Thanks to those of you who gave me some great recommendations for diving near Tampa, FL through Divebuddy.com. I flew into town on July 1 for a friend’s wedding on the fourth. I planned those extra days to give me the opportunity to get in the water. I hadn’t been diving since last November so I was excited about going for a dip!
I wanted to dive both the the second and third, but heavy rain and thunderstorms forced the dive operator to cancel the two-tank trip on the July 2. On the first I stopped in the Depth Perception dive shop in Tampa to sign up and pay for the three tank, "wreck trek" trip on the third and to fill my pony bottle. One of the shop owners, Jackie MacLean, helped me and was very accomodating. I wasn’t shopping, but the shop appeared to be well stocked with dive goodies and they have a compressor on-site so my baby bottle was filled in no time.
I paid $110 for the three tank trip which included air, tank and weight. I paid an additional 5$ per bottle for nitrox (get your enriched air cert. There are many benefits, especially for those of us no longer in our twenties)
The morning of the trip on the third I loaded up the rental car and left the hotel in dowtown Tampa. I had about a 50 mile drive ahead of me to Cortez which was easy on traffic free highways. I arrived at the dock side shop, the Scuba Shack, about 45 minutes before cast-off which gave me plenty of time to unload, get signed-in and analyze my bottles, and get my gear loaded on the dive boat, "Quest." DM, Pam was busy signing everyone in and directing everyone to the boat, commanded by Captain Bob Eskew. The shop is literally a shack on the dock so its small size and having only what is needed to operate means that it was an efficient operation. The gravel drive and parking area were adjacent to the boat and dock which meant we had a short 30 to 50 foot walk to get our gear loaded on our ride. We were ten divers of varying abilities. I learned due to later events (described below) that we had no other instructors, DM’s, or rescue divers on board (I need to get my "Rescue"). So, we were a relatively inexperienced bunch. Especially so when I show up as a single diver to a shop, boat, and crew that I’m not familiar with I take a little time to observe the people and equipment I’ll be diving with (and maybe trusting my safety to) to see what my mindset should be in the event of a problem. Our DM, Pam, conducted herself as though she had a lot of experience as a DM and on leading these trips. Capt. Bob also wasted no time and had his routine and job down pat. I am certified PADI as an advanced open water diver with about 130 dives.
We had about an hours ride ahead of us to the first wreck so shortly after we shoved off at 8am we found our spots to relax on board the twin diesel, 30 foot open craft. A note about boat rides: one should try to find out ahead of time the size of boat, how much cover it offers, and the length ride so one can bring sufficient food, water, hat, sunglasses and motion sickness meds. I forgot my hat and don’t usually have problems with motion when topside. Our ride was a little rough which led one diver to "feed the fish." I think I was the only diver to bring any "real" food. I just can’t be comfortable going 6 or 7 hours without food.
During the ride out, Terry, another single diver and I got acquainted and "buddied up." We talked about each other’s diving experience and equipment including weight ditching and my pony bottle. I was wearing a Henderson dive skin and booties and stayed relatively warm. I did get a slight chill during one or two of the safety stops, but I had sufficient time to warm up during the surface interval. Topside, seas were 2 to 3 foot swells with light chop, light west wind. Water temp. was 82 F at depth with 40 foot visibility in silt and up to 2 knots of current from the west. In hindsight I think it would be a good idea for the Quest to require every diver to carry both audible and visual surface signalling equipment. I will be adding a signal mirror to my kit. We were better than 15 miles off-shore and not in sight of land. Continued.........