Conch Life in the Florida Keys
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Diver Don
~ SCUBA Don ~
Conch LifeGrowing Young
September 2009

In the year of 2001, I was to encounter two very depressing milestones in my life, an empty nest, and an age ending in zero. Being a progressive thinker, I began stressing about this prospect many months before.  I coped by getting my SCUBA certification, then planning a vacation that would allow me to flash my shiny new PADI card. I figured if middle age was going to come looking for me I could dive under water and make myself harder to find.

I was still living in Northeastern Ohio, not exactly a diving Mecca.  The open water portion of my training occurred in Findlay’s Gilboa Quarry, an abandoned limestone pit filled with pea-soup green algae infused water, a junkyard’s measure of sunken machinery, and tumor afflicted trout.  All students were required to wear 7mil wetsuits complete with hoods and gloves to protect our bodies from the heat sapping 40 degree water temperatures.  Each of our four dives had to occur before noon, because as the day progressed, disturbed sediment tended to drop visibility to about 3 feet.

Jon on the Bowsprit
~ Jon on the Bowsprit ~

Two weeks after my Gilboa experience, I wrote the fifth entry in my dive log – Location: The Great Barrier Reef.  Yes, with four open water dives under my weight belt, I flew half way around the world to the warm, crystal clear waters of Australia’s Coral Sea.  My initiation to being a certified SCUBA diver occurred in the spectacular beauty of an underwater Eden, with a thriving multitude of diverse species of tropical fish and colorful coral.  It was an experience of a life time, and to which I would regrettably compare all future diving adventures.

Thus, I reasoned, was why I was less than impressed by the diving Don and I experienced in Florida. Those trips included a “You call that a reef?” inquiry, a standoff with an arrogant guide who would not allow me to continue my descent until I grabbed a fire-coral encrusted rope with my bare hands, and then who upon surfacing, berated me for my reluctance to follow his objectionable orders (to which my hands suffered for a full month), and several rather depressing tours over gray skeletal remains of what once had been magnificent coral beds.

Jon at the Helm
~ Jon at the Helm ~

But this past Saturday found us with a friend who was chomping at the octopus to gear up and go down on yet another one of Florida’s reefs.  Jon had his own sailboat up on the hard, working toward some undetermined splash date for as long as we had known him.  He was really missing the water so we gladly offered to take him out for a weekend sail on Re Metau.  He was probably a little confused by our lack of enthusiasm to add diving to the itinerary, but with a little bit of persuasion, convinced us to let him bring his SCUBA gear.

We set our course for Looe Key, the one reef we’d seen that showed some promise to be worthy of diving. Jon had been a mate on a local snorkel tour boat and as we sailed over the shallow turquoise waters, he became as eager as a child to jump in and go for a swim. He suggested we take the opportunity to practice a man-overboard drill and enhanced this proposition further by offering to take pictures of Re Metau under sail, something we would have loved to capture but just hadn’t been able to finagle.

But Don and I were feeling like lethargic old fuddy-duddies. After the exertion of leaving the dock and raising the sails, once underway we tended toward a long respite with a cool drink in the shade of the cockpit. Even Jon’s promise to spear us some dinner while awaiting ‘rescue’ would not persuade us to go along with his scheme. As a distraction, Don handed the helm to Jon which seemed to appease his energetic tendencies.

Mermaid
~ Free Diving ~
With an outgoing current and fairly steady wind we traveled at a near hull speed of 6.5 knots arriving around mid-afternoon to a virtually empty mooring field. Still putting off Jon’s insistence to gear up and go down, Don and I used the immediate need to cool off as an excuse for not digging out our BCDs, tanks and weights. We all donned our fins, masks and snorkels and jumped in.
 Scrawled Filefish
~ Scrawled Filefish ~

It didn’t take long for Don and me to be affected by Jon’s exuberance. We all turned into little kids, free-diving down to explore the treasures under each coral shelf, and hovering to discover what might pop out of each hole. Jon’s unrestrained excitement was infectious, and we were able to once again see the beauty of Florida’s underwater world. Too soon the sunset painted a glorious sky and we could hardly wait to dive the reef properly the following day.

Sargent Majors and Moon Jellies
~ Sargent Majors and Moon Jellies ~

Even after a night of rolling seas and little sleep, Don and I found the energy to dig our dive gear out of the deep recesses of the boat. (Although she is an excellent blue-water cruiser, a Hans Christian is not an ideal SCUBA vessel.) It took a great deal of wrangling to manage the 80lbs of gear without damage to the hull, but we mustered up to the sergeant majors waiting just below the surface.

With depths of less than 30 feet, one tank lasted more than an hour. We encountered a steely moray eel, parrot fish sporting every color of the rainbow, hog fish and pork fish, rock beauties and French angels, scrawled filefish and all manner of crustacean. I saw a forest of Christmas tree worms covering a massive brain coral head, elegant purple fans and enormous vase sponges. It was a reef full of life, though delicate and tenuous, and I was grateful for Jon’s persistence to log some bottom time.

In life, growing old is inevitable. Anti-aging creams may preserve a youthful countenance, a balanced diet and sensible exercise may extend a life, and mental maturity is not really a prerequisite for adulthood. But that weekend I rediscovered my own method of forestalling the inevitable. With a little help from a friend, I was reminded that blowing bubbles in the water actually made me grow young.

The Eel
~ The Eel ~

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Copyright © 2015 Diana E Reynolds - SV Re Metau.  All rights reserved.

“Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” ~ Samuel Ullman