Space Shuttles and Deep Wrecks – a perfect combo!

Post by David W. Hartman, PADI Instructor, IVS South, Key Largo, Florida

February has been a steller month for weather in Key Largo. The month ended with the best weather of the winter: sunny skies, light winds, low 80’s at night and low 70’s at night. The light winds and calm weather made for great dive conditions with blue water on the reefs and light currents on the deep wrecks. Four people from Indian Valley SCUBA’s network of friends made it down to Key Largo February 24-27, 2011. Judy Mullen and Deborah Knighten drove down from Savannah, GA and Tom and Lisa Cinciripini joined the group from Souderton, PA just around the corner from IVS HQ in Harleysville.

Goregous Sunset over Blackwater Sound viewed from Amoray Dive Resort

The trip started with a rare opportunity to watch the Space Shuttle launch right from Amoray Dive Resort. I met up with Tom and Lisa for a few beers and completed the needed forms for the weekend ahead. The Shuttle launch did not go in the direction required to be seen in Key Largo but it was fun meeting up with Amoray crew and Tom and Lisa and we watched a beautiful sunset as we discussed our dive plan for the upcoming weekend.

IVS Crew ready to board the Amoray DiverFriday morning at Amoray Dive Resort started late due to boat maintenance. On the agenda was two dives on Molasses Reef in the morning and the wrecks of Siegel Grove and Benwood in the afternoon. 80 degree sunny weather made the low 70 degree water temps tolerable for us locals. At Molassess Reef, our first dive was at the Aquarium which had good viz but a bit of surge leftover from winds from the previous day. The large spurs of coral kept us protected from the surge as Tom and Lisa and I enjoyed easy navigation around the Southwest corner of Molassess Reef. On dive 2, The Amoray Diver moved over to the Winch Hole area to dive North Star and Eagle Ray Alley. Conditions on the center of Molassess Reef had less surge and better visibility. Tom and Lisa started their busy training weekend with the Peak Performance Bouyancy Adventure Dive of their PADI Advanced Open Water course. Both Tom and Lisa were hovering machines and made the fish jealous of their buoyancy skills. Judy and Deb were on their own just out fun diving to enjoy the wonderful dive conditions. Hard Coral grows over an Orange Sponge on Molasses ReefThe afternoon dives started with our first trip to the Spiegel Grove. IVS weekends always include a heavy dose of diving the now famous artificial reef know as LSD-32 USS Spiegel Grove. The 510 foot naval ship intentionally sunk by local dive operators and tourism officials in 2002 never disappoints. The entire group stayed together on the dive on the Spiegel as we had a nice easy excursion outside the wreck from the midship-superstructure mooring ball (#6) back to the starboard crane and then up to the bow and back to the mooring ball. (aka-The Sue Douglass candy ass tour). Tom and Lisa stayed down a little longer to complete some skills for their Deep Adventure Dive-a requirement of their Advanced Open Water course-and for a quick swimthrough of the wheelhouse and radar room. Decent viz and NO current made for a fantastic introduction to the Spiegel Grove.

Day Two of the Indian Valley SCUBA February weekend called for more excellent dive conditions and spectacular weather above water with sunny skies and light winds. The group had an early start on the Amoray Diver due to an scheduled sunset cruise for a wedding Saturday evening at Amoray Dive Resort.

Our morning dive sites were Christ of the Abyss at Key Largo Dry Rocks and Minnow Caves at North Dry Rocks. Key Largo Dry Rocks was a bit murky but no current and no divers from other boats. Perfect conditions for Tom and Lisa’s underwater navigation Adventure Dive. After some serious practice on the boat, Lisa nailed the underwater NAV skills. I must say after Lisa’s trepidiation on the surface with a compass, I was a bit surprised to see her emerge from the murky water coming right at me on the both the “reciprical navigation” and “navigate a square” exercises. Great job to both Tom and Lisa for fine excution of all their underwater navigation skills. Deb and Judy at Christ of the Abyss at Key Largo Dry RocksThe entire group did get to meet at the Christ of the Abyss statue for some improptu photo opps. Tom and Lisa completed their Advanced Open Water certification on the next dive on Minnow Caves at Key Largo Dry Rocks. We had a great dive circumnavigating the high profile spurs of the reef and checking out the fish in Minnow Caves-sorry just grunts…no glass eyed minnows on this dive. Congrats to Tom and Lisa on the AOW certification and now on to bigger and better cert dives!

