On the Sideline With Photography….

Just as I don’t “proud mom/grandma” too much in my posts, I also don’t often “proud wife” even though I do frequently mention Hubby. Today is the exception. I’m not the world’s worst photographer, but I’m not very good either. (Granted, the sophistication of today’s smart phones significantly help.) My husband bought his first underwater housing for a camera for scuba in the latter months we were in Puerto Rico. He took some photos in becoming adjusted to the camera and then there was a lapse during the process of our move to here. He didn’t do much with photography for a while, but this is a wonderful environment for photography.

Fast forward a few years as he did more, bought new cameras and lenses, learned the computer software for processing, printing techniques and so forth. When they established the South Florida National Parks Camera Club within Homestead Center for the Arts, that was major step as was his designation to become the primary photojournalist for our community paper. While teaching scuba is still a priority focus, photography comes in close. He of course especially loves shooting motorsports and spends much of his leisure time in the Everglades. His range is amazing and for the second year he’s exhibited at the Artz305 event one of the County Commissioners sponsors the first weekend of December. In fact, last month, he sold a couple of pieces at another event. I don’t try to understand how he does what he does, especially when it comes to printing on canvas and on metal. I admit I’m not overly enthused when he photographs insects and he makes sure not to show me any he does of spiders. Aside from that, I love his work and not long ago, we did install a gallery hanging system in the front room to accommodate more of his pieces. He has been on a couple of photography trips and that’s why we have some from areas like the Smoky Mountains.

Even With Less Than Great Conditions…..

Okay, so my November dive yesterday – which I wasn’t sure I would get in – started out well. Conditions had improved after a few days of wind and there weren’t many people on the boat. What should have happened was two good dives, then a leisurely waterfront lunch. Mother Nature, however, didn’t care what the forecast had showed. On the “upside” a manatee decided to come into the canal and passed under the boat twice while we were still docked. Can’t beat that for a pleasant surprise.

Trip out to the first site was okay although heading into the gray clouds made the timing tricky as to if we would get into the water before the rain started. We all did. Visibility was only about 30-35 feet, but we did see some of my favorites. Lots of blue parrots, rock beauties, little chromis, couple of queen angels, hogfish, and Hubby found a spotted drum which I hadn’t seen in ages. Toward the end of the dive Hubby found a turtle. Hooray! Came up and moved to the second site and rain had stopped. Better vis, but fair amount of surge with nothing very special although there was a nice grouper and several schools of yellow tail snappers. We all managed to get on board as the rain started up again. This time wasn’t so gentle and fortunately, everyone could fit under the covered part of the boat. The mate finally had to close the plastic forward curtains. The temp dropped some and it was right on the edge of manageable for me. The poor folks who didn’t have as much “natural insulation” were chilled. Surface conditions had kicked up too, so ride in was bouncy.

Hubby did have his rain jacket with him and told me to stay on the boat as he off-loaded everything. He did say he was okay with going in search of conch chowder instead of straight home and I gave up the idea of lunch out in favor of heading to the house. The rain had pretty well stopped except it was moving north which meant rain on the way home. This is when seat heaters in the truck came in handy. Ah well, so it goes. This photo was from a previous dive, but also a Key Largo reef.

Juvenile Spotted Drum on reef off Key Largo, FL

Rain Into the Mix…….

There’s a common saying about scuba divers hate to get wet. What that means is, we don’t like to get rained on. Part of it is because you have “dry stuff” for after diving. When you come up from a dive – or are getting equipment ready to go in for a dive, being rained on can interfere with you dry stuff and depending on the temperature of the air and the rain, you can become extra chilled. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get out to dive in September, but things came together and I did. It was hot and humid and when we arrived at the dive site, the reliable City of Washington shallow wreck, there were signs rain might be on the way. As we were underwater, it became apparent rain was close as we sunlight diminished when the skies clouded over. Visibility was already down some, but we did find a small southern stingray as well as the regular fish life of parrots, snappers, angels, and so forth. I, as is often the case, surfaced a few minutes earlier than others and soon after, the rain did start. It picked up in intensity as the other divers came up. The boat wasn’t overly crowded so there was room for everyone under the covered section. Those who weren’t wearing wet suits though because it had been so hot got a bit chilled and we were all looking to see if it would pass fairly quickly. I was still in my skin (lightest weight suit I wear) and with my “natural insulation” was actually okay to stand in the rain for a freshwater rinse. I wouldn’t have done it for much longer. Anyway, the rain did slack and seem to be stopping when the mate looked out and said, “Dolphins!”

