A Rousing Success…..

The big dive trade show we are at is set up like most with a mix of exhibits, seminars, and different programs. I had submitted Richie Kohler as a speaker even though he fell into the “other” category compared to the industry/business side. Marketing, inventory management, etc., are all unquestionably vital to business. He crafted his presentation, “Forty Years of Shipwreck Exploration”, to speak to the “heart and passion” of diving which is at the core of the business since other than the industrial/engineering aspect, it is absolutely a discretionary expenditure for people. If you can’t spark and retain the passion for diving, the business dissolves.

We had no input as to when he was to be scheduled though and the show planners put him into the 8:30 a.m. slot this morning. Considering that two of the largest social events were last night, there was a fair question about how many people would show up. He was set up in the large room although I hadn’t checked to see how many seats were available. When I arrived a few minutes after 8:00 to coordinate a couple of last minute details, there were already a few people seated. As the room filled to capacity, more squeezed in. It was a long presentation of a little more than an hour while Richie took everyone from his beginning days of teen-aged diving through his numerous transitions of both advances in technologies and opportunities he had never dreamed of coming his way.  Spontaneous applause broke out twice when he touched on subjects of special poignancy. The only way to describe the morning was indeed as a rousing success. By the way, even though we chronicled many of his adventures in Mystery of the Last Olympian: Titanic’s Tragic Sister Britannic, his website of http://www.richiekohler.com has far more than we included.

Busy Day……

I intended to post yesterday and time just sort of slipped by with getting into the hotel, getting checked into the trade show, etc. Today has been spent walking all around the show and having the first autograph session as well as working with Richie Kohler on the new project. We’re still trying to firm several things up and I’ll explain more once we settle those details.

We’ve seen several people we know and met a few new ones already. There are of course exciting new “toys”, officially known as new products. There are some tech items that are well beyond my understanding and other items you wonder why no one had come up with them before. In other cases, like the waterproof bags to hold your cell phone that I’ve seen advertised, and not in person yet. I did pick up a new tee shirt because I erroneously thought I had left another top at home. I did pack it after all. On the other hand, one more tee shirt can’t hurt. We wound up staying at the hotel for dinner last night instead of going out. We’d never eaten at the main restaurant with the buffet option and it was pretty good. Nothing too special because I stayed away from what looked like a lovely dessert station. They had prime rib as one choice and that made Hubby happy. We’re not certain of where we’re going tonight. Apparently there is a group dinner coming together and we’re waiting for the call to know exactly where.

The autograph session tomorrow is a little later and I haven’t checked yet to see if there are any seminars I want to attend. Hubby did three today and hasn’t decided about tomorrow yet.


In what is unusual timing, we leave for Orlando Tuesday morning until late Sat afternoon. The paper has been stopped and house sitter is all set. The largest scuba trade show in the wold takes place in Orlando every other year and we always go. Hubby will attend a string of professional seminars and catch up with friends we may not have seen since the last show. What is different about this show is it is not open to the public; only to individuals in the scuba business. Hubby’s qualifications are obvious and mine are because I focus so much of my writing on scuba. The convention center in Orlando is huge and you do get a lot of walking in. Richie Kohler will be presenting on Friday and we’ll have an hour of book signing Wed, Thurs, and Friday. We will also be spending time together to discuss the other book he wants to do. (More about that after we talk.) Richie tends to be really popular though and I suspect he’ll be whisked off to a number of things he isn’t anticipating. I have plenty to keep me busy and unlike the trip to Louisiana, I should have consistent, reliable connectivity.

The area is quite the “foodie” place, too with a large shopping and entertainment complex within comfortable walking distance of the hotel. Comfortable distance for us, but I admit we tend to be more walkers than many people these days. I haven’t checked the weather forecast, so our plans could be disrupted if it’s messy. I don’t know if there will be any new restaurants open, although there are plenty to choose from and we’ve not been disappointed in the ones we’ve tried. We might branch out this time to more ethnic choices – depends on who we’re with and how we’re feeling.

Scuba Related…..

A modular design for an artificial reef created and provided by Walter Marine of AL

Thursday, Sept 14th, I’ll be doing a presentation on Artificial Reefs in Key Largo based on my book, Islands in the Sand: An Introduction to Artificial Reefs in the USA

Since the book came out in 2009, I needed to update a few things for the PowerPoint show. One of which was to check on a guy, David Walter of Walter Marine. I’ll explain. First, artificial reefs for those who might not be as familiar are a variety of items that rest in the water and attract marine life which take up residence and create a reef complete with coral, sponges, fish, etc. The marine creatures don’t mind that it isn’t a natural rock formation – it provides shelter and over time, marine growth increases. The most spectacular artificial reefs tend to be shipwrecks, but there are lots of others. Many are underwater by accident, but the planned ones are the focus of the book. Again, taking a massive ship like the 510-foot USS Spiegel Grove, prepping her and sending her to the bottom is a huge effort that takes years of planning/work and lots of money. There are, however, way cool and smaller options.

