Labor Day Weekend in the Florida Keys
Aug 30-Sept 3, 2003


Yet another Florida Keys trip with Deanna - this time we brought Deanna's new fiance Dan and Kamala, the infamous "Wreck Wrench"! Kamala, used to North Carolina diving, had never dived in the Keys and Deanna and I wanted to show her why we come back every year. Kamala and I flew in Thursday afternoon to St. Pete and Friday morning we began our long drive to Key Largo. We naturally stopped at the discount divestores in Florida City/Key Largo to fill up our already full divebags... But, the most interesting thing we passed on the way down there, while we did an unintended "shortcut", was the Kamala Tropical Garden, and Kamala demanded that we stopped so she could check it out - Kamala isn't exactly a common name...
We stayed at Marina Del Mar as we had done several times before - the price is decent and it's centrally located, and of course they have hot tubs and their Coconuts restaurant.

Saturday morning we checked in at the docks for two dives with Island Ventures, a shop I found on the web and that I had seen some positive reports about in misc. scuba messageboards and newsgroups. It's a small outfit but they seem to have everything under control. We were 8 people on the boat and it wasn't too crowded. The others on the boat had been out with them the previous day and we were told they wanted to go to an "intermediate divesite", which got me a little concerned as Dan only had a few dives under his belt after his certification a couple of weeks prior. Well, "intermediate" is a relative term, as when I suggested Benwood Wreck as a first dive, they were ok with that... Ok, it's 50 ft instead of the normal 30ft reef dive, but it's not really that difficult, even for a new diver.
The trip out to the site was nice and not too rough and the dive was ok, even though the visibility was down and the surge was heavy, as it often is on this wreck. On the other hand, the fishlife more than makes up for the other inconveniences! I saw my first scorpion fish in the Keys and that was only after Kamala pointed it out to me. We did a leisurely 70 minute dive, a little bit longer than planned. Both of us had plenty of air left but as they are on a time crunch to get back to the docks before the afternoon dives, most operators limit you to 60 minutes per dive.
The second dive was on French reef, another well known divesite in Key Largo and one that I usually like. Unfortunately the vis. was down again and we were dropped off at the wrong buoy, we saw only a flat wasteland of nothing. Kamala and I swam to the next buoy and had a nice leisurely dive there and we met up with Deanna about midway through the dive - Dan wasn't feeling well and sat out the dive. Due to us being late to this divesite, we only got 40 minutes on this site - I was a little disappointed by the dive and didn't really mind. Kamala and I got separated and she wasn't used to navigating - her normal dives are on well known wrecks in NC where she knows where everything is... She took a wrong turn and ended up on another boat... Our boats were about 100 yards apart so we quickly got her back on our own boat and headed back to land. Mental note: if your divebuddy is "navigationally challenged" and/or blonde, don't loose him/her...

We got back to the docks, cleaned our gear and packed it in the car and drove down to Key West for our next stop. We, of course, had to stop by at the most southern point to have our pictures taken, walk up and down Duval Street and have a few beers at Margaritaville. Sunday morning we were supposed to head to MM 22 for 4 dives with Reef Divers and the well-known Captain Wyatt. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate and cancelled both morning and afternoon dives. We called around to the diveshops in the area asking if they were going out and we found one diveshop that was going out in the afternoon. Once there, and after we paid and everything, the captain told us we were going to shallow (10 ft or so) divesite on the bayside where they at least had some visibility and so that the snorkellers could enjoy the trip to. Well, we had the choice of doing a very mediocre dive or none at all and we boarded the boat. But half way out there, the weather looked real bad and they turned around. We did stop briefly at a boat that was sinking! The people in the boat didn't have a radio so our captain radioed the coast guard and we stayed with them until the coast guard arrived just in case they were going to sink. They didn't, fortunately. So that was all the water activity we were going to see that day. We started our drive back up to Key Largo early and stopped by at Duck Key Resort for a late lunch.

Monday morning we drove to Quiescence for our two last dives on our trip. Both Deanna and I like them and usually tries to dive with them but this time, all the staff was unknown to us and they were rude and not very friendly. I hope it was just a one-time occurrence! Well, we get out to the reef - Molasses Reef, where I've had some great dives, and it's almost up to standard - the bad weather had lowered the visibility a little, but it was still good enough for a enjoyable dive. A good finale to the diving for this trip!

We had a long drive back to St. Pete and got there late but that didn't matter as Kamala and I had a late morning flight back to Dallas the following day. This was the first Labor Day trip we've done were we didn't have good weather. We got some good dives in and had a good time so we we'll definitely do a 5th Labor Day trip!

Click on thumbnail to see the full size picture

The divers...

The Island Ventures dock.

Our boat for Saturday morning.

The happy couple

Kamala really likes UW artifacts, this time on the Benwood Wreck.

Smooth Trunkfish

A couple of grunts chillin' out under a ledge.

Where's the fish??

A nice sized grouper at Molasses Reef

A slightly smaller fish than the grouper... A shy blenny.

This Cleaner shrimp was taking a break from it's normal duties.

The happy couple in Key West.

Kamala and Deanna in Key West. This is the view from our Holiday Inn room.

A mandatory picture as the most southern point of the continental US.

This really made Kamala's trip!