Posts Tagged With: scuba diving

Loving Cozumel in 2013 (February 2013)

This adventure started with an incredible family travel coincidence. Ann made reservations for me and her to spend a week snorkeling and scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico – a paradise for water sports (particularly scuba diving). We are to arrive on February 20th and depart on February 27th.

A day after Ann made the reservations, we learned from my mom that my two sisters and one of my nieces will be getting on a cruise ship departing from Miami in the near future.

One place they will spend a day off the ship?

Cozumel.

On February 21st.

When we booked our trips, none of us knew of the plans of others.

What are the chances of this happening??

Ann and I ended up spending a wonderful week in Cozumel.

My two sisters visited us on our second day in Cozumel, and we enjoyed snorkeling and diving with them off the hotel dock. We didn’t learn until after our trip to Cozumel was booked that their cruise ship trip would be stopping in Cozumel the day after we arrived. A pleasant, astonishing coincidence.

We lodged at the Villa Aldora hotel very close to the presidential retreat (you will see several photos of Villa Aldora in my link below). The hotel patio we ate breakfast at each morning was only a few feet from a very nice snorkeling area. Waters were warm (83 to 85 degrees), impossibly clear, dazzling blue in color, and sitting atop snow white sandy and coral bottoms. Our dive operator was Aldora Divers, widely recognized as the best dive operators on the island. Each morning their dive boats would arrive at our hotel dock to take us diving (the Cozumel14dock was only a few feet from our room). My big dives were at Palancar Caves, Columbia Deep, Santa Rosa Wall, and Punta Sur – each of which provide utterly gorgeous, vibrantly colorful reef walls, tropical fish, and spectacular swim-throughs (I LOVE swim-throughs!). The following video, while not shot during my dives, shows diving at the Columbia and Santa Rosa sites I dove over the past few days in Cozumel:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=516KZ2nOCoA

I had SEVERAL eye-popping encounters with VERY large marine life: lobsters, green moray eels, eagle rays, black-tip sharks (the shark in the video is a black-Cozumel16tip about the size of the three or four I encountered), turtles, spotted eels, queen angelfish, and barracuda.

This link shows photos I (mostly) shot during the trip. Since I didn’t have an underwater camera, the shots of marine life and reef formations were not shot by me, but were shot by another diver during my dives. For the best view, after you are taken to the Picasa photos, don’t forget to click on “slideshow” in the upper left:

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/Cozumel2013

On Sunday night, we went to the Cozumel town center and had a DELICIOUS, authentic dinner at a restaurant that is very popular (with good reason!) with locals (we hate touristy places!). During dinner, street performers entertained us with flaming torches, as you will see in the photos. We then walked to the town square where a large number of festive locals had gathered to enjoy a very good horn band. We danced the night away on the plaza there.

Throughout our stay in Cozumel, we had the good fortune to eat at a number of great, funky restaurants popular with the local population. Our favorites were Café Indio, Del Sur, Casa Denis, and Corazon Contento. We also had lunch at a taco stand that served out-of-this-world fish tacos.

It was a four-hour direct flight from Denver to Cancun, Mexico when we returned home. Because Cozumel is relatively close to the equator, we had severe weather shock when we returned to Denver and Boulder. The morning of our departure in Cancun found us at a Cancun bus station. It was sunny, humid and VERY hot. Sweating profusely in 90-degree temperatures. A few hours later, we were walking from the downtown Boulder bus station to our house. The temperature was windy and about 15 degrees. We were so painfully cold that we opted to take a taxi after a few blocks, even though we were about five blocks from home. We had gone from “middle of summer” weather to “middle of winter” weather in four hours.

Ann and I hope to make return trips to Cozumel again and again.

 

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Categories: 2011-Present, Caribbean, Diving, Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Scuba Diving West Palm Beach, Florida (1999)

I had recently heard the claim that West Palm Beach had excellent diving. Guide books claim that it has some of the best drift diving in the world.