Every other year, the big scuba trade show is in Orlando and the year I was doing intense research for the book coincided with the DEMA show. I was able to talk with several people involved with artificial reef work, one of whom was David. I have previously posted about Reefball (TM) that is a non-profit organization. They create modules that can be deployed to create a reef based on what size and shape is desired.

David, who as he explained always liked to figure things out for himself, did a few projects with them and then decided to establish his own business. (www.reefmaker.net)  (Note: not sure why, but the website wasn’t loading when I wrote this. It was fine the other day.)

Anyway, back to David. He played around with designs and materials and it was fascinating to talk to him. I popped onto his website the other day to see how he was doing and he quickly responded. His business has expanded and he sent me the photo here. The uses for his products have also expanded and it’s nice to see. (I will acknowledge there are opponents to artificial reef work and they are certainly entitled to their opinion.) I love the entrepreneurial spirit and I love a good artificial reef, so I hope Walter Marine continues to thrive. By the way, the lovey fish along with the jelllyfish in the photo is a type of triggerfish.

Back in the Water….

Yellow Head Jawfish out of it’s hole.

For two consecutive years, I allowed all sorts of things to interfere with my diving. This year, I made a commitment to do better and get out once a month. January was the exception because of weather and other things. I also managed to let July get past me, although again, weather did play a part. The simple fact is, between my writing and other things I am involved with, I work essentially every day. That is not to say I work eight hours a day, but it is usually at least three. Much of it is unstructured in the traditional sense, although anyone who works deadlines and has meetings knows “unstructured” doesn’t equal “laid back”. Anyway, the point to the above is I genuinely have to schedule time to go dive and it can be tricky.

Friday meant sending out some early morning emails and having a wonderful husband who was going to take care of my dive gear after we returned to the dock so I could dash home, grab a quick lunch and get cleaned up for a mid-afternoon meeting. However, it all worked out and while we didn’t see any of the “big” stuff – correction – I missed the two sharks; the fish I like to watch were plentiful. Actually, I don’t mind not seeing sharks as long as Hubby gets to. There was a nice stingray and the reason I missed the shark on the first dive was I did have a special treat only I was able to enjoy. I’ll explain. Visibility was down more than I expected with it about forty feet. Hubby had a delightful young lady as a student and as I was swimming off to the side of them, I saw movement in the sand to my left. I wasn’t certain of what it was and swam closer, which put me to where the others were barely in sight. I realized what I was looking at was a pair of juvenile flounders, each about the size of a silver dollar. The flounder we get here are small and with their camouflage coloration, they’re very difficult to see unless they move. When they do move, they “flit” fairly rapidly across the sand. I glanced over to Hubby and the young lady to get their attention, but there was no way in that vis for them to see my gesture. If I tried to go get them and bring them back, the little flounders would have been long gone. So, I followed the fish for a few seconds, enjoying the sight and no, I don’t carry a camera.

We did also see a nice large green moray and some big snooks came through, plus I got to see my rock beauties among other of my favorites. Now all I have to do is try to squeeze in one more day in August to make up for not going in July. Oh yes, and we did get dolphins as we were returning to the dock.

Lovely Day Diving….

Green Moray Being Cleaned (Key Largo Reef)

Last year I allowed way too many things to interfere with diving. I made the decision to try and get out once every 4-6 weeks, and 2016 going into 2017 has been better. Since I actually work seven days a week, taking part of one day once a month (or so) isn’t what one would call unreasonable. Anyway, Mother Nature has not been kind to the charter boat people over the past several days, but it all came together nicely today. In fact, our first dive was at a site that is quite popular although not usually as interesting as numerous other spots. Today was the exception with better underwater visibility than past dives there and a cluster of groupers you don’t often see. You get one-to-three groupers cruising around on a reef most of the time. Today there were about a dozen, and a mix of types. Okay, there no Goliath was among them. Still, it was impressive. And of all the variety of parrot fish, the midnight parrot is my favorite with their dark blue coloration. About half a dozen of them came by. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo in my gallery to show how pretty they are. The other treat was a free-swimming green moray eel. Although he wasn’t as big as the one in this photo, he wasn’t much smaller. They are nocturnal and tuck into the rocks during the day, so when you find one out in the open for a while, they’re fun to watch. I think hubby got video of him – will have to see later.

