IVS Invades the Keys – again!

This blog report brought to you by Butch Loggins and Dave Hartman!

April showers bring May flowers….well not quite the saying we use in Key Largo. It’s more like April sunshine brings more divers. No wait for the weary as a group of eager divers from Indian Valley SCUBA in Harlyesville, PA invaded Key Largo for another weekend of serious diving just 30 days after the last IVS group was in town. A few changes from the normal IVS schedule were on the menu for the April 1-4th weekend trip. First, the entire group including the advanced divers went to Jules Lodge Lagoon (known as Key Largo Undersea Park or KLUP) on Friday morning. Second, all shallow reef dives on Saturday to give the newbie divers some more casual dives. Third, Amoray Dive Resort had a wedding on Sunday afternoon so the double wreck dive of Duane Spiegel (and his other brother Duane) was moved to Conch Republic Divers 10 plus miles south on Tavernier Creek. Fourth, NO David Valaika who was off chasing fish in the Maldives. Let’s count-this is David V’s third IVS Key Largo weekend in a row without Big Dave. The Keys will never be the same!! I love the usual IVS weekend routine but a little change is the spice of life.

Barb, Scott and Cindy at Jules Lodge Lagoon Spa & Resort

Barb, Scott and Cindy at Jules Lodge Lagoon Spa & Resort

I was the host and lead for the Dec 2010 and Feb 2011 but was glad to pass over the reigns of the IVS group to Butch Loggins, IVS Senior Instructor and recent student of the”how to dive after heart surgery” PADI Distinctive Speciality. Butch wrote course so we expected him to pass with flying colors. Butch was joined by some very familar faces of Mike Gusenko, Cindy Montague Eisenhauer, Barbara Hill, Robert Scott Bruce and Larry Gilligan along with divers in training Robert’s son Frank and Cindy’s boyfriend Jim Gullo. After a productive visit to Jules Lodge Lagoon Spa & Resort, the IVS group boarded the Amoray Diver to check out the what was happening on the wreck of the naval ship LSD-32 Spiegel Grove.

The IVS Group Boards the Amoray Diver

The IVS Group Boards the Amoray Diver

The conditions on Friday afternoon were a bit windy but the wind was blowing from the West (which is quite rare in the Keys) which meant only slight chop on the open ocean. There was a slight trend of murky water rolling throughout the Keys thanks to extreme low tides and the Gulf Stream flowing 5 miles off the reef line. 70-100 foot viz with turquoise blue water is quite common when diving the wrecks and reefs of the Keys but NOT today. The group experienced some excellent dives despite the “Dutch” like conditions on the Spiegel and French Reef although some divers had more of an experience than others on French Reef (more later). First, the Spiegel was a murky 10-15 feet of viz which is close to the worst I ever experienced on the Grove in my 300+ dives over 7 years of living in Key Largo. But who needs viz when you have 4 floors of a superstruture to explore of a 510 foot naval ship. Butch’s group followed the commerative Sue Douglass candy ass tour and all had a good time checking out the detail of the top decks of the superstructure. I took the experienced divers on a brand new version of my infamous Ultimate Spiegel Tour with a hint of my exclusive “Nooks and Crannies” Tour. The dive included stops in the Anchor Winch Room, Main Galley, Snoopy and his closet and the Machine Shop. Mike G. stuck around for EMTH (Extra Magic Time with Hartman) to see the White Board in the Ship’s Power Monitoring Room (complete with names of sailors who served on the Spiegel’s last mission) and electrical supply closets on the navigation level. EMTH means let’s freestyle in the wreck and find new stuff by checking out deadend closets and rooms.

Anchor Winch Room of the Spiegel Grove LSD-32

Anchor Winch Room of the Spiegel Grove LSD-32

There is so much detail on the Spiegel that I find something new on almost every dive. The unique part about my Spiegel tour on this dive was the route. The ship felt brand new to the divers even though all have been on numerous of my Spiegel tours. A recent IVS assisted “alternation” to the Spiegel last July (thanks for the help Frank Gabriel and John Z.) created an opening to forward section of the well deck which allows divers to go from the bow section of the Spiegel and enter the well deck without having to go all the way around to the aft section of the superstructure. Now the once forgotton Anchor Winch Room below the main deck of the bow is now a major part of all my standard “Ultimate Spiegel Tours.”

French Reef was quite an interesting dive on Friday afternoon. Very rarely do I get in the water and not see the bottom on a reef in Key Largo. I descended to the reef with my camera ready to take pictures for the IVS blog and Facebook posts but was alarmed to see about 15-20 feet of viz on the reef bottom. Butch was taking 10 year old Frank on his first 0pen ocean dive so I thought it wise to recommend to Butch to take the mooring line to the bottom of the reef and then stay close. Butch decided on a free descent and to swim toward the mooring line. Instead I found Butch, Scott and Frank swimming toward Cuba along the reef line. After some nifty navigation, I marked the mooring ball and pointed Butch and Co and the right direction. Once Butch’s team found the bottom of the mooring ball (which does not move…..navigation tip here folks!!) I then pulled out my camera and motioned to Butch that he was back under his own leadership and my duty was back to taking underwater pictures. I must say, for murky dive, we witnessed some awesome marine life: Southern Stingray, Spiny Lobster and very aggressive Green Moray Eel (see below).

