A Memorable Memorial Day Weekend in Key Largo

The IVS Memorial Day Weekend trip started off early this year with a return visit to Key West by David Valaika and David Hartman.  Following on the heels of the past weekend’s Wreck Racing League event, Dave V has been invited to speak on Monday and give a presentation on Dive Propulsion Vehicles (DPV’s) to a class at the Florida Keys Community College (FKCC). The students were enrolled in the class “Emerging Technologies for Crime Scene Investigation”, and consisted of a combination of State Police, Coast Guard, Public Safety Divers, and some other military enrollees, who were learning to use the latest and greatest tools and equipment to assist them in solving underwater criminal mysteries.  Working alongside FKCC professor Robert Smith, Dave Valaika presented both an in-classroom presentation and poolside demostration about DPV’s before allowing the students to enter the FKCC pool and try different types of Scooters. The 15 students of the Crime Scenes Investigation Class had a great time and took turns on a variety of scooters made by Hollis, Dive Xtra, Torpedo and Sea Doo.

David Valaika Gives a DPV Presentation at FKCC in Key West

David Valaika gives a DPV Presentation at FKCC in Key West

After concluding the class assignment, it was time to go diving!   We had been invited to come out today with Mike Ange, technical instructor and owner of SeaDuction, an on-line publishing company which bills itself as “A Fun Site for Serious Divers”.  Gosh, that sounds like Indian Valley Scuba!  Well in any case, Mike had a class of Advanced Wreck Divers and Technical Wreck Divers heading out on the Lost Reef Adventures boat, and he had a couple of open spots that he offered to Dave Hartman, Joe Weatherby, and I.  So who are we to deny an opportunity to dive, so we piled the gear, and a scooter, on board for a visit to the Vandenberg.  Also on board are the three Canadians who participated in the Wreck Racing with us too,  so it’s like a mini family reunion!

Seems I had a personal mission to accomplish on today’s dive – yesterday, while diving with John Glo, he inadvertently dropped one of my lion fish kill sticks as he removed his fins to climb up the dive boat ladder.  We were moored off the stern ball, and the current was mild, so I knew the hardware should be laying somewhere aft of the ship in the sand.  It seems that Natalie Weatherby had a case of the ‘droppsies’ too, and had lost the entire mesh bag of start and finish flags for the Wreck Racing League, along with some other gear.  So like Roseanna Rosanna-danna from the early Saturday Night Live episodes, “I clean up, OK” was my mantra for today’s dive plans.

In we dropped, with Joe & Dave buddied up for a little interior touring, and me heading off alone with the scooter to see what I could find out in the sand.  Down I dropped, and dropped, off the stern, and I began my search pattern in the sand.  Now, I had not really given this aspect of my dive plan much thought when I said, “Sure, I’ll take Nitrox” when we loaded the boat.  So my 32% mix was just a tad on the ‘hot’ side as my computer showed me approaching 150 ft of depth.  Guidelines, guidelines, yes I know, but hey, was that a twitch I just felt??? My ppO2 hits 1.8 ATA and is edging towards 1.9 as I settled on the bottom, so the key for this portion of the dive was relax, don’t work hard, breath deeply and slowly, and keep an eye out for any of those nasty Ox-Tox VENTID signs!!   I started at the rudder and slowly scootered out into the gloomy viz, carefully dragging one hand in the sand to create a furrow that I would use as the baseline for my search pattern, as well as to serve as my ‘breadcrumb trail’ to find my way back to the wreck.  I headed out about 200 ft, moved over 20 ft, and returned to the wreck, with nothing to report.  OK, shift twenty feet to the other side of the baseline and repeat.  I did this again and on the fourth run out, sure enough, there was the glint of shiny stainless in the sand!  I found my lionfish tamer!  OK, I am thinking, one more pass to look for Natalie’s bag, and as I turn at the end, there it is!  Woo hoo!  Two for two!  I pick her mesh bag up now, balance it in my arms with the lionfish kill stick, remind myself, ” No Exertion!”  and begin heading back to the wreck.  Wait…there’s something else….and I stop to investigate a piece of wreckage.  Alrighty, and guess what is living here…a lionfish!   So I put down the scooter, and the bag full of flags, and slowly (remember – no exertion!!) swim over to the unsuspecting lionfish, draw back on my tamer, and ‘Slam!” I bury the shaft squarely through his bony skull!  One less reef raider in the ocean today!!  OK…..get that breathing back under control….check for twitching..all good, swim back to the scooter, pick up the bag, re-orientate, and finally begin to head back to the wreck and some shallower water.

