Key Largo Memorial Day Trip

Thursday May 27th saw thirty divers from Indian Valley Scuba descending upon quiet Key Largo, FL for a long weekend of diving and controlled mayhem.  Our group’s origins included PA, CA and FL. The weekend weather looks superb, sea conditions are perfect, and the recipe is just right for a great trip for all!

Quite a few of us got in early enough on Thursday to start off the trip with a night dive, including myself and Rich Peterson, fresh in from our deep diving in the Dry Tortugas. Along with Abbie & Bri Pagliaro, Mike Conn, Frank Gabriel and Erle Petrie, we headed out to the wreck of the Benwood, leaving the dock at 7:00 p.m. Night dives from many dive operators range from twilight dives to “rush hour” dives, and you end up out of the water before the sun has even fully set.  Well the IVS gang is clearly not afraid of the dark, and the folks at Amoray Dive Resort leave the dock extra late for us so we are entering black water after sunset to begin our dives.  And the effort paid off – we saw several octopus, turtles, hundreds of sleeping parrotfish, lobster galore, crabs a’plenty, tube feeding anemones, basket stars out and feeding, and all the other critters that make for a fun night dive experience.

Friday morning our group split up, with Frank and I, along with Sue Douglass, heading over to Jules Undersea Lodge with Randee, Kerri & Joe Bates, Rebecca Dyke, and John Herbach for our first two open water checkout dives. Conditions were good, water was warm, and the morning went well.  Meanwhile the rest of the gang headed out to Molasses Reef for a couple of great dives.

Lunch was quick, as usual, and the boat was loaded with Nitrox and fresh tanks as we headed back out to explore the Speigel Grove and the Benwood.  IVS-South Instructor Dave Hartman and Houston-based Instructor Michelle Winkel joined us for the afternoon, and we enjoyed a good dive under less-than-stellar conditions on the Spiegel, with three teams exploring the wreck from different levels and different directions.  Kudos to Don Yowell on his gas consumption improvement!  Good big deep wreck initiation dives for Jim DiQuattro, Richard & Francine Black, Marvin Dyke, Frank, Erle, and repeat visits to the Keys greatest wreck for Dave & Sandy Herbert, Kim & Michel Naucodie, Mike & Lin Gusenko, and Mike Betz.  

The second dive was a visit to the fishiest wreck in the Keys, the Benwood.  After a colorful briefing, we headed in and enjoy nearly an hour of bottom time, constantly surrounded by the full spectrum of tropical fish colors and flavors.  Our OW students had a great dive and everyone returned to the boat with smiles and stories to tell. 

Friday night found us at IVS’s Key Largo Training Center, aka the Hartman Estate, where we enjoyed a splendid offering of pizza, wings, brewskies, and blender-prepared fruity concoctions of all sorts and flavors.  Following that, we ended the evening with a session at Sharkeys, the most local of the local taverns, where we finished the evening with stories, observations and fun.

Saturday morning was even more perfect weather-wise than Friday was, with bright blue skies and not even a hint of a breeze.  Divemaster Bill Zyskowski and Miami-based IVS divers Tamy & Camillo Romano joined us for the day on & in the water.  The inshore weather conditions didn’t change when we hit the open ocean, and the seas were flat, viz was great, and the morning yielded two super dives on French Reef for the IVS crew.  Sightings included turtles, large morays, lobsters, eagle rays, and the usual cast of tropical characters.  Water temp was a balmy 82 and viz was 100 feet or greater.  No surge, no waves, nothing to deter from great diving.

A quick lunch (as usual) and an on-time afternoon departure (not as usual!) had us back out at the Spiegel Grove for a 3:00 entry.  All our new Open Water divers joined us on this traditional graduation dive, getting their first combo Wreck/Deep/Nitrox dive in to start their Advanced Open Water training.  As might be expected, everyone came up smiling from wet ear to wet ear, with lots of good stories and experiences to share with the others.  A second dive to the Benwood for some relaxing fun finished the afternoon off, and we came back in to prepare for our night dive.    

We splashed at the Benwood at 8:30 p.m., already night and dark, and enjoyed  a great 60 minute dive there.  While we were under we noticed a bit if current picking up, and by the time we started heading up it was obvious something was going on as our boat was not where we left it on the mooring; rather it was turned around completely.  A storm front had moved in, whipped the sea into a bit of a frenzy, making it a howling-wind white-capped swim back to the very bouncy boat – pretty cool!  And, on the surface, we then had to deal with a visiting Sea snakes (where he came from no one knows!). The dive was great though, with more turtles, octo’s , rays, and all the other great critters we know and love.

After our night dive a group of us went out to personally inspect the brand new Paradise Pub, and we were not disapppointed!  It is now smoke-free, clean, brighter, and friendly.  Heavily tatted and always interesting barmaid Dawn is gone, but the new management team did a great job.  Lousy new electronic dart board, so we asked management to address that, but otherwise a good evening of fun.  Bri Pagliaro steps up to the line and kicks butt right off the start on the dart board, then falls to the pressure of Mike Conn, who runs a three game streak. Dave Herbert is looking good, but runs a strong second-place’ish performance for the night.  Abbie Pagliaro is off her game tonight, but manages to come up to the line for a bullseye and a 150 point single round, proving once again that even blind squirrels find nuts now and then.  Dave Hartman puts in a disappointing performance for the evening, spending the entire night firmly ensconced in the DFL position. A great time anyway, and we’ll be back.  We wrapped it up and headed back to the resort for some much-needed rest before we start it all over again tomorrow!.

Sunday morning came early, as you might imagine, and it was even more beautiful than the day before.  A slight breeze was blowing, but coming from the north, meaning the ocean was relatively unaffected. We journeyed out to Elbow Reef, to make our first dive on the City of Washington.  As luck would have it, we managed to join in on a Creature Feature dive being run by the folks at Capt. Slates Atlantis Dive Center, so our divers got to enjoy the rush of nurse sharks and goliath groupers coming in for a free meal.  After getting our share of up close and personal shark encounters we got to work doing fish count surveys for REEF.  This is a key part of the IVS PADI/National Geographic Open Water certification, and also a great step towards completing our fish ID specialty and working towards our Advanced Open Water certification.  Our second location was Mike’s Wreck (formerly known as the Tonowanda), and we finished our surveys up there with another 60 minute dive.

After the usual quick lunch we headed back out to do our signature Double-Deep dives for Sunday afternoon.  First stop – the former Coast Guard Cutter USS Duane.  Pretty good surface current due to wind, and it was running completely opposite of the current below the surface.  Fun dive, lots of good photo op’s, big critters, great viz.  Second stop was the Spiegel Grove, where everyone penetrated the wreck to all sorts of levels, including the signature Hartman deep & dark tour through the ship’s innards.  These are the coolest dives for our newest divers, to really get a chance to experience diving on huge intact shipwrecks and also learning how to work in a dive team environment.  All great training and the education never stops!

Monday morning saw lots of hugs and handshakes as most of the group headed back towards the airport, but the “can’t get enough nitrogen” diehards managed to get one last set of dives in on the reefs in the a.m.  Another great trip in the logbooks, and time to plan your next visit to the Keys with IVS!

And the winners of this week’s ADD Awards (All Dives with Dave) are Bri Pagliaro, Mike Gusenko, and Erle Petrie!  Congratulations!

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