Florida Keys Dive-a-Thon….Wrecks, Lobsters & Laughter!

OR, “Is that a snorkel in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

And now, for a completely different start of a trip – I am not personally responsible for getting myself to the airport. Steve Holak and Joyce Kichman decide to help me with my adrenalin addiction, and offer to carpool to Philadelphia International. Steve in fact was on a later flight but changed his plans just so he could be part of this therapy session, helping me enjoy a leisurely trip to the airport, complete with curbside drop-off. Their flight was an hour and a half later, so they would have plenty of time for breakfast and car parking after dropping me off. This would be a very different approach to flying from what I am normally accustomed to. Or so it seemed…..

Joyce arrives at the shop, to find my bags completely packed and me just finishing up my morning rituals, so different from my normal ‘rushing about, throwing things into Pelican boxes’ sort of airport departure. I am thinking if this pans out I might change my whole travel approach, leave early, arrive with plenty of time, and relax on my trips. Pretty thoughts…..or so I think! Steve’s wife Dawn drops him off, we toss his bags into Joyce’s SUV, lock up the shop and we’re off. Traffic is light, I am sitting back, no stress at all, I’m in good hands. The banter is light, everyone is a bit excited about the trip, and we’re ready for a great week. Steve has a bunch of questions about his upcoming PADI Instructor Exam, as he is enrolled in our current Instructor Development Course, and looking forward to getting into the Team IVS instructor rotation. He’ll be a real asset to the team and I am equally excited about having him take this great step forward. But enough on that, let’s get back to our journey!

The traffic on the road is light, and we had the foresight to check Joyce’s tires before leaving the shop, as she has a bit of a history of flat tires when traveling with us lately. Steve and I keep a careful watch out for deer carcasses, as she has been known to impale her tires onto them, much to the detriment of the tire. Nope, no issues, just a relaxing ride south to the airport. Now keep in mind that I normally am shifting gears, gas/brake/gas/brake, changing lanes, pushing, watching the clock, as I get my adrenal glands into high production. But not today, this is a new David, and I am so relaxed I have not even bothered to look at my watch. I’m in good hands!

We pull up to the terminal, and there are some of my favorite skycaps working, so they hop right over and hump my small mountain of five bags over to their workstation. It’s hugs and high fives for Joyce & Steve as I bode them farewell, at least until 2:50 this afternoon when we’ll reunite in Fort Lauderdale. Steve is joking about how I’ll explain this in the blog, me having to pass time & twiddle my thumbs, sitting at the gate ahead of schedule, relaxed and waiting on the plane to start boarding. They’re flying Southwest and we managed to get schedules that worked well together, so they leave to park the car and take the shuttle back to the airport. Man am I relaxed, I am thinking, as my man is punching in the info into his computer, and I await the sound of the printer spewing out my baggage tags and boarding passes. But wait, his forehead wrinkles, “Mr. Valaika, we missed the cutoff”, he announces. “What, I exclaim, it’s only a 45 minute check-in requirement” I exclaim. “It’s 7:34, the cut-off was 4 minutes ago” he points out. Well talk about your morning euphoria taking a Challenger space shuttle sort of launch! Geez – now I finally look at my watch, and guess what….he’s right! What a pickle I’m in now, I think. What the hell was I thinking, this whole ‘being relaxed on the way to the airport thing’.

So inside we go, and lo and behold, there’s on of my BAF’s (Best Airline Friends) Sandra working the counter. “Missed it, eh?” she asks, knowingly. “Yes ma’am, help me out please” I implore. In no time at all she has me re-booked, upgrades and all, to Florida, but the routing is a bit less than efficient – Philadelphia / Detroit / Ft Lauderdale. Yep, almost a straight line…NOT. It’s OK though, I have learned my lesson…flying is better when I am on edge! So we check the bags, get my passes, and head up to security to see what adventure may await me there.

