07 May 2011

Diving the Ancient Mariner with Scubatyme

Guillermo, Leonardo and Felipe signed up for the shallow reef dive with Scubatyme. I got them equipment from Underseas Sports and we got to the boat about 6:45 am on Saturday morning. The parking lot was already pretty full, but there
was room for two more cars. We signed the releases, loaded gear and left with Captain Dave and Divemaster (divemistress?) Amanda.

Sands Harbor Marina is about 20 minutes from the ocean via the ICW. Winds were calm and the sea was flat. We were going to be diving the Ancient Mariner, which is a 165-foot steel ship sunk as part of the Broward County Artificial Reef Program on 9 June 1991.

The vessel was built in Point Pleasant, Virginia, in 1934. She was commissioned as a Navy search and rescue vessel. During WW II, she served as a Nazi submarine hunter until decommissioned in
1964. In 1979, she was converted into a floating restaurant and bar, but financial problems forced the sale of the vessel to a new owner, who

rescheduled the restaurant's opening to 1981. Just before the opening, however, she capsized
and sank at the dock, for no apparent reason. It cost more than $85,000 to refloat and renovate the vessel. When it reopened, the Ancient Mariner operated as a popular eatery until 1986, when more than 100 customers and employees contracted hepatitis A from an infected salad maker employed at the restaurant.

Divemaster Amanda tied off to the wreck and reported that there was a moderate to strong current running South on the bottom and suggested that we stay in the lee of the boat. The four of us entered the water and began pulling ourselved down the descent line. I had set up my camera with a 28-105 mm lens and a dome port for wide angle shooting, but couldn't set up the shoot and hold the line in the current. When I got on the bottom I tried to take all three guys into the wreck where we would be protected by the current. Guillermo and Leonardo were eager to penetrate, but Felipe held back. Guillermo and I left through a hole in the port wall and swam to the bow of the vessel, but neither Felipe nor Leonardo followed. Guillermo and I returned and found them exactly where we had left them.

Once everyone started exploring the wreck, Guillermo signalled that he was really low on air and needed to go up. I nodded okay and went to get Leonardo and Felipe to swim to the line. When we got there, Guillermo was nowhere in sight. We went up the line and I indicated a safety stop at 20 feet. As I hung there, I kept watching the air bubbles leaving the wreck. I was fairly certain that they were just air pockets left by the divers who had explored the vessel. But what if Guillermo was still on the wreck. I had plenty of air, so I dropped back down and went through the vessel to be sure that Guillermo was not there, then returned to Leonardo and Felipe so we could surface together and re-board Scubatyme. Guillermo was already on board. He had not had a watch or computer, so his safety stop was really just a pause, which was why I could not see him when I got to the line.

Our second dive was a drift dive on Turtle Ledge. There were a lot of interesting fish to see, but the wide-angle setup I had chosen for the camera prevented me from getting any good shots. There was too much haze around the reef to get good seascape photos, so I took a few shots of the guys and called it good.

05 May 2011

John's Last Day for This Trip

John Hermanson leaves tomorrow, so today is his last day diving this trip. Dianne, John and I decided to go looking for the Ledge of Turtles this morning. The wind was calm and the surf mild. Visibility was good. We entered through the main entry just North of the Tower, swam to the swim buoy line and descended. We then headed East looking for the ledge, but found nothing I recognized. No Staghorn Coral forest. No Shark Rocks. No Ledge of Turtles. We did find some juvenile French Angelfish and a Purplemouth Moray Eel who looked as if he had swallowed something much bigger than he should have.

Dianne decided to sit out the second dive. She had gotten cold on the first dive and wanted to warm up in the truck. John and I went in. We followed the same dive plan, but found the Staghorn Coral Forest on our way back from the Ledge. I had no bearings to go by, but we found the Ledge of Turtles and John spotted a turtle. Of course it was gone by the time he got my attention. We swam South looking for it, but could not find it. We turned back to find the Ledge but almost missed it in the haze. We were too far to the West. But we did locate it checked it out. We headed West to the beach from the Ledge. Along the way we spotted two turtles and I got some poor video of the first and some much better video of the second. It was a good way to end John's visit.

