Punch the pig!

Shopping is hard work!  So when the opportunity presented itself, we took a little break….

Of course it seems to me the placement of this game is a little risky.  I could just imagine a shopper walking by, lost in their own world, visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads and so on when *wham* they walk right in front of Timmy while he’s punching at a pig.

Final dives

Our captain Clint taking us out for our final dives

Why the hell don't they make these things easier to put on

Sunday was our last day for diving and as it turns out our timing was good. It was already a little cooler than normal with temperatures in the mid 70s.  Now a front was moving in and dropping the temperatures even further — down into the low 60s.   Brrrrrrrr.  We went out on the small boat in the morning, just the three of us along with another couple who was diving and our captain Clint. We did two morning dives to finish up our trip and went back to the dive shop to settle up.

Afterwards we headed to Subway for our first grease-free lunch of the trip.  Subway was not staffed by the best and the brightest of the keys. My encounter with the sandwich maker was almost comical. I asked for a oven roasted chicken sub which consists of just a couple of chicken breasts and some cheese. But as I watched her make my sandwich, she put diced chicken and bacon on the sandwich. This is where the confusion started. I reminded her that I just wanted an oven roasted chicken (i.e. no bacon) and she clearly had no idea what I was talked about. I told her no bacon and she asked me about the chicken. Of course my ears are blocked up from days of diving and I started to wonder if I wasn’t speaking clearly. I told her oven roasted chicken again and she gave me this blank look. I said over roasted chicken, in other words no bacon. Then I said forget it, I’ll take it like it is and that caused even more confusion. Eventually I did get my sub and Tim, James, and myself had a good chuckle after we walked out of the restaurant.

Drying our gear

We took our subs back to the hotel and enjoyed a nice lunch while our gear dried.  Our adventure was near the end and by this time tomorrow, we’d be back home.

Worn out from nearly 11 hours underwater it was time for a nice siesta.

Dreaming of sponges and corals

Aquamen

Tim channeling the Fonz (I promised him I would never show anyone this picture!)

We had two and a half days to squeeze in as many dives as we could manage.  We had already done 4 dives on day one and our second day we had another 4 planned as well as a night dive.

The winds were calm today so we could start off right away with reef dives.  Most of our dives were between 20 and 30 feet.  At that depth we could practically stay underwater forever… or at least until our air runs out.

It was however still cold.  The sun was out but it wasn’t enough to fight off the chill in the air.  Most of the divers we had been with yesterday were off doing a wreck dive this morning so we went out in the small boat with just a couple other divers.

James wondering how much further south we'd have to go to actually feel warm

Tim relaxing on the way out

Back at the marina waiting for lunch

Our two morning dives lasted an hour each and on the way back our captain called in our lunch order.  There was a small cafe on pier next to the dive shop.  The cook was this grizzled old guy that in a different age I could picture a cigarette dangling from his lips as he stood over a sizzling grill flipping burgers for us.  However with the recent banning of smoking in restaurants, he had to take a step out an open side door which was right next to the grill to get his fix.  The healthy eating movement has learned they can shape, color, and flavor soy beans to make a variety of foods that mimic things we are used to eating.  Similarly this guy had figured out how to shape grease, to which he added a little bit of meat flavoring, and then sold it to hungry divers as hamburgers and cheesesteaks.

Heading out on the big boat

We met up with the other group that had done wreck diving in the morning and went out on the big boat for the afternoon dives.  The day was starting to warm up and for the first time during this trip we didn’t feel really really cold.  We did two more reef dives that were each an hour long.

We’d already spent 4 hours underwater, close to half of the day since we awoke, and we signed up for the night dive which would add another hour.  My fingers had reached a constant state of pruniness and I was beginning to wonder if they would ever recover.

This time of year the sun was setting pretty early, so we didn’t have to wait long before we were out on the boat again.  The underwater world looks so different at night and although it seemed there were fewer fish out than during the day, there were definitely more crustacians out.  We saw lobsters galore!  Under one shelf I counted four lobsters and then as I started to move on I saw another and another, they kept appearing.  I’m sure I saw at least 20 or 30.  Also we saw many crabs some of which were quite large, I’m sure as big as my head.  Twice we saw a interesting type of crab that appeared to have taken a loose piece of coral and was using it as camoflague.  The coral was mounted on the crabs back (not sure how) as the crab moved about feeding.

We also saw squid and eels.  You could turn your light out and run your hand through the water and watch all the tiny bioluminescence critters light up leaving a faint magical glow trailing behind.  Towards the end of the dive we were in a spot where there were thousands of tiny critters swarming about in the water.  Some were tiny eels (maybe?) that were less than an inch long and as thin as a thread.  I didn’t even realize they were animals at first until I saw one of them begin to squiggle as it swam along.  Most of these critters were moving extremely quickly.  Every now an then, a quick blur would hesitate in the beam of my light and I would see a small shrimp, no longer than my fingernail.  At one point, some of the divers had found a nurse shark sleeping under a shelf.  We went down to take a closer look.  It turns out that the shark was sleeping on top of a giant green moray eel.

