Frank, where are your fins? And more adventures from the Keys!

Heather & Sue with IVS Diver Extraordinaire, ‘Finless’ Frank Gabriel

Aaah, the Florida Keys…we can never get enough of them!  And the last week in July each year is even more special, as Team Indian Valley Scuba enjoys a full week of diving, fun, and food in America’s Caribbean!  This annual adventure is centered around the annual Florida lobster mini-season, a two-day event held each year on the last contiguous Wednesday and Thursday in July.  This is a special spiny lobster hunting season, open only to recreational sports divers and snorkelers, and it’s a great opportunity to catch some of the delicious crustaceans before the commercial season opens in another week or two.

Our “pre-adventure” actually begins on Saturday, when the first of our divers begin to converge on Key Largo.  Hosted by Dave Hartman, one of the faces of IVS-South, the first arrivals included last year’s reigning ‘Lobster Queen’, Bill Zyskowski, Scott Bruce and his dad, Steve Holak, Heather Hiester, ……..and  “Finless” Frank Gabriel (more on that later!).

The Lobster Queen Bill Z and trip leader Steve H

After an overnight stay at Casa Hartman, they headed out in the eye of an impending storm Sunday morning to dive the Spiegel Grove with Chrissie and the gang from Blue Water Divers.  Two great dives exploring this massive wreck from the inside out, and as they motored back to port, the clouds were closing in.  The weather radar was predicting some big storm activity was brewing, so with the afternoon boat cancelled, and the crew enjoyed a nice early dinner at Shipwreck’s Bar & Grille before heading the 110 miles south to Key West for the night.  As it turns out, the storms never materialized, but it made for a nice relaxing start to a marathon week of diving we had planned. Two and a half hours of beautifully scenic driving later, they arrived in Key West, where they were met with the rest of our advance group, quasi-locals Carlie & Leslie Adams, and representing the western side of the IVS family, Jesica Tyre and Berry Smith from Los Angeles.

Monday started off with the group meeting at Sea-Duction, the rebirth of the former SubTropic dive center, now owned by my friend Mike Ange.  Based in North Carolina, Mike has teaching tec classes in the Keys for years, and has experienced much of the same frustration as we have, with a general lack of support and very few dive centers that take technical diving seriously, or can provide the gasses, tank set-ups, and even rebreather support materials that we need to effectively conduct classes and execute tec dives there.  Til now, only Silent World in Key Largo could be counted on for supporting tec programs, and the owner, Chris Brown, is absolutely first class.

So the gang analyzes their nitrox fills and head out for the day, with the plan being two dips on the Vandenburg, and the third on the Cayman Salvor or Joe’s Tug.  Now on IVS trips we have a tradition, and that is, that the boats we use break down at some point.  Just about every trip photo gallery has a shot or two of a captain or mechanic on his knees, head buried somewhere down the engine hatch.  I’m not sure what this black cloud is that sometimes follows us, and it always makes for good stories, but it is, truly, a tradition.  And today was not going to be any different! 

Dave Hartman taking a turn at steering Seaduction’s boat to the Vandenberg

As Sea-Duction’s boat approached the mooring balls on the ‘Vandie’, the crew prepared the boat hook and their lines to tie in.  Approx 100 yards from teh wreck, the captain shouted out “Sh*t..we have a problem here!”  One of the mates jumped down and pulled the engine hatches off, and, true to tradition, buried his head in the engine compartment.  Seems that the steering failed, and the rudder is not responding to the helm.  Hmmmm……not a a good thing!  

So out come the tools, and now all three of them are in the hatch, and lots of colorful language is coming from the crew.  Our guys are enjoying it, and heck, there doesn;t appear to be a lot of surface current, so maybe we can jump in and swim to the wreck!  Well the crew finally figures it out, and via some big-ass wrenches, a lot of sweating, colorful metaphors, and shouting from the helm to the hatch, they are able to man-handle the rudder and guide the boat to the mooring ball.   The crew ties in, and the diving begins! 

