April 2, 2010
It's dark outside, well before the sunrise. My alarm clock is ringing, but I've beaten it up. I'm excited for the day and hug my family goodbye. Car starts. Green lights all the way. From there we meet in the parking lot and head out as a convoy. By the time we've reached the airport, the sun is up and mom has donuts for everyone. We go through the security and sit and watch the planes go. Then boarding is called and were ticket group C. We're the last to board the plane and I end up between some sweet old ladies headed to Europe. The plane lands, after the stewardess calls me cute, and we stand at the curb in humid 75 degree Ft. Lauderdale. We board the bus and head south to Marathon Key, only stopping once for lunch at Golden Corral. We end up at Burdines, the marina in Marathon Key, and there we unload the bus. Lady Nell II
and Conchy show up, but Vivid is about five hours out we have to wait for them. We throw our bags in the middle of the parking lot, load up on sunscreen and go lay in the sun. Gilpin and I choose a nice spot close to the water and watch the boats past with the Mangroves in the background. The marina is a No Wake zone and everyone goes nice and slow so that nothing is damaged. The whole island has a different time, a slower move, to where nothing is urgent and everyone is completely relaxed. We ate dinner there, after Vivid has arrived, and then head out to dock up outside the marina. The surf was calm and the stars were out. I can vividly remember pointing out Orion's Belt and the Big Dipper.
April 3, 2010
This morning I was the first one to wake up. I slept well, the waves have an uncanny way of rocking you to sleep. The waves were small though, and the boat didn't toss and turn at all. When I got up the weather was cool, probably 62 or so, and the wind was very soft, maybe 2 mph. We ate breakfast, then hauled up anchor
and headed to Sombrero Reef. It was a 45 minute ride, and the waves picked up quite a bit. The sun came out and warmed up to about 75, and there was 3 to 4 foot swells. I jumped in, only to discover the water was nippy, but not to bad. I also jumped in to discover that the pool session taught me nothing about snorkeling in the ocean, due to waves and current, and I was coughing and hacking salt for a good five minutes. Once I began to feel comfortable in the water I took a look around and saw just a few basic fish. Yellowtail Snappers, a few Sergent Major
, and one Portuguese Man-o-war. The water was probably 15 feet deep with coral that was 6 feet tall. You could get close, but I didn't feel comfortable enough to stay in long. The visibility was maybe 10 feet and I had to get out. We packed up after that and headed to Munson Rocks off of Big Pine Key. It was maybe 2 hours and 30 minutes away. While sailing, I had the line in the water and got a hit from a mackerel but missed it. We jumped in there, where it was way calmer and saw quite a few fish. Tiger Grouper, Hogfish, Grunts, and Butterflyfish swam gracefully through the water. The visibility was about 15 feet so you could see enough. The coral was not far from the top of the water, maybe 5 feet. While we headed back to the boat we saw a glimpse of a nurse shark, but was no where close to it. That evening we docked up, due to small surf and good weather, and ate. Andrew and I fished, he caught some pin fish, I caught a baby mackerel
. Then we hit the hay after we separated boats.
April 4, 2010
Woke up early, but was in no way the first person up. The swells were small in the morning and the temperature and weather almost directly matched April 3rd. We took the 2 hour sail to Looe Key and jumped in. I had my wetsuit this time, so I wasn't near as cold or nervous about the surroundings. The visibility was terrible, maybe 10 feet. The day had warmed up to about 75 maybe 80. In the 75 degree water, you felt good and didn't get warm or cold. Just right. While we swam, Brett and I saw very few fish. A Nurse Shark, Blue Parrotfish, Blue Tang
and Hogfish were about all that could be seen. There was snappers and sergeant majors swimming around, but they seem to be part of the environment. They are every where. The coral here is nice and close, and easy to see. We didn't stay long and then headed to Bahia Honda. There we swam onto the beach
from about 100 yards out. The water was fairly clear, and it was easy to look at the sea grass that danced elegantly across the bottom. We swam in and waited while the women went to the shop. The Cuban music set the tone for the beach. It was sandy, but had grass growing through the sand. The sand proved to be quite warm in the 80 degree weather and I became thirsty. The girls came back and Gilpin and I embarked on our journey to find T-shirts for our girlfriends back home. We found two, checked out, ate ice cream, and swam back to the boat. We crossed back under the bridge and headed to dock outside Burdines like we had the night before. By the time we got there, it was dark and the stars were out. The swells had calmed down and the sea was peaceful.