I cruise the length of the deck and manage to dispatch three more lion fish before I run into Joe & Dave, and we end up completing our ascent together.  A little surface interval to de-gas and drink some all all-important water and Divers D\Lyte for hydration, and we are back in for dive #2.  This time Joe wants to explore some interior spaces he has not visited since the ship was above water, so heck that sounds like an adventure for sure!  Down the line we go, into the #2 cargo hatchway, and down to about 120 ft.  Zip, in we go, and Joe begins leading us down a narrow hallway that judging from the substantial depth of the fine silt, has not been home to many if any divers in a long, long time.  We squeeze along, around a corner, over some fallen equipment, more squeezing, pulling, and twisting, and this is pretty cool – these areas are well off the beaten path, and I would not have considered exploring them with any divers that I trust less than Joe and Dave.  We didn’t run a line, relying more on faith and the hope that there is an outlet at the end of one of these halls.  Well silly us!  We end up in a series of dead-end rooms, and there is no choice now but to head back out the way we came in, the primary difference being that we have now managed to silt those hallways out pretty darn good with all our twisting, squeezing and breathing.  Hmmmmm…..a little line would be a good idea now, eh  Oh well, no horror story drama in the making here, three cool heads work their way back out, high-five’s all around upon exiting, and we can check off that the adrenalin glands are working well today!!  We wrap up the dive with a leisurely tour down a more well-known path through the ship, and finally head back topsides to call it a day.  Another great dive on the Vandenberg with great friends!

Back at the dock we grab something to eat with Joe and the Canadians, and as the conversation unfolds, it turns out these are no ordinary “Great White Northern neighbors”, but in fact, are officers in the Canadian Artificial Reef Foundation.  They’ve been sinking ships since the 70’s in British Columbia, and turn out to be a wealth of stories, knowledge and information about so many of the wrecks we know of and dive on.  We end up spending nearly four hours at dinner, learning, sharing, and really setting to like our new friends from the North!  Better yet, they’ve got a great new wreck they are working on and invite us up to participate in the preparation and sinking of the vessel…watch for an IVS adventure trip in the near future to jump on that!!

The rest of the week was spent at IVS South as David Valaika and Sue Douglass took care of addressing some expanded responsibilities for Team IVS in the staghorn coral restoration business with Ken Nedimyer of the Coral Reef Restoration Foundation on Tuesday & Wednesday, followed by Dave V conducting some Poseidon rebreather training on Thursday at Halls Diving Center in Marathon. The real excitement of the weekend started Thursday night when the IVS group arrived in Key Largo.  The rest of the group for adventure includes Tom Brennan, Mike Parzynski, Jack Sandler, Seth Greenspan, Judy Mullen, Diane Widmaier, and Harry & Denise Naylor .  In the training department, Michael Stellato and Shannon Jefferson will be earning their Advanced Open Water this weekend, while Brian Hubler is here to complete his TDI Trimix course with Dave later this week, and finally, rounding out the team, Barbara & Gary Millar, along with Bruce Augusteuson, are here to complete their PADI National Geographic Open Water certifications.

As fate would have it, Team IVS was in the right place at the right time this weekend, as three rescued Pilot Whales, survivors from a mass beaching on nearby Cudjoe Key on May 5th, are in a state of critical rehabilition at the Marine Mammal Conservancy (MMC) in Key Largo.  The IVS team was fortunate enough to hear an early Friday morning presentation by Robert Lingenfelser, the Director of Standing Operations for the MMC. A number of the IVS Team members volunteered for four-hour shifts over the course of the weekend to be in-water helpers during the Pilot Whale’s 24 hour rehab program.  Others stepped right in and began in impromptu fundraising program to help provide needed supplies to the MMC, ending up raising a total of over $500 during the weekend!  Way to go team!!