After diving West Palm, I understand the reason for the reputation. It is truly world-class drift diving. The reefs are majestic and rugged. The Gulf Stream provides the drift dive. As a beginner diver, I have found that drift diving is what I would expect the weightlessness of moon-walking or space-walking to be like. It requires almost no energy, yet you float along and observe the fabulous beauty of the tropical fish and reefs.

The Stream pushes warm water closer to the shore here than anywhere else in Florida. The water is very clear (we have 40-50 feet of visibility). And the reefs here are home to more species of fish than anywhere else in Florida, as well. The area is well-known for having a large sea turtle population (see photo above).

In 24 hours, I enjoy 6 dives, ranging in depth from 25 to 80 feet. It is exhausting, but nevertheless exhilarating.

It is part of a chartered boat—a dive trip arranged by Water World in Gainesville FL, where I live. My dive boat is good and contains a helpful crew. On Saturday afternoon, we dive the Breakers Reef. Here, we see an impressive 3- to 15-foot ledge system. In all, the reef is 2 miles long. Our next dive is at Flower Gardens Reef.

On both of these dives, we see large fish, a large sea turtle, and I have fun watching our dive masters catch several lobster. .

At 7 p.m., I go on two night dives—my first experience with such diving. At first, I am rather apprehensive: Would it be so dark that I would suffer from claustrophobia? Would I be able to signal quickly to my dive buddy if I was in distress? Would I be able to follow the group in total darkness? But because there were 8-10 of us, the large number of flashlights makes for an easy and extremely enjoyable night drift dive. I notice that even more so than daylight drift diving, night drift dives truly provide what I assume it is like to go moon-walking: Weightlessness and darkness. It was wonderful to be able to shine my flashlight on the colorful tropical fish (see photo below), and there is a much different experience at night in the same dive location, because different forms of marine life come out. For example, we see a big moray eel (photo above right) squiggling about on the ocean floor, and many of us shine our lights on it to make it seem like it was the star of a show on a spot-lighted stage. The night dives are at Breakers Reef and Bath and Tennis Reef. We find milder currents at the latter location, which gives us more time to enjoy the tropical marine life.

On Sunday, we log two more dives in the early morning, at Breakers and Flower Gardens. As I ascend on my final dive, I am fortunate to spot a lovely, graceful jellyfish. Earlier, I spotted two enormous, bright blue parrot fish at the bottom, and a good size sting ray.

We escape from West Palm as the fearsome Hurricane Floyd (much bigger than the very destructive Hurricane Andrew) was bearing down on us with Category 4, 145 mph winds ranging out over 125 miles. Fortunately, Floyd veers away from West Palm, so the city escapes significant damage, as far as I know.

I intend to return for more diving in West Palm, but will first check the latest hurricane reports…

 

 

Categories: 1991-2000, Diving, Florida | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Scuba Diving Key Largo, Florida (1999)

In the summer of 1999, my friend Maureen and I travel down to Key Largo, knowing it is a scuba paradise, and knowing that it was “Dive Week” because the lobster season has started. It turns out to be an extremely enjoyable and relaxing weekend.

 Our lodging is at Largo Lodge, which features full kitchen and bath facilities, and a front porch area perfect for wet scuba gear. It is nestled within a very lush, tropical setting, enabling us to lounge at the water’s edge (the photo shows Maureen enjoying the ambiance).

The lodge is just down the road from our dive outfitter—Quiescence Diving Services. [Qui•es•cence \kwi[long i]-es-n(t)s \ a state of repose; still; tranquil; serene].

Quiescence turns out to be a very good outfitter for our two days of diving. They feature friendly and helpful boat captains, and small, personalized boats (ours carries 6 divers), in stark contrast to the infamous “cattle boats,” which carry 30 or 40 divers.