Conditions are perfect, and our group enjoys this fantastic 500+ ft. long wreck and all the penetration and exploration it has to offer.  While the plan was to make only twoi dives here, the challenge with the steering makes the decision to stay for a third an easy one, and everyone is happy with that.  Back to port, with the modified steering system in effect, and while the docking proved to be a bit of a challenge, finally all the lines were tied, and it was time to clean up and head down to Duval Street for an evening of good dinner, a variety of hydrating drinks, people watching and sightseeing.

Tuesday morning and time for a leisurely drive back up the Keys to Tavernier, where we have chartered Conch Republic’s boat for a couple of dives this afternoon.  Gary & Brenda, owners of Conch, are there to greet the group and they get off on time, with the first dive on the wreck of the Eagle.  After that our second visit is to Pickles Reef, a nice location that we rarely visit out of Key Largo due  to the distance.   Another good dive in the logbook, and back to the dock they head.  From there it’s a short hop another ten miles up the road to check in at Amoray Dive Resort, our base of operations for the next six days of this adventure! 

Cathy, Maribel, Reinel & Emanuel on the Amoray Diver

Joining the team there are more of the IVS gang, including Steve Zingale, Shaquanasia Morris, Paul, Quinton & Esther Gehman, Ray Graff, Nick Chiarolanza, Jeff Herber, plus joining us from the Tampa Bay area are Marabel Grajales, Reinel Correia, Cathy Levesque, and Emanuel Martinez, and finally the O’Donnell gang, Rob, Jen, Ryan, Alyson & Kristen .  A great team with one focus for tonight – get some rest and be ready to kick butt in the lobster hunting department tomorrow!

The 4 o’clock alarm comes early on Wednesday morning, and the crew slowly shuffles down to load the boat for the first lobster trip.  We’re shoving off at 5:00 a.m., to be in position and geared up to splash at 5:45, the legal start of mini-season in Monroe County. Another member of the team shows up for the boat, Craig Lloyd, who brought his family down for some vacation time while dad gets in some diving & hunting.  His lovely wife and two beautiful daughters are not divers…..yet…but we’ll work on that! 

The hunting starts off a little slow, and the morning boat only produces 13 keeper bugs over three hour-long dives.  Ruh-roh…might be a lot of salad and bread served up at Friday nights lobster dinner!  The team needs to improve on this for sure!!  We’ve got quite a few rookies on board, and a few ringers, like Lobster Queen Bill Z, but we’re missing some of our best, like Bill’s brother John.  And as part of our “rebuilding year”, we also traded a few of last years players down to the minors, but all in all, our team is having a great time!

Ray, Frank & Bill – lobster clearning crew!

After a short siesta it’s time to get serious and get back out on the hunt!  Tanks are loaded, and the 4 o’clock departure heads out, and with a little extra coaching and mentoring, the team more than doubles the morning take.  Way to go..dinner is looking better already!

Wednesday 4:00 a.m. and the activity begins dockside with some new faces showing up, including Sue Douglass, Judy Mullen, and yours truly.  It’s time to kick this lobster hunting into a higher gear!  Out we head for our morning trip and we put another 40 or so in the cooler…now we’re talking!  Back to the dock, and there’s no rest for the weary, as Steve Holak and I head over to Jules Undersea Lodge for a couple of Open Water checkout dives with newcomer Fred Shue, Nick C,Paul & Quinton G, and the O’Donnell tribe – Ryan, Alyson & Kristen.  Conditions are very nice there, and somewhat surreal as there is a whitish cloud hovering a couple of feet off the dark bottom; really makes for a cool visual effect!  Skills completed, the crew heads back to Amoray and we load up for another three-tank final trip out to secure the main course for Friday night’s dinner. By the end of the night the count is 101 bugs in the cooler, so we’re looking good for dinner with our triple-digit production!  After 14 dives over the past to days, the bed feels really good tonight for some reason!   Friday morning dawns as another absolutely beautiful day in Key Largo – blue skies, no wind, flat seas…this trip has truly been gifted as far as conditions go.  Let’s hope we get three more days of it!  John Reider has arrived during the night, so the team is finally complete.  We head out to the reefs for two shallow dives this morning, and our open water students complete all their required skills with flying colors!  I can’t say how proud it makes me to be part of this positive energy and karma that comes from motivated students and a great instructional staff – these guys really rock my world! 

