I dived the Atlantic....

August 2006 was a milestone month for me, 45th birthday and attainment of a personal goal - attending Sturgis (South Dakota USA), the largest motorcycle event in the world. In 2005 I visited Florida and was keen to dive the Bahamas and with the manatee in Florida, but Hurricane Wilma ruined all these plans.

Girl bothering RicSo while in the USA with some time to spare I decided to ride the Harley down to the Florida Keys and get some diving done. The ride down is fantastic going across all the connecting bridges between the land spits and islands that make up the Florida Keys. Ominously on the horizon was Hurricane Ernesto, so the weather was a bit unpredictable but this was the calm before the storm.

On arrival at Key West I headed straight to a dive shop. I asked the shop attendant any chance on getting out tomorrow and the guy showed the most disinterest I have ever seen. I quizzed about sites; charters, he was not interested - strange way to do business. So I hopped on the Harley and rode to the next Dive Shop (Southpoint Divers) these guys knew how to run a shop! So I was booked on the following days afternoon dive. The Dive Mistress said "Wow you now when to come to town, tonight is Hawaiian Bikini Night!" The Gods had looked down favourably on me. I will not recall her the copious amounts that I drank, Cuban cigars smoked or females ooggled at as it would be inappropriate.

Diving in foreign lands and being buddied with strangers is always fun. I arrived at the boat on the Harley in a Harley T-shirt, thongs and a new pair of board shorts bought at Wal-Mart. The other divers looked at me with disdain as they carried their dive bags, cameras, Lyra suits and sun hats.

The boat was exceptionally well appointed and the crew was very attentive. We were to dive 2 coral reefs in the Keys. I was introduced to my two buddies Bob and Chuck (are all Yanks called Bob or Chuck?). They were both underwater photographers and had all the bling, Lyra suits, ankle weights, knives, expensive wristwatch computers, gloves - all the good gear. Here is stood with a pair of boardshorts and some hire gear (no computer juts gauges).

The DM gave the brief the dived was to be a maximum of 30 feet (you're kidding I thought). He then gave us a comprehensive brief on the fish life, reef layout, emergency procedures and how Key West was the 3rd largest barrier coral reef in the world and lauded its virtues.

The water was about 28 degrees so it was like a nice warm bath, Chuck took on the role of dive leader and headed for the reef. Within 10 minutes Chuck and Bob were fixated on taking pictures of what looked like Gobbies! As I normally dive with the "Bitch" who is a photographer I have got into the habit of being a spotter and seek out good photo opportunities. These guys had no idea - above them were schools of barracuda and great schools of fish. I watched for about 5 minutes and then went over to each of them - gave them the signal to follow me and watch. I then found a crayfish, large crab, barracuda, and jewfish - stopping punching my fist to make noise and pointing the fish out.

Ric in and unidentified tropical locationAt about the 40 minute mark Bob decided it was time to head back to the boat - at 100 miles per hour! I looked at Chuck and signals wassup? He shrugged so we followed. Bob was on the boat before Chuck and I had even reached the ladder. As I took the last step on the ladder I proclaimed "Well its certainly not the Great Barrier Reef" - the DMs looked disheartened. The reef was very ordinary, plate coral, brain coral but you could get as good coral diving at Byron bay or Coffs harbour.

Bob had decided to get back to the boat because he was running low on air - I suggested that if he just surfaced he would have been fine but power off just meant he would burn more air. Chuck and Bob were amazed at how I could find things. Open your eyes I thought.

Dive 2 was much the same on another reef, I found some small swim through squeezed which the guys watched me go through. They still insisted on looking for Flathead when the world up above was alive. At one point I looked up above us and there were three Nurse Sharks feeding on the floating weed - I love sharks so just floated mid water and watched these guys less than 3 feet away chomp away. I looked down and Chuck, Bob and now another 4 divers were looking at dead cowry shells or something. I dived down and pointed..... Well you should have seen the activity! One of the cretins decided he would swim right to them. So of course they swam off. As you can imagine everyone was very excited when we got back to the boat. The DM said Oh so you guys saw the Giant Grouper? You were about 6 feet from its hole; I looked at my feet and shook my head.....well next time...., which is October 2007!

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