Dry Tortugas

2 Responses to “Dry Tortugas”

  1. snagel says:

    Ultimate Getaway Liveaboard Trip Report
    Original Post by Chilkie on ScubaToys Forum

    Howdy folks. I’m finally getting around to knocking out a small trip report on the trip I took last month aboard the Ultimate Getaway out of Fort Myers, Florida. Our diving destination was The Dry Tortugas.

    The Ultimate Getaway is a 100′ vessel and is billed as a somewhat no-frills liveaboard experience. I booked my trip through through one of the LDS here in Chattanooga. I had met a couple of the folks who were on the trip at prior times in passing, but it would be pretty accurate to say that I really did not have anybody I was really familiar with on the trip with me. Since I was leaving my wife and kids at home for this journey I was pretty much a lone wolf in regard to this adventure.

    This was also my first liveaboard trip, so please keep in mind that I’m not working from much in regards to having a point of reference. The cost of the trip was $1,050 and the boat left the dock on Wednesday August 18 and returned on Sunday the 22nd. We were blessed to have beautiful weather for just about the entire time we were out, with the only rain showing up on the last day as we made our way back to the dock.

    There were 18 divers on the trip and I believe that the boat has room for 20. Obviously, from a standpoint of having more space it is nice if the trip is not full. You are not assigned a cabin, instead there are bunk beds basically laid out in two areas of the ship (you bring your own pillow/sheets/sleeping bag, etc.). One area is in the lower/midsection area of the ship and the other is in the lower front portion of the ship. My bunk was in the front portion of the ship. I would generally recommend making an effort to attempt to get into the mid section sleeping area if possible for a couple of reasons. First, if the seas are rough the mid section will not be as “bouncy” as the front portion of the boat. Second, the front sleeping area requires you to walk through the kitchen to get to the area it is located in. Neither of these things really affected me much during the trip, but all things being equal if I had the choice I’d prefer the centralized location and setup of the mid-section. I also learned an important lesson at the very outset of the trip: don’t be the last one to board, even if the bunks have been “pre-assigned” by a trip leader!!! As soon as the crew said the boat was ready to be boarded there was a mad dash onto it. As a newbie I wondered why this was taking place. When I got onboard (again…last) I pretty much had last choice of beds. All the way forward…through the kitchen….upper bunk. Thankfully, as it turned out I was lucky. Remember when I said there were 20 slots but 18 divers??? One of the open bunks was right next to my head. I had plenty of room to store things. I even went back out to my car and brought some dive equipment with me which I had not planned on toting along.

    The boat itself is old and quite honestly could use some updating. However, for the purpose at hand it works pretty well. If you are looking for luxury and fine dining…then this is not for you. The old “camping at sea” statement pretty much can be applied here. However, it would be misleading for me to say that and not point out that there was plenty of fresh water for showers.

    There was always plenty of food and snacks put out. They fed us three meals a day and the food and drinks were plentiful. Breakfast would be along the lines of pancakes, bacon, cereal, etc. and lunch and dinner would usually offer up some combination of pasta, meat, salad and the likes. They put out snacks ranging from fruit to hot wings during surface intervals. They always had a jar of candy filled with various chocolate bars (damn you Mr. inventor of the ‘Kit Kat’…I can’t keep my hands off of those things!!!!!). I would rate the food quality as “decent”. The chef “Rudy” was a very friendly guy (as were all the crew members) and seemed to generally care whether you were enjoying the fare provided.

    They have a drink machine with various soft drinks and water on the deck near the tanks which is “open” 24 hours a day.

    As for the actual diving, well…we began the next day (Thursday morning) at 7 AM. I had paid the additional $40 just prior to our leaving for Nitrox fills instead of air. I believe that all but one diver dove with Nitrox. The fills ranged from 30-33 and Tom (the fella who handled filling the tanks) did a great job of informing you at what ratio your tank was filled with (all tanks are steel LP95’s by the way). He would tag your tank with the mixture immediately after filling it up. He was a VERY busy man during surface intervals.

    Keep in mind that this trip was scheduled during lobstering season and that just about everybody on the trip came armed with booth lobstering equipment and spear guns. I didn’t. The reason I am pointing this out is that because this trip was designed as much for “hunting” as for diving that a lot of the dive sites we visited were chosen more for the ability to catch “bugs” at a reasonable depth rather than for scenic beauty. That is not to say that we did not go to some really beautiful sites, we did…but it wasn’t the type of thing where every single dive site was chosen because there was a great reef teeming with beautiful marine life or a shipwreck, etc. I knew this going in.

    With that being said I was pretty much pleasantly surprised by the sites we visited over the course of the 18 dives I was able to get in during the trip. They ranged from shallow reefs around 20′ deep (trying to catch lobsters uses a lot of gas!!) to the wreck of the Baja California (damn those Goliath Grouper are big!!!!) and an air force radio tower at around 120’.