Heather, Judy, Jen, “Finless” Frank, Berry, Jesica & Dave V hamming it up for the camera!

Esther & Paul Gehman on the Amoray Diver

Nick & Scott on the Amoray Diver

And now, with their official recognition as PADI Open Water Divers, our newly minted graduates enjoy their first deep / wreck / adventure dive on the wreck of the Spiegel Grove.  The conditions remain stellar, and it is a perfect way to launch thier next levels of training…gosh..is there a strategy at work here?  Meanwhile, the rest of the crew enjoyed some great dives, and of course Dave Hartman led his signature tour  – “The Belly of the Beast” – through the lowest levels of this massive wreck.  Another great day under and on the sea!

This evening is another one of our celebrated annual events – Lobster Dinner at the Key Largo Conch House restaurant.  We have been doing this for five years now, and the owners of the Conch House spend all day preparing our tails, making various dishes of lobster fritters, lobster bisque, broiled tails, and more.  A great dinner with about forty attendees, including the Lloyd family girls, Michelle from Amoray, and a couple of our local Key Largo friends also.  Great night, great food, great company – Life is Good!

Hartman and Michelle at Conch House

Ray and his ladies at the Conch House, while the rest of us scramble to replace the batteries in our AED….just in case!! With Heather, Sue, Judy & Jesica

The O’Donnell family enjoying a great lobster dinner with Team IVS at the Conch House

Jesica & Judy sharing some ocean-inspired body art with us!

I know we’re sounding like a broken record, but again, we are greeted with perfect conditions on Saturday – truly a picture perfect day as we headed out to Molasses Reef for two nice shallow dives.  And what could make the morning even better?  How about Steve Holak celebrating his 500th dive with Indian Valley Scuba this morning!  OK, or even better?  How about Judy & Jesica modeling full body tatt’s for a boatload of admiring eyes!

The afternoon our plans are to re-visit the Spiegel Grove, then go on to the Benwood in preparation for tonight’s night dive.  The teams prepare and brief for their individual group goals and plans for the dive, and final equipment checks are conducted.  Stage bottles are checked, reels and lift bags verified, computers set.  Each team of divers approaches the bow of the Amoray Diver as a group, so they can enter the water one right after the other, and minimize descent and waiting time, (i.e. burning through precious gas reserves), while waiting for the entire team assemble.   Some groups with more experienced divers have planned some slightly more aggressive tours, while some of the others follow Sue D’s “Lame-Oh” tour agenda, staying outside the wreck and taking in the beauty without the risks of penetration.  Sooo, as the Hartman group heads up for a deep, dark tour, one by one they splash, Dave H going in first, followed by Bill Z, and then Frank G.  Funny, but Frank seems to drop a little deeper under the surface than the others on his entry, as if he had less drag to his body. Hmmmm….as he finally surfaces and begins to kick over to the line to join the others, he does not seem to be making much headway….perhaps because he has NO FINS ON!  Yikes…..perhaps he took that part of Dave’s briefing, about using your hands inside the wreck and not kicking with your fins to stir up silt, a little too literally!    Not to worry Frank, this little faux paus will be a secret just between us…and the entire internet!!  Yes, you know it when the group shouts out almost in unison, “That’ll make the blog!” 

After “Finless Frank’s” entry, the rest of the dive goes well, and everyone else enters the water with ALL their gear on.  Rob O’Donnell completes his ‘very’ Advanced Open Water training with stage bottle drills, running wreck reels and wreck penetration, and even helping Dave V nail a big lionfish.  A great dive, nearly an hour of bottom time with the big tanks most of us are wearing, and finally we head over to the Benwood.  Frank is checked closely by the crew prior to his giant stride, just in case, you know.  The dive here is absolutely magical, from a giant baitball of silverside minnows, to the hungry teams of groupers coordinating feeding attacks, to the huge snook hanging out there, to the cruising nurse sharks over the wreck, just absolutely magical.

