I heard the chatter as I walked up to the dive shop to say hi to everyone and collect my husband for our lunch before we ran a couple of errands. It only took a moment to realize what they were talking about. “Two Goliath groupers at the safety stop, I mean hanging out at the safety stop,” my husband said. Then I caught part of another conversation “….Man, it was great, they were like right there practically in your face.” (For those who may not be familiar with a safety stop, it is as the name implies; literally hanging to a line or hovering for 3-5 minutes at a depth of 15-20 feet as a part of proper ascent procedures after a deep dive.) I have seen many interesting sights during safety stops, but never Goliath groupers.
The title of the recently released Groupers and Gun Mounts: Inside the USS Spiegel Grove, comes from the fact that Goliath groupers (also known as jewfish) are frequent visitors to the artificial wreck, the USS Spiegel Grove. As I mention in one part of the book, when divers meet a Goliath grouper in a passageway of the ship, the diver usually tucks back to give the grouper room to move. It is not that Goliath groupers are dangerous, it is merely that when you are facing a 200-400 pound fish that is between six and eight feet long, you tend to give them the right-of-way.
The group on this particular dive was part of the NASCAR crowd that had stayed for diving after completion of the final NASCAR weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was their last day of diving for the trip, so the plan was a double-dip on the ship; getting in two dives with an approriate surface interval in between. Having that many Goliath groupers in such an up close and personal way was extra special. As NASCAR professionals, going far enough into the machine shop to see the lathe and milling machine was an additional treat that they enjoyed. During the second dive, they cruised into the Executive Officer’s cabin and up onto the bridge. A big green moray was taking it easy underneath a plate on the deck as the group headed back to the mooring line. It was one of those great days with visibility nearing 90 feet and very little current – ideal conditions for diving the 510-foot ship in a leisurely manner. It would have been pretty much a perfect end to a dive vacation and it’s a dive that I do wish I’d been able to make. Ah well, maybe next time.