The IVS Team Listens to Presentation at Pilot Whale Rescue Pen

The IVS Team Listens to Presentation at Pilot Whale Rescue Pen

As soon as our presentation was completed, Dave H started his first  4 hour volunteer shift and right away was assigned in water husbandry to Pilot Whale #300 who he opted to call Fudgy!! The 3 Pilot Whales left in the Key Largo based rehabilitation facility are too weak to swim on their own and will drown if not held with their blow holes out of the water. During his shift, Fudgy had blood and vitals taken, received her morning feeding and conducted a few therapy drills to learn how to swim again. Our team of volunteers on Fudgy also moved the Pilot Whale close to a viewing platform so a team of physical therapy students from Univ. of Miami could view the whale’s muscle damaged tail.  Dave was back at the Pilot Whale Rescue Pen on Saturday morning, and again at 4 am Sunday morning to lend more help for ground operations and to support Sue Douglass who went in the water to care of Pilot Whale #301. Sue finished just in time for her morning dive with the IVS Team at Amoray Dive Resort – talk about stamina!

Sue Douglass Tends to Pilot Whale #301 at the Rescue Pen in Key Largo

Sue Douglass tends to Pilot Whale #301 at the Rescue Pen in Key Largo

After the MMC presentation, most of the IVS crew headed to the Amoray Dive to start the weekend dive program. Sue and David Valaika headed to Jules Lodge Lagoon with the new students of the group to conduct the first Open Water check out dive. The group on the Amoray Diver enjoyed fantastic conditions on Molasses Reef with 100 foot blue water viz and calm seas as they played on Molasses Reef to start what had all the ingredients of a great weekend in the making!

The IVS Group Boards the Amoray Diver

The IVS Group Boards the Amoray Diver

The USS Speigel Grove was on the schedule for Friday afternoon as the entire IVS team reunited at the Amoray Diver for the 45 minute ride to the Grove.  The divers were divided into groups based on level of activity and comfort with wreck penetration. Most of the IVS team went with Sue Douglass for her famous “Lame-O Tour” while Mike P and Judy Mullen went with David Hartman for his “Ultimate Behind the Scenes Spiegel Experience” or the “Nooks and Crannies” Tour.  There are new places to go and new routes to dive on the Spiegel every time an IVS group is in town in part thanks to a recent unauthorized alteration to the well deck of the Spiegel discussed in the April Blog trip entry.  The Spiegel had comfortable diving conditions, 60 feet of viz and NO current plus the Amoray Diver was moored to the favorable #6 mooring ball on the port side superstructure of the ‘Grove’.  All the divers had a great Spiegel experience thanks to the combination of conditions and group leadership of the IVS instructors. Most divers witnessed a HUGE school of Tarpon near the #6 mooring ball towards the end of the dive.

The "New" Entrance to the Well Deck of the Spiegel Grove

The "New" Entrance to the Well Deck of the Spiegel Grove

The second dive of the afternoon was at Christmas Tree Cave on French Reef.  Conditions on French Reef were spectacular: 90 feet of blue water viz, no current, calm seas and lots of swim-throughs to explore.  The group of divers (Tom Brennan, Shannon, Michael, Mike P., Jack Sandler) led by David Hartman nailed most of the major swim-throughs within 100 yards of the Amoray Diver including Hourglass, Five Caves, Donut Hole, Sand Bottom Cave, Christmas Tree Cave and the Branch of Christmas Tree Cave (Personal favorite of David Hartman named the swim through).

Mike and Mike by the Large Star Coral Above Xmas Tree Cave

Mike and Mike by the Large Star Coral Above Xmas Tree Cave

The group of divers thinned in numbers throughout the dive until only Mike P. was left for the last “Branch” swim-through but our entire group had an amazing dive. The rest of the group had self-proclaimed leadership issues and explored a variety coral ledges and outcroppings and decided involuntarily to forego all the famous swim-throughs in the area. After a wonderful dive on French Reef, the Amoray Diver headed back to Amoray Dive Resort so the IVS team could prepare for an evening of food, spirits and festivities at IVS South HQ- David Hartman’s house or affectionately know as Club Dave!!  The party at IVS South worked out great with Sue and Barbara handling the shopping, Seth Greenspan taking on grill duty and David Hartman focusing efforts on entertaining and making his world famous Pina Coladas. A big thank you to all those who helped out with the barbecue party!

