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

Our Local Sharks…..

The answer to the question, “Aren’t you afraid of sharks when you dive?”, is “That depends.” Was I a little nervous the first time? Yes. On the other hand, it doesn’t take long to learn the reality about this aspect of diving. There are a lot of varieties of sharks and that’s one factor I’ll get to. Because of the gear a diver wears, we simply don’t look like prey and especially not if we have regular scuba where you exhale a constant stream of bubbles. Sharks don’t expend unnecessary energy and they don’t eat if they aren’t hungry. If a person is on something like a surfboard or a boogie board, then from below, that resembles a seal or turtle shape, both of which are favored by sharks. The reason people who are attacked aren’t usually “consumed” is because as soon as the shark realizes this isn’t a food they like, they move on. The problem, of course, is they may have inflicted lethal damage in their exploratory “bite”. Anyway back to the diving part.

The predominant shark on the reefs here are nurse sharks and they are quite docile. If someone gets bitten by a nurse shark, the odds are 99% the individual was doing something inappropriate. There has been an increase in the number of Caribbean reef sharks around (saw one the other day), but they tend to run 5-8 feet and they’re not aggressive. There’s plenty of their preferred food to keep them happy. An exception can be divers who spear fish. Here’s the thing. If a shark wants to take a fish you just speared – you really should give it up. We do get the larger bull sharks (not a type I want to be around) on the deeper wrecks as well as in the backcountry which is too shallow for diving. Then there are the occasional sightings of hammerheads that breeze through – always a thrill, but also not generally aggressive. The presence of a great white does cause a stir. The water here is too warm, but they swing in sometimes and can hang around for a short while. That’s not one I have any desire to be in the water with, but again, attacks on divers haven’t been an issue.

What about shark feedings? That is a whole different subject and I think I’ll save it for a future post.

Just a Glimpse….

2015 was not a good year for me to get out and dive with the irony being the main reason I couldn’t go was being wrapped up in working on Mystery of the Last Olympian which is all about diving. (http://bit.ly/1XEhXRF). Anyway, I wanted to do better in 2016 and while the January trip was just snorkeling, I did make it in March and was surprisingly able to go on Memorial Day. There were all sorts of things that could have made that not work out, yet it did and the conditions were terrific. Plus, about one-third of folks on the boat were veterans; two of us being female. In another coincidence, we went to the same two dive sites as in March; the wreck of the Benwood and Sandy Bottom Cave (part of French Reef). Those are popular and common sites so that part isn’t too unusual. However, last time out we glimpsed dolphins and also did this time. Even a quick look is fun, but there are times when they will come and “play” in the wake of a boat which is always a special treat.

We didn’t see anything big on either dive – the reef shark at Sandy Bottom present when we moored took off before most of us saw it. That’s okay by me, but others were disappointed. There were plenty of fish though with nice schools at each location and I got to see a porcupine puffer for the first time in ages. I love them and unfortunately, this one tucked back underneath a section of the wreck so Hubby couldn’t get a good photo. There is, however, a spotted drum that has taken up residence and Hubby has been watching him (her?) grow from a tiny little juvenile. He also “righted” a conch that had been tipped up on its side; quite possibly by a potential predator that didn’t follow through (I hope not by a careless diver). While it is interesting to see the conch itself, being partially exposed is not their usual posture. We did see a couple of small yellow rays that are no bigger than a dessert plate. They have lovely coloration and will hang around if you don’t frighten them away. (The photo below is of another juvenile spotted drum, not the one currently on the Benwood)

Juvenile Spotted Drum

Juvenile Spotted Drum


The Really Technical Side of Diving……

6156 D Alternus 009This is one of those mornings when the insomnia kicked in at the worst time. Generally, if the 3:00ish a.m. monster awakens me (there’s an old post about that), I can get up for a while, then either go curl up on the loveseat with the TV on or plan to take a nap in the afternoon. This happens to be a day when that schedule doesn’t work because in a couple of hours, I’ll be prepping to go to the TEKDIVE USA show up at FIU North Campus. This will be my first time to attend and also the last dive show where I’m appearing with Richie Kohler for this year. (We have some October events together, but those will be covered in future posts.) Anyway, the reason I’ve never been to TEKDIVE is because it’s a gathering of divers who are at that next level up; some of them incredibly so who go deeper, longer, and use equipment that really was in the science fiction realm when we Baby Boomers were kids. For those who have already read, Mystery of the Last Olympian, Titanic’s Tragic Sister Britannic, (http://mysteryofthelastolympian.com) you read about the extraordinary advances in scuba technology.