Well sure enough, there are enough blue shirts standing around this morning. I flash my priority boarding pass and take the short line, hoping to get through the masses quickly. Suddenly one of the blue shirts is approaching me, and I get that same feeling when the disheveled panhandler is walking up to you in the street, asking for some change to support his habit. I lean back, hoping he’ll miss me, but no, he is locked on target. I grimace, as he asks if I am traveling alone, wondering what sort of counter-terrorist science experiment they might have in mind for my body. Alas, my fears are unfounded, all he wanted to do was actually expedite my process over to a lane that just opened and had no line – whew! I headed right over, dropped my underwater camera case on the belt, pulled out my laptop, tossed my shoes on, and started to walk through the metal detector when the TSA’er who’s job it was to monitor this vital piece of America’s security curtain said “Sir, you have a bulge in your pocket”. Well you can imagine the snappy punch lines that were running through my head, but I refrained, figuring his sense of humor might not be in sync with mine. Figuring that it wasn’t just how happy I was to see him, he surmised it was my wallet and instructed me to put it through the X-ray machine. “When did that become a TSA requirement?”, I asked. “I can’t travel with my wallet now?” Sir, it is bulging from your pocket and I can’t you pass through like that. Well let me make a note to look up the official TSA ‘bulge allowance’ next time I am at my computer. I figure there is no talking any sense to this walking & talking version of a cigar store indian, so I put my wallet through the machine and he allows me to pass, sans bulge, through his station. Of course, when I get to the other side, there is another boy in blue with my camera case, asking me to follow him to the camera case washing station. He opens it up, wipes it all over for me, asks if it is for scuba diving (pretty intuitive with the IVS stickers all over it) and I can see we’re right on the same page (page number that is, in two very different books!). My camera is now washed and dried, and I am allowed to pass.

So now Steve was right, what to do with my time before my NEW flight takes off! Well, for starters, here I sit, blogging away! And enjoying a cold Coors Light as I work to take the edge off my roller coaster of a morning. Finally it’s time to board, and my flights are uneventful, putting me into FLL around 5:00. Joyce & Steve are already there so they grab my bags, and are awaiting my arrival. We grab the rental minivan, load up and off we go, southward-bound for adventure. First stop is dinner at Pon-Tunes in Key Largo, home of Florida’s last pirate ship, which was featured in an earlier report. Our bellies full (and the same can be said for the local mosquitos), we head over to the Paradise Pub where we connect with the ‘Z’ brothers, Bill & John Zyskowski, and IVS-south legend Dave Hartman. These guys just came back from all all-day, all Spiegel dive, four dips onto and into one of our favorite wrecks. Lots of good stories as they did some serious penetration into the belly of the beast, visiting areas well off the beaten path, including the aft engine room under the well deck, pump room, and a search for the ship’s brig too! Great way to kick off the trip. And joining us there also is Frank Gabriel and Carlos Diaz, so our Wreck Safari team is complete. It’s like a little family reunion at the pub, with a couple of our favorite girls Annette and Dawn, along with owner Jay, joining in to welcome us back to the Keys.

The guys had spent the morning diving with Ocean Divers but for the afternoon they opted to head out with Horizon Divers and a couple of old faces from IVS visits, Bob Bates and Troy, former Amoray Diver crewmembers, along with the Horizon’s owner Dan. Bob was skippering the boat, and Troy and Dan were instructing, so they had an extra diver on board that needed a buddy, and Bill Z generously opted to step up to the task. Turns out the fellow somewhat over-represented his skill and experience level, and managed to suck his tank down on the wreck, then head off in the wrong direction as he abandoned Bill in search of the ascent line. Bill managed to locate him, found that he was down to 200 psi (still on the wreck) and escorted him back, sharing gas the entire way. From the safety stop he bolted to the surface, and the crew managed to get him back on board. Troy & Bob credited Bill with saving the divers life, and there were high fives and back slaps all around. Way to go Bill and way to make a great impression on the Horizon boys with the skills and level-headedness of Team IVS divers.

While at the Pub we managed to finalize some some underwater communication techniques, so look for the the new “Trust me”, “The Bulge” and a sure-to-be favorite “Imminent Penetration” hand signals on a dive near you soon! We also learned that Steve, was a closet scuba Mormon, and had recently been re-arranging the ranking of his scuba wives. Seems Sam Auyeung has a lock on spot #1, but Joyce has slipped to #3 as th equiet and demure Grace Crawford moved into the nuimber two spot, based on her ability to speed Steve through airport check in lines with her Continental frequent flyer status. You are so shallow, Steve! After this revelation, Steve further confessed that he recently mis-interpreted some Facebook postings and emails from Bill Z regarding his ‘partner’, but we’ll let Bill & Steve share this story in person. We finally headed on down to the Keys Motel for the night and got some well needed rest for our mornings dive plans.