04 May 2011

A Three Dive Day

After the terrible visibility of the past two days, our 15 ft of visibility seemed like a dream come true. John Hermanson and I swam out to the Fish Camp Rocks, then to the Furry Rock and across to the Big Coral Knoll. Saw a nurse shark, a hermit crab and some midnight blue parrotfish.

Got some good pictures. Took 2 pounds off John, but he seemed light the whole dive. Spent a lot of time head-down trying to stay on the bottom.

For the second dive, we decided to swim to the Big Coral Knoll, then to the Ledge and North to our marker and West to the Fish Camp Rocks, except we missed the Big Coral Knoll. We swam

around mindlessly, but somehow found it even after swimming with a turtle. Went to the ledge and then North, but did not get as far as the marker, so we swam in without finding the Rocks.

We had to wait to add money to the parking stub, but I was happy for the extended surface interval. When we went in, we headed out to the Fish Camp Rocks then over to the Big Coral Knoll, except we missed it. The visibility had dmiminished considerably. A kayaker told us he had watched a "Brown Cloud" move in. I dismissed his comment as bluster, but it was accurate. We swam with a turtle and backtracked to the South to find the disc, which may have been the first time during the entire dive that I knew where I was. Pitiful. From the Disc, we swam to the Big Coral Knoll and found a small Green Sea Turtle hunkered down in the coral.

03 May 2011

On My Own in Bad Visibility

The wind was up and from the East. The waves were tall. I got out, but it was a bit of a struggle. The chop was bad so I descended just before the swim buoy. I made my way out to the Fish Camp Rocks, which was pretty amazing considering the utter lack of visibility. I found a small Purplemouth Moray Eel hiding under a coral head, but there was not much to see. I kept going to the Ledge and then went North a bit. I turned West and ended up at the Big Coral Knoll. Then back to the beach.

02 May 2011

I see nothing!

John Hermanson is in town from Wisconsin and wanted to go diving. I got some gear for him and took him to the beach. The wind was up and from the East. We went in through a 3-5 ft surf that appeared much bigger when we were in the water. We got out without incident however, and descended over the reef. Visibility was terrible: less than 3 feet. I had John hold on to my tank as we made our way to the East. We somehow managed to find the two precursor rocks to the Fish Camp Rocks, but swam right past the Fish Camp Rocks themselves. We got to the ledge and swam North a bit, then came West to the beach. We went over a portion of the Big Coral Knoll, but saw very little. We quit after only one dive. I took the Intova point and shoot, but I took only one shot and it did not turn out so well. Maybe tomorrow.

01 May 2011

Gabriela Gomez Earns Her Open Water Certification

This was Gabby's fourth and final open water dive required for certification. She was a little nervous and the surf was 2-3 ft. We got out beyond the breakers, swam past the swim buoy and descended. She kept close to me, but did not hesitate and did not have any problems equalizing her ears. I swam out at 90 degrees, expecting to find the Fish Camp Rocks, but instead came upon the Big Coral Knoll from the SE. It took a few

moments to recognize it. We made a quick swim through and I photographed a juvenile Puddingwife and a Yellowtail Damselfish, then headed to the South and the Fish Camp Rocks. Again, however, I got pushed by the current and only happened to see the Furry Rock to the West

as we were swimming. We completely passed the Fish Camp Rocks. Finally, though, we swam to the Rocks from the Furry Rock and we actually found them. I also found a Speckled Hermit Crab and got some pictures. Then we headed West to the beach.

Gabby was tired after her dive and just wanted to lie on the beach. Dianne and I made a second dive. We descended at the swim buoy and swam out to the Eastern edge of the reef. I spent a lot of

time shooting macro and got some good pictures, but did not find another jawfish with eggs in its mouth. I did find a second Speckled Hermit Crab, some Arrow Crab and a small Spotted Scorpionfish.