Scout Your Ship and Start Swimmin’

Scout Your Ship and Start Swimmin’

Close-up… with a Cuda! Quiescence instructor Colby Cline guides divers through the first wreck situated to showcase the Keys’ aquatic terrain.

Wildlife and Growth Galore on Spiegel Grove

Remove the snorkel from your mouth and say, “I wanna see the Barracuda!”

This week we start the adventure some only dream of: Diving the Florida Keys Wreck Trek!

The day we headed to MM 103 to catch the boat and meet up with our guide, the water looked like a sheet of ice.

Pristine conditions to start this SCUBA adventure with the USS Spiegel Grove, named for the hilly estate in Fremont, Ohio the country’s 19 U.S President Rutherford B. Hayes called home. The U.S. Naval Thomaston-class dock landing ship launched in 1956 and headed for Cuba. Guantanamo Bay to be exact. She was not decommissioned until 1989, and the title transferred to the state of Florida to sink her as an artificial reef.

Only in 2001, the plan went awry!

She went down prematurely while red tape financial problems held up the project and landed upside down on the sea bottom with her bow slightly protruding from the ocean’s surface.

The following month, for a quarter of a million big ones, Resolve Marine Group rolled her onto her starboard side. In one week, the site was open to recreational divers with advanced certification and over 1,000 dipped in to witness the Key Largo chaotic, yet triumphant aquatic affair.

It wasn’t until 2005 when the barbarity of Hurricane Dennis pushed the 510’x84’ wide structure of steel upright!

“Put your BC on, grab the line, and do an entry stride. Do not let go of the line,” Captain Steve Campbell instructed.

We’re following the Florida Keys Wreck Trail and start with the USS Spiegel Grove! Diver Denise DeCrow uses gloved hands to pull herself out of one of the retired warship’s cavities 85 feet below the surface while guide Colby Cline prepares to lead her through more of the superstructure.

At the site the current was cruisin’. We did as we were told and descend to be met by a glorious jungle gym! We follow our guide because in all serious, the USS Spiegel Grove is not a playground. This is an advanced dive for skilled divers and you need certification to penetrate the former warship.

“You need to obtain your advanced certification,” Quiescence instructor Colby Cline instructs me. “You will notice when you book your trips the guide you hire will be willing to take you on a more extensive tour and show you more of the ship then if you’re just carrying your “Open Water” card. You’ll do a wreck, night, drift, and navigational dive and complete some online classes. The result will be: everyone, including yourself, will have more confidence in your skills. You’ve been certified since 1996 and have hit guided wrecks for years… it’s time to acknowledge those abilities.”

We grab onto the structure, admire her awe, chase the Barracuda around, and start swimming in and out of the cavities for some sweet, sweet SCUBA action!

Our depths don’t break 90’, so our bottom time is a lot longer than I anticipated. I initially calculated we’d submerge to 120’.

Cline pointed out onboard the boat while outlining our dive plan, “there isn’t anything to see at those depths. All of the ‘fun’ structure is between 55’ and 90’. We descended onto the upper deck, then swung around the crane to the other side and saw the entire ship!”

My dive buddy, the general manager for the Cabana Beach Club, KCB’s Denise DeCrow has been diving for two decades with her husband Steve. They usually are submerged in sport diving at depths of about 30’ lookin’ for lobster and other crustaceans on the reef, and she hasn’t hit a deep dive since the late 80s when they vacationed in the Grand Caymans when their oldest daughter (now a University of Miami college grad) was just three! The most eerie dive in her log book is the 81’ x 20’ North Carolina Diesel Tug, covered in Zebra Mussels 35’ down off the shores of beautiful Mentor-on-the-Lake, east of Cleveland.

As in Lake, Erie.

“We were desperate for diving,” DeCrow explains after we exit the water laughing. “This is ship, though, is amazing. I will be back to do this again. This is definitely worth the trip and so much to explore. I can do this at least five more times!”

A underwater photojournalist and Quiescence boat captain Don Myers was onboard the boat with us that day and came across the holy grail (at least for me) I am always in search of, a Goliath Grouper.

“He was on the starboard side!” he announces.

I deflate my BC my experience a little deflated, too that I missed the protected Jew Fish.

“How big was he,” I inquire.

The photog sizes me up from across the bow of the boat, “as big as you! There are one to four on the wreck at various times. They move all around!”

The Spiegel Grove is in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Lock in these coordinates on your GPS 25°04′00.2″N 80°18′00.7″W. Our gracious guide can be reached at (305) 395-8950 or [email protected] Cline is worth every penny. Don’t forget to join us next week for our first Scorpion Fish encounter as we explore the Benwood!

To follow Josie’s ocean adventures follow her @josiekwweekly. You can also view more photos at www.keysweekly.com. Follow the link to Diving!

 

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