Our first morning started off with absolutely perfect conditions both on land and at sea. Our destination was the Bibb, and we enjoyed 100 plus feet of visibility, near zero current, and just a fantastic dive overall. With as many dives as many of our group have on the Duane, it was cool to be able to dive her sister ship. Dive #2 was the Spiegel Grove, and the conditions were equal if not better. On the Spiegel eagle-eyed (but mooring ball challenged) Bill Z spotted a young lionfish taking up residence on the deck of the ship. Springing into action, Joyce chose her light for smashing, while Bill went with the knife for stabbing, while Steve looked on in terror. Remembering recent events in Bonaire, Steve acted quickly, he reached for the most sensible weapon, and wrote on his slate – “Don’t be a Dave!” I am proud to report that no lionfish OR divers were hurt in creating this particular blog entry. Prudent diver that he is (and great scuba hubby, or so we’re told) Two great dives to kick off our trip under our belt, we came back to the dock and enjoyed pizza under the tiki hut while our tanks were refilled. For the afternoon we headed out to the Duane and Eagle wrecks, and by the end of the day we have the following dive profiles: Bibb 134 ft for 45 minutes, Spiegel Grove 125 ft for 45 minutes, Duane 120 ft for 45 minutes, and finally the Eagle115 ft for 45 minutes – wow, that’s a lot of diving! Plus turtles, sharks, sting rays, huge morays, lobsters, and more to start this trip.

And speaking of lionfish, this was without question the greatest number of lionfish sightings we have ever seen in a day of Florida Keys diving. Between the four wrecks we saw over a dozen lionfish, and almost caught/killed several. And for those avid readers who follow my science experiments, let me point out that the second time you get nailed by a lionfish is not nearly as painful as the first. Perhaps the body accepts the fact that you are going to continue to bombard it with toxins, or whatever, but I had one slam me three quick times on the Duane, three penetrations across two fingers, and I though oh my gosh, this is going to hurt, but alas, the lionfish whisperer is growing stronger! Never the less, the score is now Dave 7, Lionfish 2 for the season.

After we got back to the dock we refilled our tanks, kibitzed with the crew a bit, and headed south. Dinner was at the world famous ‘No Name Pub’ on Big Pine Key, and we spent three hours there, eating and telling jokes, to the point our sides were splitting from the laughter! We also were treated to lots of endangered Key Deer out and about on the road back to the tavern and back. Pretty cool. Our bunks for the night were at the La Concha Hotel on Duval Street, smack dab in the middle of the action! Ready for a Duval Crawl story? You’ll have to wait, as we were so beat we checked in and went right to bed, party animals that we are!

For Day two, we are diving with the folks from SubTropic Dive Center in Key West, and our morning plans call for a double dip on the Vandenberg. Today we are joined by Ms Judy, a gal from Savanah, who was here for the week with a group of divers from her area. They didn’t have quite the same passion for bottom time as we have, so they were opting for a day laying around the pool today. Not Judy – she picked right up on us, and drove down to Key West from Tavernier this morning to spend the day with Team IVS – let’s just say she is already family! We pull out of the dock and as we motor along a small pod of dolphins, adults and juveniles, decide to escort us out to sea, playing and jumping through our wake – what a great way to start the day! The seas are nearly flat and the sun is shining bright, and as we pull up to the the wreck there is zero current. Perfect! We splash, drift straight down to the ship, and enjoy two great 45 minute dives at 140 ft. I must say it is really cool to dive with a group of divers as skilled and in sync as our wreck safari group is. Back to the dock for lunch and a quick turnaround and we head back out to the Vandenberg again, followed by the Cayman Salvager. Four more 100 plus foot dives, nearly four more hours of bottom time, in perfect conditions! Had a nice big octo being a little shy on the Cayman, and plenty of sea life all around. We wrapped up the day filling our tanks and headed out to the Conch Farm for a celebration dinner before making that long drive back up to Key Largo for the night.

Meanwhile the rest of the crew had arrived at Amoray, including Beverly & Butch Loggins, Ray Graf, Tom Rebbie, Vicki Stauffer, Shelly Lui and Gary Fasano, and everyone got a good short nights sleep before being roused for our 4:00 a.m. boat loading. The enthusiasm was running high and our carnivorous crowd was ready to hunt some lobster! Again the conditions were perfect, zero wind, flat seas, and a clear (but obvioulsy very dark) sky overhead greeted us as we motored out to the reef. Our first location was North North Dry Rocks, and we splashed at 5:48 a.m., the earliest you could hunt in Monroe County. The first hour-long dive proved a bit frustrating, with plenty of shorts and spotted lobsters, but only Shelly managed to bring a keeper on board. Our second location on North Dry Rockk made up for it, as we were ‘on the meat’ and the cooler started to fill as each team returned with bugs in their bags. We moved 100 yards for the third dive, and then, seeing as how we still had tanks on board, we moved another 100 yards for the fourth morning dive – way to start! By the time we headed in we had 26 nice lobsters in the cooler, and there were smiles all around. And making it even better, Joyce & Steve managed to net an adult lionfish, and Steve dispatched it with a large rock. Nice job guys!