April 5, 2010
We got up and sailed into Burdines. There we took on fuel, ice, and water. We then took a two hour sail to Burnt Point. The sun was blistering and it was probably 85. The wind was calm, but felt good. I got to drive the boat there and I must say I did a good job. When we got there, it was right next to a part of an island that jetted out, and we were in fairly shallow water. The water was about 4 feet deep and the surf was little to none. There wasn't much coral but tons of sea grass. Andrew found us a Lobster
that we pulled out of its hiding spot. We saw a starfish
, but I was more interested in the sponge bowls
. I had never seen anything quite like them and carefully examined all of them. They all seem to have other sponges growing in them, or some had grass in them. They were magnificently placed in the water as if they had fallen off a ship and landed up and down. The water was perfect and was fairly warm, maybe 78. Thats all the snorkeling we did that day, but we ended up staying in the Gulf. The water in the Gulf is calmer, and a tad shallower where we were, but was about the same. We saw some Bottlenose Dolphin as we entered the gulf, but that was about it. The boat was finally becoming home and I could safely relax and take everything in.
April 6, 2010
Woke up this morning and decided to try the good old Ultra Light pole out. I caught a little pin fish, as did Gilpin. Then we filled up with food that Conchy wasn't using and headed towards a channel surrounded by mangroves. It was outside an island filled with house and people so it was evident there was people close and this was well traveled. The water was very smooth, and the weather was perfect. About 78 degrees in the air, and 75 degrees in the water. Perfect snorkeling. The bummer was the darn visibility. It was back to about 10 feet and I could hardly see anything. We swam in, crossing sea grass and swam the channel. It was about 10 feet deep and then we swam towards the mangroves. There was birds
to the right of us sitting on land that came out of the water, like a miniature island. There was probably 30 of them just sitting there sunbathing. As we swam closer, we found coral that was fairly tall. The water was about 20 feet deep and the coral came up 10 or 15 feet at least. As I was swimming around, I found a sunken boat
and told everyone. We got some good pictures, but didn't see anything else. From that snorkel, we got out and sailed to some island (the name has slipped my mind) and swam onto this island. We got there to find it was closed, and Nash would not let us jump the fence. When we reached the boat, Luke (our awesome captain) told us it was okay to jump the fence, but we chose to go to the next destination. When we got there, after sunbathing in the 80 degree day, we found out that we were back inside the Gulf and at some mangroves once again. Paula did her speech about the Mangroves and Brett and I jumped overboard. We swam around seeing nothing but jellyfish and some sea grass. We kept swimming towards the Mangroves until it got so shallow that our bellies were touching the bottom. We were kicking up upside down jelly fish and decided it was time to go play. We swam back to the boat and floated around it. We took pictures, picked up shells, and played with the video function
on the camera. We had some deep conversation as we floated in the 75 degree water. We were so excited to have visibility of about 25 feet, but couldn't see anything. That night after it got dark, we sat outside and viewed the world around us. Everyone on the boat was finally becoming part of the natural symbiosis and we could all finally take in what we were seeing. As we looked at the calm quiet water, you could see green lights glow. We had finally seen bioluminescence at its finest and couldn't believe it. The way the creatures glow underwater is breathtaking. The water doubles the light and you just see a sea of green. (Say that three times quick!) Not long after this, the lights faded and so did our vision. It was bedtime on the quiet sea, and we all slept well under the giant moon. The soft breeze kept the air about 60 degrees and perfect for bed.
April 7, 2010
We got up this morning to a beautiful day. By the time I had made my own breakfast, It was about 70 degrees with about a 2 mph wind. We then took the 2 hour sail to Hens and Chickens. Luke told us how if you saw Hens and Chickens from an airplane, it literally looked like hens and chickens, thus the name was introduced. There was about 15 feet visibility and we got to dive on a sunken ship. All you could see was the keel and the frame, but there was fish everywhere. I saw many snappers, many parrotfish, and plenty of grunts. Korby saw a green moray eel, but I couldn't see it, I was to slow. The water wasn't bad though, about 75 degrees, but the waves were decent. Probably 2 foot swells, nothing major, but enough to challenge you in the water a tad. After Hens and Chickens, we took a two hour ride to Alligator reef.