Sure enough I think there were two at a distance at first although we could see them. One came really close to the boat and of course no one minded the light rain in getting to watch them. The rain had almost stopped when we moved the short distance to the next site and because the rain hadn’t lasted long, the water was warmer than being on the boat. By the time everyone came up again, the sun was out and all was calm again.

Scrawled File Fish on Reef

Good and Better Dives……

Having missed diving in July, we managed to go yesterday in the hope I can also slip in a day in late August. I always try to dive on or close to my birthday, so it might all come together.

We did a repeat of last time with a trip to the wreck of the Benwood, then on to French Reef. There are nineteen different mooring sites on the reef and one of the Captain’s favorites is Sand Bottom Cave. There aren’t actually caves; more like thick arches to go through. Anyway, visibility was not very good on the wreck – not uncommon. There were the nice schools of fish and I saw all three types of angel fish; a French, then a gray, then a queen angel. There were quite a few butterfly file and a pair of file fish together. The resident turtle wasn’t around. Coral bleaching is a lot in the news these days. With the extended number of days of high water temperatures, there is some bleaching with the shallow corals and that’s what we saw. The deeper (below 30 feet) are mostly unaffected.

We had much better visibility on the second dive and some special treats. We see cute trunk fish on most dives and on this one we saw a larger variety, too; don’t have a photo yet as Hubby hasn’t finished with them. One of the other Horizon instructors found a big green moray tucked way up under a ledge and showed it to Hubby. I almost didn’t see it at first. It has been ages since I’ve seen a ray, but about five minutes after the eel, we found an average size one on another part of the reef. It was intent on something it was getting out of the sand and didn’t let Hubby disturb it so he got some good shots of it was well.

Scrawled Cowfish have pretty colors

We did have time for lunch after and went next door to Shipwrecks. They have been having real problems with getting food orders out. Hubby said we could see if it was better and it was. We did the usual with him a grilled mahi sandwich and blackened mahi basket for me.


Reliable Wreck Site…….

The extensive reef network off Key Largo – the third largest barrier reef in the world – has many dive sites with mooring balls as the “official” sites shown on maps where the charter boats go. Private boats can go as well. There are lots of “unmarked” sites as well; those people discover and don’t publicize the location. The primary reason for charter boats to use mooring ball sites is to protect the reef system. Otherwise you have to anchor and depending on where you are, there could be coral heads or sea grass that can be damaged with careless anchoring. Anyway, having missed Feb and Mar for diving, I had to cancel one possible event to get out yesterday and it was almost perfect.

The weather was great, little wind, no current, good visibility, and this was a day Hubby went for fun and was able to bring the camera. (As an instructor, he’s not allowed to carry a camera unless teaching the underwater imaging course. He can attach his GoPro on regular dives because that runs hands-free). Yesterday we went first to the wreck of the Benwood. Wrecks – whether artificial as in deliberately deployed – or genuine as is the Benwood from WW II – start to immediately become a reef system. With more than seventy years of being down, there’s a lot of marine growth and pieces of the large ship are scattered around the hull that is recognizable as once being a ship. This provides plenty of space for fish and other creatures to tuck into. The anchor sets off to one side and makes for nice viewing. The maturity of it as an artificial reef means it’s reliable as a site even on those occasions where there is “nothing big”. I did almost give up on seeing the turtle that is often present and didn’t find it until the end of my dive. There had been extra schools of fish though and lots of regulars; parrots in all colors, all three kinds of angels, trumpet, trunk fish, and others.

