Heavy Metal Tour – 2009
Last weekend Syd and I went on a long anticipated wreck diving trip in the Florida keys. We completed our wreck and Advanced Open Water certifications two years ago, and were able to do one dive on the Spiegel Grove back in 2009. Since then we have done many other dives, and completed our Master Diver rating, but we have wanted to return to the Keys for some more wreck dives — a “Heavy Metal Tour”, and thus we jumped at the opportunity to do this trip with our friend Travis from Macs Sports in Clearwater. We had a series of unbelievable dives, managed to take some of our best diving pictures to date, dove two new wrecks, and had a wonderful time.
The Wreck Dives
We completed four wreck dives the first two days, then finished off the third day with two shallow reef dives. The wrecks included the USS Spiegel Grove, USCG Duane (twice) and the Eagle. Although we had planned on diving the Bibb too (a sister ship to the Duane), we were unable to obtain a mooring as the local fishermen had camped out ï¾ them, and so we did two dives on the Duane. All the wreck dives were deep dives (100′ +) on Nitrox (32 to 34 %ï¾ O2) , and ï¾ bottom times varied about :30 to :40 per dive. Visibility was 60’+ with water temp at 85 degrees and calm seas of about 1′ – in other words, the conditions were ideal. There was some moderate to strong current, most noticeable on the descent line. There was at least some penetration or swimthroughs on all the wrecks. The operator on all dives was Florida Keys Dive Center in Islamarada, and they provided well maintained boats and a professional crew. Our dive master was our buddy Travis who, as always, conducted a fun, adventurous and safe trip.
The Spiegel Grove (Day 1)
Our first dive was on the USS Spiegel Grove, diving with Joe, a dive guide from the dive shop. We decided to get a guide for this dive as this is a massive vessel – at 510 feet long there is a lot to see, and diving with someone who knows it well can really help optimize your bottom time. Our hope was to penetrate into the wreck a bit and do some exploring, as we did on our last dive on it. (Or last guided dive on the Spiegel included penetrating several rooms as passages and dropping into the hold at 110′).ï¾ Although we had a good dive on it, and did some swimthroughs, we did not get into the wreck as much as we had hoped. There were some less experienced divers tagging along who seemed to enjoy cutting us off in passages and being generally oblivious, so we had a pretty mellow dive – but don’t get me wrong, this is one stunning wreck no matter what, and there was still adventure to be had. The trip down the decent line was rather interesting as there was strong current, and you certainly had to pull your way down – if you let go you would find yourself a LONG way from the boat.ï¾ Once on the wreck the current was easier to contend with and we had a very good dive. Unfortunately we did not get too many pictures of this dive, but it was great to see this wreck again.
The Duane (Day 1)
After our surface interval we were soon moored off to our next wreck, the USCG Duane. Like the Spiegel, this coast guard cutter was intentional suck, and is also resting straight on its keel, providing a stunning profile. With the deck at 100′ you can look up at the intact tower and crows nest, and it makes for a pretty amazing sight:
The wreck is covered in coral – the term “artificial reef” means exactly that, it truly is a reef with a great variety of marine life living on it and all around.
These wrecks create complete ecosystems and are teaming with life.
Of course, these pictures hardly do it justice. There is abundant life all around this wreck, a mountain of steel and coral to explore.
The current on this wreck was also quite strong on the descent line, but manageable on the wreck. Just where the descent line started there were a number of dives who seemed to be meditating peacefully, and quite motionlessly. One had lost a fin which I snagged as it floated past and returned it to him. After a few minutes of waiting we had to just move past them. Unfortunately in so doing I made an interesting discovery. Fire coral not only thrives on the wreck but apparently also enjoys a healthy existence on floats on the mooring line as well. Interesting. As I passed around the the divers and float I managed to contact the float with my forearm and upper arm. The sting was a bit strong immediately, and within a minute was throbbing nicely at depth, giving me something to look forward to. Oh well – I now know to give those floats much wider clearance in the future. (The scarlet rash got nice and sticky for a day or two, and then just itched good for a week and is now almost gone. Nasty little beastie that coral – amazing stuff really.)