There was amazing. The swells were about the same, but the water was about 30 foot visibility. The reef seemed flat with coral that didn't stick up very far. Fish were in such abundance. This was defiantly a huge spot for fish. (If I were a fish, I would hide there too though. Its a National Florida Marine Sanctuary, just like every reef, and its protected by the government and illegal to fish there) We saw a Nurse Shark, tons of snappers and chubs, tons of grunts, a queen angelfish, lots of parrotfish and we finally got to see a barracuda. This was one of the best snorkels of the trip because of the environment. The land was flat and easy to see anything and everything.
April 8, 2010
We woke up this morning to a breezier morning. It was cooler, probably 70, and there was a little wind. We had dutch pancakes and then took a long ride to Indian Key. We swam into Indian Key and Jeff (Vivid's Captain) gave a walk-around and speech about the island. We ate from a tree that made a bitter sweet kind of nut. As we walked around Jeff told the story of Jacob Housman and the good guy, Dr. Perrine. Jacob Housman was a wrecker. When ships would run into the reef, Housman would sail out there and rescue all the people off the boat. Then in the middle of the night, he would loot the boat, and tell the survivors that the ocean swept the decks clean. He was the enemy of a botanist, Dr. Perrine. The government gave grants to Dr. Perrine to bring Southern American trees to Florida. Indian keys has various plants that aren't native to Florida, and was also the last place the Indians and the Government fought. It was the longest standing battle between the government and Indians. After the tour, we swam back to the boat. The current was against us now, and it was a difficult swim. The waves were choppy, but not to bad. We headed to Long Key Bight and anchored there. I caught a tiny pin fish and Luke hooked me up to shark fish once it was dark. Right as we were about to eat our Shepards Pie, we heard the amazing sound of a fish yanking on the fishing pole's drag. We ran up there and I reeled in the little three foot lemon shark. It was exhilarating and breathtaking. We studied the fish at first and touched its rough sand paper like scales. Then we tossed it back and ate our dinner. I slept so well that night.
April 9, 2010
I woke up fairly early and we got the boat ready to sail. We headed out when the waves were still calm and headed back to Sombrero Reef. When we got there, the wind was minimal and the temperature was about perfect. 80 or so, with a water temperature of about 78. The visibility was good and you could see almost 50 feet. This is my favorite dive because I saw so many things. There is not room on this page to write out each and every fish. Almost all 150 fish that we were required to learn was at this dive. The Queen Angelfish and the Midnight Parrot fish stick out to me the most. Though, I vaguely remember chasing a barracuda. I wanted a picture so bad but there was no way I could have caught him. The water was about 30 feet deep, but the corals were 10 to 20 feet tall. You could swim down deep and see all the fish in there environment from their point of view, or you could float across the top and stare down at them. The coral itself was as pretty as the fish that swam in and out of it. There was tons of it, and it was all so tall and strong. It was a spar and groove reef I believe, but don't quote me on that. You could swim down in between two things of coral and be surrounded by it. The symbiosis between the animals that live down there is ridiculous. I've never felt such a connection to the planet as I did while I was down there. I was enthralled by it, and was in the water probably two hours. Then we got on the boat, headed back to our docking spot outside Burdines and hit the hay.
April 10, 2010
I assumed a journal for this day would be kind of dumb, because it was the day we left and it would just be about the flight home. But nature has a way of surprising you. I had a rough time sleeping and was up before sunrise. I slowly and quietly made my way above deck and to the back of the boat. Soon, Brett had joined me and we watched the sunrise
ever slowly. I've never seen the sun move that slow, or seem so red in the morning. It was miraculous. As soon as the sun was up, you could hear splashing in the water and we got a show from about ten dolphins. They chased each other, blew water at us, and did their own thing. They're so graceful as they swim. After a while of playing, they vanished into the horizon and soon there was other dorsal fins sticking out of the water. Four Nurse Shark swam past the boat, kind of like that seen in Jaws but a lot less scary. Pretty soon the boat was alive and everyone was awake. We got to play with the harpoon gun and take some pictures, and then headed into Burdines. From there we left the humid, sunny island, and left the salty ocean in our minds. It was finally time to go home, to soon.