Michael Navigates Hourglass Cave on French Reef

Michael Stellatto navigates Hourglass Cave on French Reef

Saturday morning it was back on the reefs for two more dives in near-perfect conditions, with flat seas, great viz and the usual laughter and fun on the boat.

On a sensitive note, Dave V actually passed on this morning’s diving, as well as this afternoon, as he was one sick puppy with all sorts of things going on with his sinuses, glands, eyes….just a mess for sure!  And a guarantee to be handing out the coveted “More Dives than Dave” awards later this weekend!

Shannon Hovers over the Wreck of the City of Washington

Shannon Hovers over the Wreck of the City of Washington

Saturday afternoon called for a return to the USS Spiegel Grove and it was time for the first time Key Largo divers to take a deeper look at the Grove.  Sue Douglass took the group newly certified divers on another rendition of the “Lame-O tour” and Mike Parzynski honed his soon-to-be-divemaster skills with a group of veteran Spiegel divers.  PADI Advanced Open Water students Shannon and Michael went with David Hartman to complete their Deep Adventure dive and to see some of the famous interior rooms of the naval ship.  After a few deepwater skills, Shannon, Michael and David H explored upper superstructure of the Spiegel and then ventured through the wheelhouse and radar room.  Air consumption was excellent by the students so the tour was extended to view the machine shop, prep and tool rooms near the aft section of the superstructure.  Shannon, who was reluctant on French Reef on Friday to partake in most swimthroughs, now appeared to be a wreck diving expert on Saturday eagerly taking in each turn inside the hallways of the massive wreck. I believe it is safe to say that Shannon is now hooked on wreck diving! Kudos to the entire IVS team for a fantastic Spiegel dive.

Spotted Spiny Lobster on the Wreck of the Benwood

Spotted Spiny Lobster on the Wreck of the Benwood

Both the second dive on Saturday afternoon and night dive Saturday night were on the Wreck of the Benwood.  The shallow shipwreck which grounded after a collision with the USS Tuttle during World War II is perfect venue for night dive because the all that remains is the hull of the ship which attracts all kinds of sea creatures and a variety of coral growth. On the afternoon dive, Shannon and Michael completed their PADI Underwater Navigation adventure dive in the sand patch off the starboard of the Benwood while the other divers in the group circumnavigated the shipwreck to check out all the marine life.  Shannon and Michael executed their Underwater NAV skills admirably although the “navigate a square” skill appeared more like “navigate the letter P.”  Both managed to redeem themselves on their “natural navigation” skills later in the dive.  The viz on the Benwood was below average in the afternoon with no current but water clarity was improving throughout the dive which was a good omen for the night dive.

A Midnight Parrotfish Finds a Sleeping Spot at Night on the Benwood
A Midnight Parrotfish Finds a Sleeping Spot at Night on the Benwood

After a brief dinner break at Amoray Dive Resort, the IVS crew as back board the Amoray Diver promptly at 7:15pm to return to the Benwood for Saturday night dive.  The viz on the Benwood was much improved versus the afternoon dive as IVS divers took to the water at twilight.  Shannon, Michael, Gary and Bruce completed their PADI Night adventure dive towards their Advanced Open Water course. Part of the dive included a lights out drill which was a bit of a challenge since the dive started at twilight. David Hartman waited until latter part of the night dive for the drill to ensure the divers could experience complete darkness.  The divers descended upon the sand patch off the starboard bow again for skill work but only to be followed by the rest of the IVS group shining their lights on the students looking to see what was so interesting on the sand patch.  Finally, the rest of the IVS team caught on about the lights out drill and the students were able to experience some cool bioluminesence. During the dive, the team saw tons of lobsters (good news for lobster season) and at one point left David Hartman to chase after a Huge Porcupinefish who hid under a large torn off piece of the hull of Benwood to escape from the peeping eyes of the IVS group. Great night dive and it was off to Amoray Dive Resort for a quick shower and then to Paradise Pub for traditional late night Cheeseburgers in Paradise and to listen to some karaoke or open mic….oh wait that is actually a paid performer hurting my ears……..WOW ………Not good!!