Once on the wreck we had a great time exploring it. It has such a great profile, and many rooms, windows and passages to look in – filled with fish and painted in coral, it is like a ghost ship that keeps luring you around new corners. We made several passes in and around the main decks of the superstructure. Syd caught this picture as I was advancing up the wreck port side:
The Duane is a great wreck dive, offering many swimthroughs, an intriguing profile, and lots of things to look at. You could dive this wreck many times and have nothing but new experiences on it.
The Duane (Day 2)
Since our plan to dive the Bibb had to be scrubbed, we returned again to the Duane for our first dive of the day. While we had looked forward to the Bibb as another new wreck, and the opportunity for a bit deeper dive at 130′ feet, it was hard to be disappointed to return to the Duane. This time we dropped onto her bow and worked our way toward the superstructure, where we explored for quite a while. We did several swimthroughs and once again got some excellent pictures:
After we turned the dive and headed back to the ascent line though it took everything you had to swim against the current. We almost dropped to the deck to hand-over-hand the way back along the edge, or try to get out of the current by getting out of the open water and skimming just above the deck, but we were able to make just enough headway to just angle up toward the line.
We had nice, slow ascents from both dive with deep stops at 50′ and then a normal safety stop at 15′ to 20′. Here is a group of divers all hanging out on the safety stop:
The Eagle (Day 2)
Or last dive on our wreck tour was the Eagle. Unlike the first two, this one sets on her side with her hull broken completely in half. This makes for an excellent figure eight tour allowing you to see all sides of her and offering several swimthroughs and places to explore. There were many great things to investigate, such as this wench, completely covered in corals:
Here is a picture of Syd just before we started into exploring the Eagle – she would have brought the Explorers Club flag, but it was not feasible due to the current:
This ended the wreck diving portion of our trip, and we were completely happy with these dives. The conditions were very good, the dives offered good challenges, we got to use several different skills, and we even managed to come away with some respectable photos this time. Underwater photography, we have learned, is a fickle bitch – and either we are getting better, or just got lucky this trip.
Here is a picture of Syd near the mast of the Eagle – note how thick the coral growth is on this wreck, the entire structure is covered in extensive growth such as this. The flashlight high intensity LED flashlight helps bring out the natural colors of the coral, even in the day light. At 100′ down, the colors are nearly gone.
Although our Heavy Metal Tour was over, our trip was not. This night we went out with our dive group, heading to Wahoo’s on Islamorada per Travis’ recommendation. It sites oceanside, with a wonderful patio providing the idyllic Florida Keys view. We sat with a wonderful couple we had just met on this trip and had a great time visiting with them. Having a beer on the deck on a summer evening after some awesome wreck diving was not a bad way to end off this part of the trip, and put us in a perfect mood for the reef dives yet ahead.
The Reef Dives
You sometimes can forget how beautiful these dives can be. Our diving through the winter and spring had all been inland cavern diving. Then you get back to the reefs and remember how amazing these ecosystems are. On our first dive, I was delighted to get a decent shot of three lion fish hiding under a coral outcropping. While lion fish are unfortunately an invasive specie in the Keys, and are a definite problem, I still love seeing them – it always amazes me watching them, they are so beautiful and exotic. One of my early goals as a diver was to see lion and stone fish, and I am still thrilled every time I do.
But that is not all we saw on these dives: Several eels (moray and spotted), and innumerable lobsters were also about. Here is a picture of me fencing with a big one. If you put your finger out and lure them toward you, you can get them riled up a bit and wanting to fight you. Ummm . . . tasty, tasty bugs. . .
There were tons of lobsters on these dives, hiding under coral ledges, in crevaces and even just out in the open. They are a bit fiesty, and you can get them to spar with you. When they have had enough though they can really move! Good thing these things are lower on the food change and smaller then us. (Think Alien vs. Predator vs. Lobster.)