A Green Moral Eel Stands His Ground on French Reef

A Green Moral Eel Stands His Ground on French Reef

I explored a very enjoyable reef ledge while Team Butch did their best impression of a low viz circular search to remain with contact with the mooring ball. Our dive on French was without incident but the other divers in our group had a different experience. There was a moderate current on French Reef and combined with low viz led to a bit of disorienation by a group of IVS experienced divemasters and instructors (who shall remain nameless!!). Let’s just say the Amoray Diver rescue reel with all 150 feet of line was in active use behind the boat throughout most of our time on French Reef. Nice job by Capt John and Divemasters Madision and Joe. Sometimes diving is all about the experience!

World Famous Pina Coladas Served Up at Club Dave

World Famous Pina Coladas Served Up at Club Dave

First day of diving was a bit bumpy and murky but fun was had by all and better conditions were in the forecast for Saturday and Sunday. Friday ended with Pina Coladas and an IVS Barbacue at Club Dave (my house). Team Butch was on their own time schedule in honor of the missing David Valaika but Cindy and Jim arrived early with a tasty flank steak and Larry followed a big bag of fresh shrimp. Barb and Butch then walked in the door with chicken and a whole bunch of sides for round two of eating for the early birds. Thanks to all IVS folks for helping out and bringing serious eats (shrimp, chicken, steak!!!). We all ate lke Kings! Special thanks to Mike G for being the one man clean up crew.

Christ of the Abyss at Key Largo Dry Rocks

Christ of the Abyss at Key Largo Dry Rocks

The IVS Group returned to the Amoray Diver on Saturday morning for trip to Key Largo Dry Rocks and the famous statute of Christ of the Abyss. Sunk in the 1960’s to honor the creation of John Pennekamp State Park, the striking statute of Jesus Christ with arms stretched to the air draws both divers and snorkelers to the ledge reef of Key Largo Dry Rocks in the waters off Northern Key Largo. After some fond moments of being “touched by Christ,” (the statute is covered in fire coral), the Amoray Diver moved to North Dry Rocks for another round of shallow reef dives. Improved conditions from Friday with calmer seas and clearer viz made for a pleasurable morning of diving. The Amoray Diver headed back to the dock for quick tank change and a bit to eat for the IVS crew before heading out Saturday afternoon for another set of shallow reef dives.

Large Brain Coral Hangs Over a Ledge near Pickle Barrel Wreck

Large Brain Coral Hangs Over a Ledge near Pickle Barrel Wreck

The IVS gang boarded the Amoray Diver Saturday afternoon for a trip to Pickels Reef off Southern Key Largo to dive the sites of Snapper Ledge and Pickle Barrel Wreck. The first stop was Pickel Barrel Wreck, a 100+ year old coral covered shallow spread out wreck in 15 feet of water with deeper reef ledges both north and south of the wreck. The northern reef ledge is covered in thousands of purple sea fans. The southern reef ledge is very pronouced with a sand channel at 20 feet and colorful reef walls on both sides. One wall has large brain coral head hanging over ledge and which may confuse divers by being similar in size and topography to the HUGE brain coral on Snapper Ledge. One joy of diving Key Largo is finding hidden gems tucked away in the area’s nebulous reef system. I found a mutiple chamber shallow cave filled with glass eye minnows between a break in a reef ledge about 50 years from Pickle Barrel Wreck. The cave was so cool-to tight to swimthrough but still a great opportunity for a quick video clip

The next dive was on Snapper Ledge which is one of the fishiest dives anyone in the world. Snapper Ledge never disappoints. A bad day on Snapper Ledge will still have more schools of fish than most reefs anywhere. Grunts, goatfish, snappers frequent this famous ledge and on this day the IVS gang also witnessed a large school Atlantic Spadefish flowing through the water column.

Mike Gusenko Navigates Through French Grunts on Snapper Ledge
Mike Gusenko Navigates Through French Grunts on Snapper Ledge

At one point our group was surrounded by French Grunts while about 100 Atlantic Spadefish blocked our view of other divers. The massive schools of fish were only the beginning as the highlight of the dive came a few minutes later when an 8 foot Green Moray Eel was cruising the reef looking to pick a fight with some fish or somebody. This eel was cruising everywhere and at one point swam up to my camera during a video and only turned back because of his reflection in the lens. An hour on the second dive flew by because the group was chasing and being chased by eels and surrounded by huge schools of reef fish. Overall, an impressive afternoon of diving on the reefs of Key Largo.

