I have always enjoyed the Australian aboriginal concept of a "walk-about" defined in Merriam Webster as "a short period of wandering bush life engaged in by an Australian aborigine as an occasional interruption of regular work."  A few weeks ago I planned a last-minute trip to meet my dad at his Florida vacation rental at Anna Maria Island.  My flight arrived in Miami, 4 hours away and 5 days ahead of him, which gave me 5 days to wander about Florida at my own pace as an interruption to my regular work.  I looked at it as a sort of a "Swim About."


No dive trip to Florida would be complete without a shark trip with Emerald Charters, so I got this out of the way early.  We breathed down three tanks on a wreck called the "Bonaire" that was liberally doused in an assortment of fish parts.  Goliath groupers, maybe numbering a dozen, greeted us first but soon the stars started to wander in.  Lemon and nurse sharks made way for the larger tigers as a blizzard of excited fish obscured the complete view of the action.  By the end, two great hammerheads made a majestic pass in the distance.  This dive was spectacular in so many ways but there were four more days to get in as much of a taste of the area as possible.  We got back to the dock at 15:30 and I had to be 5 hours away in Key West by the next morning.  


I woke the next morning at 4 am folded into the backseat of my compact rental car parked behind a drive-thru liquor store.  Key deer lined the early morning road on my way to dive the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.   Originally a transport ship for the Navy, she was later reassigned to the Air Force as a missile range instrumentation vessel and now rests on the bottom outside of Key West Harbor as the second largest artificial reef in the world.  Two dives allowed us only a cursory survey of the outside of a vessel that, in its hayday, would have served as a 522 foot long floating city capable of holding over 3000 troops.  It has only been down for 6 years and yet the ocean has already started the slow mastication process producing a huge, living reef.  I dried off and, without too much time to reflect on the looming radar dishes, climbed back into my car and made the trek back toward the mainland, for the next day, I was due to dive Key Largo.

The bow of the USNS Hoyt S. Vandenberg.


I had already spent two days diving Florida and had yet to experience a natural reef.  Captain Slate offers a special sort of reef dive.  The premise is that a divemaster accompanies the divers with a bait bucket to feed some of the more charismatic reef fauna including giant green moray eels and nurse sharks.  While that bit was good fun, the surrounding reefs were packed with life like I had never seen before.  Grunts and snappers packed in by the purple sea fans and other soft corals to create a moving seascape that was photogenic from just about every angle.  



I left Key Largo with my memory card full and a runny nose that evolved into a full blown flu.  I arrived at my Air BNB highly apologetic and dripping with germs.  That night was spent curled in a ball with cold sweats and lots of quiet whimpering.  My impromptu trip was at a low point and in danger of coming to a crashing, snotty end.  


From what I had been led to believe, no trip to Key Largo would be complete without a trip to the Spiegel Grove.  My fever broke at 10 pm and by morning, I was feeling a little snotty but could clear with only a little bit of ear squeaking, so I decided to risk it.  In her service life, the Spiegel Grove was landing ship for the US Navy.  At 510 feet long, she was a little large to explore in the one dive we had allotted, so we did the best we could.  Toward the end of the dive, we discovered the main hold, pictured above.  It is a fond memory on which to end my jaunt through the Keys.


The final dive day was spent at the famous Blue Heron Bridge.  The dive is a muck dive on par with those I did in Dumaguete, Phillippines.  Everywhere we looked, animals poked up from the sand and abundant sponges.  We also stumbled across 3 small boat wrecks.  


After such a fast-paced vacation, it was nice to find my dad and kick back for a week.  He rented kayaks, so I paddled around the canals in search of manatees.  Usually found at warm inlets in the spring-time, this summer came early and the manatees had already moved into their summer foraging grounds in shallow seagrass habitats, which in Anna Maria meant terrible visibility.  The rest of the vacation was spent in chairs looking at views much like the ones below.  


Thanks for playing along!