Wow, what a great time – again. With Hurricane Earl swirling in the Atlantic just days before, the thought that this year would end as 2008 did with Hurricane Gustav ending any chance of diving was very real. Luckily, Earl stayed to the east. Saturday rose with storm clouds surrounding Ocean Point Suites, where the group from The Dive Station stay each year. It looked gloomy.
When we arrived at The Florida Keys Dive Center at 7:45 (fifteen minutes later than the Big Kahuna wanted) the sun was starting to burst through. The seas were pretty rough on the first dive at Crocker Reef but by the time we finished that dive the seas were beginning to calm down and the sun was asserting its dominance, both of which would remain with us through the weekend.
Beautiful weather, people, and diving was again the description of the long weekend trip which always begins with the drive there. I always look forward to the drive because I know it means I will be diving for the next three days. I also know that this trip can be very fun and this year was no different. Many friends decided to go this year.
Ocean Point Suites is a resort made of of individually owned condos that are rented out. Each suite is furnished by the owner so each suite can be quite unique (although the basic concept stays the same). The concept is to cater to water-sports people. All floors are tiled, couches fold out into beds, and rooms are designed to accommodate a crowd. Each year our costs are contained because we can keep four people in each condo. Couples make out with the master bedroom.
It is always an early morning when diving. Not just this weekend trip – all dive trips. The world is much more beautiful as the sun rises and when you are with friends. Moreover, dive boats leave early. We rose around 6:30.
In the condo I stayed in, there was Carl, Philipe and his wife, Ronda. Ronda was not diving and graciously made us coffee and breakfast every morning (I’m looking for her twin now). The sun’s rays would stretch across the ocean outside our sliding glass doors. Morning, coffee, sun and surf. Perfect.
The boat left each morning with about 34 divers, sixteen of which were from our group. Each day we made two dives. Saturday is always two reefs so that all new divers can get use to boat diving. Sunday and Monday are the wreck dives. Saturday we dove Crocker reef first. We anchor in about 50 feet of water and divers can swim shallower or deeper reefs by following the slope. Very fun safe dive. The second dive was on one of my favorite reefs – Davis Reef. I have dove this reef a lot and yes, I know it too well. However, there are always great schools of fish, and occasional morays out for a swim or a peek (night dives on this reef will let you see several large morays) and the Budhas. On the western end of the reef, just past the large brain coral, are two little statues of Budha. A great picture spot.
Saturday night several of us went to Snapper’s Waterfront Restaurant to eat. Awesome! Even though I restricted myself to the Mediterranean Salad – it was excellent. The Key West Lager’s on draft were very good too. After dinner we moved to the outside waterfront bar and listened to some local entertainment in the form of a very fun two-man band.
Sunday was the day we were diving the Eagle. The Eagle is a wreck bottomed on its starboard side and broken in two
from storms. I love this wreck but it is deep. You will easily break 90 feet exploring it and on this day I was bringing my camera. Because of the depth the bottom time is limited. Carl buddied with me and we talked through our plan before the dive. The plan was to swim out to the top of the mast for some pictures and then head to the props. Turn around time was about 1250 psi. We wanted 1000 psi at the buoy line. We made it above the props but did not get down to photograph them (they sit in about 110 feet of water) before having to turn back. Still, a great dive with memorialized memories.
The second dive took us to Hens and Chickens, a shallow, perfect reef for a follow-up deep wreck dive. It is also one of the best dives that I have been on in the Keys. As I went to get in the water I dropped my camera. I still dove in the 20 plus feet water but realized my Ikelite housing was damaged. No leaks but it will have to take a trip to Indiana for a vacation soon. The Canon G9 (now the G11) that it protects took the last of the underwater pictures here. ADVICE: If you ever dive Hens and Chickens and you have a Canon D10 don’t be afraid to jump in with it – you won’t hit 30 feet and you will have plenty to photograph.
Sunday night was our first cookout. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. There is nothing better than grilling, sipping a few beers, and talking amongst friends. Hamburgers and hotdogs filled out plates. Someone grilled some delicious corn on the cob and we finished it off with grilled bananas and Nutella on top. I hope we make this a tradition.
Monday was the Spiegel Grove dive. Anyone who has dove the Keys in the last eight years knows what the Spiegel Grove is – a 500+ foot beauty sitting upright in the current. The dive went beautifully. Carl, Ricky and I swam from the cranes to the front, passing through several swim-throughs and then allowing the current (starboard to port) to carry us over the top. Some larger fish make this wreck their home. We made it back to the up-line and back to the boat no problems. Our second dive that day was the Benwood. The Benwood is a shallow (max 40+ feet) wreck that has been battered down by man and nature. Tons of fish call this wreck home so bring your camera. This dive was a pleasant 60 minute dive (easily accomplished with aluminum 80s) that allows relaxing and some decompression before the drive home. I swam ahead of the crowds and met up with a nurse shark content with ignoring me for something just under the sand (yes, I forgot my camera). I hovered within 5 feet of it as it kept trying to get whatever it was that so enthralled it. Soon others arrived and the shark decided two was one too many and it swam off. Spent the rest of the dive relaxing with the fishees.
The Labor Day Dive trip to the keys is always special to me. It was the same trip in 2007 that hooked me into diving. Now, an instructor and a few thousand dollars lighter, I look forward to these three days each year for escape with my friends, meeting some new friends, diving with the Big Kahuna, and just plain relaxing (and getting away from work). I love it.