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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Scuba Diving Trip 2014: Florida Keys

 Two weeks before we were supposed to leave for La Paz, Mexico, we found ourselves 
searching, in anyway possible, for information on Hurrican Odile, and how much damaged 
it caused in Cabo san Lucas and La Paz.  Finally, a week before our departure date, the
trips cancellation was confirmed. We were all very bummed but knew it was for the best.
We had no communication with the resort or dive shop and therefore had no idea of what the 
conditions would be like above or below the ocean. Leif, Sara and I moved quickly. 

After such a wonderful experience with AirBnb in Europe, we decided to check out what
was available in the Florida Keys. Our dive shop here recommended a dive shop down there
and we based our AirBnB search off of the dive shops location. Thankfully, as it is their off
season, there was plenty available. We quickly jumped on an apartment that looked like it 
would fit our needs and booked our flights. 

Sara's parents live in Naples, so we flew down Saturday morning to Fort Myers and joined
up with Sara. After an hour trip to Walmart, our favorite guilty pleasure when away from
NYC, we went to Miller's Ale House for some dinner. It was already late and we wanted to
wake up early and get to the beach so bedtime came early. Sunday morning, we made 
breakfast, packed our cooler for the beach and headed down to Clam Pass Beach. We 
rented a huge umbrella, laid out or things and spent the next four hours relaxing. It was
so nice to be on vacation. That evening we cooked dinner and hung out at the apartment.

Monday morning we were a little lazier and eventually got up, cooked breakfast and
went to the gym to workout a bit. By workout I mean walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes.
We packed our cooler for the beach and headed out to Vanderbilt Beach. The water was
quiet and perfect. This was probably our favorite beach of the trip. That evening, we
had dinner reservations at Roy's in downtown Naples. My friend Samantha, who I 
went to middle school with in Saginaw, MI, lives in Naples with her husband, who
just happened to be a partner chef at Roy's. 

We had a wonderful and delicious dinner along with great company. Sara's parents
 arrived back from their vacation so we headed back to hang out with them for a little 
bit as we were leaving the next morning.

Tuesday morning we packed up the car and headed south to Tavernier, FL which is just
South of Key Largo. We arrived at our AirBnB right on time and our wonderful host was
there to meet us. He gave us a wonderful tour of the apartment and back yard which was
right on the canal. He also recommended some touristy activities he thought we might be
interested in as well. We unloaded the car and the first stop we made was the grocery store. 
The dive shop, Captain Slate's Scuba Adventure and Dive Shop, did not included lunches,
which we were used to, so we picked up some lunch items. Then we went to a Cuban
market our host recommended to pick up homemade freshly cooked Cuban food for dinner. 
It was delicious! We all loved it. 

That evening, our host was gracious enough to take us out on his boat around the Bay.
He showed us where to kayak, toilet seat pass, and of course, the sunset. Unfortunately,
as it was off season and late for summer, the sunsets were mostly disrupted by clouds.
However, it was still very beautiful. That evening we popped open two bottles of wine
and spent an hour in the hot tub. It was wonderful and just what we needed. 

We also were lucky enough, as it was still early in the season, to see some manatees in the 
canal right behind the house. Manatees usually hang out by the power plants in the Summer
and make their way to the canals in the Winter. Thankfully, this mama and her new born baby
decided to make an early appearance. We were informed that they love to drink fresh water 
and the manatee came right up to the dock and drank forever. They said this was the tiniest
baby they had ever seen! They were so cute. 

Wednesday was our first day of diving. The dive shop asked if we could do afternoon 
dives which we agreed to. That morning we took the kayaks out for over an hour. It was
quite the workout. We found great paths through the mangroves and the little canal which
ends up where the neighborhood kids had made a huge fort, water slide included. We 
made our lunches, packed the cooler and hopped in the car. There were four snorkelers on
the boat with us along with two crew members. We did two dives with almost little to no
rest time in between. We surfaced, shoved food and water down our throats and before we
knew it we were gearing back up to get in the water again. We were all shocked with how
much marine life was there. Schools and schools of fish everywhere. It was amazing. We
saw nurse sharks, sting rays, coral reefs, green eels, spiny lobsters and every kind of fish
you could imagine, big and small. 