I love to dive, but I have no interest in the highly technical side. I rarely venture below eighty feet and quite frankly, don’t particularly want to. I prefer to stay more shallow (sixty and above) and have longer underwater to enjoy myself. Another major drawback is I discovered I can’t deal with being in an “overhead” environment and especially not a cave situation. Let me explain for non-divers. In a shipwreck, you can have “swim-thrus” that are natural or have been prepared if it is a wreck that’s been deliberately sunk as an artificial reef. This means you have a clearly visible entry and exit point while you are inside the wreck and it’s usually not a long swim between the two points. A “regular” diver like me can manage a swim-thru with no problem. If you have an entrance without a clearly visible exit, such as you go down a passageway and come out another hole or you go in for a ways, have to reverse and come back out the way you came in, this is an “overhead environment”. That requires special training and equipment and is one of the factors that puts you into “technical diving”. There is of course some degree of risk with all diving, but it’s minimal as long as you maintain your equipment and follow fundamental safety rules (most of which are commonsense). The same holds true when you do technical diving, but the difference, and this is a big difference, is the equipment becomes far more complicated and when you dive deep (past 130 feet), you get into the whole required decompression stops you have to plan and execute. It isn’t anything that I want to do and  in the crowd I’ll be with today, there will be amazing stories told by men and quite a few women, who happily take the proper training, gear up with a lot of extra equipment and say, “Sure, let’s go down 150 (or more) feet to that wreck. It will be fun.” And for them, it is.

New Jersey, Day Two of Show…..

One of the things about attending these shows is indeed the people you meet, especially the legends and pioneers of scuba. Because of the age range (and there are a delightful number of children in attendance), certain men and women were in the truly early days of scuba when technology was very limited. The entrance to the show has large-size photos on display of “Legends of the Sea”, many of whom are no longer with us, yet advanced the knowledge and understanding of scuba throughout their lives.

An individual who is very much still with us is Nuno Gomes. He was in the same presentation room as we were in, but on at an earlier time. Then by chance we were at the bar together at the hotel and I did not initially recognize the name. You can Google him to see the YouTube  videos that are amazing as he has gone around the world setting a variety of depth records. From Wikapedia: “He is the holder of two world records in deep diving (independently verified and approved by Guinness World Records), the cave diving record from 1996 to 2015 and the sea water record from 2005 to 2014.” Yeah, diving below 1,000 feet will get you into the records books.

Why, you may ask? Part of it is the, “Because it’s there”, and part of it is the incredible drive of certain individuals who want to stretch themselves to whatever particular boundary they choose to engage in; to say, “I don’t know, let’s see if we can’t go beyond that.” This is not some daredevil, thinly disguised death wish, but rather a carefully thought out reasoning of how to push and demonstrate human ability supported by technology. Aside from being an amazing diver, he’s an interesting guy to have a drink with.

NJ Trip, Briefly Lovely……..

Ah yes, the one thing you really can’t do anything about. The clouds from yesterday disappeared, the sun shone, and the temperature shot up to 70, which for me was great. It was startling for others. The hotel where I am staying is a very short walk from the exhibition center and as if turns out, backs onto a retail/restaurant area that has several nice dining choices. Scheduling kept me from having a normal dinner last night, although that shouldn’t be an issue again. Lunch will be and that’s why I have a protein bar back-up. Anyway, in the relatively short time from when I came back into the room before headed to the evening presentation, the rain arrived. Not a downpour, yet definitive and that’s when I discovered the umbrella I brought is defective. It works, although it won’t stay open unless I hold it open with my hand supporting it from underneath, which is rather awkward. Ah well, at least I only have to go short distances. There aren’t many trees budding yet, although there are some in bloom and daffodils, those bringers of Spring, are brightly yellow and also bring a smile when you see them.

This area of NJ is actually where Richie Kohler “came to fame” as a diver, and he has been a “star” of this show for several years. Trying to keep him on schedule is a little tricky since everyone wants more of his time than he can give and still keep up with other people waiting. On the other hand, there are certainly worse problems to have. It will be a busy day.

Trip Ahead….

Mystery of the Last Olympian is scheduled for a Feb 2016 release.

Mystery of the Last Olympian is scheduled for a Feb 2016 release.

Well, I have been told that the big dive show, Beneath the Sea, in New Jersey is the largest consumer dive show in the country (and maybe the world). We’ve never attended because we see lots of folks when we’re at the Orlando show every other year and we generally travel (as we did) to Washington every March or April so turning around to make a second trip isn’t something we like to do. This year, of course, Richie Kohler is a featured speaker about exploring the shipwreck Britannic, and we’ll have multiple signings of the book. Hubby can’t go with me since it’s still very busy here in the dive community. Since I’m completely unfamiliar with the area, I’m going up on the early flight, but that was rather than me spending an extra day up there. Although I could have booked a flight back Sunday night, I’m not really keen on trying to leave out of a place and catch a flight that would then cause me to have to drive back from the airport at night after a long day. Not that I haven’t done it, but I try not to put myself in those circumstances unless it’s really necessary.

I also don’t have the faintest idea if I’ll be dining on anything other than hotel food. I will take protein bars as a caution to have one in my purse if I can’t do something like stop for lunch. Evenings should be fine and there could be several good restaurants around. So stay tuned for the adventures to be had at the Meadow Lands Exhibition Center in Seacaucus, NJ. According to the gentleman I spoke with earlier when arranging transport from the airport, at least the rain is supposed to hold off tomorrow. That was nice to hear. Now we’ll see what Mother Nature decides to do.