The afternoon dives included a first time visit to a Deep Reef called the Ball off the Wall and the ever popular City of Washington wreck both in the Elbow Reef area. Ball off the Wall was an excellent sloping reef starting at a 50 foot plateau and leading to steeper drop off to an endless sandy bottom at 100 feet. The wall is covered in huge barrel sponges with plenty of reef fish around having no problems thriving in the deeper water of the outer reef. Our dive off the Elbow on Saturday was my fist time diving Ball of the Wall to the drop off despite seven years of living in Key Largo. We did see one Lionfish but Tom, Lisa and I made a bad attempt at Lionfish cleanup in the Keys. Plastic garbage bags do not work very well underwater to catch Lionfish. Lisa completed another certification dive toward here PADI Deep Water Speciality. It was so cool to see how much a plastic water bottle empty and full of air compresses at 100 feet. The second dive of the afternoon was the ever popular City of Washington Wreck on the shallow inner reefs of The Elbow. Capt Dan gave an excellent briefing of the 100 year old wreck (see video below) and we had excellent conditions on the shallow spread out wreck. Tom completed the second dive of his PADI Wreck Diver Speciality and did a fine job mapping the City of Washington that is spread out in pieces over 400 feet on the ocean bottom. Congrats to our group and the Amoray crew for a record early finish to our dive day. The boat was back at the dock at 4pm in the afternoon so Amoray could prepare for the wedding at the resort later in the evening. Saturday night called for the traditional cocktails and barbacue at Club Dave (my house) for the group to enjoy stories from our two days of diving together and to review pictures from the trip on the big screen.

Another fun filled weekend with Indian Valley SCUBA is in the books and the group definitely finished on a high note. Sunday’s dives including a visit to Pickles Reef with stops at the swarms of fish at Snapper Ledge and the shallows of Pickles Wreck. Snapper Ledge was as fishy as ever with teams of grunts, goatfish and of course snappers!! Our group ran into a couple of different types of eels in three different locGreen Moray Eel eyes a Spiny Lobster while a Spotted Drum stand his groundations-2 Green Moray and 1 Spotted Moray. Tom did a nice job of natural navigation tracking a wide perimeter from the mooring line of the Amoray Diver. I was happy taking pictures of eels as Tom lead the way and acted like he knew where he was going. Pickles Wreck is always a fun dive but a bit shallow for the surge we experienced underwater. Excellent viz and blue water made the dive worth the “roll” underwater at 15 feet of depth. I tracked a course for deeper water and ran into fields of purple sea fans along the way. Our group found some really interesting deeper profile reefs east of the mooring line reminiscent of the drop offs outside of the Elbow-location of numerous IVS lobster dive excursions. Tom and Lisa completed their PADI Boat Diver Speciality and another morning a great diving past by to prepare for a serious afternoon of wreck diving.

The afternoon of diving was the traditional double deep wreck finish with the USCG Duane and USS Spiegel Grove. The Duane was the first dive of the afternoon and a unique dive profile for the group so Lisa could meet her Deep Diver Speciality requirements and Tom could practice his wreck skills for his Wreck Diver Speciality. The Amoray Diver moored up to the Bow ball of the Duane and our group descended down to 107 feet at the bow, checked out air and gear and proceeded to descend upside down along the bow of the Duane to the sand at 124 feet….SO COOL!!!! Bow of the Duane by Polina ReznikovOur “Bow Dive” was not the normal profile but we were on a mission to complete Lisa’s Deep Diver certification with approriate deep dive profiles. The Bow and Hull of the Duane are covered in Orange Cup coral which make diving the Duane so majestic. The ship is one of the best wreck dives in the world. Our group continued down the starboard side of the Duane ascended to the main deck level at 107 feet and then to deck 2 level at 90 feet to tour around the towering Crows Nest. We make our way to the Duane’s wheelhouse and then exit the lookout level on top of the wheelhouse so Tom can practice his wreck reel skills at a manageable depth of 80 feet. Tom did an excellent job and then it was time for the group to ascend down the front superstucture of the Duane and back to the our mooring line at the bow. After a nice slow ascent, Lisa was required to breath for 8 minutes from an alternate air souce (we used a stage bottle) at a depth of 15 feet. Lisa and Tom did a wonderful job on the dive as did the rest of the group and we were now off for another dive on the Spiegel Grove.

The IVS group stayed on the “bow theme” with the Amoray Diver mooring up on the bow of the Spiegel Grove. The bow ball is the underatted mooring on the Spiegel Grove and a fantastic way to start your dive on the wreck. After testing Lisa’s limits of wreck penetration with the Anchor Winch Room, our group ascended to Level 01 (Service Level) of the Grove to check out the Mess Hall, Cafeteria Serving Line, The Machine Shop and of course the world famous Snoopy (we rubbed his nose). No Well Deck excurions on this IVS trip but the group did get a bird’s eye view of the well deck from the ceiling hatch in the maching shop prep room. After a solid tour of the Service Level of the Spiegel, our group ascended to the top level of the superstruture (Navigation Level) for Tom to lead us on a wreck penetration tour of the Wheelhouse and Radar Room running his brand new wreck wheel with proper tieoffs and technique. Tom was flawless but next time Tom, please do not dismantle the wreck to find a good tieoff point! Excellent Spiegel dive and a fantastic way to complete some impressive PADI certifications: Wreck Diver for Tom and Deep Diver for Lisa. (See video below for a similar tour of the Spiegel Grove filmed by IVS SCUBA Instructor Carlie Adams).

All dives of the IVS Key Largo weekend were memorable and thanks to Judy Mullen and Deb Knighten for joining the group and congratulations to Tom and Lisa Cinciripini for a busy weekend of dive courses completing their Advanced Open Water, Boat Diver, Wreck Diver (Tom) and Deep Diver (Lisa) certifications. Use your new cards well Tom and Lisa. We look forward to seeing the IVS group at Amoray Dive Resort April 1st for another action pack Key Largo dive weekend.