That evening after cleaning our gear and ourselves, our awesome host invited us out on
the boat for another sunset ride. His son also came down from Miami and we took his
boat out to a bar right on the water for some dinner. We had a great time. We did not 
want to stay out that late because we were diving early the next morning. 

Thursday morning we arrived bright and early at 7:50am. It was rough getting up but we did
it and even managed to make and pack our lunches for the day. We signed our waivers and 
received news that the captain was running a little bit late that morning. We found some 
seats along the dock and waited....and waited...

Around 9:30am the crew told us we could start loading our gear on the boat. The captain
arrived shortly after. He was carrying the canvas windows that snap on the side of the boat.
They were getting repaired and apparently we needed them. He and two other crew members 
cursed their way through installing these canvas windows. It was almost 10am and we were
starting to get annoyed. However, we figured there was a reason he was installing them 
now and delaying our start even more. The canvas was finally installed and after two rain 
showers, thunder and lighting appeared over the bay side and we were ready to leave. We 
headed out into the ocean watching the lighting strikes, crossing our fingers they were 
telling us the truth about how it will stay in the Everglades. 

Another rain shower and a double rainbow later and the wave swells were about four
feet high and we were almost to the dive site. It was about this time when we realized
we were in for an adventure getting back on the boat. Not to mention, at this point we were 
extremely thankful the captain put the canvas windows up. The spray from the waves 
and boat was insane! As we approached the dive site, the captain asked Leif to grab the 
line and hook us to the buoy. For some reason, the captain came over to help Leif and 
left the propeller running and with the swells the boat turned just the right amount for the 
line to catch in the propeller. There was a loud noise and then smoke. We knew something 
wasn't right. What we didn't know was that this was just the beginning to our adventure. 

At this point the captain mentioned to us he did not bring any scuba gear and would one of us
check the line and see how wrapped it was around the propeller. Being the awesome dude that
he is, Leif volunteered and jumped in. After what seemed like eternity, he finally surfaced 
and stated he had got the line free. What he didn't state was how many times the boat had 
knocked him in the head and the amount of sea water he had swallowed that moment while
talking to the captain. As we got the all clear, Sara and I jumped in and started to descend.
When I was about 50 feet deep, I looked up wondering why those two were not down
with me. This was when I noticed the single lone buoy floating in the middle of the ocean
with nothing attached to it. Not even the boat. Oops. 

They both motioned for me to come up. As I surfaced I saw the boat heading back towards us. 
The captain asked if we would like to do a drift dive since we could no longer tie up at this 
dive site. We all agreed we did not feel comfortable enough with him following our bubbles.
We managed to board the boat without too much trouble and headed to another dive site.
At this time, the salt water was shaking around in Leif's tummy and he was not feeling 
too well so we cut the first real dive a little short. Sara and I managed to eat some lunch
during the roller coaster ride on the way to the next dive site. Leif unfortunately was still
not feeling too well and skipped lunch. Our second dive was very similar to our first.
Shallow but lots of marine life. We also surfaced early. It had been a long day so far
and we were all tired. 

We started gathering our gear and headed back towards home. We got about a mile away
when we heard the captain yell something which we knew was not good followed by
"I lost the steering!" He thew an anchor and started opening all of the mechanical panels.
Everything seemed to be working well however, the boat wouldn't steer. He believed it 
had something to do with our little incident before and it was probably underneath the boat. 
The captain got out along with Leif because the boat was shifting with the current and
we were in very shallow water, about three and a half feet. They were trying to keep the
boat from getting stuck in the sandy bottom. While they were working hard, I spent
the time snorkeling finding nothing but the grassy bottom. Thankfully, half an hour later
the tow arrived and pulled us in. But, before that could happen, as the captain wasn't
having a bad enough day, a jelly fish decided he needed a little loving while pulling
the anchor back to the boat.  