Sue Douglass and Judy Mullen Relax on the Amoray Diver after Morning Reef Dives

Sue and Judy Relax on the Amoray Diver after Morning Reef Dives

Sunday morning and Dave V called in sick again..this is not good!  But the rest of the team dove in his honor and enjoyed two more wonderful reef experiences.  When they returned, I had rallied enough to determine that I was not about to miss out on any more dives, so I enjoyed lunch with the gang and we loaded up for the PM trip.

IVS Divers Enter the Wheelhouse of the Duane
IVS Divers Enter the Wheelhouse of the Duane

 Sunday afternoon called for famous double deep wreck dive of the US Coast Guard Cutter Duane and the USS Spiegel Grove. The Duane is the recommended first due to the average depth of the wreck-the dive starts at 75 feet or deeper depending on the mooring ball.  The winds had kicked up in the afternoon which created white caps everywhere. Other boats were already at the Duane so Capt Dan of the Amoray Diver was left to tie up to the bow mooring ball.  The chopping waters made it hard to determine the strength of the surface current but judging by the fact other boats were sitting sideways to the seas we knew that some current was expected. Some meaning……..RIPPING CURRENT!!  The Duane didn’t let us down, quickly becoming one of those adrenaline-filled dives that you hear about from the IVS crew.  Horizontal bubbles and a face full of salt water was on tap on the Duane but the current brought in some 70-80 feet of viz and a variety of large marine life including Barracuda, Permit and a school of HUGE Tarpon- I mean like 8 feet long and shiny silver. David Hartman took Gary on his PADI Adventure Deep dive and hit the water first for the IVS team. At 75 feet, David Hartman decided that fighting current to get to the bow at 100 feet was no fun and decided to turn the Duane into a speedy drift. As part of their dive plan, Gary and David H. let go of the bow mooring line and sped past the wheelhouse and stack until reaching the shelter and calm waters of the aft superstructure under the Crow’s Nest.  Gary and David were near the stern of the ship before some IVS divers even hit the water!!.  Gary was doing well on air consumption for a new diver so David led him on complete tour of the Duane including entering the wheelhouse, CO’s cabin and galley.  Gary and David had a solid tour of the Duane and headed back to the bow mooring line from the top of the wheelhouse down the forward superstructure to get some shelter from the blasting current. The return to the bow went okay but Gary managed to suck down around 1000 psi in the short run into the current – so much for a great air consumption dive on the Duane for a newly certified diver.  The rest of the IVS team was just reaching the bottom of the Duane when Gary and David started to ascend. Nearly all the IVS divers performed well considering the challenging conditions on the Duane; however, there is a story worth sharing that hopefully will benefit other divers who may find themselves in less-than-stellar conditions on a deeper dive.

It turns out one of the divers on board, who, coincidently or not, had NOT been trained by the staff of IVS, had managed to suffer through a good variety of problems and issues all weekend long.  This diver, who we’ll refer to as “Diver X”, had worn out the welcome mat of helpful Good Samaritan IVS’ers who are always looking to work with someone who needs a little refresher or some tips on improving their  skills and becoming a better diver.  I had already been spoken to by the ships captain and mate regarding this diver, along with some of our own divers, so there was clearly a trend and some serious issues here.  So now we find ourselves moored up to the USCG Duane, a 300 plus foot long wreck sitting in 120 plus feet of water with significant currents present. Hmmm…I look around for volunteers to raise their hands, it seems that everyone is suddenly busy adjusting gear, defogging masks, etc…you get the picture.  Well it matters not, this is my job, so I break out from the group I was part of and inform Diver X that I will be their  buddy.  I brief on the wreck, strongly emphasizing the need for good communication between buddies, following the leader (me), paying attention, being the best diver you can be, ’cause there is far less room for error here than on the shallow reefs.  Have I gotten through?  Let’s find out, I am thinking, as I finish gearing up and prepare to enter the water.

