Pompano and Boynton Beach, May 2005
May 31st was our 20th Anniversary and we had to go diving. This year was my turn to pick the destination. I decided on the "Florida Gold Coast" from reading all the trip reports and reviews in magazines. Wrecks and reefs for 6 days sounded like a great anniversary present to each other!>
I researched the area dive ops and came up with a plan: Seahorse in Pompano for 3 days of wrecks, Splashdown in Boynton for 3 days of reefs.
We booked airfare through Expedia ($240 roundtrip per person from Albuquerque, a great deal!) and decided to stay at the Paradise Beach Hotel in Pompano since it is right across the street from Seahorse Dive Boat (unfortunately, SeaHorse is no longer in business). We arrived and picked up our rental car with no problems and checked into the hotel on schedule Wednesday afternoon. Capt Mike and DM Chris proved to be exactly what we were looking for - outgoing, upbeat, and professional. Mike picked the dive sites each day after calling around and finding out where all the other boats were headed - no way he would put us on a wreck if another group was there. This worked out great since some of the dive ops have 30+ divers per boat. So each day we were the only ones at each site. Great job Mike! Chris was also one of the best DMs we have ever worked with. He knew everyone's needs and met them without being asked. We had a very relaxed trip each day, all standing on the deck chatting as we took the 30-45 minute ride to the dive sites. What a great group, too! Each day we had a few different people and with it being a holiday weekend we were concerned with overcrowding. This was never an issue. Day 1 we only had 5, Day 2 we had 9, and Day 3 we had a whopping 13 divers on the spacious boat.
The Ancient Mariner, formerly the Coast Guard Cutter Nemesis served as a sub chaser in WWII. It later was used as a restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale before being sunk in 1991. The 165' wreck sits in the sand at 72' listing slightly to one side. The wheelhouse is filled with glassy sweepers, so many you can hardly move. This was our first ocean dive in over 9 months so we were both excited and the dive didn't last as long as it should have!
We had a snorkeler with us so we opted for a shallow reef as the second dive since he wasn't able to see anything at the first sight. That worked out well for me as the bottom was covered with sand divers, southern rays, scorpionfish, and puffers lurking behind every sea rod. We found several cute blennies, a sailfin and a seaweed, both eager to have their photos taken. The balloonfish were everywhere and I soon found one willing to pose for me.
Five wrecks sunk in an area and cabled together make this a fantastic dive. The 95' tugboat Jay Scutti sunk in 1986, the 95' sailboat Pride and smaller sailboat Moonshot, the 132' oil rig supply boat M/V Tracy, and the 40' yacht B.H. Lake lie close enough together that if current is light you can see all 5.
DM Chris tied the Seahorse off to the Scutti and we all jumped in. Ron, John (another photographer) and I decided to swim against the current to the pair of sailboats then drift back to end the dive at the Scutti. We followed the chain and found the boats easily and were surprised at how lush they were. Both were covered with coral, sponges, and a variety of fish. After about 15 minutes we slowly drifted back to the Scutti and joined the rest of the divers. A nudi, Florida Regal Seagoddess, was lounging on a twig next to the wreck. It was Ron's first nudi find and he was happy. We stopped for photos and to explore the wreck which in and of itself would have been a fabulous dive. This multi-wreck combo dive was one of my favorite dives ever!
The Copenhagen is one of the few natural historic wrecks in Florida waters. The 325-foot steamer ran aground in 1898. Another shallow dive (the snorkeler was with us again) and the dive started out well. Ron found a slender filefish, one of his favorites. I hung out for a few minutes with a group of 3-4' long snook. However, a dredging barge stirred up so much silt that a huge cloud came drifting over us halfway through the dive (even Capt Mike and DM Chris said they could see it coming from the boat!) Our vis went from 50' to 5' in a matter of minutes - but hey, it still beats cold water diving back home!
The United Caribbean is a recent addition, sunk close to the Sea Emperor in 1993. The 150' freighter, formerly the Golden Venture, made the news when it was used to smuggle 228 Chinese nationals who jumped ship and tried to swim to shore off the NY coast. Hurricanes in the summer of 2004 have ripped the hull and strewn debris around the area although the main structure is still intact. It is a fantastic dive!
