It had been exactly a year since the last time I went diving. Every time I go that long without taking a dip, I get mighty nervous. What if I forget how to deflate my BCD and look like an idiot in front of all the other divers? What if I don’t remember how much weight I require to reach optimal buoyancy? What if I run out of air and can’t figure out how to take my equipment off at 80 feet below? Luckily, all the worrying is for naught because the moment I submerge, it feels as if I have never gotten out of the ocean in the first place.
We were lucky with the swells, as rough seas the weekend before had kept the dive boats tethered to their docks. We woke up after a sleepless night on our second day in the Keys to find the seas calm and the swells at one feet; I didn’t even need the Bonine I had nervously gobbled down out of fear I’d lose the contents of last night’s dinner. (Now our dives on Key West were a different story entirely.)
We were scheduled for a two-tank dive with Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort, where we stayed for two nights. The rates start around $100 per person per night included two dives daily, which is about the lowest prices I’ve seen for diving anywhere. What we didn’t realize about the Keys is that if you don’t have your advanced diver certification, you also have to hire a guide on top of that. In the hundreds of dives I have logged, I have never been out with a commercial outfitter that just allows you free rein on the reef and doesn’t send the group out with a divemaster, but such is the way of life in the Keys. As one divemaster told me, “the way we see it is you got your certification, so you can do what you want out there.”
Only, while I have my advanced, SVV has never gotten his; he only has his basic open water. Until now, it hasn’t been a problem. We have done advanced wreck sites at 120 feet, night dives and more all around the world where rules are a bit more lax. So we bit the bullet and hired a guide (at $35 per person per dive) so he could go down with me. It was for the best anyway; I’d much prefer to go down with someone who knows the terrain versus trying to find all the good stuff on my own in a quick 40-minute dive.
The first site we attempted was the Duane. Now, I’d heard for awhile if you do two dives in Key Largo make it the Duane and Spiegel Grove. What I didn’t hear until the night before is that just a month ago, they spotted a 13-foot great white shark off the Duane. (Wha?!? I thought those guys only paroled cold water! My mind is officially blown.) So let’s just say I wasn’t all that gutted to arrive at the Duane and find the currents were too strong for us to anchor there.
Instead, we continued on another mile or so to the wreck at Spiegel Grove and dropped anchor. We were a bit bummed to find the visibility so low; I’d venture to say it wasn’t more than 15 or 20 feet. This means pictures are cloudy, but more importantly, it’s easy to lose your dive buddy down there.
But such is life, and when you dive, you never know what the conditions might be like. Once we had our bearings, we were happy to see the reef so alive with fish and activity. On the first dive, we saw a couple big ol’ French angels, a barracuda or two and a grouper that was, no joke, four feet long. No sharks, nothing else big, but it was a nice dive anyway.
On the second dive, we didn’t have a guide as it wasn’t considered an advanced site. At this point, the ocean floor was so churned and the water so cloudy, we could hardly see a thing. We tottered around for 30 minutes or so on the cloudy bottom and then surfaced, making our way through the sea of moon jellies and back to the boat.
It wasn’t the best diving ever, but it was a nice dive nonetheless. And besides, the dive that would blow our mind would happen on the last day of our vacation while in Key West. Better to save the best for last, right?