The lighting improved on the second dive as the morning rain clouds drifted back to where ever they had come, letting far more light down to the bottom. This allowed Syd good opportunity to catch some pictures of a few of the tropicals and corals you get to see on these dives.
She really scored on getting some great shots, including this purple sea fan – it is hard to get a picture of these that maintains some of their beautiful color.
This was a great trip to the Keys, with excellent dives, good wreck diving practice, calm seas and great visibility. After doing these dives Syd and I are more interested than ever in doing some more wreck diving. We would love to do the newly sunk USS Vandenburg off Key West, and of course the USS Oriskeny air craft carrier near Tallahassee.ï¾ Perhaps someday we can even return to Micronesia and dive the Nuclear Fleet off Bikini atoll.
Thanks for reading, and we hope you like the pictures. If you like, leave a comment – we would love to hear from you.
Wow, check out this new Mares Icon HD dive computer:
* Full color TFT LCD screen
* Built in digital compass
* Dive site map feature
* Very clear presentation of information
* Up to 3 Nitrox gas mixes
* RGBM algorithm
Current cost is about $1,100 US (non air integrated).
From reading on line it also seems the air integrated units will be out end of 1st quarter (now) or 2nd quarter 2010. No official word yet on future trimix support, but as the Uwatec Galileo Sol offers that I can’t imagine that this won’t as well. The Sol has looked pretty interesting, but honestly the Mares Icon HD looks damn good and just might be one of the best and most fully featured dive computers to hit the market yet. I also like that it uses the RBGM alorithum with deep stops, which I use on my original Nemo and have liked very much.
Watch the very cool demo of it here.
I love the sliding display showing position in the water column and how deep stops, deco and safety stops “slide” into position. What could be easier than that?
Here is one company making dive site maps specifially for it. (Though I imagine a simple command line application of image magick to make images the correct size would do quite nicely.)
One thing I can’t help but think of is the possibility of a device like this that ran on an Android stack. The pros of course being that it could run apps and you would not be exclusively dependent on the manufacturer supplied software, the liability that more complicated software introduces the possibility of bugs and instability. Hummm . . . do you want to risk your life on a Java stack? Then again, if you could play Tux racer while on a deco stop, it just might be worth it.
Here is a story on how safe divers, following the rules and diving within limits can still get a DCS hit . . .
Last weekend classifies as an adventure. Syd and I went on a dive trip to West Palm Beach Florida for a 4th of July weekend of diving we had scheduled a few months back and had been looking forward to. We drove to the Atlantic side starting out early Friday morning, and arrived at the Riviera Beach marina (just north of West Palm Beach) about noon, in the midst of a impressive thunderstorm, which by this time was mostly dissipating. The dive boat returned late from the morning trip and reported flat calm seas, excellent vis and great conditions so despite our groups high speculation the trip would be canceled and with an eye on the storm we headed out.
The weather was indeed in our favor and the storm continued inland taking the lightening with it and by the time we arrived at the first dive site conditions looked quite good. Seas were indeed flat, a welcome site for Syd. We did two Nitrox dives on 33% O2 to 55′ for about 40 minutes (well under limits) and had a great time, seeing a wonderful variety of marine life (more on that later). We ended the second dive, had a good trip back in returning to to dock at about 7pm.
The next day we arrived at 7:15am for our next two dives. Due to returning late the night before, we were unable to get Nitrox fills arranged and so would be diving air this day. (Alas, were that not the case, perhaps things may have gone differently – but that is how it went.) The boat left on time and we did two more great drift dives along ledges and once again saw some great marine life. The dive masters from Diving Solutions were fantastic and pointed out all manner of interesting things to see. Both dives went without incident and we were back on the boat after the second dive by about 11am and headed in.