Once back most of the gang had the chance for a little siesta, but Steve Holak and I headed over to Jules Undersea Lodge with Vicki Stauffer for her first couple of check out dives. Steve is interning for his Open Water Scuba Instructor course, and he, along with Ms Vicki, both scored high marks for the day! A couple of naturals to be sure! And we even had a nurse shark there in the lagoon with us! Now we load for the 3:00 p.m. departure, with three dives planned, the last at sundown and ending 60 minutes after legal sunset in accordance with the game laws. Charles Kichman has awoken from his siesta and has joined us for the afternoon’s hunt, and Vicki is coming along as well, for a combo open water checkout / lobster hunter specialty program. And to make it even sweeter, on our first drop there comes a turtle swimming by. We end up getting in five dives this afternoon, and come home with a pile of lobster to add to the fridge. For Steve Holak, it’s a new personal best, getting in 10 dives with me in one day. The crew is dragging a bit by the time we get back, but a round of cheeseburgers at the Paradise Pub helps to re-energize the gang for the next wake-up call in 3 1/2 hours.

Thursday morning you could not have asked for better conditions, if I said flat yesterday I was exaggerating, cause today was FLAT on the ocean. Minimal current, clear sky and 100 plus ft of viz everywhere. We did three more dives this morning, bringing home 33 more lobsters for dinner, including a couple of huge 4+ pounders, to bring the count so far up to 74. Quick lunch, siesta, and the crew will be ready to go again. Meanwhile, Steve and Dave head back to Jules for another dive with Vickie to get her solid on some of her remaining skills. Steve is quickly learning the difference between a dive trip as a diver and a dive trip as a working instructor! Vickie does great, Steve is one step closer to instructor, and Joyce likewise towards her Divemaster certification too.

Back at the dock, we head back out with Captain Jacob for our last dive trip of mini-season. We end up getting in 4 more dives, for a total of 8 for the day. Steve Holak has 28 dives so far over 4 days, while Bill & John Zyskowski have 28 over 5 days – we LOVE to dive By the time we climb back aboard tonite at 9:15, we have a final count on our lobsters of 105, a new team record for IVS! Dinner will be good and ample Friday night!! The highlight of the evening was a visit by our Goliath Grouper friends who hang out nearby on the City of Washington wreck One is larger, probably 250-300 pounds, wile the second is a more petite 150 pounds or so. They have been following Frank on his dive now for about 15 minutes, and as he hunts, they are right there sticking their noses into the holes he’s checking out. He catches one bug and bags it, and his friends seem to like that fact, getting even chummier with Frank. They are rubbing against his leg and his tank as he hunts, making it difficult for him to concentrate. Despite the annoyance, he manages to snag one nice one with his snare, a lasso-like device that you open up into a loop, slide behind the lobster and up his tail, then yank back and you’ve got “lobster on a stick” as the critter is tightly bound with the snare wire. So as Frank pulls this bug out of the reef and holds it up to show Dave Hartman who is working with him, there is a blur and a lot of commotion as the larger grouper flies forward, and inhales the lobster along with the end of Frank’s snare. Frank’s initial reaction is shock, but he quickly recovers and thinks, “this is nonsense give me my lobster back!”. So he tugs, and gains a little ground, but the grouper waits, then opens his mouth and just as quickly, re-closes it, but not before gulping in most of the rest of the snare handle. Frank gives one last tug, but with that the grouper turns, and begins to swim away, towing Frank to points unknown, and Frank wisely decides this lobster is not worth it. Talk about a wildlife encounter!

Friday morning starts off great again, but there are a few problems with Amoray’s boat, pushing our first departure back a half hour, which after two non-stop long days of bug hunting, our divers do not complain about. While most of the gang are heading out, our new open water candidates Michele Highley, Sally DiBartolo, Leann Rohrbach are joined by instructor candidate Steve Holak and divemaster candidate Joyce Kichman and myself as we head over to Jules Undersea lodge for the morning. The ladies perform excellently, and we motor back to Amoray, only to find the boat, although it had headed out for the morning trip, ended up losing a lower unit on one of the outboards, and had to motor in on one engine. What is it with us and boats?? Well this will certainly push back our afternoon dives and our dinner plans too. A few choice snapshots of Capt Jacob in the water to add to our gallery of dive boats being repaired, and we finally begin to load up for the afternoon trip to the Spiegel Grove and a reef location.