    Aside from the dives of the previously mentioned Baja California and A/F towers, all of the dives were drift dives. When you surface you inflate your SMB (all divers are required to have both one of those and a noisemaking signaling device). One of the crew members told me that they have picked divers up from two miles away. They don’t hold your hand and they don’t particularly care if you dive with a buddy or not.

    As I said I was a newbie liveaboarder and was traveling solo. This meant that I dove quite a bit on my own, without a buddy. It also meant that I was making sure to be coming up with plenty of air left in my tank (and therefore I was usually coming up first). I must admit though, it’s kind of creepy on the sfaety stop when you are “hanging there” on your own…you can’t see the bottom….you can’t see the top…and a shark or a few mean looking barracuda skate on by. In an effort to alleviate this I did end up diving from time to time with some other folks and pointing out a lobster here and there. However, I also felt guilty when that poor little lobster I pointed out ended up stuffed in an ice chest while I enjoyed dinner later on. Chalk it up to Darwin……

    Speaking of Darwinian theory, something very scary happened apparently very close to me on the A/F tower, which was the very last dive. I only got most of this story from the participants who were involved as it was the talk of the boat after it occurred. Anyway, I was at 100′ when I heard an extremely loud “bang”, much like a gunshot. It almost made me wet my wetsuit it was so loud. Apparently one of the speargun fishermen had speared a fish and a pair of bullsharks “came out of nowhere” and chomped the fish, spear, etc. with the line attached. The line wrapped around another diver (who happened to be a crew member who had gone on 2 dives the entire trip). That crew member had a speargun with a powerhead on it. It was explained to me afterward that a powerhead is much like an explosive round in a gun. The crew member/diver partially wrapped in the line shot the bull shark, blowing a hole in the side of it and killing it immediately. The line came free and the shark began to sink. Then the other bull shark started to chomp on it’s freshly deceased buddy. Yikes!!! What a way to end a trip. It literally went out with a “bang”.

    As you can probably imagine, this was all anybody spoke about on the 6 hour ride back to the dock. This is where I learned what exactly a powerhead is.

    All in all I had a very enjoyable time and I will most likely do this once again in the future. I will probably try to take a buddy along with me or go on a trip wherein lobstering/spearfishing is not the main focus (unless I am going to lobster myself). The biggest lesson I learned on this voyage: sharks don’t usually bother you….unless you are around a bunch of people with freshly shot fish dangling on stringers attached to them!!!

    One other point to note…one of the things which drew me to this trip was the fact that I could drive there without dealing with a flight, especially one overseas. I believe that all but one person drove to the facility from their homes. There was enough parking for all of us and it was free (which is a nice benefit). There were no wondering if I can get something into my carry on, airport parking, etc. Although my drive was 12 hrs. one way, it was worth doing this way.

    18 dives on Nitrox in 4 days, beautiful scenery, lots of lessons learned, and some new friends made on a reasonably comfortable vessel for just under $1100 plus the cost of getting there and back.

    Oops..almost forgot…we also visited Fort Jefferson after the conclusion of one of our dive days. That cost $5 but was very interesting.

  2. Snagel says:

    Key West Trip Log – April 2012
    Original Post by FirePlug on ScubaToys

    Key West Trip Log
    3 Day Live Aboard with Adventure Watersport Charters to Marquesas Keys, The Dry Tortugas National Park and Ft. Jefferson. Adventure Watersport Charters, Dry Tortugas, Marquesas Keys, Key West, overnight fishing charters, SCUBA diving, spear fishing