Christmas lights on the water

We made it back to dock by 7pm.  After a long days diving we were hungry and went out to get a bite to eat and then back to the hotel where once again I was asleep by 9pm.

Coconut Cove

Sunrise from Coconut Cove Resort on Islamorada

On our second morning we didn’t feel quite the same rush to get up early and get to the dive shop.  I got up and wandered down to the water to watch the sunrise.  We were staying in a little place on Islamorada just a few minutes from the dive shop.

Coconut Cove is about 20 years past being a nice little resort.  We stayed in the Captain’s Cottages which consisted of a few small duplexes which stood next to the office and in front of a three story building with hotel style rooms.  On the drive down, we got a call from the hotel manager which offered us a free upgrade to the rooms in the larger building.  These rooms were definitely nicer than the cottages, with marble bathrooms and sliding glass doors that opened onto a large shared balcony.  If we had the girls with us, there is no doubt we’d have taken the upgrade.  But we didn’t mind staying in rooms that were a little dumpy and with the cottages we could park right in front of our room which was handy for loading/unloading gear.

Juicing up for the days diving

Tim and I stayed in one room and James stayed in the other.  Each room had two beds, a queen as well as a small twin bed.  Tim sat down on the twin in our room, bounced a couple of times and said, ‘well, I guess we’ll be sharing the queen bed’.  The springs on the twin were beat.  The bed sagged in the middle and creaked when you moved on it.  By all rights it should have been uncomfortable as hell, but just like with the resort, I actually liked the little bed despite it’s shortcomings and slept on it soundly every night of our trip.

Each of our rooms also had a small kitchenette area with a sink, microwave (ours didn’t work), stove, and refrigerator.  The cabinets were stocked with dishes and utensils as well as a price list for anything that might go missing from the room.

Don’t get me wrong, despite it’s need for a makeover, I actually like Coconut Cove and would definitely come back here again.  The manager (owner?) was a nice woman who brought a different bird into work each day (the first day she had a friendly macaw that she had rescued and was rehabilitating).  She gave us good suggestions each night for places to eat.  They had a nice lagoon style swimming pool with a waterfall on one side and a good sized fish pond in which we could occasionally see dark fish darting through the murky water.

Too good to be prepared

You know, I do a lot of traveling and I’m a pretty smart guy. My cousin Tim travels too and is likewise pretty clever. My friend James not only travels but lived for two months down in the Caribbean. Why is it that none of us thought to check the weather before heading down to Key Largo for a long weekend of diving? I think I came the closest of the three of us. The night before we left it suddenly occurred to me to check and make sure there were no hurricanes down south (lesson learned from a prior trip Tim and I took to the outer banks in which we did not check the weather and ended up walking smack into a hurricane… but that’s a story for another time.)

So we met Thursday afternoon at National Airport. Bags full of gear, we had snorkels and masks and fins and sunscreen. However we did not have warm clothes.

Actually, we all had our winter coats, not exactly what you’d want to take out on a boat where things have a tendency to get wet. And Tim did bring a nice warm looking hoody giving the illusion that he had thought ahead (although I’m sure it was a coincidence – if he was truly thinking ahead, surely he would have brought a second hoody for his dear cousin!).

It was cold! Well, maybe not real cold. Certainly not as cold as back home where the temperatures had dropped into the 40’s.  But this is Florida and my expectations are high.

We had breakfast our first morning at mcdonalds where we loaded up on calories, drank coffee (and mocha!), and discussed being cold. Tim of course had his hoody on. I decided to go to the grocery store on the other side of the parking lot and bought a cheap sweatshirt. James decided to tough it out.

After breakfast we drove a short distance to the dive shop.  Tim went out with Conch Republic for his certification dives a few years ago and we had decided to use them again. We had planned on doing all reef dives on this trip but unfortunately the cold weather had brought winds with it and the dive shop thought it was a little choppy to do these shallower dives.  Instead we hooked up with a group that was doing wreck dives that morning.

The ride out took about an hour.  The two dives weren’t far from each other.  Both were around 100 feet and we were surprised to do two deep dives so close together, this was somewhat contrary to what you learn in class.  However we were all using computers and they approved of the dive plan so we weren’t too concerned.  After the second dive we could feel the chill setting in.  I put my sweatshirt on, Tim had his hoody, and James found a seat on the edge of the boat in the sun.  And we were cold.

By afternoon the waves had calmed down some and we were able to do our reef dives.  Afterwards we did some grocery shopping so we wouldn’t have to have egg mcmuffins every morning and on the advice of our hotel hostess headed out to a local favourite, Chilli Willie’s for dinner.  The prior night we had to drive down to the keys from Miami and didn’t get to bed until 11pm.  As it would turn out, that was the last time I went to bed after 9pm for nearly a week.  Exhausted from the prior days travels and todays diving, we finished dinner and headed back home where we promptly fell asleep.