At first, I am somewhat apprehensive, since this would be my first open-water diving, and first dive in ocean water. But it turns out to be extremely pleasurable, safe diving in clear, warm, 30-50 feet of water. After the first day, I am very eager to do as much diving as I can. Suiting up is easy with only 6 divers (that’s me on the right, suited up and ready for a dive), and for the 2 days, we do 4 dives, each of which lasts 45 minutes to an hour (me and Maureen emerging from a dive in the photo below). And each dive is in the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, which means that we see an abundance of marine life.

Our first dive is at “Elbow Reef,” which consists of fingers of coral reefs we follow during our dive. On the way there, we see a large green sea turtle surface near our boat. The second dive on our first day is a drift dive along “The Slabs.” The drifting makes for an very low-energy, casual dive.

On the second day, we dive “North North Dry Rocks Reef,” and we come across a big eel, several rays, and several spiny lobster (which we could not take because they are protected in the Sanctuary, and because we had no gloves). The coral on this reef was especially colorful. Our last dive is again at “Elbow Reef,” but this time we explore a 1917 shipwreck, as well as the nearby reefs.

On both days, we are treated to an explosion of bright colors: queen angelfish, four-eye butterflyfish, brain coral, large flower coral, large snook, yellowtail snapper, yellow goatfish, soft coral, bowl coral, and elkhorn coral.

Both nights after the dives, we are fortunate to find excellent restaurants with great views. In fact, while dining on our second night, we watch a spectacular, famous Keys sunset from our table (see photo below right).

More About Key Largo

Southwest of Key Largo are the most extensive coral reef systems in the U.S. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary help protect the reefs. The reefs contain over 52 species of West Indies Corals and are home to 500 fish species. The Elbow is also known as the “wreck reef,” since it is littered with parts of various ships.

Go to this link to see more and better photos of this adventure. When the link takes you to Picasa, select “slideshow” in the upper left for the best view: https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/KeyLargoFLAugust1999?authuser=0&feat=directlink

Categories: 1991-2000, Diving, Florida | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Diving Manatee Springs, Florida (1999)

Summer in Florida. Solution on this particular day is scuba diving with my friend, Maureen, at Manatee Springs. The springs flow into the Suwannee River a short distance from the spring head. The head discharges 96 million gallons a day of crystal clear spring water into the Suwannee, which is one-quarter mile from the spring head, and connected by a wooden boardwalk which passes through a cypress forest. The springs get their name from the fact that in the past, manatees (also known as “sea cows”) were found swimming into the spring run to escape the cool Suwannee River water in the winter (the spring water is 72 degrees year round).

We first dive Catfish Sink, which is connected to the Manatee Springs by an underground tunnel a couple of hundred feet long. Catfish is a 120-foot wide circular basin which is covered with duckweed and other floating vegetation when we arrive. A wooden walkway and deck brings you down to the surface, where we don our gear and enter the water, which is made easy by a limestone shelf only a few feet deep next to the deck. Once under the surface, we find clear water and good visibility. The basin is about 35 feet deep, which gets easily silted up when diving near the bottom.

Because we are not cave certified divers, we do not enter the tunnel, but instead walk over to the springs for another dive. A limestone cliff drops you to a cave about 40 feet deep. We notice a very strong flow of water coming from the spring, which quickly carried us away from the head. We see a number of sun fish.

 

 

Categories: 1991-2000, Diving, Florida | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Learning to Scuba Dive at Rainbow River & Devil’s Den, Florida (May 1999)

In May of 1999, I sign up for training to become certified for scuba diving, after several years of wanting to learn scuba. I am not expecting the level of training and fatigue that go into scuba certification. It involves several days of classroom study, 2 read-throughs of a scuba instruction book, and several exhausting pool and open water sessions. I nearly choke to death several times during the pool session, because I am unable to master the proper procedure for “mask clearing,” in which a flooded mask must be cleared underwater. As a result, I inhale a large quantity of water through my nose. It is not until I am home later that week to practice the skill in a friend’s pool (after being told I could not be certified if I could not master the skill) that I learn how to do it well. I am feeling down because I have problems with other skills, and feel like I am the worst student in my class. I am so depressed and scared that I am convinced that I would have to take the class again, or that I would drown during the open water session on the final week.

