We just spent a long weekend diving in the Florida Keys and I learned a valuable lesson I felt I should pass on to our readers. There never were any serious issues but in my mind I could see how things may have turned out differently. This experience re-enforced in me on how proper training can improve the safety factor when diving. New gear configurements can be taxing if you’re not prepared.
Let me set the scene for you. The boat rocked heavily as we journeyed to the massive Speigal Grove shipwreck. Weather issues made the dives more challenging with 3-5 foot waves, 25 foot of viz, and 18 knot winds. Stomachs lurched as much as the expertly driven Odyssey as we approached the buoy marking our descent line. As an experienced dive instructor with over 1000 dives under my belt, it was my first time diving the Keys and 2nd time exploring the ocean with my new camera system.
RELATED: Underwater Photography Class
The majority of my ocean dives have been spent using a compact GoPro camera system. These are easy to handle and do a decent job of point and shoot video/pictures. Wanting to step up my Macro game, I had invested in an underwater housing made by Nauticam for my Nikon D810 camera. This system is much bigger and bulkier then my Gopro and brought in an entirely different dynamic when diving.
We were lucky when we arrived at our spot, the waves were not as forecast 5-7 ft. but were only 3-5 ft which made a huge difference in getting off and on the boat. Also there was very little current at depth. I took my camera and housing on the first dive but due to the poor visibility refrained from taking it on the 2nd dive. The afternoon dive was similar as we poured over French Reef but we experienced a lot of surge. Despite the poor viz and surge, I was super pleased with the camera’s performance.
The next day (Saturday), the wind was even stronger and the dives were cancelled. I had already decided I wasn’t going to dive and could just use a day to relax. We scheduled an afternoon Everglade Nature Tour and had a marvelous time exploring the Everglades on an air-boat looking for alligators and other wildlife.
RELATED: Everglade Nature Tours
Sunday approached rapidly. Bright-n-early at 6am we were on the way to Key West for an excursion to dive the USNS Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the 2nd largest artificial reef in the world. We chose one of the best outfits to dive with Captain’s Corner. Needless to say we were all excited for diving the Vandenberg as none of us had ever had the pleasure of diving on it. After having poor and cancelled dives the rest of the week, we hoped to salvage at least one super day of diving.
Amazing is the only way to describe the next several hours as we bounced back to back dives on the Vandenberg. We arrived to no current and 80 ft viz. The site was full of boats so our captain decided to let us free descend to the lines below. As there was no current we would treat our ascent as a drift dive and he would pick us up on any of the lines coming off the ship.
The dive was simply splendid. Watching our bottom time carefully, we made sure not to get into deco time and came up with plenty of air in our tank and time left to spare. Here is where the dive became challenging.
When drift diving, you deploy a SMB Surface Marker Buoy or as we call it a “safety sausage” letting boats around you know there is a diver below and to make sure your boat can find you. Having the huge dive housing as part of my kit was never made into my dive plan, while using a safety sausage. I found myself on the ascent line with the housing strapped to my BC trying to keep other divers from kicking the dome. I was fumbling with my sausage removing from the “d-ring” then working on inflating it and releasing the thumb spool of line. Watching the familiar tube rise to the surface made me think how lucky I was at that moment. There was no current. There was great visibility. I had managed my air and time sufficiently to handle any issues. Thankfully none materialized. But it could have been much different blog entry. The camera housing size, creates a new dynamic, I will need to learn for future diving. The pictures are incredible and worth the time to learn.
I hope this post will help you stop and think about your own gear configuration and any changes you make or equipment you change, what impact will be on your next dive trip. If you like what you see on our pictures remember we will be returning to the Florida Keys in late November and have plenty of room for you to join us. It is imperative you keep your dive skills fresh by diving as much as you can as well as participating in continuing education programs.
See: Florida Trip
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