We went onto French Reef for the second dive and there are nineteen mooring balls on that section of reef. This particular spot is “Sand Bottom Cave”. (It’s a small cave and there are several “swim-thrus” in the area. Sure enough, a baby Goliath Grouper was tucked into the cave, taking up most of the space. Even as a “baby”, it was about three-plus feet long and thick. There were lots of other fish to enjoy as well and we saw a honeycomb cowfish which we hadn’t seen in ages. Even though this picture was taken in Belize, we see Queen Angels all the time on our reefs.

Queen Angel on Reef in Belize

Chilly, But Manageable……

Thursday started quite cool and did make it back to the high 70s with sunshine. Water temp is at 73 so a lot of locals stay out of the water in Jan and Feb. I missed diving in early December and knew if I didn’t go Thursday the odds were I would not make it out in Jan either. Visibility was not great on the first dive although better on the second. In other words, conditions were on the margin for me, but doable. We didn’t see anything big on the first one even though I did find a hamlet fish which I hadn’t seen in a long time. There were also blue parrots along with the more common type and three midnight parrots did go by. One very large barracuda was tucked back under a ledge and I couldn’t get to the other divers in time to show them. There were quite a few fish around for a pleasant if not great dive. We went to the wreck of the Benwood next; always reliable as it’s been down since WW II as a thriving reef. Hubby found two turtles; always fun to watch. One has been “in residence” for a while and the other was in a separate section of the wreck. There were lots of butterfly fish to include a banded one, the type we see less often. Quite a few trumpets as well as a pair of trunk fish together, plus a file fish in the last bit of the dive. I looked everywhere for an eel to no avail. Two of the divers did see a nurse shark although I’m not sure where. I always enjoy seeing rock beauties and little chromis.

I doubt I’ll be out in February as my schedule and weather don’t usually coincide. Winds can pick up a lot causing frequent choppy seas if not out-and-out cancellations. The latter part of the month might be good; just have to wait and see what happens.

Rock Beauties are the smallest of the angel fish we have on our reefs.

Chromis are seen on most of the local reefs.

DEMA Trip, Day 4……

We made the decision to not stay for one of the sessions and came on back Thursday instead of Friday as originally intended. Hubby did have to run over before we left to get some shots of a particular rebreather they either carry at the dive shop or plan to – I wasn’t clear on that. We were on the road at the best time to be able to avoid peak traffic in Orlando and Miami. No weather issues either and made it back as smoothly as possible.

Our last night tradition is to dine at the Everglades, the fine dining restaurant at the Rosen. They have a beautiful large mural, another smaller one, sculptures of manatees and an alligator and a nice aquarium. The menu did not include venison this time and we both opted for seafood.They do make a delicious alligator chowder. Hubby had that as well as Chilean sea bass with tomato and artichoke infused risotto. I had the lobster bisque garnished with truffle and the swordfish with sauteed chard (gave that and the truffle to Hubby). It is the kind of place where they bring a dessert cart around and the coffee is served at the table in a French press. It is the one night we do share a dessert. There were fewer choices than in the past, however, the apple cheese cake was excellent. I’m still not quite sure how they did it because there were thinly sliced apples on bottom (similar to a tarte tartin). The topping was a lovely cinnamon apple sauce with walnuts.

It was a good trip as far as seeing several folks and meeting a few new ones. Hubby had a chance to talk to those about Horizon Divers and I gave out maybe a dozen bookmarks. The sessions we attended were good, too, and the only thing I didn’t accomplish was finding a t-shirt for granddaughter. There weren’t many booths with apparel this year. Finding an ocean-theme t-shirt around here for her isn’t difficult though.

DEMA Trip, Day 3……..