The water temperature is increasing as it does this time of year and is at 75, which isn’t bad. Since I missed both Jan and Feb for diving, maybe things will work out where I can squeeze in one more day in March and be back on track for an annual total. We’ll see.

A Morning Underwater…..

Green Moray Being Cleaned (Key Largo Reef)

Green Moray Being Cleaned (Key Largo Reef)

Last year I woefully neglected diving and have promised to do better this year. I still haven’t been out once a month as I intended, but it’s been about every six to eight weeks. The weather wasn’t great much of the week except for Wed and Thursday and those days were quite nice. We did Thursday and went to one of the shallow wrecks, then over to the great reef complex on Molasses. Hubby was diving just for fun which meant he could take his camera with him. (He can’t carry it when he’s teaching.)

For those who know what a “cleaning station” is, please bear with me because it’s something really fun for those not familiar with it. We were swimming along and Hubby saw a large green moray eel with one side against the reef and the rest of him stretched out on the sand. Eels tuck back into the rocks during the day unless they happen to be out, mostly swimming to another spot to tuck into. (They come out at night to feed). Not only was this one out, he hardly moved despite the fact Hubby was practically in it’s face. As always when photos are involved, I had a quick look and moved out of the way so I wouldn’t interfere in the shots. I thought the eel was not well since that’s often the case when they aren’t moving around. After we returned to the boat, I made a comment about it and Hubby said, “Not at all – it was a cleaning station.” Oh, how cool. Here’s the way it works and I haven’t the faintest idea how it evolved. Tiny “cleaner fish” and “cleaner shrimp” will nibble away at dead skin and parasites for larger fish. The fish – in this case the eel – remain quite still and the cleaners flit all over them to include going inside the mouth and cleaning there. In each case, the larger fish could quickly gobble them up as a snack, but don’t. Once the fish is cleaned, it moves off and resumes it’s normal routine. When you first start diving, you tend not to notice these amazing behaviors because you’re too busy dealing with your equipment, learning how to maneuver underwater, etc., After you’ve been at it for a while, you know what to look for and it’s always enjoyable to watch a cleaning station.

Busy Few Days……

It’s funny how timing can work out. Back about a year ago when I was scheduled to present at the History of Diving Museum on our book, Mystery of the Last Olympian: Titanic’s Tragic Sister, Britannic (http://amzn.to/2c1iKJl), I had never heard of the ensemble, Chance. I certainly didn’t know they were going to be on a nation-wide tour with a musical tribute about the National Parks Centennial. I also didn’t know that Richie Kohler might be available to be here to do the presentation instead of me. So, when Homestead Center for the Arts (http://homesteadcenterforthearts.com) was approached about sponsoring the Seminole Theater concert for Chance on Fri, Oct 21st, that set an idea into motion. The History of Diving Museum appearance was Wed, Oct 19th – the concert two nights later. Our two National Parks (especially Biscayne) feature water. Homestead Main Street does fun festivals downtown, but has never had a sea-themed one. Could we link these things? A quick check with Richie’s schedule and yes, he could stay over. In fact, he could get in a couple of days of diving – one with his good friends who have Conch Republic Divers and one with Horizon Divers where Hubby works. And so, the concept for the Seahunts Festival for Sat, Oct 22d was locked into place.

Now, anyone who has ever put on an event knows there is a lot of planning and many moving parts. Although I wasn’t in charge of any of the events, I was obviously involved. That’s okay, in my other life, I did similar things. What I forgot about was all of this was taking place 19-22 Oct which happens to be the third week of Oct. The third week of each month is also when all three boards I am a member of meet. Tomorrow will be the trickiest of them since the Board Meeting is at 3:00 and I have to go directly from there to the Seminole Theater for the VIP reception that starts at 5:00 followed by the Chance performance at 7:00. And even though the Seahunts Festival Saturday is from 1-5, there is set-up, plus dinner out, and then the matter of getting Richie to the airport Sunday at shall we say a very early hour. Ah well, at least his travel went smoothly yesterday and the presentation at the Diving Museum drew in about 75 people. It was a good start to what will be a busy few days that will be a lot of fun, too.

You Never Know….