    Well, I finally got time to sit down and put digits to keys and share our recent dive trip. We had originally scheduled this trip for February but Captain Jack called 2 days out and advised to cancel as the seas were 9-12 feet for the next few days. Thank you, Captain Jack. The mutually agreed upon rescheduled date was April 2nd thru the 4th. The conditions were perfect, mid 80’s, flat seas and ocean breezes. Perfect. I only took my seasick meds the first morning out as a precautionary measure. This from an habitual seasick guy.
    Our group took off in our Chevy rental van after work Friday, March 30 from Columbus, Ohio. They picked me up in Zanesville. This brought our body count up to 7, snug but doable. I got loaded and took the wheel to Wytheville, Va., arriving about 1 a.m. We changed out throughout the night and had breakfast in Jacksonville, Fl. We got to Ft. Lauderdale where our dive instructor and spiritual leader, Captain Rick, has a condo that was a welcome waypoint. We ran to get bottles filled, last minute goodies bought and dinner at Muddy Waters. Racked out and took off the next morning for Key West. Once there we spent the day doing the tourist thing. We toured Mel Fisher’s Museum and ended up with an early dinner at Margaritaville. Captain Jack was gracious enough to let us spend the night on board at dock in The Emily Ann. Some of our more adventurous did sunset at Mallory Square.
    A little note about The Emily Ann, she is a 43′ Torres with a 15′ beam and a Detroit Diesel power plant, on board generator and air compressor. A/C was cool, not sure about any heat, didn’t need it. Not the fastest thing on the water but safe and comfortable.
    Up the next morning and we had breakfast at sea, a delicious egg casserole from Captain Jack’s wife Kelly. She had prepared some of the dishes so they only had to be warmed up. For various meals our DM Brian also cooked eggs to order, buckwheat pancakes, steaks, bacon, lasagna and green beans. Oh, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Thanks, Kelly. The menu was tasty good food and snacks. Everything went well except the green beans. Not many vegetarians on board. This cooking gig was very impressive to us landlubbers as Brian stood in one spot and pivoted for the stove, sink, microwave and countertop with a hot plate/grill.
    We sailed for the Dry Tortugas on April 2nd. We dove Eastern Dry Rock, Rock Key, Cosgrove Light House and finished up with a night dive at Marquesses Rock Cove. All reefs, shallow and fishy.
    The next morning found us following the channel cautiously thru Dry Tortugas National Park. *We passed near the light on Loggerhead Key. We docked at Garden Key where we did the tour of Ft. Jefferson. As there are 300 wrecks in the national park a keen eye on the charts was absolute! Once aground we had a nice little history lesson. Very impressive to see the largest brick structure in the western hemisphere, 16 million bricks! Situated on an 11 acre desert island with no fresh water. Beautiful views, though. And you can tent camp there for $3.00 a night.
    We bid Ft. Jefferson adieu and headed for a nice dive on The Windjammer Wreck. We next did my favorite reef dive at Texas Rock. I believe this was our deepest reef dive at 80′ with some swim thrus and lots of wildlife. We finished the day with a nice reef dive on Pulaski Shoal.
    Our final day at sea saw us diving The Cayman Salvage Master Wreck and lastly Joe’s Tug. We did these 2 dives on nitrox. This was due to a breakdown of the on board air compressor. This actually worked out pretty well as we got back to dock mid afternoon and disembarked.
    Once back to dock we off loaded and cleaned up our gear. After everyone got showers and a few of us partook of the libations at The Hogfish Bar next door we took off for Ft. Lauderdale. A fairly short night as we had to be up at 4 to drop one off at the airport. We set course for McConnelsville, Ohio where I live. I drove the last leg from Wytheville thru the mountains of West Virginia arriving at my place at 1:30 am on Friday, April 6th. Thanks to my co-worker Dan for coming in to cover so I didn’t have to roll back out to go to work! My Sealy Extra Firm Pillowtop mattress never felt so good!

    My thoughts are:
    I would do a live aboard again in a heartbeat. This was my first one and it ended way too soon.
    It is so much easier to handle the logistics and the diving is so simple. When we do our usual dive safari it is always a hassle with divers canceling out, adding a dive, gotta go somewhere with significant other, etc. The list is endless. This is major PITA when you have to keep an account straight with 1 or more dive operators who will give a discount as long as you have x number of divers and it is all billed on one charge card. Rental cars, who’s riding with who, who needs picked up, I need my tanks, yada, yada, freakin’ yada. The live aboard avoids all of this. Each diver pays up front, load up and go. You want to sit out a dive, no problem. You want to go,go,go….always somebody who wants to go with you. The water was nice as I made most all of my dives in a 3 mil wetsuit, hood and gloves.
    The accommodations are somewhat spartan. Kind of like camping on the water. I seriously overpack and this was no exception. Most of us were barefoot in shorts and a t-shirt unless we were diving or sleeping. You could get by with a change of casual clothes and a shaving kit. For a 5 day deal, maybe a third change of clothes. Bedding was provided, clean sheets, blanket and a pillow. I would bring my own pillow next time. I need a brick with a cover so had to make do with a pillow on top of my shaving kit. Hey, it worked!
    Things I would bring include an LED light, a small battery powered fan and a note pad. Make sure the light and fan are on hooks so you can hang them in your berth and be comfortable in the night if you have to get up or just want to read without disturbing anyone. The note pad would have been good so I wouldn’t be doing memory search for this report! *Also bring earbuds for your musical selections.
    The cost is AFFORDABLE!!! When you compare diving for 3 days, motel for 3-4 nights, etc., it comes out good. We paid $600 each for the boat, $125 each for food for 3 days. I believe we each tipped the DM at least $100.00. He was very accommodating offering speargun lessons, cooked his butt off and was just helpful without being pushy. Between the Captain and the DM dive ops ran smooth and safe. We rented a van and paid $225 each for it and fuel, tolls, etc. I figure I spent around $1300 by the time you add in drinks, meals on shore and some incidentals.
    The only things I missed were my wife, my Boston Terrier and my Sonic toothbrush and there was 110 volts available so maybe next time I’ll bring it!!!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.