A few of us went to Key Largo for some diving this weekend with one of my favorite charter ops, Cristal Clear Charters. I`d only ever dove with their boat in Tavernier so trying out the Key Largo operation was something new. I have to say, they run a very safe and professional operation. The boat in Tav is a 46` Newton, the boat in KL is a 42` Newton, and both are in like-new condition.
After a little breakfast at the Waffle House, we headed to the boat. It was a smooth check-in at the office and on the boat, *very* detailed briefings were the order of the day with Capt. George and DM Matt.
The dives: Saturday morning we dove the Benwood, and while we had a great dive, seeing lot`s of big gag groupers, some lobsters, and tons of tropicals, we came across a dead nurse shark on the bottom that some moron had either speared or knifed. The second dive was on Christmas Caves inside the French reef system and it was very nice as well, with a 30+ lb cubera snapper and a few black grouper in attendence, along with a reef system that actually seems healthier than when I last dove it a few years ago.
We lunched at the Pilot House restaurant next door and the seared sesame ahi sandwich hit the spot.
For the afternoon, we dove the USCGC Duane after a *very* lengthy dive briefing by Captain George, we dove and first saw a good sized green moray eel slithering up the port gunnel and then disappear into the wreck. After that, we headed back toward the stern and then swept up the starboard side of the deck peering into ship. Once we got to the room where the floor panels are missing, I pointed my buddies to a 300 lb. jewfish swimming around deep inside the wreck. Then we went thru some other rooms working our way up the stairs where ever we could. By the time we exited upper deck, one buddy was out of bottom time we let the current take us back to the mooring ball to begin the ascent. Every dive on the Duane is like visiting an old friend for me.
Next, we motored down to the Eagle. Today, I never swam forward of the wheelhouse section, spending 28 minutes here. I did some swim-throughs and saw some garden eels in the sand back near the prop and rudder. I also found a few new access points I didn`t know about before. A great dive.
Upon the group`s return, Cristal Clear Charters had some marinated skirt steaks and grilled wings waiting for us along beans and rice. Thank you Tim for sharing your plate with all of us : - ) After we chowed, we went back to my buddy`s house for showers and gear rinsing with visions of party to happen when we went back to the Pilot House. When we got back, the party had mostly fizzled but we went to Sharkeys for a cocktail or three and some appetizers. About 10pm, we went to the new rock bar in Key Largo called the Big Fish to catch the first set from a S FL band called The Regs. They put on a great show so if you like rock & roll, you`ll like this band`s show. About 1145, we were out of there and off to bed. I`m pretty sure I was asleep before my head settled into the pillow.
On Sunday morning after some WH breakfast, we checked in at the boat, signed another release, loaded the gear and headed for the Speigel Grove. Since my dive buddies all left me, I took the opportunity to do a little site seeing for myself and found some places that warrant future exploration with a team.
The second dive was back to Christmas Caves on French Reef. We probably should have requested a different dive site since some of us were there Saturday morning but we didn`t..... Tim and I concluded during this dive that Jenny`s spring straps were defective because her fins popped off not once but twice.
Afterward, we tried to hook-up with the crew for lunch at Hobo`s. All I can say is it took 20 minutes to get drinks and almost an hour before they brought our food out. It was the worst snapper filet I`ve ever had and I sent it back. Luckily Jenny had some philly cheese steak left over to give me. While it wasn`t bad, it wasn`t a Jim`s, a Gino`s, or even a Pat`s cheesesteak (Cliffy knows what I`m talking about!!). I definitely can`t recommend Hobo`s but the place I like the most (Mrs. Macs) is closed on Sundays.
All-in-all, Cristal Clear Charters proved again why they are an E-divers preferred operation, even if Captain George`s briefings were a little long-winded and their tank racks don`t hold 8" tanks. Captain Pete on Sunday was short and to the point and that`s who I`d dove with out of Tavernier before.