The evening  found us back at the site of the Benwood for a true night dive.  The sun had set, and the sea was black; no “twilight” dive for this crew!  Into the ocean we splashed, and down the line we went.  Magical moment #1 – a turtle swims over to us at the bottom of the line and checks us out…you just know this is going to be a great dive!  The best part is that ten year old Kristen O’Donnell is leading us, with no fear or apprehension at all!  And the turtle visits us again during the dive, just cruising with us and allowing the divers to gently touch and stroke its shell, making no attempt to avoid or move away….really cool cooperative animal interaction!

Most of the troops head over to the one of our favorite haunts, the Paradise Pub, for some Cheeseburgers in Paradise, a few pitchers of beer, and a boatload of laughter and story telling that is part of every great IVS trip. Including, of course, the tale of Finless Frank!  And of course, the thing that warms my heart the most……folks planning their next IVS dive trip!!  The stamina and energy of our divers never ceases to amaze me, and half the group stays and closes the bar.  And….they all make it out on the morning boat!

Our last full day of diving is Sunday, and we are not disappointed with the conditions.  More blue skies, more flat seas, and two great reef dives to kick off the morning.  We head back in, grab a bit of lunch, and head out for our ‘graduation dives’, a visit to the Duane and a final tour of the Spiegel Grove.  As we motor south to the site of the Duane, we pass the balls marking her sister ship, the USS Bibb, which is laying on it’s side about 1/4 mile from the Duane.  The balls are absolutely lifeless in the water, with no indication of current at all.  We can’t pass on the chance to dive this wreck, as we rarely get conditions like this when we vsiit it. So, scratch the Duane…. we’re diving the Bibb today!   Of course, no good change in plans goes without some whining, but I step up and help everyone who just listened intently to Dave Hartman’s Duane briefing…. “take everything you just heard, and turn it sideways!”  OK.. briefing done..let’s dive!   

Soooo, I am diving solo on this one, as is Bill Z, as both of us are carrying Lionfish spears and looking to score.  So let’s just set the stage here…this is a 300 ft long wreck, intact, laying on it’s side.  It’s a former Coast Guard cutter, so it has (1) pointy end (the bow), and (1) not-so-pointy end, with a couple of huge 20 ft diameter propellers and rudders (the stern).  It has exactly two mooring balls on it, one at each end of the wreck.  Just saying…..more on this in a few minutes!  So, as we  drop down to the wreck, the visibility is forever, and I tap Bill and point out how cool the props and rudders look as we approach them.  He sees them, or at least I think he does, and we continue down, hit the side of the wreck and separate to hunt for our quarry.  Nice dive, cool wreck to see and for those of us who have dove the  Duane numerous times, it is very interesting to see the difference between the two identical wrecks in terms of growth, marine life, fish populations, especially that the two are just a little over 1,000 ft from each other.  So….fast forward…..I nail another lionfish, and actually show it to Bill as we pass each other, and finally my 35 minutes at 130 ft max is up….time to ascend and rid the body of a little excess nitrogen.  I’m alone now, so I swim over the props, and grab the morning line, and as I turn towards the surface, I can enjoy the view of all our other divers on the line doing nice deep stops and safety stops.  Well OK, most of our other divers. 

Capt. Rob & Mate Alysa getting ready to toss the coin and figure out which one is going to swim the rescue float out to wayward Bill Z

It seems that when Bill decided to come up, he also headed to the mooring line, and began his ascent.  He was diving with a larger tank than most of the others, so his first clue something was amiss was the fact that no one was already on the line, as he expected to find.  Hmmmm.. well at this point he was committed, too far away from the “proper” end of this wreck , so he completed his ascent, and surfaced 300 ft behind the Amoray Diver…about exactly the length of the Bibb!  So, much to Bill’s chagrine, Capt Rob and the crew unroll the 300 ft. rescue line on the boat and they swim it out to Bill.  You know what is going on inside his head……”Darn it…this is going to make the blog!”  And here it is, proving him right.  It should be noted, that Bill gave it a lot of thought, and has an official story – and he’s sticking to it!  It seems that he set a personal goal of having a mooring ball named in his honor on every wreck that IVS visits!  Move over “Z-Ball” (named after Bill and his brother John on the Spiegel), and the “C-Ball”, named in honor of Csaba Lorinczy on another two-ball wreck on the St. Lawrence Seaway.   

