By John Goldberg
Who knew driving a 40 foot RV loaded up with seven ocean adventures, two canine compatriots, gear to suit up 18 divers, and a check engine light riding shotgun for the first 500 miles would turn into such a great adventure? Driving the Natutical Wheeler, our whimsically named RV, was certainly a risk, as it had been towed to the dealer for some emergency repairs just hours before we were set to leave. Yet somehow that added just the right amount of pre-trip stress to crank my excitement level all the way to 11. This trip was already transforming into an adventure.
With the congenial company of a great group of gals, Caitlin (my co-trip leader) and I made our way down to the Keys. Luckily, the Nautical Wheeler was up for the sojourn and we made it down with plenty of time to not only drop off the gear but also get everyone settled for a great weekend of Patriot diving with Conch Republic Divers.
So that was how the trip started. Still, even with such an auspicious start, we were gifted with perfect weather, a great group of divers, a professional and courteous store staff and boat crew, and some of the greatest dives we could imagine.
On Saturday morning, the lot of us (minus Constance, who selflessly volunteered to sort out a rental car mix-up) boarded the 46 foot Republic Diver for our first trip out to Molasses Reef. Caitlin and Jeff worked with our group of Open Water students and our many certified divers went on a great tour led by one of Conch Republic Divers excellent Dive masters. I, on the other hand, was honored to lead Renee on her inaugural Advanced Open Water dives while Michelle and Jeanette tagged along.
In the afternoon, a group of us were back aboard the Republic Diver with a group from the Coral Restoration Foundation to tour their coral nurseries and our group was invited to help out by cleaning algae off of the coral trees. Thankfully, I managed to snap some photos of this and have posted it on the Patriot Scuba Club Facebook page. I’ve got to say, it was really cool and it felt amazing to do our part to help restore the coral reefs. One of the highlights of the dive though was Caitlin’s sea turtle encounter. She had been dying to see one in the days leading up to the trip and seeing her wish come true really made me smile.
Our Saturday night dive was no disappointment either. Renee, Constance and I were on our way back to the boat when just beneath the mooring line we had a 10 minute encounter with an octopus, who had decided that we were the most interesting thing in the ocean. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get any pictures of this impressive display.
On Sunday, we split the group up and I was fortunate to lead the smaller group on board the 30 foot Aquatic Diver for a double dip on the wreck of The Eagle – a freighter sitting on her side in 105 feet of water. On the first dive, Dave, Taylor, Renee and I descended on the wreck and were greeted by the resident Goliath Grouper. This fish earned its moniker with its truly colossal size! On our second dive, Taylor and Dave stayed slightly above us while Renee and I went deep to find a 10 foot nurse shark asleep by the prop. It’s always a treat to see such rare and beautiful creatures like sharks on any dive. Upon ascending, I had the honor and privilege of introducing everyone to PADI’s newest Advanced Open Water Diver – Congratulations Renee! You did fantastic. I’d dive with you anytime.
On Monday, Our small group went out again on the Aquatic Diver, this time to The Duane for the first dive in a bit of a current and then the world famous Spiegel Grove for dive number two. If you’re going to get certified as a wreck diver, you may as well go big, and the 510 foot Spiegel Grove is that and more. This is exactly what Taylor did and I am proud to have been able to instruct him as he attained his fourth PADI Specialty certification – one more for Master Scuba Diver my friend!
As the weekend came to an end and all of the gear was packed and loaded for the long drive home, all I could think about was “When are we doing this again?”
John has been a PADI Scuba Instructor for the past three years and is currently working towards IDC Staff Instructor. He has been with Patriot Scuba since 2009 and is always eager to take that next trip with a great group of students.