The Amoray Diver headed back to dock for another quick turnaround for the traditional Saturday night dive. The Wreck of the Benwood was the “planned” dive site for the night divers but the IVS gang decided to take explore the flat reef and pieces of metal off in the distance from the wreck. A bit of current and low evening viz had the group a bit confused (I am writing this second hand since I was at home watching my alma mater UCONN beat Ketucky in the Men’s Final Four). Another example of conditions where descending down the mooring ball is recommended to miminize errors in navigation. I guess the group did not learn from their dive experience on French Reef on Friday. The April weekend night dive will not go down in the annals of IVS trip history but another learning experience.

Beautiful Elephant Ear Orange Sponges Cover Molasses Reef

Beautiful Elephant Ear Orange Sponges Cover Molasses Reef

Sunday morning came quickly and the Amoray Diver headed to Molasses Reef for two shallow dives. Molasses is a spur and groove reef system with very pronounced spur coral ledges covered with Orange Elephant Ear Sponges and Purple Sea Fans. There are over 30 named mooring balls on Molasses Reef and all are occupied in a busy weekend in Key Largo. Capt John chose Permit Ledges on the southwest edge of the reef for the first dive and North Star in center of Molasses for the second dive. Permit Ledges aquired its name due to the frequent sighting of schools of big round silver Permits who often drift in from deeper water to check out the edge of Molosses. The two dive sites are quite distinct in coral formations and fish sightings despite the mooring balls being only 25-30 yards apart. The IVS gang enjoyed both dives on Molasses Reef and headed back to dock for change in dive shops for the eagerly anticipated after double wreck dives on the Speigel Grove and USCG Duane.

IVS Boards the Conch Republic Diver for an Afternoon Wreck Trek

IVS Boards the Conch Republic Diver for an Afternoon Wreck Trek

The IVS crew took a quick lunch on the road to travel South to Tavernier and Conch Republic Divers for the ever popular Sunday afternoon IVS Wreck Trek-double deep dives on the Spiegel Grove LSD-32 and USCG Duane off Key Largo. Both wrecks had below average viz but NO current which made for spectular relaxing dives. Butch Loggins, Barb Hill, Mike Gustenko and Larry were the “last divers standing” to make the afternoon trip of the group and all did a great job on both wrecks. The IVS crew stayed in one group for both dives including a unique “David Hartman Ulimate Spiegel tour” starting from the starboard crane and traveling through the entire well deck right out the “new forward hatch” to the bow and a circular tour of the Anchor Winch Room. We continued on to tour the ship’s Main Galley, a swipe of Snoopy’s nose, and circular tour around all 5 devices left behind in the Spiegel’s machine shop. The dive ended with a quick in-out tour of the ship’s Radar Room behind the bridge and an easy slow return on top of the superstructure back to the mooring. Viz was again murky around the ship but much clearer inside the Grove. With the Spiegel in the books, the Conch Republic Diver headed southwest to wreck of the USCG Duane: a 327 foot US Coast Guard Cutter that serverd from 1939-1980 and was sunk intentionally of the coast of Key Largo in 1987.

The IVS Crew on the Lookout Post of the Wreck of the USCG Duane
The IVS Crew on the Lookout Post of the Wreck of the USCG Duane

The Duane was the second deep dive of the day which called for a relaxing shallower than normal profile to maximize no deco time. What makes the Duane impressive underwater is that the entire ship is covered in orange cup coral and yellow sponges. Our on the Duane dive included encounters with a local Green Turtle and a HUGE Jewish…all 300 pounds of him hanging out in the base of the ship’s Crows Nest. Congrats to Butch Loggins for completing double deep wreck dives with no symptoms after his heart surgery last year and for completing his PADI Distintive Speciality. Go Butch!

Barb Hill and Mike Gusenko Descend to the Deck of the Duane

Barb Hill and Mike Gusenko Descend to the Deck of the Duane

IVS Weekend Summary

Dive sites: (All boat dives except Sunday afternoon with Amoray Dive Resort)

Friday April 1, 2011: Day 1: Morning-Jules Lodge Lagoon Spa & Resort; Afternoon: Spiegel Grove (#6 ball) and Outer Ledge on French Reef

Saturday April 2, 2011: Day 2: Morning-Christ of the Abyss at Key Largo Dry Rocks and North Dry Rocks; Afternoon: Pickle Barrel Wreck and Snapper Ledge

Night Dive: A Plot of Sand Nowhere near the Wreck of the Benwood

Sunday April 3, 2011: Day 3: Molasses Reef: Permit Ledges and North Star; Afternoon-Spiegel Grove LSD-32 (#5 ball) and USCG Duane (Conch Republic Divers)

Divers: Butch Loggins, IVS Group Leader/Instructor, Jim Gullo, Barbara Hill, Cindy Eisenhower, Larry Gilligan, Mike Gusenko, Scott and Frank Bruce and your host David Hartman

The IVS Crew on the Amoray Diver.....What's up with that signpost?

The IVS Crew on the Amoray Diver.....What's up with that signpost?

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One Response

  1. Was great to meet you. I appreciated your advice and tips for our dives. It was interesting to hear your experiences from diving the area, and it made my weekend a lot less stressful! Thanks Dave. Look forward to diving with you again soon.

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