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Key Largo 2006

Trip report: Key Largo Hookie Trip 2006

I took the occasion of a business trip to Miami to play hookie and go down to Key Largo for a couple of days' diving. This would be my first trip to the keys and turned out to be well worth the extra effort of hauling dive gear around on a work trip. I adopted the strategy of travelling early so that I could dive before the working days and hence eliminate the problem of no-fly time after the diving - I was comfortably off-gassing while everyone else in the meetings thought I was just working!

Amoray Diver I stayed at a place called Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort just a couple of miles past the point where Highway 1 enters Key Largo. It's a friendly place, not expensive and although their boat had maintenance problems which prevented it going out on the Tuesday, the staff arranged for us to dive with another operation, It's a Dive, less than a half mile away, without us having to worry about any rearrangements. The place is self catering but there are so many restaurants close by there is really no need to cook - just remember that you may need more breakfast than the free bagels and coffee will be good for. Also, you will need cash for the toll roads to get there from MIA.

The plan was to stay two nights and dive as often as the boat went out - a theoretical total of nine dives but in the event, high winds on Monday prevented the afternoon and night trips so I managed only six. Still not bad going. The boats at both places are pontoon-type catamarans which allows them to negotiate the very shallow water through the mangrove swamps and also makes them very stable in moderate seas. The dive deck is large, flat and completely open to the breeze, so keeping warm after diving can be a challenge. It was very noticeable that the 80cf catalinas were always overfilled - before one of my dives I measured the pressure at 3600 psi., the upshot of which is that I came back from every dive - even the Spiegel Grove - with around 2000 psi left. Fireworm on the Spiegel Grove

The way the dive operations are set up is to have the dock on the north, ie: inland side of the key, so that to reach the dive sites on the seaward side, they go out into, in this case, Blackwater Sound before cutting through a channel under the road past all the expensive waterfront homes with their private boat docks and winches. The channel was something of a highlight, actually, since it was crammed with things to see; in addition to the homes and boats already mentioned, it was home to many varieties of herons and egrets, as well as a surprising number of very large lizards!
The channel leads out into Largo Sound which is a large body of water bounded on the north by the islands and on the other three sides by extensive mangrove swamps. To get to the open ocean it is necessary to navigate through a maze of channels cut through the trees. None of the dive sites was more than 40 minutes total travelling time from the dock, but in fact most of that time was spent in the sheltered water of the mangroves or sounds, which made the journeys mostly relaxed and comfortable, even on monday when the wind was rising and pushing up some bumpy waves. Fish on the City of Washington The weather on monday was a little overcast as we set out and with water temperatures in the 79f range, I was pretty cold after the second dive of the day and pleased to get back to the dive centre. I was actually very tired so when it became apparent that there would be no night diving because of the weather, I was not too upset; I slept most of the afternoon, only emerging to find food in the evening.

Tuesday was clear, calm and very warm. Because of the mechanical problems with their boat, the dive centre had arranged for us to go with It's a Dive, which is based at the Marriott just a few hundred yards down the road. Amoray was due to dive the Duane that day, but It's a Dive was scheduled to do the Spiegel Grove, which turned out to be a great dive on a spectacular day. There can be strong currents there but on this occasion there was completely slack water, with crystal clear visibility.

Just before the Benwood dive, I got a reminder that sometimes it is fellow divers who are the biggest risk to equipment on the average dive boat! I was preparing my camera for the dive when someone pointed out that the case was half full of water - it was certainly dry when I came back aboard and this conclusion was supported by the fact that the flood was freshwater, not salt; in other words it happened in the camera rinse tank - ay,ay,ay!
Luckily, the camera still worked when I gave it a quick check, so I dried everything off and left it to air while we dived the Benwood - a shame I had no camera because it was a great dive.

I used the shore changeover time to clean everything and grease the o-ring so that the camera was back in working order for the remaining dives; this is my second close shave with this camera (after losing it in heavy surf at La Jolla) and so far it has survived remarkably well but I will be taking more notice of what other people are doing near my gear from now on.


Dive 1: Wreck of the City of Washington
28ft, 53 mins
Temp at depth: 79f
Vis: Didn't even think about it: after a certain point it's not even an issue really.

This is the wreck of a 320ft coaler which sank in 1917. There is not much left of the superstructure but the remains of the ship are easy to see and follow. The big features of this wreck are lots of nurse sharks and one very large and approachable jewfish. Coral and sponges of course, as well as some flamingo tongues and banded coral shrimp.

Dive 2: North North Dry Rocks
31ft, 53 mins
Temp at Depth: 79f
Vis: same as before but some particulates in the water due to the nature of the reef.

This is a shallow reef system with lots of sandy grooves running between 10 to 15 ft high heads of coral. A quite typical coral reef system, very like the shallow reefs I have seen elsewhere in the Bahamas; lots of encrusting sponges and corals with christmas tree worms buried in them. We also found a goldentail moray - one of only two morays we saw over both days - directly below the boat mooring.


Dive 3: The Spiegel Grove
100ft 33 mins
Temp at depth: 81f
Vis: crystal clear.

The Spiegel Grove is an artificial reef with a history not unlike the Yukon in the sense that she was taken out to be scuttled but sank before she was meant to; after spending a short time upside down with the bows sticking out of the water, they finally managed to get her resting on the seabed but, like the Yukon, resting on one side with the decks now forming a vertical wall. The twist in this tale, however, is that when hurricane Dennis came through it flipped the 510 ft ship upright so that now it rests as first intended, decks fully level. This is a huge ship; if you think the Yukon is big, think again - this one is enormous; the publicity claims it is the largest ship ever intentionally sunk but in fact the USS Wilkes-Barre is exactly 100ft longer and several thousand tons greater displacement. The boat sits in about 130ft and we descended to the well-deck at 100ft where there is a nice scattering of life with sponges and corals beginning to colonise the superstructure. I found and photographed lots of fireworms on the gorgonians which are scattered liberally around that spot. Definitely a headline dive

Dive 4: Wreck of the Benwood.
47ft 54 mins
Temp at depth 79f
Vis: Lots.

The Benwood was an English freighter which sank after colliding with an oil tanker during the second world war. It was used by the US navy for target practice before being blown apart to remove the navigation hazard she presented. It's a large ship, covered in growth and sheltering literally thousands of fish, with some enormous groupers hiding out under the various pieces of steel deck which are lying around. We also found a spotted, or reticulated moray, lots of banded coral shrimp and a two-inch mantis shrimp out in the open. This is a very easy dive but none the worse for it - one I would recommend and probably a spectacular night dive.

Dive 5: Key Largo dry Rocks
29ft 50 mins
Temp at depth: 79f
Vis: a cloudy 60 - 80 ft.

This is another shallow finger reef system, very similar to dive 2, and in the same general area. The spot is distinguished by a large statue commissioned by Cressi and donated to the area by him. It's a replica of a statue which is sunk just off the coast of Italy at Portofino near Genoa, entitled "Christ of the Abyss". Given the location and recent history, I have renamed it "God welcoming the cubans to miami"

Dive 6: North North Dry Rocks
28ft 56 mins
Temp at depth 79f
Vis 60 - 80 ft

This was a repeat of dive 2 just a few yards away from the original. A nice relaxing way to end the day.