Kurt at the Southernmost Point
South Point Divers
View from Dive Boat
Getting ready to Dive
04.01.2002 - Day 4
It’s the big day! Our first real diving adventure!! Kurt and I are more than a little anxious with the anticipation; neither of us really know what to expect. In fact, we can hardly muster to down the breakfast of fresh fruit by the pool of our B&B before setting out to find the dive shop offices. The B&B is only 5 or so blocks off of Duval Street – the location of our dive shop as well as party central. We attempt to drive the RAV4 to the shop, but as it turns out parking is such a pain that we decide all future visits should be on foot. Miraculously, the dive shop has our reservations and after completing a bit of paper work and dropping our money, we’re all set. All we have to do is wait until 2pm to show up at the dock.
With a little time to kill, Kurt and I hit a few shops on Duval Street, then decide to locate the southernmost point in the Continental United States. A large red, white, yellow and green cone-shaped buoy marks this point. Although this location is not particularly difficult to find Kurt and I still use the GPS – after all it’s a geocaching (www.geocaching.com) point that we can get credit for after returning home! At this marker, we are only a mere 90 miles from Cuba. We are also 700 miles further south than San Diego! I had no idea Key West is THAT far south.
Before we know it, it’s time to head to the docks to meet up with our boat. Once again, parking is a struggle. Eventually we find a home for the RAV4, pack our bags with the diving gear, and head off to find what’s in store for us. The South Point Divers dock is located on the water in back of the Hyatt Key West. The area is very beautifully landscaped, with a pool, palm trees and a manmade beach. Kurt and I have to wait about 15 minutes or so before the Captain finally lets everyone onboard. The vessel looks nearly new and is designed specifically for diving. We assemble our gear where the Captain indicates - while trying to calm our nerves so we don’t look so much like amateurs! It proves to be a difficult task. Once everyone is on board – about 20 individuals in all – the Captain gives us a brief run down of the day’s adventure and then we’re off! The Crew (the Dive Master and the Dive Instructors - yep, instructors - it turns out there are others onboard more inexperienced than us!) promises us that the water is the calmest they have seen it in years! They say that the visibility (or ‘the viz’ if you really know your diving terms) is upwards of 150 feet. They say that it’s going to be a splendid afternoon for diving – YEA!!
Our first dive is at a location about 7 miles southeast of Key West, in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This park was signed into law in 1990 and extends on both sides of the Florida Keys for 2800 square nautical miles – making it the second largest marine sanctuary in the United States. The Captain moors the boat and gives us a few last minutes instructions then tells us that ‘the pool’s open’! Kurt and I don our wetsuits, BCD and tank, and other miscellaneous diving gear and join the line to jump into the drink. We have one hour to explore the depths before we have to be back on the boat to navigate to our 2nd diving site.
Once Kurt and I remember how to breathe through our regulators and realize that it’s really no different than the pool, we’re ready to venture into the deep blue sea. The area is approximately 30 to 40 feet deep and abundant with large coral ridges. Bright, intense colors are everywhere, contrasting the pure white sand of the sea floor. A proliferate garden of soft corals surrounds us while schools of fish hide in protected niches within the coral stacks. It doesn’t take long for Kurt and I to remember our diving skills and manipulate our underwater camera to snap some of the images. Hopefully the pictures capture at least a portion of the beauty by which we are surrounded.
The hour passes quickly by and we soon are waiting in line to climb back onto the boat. Ecstatic, Kurt and I are free of the jitters that existed before our initial entry into the water. We are hooked and cannot wait to arrive at our second dive site!
Following a short boat ride to the eastern end of the same coral reef – an area known as The Haystacks – we’re ready to hop into the water a second time. Once again, the Captain informs us that we have one hour to play. The coral in this area of the reef takes on lofty, rounded formations strongly resembling haystacks – hence the name. Once again Kurt and I are amazed at how quickly the hour passes by. Being under water is incredible - words cannot describe it. The toughest part is not being able to talk to Kurt to share my thoughts while we are down there!
Sadly, the time comes to get back on the boat and the Captain steers us back toward Key West. We dock about 45 minutes before sunset - just the perfect amount of time to ditch our wet diving gear in the Toyota and head over to Mallory Square. The RAV4 actually comes in very handy at this point – we drop down the back seats and string a clothesline from door to door on which to hang our wettest stuff.
Mallory Square is filled with people as it’s now about 20 minutes before sunset. There is a definite Bohemian flavor to the area (as there is to the entire town). We are intrigued by the jugglers and the fire-eaters, the musicians and the magicians. We manage to find a first-rate seat right on the edge of the pier to observe the sunset. Unfortunately, the sunset is shrouded in clouds. None-the-less, it is still a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We duck out as soon as the sun has sunk and find a restaurant to stave off our hunger pains. For an appetizer, we determine that we have to feast on conch fritters, a local favorite and staple. (Conches are a type of mollusk.) Once dinner is over, we turn to finding the bars that we didn’t make it to the night before. The first stop is an outdoor bar where we relax under a palm tree while digging our toes into the sand. Once we tire of that, we move to a small room housing a pool table to entertain ourselves while listening to a Reggae band.
As we leave the bar, we see yet another bar that we had missed the night before - Irish Kevin’s. Irish beer in Paradise? What could be better? We mosey on in and find a couple of free seats at the bar. It doesn’t take us long to discover that this is an audience participation bar. Irish Kevin himself is on stage ensuring that all his patrons are enjoying themselves. To do this, he is giving away free pints of Guinness, if you can chug them in under 7 seconds. Amazingly, some individuals were able to chug the beer in as little as 1.5 seconds! And for some individuals, he tops off the glass with a shot of Jamison. Ouch… I am honestly scared to move out of my seat for fear Irish Kevin will invite me up on stage and ensure that I'm having a good time. I must say that he has a solid rapport with the clientele in his establishment. Kurt and I have such a good time and are so entertained that we end up spending nearly the entire night at this bar.
Eventually we realize that it’s almost 1am, so we venture out to find another unvisited bar or two. After such entertainment at Irish Kevin’s, the other bars seem lame although we do manage to find a very tasty slice of pizza. At last, it’s time to call it a night. (To Day 5)