IVS-South instructor and Spiegel Grove tour expert Dave Hartman has joined us for the afternoon, along with Z-brothers friend Adam Musgrave, and he leads another one of his signature tours through the ‘Belly of the Beast’, visiting pump rooms, engine rooms, and plenty of other spaces below the welldeck where few venture. Others enjoyed the absolutely perfect conditions at various depths and levels of intensity, and it was a great dive. Needless to say, everyone is all smiles when they return to the boat! Spot #2 was Sandbottom Caves on French Reef, and everyone had another good dive here. It was 6:45 when we entered the water for afternoon dive #2, so we had to move our dinner reservations back a bit from the 7:00 time slot to accommodate our revised schedule. We had a great dive and then scooted back to the shop to gussy up for dinner.

We showed up for dinner fashionably late, in Valaika-style, arriving at 9:00. The good news is that allowed the folks at the Key Largo Conch House Restaurant to better accommodate the dinner rush, so it was a win-win for all. This is the fourth year in a row since Sue Douglass first started arranging our lobster dinners with the Conch House, and even though she was unable to be in attendance this year, her touch was obvious everywhere, as the dinner was well coordinated, delicious, and belly filling for sure! Nearly forty IVS family members and friends filled the Conch House to capacity, and you could hardly hear yourself think over the laughter and merriment that ensued over the next 2 1/2 hours. This was so much fun I think we’ll have to do it again next year!

Well the crowd slowly drifted out until only the true hard cores were left, and as we began to head out, the Z Brothers car failed to start. No problem, as Biil & John, along with Adam, piled into the minivan with Steve, Michele, Joyce and I. OK, maybe a small problem – we’re not ready for bed! So we all agreed that a visit to the Caribbean Club was in order, and we tooled on down the road to check out some of the local wildlife. You know there is something special about a place that won’t serve you drinks in any container, such as a bottle, that could possibly double as an impromptu weapon. Certainly adds the local flavor! Well we enjoyed a few libations there, taking in the great southern rock served up buy the house band, and before you know it, the toes were tapping and the hips were swaying; the message was obvious – we needed to dance! So we did, in dribs and drabs, hitting the dance floor, mingling with the natives, having a blast. Well it was all fun and games until I found myself nearly alone on the floor, dancing away with local Curt Murphy, and at that distinct moment, I knew it was time to go! Quick bye-bye’s to the admiring crowd, and we bolted out the door, hit the car running and headed home to bed! Whew! Hope that doesn’t make it into the blog…whooops!

Well it’s Saturday morning, and “Hey, how about those Tigers?” seemed to be the saying of the day, recalling the inappropriate moment between Steve Martin nd John Candy in Planes, Trains & Automobiles. OK, memories of dancing with the falling stars out of my head, it was time to go diving! We headed out to the City of Washington and were greeted by another local animal that seems to have an inter-species affection for me, Bruiser the Goliath Grouper. This big boy worked the crowd of divers like a politician, rubbing against us, checking to see if we had any food to offer, not taking “no” for an answer, and just making the entire 60 minute dive a very special one for us. It’s really something to have to push the grouper out of the way when you are trying to take pictures! Dive #2 was at the Christ of the Abyss, always a great photo op for all, and with the crystal clear water and blue sunny skies, the lighting was near perfect! The Flying Romano, Camilo and his lovely wife Tamrah had joined the group this morning, along with friends of Frank Gabriel Medaul Campos and his son Phil, Zyzkowski cousins Joan and Juan Alverez, Carlos’ daughter Anizah, and three more Allentown locals and Dutch Springs buddies, Carl, Patricia and Kari Schulthers. Such a small world indeed!