After the laughter finally dies down, we motor over to the Spiegel for one last fantastic tour through the wreck.  Berry Smith wants a little adrenalin rush, so he joins me and we drop right down five decks through hatchways, and spend nearly 30 minutes on a long penetration with nary a bit of outside light (or escape path) until we finally emerge near the stern of the wreck.  Everyone else comes up smiling too, enjoying the fantastic conditions on our favorite underwater funhouse.  Very cool way to wrap up a great week of diving!  Time to rinse gear, get one last night of rest, and head for home to get ready for our next IVS trip!

The end…..for now…we’ll be back!!

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Breaking News: Key Largo invaded by Indian Valley Scuba!

 

This just in – it’s official, Key Largo has been taken over by the Indian Valley Scuba gang!

Forty IVS divers descended on the quiet hamlet of Key Largo last evening, and immediately set up camp at Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort!  Other guests at the resort were aghast at the news – there are NO spots available on the boat all weekend unless you are with IVS!  Team IVS has filled the Amoray Diver to capacity and then some.

Our group started arriving Thursday at the resort, to join the twenty lobster hunters already in position,  We kicked it right off with a night dive to the Benwood wreck, enjoying perfect conditions above and below the surface.  Great viz, 86 degree water temps, lots & lots of sea life to enjoy – what a way to start off the trip!  While 18 of us were enjoying this night dive, another 8 were completing the last lobster dive of the mini-season, helping to ensure that there would be plenty of lobster for everyone at our dinner Friday night.  We ended up with 106 lobster tails in the freezer by the end of the two day event.  This night dive brought my personal time underwater to 15 hours over the last 42 hours – I feel like I am truly a walking talking DAN dive study.

Friday morning, and the perfect weather we have been enjoying all week continued.  No wind, blue sunny skies, all good stuff!  We motored out to French Reef this morning and started off with a  dip on the City of Washington, carefully timed to coincide with a Creature Feature dive that was being run by Capt. Slates.  We got to enjoy the feed, with about 7 or 8 friendly nurse sharks coming in for the feast, along with barracuda and a large green moray.  Nice chance for the IVS gang to enjoy some big animal encounters with plenty of photo opportunities.   Great dive, period!  We followed that up with a visit to the Train Wheel wreck, another nice 30 ft dive on the beautiful reef system.  It’s a lot like Dutch Springs here, with a distinct thermocline in the water column – the difference being that the surface temp is 90 degrees with a big drop in temperature to 86 at about 15 feet – brrrrrr!

Our afternoon trip took us out to visit one of our favorite wrecks, the Spiegel Grove.  As we approached we could see the ominous signs of a strong current with the mooring balls hanging partly submerged and the water piling up against them….hmmm…not the best sign, but hey – we’re here to dive!  So, our teams got themselves geared up, and began the entries into the water and down the descent line.  The current was absolutely ripping on the line all the way down to the wreck – with each diver hanging off the line like a flag as we went down.  Once on the wreck, we used the mass of the large ship to hide us from the current, and each of the teams enjoyed a great dive, with a great first deep/ocean/wreck/nitrox experience for a bunch of the group, including Rob Lunny, Jamie Winchester, Brad Creveling, Tim Brown, Brenden Malloy, James, Jonathon & Nicholas MacKnight, Jenna Murray, and Dave Elmer.  IVS Instructors Ray Graff, Sue Douglass, & Butch loggins, assisted by DM’s Frank Gabriel, Bill Zyskowski, and Csaba Lorinczy, worked together to ensure a great experience for each group.  I took Niki Lorinczy and  John Glowdowski for some wreck penetration training running a reel line inside the wreck.