The final weekend of open water training makes it all worth it, however. Despite feeling tremendous stress and anxiety on Saturday morning, I have an incredible experience at Rainbow River–one of the most colorful rivers in Florida. The spring-fed river gives several striking shades of blue, and the white sands and green grass beds add to the array of colors. After practicing skills, we engage in long drift swims along the river-both skin diving with our snorkels, and scuba diving. I will always have a memory of how incredulous and joyous I was when I first put my head underwater when we started the drift dive. “I’M BREATHING!! AND I’M UNDEWATER!!! AND I’M NOT DROWNING!! SO THIS IS WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE A FISH!! WOW!!!!!” Both of these drifts are pleasant since they feature water with a visibility of approximately 100 feet, and a diverse, large collection of fish, including large bass, shad, perch, bluegill, and gar. At one point, our instructor picks up a baby snapping turtle, which snaps at the girls in our group when he puts the turtle in their faces. The scuba drift is quite relaxing. It is, by far, my longest underwater experience, and I enjoy it tremendously. It is wonderful to drift seemingly weightlessly in the very pretty river for 45 minutes without having to surface.

Sunday, however, is even more of a treat. We visit Devil’s Den, just outside of Williston, Florida. For several years, I have wanted to visit this extremely unusual geologic formation. As you can see in the photo, the Den is a prehistoric underground spring INSIDE a dry cave. The remains of several extinct animal species (saber-toothed tigers, giant sloths, and mastodons) dating back 2 million years into the Pleistocene Era have been discovered inside the Den. Evidence of early humans, dating back 7,500 years, have also been found in the Den.

Entry is by way of a long wooden staircase that is carved through a limerock formation at the surface. Descending 60 feet down to a wooden, floating platform, you find yourself in a large underground room that is lit up with sunlight streaming through a surface chimney and draped with long vines. The large limestone cave walls are completely vertical as they rise to the ceiling and chimney approximately 30 feet from the surface of the Den pool. The pool contains clear blue water that ranges up to 50 feet deep. The pool contains several large, black catfish. We watch them swarm our instructor as he feeds them fish food.

Our training consists of two 30-minute sessions in which we gently swim in a large circle around the Den pool. Because much of the water is not reached by sunlight, we need to carry flashlights. The scuba experience here is fabulous. I feel as if I am floating in outer space, or on the lunar surface, as I drift-with “neutral buoyancy”-over the limerock formations on the bottom. The fossil beds at the bottom of the Den are 33 million years old.

At 50 feet, I am at the deepest I have ever dove with scuba gear, being a new student. Scary at first, not being sure if I would be able to avoid the panic of failed air supply, getting caught in something, or suffering from the many other scuba risks, such as the bends, air embolisms, or mask squeeze.

But compared to my erratic swimming pool experience the week before, both Rainbow River and Devil’s Den scuba are surprisingly relaxing and enjoyable. Now that I am certified, I am now exceptionally excited about going on exotic scuba diving trips to Belize, Antigua, West Palm Beach, Sarasota, the Great Barrier Reef, the Florida Keys, and the many crystal-clear springs in my backyard here in North Florida. I recommend scuba to anyone who seeks the peak experiences that human life can provide. I would rank it with skydiving as one of the most spectacular adventures in my life.

Scuba diving has opened up a whole new, exciting world for me that I would have never experienced had I not become certified.

Our instructor informed us that North Florida is the premier location in the world for scuba diving springs. After seeing it featured in the March 1999 National Geographic, and becoming certified (not to mention canoeing and swimming) in the area, I can understand why the area has such a reputation…

The company that certified me in Gainesville was Water World.

Categories: 1991-2000, Diving, Florida | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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