Back to the dock for the customary quick turnaround and we find a little confusion on board. Seems that the left side of the front office doesn’t always talk to the right side, so they had booked a deep wreck trip at the same time as a double shallow location trip…hmmmmm..what to do? Well we have an answer – let’s make it a three-location afternoon! Bonus dive!! So out we headed, and our first location was the Spiegel, where again Mr. Hartman led a select group on one of his tours, and I had the distinct pleasure of escorting Leann, Sally & Michele, along with Steve and Joyce, on their very first deep/wreck/open ocean dive after graduating as Open Water Divers two hours ago! Talk about advanced placement!! Everyone did fantastic, and the conditions were surreal, with zero current, great vis, and lots of life to be scene around and inside the wreck. Location #2 was the Aquarium, and finally drop #3 was the Benwood, where we entered the water at 6:50 to check on the marine life before we returned to visit for our night dive.

Quick trip back to the dock and right back out for the night dive…gosh this group loves to dive!! We ended up getting in the water at 10:15 p.m, and had an hour and fifteen minutes of great diving before coming out as the clock neared midnight! Great day!! So showers on the boat, comb through the hair, and let’s head to the only known place to get food in Key Largo at night, the Paradise Pub. Well what a surprise as we walk in to see the kitchen looking a little dark-ish. Ruh-roh! Before I can even open my mouth, Antoinette picks up the phone, hits “call” and holds it up to our groups ears….”hear that”, she says. “the phone is working!” Then, to add to the dramatic effect, she hits the ‘missed call’ log…”Nope, I don’t see Dave’s number here”, she announces. Seems that she had told me to call if we were coming for dinner, and somehow that seemed to slip right off my ‘things to do’ list today. I put on my best puppy dog eyes, nearly dropping to a knee for the sake of my hungry friends. Well, like Carrie Fisher, putting down the rocket launcher as John Belushi pleads with her in the Blues Brothers, she reneges, feels my pain, and calls in Jay the owner to open the kitchen and cook for us! Whew! Saved again…I owe her big time! Our tired little group gobbles down our dinner and we head back, no Club tonite for us!

Now it’s Sunday and the trip is starting to draw to a close. We head out for dive #38 of the week, hitting two reefs in the morning, back for lunch, and then it’s the real graduation dives, going to visit the Duane and the Spiegel again. Our good friend and Amoray owner Amy Slate has joined us this afternoon, along with her brother Justin. Michele has lamented that her weekend would be complete if only she could see a turtle, and the 15 or so that the rest of us had seen earlier in the week did not appease her. She points out to me in no uncertain terms that she has no interest in a rusty ol’ hunk of metal so there better be turtles there for her. Hey I work well under pressure, so let’s just go diving. Well Shazam, shazam…..what greets us on the bottom but a huge loggerhead, just hanging right there on the railing for us to take in. What else do you want to see Michele? The dive ends up as fantastic as the rest have this week, and we visit the Spiegel with simialr great results, lots of cool things to see, everyone getting more and more comfortable with the wreck and the deep diving. It is such a beautiful thing to see, and if you told the class on Thursday that this is what they’d be doing by Sunday they’d say no way! Gotta love the progression and development – there is nothing that compares the IVS checkout dives in the Keys.

Well as we sail back in, Ms Amy herself says this was such a wonderful day to spend with us, and the conditions were so perfect, that it’s too bad we’re not doing a night dive. At that, Steve Holak’s ears perked right up and he ‘night dive? Who want so to go?” Well, sure enough, we had a team, and since we numbered seven, Amy offered the Just-In-Time, her luxury catamaran, for the evening. Of course that meant I had to work as crew so we had room for the seven of us, but I’ll suffer through for the team….god I hate my job sometimes! We headed back out, again getting a nice late entry into the water at 9:15, and enjoyed an hour and a half of diving under the stars. Octopus, stingrays, big eels, sharks, lobsters, you name it, it was there to play with us. And what better way to cap it off then to come in to the dock at midnight to find Ray has the grill fired up and has put a complete spread together for us! Burgers, dogs, drinks, and more……way to go Ray!! What a great way to wrap up a super week of Florida Keys diving!

But wait, there’s more!

It’s Monday, and while everyone else gets to relax and head to the airport, I have to, you guessed it, dive again! My good friend Nancy Caruso and her husband Tom have come in from Laguna Beach, California, for some diving in the Keys, and I had arranged to take them out this morning to get them started. Nancy runs a non-profit in California, called Get Inspired, and it is dedicated to preserving and restoring the kelp forests, and providing educational opportunities for others to learn about the sea. I was eager to show her our efforts here with the Staghorn Coral restoration work we have been doing with Ken Neidermeyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation, so we dove the Wellwood site and Eagle Ray Alley. Great chance to share stories and learn a bit more about related efforts two coasts apart. And who else is on board but IVS diver Johnny Larson and his bride, just continuing the growing string of IVS-family connections.

