From left to right John Mirabella, A.B. V, dive master Conrad Zak and Tom Sommer prepare to dive 144’.

Dive season starts with inspection

From left to right John Mirabella, A.B. V, dive master Conrad Zak and Tom Sommer prepare to dive 144’.

“I told you to get a new regulator,” our boat captain yells to former Navy diver and current restaurant owner John Mirabella.

As we skirt to a popular spot called the “Shrimp Boat,” Mirabella and dive master Conrad Zak concentrate on a gear check.

The set-up is crucial. Gauges mark depths of 144-feet once divers are down on the well-known spear-fishing site in the Middle Keys.

Instead of a traditional “yoke” fitting, Mirabella has a “din” fitting which is made for higher pressure. Tanks typically hold 3,500 PSI, or pounds of pressure, but Mirabella’s holds 4,000 or 5,000 pounds, settings for the SCUBA industry found in Europe.

“When I bought this in 2002 or 2003, I thought the din was the coming trend, but the dive shops here have not changed out all of their tanks to higher pressure,” he explains his choice of configuration. “In Europe, this is the standard, and here I have to use an adapter.”

Mirabella has US Navy dive school training. From 1987 to 1993 he searched for bombs around the USS Louisville SSN 724 during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

While diving the Florida Keys is not nearly as deadly as swimming around submarine during a conflict, there are inherent dangers that are easily avoidable. As they make the adapter switch, we discuss the importance of self-evaluation and understanding the personal physical limits.

“I can’t speak for the condition of their gear. They dive beyond their abilities, leaning on their past experience, and end up with exhaustion and I see a lot of ill-preparedness,” notes Mirabella.

Surface Check • Get in the Ocean with Your Gear Before you Deflate • Take a Look at Your Dive Buddy • Examine Front and back • Ensure there aren’t any Leaks • Auto Inflator is Secure • Weights Aren’t Falling Out • Follow Your Buddy Down the Line!

Once on the bottom of the ocean, he immediately spears a Black Grouper.

We then shift our attention to the Lionfish. The invasive species has poisonous spines and experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have identified no know predators. Research has also proved they feed on important commercial fish and crustacean species, as well as reef fish. “For this reason scientists and resource managers are concerned about the potential impacts lionfish could have on the coral reef ecosystem,” warns officials at the National Marine Sanctuary.

We leave four dead on the ocean floor and return with more for our nightly appetizer – Lionfish Sushi Sandwiches.

Lionfish sushi sandwiches are a delicious Keys fare. Light reef dives are perfect to check your gear and we returned safely to the surface with delicacy for dinner.

The next day I have my regulator and second stage at Divers Direct and tell Chris Dacy my dilemma.

My immediate pressure needs adjusted. 110 pounds are being fed. The pressure should show 140 – 150 pounds. He also advises I soak the regulator in Simple Green, vinegar, and hot water.

“Give it a 30 minute soak. It’ll taste funny, but it’ll work. This regulator is not old enough to have salt corrosion,” Dacy explains. “When you use cold water to flush out your regulator at the end of the dive the salt doesn’t always all dissolve. You need hot water, or hook up to a tank and let the air blast the salt out.”

With that, confident I don’t have a “creep” and am going to loose my whole tank underwater, I’m ready to rock the Florida Keys Wreck Trail.

Join me next week as I explore the USS Spiegel Grove in Key Largo. This artificial reef lies in 50’ – 130’ of water after serving in Operation Desert Storm. The staged sinking went awry and she sank onto her starboard side, then during the wrath of Hurricane Dennis was pushed upright!

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