I enter the water and wait for Diver X….finally they are in water.  I get an OK sign, and we pull ourselves forward to the mooring, sampling a strong surface current which only hints at what might lie below.  One final OK is exchanged, and down I go.  Diver X follows, slowly….terribly slowly….I wave encouragement, get the “ears not clearing” sign…but don’t see any ear clearing actions….just hanging there, burning up gas in this current…”come on” I wave… I get another 2 or 3 feet of descent…more of the same….”please….come on”.. and this repeats all the way down to the deck at 105 ft.  I am wearing sidemount 40’s, normally more than ample gas reserves for me and a rescue or two, but I had not factored in over 10 minutes to make this descent.   Finally, on the deck, another exchange of OK’s…we start aft.  “Follow me”, I motion, careful to reinforce what I briefed on the deck, that I would be following the easiest paths and using the ship to shield our bodies from the current.  I am along the deck and I turn only to see Diver X 10 ft above the deck, struggling…..OK…what part of the briefing was that in??  I swim up, pull Diver X down to deck level, and try to reinforce the “follow me” part.  I pass through one cut out, turn, and find myself alone, again…..Jeeeez!  Finally here comes Diver X, and I motion, to please move it along…gas reserves are critical.  We move along the deck, with the current, finally looking like a pair of divers in sync..for a bit.  We get to the back of the superstructure and I tap Diver X to stop…no response…tap again…nothing….finally grab the leg firmly and get a shocked look back.  “We’re turning here”, I motion, and I start across the back of the structure and turn towards the bow.  I make it about 30 ft up against the significant current and turn back to find myself…you guessed it…alone again.  “My gosh”, I am thinking, or something like that, and I turn back, burning up more gas, and find Diver X exactly where I said to turn.  “How does turn here” translate into “wait here forever?”.  None the less, I motion “let’s go” with some urgency, and around the structure I go, into the current again, and I turn back, only to see Diver X imitating a kite, sailing with the current in the wrong direction, well off the deck.  “Holy smokes”, I am thinking, this might end up as something more than educational experience, and I swim back again, grab Diver X, pull them down once again to the deck, firmly grab their hands and place them, one by one, onto things to hold on to and pull themselves forward, as kicking is futile in this current.   I place the hands 4 or 5 times, and I see the hands move on their own a 5th and 6th time…I think we have a breakthrough moment.  Forward we go, but I am careful to look back about every 3 seconds to make sure I am not fooling myself here.  We make it up alongside the bridge, and have to slip out through a cutout into the force of the current.  I check gas again for the umpteenth time, getting low but not yet critical, and I stop before we slip out the opening. emphasizing as best I can the use of the hands to firmly grip and pull forward…bottom line…”FOLLOW ME!!”  Out I go, making sure I demonstrate good hand holds and how easy it is when you grip firmly, I move forward and get out of the way, making room for Diver X to come out, and sure enough, here they come, kicking with their fins and using no hands at all.  Yes, you can predict this, off like a kite they go, and yes, I respond even more quickly, flying after them, grabbing onto whatever I can on the wreck to now pull both of us back into the full blown current.  I am about exhausted and thankful for the healthy adrenalin glands I possess cause I need every sweet ounce of that.  I pull Diver X down to the deck once again, breathing hard through my regulator, and check their gas again.  OK, this is not funny, and now it is getting critical, very critical, and we are alone, as everyone else has managed to make it to the line and began their ascents.  With every last bit of strength I take Diver X’s hands and use them to pull the two of us across the bow, the current flooding my mask, my breathing losing efficiency as I go.  I switch over to my nearly empty first tank to keep as much reserve for Diver X as possible, and continue to claw ourselves along to the mooring line.  We get to the line and Diver X is out of gas, so I pass my regulator over.  It is meat with a blank stare and continued slashing signs across the throat…talk about a classic case of sensory shutdown under stress.  I am screaming into the water column to “take this reg” as I hold it right in front.  Finally, after more prescious time has passed, the regulator is taken, and I get my hands on the line, and begin to pull ourselves up.  Diver X looks like a steam train blowing out volumes of precious gas with each inefficient breath, and we are still 105 feet down and in a lot of current.  Up we start, I am fighting both current and a “flight instinct” on the part of Diver X who wants to race to the surface.  We NEED a slow ascent, Lord knows what is going on inside our tissues with all this stress.  We are working our way up and approaching some of the other divers who are hanging on the line, like sheets in the wind, when Diver X gives me the sign I dreaded most – MY tank was empty now!   Without hesitation, I pulled the last regulator out of my mouth and passed it over, and amazing, had to repeat the same “Take this freakin’ regulator” screaming match in the water for Diver X to snap to and accept my gift of life.  OK, they are breathing now, but I am not – I have nothing.  I quickly look up the line and there I see it….a stage bottle hanging on Brian H’s kit .  He sees me coming, dragging Diver X with me, and deploys the stage, which I take with a huge smile of gratitude.  The rest of the ride up the line, and safety stops are completed without issue, and we finally reboard the boat.  Time for a serious chat now, after we have caught our breath.

