Florida Diving - Part 1

Boynton Beach With LoggerHead Divers

I had heard that there were bigger lobster up the coast north from the Keys, than there were in the Keys themselves. Supposedly there is less fishing pressure. The biggest bugs were said to be up around Fort Pierce. Very few people went diving up there or off of Cape Canaveral. I figured on being able to dive for one day even further south near West Palm Beach, before continuing down to Key Largo for the week.

I had called a number of dive outfits in Boynton Beach, just south of Palm Beach, before my trip and had some idea of who I wanted to go with. All of them charged around $40 for the 2 tank trip and had similar prices for tanks rentals. I had wanted to dive on the morning and the afternoon boat, to get some time to look for bugs. With water temperature near 75 degrees, it might be cold for the locals, but it would be fine for me in a jacket. Both boats I went on provided, juice, sodas, pretzels and

cookies. It should be mentioned that this was February. A bit before the tourist season and so the small groups on the boats while I was there, may have been quite the exception to the rule. There was room for a lot more divers on all of the boats I was on on this trip. Things always get messy with more crowded conditions.

Pretty much all the outfits at this dock had camera rinse tanks on the boats and large gear rinse tanks on the docks.

I got to the "2 Georges" docks in Boynton beach about 8 AM for the 8:30 boat with Loggerhead Divers. The dock area is easy to find and has good parking, though the entire area is to be renovated shortly. There are a number of fishing charter boats as well as dive charters and a real good dive shop. There are some nice restraunt/bars as well, sometimes with live music. It all makes for a fun and rather jumbled affair.

At Loggerhead, I got signed on and bought a lobster snare. To catch lobsters in Florida, divers use either a snare or a tickle stick and net. The snare is a small piece of plastic pipe about 2 feet long. A loop of plastic wire sticks out of through holes in the caps on each end of the pipe so that the snare end makes a loop that can be pulled up from the other end of the pipe. The idea is to pull the loop up from behind the lobster, so that it goes around the tail or the carapace. It seemed like an easier way to do it than grabbing them by hand as we do here in California. Size limit for lobster is 3 inches. Non-resident fishing licenses are quite reasonable. I paid $17 for a 7 day license.

Craig was the skipper, and George and Sean were acting as crew. With 7 divers, the boat was not crowded at all and best of all for me, it had some shade in the cabin. It was less than a mile through the inland canals, from the dock to the channel that went to the ocean. There were a lot of boats, but it's just a short trip. Craig was going to take us to where divers had seen lobster the previous day. It was about a 20 minute trip to the site. The reef in this area seemed to be less than a mile from shore.

It was all pretty basic. Each buddy group took a float along with a reel of small rope. The reel had a bit of a hook on it to act as an anchor if the diver carrying it wanted to drop it to look around. There was a lot of boat traffic and aside from a real danger from them, I heard that you can quickly get a ticket for diving out there without a flag. I went down with a couple of guys that were looking for bug also.

The dive boat would slowly motor along and each buddy group would prepare by assembling at the back of the boat and playing out the line to their float and flag. When all was ready, they would just step off the back and dive there.

We came down on top of the reef at about 65 feet with about 75 feet of vis. This was my first look at a Florida reef and it looked just fine. There were lots of sponges, sea whips and sea fans. There wasn't a lot of bottom relief, but the life of the reef gave meaning to the term 'coral garden'. It made an open, but lush growth that extended 2 or 3 feet off the bottom. It was thick enough to mostly hide the bottom. There were lots of fish including some beautiful pairs of butterfly fish.

Right away we were looking under rocks and one of the divers with me spotted a bug. He was diddling with that and I swam around nearby looking for a victim. About this time, I noticed that I had forgotten my gloves. Poor move, but I wasn't too concerned. I wasn't supposed to grab them anyway, now was I. Sure enough, I saw a legal looking bug in the entrance of a small hole. They are better camouflaged in Florida than in California. The straw coloring makes them a bit harder to see. Well, I went down and tried to figure out how to get that loop of plastic behind the bug without touching it. Hmmm. This was a problem I hadn't thought about... So I swatted it. I broke off an antennae, but missed the grab. I reached up the hole and could feel the bug, but I wasn't going to get it without a lot of fussing and fighting, so I skipped it. That brief encounter was plenty to dice up my skin though.

While I was concentrating on lobster, I was also taking a close look at where I was diving. It was very pretty and very different from where I had ever been diving before. I could easily see similarities to what I had seen in Belize, but here there were fewer coral structures, yet far more sea whips and sea fans. The colors were not as quite vivid as in Belize either. I saw the vase sponges that were lavender in Belize. Here they were purplish, but not near as pretty. The same was true of the red sponges as well. The large red barrel sponges were common, but were only perhaps 18 inches tall. This is not to say it was not pretty. It was different though and a very complex picture for the eyes as we drifted and swam along. The current was quite mild, but it was there and we were supposed to move with it. Looking closely at the reef as we passed, I saw many smaller colorful fish, puffers, trumpets and trigger fish as well. There was a lot to see. I didn't see much in the way of lobster though. I also saw a juvenile Black Grouper with vivid black spots.

I had noticed the lack of any sea urchins. Craig mentioned at one point that a few years back, a bacteria had come through and killed all of them.

In warm water I use air fairly fast and I was out before my buddies so I signaled them and went up. The boat was there soon after I surfaced. As divers came aboard, it seemed that the hunters got a bug or 2. One diver who went the other direction, got about 7 legals though. George managed to spear a Copia that must have been near 25 pounds. It looked just a bit like a gray shark, but they are a regular boney fish. They are supposed to be good eating, but are hard to keep on a spear. They fight so much that you have to let your gun go on a reel or float, or the fish will rip free. They are not commonly speared. It looked just the thing for my smoker.

The second dive was much like the first. I found a couple of lobsters, but couldn't really get the snare behind them. I decided to pull up the loop and try sliding the end of the pipe past the lobster that way. Then I could push on this end of the loop so that it would come out the other end of the pipe, behind the lobster. It seemed like a good way to do it, but I didn't seem any more victims to practice on. I did see a fair sized Green Sea Turtle. It seemed quite uninterested in hanging around though. The patterns on their shells are sharply intricate patterns with an odd beauty.

It was fun diving in the visibility like this. You just look around and you can probably see your buddy fairly easily. The water was warm enough that I tended to unzip my wetsuit jacket. It was excellent casual diving on a very pretty reef.

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