Wow! This weekend Syd scored in a major way at a scuba sale at our local diving store Mac’s Sports. Each year they have a few big sales with special promotions and raffles. We went last year and didn’t win anything, but it was still fun. The vendor reps are there to answer gear questions and there are presentations all day on underwater photography, spearfishing, diving techniques and equipment. But of course, there is the raffle drawings through the day. I went early in the morning and bought 6 tickets for $5 and hung out talking with all the shop staff for a while – most of whom we have been diving with, etc. I went home and we did some things and then went out to grab lunch and hit the 11am drawing where they were giving away the dive computer. And here is how it happened:
Syd walked in and bought $5 in tickets. About 5 minutes later they held the drawing. Sure enough, she won – the happy and surprised new owner of an Oceanic Geo dive computer! Wow! That was cool! It’s a very nice computer – I considered it as a potential one last year when it came out, though we ended up going with our Mares Nemo computers. The Oceanic retails for about $430 and is going to make a perfect secondary computer for Syd. They even let her pick what color she wanted, she went with the yellow and black titanium bezel one. It a sleek little thing for sure. She was very happy.
We then went and had lunch and did some things at home. We decided to go back for the big finale drawing at 6pm. We walked in and about about 5 minutes later they held the drawing. The gave away several items, dive lights, etc. and then the big drawing for the Zeagle Stiletto BC came up.
Last weekend we made another weekend dive trip to Jupiter Florida, just north of West Palm on the Atlantic side. This was our third dive trip there and the first time we went specifically to see the Lemon sharks! They come in during the winter when the water temps fall and aggregate, the females still pregnant. Unfortunately the water temps have not gotten cold enough this winter, the Gulf Stream is still way to warm to cause them to come closer to land. So while our efforts to see Lemon sharks were not too successful, we still had some good dives.
We had two dives on Saturday and two on Sunday. All were boat dive dives where we drifted along the reef ledges which parallel the coast about a half mile off shore. Depths were about 65′ and all dives were done on Nitrox. The water temp was about 68 Deg. (Brrrr…) but had only dropped that morning, so no effect on the shark migration. The week before temps were in the low 70’s. Visibility was not too fantastic, about 25′ to 30′. There was some pretty strong current on the first day, about 3 knots so it was zipping along on the bottom. If you grab the reef (safely) the current would whip you around like a wind sock and you would hold on – suspended and flying above the reef.
A recently certified diver from work (Max) meet us in Jupiter for this trip, and he sure had a stiff gradient to meet on these dives! With all the factors they were definitely not really beginner dives, but he did great – despite this being his first boat dives, first Ocean dives, first dives with strong current, etc. Unfortunately he injured his should pretty darn good during entry on the first dive, but he was able to still do the second dive. After the dives it continued to be inflamed and called for a trip to the doctor. No torn rotator cup fortunately, but definitely put caused some inflammation. He is recovering well though and is looking forward to his next boat trip. Way to go Max – good job on these dives – it was a huge learning step and I look forward to our next trip!
We did see some good marine life though: a huge sea turtle, spotted moray eels, a big old grouper (450 pounder?), Christmas tree worms, and of course a variety of tropicals: angel fish, parrot fish, etc.
We did for once take a picture of the dive boat! Yes, at long last a picture to show we actually do go diving and don’t just make up the stories! Neither of us is of course in the picture, so I guess it still does not prove this was us. This pictures also shows that as captain, you need not fear and can be comfortable in any attire you choose.
The teen who crewed as the deck had recommended a breakfast spot called Center Street Nook for the next morning, and we took her advice. Located just a few blocks from the dive shop its a perfect breakfast place and the food was quite good. Check it out if you dive Jupiter. The kitchen door had a good dose of humor:
One of the best elements of the place was their coffee cups. They apparently have great “Deserts” (we didn’t find out) and advertise a variety of services, so you can contemplate these as you enjoy your morning Joe.
Another great Dive trip to Jupiter. We have enjoyed it each time and we look forward to our next trip there. The water will be warming up soon and hopefully next time we will have better viz. We will let you know!
I wrote up this page to entice some co-workers to go. It was not very effective, but should you like a bit of humor:
Until next time!