Scorpion fish....

We had never been more ready to get off a boat. We cleaned our gear and headed
home to shower and relax. That night, we did absolutely nothing. It was perfect.
We did spend a little time with our new friends. They invited us to their forth floor
balcony to watch the sunset. It was beautiful. 

Nurse shark....

The captain told us tomorrow we would have a new boat and a different captain 
as he was headed to the Cayman Islands to receive an award. That morning when
we woke up, we were immediately informed that the conditions were worse than
the day before and you will see no locals out on their boats today. After yesterday,
the last thing we needed was another adventure. We headed to breakfast avoiding
the topic until we talked to the dive shop. They were completely honest with us and
said the same thing but, the diving would also be great. If we were in, then they 
were in. It came down to a coin flip. We were going diving. Then we realized they
were loading the gear back on the same boat as yesterday! I had a minor panic
attack and told them the captain promised us a new boat. He informed us they 
worked on it and it was all fixed. When Sara and Leif boarded, I followed.

There was also an abundance of jelly fish. That was
not fun. Although, they were beautiful.  

All systems a go, and we pulled out of the slip. However, the boat turned the wrong direction 
and we were now stuck in the canal doing circles when the captain realized whoever fixed
the boat put a pin in backwards and the steering was backwards. We spent thirty minutes
doing circles in the mangrove trees, which almost pulled our tanks out of the holders twice.
Finally, they told us to get off the boat and they would pull it in via rope. By this time, we
were done for. There was no way we were getting back on another boat. We packed up our
gear, and with a good laugh all agreed that if a woman had fixed that boat, she would have 
taken it for a spin before putting anyone else on it! Men! 

Sara decided to head back to Naples to spend some time with her parents and Leif and I drove 
South. We were about 40 miles from Key West when we were too tired and turned around to
head home. Almost! Next time you bet I will make it to the end! After a long nap, we headed
out to get some dinner before the Full Moon Party, which our host told us was mandatory!
We actually decided to have dinner at the same venue where the party was. We had to pay a
fee to get into the party but because we were so early we got a great parking spot and a 
wonderful candle lit table for two right on the beach. It was very romantic. There was a live
band playing and the food was delicious. We even got Key lime pie for dessert!

After the first band finished, a second band started on the other stage. We walked
around and found our new friends right as the parade and fire dancers started. 

After the parade, the fireworks started and my best friend called me to tell me the 
amazing news that she was engaged! Of course I already knew it was happening. Her
sneaky fiance had been in touch with me for two months planning the event! Since I 
was supposed to be in Mexico without cell service, I was sad I was not going to be able
to talk to her but since we were in Florida, I got her phone call and got to celebrate
 too... with fireworks!

The following morning, Leif and I packed up our things and loaded the car. We thanked
our wonderful new friends for the great week and headed out to do some touristy things.
Our first stop of the day was the History of Diving Museum which was pretty incredible.
We also stopped by Largo Cargo for some gifts for our families. We picked up a key lime 
bar and key lime cupcake to share on our road trip back to Naples. 

We arrived to Naples with little time to relax before dinner with Sara and her parents.
We headed to a restaurant right on the water. After dinner we walked along the beach
and watched the sunset. I probably took one hundred photos of the sunset. It was so

We spent the evening playing pool at their favorite dive bar. The next morning we 
flew back to NYC. Back to work. Back to reality. But, I am so thankful for how our
last minute trip planned out. We really did have such a fabulous time. Not to mention,
Captain Slate felt so bad he sent us some free diving vouchers that never expire! 
You know what this means, summer diving trip in the Keys! We know where we
are staying too! Thanks again everyone! 

1 comment:

  1. What a fun trip! All of your pictures are beautiful! And to think I could be moving there! Not too shabby! Glad you guys worked out a last minute adventure!