Finally we were back at the dock, and I had no time to waste! Shower, pack, and await my ride from Dave Hartman to Fort Lauderdale, where I had an appointment to continue my ‘Flying after Diving’ medical experiment. Needless to say, the results were the same, and the travel was good. Home, after 8 wonderful days in the Keys, and 44 new great dives in the logbook. Time to relax, get caught up, dry out the gear, and get ready for the next adventure!

Search & Recovery Diving – with a HUGE reward!

Posted by Steve Holak & John Zyskowski

Part I – Saturday – Fun, Laughter & Sadness….

Like a thunderhead building on the horizon, the buzz had grown all week from the loyal IVS stay-at-homes that it was high time to get some diving in at the local “Quarribean.”  Bonaire?  Who needs Bonaire?  We don’t need no stinkin’ Bonaire…we got Dutch!   Thanks to our resident ambassador to the guys who eat frog legs and make tasty deep-fried potatoes — Brad “Rescue” Creveling — we come to find that “bon” means “good” in French!  Well, it turns out that the first vehicle in line at the Dutch Springs gate on Saturday morning is none other than our own J-Glo with Grillmaster sidekick Chis Perry, trailing that latest marvel of engineering, the IVS Dry Suit Demo Trailer.  Need “bon” air?  He’s got “bon” air: aluminum 80s, steel 100s, you name it, fresh off the Harleysville compressors and more than enough enough for a day of diving for the IVS crowd.  And who’s that with them?  Cozumel veteran Deanna Kuik, with a boxful of tasty treats from Dunkin’ Donuts.  Bon-air and donuts, what else does an IVS diver need?  Time to get the day rolling!

We’re soon joined over at the peninsula side by tequila taster Steve Holak, Deanna, Rescue Brad, the younger “Z” brother John, Frank “Cruise Control” Gabriel, Buxmont Prez Donna “Hugs” Raleigh, IVS kidney doner / Dive New-yaker and Scubaboard posting champion Sam Auyeung and her diminutive sidekick Keith, and . . . wait . . .  who’s that?  Our dear old friend and visiting Left Coaster Csaba “I come to Dive” Lorinczy!  The ATM-dive founder flew standby for a day and a half just to visit his old buddies!

The group claims tables, deploys the awning, rolls out the grill, and gears up, ready to dive.  Surface temps in the mid 70s, and temperature at depth . . . well, just a *little* bit cooler.  We tour all the attractions on the peninsula side on two morning dives, and come out to find that Chris has a treat cooked up : barbecue chicken and grilled corn-on-the-cob!  During the lunchtime surface interval (and between naps) Deanna gets some lessons from Csaba and a few others on breathing techniques to help improve her air consumption, and on the afternoon dive it pays off: a half-dozen of the group do a long dive from the peninsula across the quarry via the bus / firetruck, past the Koi stairs and down to the pumphouse  and back, and emerge back on the peninsula 70 minutes later; Deanna is all smiles as she comes up with 1000 PSI left in her 100 — what an improvement!

The only damper on the day was Mrs. John Z losing her wedding ring at the Aqua Park.  But in true IVS fashion, we turn a negative into a positive and gear up for some Search and Recovery training!  John doesn’t find the ring, and plans to try again on Sunday, but there’s a silver lining: John finds a dozen dollars or so in cash, (which can be exchanged for an IVS gift card at any time, no matter how damp the bills are), and a few pair of sunglasses, including a rhinestone-studded pair that prompted J-Glo to pause loading tanks and put on an eerie Liberace imitation on the back of the truck!

The day proved that even without IVS’s absent Fearless Leader, the crew knows how to do him proud and show a stellar IVS presence up there in “Quarribean.”

Part II – Sunday….Joy & Amazement!

All I can say is….IVS does it again. A huge THANK YOU to team IVS and the Search & Recovery Specialists –  Frank Gabriel, Chris Perry, John Glodowski, Bill Bobowitz, and Craig Bentley.