Descending onto USS Spiegel Grove. (Photo by Don Altemus)

Descending onto USS Spiegel Grove. (Photo by Don Altemus)

I intended to post yesterday and by the time I made it home from a round of meetings, a lovely lunch with friends and multiple errands, I had a string of email tasks to attend to. Anyway, my first session of the morning was with the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada that I have posted about on different occasions. Richie Kohler is flying in next week where we will have a book signing on Wed, 19 Oct 5-7, and he’ll do his presentation at 7:00. History of Diving Museum will also be in Losner Park with us for the Seahunts Festival Sat, 22 Oct 1-5. Anyway, after we knocked out the details for those events, we moved on to something I didn’t know about. 2017 is the 15th anniversary of deploying the mighty USS Spiegel Grove as an artificial reef. Until they put the Oriskany down off Pensacola and the Vandenburg off Key West, the Spiegel was the largest artificial reef in the world (510 feet long). My non-fiction, Islands in the Sand, has a chapter devoted to her and Groupers and Gunmounts: Inside the USS Spiegel Grove is a co-authored, photo-heavy book my friend Don Altemus talked me into. Let’s just say that neither has broken any sales records. However, as with all my books, they were a joy to write and in doing do, I met a lot of interesting people that I otherwise would not have.

I knew about the anniversary, but didn’t know the museum in going all out. They will have a special exhibit beginning in January going through May (the actual anniversary) and that will give the opportunity to highlight both books. It may not lead to anything other than another handful of sales, but who knows, it could also spark a surge.

A $200 Pizza – Worth Every Bite……

Topside View Jules Undersea Lodge Key Largo

Topside View Jules Undersea Lodge Key Largo

In general, I wouldn’t recommend paying $195 for a pizza or a sub sandwich, although Tower Pizza in Key Largo does have good food. In this case, however, thanks to a friend who bid on “Lunch at Jules” at a charity auction, I finally experienced the three-hour session offered at Jules Undersea Lodge. (http://www.jul.com).  The single drawback to the wonderful diving we have in Key Largo is there is essentially no shore diving because the water is too shallow. (Yes, I know there are a few spots, but not like in places such as Hawaii and St Croix.) This makes it especially difficult for training when the weather keeps boats from going out. On those days, everyone who can’t wait for the weather to clear heads to the lagoon at Jules.

The lagoon is not large, but it has the distinction of being home to the underwater habitat (two actually) that was moved from the original location in the Caribbean. The two-bedroom habitat with a kitchen/dining/living room was of course designed for research to prove the viability of living underwater for extended periods of time. And while researchers do still use the habitat, it’s available for recreational options from three hours to overnight. It’s something I wanted to try, but since Hubby has to spend lots of training time with students in Jules, he wasn’t especially keen on the idea. Having now done it once, I’m not saying I would go again just to go, but it’s definitely the sort of thing I would do in the same manner that I take visitors to South Beach.

Okay, enough intro – I’ll describe the way it works. First, the staff is terrific in making sure you are comfortable and taken care of. (If you have your own equipment, you can subtract the rental fee. In this situation, my friend didn’t have equipment and I didn’t want to mess with hauling and cleaning my own gear.) You either have to be a certified diver or you can sign up for the one-day Discover Scuba – type class and that is a separate fee. Since both of us were certified, we arrived to what was a very quiet day and filled out the initial paperwork, to include our choice for lunch. There is a hot shower on the grounds and a hot shower in the habitat and they provide towels, shampoo, conditioner. I treated it like I would being on a dive boat and wasn’t going to bother with that part, but it is available. I did have a pair of shorts and t-shirt along just in case. You leave your shoes at the dock and anything else you take gets very carefully wrapped and placed into a watertight box. They are especially careful with your phones and any other electronic item you’re carrying.

There are steps that lead down into the water, so you simply sit on the step to gear up then launch into the water. Your Operation Specialist for the day will either enter the water with you, take you over to the habitat to orient you or you can do as we did and go for a dive of X-minutes (in our case about 30), then meet the staff member at the habitat. The lagoon is chockfull of items like old cannon, a second, smaller habitat, and is only about 25 feet deep.  The visibility is not particularly good due to several factors, however, there were plenty of fish and a nice crab. Nurse sharks will occasionally cruise through, too.

When we finished the dive, we made our way back to the habitat, swam underneath and came up into the “moon pool” as our guy was patiently waiting to remove our gear and give the orientation. This is like the foyer. The two bedrooms are to the right, the shower and marine head are straight ahead and the public area is to the left. Yes, there are portholes in the bedrooms and public area. Benches wrap around and there are two tables. The small fridge is packed with water and sodas, a little basket hold packs of snacks, there is a sink, microwave, TV with DVD player, some books, decks of cards, and a couple of board games. My friend opted to take a quick shower and then we settled in to pass the time until our same guy returned around noon with our piping hot lunch brought to us in a watertight container. When the staff called a while later to give us our “ten minute warning”, it hardly seemed like three hours had passed. We repacked our belongings and our guy secured them before we slipped back into our gear for the short swim to the dock to end our adventure.

Moon Pool Entrance Jules Undersea Lodge

Moon Pool Entrance Jules Undersea Lodge