North Dry Rocks (Minnow Cave)

Type
Skill Level
Average Depth
Max Depth
Access
Snorkeling
Dangers
Latitude
Longitude
Reef
Beginner
15ft (5m)
25ft (8m)
Boat
Yes
Boat Traffic
25.130898
-80.294259

Just northeast of Key Largo Dry Rocks (Christ of the Abyss) is North Dry Rocks. This site is less trafficked than the Christ Statue, having only three mooring balls. The middle of the site has a wonderful swim-through located in roughly 10ft – 15ft of water. The swim-through fills up with millions of minnows in the summertime, offering visitors the unique experience of swimming through a giant school of fish. The swim-through gives the site it’s unofficial name: Minnow Cave.

USCG Duane

Type
Skill Level
Average Depth
Max Depth
Snorkeling
Dangers
Latitude
Longitude
Type of Ship
Built
Commissioned
Sunk
Depth to Top
Depth to Deck
Wreck
Advanced
95ft (25m)
130ft (40m)
No
Current
24.98970000
-80.38208333
US Coast Guard Cutter
May 1, 1935
August 1, 1936
November 27, 1987
65ft
110ft

The Duane was a US Coast Guard Cutter launched in 1936 as a search and rescue and law enforcement vessel. This 327ft ship saw action in WWII and the Vietnam War, and was put down as an artificial reef in the mid 80s. The main deck of the Duane is at roughly 100ft, while the crow’s nest reaches up to nearly 70ft. The hull structure is completely intact with the original rudders, screws, railings, ladders and ports. The Duane is closer to the Gulf Stream than most adjacent wrecks, which provides for exceptional visibility. Many divers call this a perfect wreck dive.

Benwood

Type
Skill Level
Average Depth
Max Depth
Snorkeling
Dangers
Latitude
Longitude
Type of Ship
Built
Sunk
Wreck
Open Water
30ft (10m)
55ft (17m)
No
Boat Traffic
25.05266700
-80.33366700
Norwegian Merchant Freighter
1910
April 9, 1942

During WWII, near midnight on April 9th, 1942, the Norwegian merchant freighter Benwood was on a routine path from Florida to Virginia, transporting a load of phosphate rock. It was running with no lights to avoid being spotted by German U-boats, which was common for ships throughout the war. But the Benwood wasn’t the only ship in these waters running completely blacked out. The Robert C. Tuttle, an American freighter ship traveling to Texas was also running without lights. The two ships collided and the Tuttle ripped open the Benwood’s starboard side, sending it to the bottom soon after. The ship was deemed unsalvageable, and was later used for target practice by the military. The Benwood was finally deemed a protected site in 1975. This is a wonderful dive for intermediate divers, since it is in relatively shallow water, and can be explored completely in one dive. An abundance of wildlife has overtaken the wreck over the past 70 years.

Grecian Rocks

Type
Skill Level
Average Depth
Max Depth
Access
Snorkeling
Dangers
Latitude
Longitude
Reef
Beginner
10ft (3m)
25ft (8m)
Boat
Yes
Boat Traffic
25.11185000
-80.30520000

Grecian Rocks reef is roughly half a mile in length, and is a popular spot among snorkelers being that in many places it is only 5ft deep. During low tide parts of the reef line actually come out of the water. The reef overflows with sea life, especially parrotfish, barracuda, elkhorn coral and queen conch. An old Spanish cannon can be found here as well. Mooring buoys abound at Grecian Rocks and it is easy to spend hours exploring this spot.

USS Spiegel Grove (LSD-32)

Type
Skill Level
Average Depth
Max Depth
Access
Snorkeling
Dangers
Latitude
Longitude
Type
Built
Commissioned
Sunk
Depth to Top
Depth to Deck
Wreck, Artificial Reef
Advanced
80ft (24m)
130ft (40m)
Boat
No
Boat Traffic
25.06666700
-80.31100000
Navy Dock Landing Ship
September 7, 1954
June 8, 1956
May 17, 2002
65ft
110ft

The USS Spiegel Grove (LSD-32) was a landing ship dock that belonged to the United States Navy. The ship was decommissioned in October of 1989, and after it’s sinking in 2002 it became (for a short period of time) the largest artificial reef in the world. During it’s sinking, the vessel flipped over unexpectedly, and air in the hull kept the bow slightly above water, leaving the Spiegel Grove afloat, posing a major navigational hazard. It took three weeks before a salvage crew finally finished her off, sending her to the bottom, where she unfortunately settled on her starboard side. Amazingly, in June of 2005, Hurricane Dennis pushed the Spiegel Grove upright, just how the ship was originally designed to land on the bottom. Be sure to dive safe! The Spiegel Grove has already claimed 6 lives.