After coming in from our dive and gussying up, we headed over to the Key Largo Conch House for our third annual lobster feast.  Our friends Ted & Laura Dreaver, owners of the Conch House, went out of their way taking care of us and cooking up our 100 tails and all the fixings to go along with them, making a perfect dinner under the stars for us. Perfect opportunity for a lot of bonding between the IVS group with a lot of new friendships solidifying. 

Saturday dawned with another perfect weather day, and we loaded the boat to head out for one of the signature Key Largo dives – Key Largo Dry Rocks, or more commonly referred to as Christ of the Abyss.  Perfect conditions greeted us, with decent viz and no current or surge to speak of.  Donna Raleigh & Jenna Murray worked on their Fish ID specialty, completing REEF fish surveys on this and the next dive.  A perfect 60-plus minutes was spent exploring this site. The time passed too quickly, and it was time to enjoy a long and arduous 12 minute surface interval while we motored over to our second site, north Key Largo Dry Rocks.  Another great reef dive, more good stuff for all.  These were the last dives of the weekend for two of our lobster assassins, Tricia Healy & Gary Kai.  Gracing the topside and soaking up the sun for our afternoon ride were the designated bathing beauties for the trip, Isabella Gabriel and Stephanie Skelton.

Back at the dock, we had a generous 25 minutes for lunch and then it was time to head back out for another visit to the Spiegel Grove.  If yesterdays current was ripping, today’s was clearly ripping plus!  Like jumping into a washing machine, we entered the water and went hand-over-hand across the mooring line to begin our descent down to the wreck.  “Hold on to the line – don’t let go” was truly the order of the day. We had a few different groups once again, with Dave Hartman, representing IVS South, leading a penetration tour under the well deck, with Frank G, Bill Z, John G & Csaba L gearing up wth stage bottles and working as teams to run some reel lines into the wreck for some serious technical exercises.  The rest of us split up into a couple of tour groups, with Butch, Sue and myself leading each of our groups on nice penetration tours of this fine wreck.  In spite of the conditions everyone came up smiling and laughing, and wiser for the experience.  Niki Lorinczy finally got her breathing under control, nearly matching the gas usage of the much older and much larger Dave Valaika.  The ‘lame-o’ tour, led by me, ended up with the longest bottom time and most penetration time of all the groups – what’s up with that??

We followed that experience with a visit to the Benwood, giving everyone the opportunity to see this World War II wreck in the daytime, and to be able to appreciate the change in sea life that happens each day after dark.  Butch & Bev Loggins, along with Frank G, Mike Conn, Jason Stelle and a few others, headed off the bow to visit the “Benwood Wall” a nice 90 foot sloping drop 150 degrees off the bow of the wreck.  Amazing schools of fish surrounded the wreck today, and just further fueled the question – “where do they go at night??”  And as is typical with IVS, the training never ends – using darkness and night diving to raise the stress conditions a bit, Butch and Rob Lunny practiced running penetration reels as a team.  They performed flawlessly, running nearly 300 ft of line throughout the wreck area, maintaining perfect buoyancy and light communications, and just clicking as a team.  We’ll see the results of their practice tomorrow when we put this to a test in the Spiegel Grove.  While they were hard at work, Donna Raleigh shared her biophosphorescece illuminating gear with several of us, using a special filter on her lamp and polarized lenses over our masks, we were able to see the unbelievable glow of the phosphorescence of certain hard corals, sponges, anenomes, and a few other of the seas critters – very cool study in an area that is unknown by most.  For more information on this check out this link – (insert link here). And Jenna and I had a nice startle – while focusing in on some photography of a nice size crab out for the evening, Jenna looked up and suddenly grabbed my arm, so I raised my light up and Holy Smokes Batman!! – look at the size of the shark, sitting almost on our heads!   A very curious and not shy gray friend, either a reef or bull, out for dinner and not perturbed about us being in his dining room at all!  Very cool, and a great rush too!  And to top it off Jonathan MacKnight shot some super video of a turtle swimming along with us – check out our U-Tube clip here (insert link),