First, the background: My wife Loyda, my son Miykael, and myself spent July 4th weekend camping at Dutch Springs, for the purpose to celebrate, kick back, barbeque, hydrate and have some fun. I spent the mornings diving and my family and me spent the afternoons at the water park,splashing andenjoying the cool water on the hot summer days. Saturday July 3rd was a great 1st dive as some geared up and planned a dive with Csaba.We, John Glodowski, Frank Gabriel, Chris Perry and myself made a 70 minute dive out to the west wall. What a trek, I thought I was a yellowfin tuna we went so fast, what a blast! I have never been to the west wall. When we got out there Frank was making a gesture like driving a vehicle to Chris Perry, Chris made the same signal in return, and I thought they were making an argument as to whom was going to lead the dive on the return trip back to the dock, only to find out that that was the signal to lets find the sunken pick up truck! Chris started but no one made the effort to go with, so we just turned the dive.What a blast, to find out that all that huffing and puffing on the dive and I came out with plenty of air left in my tanks! That afternoon was eventfull as well as I doffed my gear to dry out, had some lunch with my family and spent the afternoon playing in the waterpark. What a blast! Loyda my wife was making a determined effort to get on the slip and slide raft, and I was no help because I was on the other side looking at her struggle, when all of a sudden her hand slipped and she fell back into the water. She was upset, because she forgot to take her wedding ring off, get the picture, the water was cold and refreshing but it made her finger shrink in size, so it easily slipped off. She was crying and very upset, because of sentiment and value of the ring. I tried to console her saying I am going to go over to the guys a the IVS trailer and see if they can help me in a search and recovery, don’t worry we will find it,” I said”. I got permission from the life guards at the water park to look for the ring, and was told I could but to make sure not to surface in the water park area.I went over to the IVS trailer and every one but Jglo had gone in for a dive. I rounded up my gear and waited for the team to see if any one was up for a SAR. Frank and Tony came out and said they would help out to fing the ring. After they off gassed, we geared up and headed for the dock.We made a plan to meet back at the dock, and to make sure we did not suface at the waterpark.We surface swam half way, and before the park we dropped to depth and began our trek in. The depth was 55′ to the bottom, and the first 40 or so was soup, there was a cold layer of water at the bottom making the visiblity 30’+. There was not a good SAR plan in place since I could not point out the exact location, So that afternoon I only found a $ 5 bill, five $1 bills, and 2 pair of sunglasses.Not a bad start, but hardly what we we searching for. After we came out we made a plan for Sunday morning 8 am.

The next morning we had enlisted more help,Frank Gabriel, John Glodowski, Chris Perry, Bill Bobowitz, and Craig and a nudge from Franks wife Isabel. She said to Frank you better go and help John Z. find his wifes wedding ring. Frank obliged! Once again Team IVS rose to the challenge. We made a new SAR plan. I said that we would either find the ring right away or not at all. Since the waterpark was not open for 2 more hrs.I was able to show the exact location, at the surface my wife had slipped and the ring came off, and that it was located between the 2 yellow straps at the slip and slide. We all surface swam out to the waterpark.Frank and I were at the exact location my wife and I were that day. We both dropped down right from the slide through the soup to the layer of clear water on the bottom. We were all careful not to disturb the sediment.I went left from our location, and Frank went right .We circled back toward each other and I saw Frank reach into the layer of silt and green algae. I thought to myself he either found the ring or he is going to make for some bad visibility shortly.He pulled something out and stuck it in his glove sleeve. I tapped him on the shoulder and made the gesture like well??? What did you find? He pulled the ring out! Thats the ring!!! A big hug was in order and I just about pulled my reg out of my mouth, as we broke away. Next thing Chris came over and it was high fives all around!!! Lets round up the troups and back to the dock we went. We came out at the ramp between the 2 docks, and some one made the comment that it was a 4 minute dive when Frank found the ring. Now while on the dock Wisdom may have gotten out and taken the ring up to my wife, but we were so excited to see the ring that Frank took it out and placed it in my hand, and while describing the way it was sitting on the bottom and how the 2 piece ring was halfway out when he saw it, there it goes into the water again, my heart just sank. Chris still had his mask , so he put it on and reached in and pulled out the ring once again.The Zebra Mussels had filled the gap on the dock preventing it from sinking to the bottom. Chris put it in my hand and every one charged me to go and give it to my wife immediately. So up the hill I went right to Loyda and as she saw the ring and placed it on her finger she began crying, and she hugged me tightly, and gave me a great big kiss, she didn’t care that I was soak and wet, making her clothes wet.I knew that we had made her day! A heart felt Great Big Thanks to Team IVS. As I came back to the dock, there was a suggestion that since I scored some serious points, some new gear was in order, possible dive trip, new reel for some more SAR. I agreed. So back in the water again for some more SAR to finish the dive. What a great day!! Way to go Team IVS.

Thanks again
John Z.