Every year, we take family to Panama City Beach for the Labor Day weekend. This year, we hung around for most of the following week because the wife had friends that were also down for a quick get-away. Of course, this year, Hurricane Gustav looked like it was going to rain on our parade the entire week. However, Gustav’s path veered more West and the effects were barely noticed. Except for a couple a days, one of which we had planned to dive…
We had planned a two-tank inshore dive on Sunday with Downtime Dive Charters (www.downtimedivecharters.com
) and they worked us through the Panama City Dive Center. We did dives with Downtime last year and had a great time, so we used them again this year. Their Divemaster/Mate Jessie is a trip and great guy to be around. Capt Pat and Wife/Mate Bonnie are also great hosts. We met them at PCDC at our scheduled time and were wondering about the weather. The skies were clear and the ocean had a bit of chop, but nothing major, so we decided to go for it after calling a couple of other dive charters that said it was fine out there.. The Downtime is a 6-pack, so there was me, my sister (Leslie), her husband (Dale..Yes, Dale), my niece (Alyssa), my nephew (Logan) and a dive buddy from work (Bill) that were on the boat. As we are going out, it’s a pretty bumpy ride, but we’ve seen worse, so no big deal. When we get to the site, there is some good chop going on, but down on the wreck, there is very little current. We realize the entry back onto the boat may be tricky, but we’re all ready to try it. We splash and dive on an old Coast Guard Cutter called the “Strength.” Brother-in-law, Dale, had to abort his dive due to complications. So, Sister and Divemaster Jess dove with both kids. Bill and I buddied up for this dive. The wreck is pretty beat up but there are millions of bait fish around it. Two different times, I had to put my hand up in front of me to make sure I didn’t run into anything since I couldn’t see because of all the fish. Of course, 20 foot viz didn’t help much either. Dive stats were: 92 degree air temp, 84 degree surface water, 76 degree water at depth, max depth of 77 feet, 32 minutes on EAN32. After the safety stop, (which had a ripping current by now) we worked our way to the back of the boat. The surface was so choppy and the current was running stronger than it was 30 minutes prior. The line was getting pushed under the boat and we had to keep out hands on the boat to keep it from crashing down on us while we made our way to the current line. Trying to hold on to that bucking bronco of a ladder while handing up my light, camera and fins was a serious task!! I finally made it up and grabbed Bill’s fins for him since Jess was still down with the kids. Bill made it on with no problems. As they started to come up, Alyssa got tangled in where two ropes joined and was getting pinned against the boat. Bonnie and I got on the platform and held her up while Jess untangled her feet. When they were untangled, we just lifter her out of the water and onto the platform. Logan was next and did good staying on the ladder and I took his fins and helped him up. My sister was the last and as she got to the ladder, Jessie got behind her and took off her fins for her and handed them up to me. She made her way and finally Jessie got back aboard. Definitely, the trickiest boat boarding I’ve made to date. And, if I don’t make another like it, that will be just fine with me.
After all of that, Capt Pat tried to find another site with less chop. It wasn’t to be and he called off the second dive for the day. He said he got beat up enough on the first dive and he wasn’t willing to risk it by staying out, so we headed in. No one argued about calling the dive. The trip back in was uneventful and when we got back to PCDC, Capt Pat told us to go in and speak to the Manager of the store. When we walked in, she promptly refunded 100% of the money we had paid for our dives. We actually protested saying we got one dive in and Capt Pat needed something for his time and gas. But, they would hear none of it. We later found out that it was Capt Pat’s call, not PCDC’s. Capt Pat said we could repay him by remembering him next time we came to Panama City. And, you can bet we will. The family and I are going to compensate Capt Pat by sending him some money directly. But, I also figured I could give him a bit of free advertising on DiveBuddy.com. :)