We had a bit of rain during the night, and a light breeze greeted us Sunday morning.  The wind caused some choppy surface conditions, but it was all bark and no bite as the sea was calm below as we visited the Wellwood wreck site on French Reef, followed by Hardbottom Caves on Molasses.  Very slight surge, but viz was super, lots of critters to enjoy, and a couple of great dives overall.   Sylvia Lorinczy ended up with completing two 45-minute dives on a single 65 CF tank, returning to the boat with an amazing 600 psi left – unbelievable!  Julie Antidormi, Steve Monte, Linda Malloy, Tom Brennan, Sandy Stelle, & Don Yowell wrapped up their weekends diving this morning, preferring to avoid the reported rough conditions on the afteroon’s double-deep adventure.  While we motoring back in, we listened to reports coming in from boats on the Duane, our target this afternoon. Not good, it sounded, as divers were aborting the dive and calling them before even starting down the line in the current.

In light of that report from the Duane, we opted for the usually better but still supposedly ripping conditions on the Spiegel, doing a double dip on this wreck.  Well, as usual when you get reports on sea conditions from the locals, everything is bigger and worse than reality, by far.  We arrived at the Spiegel, and you could not have asked for better conditions anywhere.  Near-flat seas, zero current, great viz – we really should learn by now, when you get the local report, divide by four for the actual wave height and current speed.  The dives were great, with more deep & dark penetration for the IVS gang, exploring all sorts of nook, crannies and voids deep in the bowels of this ship.  On an international note, we learned that the Hungarian symbol for “crane” is almost identical to the PADI symbol for “fin pivot”, so you can imagine the blank looks and WTF’s that you get underwater when you use this sign to ask everyone where the crane is while you’re down on the wreck.  Have to admit, the fin pivot exercise on the deck was humorous, but finally the group managed to understand the alternate translation, and make it back to the ship’s crane to return to the Amoray Diver.  And Niki is off the hook on getting the Air Consumption Queen Award on this trip, as her dad managed to make the first dive this afternoon a nine minute express version.  The bottom line for the day- all great stuff.  This afternoon we saw Shelly Liu, Meredith Bernardo, Craig Bentley & Jason Stelle all getting in their fourth Spiegel Grove dives in for the weekend. 

And if all that wasn’t enough, we opted to add a third night dive to the trip, heading back out Sunday evening to visit the City of Washington, after dark.  A light breeze from the East made the ride out a bit wetter and bumpier than normal, but it didn’t detract from the stellar conditions underneath.  Zero current, zero surge, just fine diving with all sorts of fun animals out to entertain and amaze the divers – octopus, lobsters, cuttlefish, eels & sharks – all made for a great last dive for most of the group. With the following breeze the ride back was smooth as can be, and we were treated to a great light show with lightning flashing all around us the entire ride in.  Another perfect day in paradise. 

Monday morning dawned darker and breezier than any day of the previous week, and we counted our blessings for the fine weather we enjoyed every day of this trip.  Never the less, Don Yowell and I headed out for one more visit to the reefs this morning before we had to head up to the airport for the trip home.  The ride out was very wet with a number of waves breaking over the bow of the boat, but we soldiered on.  The reward: two nice dives on French Reef, with Hardbottom Caves and Christmas Tree Caves as the chosen sites. Great quiet relaxing way to wrap up a superb trip to the Keys.  It was not without a moment of sadness, as I had to take my regulator off my tank for the 32nd time in the last 5 days, and this time I had no new tank to put it on.  Finally Don & I headed to the airport, officially turning the Key Largo back over to the locals.  Not to worry, we’ll be back soon enough!

Winers of this trips ‘ADD’ Award (All Dives with Dave) are Jason Stelle, Jenna Murray, Brenden Malloy, Shelly Liu, Mike Conn, Dave Elmer, Rob Lunny & Craig Bentley.  Make sure you visit the IVS website for photos and videos from this trip! 

 

 

    

 

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!