I assure our readers that there was no exaggeration in this section, and I hope it serves as a useful tool to take into consideration when diving with someone with lesser-developed skills.  Here is a case where, in retrospect, I should have just said “No” to Diver X about making this dive, but I gave the benefit of the doubt, which proved to nearly be my undoing.  Needless to say, there was no dive #2 for Diver X today, and there will be no hesitation on my part going forward of the need for a return to the basics before being allowed to recklessly endanger the lives of others again.

Machine Shop of the Spiegel Grove LSD-32
Machine Shop of the Spiegel Grove LSD-32

The next stop on the double wreck afternoon was a return trip to the Spiegel Grove.  The second deep dive of the afternoon called for a more conservative dive profile as the IVS team divided itself into different groups based on dive route preferences.  The Amoray Diver was all alone on the wreck and decided to tie up to the port crane (#4) mooring ball after two straight days on the shallower #6 mooring ball.  David Valaika and Brian took to the Spiegel with Hollis DPV’s and Sue Douglass and Judy Mullen strapped on a Pegasus Thrusters to their tanks for some extra power when touring touring Grove.  Some IVS divers were happy to skip the second dive after an exhausting current filled Duane adventure. So that left Mike P. and Michael S. assigned to David Hartman for an advanced follow the leader Spiegel tour. David H took the two Mikes on a fast tour of the Spiegel’s laundry room, comprehensive tour of Level 01 including machine shop, Snoopy, main galley and mess halls and even had time to visit select rooms in level 02 including the CO’s cabin, officers galley, rec hall, main head and ship’s offices quarter.  While David H and the Mikes were playing on the inside, the other divers were whirling around the outside of the Spiegel taking full advantage of their DPV’s and the ability to see so much more of the
bigger picture” with the scooters.

Congratulations are in order for our newest Indian Valley Scuba divers, Gary Millar, Barb Millar and Bruce Augusteuson, who all completed their PADI National Geographic Open Water Diver certifications, Peak Performance Buoyancy specialty, Coral Reef Conservation specialty, and Boat Diver, Michael Stellato and Shannon Jefferson who earned their Advanced Open Water, along with Boat Diver this weekend, Gary Millar (again) who completed his Adventure Diver, Jack Sandler on his coveted Boat Diver cert, and finally Brian Hubler who came to complete his TDI Trimix course with Dave (more on that in the next blog!) later this week.

And a most special round of IVS applause to the “Most Improved Diver’ of the week, Barbara Millar, who went from the ‘deer in the headlights’ look at Jules on Friday to the cool, calm, ‘no wreck too tough for me ‘ persona just three days later – way to go Barb!

IVS Key Largo Weekend Summary

Dive sites: (All boat dives with Amoray Dive Resort)

Friday May 27, 2011: Day 1: Morning-Jules Lodge Lagoon Spa & Resort; Afternoon: Spiegel Grove (#6 ball) and Xmas Tree Cave on French Reef

Saturday May 28, 2011: Day 2: Morning-Christ of the Abyss at Key Largo Dry Rocks and North Dry Rocks; Afternoon: USS Spiegel Grove (#6 ball); Wreck of the Benwood (starboard bow)

Night Dive: Wreck of the Benwood (starboard bow)

Sunday May 29, 2011: Day 3: Molasses Reef: Permit Ledges and North Star; -Afternoon USCG Duane (Bow Mooring Ball) USS Spiegel Grove (#4 ball-Port Crane)

The IVS Crew Wraps Up the Trip with a Pizza Party at Upper Crust

The IVS Crew Wraps Up the Trip with a Pizza Party at Upper Crust

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?