Talk about a trip NOT to miss!!!
We had 18 people say they were going on this trip. As the way things normally work, when it came down to the day to go, we were down to 4.
Myself, Bill F. (F10) Mark M. (M2) and Dee. So, the 4 of us loaded up in Dee’s RV and headed out at 0700 on Friday.
First stop was Blue Grotto in Williston, FL. We signed in, got our fills and headed in. M2, F10 and I headed straight for Peace Rock and the cavern while Dee stayed closer to the platforms. There were very few people around. There was one open water class of about 10 people and a couple tables of tech divers (rebreathers, etc) and us. We had the place to ourselves for the most part. We did the entire horseshoe, peace rock and even stopped for a quick chat and pics in the fresh air bell. Average for the dive was about 48 minutes and 100 foot depth. 73 degree water at surface and 72 at depth. The ambient temp was low 50’s and during our surface interval, none of us could get our core temps up enough to be comfortable so we blew off a second dive. We loaded the gear up in the RV and headed down to Crystal River. During dinner at “The Ale House” that night, we were graced with a pod of dolphins playing in King’s Bay. We stood outside watching them for over a half hour. We also had a close encounter with a huge owl. We were out by 9:00 pm.
Day two was a drift dive in Rainbow River after spending the morning looking in the local dive shops souvenir buying.. Again, no crowds. There was one other boat that was coming downstream as we were headed up and I never saw another boat going up as we headed down. The group on our boat was only 10 people strong, so it was a nice relaxing 1 hour drift dive down the river. The viz was its normal 80 feet and the wildlife was all around. Dive specs: 49 minutes, max depth 20 feet, 72 degree water, 65 air. After the dive, it was back for a shower and then to dinner at “Cracker’s.” As always, we left Cracker TOO full and were crashed out by 10:00.
Sunday, we were up by 5:30 am for the whole reason of the trip. Our Manatee snorkel. We al met up at 6:00 am and we parked by the Dive Shop by 6:15. We left the docks right at 7:00 am and were in the water 0740. Last year, you were lucky to run into a manatee due to so many people being around. This year, there were almost too many manatees around!! I swam around for 10 minutes last year before I found my first one. This year, I got off the boat and couldn’t even get to the Spring because 4 or 5 of them were blocking my way. It was AMAZING!!! There were easily 30-35 manatees where we were and about half of them were playful. You didn’t go any more than about 30 seconds without a manatee in your face wanting to be rubbed. Of course, there were times when 3 or 4 would converge around your area and you ran the risk of getting caught between them. But, it was a small price to pay to have the privilege of being around so many manatees at the same time!!! It was, BY FAR, the best manatee experience we have had to date!! Like I said, if you didn’t go, you truly missed out on the greatest interaction we have ever had.
And, as promised, we were back in Mid GA by 4:30 Sunday afternoon.
Thanks to the 3 that went with me, it was a blast!!! And, we’ll definitely do it again next year!!!