was a beautiful morning and we were quickly on the first site. We were maybe a mile off-shore and the water was very flat. A very nice day. Dan jumped in to check the site and when he returned and gave the okay the anchor was dropped and we started entering the water. Dive’s were limited to 90 minutes. Easy to do with on AL 80’s in the shallow water. As I mentioned above, the majority of fossils are found in the 18-35 foot zone.
We geared up and stepped into the water. Dan handed us a float with dive flag and off we went. The float had a line winder with 50 feet of line on it. The winder is big enough that you can stick your arm through it and once it’s unwound that’s what you do. Stick your arm through it and forget about it. At the end of the dive you just wind it up as you are surfacing.
Diving for fossils is essentially solo diving. Everyone did their own dive, which required a compass and would find their way back to the boat. The rule was 90 minutes or back on the boat with at least 500 psi left in the tank, whichever came first.
My first dive started at 8:29. On the fossil side I didn’t find much besides a few bone fragments on the first dive. Dan said several times during the day that the more you dive in Venice the luckier you get and there is certainly an element of luck involved when it comes to finding fossils and sharks teeth! Visibility was not the best… maybe 10 feet. There were plenty of fish though! Some followed me around as I sifted through the different spots searching for finds. There were grunts, cardinalfish, and jacks swimming around. I saw a few different crabs. Although I didn’t find any teeth on the first dive, I did find a 5 gallon bucket with about 50 feet of line attached! I brought it back to the boat of course 🙂 My dive time on the first dive was 1 hour and 24 minutes with a maximum depth of 25 feet. Water temperature was 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
The second dive started at 10:16 AM and lasted a hour and 26 minutes. I’d decided to remove my farmer john wetsuit and just dive in swim shorts and rash guard for the second dive. Visibility was a bit better at around 15 feet or so. I had much better “luck” the second dive (the more you dive the more luck you have 😉 ) In addition to bone fragments I brought back a fossilized oyster shell, a fossilized manatee rib, and two teeth! Once during the dive when I overturned a rock searching for fossils, I saw a small shrimp moving away. One of the fish that seemed to always be nearby ate it! Water temperature on this dive was 88 degrees Fahrenheit and maximum depth was again 25 minutes. I came back to the boat on both dives with around 80 bar (about 1200 psi). I think it wouldn’t have been difficult to do plus 2 hour dives! Next time I go I think I might try to stay a bit longer and maybe do some beach dives also.
Once back at the dock, there was large barrel for us to rinse our dive gear. There is a refreshment shack near the dock and it has restrooms with showers. Once I’d rinsed my gear and put it away, I grabbed a quick shower and changed. I swung by the dive shop and picked up a couple of items and then I was on my way.
I haven’t dived Key Largo in a couple of years and that is where I’m at tonight. I know it might sound crazy but I don’t always really plan trips 🙂 Sometimes I have a rough outline in my head and then I just go and make it up as I go along 🙂 The only “scheduled” dives I’ve made for this trip was the ones on the Oriskany and the shark dives I’m going to do with Deep Obsessions in Palm Beach on Thursday. Everything else is “flexible” 🙂
I’m planning right now to do at least one day of diving here in Key Largo, but I could do two, or I could decide to go somewhere else to dive on Wednesday… Stay tuned! 🙂
If you enjoy reading about my underwater adventures then click on the subscribe button at the top of the page so you never miss a post… It will only take a moment!