Our intention to attend a couple of different 10:00 a.m. sessions went by the wayside although we did make our 11:00 sessions. The one I attended was entirely different from what I thought it was going to be and turned out to be of even greater interest. In fact, so much so that I have asked permission to do an article for the paper. I’ve posted here before about the wonderful work of the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) in Key Largo. For those who may not have read that blog – it was a long time ago – they are a now world-known organization that began as a small 4-H project with daughter and father to see if she could fragment a coral and use that to grow another, then replant it on a reef successfully. There are multiple organizations now around the globe using that or similar techniques to try and restore reefs. Some are non-profit, others university efforts or government entities. Anyway, the session this morning is about our National Marine Sanctuary taking in the lead in getting CRF and quite a few others together in a partnering effort to focus on seven specific reefs that range from Key Largo down to Key West. By focusing on these specific reefs, they can have solid base-line data and track progress in a meaningful way. It is a three-phase program to run for 20 years with the goal of increasing coral growth to 25% of each reef. That’s about 10% less than what is considered optimal for a reef to sustain. Going under the percentage is because there may also be some “natural” growth that occurs in what is basically like cross-pollination once the planted corals start to flourish. Lots more to come on that.

On another note, we hadn’t realized a friend (and sister author) was involved with one of the newest scuba technologies. And yes, she is based out of Maui. Hugh and I had split up while I went to get a quote for an article. He got in on the explanation of what the new rig does and I’m still trying to get a full understanding. It was nice to see Jennifer again and we’re thrilled she’s doing well.

DEMA Trip, Day 2…….

Actually, today there was sort of diving as we attended a session with a VR set with short dive clips from Palau. The tech aspect was impressive, especially since it provided for sound as well as visual. I did find the headsets to be rather heavy and I had to support it with one hand in order to balance that. It was fine for no longer than I had it on. I don’t know enough about the various headset options, but I imagine there are some less bulky/lighterweight ones available or soon will be. The reefs of Palau (we’ve never been) looked a great deal like the beautiful reefs in Fiji and it was nice to see Moorish idols again. They are a Pacific fish and we did see them all the time in Hawaii.

I attended a morning session and Hubby went to two. He walked all through the exhibits this afternoon when I came back to do a little work before we joined up again for the VR session. I only made it through a little of the exhibit hall this morning and will spend my time there tomorrow afternoon. We had lunch in the food court area with Hubby have a gyros and I did a pulled chicken bowl. Both were pretty good at the usual kind of prices you pay at event venues.

As we suspected, a place called Hampton Social was a new addition to Orlando Pointe. It had a seafaring theme and a limited menu. The Ceasar salad we shared was quite good and Hubby’s short rib and sweet corn polenta were excellent. I went for the crab cake and you would think I would learn by now. Crab cakes outside Maryland and certain parts of Virginia tend to be only okay and this one was no exception. I think we’re going to the British Pub up there tonight. It is a pleasant walk.

DEMA Trip, Day 1……

Okay, not scuba fun as in diving; rather as in being part of the community. The Diving Equipment and Manufacturing Association trade show is not open to the public; only businesses and individuals in the dive industry. Interestingly, even though there is a category for writers as a member, this year’s registration was more restricted than in the past. Since Best Publishing (publishers of Mystery of the Last Olympian: Britannic, Titanic’s Tragic Sister) is not attending this year, I couldn’t tuck up under them. As a freelancer, I’m not on assignment with any publication, so I had to go in to get special clearance. The stipulation with me as Media is I write an article within 90 days and send them the link to publication. I periodically cover dive things for the South Dade News Leader and even though I didn’t clear it with them first, I’ll be doing an article about the Women’s Diving Hall of Fame. One of the members is Dr. Sally Bauer, the co-founder of the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada. More importantly than the “local” angle is part of their mission is to encourage women into the many aspects of a career in marine sciences, etc., as well as diving. There are some amazing women who have done incredible explorations, too. Anyway, more about that later.

Orlando Pointe, a shopping/entertainment/dining complex is about a 20-minute walk and we usually go there all but our last night when we dine at the fancy restaurant at the hotel. Unfortunately, it looks as if one of our favorites, The Funky Monkey Wine Bistro, didn’t make it through the closures. Ah well, there are other places and two new ones are listed. It was a very nice layout and perhaps one of the new places went into the “Monkey’s” spot.

We completed registration this afternoon for the show and now I have to look through the schedule to see what I want to attend tomorrow.