Our dive "club" went on a weekend trip to Florida for some diving and a manatee visit. Our numbers ranged fomr 6 on some dives to 12 on others during the weekend.
Friday, 15 Feb, we left middle GA around 0900 and headed down to Ginnie Springs. After stopping for gas, food, etc, we arrived at Ginnie around 1400. Being a Friday, the place was almost deserted. We got in two dives that afternoon. Both dives for me and my buddy were in the main Ginnie Spring. He was on dives # 2 and 3 after certification, so we were working on his comfort and skills. He did go in the ballroom and down to the grate on both dives, so I guess he`s more comfortable than most would be on numbers 2 and 3. Our second dive, we were the only two in the Spring. Some of our group dove the Devil`s side for their second. There were, of course, cavers on that side, but again, not many. After breaking down the gear, we drove to Crystal River, where we would be for the next two days. We had a great meal, as always, at Crackers in Crystal River that evening.
Saturday, we booked a drift dive down Rainbow River (KP Hole State Park) with American Pro Diving Center. The drift was awesome for the first 30 minutes or so. Long nosed gar, bubbling sand, soft-shelled turtles, and some serious outflow from "The Blow Hole".. Beautiful dive. Unfortunately, a group that was supposed to be behind us, overtook us and completely destroyed the viz for us. If it had silt on it, they went through it, kicked it or stood on it. They were wearing scuba equipment, but they were far from being "divers." One guy even lost complete buoyancy and landed on top of one of my guys and planted his face in the sandy bottom. How this group ever got a c-card is beyond me. We let them get ahead of us and tried to enjoy the rest of the dive with less-than-pristine viz. It was a great dive if you can forget the non-divers wearing scuba gear. The picture is from the Rainbow River dive. I crawled into the cavern and snapped the pic of my group on the outside. Saturday night, another good meal at Fat Boy`s BBQ.
Sunday morning, we arrived at Bird`s Underwater at 0615 for our morning with the manatees. After trying to find manatees at three spots to stay away from the crowds, they had to head to the main spring where there were no less than 12 other boats loaded with people. It was stupid crowded there. There were manatees to be seen, but not in great numbers and with the amount of people around, not all of them were playful this time. But, everyone in the group still got to see at least one manatee and pet them, especially those that had never seen one before, so it was well worth it. After the manatee visit, we went to a place called "Three Sisters" and some of the people on our boat snorkeled in that area while others of us rested in the sunlight. After a pretty good lunch at "The Ale House" we said goodbye to Crystal River and were on our way back to GA around 1500 and made it back just in time for some big storm to hit our area. All in all it was a great time and we had a group of 14 people go on this trip. So, I consider it a great success.
Lessons Learned on this trip: 1. Go to Ginnie (or any dive site) during the week. You have it all to yourself. 2. Do not book manatee visits on President`s Day weekend. 2 reasons: It could already be getting warm and the manatee numbers start to dwindle and it is also the busiest weekend of the year for Crystal River, which we did not know when we scheduled it. 3. In Crystal River, whether you dive with American Pro or Bird`s Underwater, you can`t go wrong. Both are class acts that respect the area, the environment, and the manatees.