WHILE THE FLORIDA GULF COAST HAS BEEN PART OF MY LIFE FOREVER, I’ve only been in the Florida Keys for one brief visit and diving my way down them has long been on my Bucket List. The Juliet, my favorite liveaboard ever, sailed down the Keys in mid-May, from Miami to Key West and I went with it.
It was a mixed trip – I can never say enough good things about the Juliet’s terrific, and terrifically attentive, crew. There were great dives, featuring wrecks, turtles, stingrays, barracudas.
But high winds – albeit on sunny days – meant poor visibility on some sites and in the end caused us to call off the last two days of diving.
A PLETHORA OF PORKFISHES Saying I saw porkfishes may not sound like much of an achievement, but in 20 years of diving I had never seen more than occasional solitary specimens of this colorful fish. So on this trip I was happy to find them in sizable aggregations.
AND HIGHHATS I’d never seen any highhats, relatives of the oft-encountered spotted drums, anywhere. At the Cayman Salvager wreck near Key West there they were, a whole posse of them.
ALLIGATOR REEF YES!
At Alligator Reef, off Islamorda, we had a great dive, hanging out with a big green turtle, a stingray, the aforementioned porkfishes and an enormous number of grunts. Dives on the 550-foot Vandenberg wreck and on the Benwood Wreck (especially the night dive) were excellent.
SOMBRERO REEF NO! But visibility at Sombrero Reef, Molasses Reef and the Flagler Barge was so poor, due to sediment in the water column, that I had to turn off my camera’s strobes (the light’s reflections on sediment rendered unusable images), and shoot without them. Sometimes this produced okay images; sometimes it didn’t.
All told, we got in 10 or 11 dives (some of us skipped the last night dive due to the low viz) on reefs and wrecks. On Wednesday, we motored back to Miami. On Thursday, some of us went to Miami’s new Science Museum, which is primarily and aquarium.
NO MEMORIAL BUT A STINGRAY GREETER Our introduction to limited visibility came on the first stop out of Miami, at the Neptune Memorial, an artificial reef built by The Neptune Society for subscribers’ cremated remains. Despite two tries from the mooring line, following a general compass course, my dive buddy Ted Nobick and I totally failed to find it.
Instead, on a broad sandy bottom, we encountered this friendly southern stingray. Maybe better, since he posed for us for several minutes, fluffing sand and being stingrayish. Unless in this case the fluffing thing was to tell us to go away. It worked; in the end, we did.