USCGC Duane heightens the senses with sea hullabaloo
I’d already hit the USCGC Bibb, the sister ship of the Duane. The pair of search and rescue law enforcement vessels were sunk as artificial reefs five-and-a-half miles off the coast of Key Largo within a five minute boat ride of each other, making for the perfect double-dib for advanced and wreck divers. Only, the sinking of the Bibb went awry, and she ended up in the sand lying on her starboard side, making penetration a complex feat only for the highly skilled SCUBA community members. The Duane landed perfectly upright and positioned for one wondrous playground.
Captain Gary Mace with Conch Republic Divers provided, “She sits straight up on the bottom as she was still on guard steaming alone proudly. The Duane is a must-see artificial reef with a tremendous amount of fish life, including one of the largest populations of Barracuda on any wreck in the Keys.”
We weren’t just hitting the wreck today. This trip’s main focus was to capture some glorious photographs to showcase the Florida Keys Wreck Trek to the world with underwater photojournalist Steve Iverson.
“Remember,” Lisa Mongy, Florida Associate Editor for diverwire.com advised me. “Blow out when Steve is taking the picture. Bubbles will blow the shot.”
Our initial dive plan to hit the ball on the smoke stack was scrapped. Fishermen had tied up there and we did a “hot” drop at the bow!
“Be careful and watch for their lines,” Captain Clint instructed. “They will hook ya! Deflate and start swimming until you see the line. Grab hold once you see it and head on down!”
We were greeted in high-five style by the Duane and all her growth.
According to Conch Republic Divers’ master instructor Jasen Murray the Duane is positioned perfectly in the current to capture the nutrients flowing through.
“The Duane has way more life than the Bibb,” he attests.
Within 60 seconds I spotted two Spotted Eagle Rays sailing near the sand on the starboard side. Then, realized there were four!
Again Murray, “That was a “freak thing. I’ve never seen them. We have resident Bull Sharks, Barracuda, a Goliath Grouper, Permits and there’s a resident turtle who lives here. You never know what you’re going to see. I’ve found at different times of the year different fish populations live there.”
Within just 60 seconds I was satisfied with this sea escape. Note: this Duane dive is not open to open water recreational divers unless you hire a guide. We didn’t hit the deck until 105’.
The Duane is part of the “Treasury” class cutters named for Secretaries of the U.S. Treasury Department. William John Duane was the third Secretary of the Treasury to serve under President Andrew Jackson. The 327-foot cutter was initially launched as a search and rescue vessel back in 1936 serving numerous duties from Honolulu to Oakland, the Bering Sea to Boston, and after WWII her and her sisters manned weather stations from Newfoundland to Argentina before serving in Vietnam. She was decommissioned in 1985 as the oldest active military vessel, but not before first participating in the suppression of drug trafficking along the East Coast of the U.S. She is now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
I thought I was going to need rescuing myself. In attempt at 97’ to make sure I wasn’t blowing bubbles while Iverson shot with his SeaLife I messed up my breathing pattern and started sucking air.
My breathing was off.
I was sucking air hard.
My initial reaction was to rip the regulator out of my mouth and swim to the surface, but this will either kill you or land a diver in the decompression chamber. I signaled to Lisa we needed to head to the surface. I was devastated thinking I had blown the dive and the photo shoot and had to be guided back to the boat. But, within 10’ of ascent, a few deep breathes and slow exhales I was relaxed at 85’.
“This is an interesting aspect of promoting the ocean,” Mongy discussed. “I don’t know if there is a “method” to underwater modeling other than being aware of the three-dimensional realm. You need to have good neutral buoyancy so you don’t hurt the wreck or the reef by grabbing or bumping into it. There are lighting and effects involved as well as timing those bubbles. Soft corals need to sway in the proper direction, and the model needs to appear like a seasoned diver with proper equipment with hoses attached and secured properly.”
Notice my Cressi Delta II Snorkel. Wreck diving with a snorkel remains an open discussion in the dive community. Some professionals say you should always have one in case a diver is out of air and needs the tool on the surface. The other side feels the component is cumbersome and could “catch” on the wreck, or, in this case, the Atlantic current pulls the snorkel and the mask off a diver’s face.
The rest of the dive was as spine-tingling as the Duane’s military career. We took in the Spotted Eagle Rays, drifted the wreck, swam up and circled the crows nest, boogied with the Barracuda and gazed at the elephantine Angel Fish.
[pullquote]“The dive that day was picture perfect. I can count on one hand the number of days I’ve dove the Duane with no current and 100-plus feet of visibility. On days like that, wreck diving just doesn’t get any better. Throw four giant, Eagle Rays circling the wreck in the picture and it’s just phenomenal diving.” Captain Gary Mace, Conch Republic Divers [/pullquote]
Then, as we ascended the stern line, I spotted him; a fish eating everything in his path. I knew this wasn’t a Parrotfish, he was way too far off in the distance with far too large of a presence. I lost him for a moment and went a little further up the line. There wasn’t any mistaking; this is the creature I had been scouring the ship to see: a Goliath Grouper! As we all held the line we watched the behemoth freestyle and feed.
Mongy laughs outloud, “They are amazing. Every time you see them.”
Visibility: 70’ – 100′
Bottom Time: 35 minutes on 32% Nitrox
Safety Stop No.1: 60 feet, one minute
Safety Stop No. 2: 15’, three minutes