Beautiful lush reef with tons of fish and since we didn't have the snorkeler we were able to see this deeper reef. The numbers of fish here amazed me - I think there were more than any reefs in Cozumel. Balloonfish and Porcupinefish were everywhere, parked under searod trees like a garage. They were so cute! I didn't want this dive to end. Just amazing sealife!
Nice reef, basket stars unfurled everywhere - some as big as 5' across. Lobster, crabs, parrots and tangs, drums and highhats, plus baby everything out and about. Puffers everywhere again and one decided he was in love with me and swam right up into my face. Of course I decided not to bring the camera. The fish always know!
Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday we had booked to dive with Splashdown Divers in Boynton since we had heard that the reefs in that
area are as beautiful as Cozumel. We had to check that out! Splashdown Divers
has another great dive op. Capt Lynn is a sweetie and her DM Kevin provide top notched service whether there are 20 divers or only a handful.
They also have an instructor, part time DM Jamie who was finishing off certification for divers this weekend. What a great crew! Being Memorial
Day weekend we knew there would be crowds but even though we had 15 divers each day, it really didn't seem uncomfortable. We had a great
time with these guys and can't wait to go back. (thank you Peter Schultz for the recommendations!)
The 195' freighter rests in 85' deep water. Current was a bit strong and we flapped like flags in the wind on the way down and back up the rope. It is a nice deep wreck covered in blue bell tunicates. The wreck sits down in the sand so the interior is actually lower than the listed depth and with all the cutouts it was easy navigation down to the third level hold.
Drift dive with Ron holding the flag again while I snapped away at the incredible fishlife. I had been told that the reefs off Boynton had more fish than Cozumel and I believe it now. Wow! The sponges had been spawning all week in this area so vis was down slightly. Of course I had to find one in the act! Highlights of this dive were a loggerhead the size of a VW and a free-swimming spotted eel.
Fish, fish, fish, and more fish! A huge green moray, another monster turtle...just another gorgeous reef!
Another great drift dive with more fish than I can imagine in one place! Ron decided to swing out over the sand and he paid off after only about 5 minutes. I look over and he is doing the "Snoopy dance" underwater and I know what that means - Batfish! Yes, there was a batfish and he laid there in the sand while I snapped 12 pictures before he got tired of me and walked off. What a hoot!
Ron and I were both so excited we didn't even care if we found anything else. As I was heading back to the reef (we were about 50-60' off into the sand) I found an empty clam shell with 2 blennies living inside. I stopped and tried to get a picture but just couldn't get a good one. It was so cute though. After that we saw 2 large cornetfish, the only barracuda of the trip, a live deer cowrie, and 2 balloonfish who were trying to mate. The two were so absorbed in their "dance" that they didn't pay any attention to us. They just swam in circles around us for several minutes while we watched. I tried to take a picture and of course the camera said "low battery" and shut off. Arrggghhh. Well, at least I got the batfish! Excellent way to end the dive trip.
We had scheduled dives 12 and 13 with Splashdown however Mother Nature had other ideas. Thunderstorms cancelled diving for the day so we ended with 11 fantastic, memorable dives.
All in all, it was one of our best trips ever. We really enjoyed both the diving and the people. The dive ops were top notched and we will be recommending them and using them both again. We met some really fun people on the boats also - Lynn and Charlie, John, Lee, Peter, Caryn, the family from AZ, the family from NY, the group of guys from AZ.... sorry for not writing down all the names! We really enjoyed meeting and diving with you all!
The hotel, Paradise Beach Resort, is basic, nothing fancy - it is oceanfront and has a restaurant which is nice. The hotel staff left alot to be desired but if you are diving all day and just looking for a convenient location with a bed and shower it works. We aren't sure if we would stay there again, especially on a holiday weekend. Traffic and parking were a nightmare for 3 days, getting fresh towels, too.
Other than diving, we really didn't do much besides eat and shop. The hotel has a nice Greek restaurant and Tiki bar out by the pool which was a nice place to eat a late lunch each day and do our dive logs. They have a great variety on the menu - from BLTs, 1/2 lb. hamburgers with french fries to gyros, moussaka or souvlaki plates. We understood that they even had a belly dancer on weekends.