Mine the Harvest

Florida Keys Heavy Metal Tour 2010

by on Jul.18, 2010, under Dive Trips, My Life

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.

USCG Duane Mast
The deep calls

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:

USCG Duane Mast


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.


Duane Deck


Of course, these pictures hardly do it justice. There is abundant life all around this wreck, a mountain of steel and coral to explore.


Duane Ladder


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.)

Current? Naw. . .

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:

Pete on the Duane

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.

Entering the Duane

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:

Divers on ascent line


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:

Eagle Wench

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:

Ready to Explore

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.

Syd near Eagle’s Mast

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.

Lion Fish
Evil, yet beautiful.

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. . .

Lobster
Killer Lobster

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.)

Defend yourself!

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.

Purple Sea Fan
Purple Sea Fan

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.

Venus Fly Clam?


Coral Scape

Tomorrows Dives

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.

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3 comments for this entry:
  1. Kyle Anderson

    Wow man, this looks like a stellar dive. What kind of camera did you use to take these?

  2. admin

    Hi Kyle,

    It was a fantastic dive indeed, one of our best so far in Florida. On the camera, I had another person ask about that, and here is the info:

    The camera is an Intova IC 600 we bought last year. This little thing is pretty amazing. We paid like $300 for the camera which also included the waterproof housing, rated to 140 feet. For the price we figured what the heck – worth a chance on it. As it turns out, it was a total score. For the price it can’t be beat – most housing alone cost between $300 to $800 – and that is just the housing, so this really was the bargain buy for sure.

    Although you can use a strobe with it, and we want to get that, these photos where not taken with a strobe. Fortunately there was enough ambient light that day. The colors would have been more brilliant, especially on the wrecks though, if we had a strobe. The shallower reef dives had decent light.

    All the pictures were post processed using F-Stop, which is some picture management software in Linux – it auto corrected the colors and did an amazing job. While we could processes them further in Photoshop / GIMP to clean them up more, we just have not gotten that far yet.

    We were stoked to finally get some good pics to share with people. Hopefully we will get one more dive here in Florida this summer. After that we will be exploring some diving in South Carolina.

  3. Anita

    Awesome photos! I haven’t dove on any of the wrecks down there – but have gone on several trips to get those “killer” clawless lobsters. I am missing it this week as the sportsman season is today and tomorrow. These pictures bring back memories of lots of trips with my parents down there. I am hoping to get down there for a weekend later this summer. Thanks for sharing!

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