Key Largo Trip Report, by Dave Hartman
I have been working with Indian Valley SCUBA for the past five years as a local host, instructor and dive guide in Key Largo and all previous 25+ trips of the group the dive shop’s owner and fearless leader David Valaika was with the group taking care of all leadership duties. With David V. in Palau (lucky him), I was left to lead the group through all of their dives and certification courses. Thankfully, I was able to solicit the help of my instructor classmate and friend Tori Steinmeier fresh off a billionaire’s yacht in the Mediterranean. The IVS group of 8 divers arrived in town safely Thursday evening all eager for some serious diving the next 3 days.
The weather was sunny but a bit blustery with North winds ranging 10-15 knots all weekend. Despite the winter weather, the conditions underwater were excellent all weekend with 80 feet of blue water viz and very little current on all dives including the wreck dives. That’s right no current on wreck dives..a rare sight for the team IVS. Friday started off with some shallow reef dives at the Elbow on Mike’s Wreck and the City of Washington. The IVS group boarded the Amoray Diver in the morning with Capt Dan Harvey behind the wheel and First Mate Beth overseeing the divers. Dive buddies were divided up by instructor assignments and I was in charge of the brother and sister dynamic duo of Emily and Steven to guide their first dives outside of Dutch Springs, PA. Emily & Steve received their Open Water cert cards this past summer and were ready for some tropical dive conditions and to take their PADI Advanced Open Water course. The IVS group was half newbies to an IVS trip and half of past customers. Felix is an IVS regular and Rick, Luke and his son Dylan were just down in Key Largo a few months ago. The other two newbies besides Emily and Steve were Diane and Marilyn both new to the dive shop as well as their first IVS Key Largo trip. The other divers taking PADI cert course in the group besides Emily and Steve were Marilyn for Wreck Diver, Diane taking Peak Performance Buoyancy and 14 year old Dylan taking Jr. Rescue Diver. The other divers were just out to have fun and enjoy some vintage Key Largo diving. Our dives on The Elbow were all about relaxing and getting comfortable with diving again. I brought my Sea & Sea 1G camera (purchased at SCUBA Gear Plus/IVS) along for the dives with Emily and Steve and took some advantage of some great photo opps. The most impressive photo opp was a HUGE Jewfish who resides on the City of the Washington. Emily was eager to get up close to the big fella almost appearing to kiss the big creature. Hey Emily no harassing the marine life! The entire team had great dives on the Elbow and now it was back to the dock for a quick launch, tank exchange and then back out to dive the Spiegel Grove.
Friday afternoon was time for some serious wreck diving! All divers were back aboard the Amoray Diver with Capt Dan and First Mate John replacing the beautiful Beth. IVS divers were divided into two groups: Group 1) Divers on their first their first Spiegel Grove dive went with Tori Steinmeier for the “candy ass” wreck tour in honor of IVS’s own Sue Douglass (who was also in Palau) Group 2) Seasoned Spiegel Divers went with me for some serious wreck “swim throughs”inside the well deck and superstructure of the massive naval ship. Both groups loved their Spiegel dives and conditions were favorable with no current and descent viz. A special thanks to Rick for awesome air consumption and for joining “extended dive time with Dave” for my 1 on 1 “Nooks and Crannies” tour of the Spiegel where we look for new details in tight spaces on the Grove. I found two new gauges, a new closet and a new placard label in the extra time with Rick. Despite a few hundred dives on the Spiegel, there is always something new to see. The second dive of the afternoon was on French Reef and time for exploration of underwater “caves.” French is an older Reef in Key Largo with numerous swim throughs created under coral heads from thousands of years of erosion. Our mooring was on Christmas Tree Cave but my group also visited Hour Glass Cave (and the secret 3rd Chamber), the Chimney of Five Caves and Dylan and I navigated my self-named swimthrough “The Branch” of Christmas Tree Cave. Congrats to all divers for some courageous diving.
Friday night was time for some Key Largo fun with cocktails and barbecue at Club Dave (my house). Thanks to the entire team for attending and special thanks to Emily and Steve for food shopping and Tori and my friend Capt Pete for last minute provisions and an emergency propane run. Everyone had a blast and even our First Mates Beth and John showed up to represent Amoray Dive Resort. Saturday morning called for favorable sunny dive conditions and more shallow reef dives on Molasses Reef. Certification classes started in earnest with all students busy at work underwater. Underwater Nav was all too easy for Emily and Steve in 80 feet of blue water viz although Emily needs to work on which boat to return to for natural navigation. The highlight of the first dive on Molasses on Permit Ledges was seeing some majestic Eagle Rays gliding through the water column. The second dive on MO was North Star just behind Winch Hole with the famous winch in the sand and the Hole in the Wall swimthrough. More classes underwater and also another fantastic dive and all students performed well on their skills.
It was back to the Spiegel Grove Saturday afternoon was some more advanced wreck dives. Those on the “Sue Douglass Candy Ass Tour” on Friday had the option to upgrade to a more aggressive profile on Saturday with yours truly as the guide. Even Tori took off the training wheels and conducted some minor penetration of the wheel house with Diane and Marilyn. I took Emily, Steve and Luke inside the superstructure of the Spiegel in a quest to find Snoopy and some other cool rooms including the machine shop. Felix and Rick were on their own private tour of the Grove now that they had numerous Spiegel dives under their belt. Congrats to Felix for finding Snoopy on his own! All had fun on the Spiegel and again no current and descent viz. Next stop was the Benwood for a real ship wreck-not intentionally sunk like the Spiegel Grove. Nice conditions on the Benwood and fish everywhere which made for some great pictures by Emily and Steve during the Underwater Photo Adventure Dive. Thanks to Diane for some improptu underwater modeling.
Sunday called for one last day of excellent dive conditions before a serious cold front hit Key Largo on Monday. The morning dives were spent Snapper Ledge on Pickles Reef- the fishiest dive in the Keys and a perfect side for the Project AWARE Fish ID class. Emily and Steve filled an entire slate attempting to ID all the different species of marine life. Snapper Ledge did not disappoint with schools of Snappers, Grunts and goatfish everywhere.
The Wreck of the USCG Duane was on tap for Sunday afternoon and the beautiful ship did not disappoint. No current and fantastic viz made for a memorable Duane dive. Emily and Steve finished their AOW class by completing a few deep water skills on the deck of the Duane and Marilyn smartly tracked me down underwater to complete her Wreck Diver reel skills when her instructor Tori was stuck on the mooring line with congested ears. Nice job Marilyn with the improptu signals saying your instructor is in dispose! The last dive of the trip was one last tour of the Spiegel Grove. The late hour of the day and a bit of clouds made the dive almost twilight and so cool. Marilyn completed her wreck penetration with reel exercise as Diane proceeded to break the world record for a descent on the Spiegel Grove. After Marilyn completed some flawless reel work (but far from silt free) it was time to retrieve Diane and take the group for brief superstructure tours of the Grove. A great way to end a fantastic weekend of winter diving in Key Largo with the IVS team. Congrats to all students who completed their certification classes during the weekend and to Tori for qualifying for Master Instructor by conducting Dylan’s Jr. Rescue class. Thank you to all IVS divers, Amoray Dive Resort and the staff of the Amoray Diver for another legendary IVS dive weekend in Key Largo.