Advanced Open Water Certification!

Last weekend I went down to Pompano Beach to get my Advanced Open Water Certification. While the Open Water Certification allows you to dive to 60ft deep, the Advanced Open Water Certification allows you to dive down to the recreational limit of 130ft. I need this certification so that I can dive the numerous wrecks down in Key Largo, including the Spiegel Grove and the Duane. Both wrecks rest in over 100ft of water, and require an advanced cert to reach.

The certification included 2 class meets and then 6 dives over the weekend. The dives include two navigation dives, two night dives, a fish identification dive, and a deep dive. And let me just say this: WOW. What a blast! The night dives were particularly exciting. We saw a plethora of wildlife on the second night dive, including puffer fish, trumpetfish, filefish, lionfish, lobster, frogfish, sea cucumber, baby eel, and all kinds of other things. It was a thrill swimming through the pitch black darkness and following the instructor’s light as all 5 of us in the class cruised over a reef at 45ft deep. In fact, this last night dive was the most fun I’ve had underwater EVER.

I can’t wait to get down to Key Largo and use my Advanced Certification to explore the wrecks of the Spiegel Grove and the Duane!

 

Molasses Reef

This latest trip to the Keys was spent on Molasses Reef, one of the most popular diving and snorkeling spots in Key Largo, if not the entire Keys. Molasses is a beautiful reef, and insanely fun to dive. The reef is large, with roughly 30 mooring buoys. It would take several trips to adequately explore this fantastic place.

While exploring the reef I was lucky enough to stumble upon the famous Windlass Wreck, which is basically the remnants of a 3-masted wooden Austrian schooner, the Slobodana, which sank in 1887. The Slobodana was returning to Europe from New Orleans when it ran aground on Molasses Reef. It was carrying 4,500 bales of cotton. The coral slightly damaged the wooden hull of the ship, but it stayed afloat. When water slowly breached the hull and reached the cotton, the cotton expanded and bulged the ship’s sides, causing it to eventually break through the wooden hull and sink it entirely. The spot is also called the Winch Hole, since the main attraction of the remnants of the Slobodana is the large winch (or windlass).

This day on Molasses was a blast. The weather worked out in our favor, and the seas were relatively calm. While I was prepping my camera gear on the boat, Amanda and Jeremy were even lucky enough to spot several small sharks circling around parts of the reef.

Stay tuned for more updates!

First Underwater Shoot!

I finally got a chance to take the new camera equipment for a test run. Shooting video underwater poses unique challenges. Color and light change drastically at different depths, and buoyancy control is paramount. I encountered a large number of issues that I need to troubleshoot and learn from, but the more practice I get in the water, the better the images will become!

As you can see, Key Largo’s reef line is truly a magical place. I can’t wait to get these short-form documentaries finished and show you all of that beauty. One step at a time though…

In the meantime, who wants to come diving/snorkeling with us?!

Fundraising Highlights

Kickstarter-Logo

So I used Kickstarter.com to raise the initial funds for this project. I raised money to pay for the underwater camera housing equipment, and also to cover travel costs for several trips to the Keys. This was my first attempt at fundraising, and it was definitely an eye opener. My goal was to raise 5k in a month, and I ended making a little over.

Donate Here Button

Check out some highlights from the fundraising campaign in the video above, and check out my kickstarter page here.

Stay tuned for the next update where I will hopefully have some underwater footage from Key Largo to show off, since we are planning a single-day shoot down there on the 22nd of this month, if weather permits…

Dive Documentaries – The Beginning

I always love to hear how projects and ideas are born, so I thought that I would take a moment and share how the idea for Dive Documentaries came to be.

So every year for the past six years my family and I have had a birthday tradition of going on a weekend camping excursion to Silver River State Park, in Ocala, Florida. We love to kayak and canoe on the crystal clear water of the Silver River, and take hikes in the Ocala National Forest. It is truly a magical area.

But last year we decided to switch it up and head down to Key Largo, in the Upper Keys area. We camped at John Pennekamp State Park, and even decided to rent a boat and head out to do some snorkeling. The nice folks working at Pennekamp gave us various coordinates on how to reach the best snorkeling spots along the reef line, which was some 5 miles off shore.

Our first snorkeling spot was Grecian Rocks, a very shallow area where part of the reef actually comes out of the water during low tide. I tied the boat off to the mooring buoy, and then jumped into the water. After swimming the short 25 yards over the sand banks to the reef, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The reef was stunningly beautiful, and bursting with life. The never-ending visibility of the blue water and the cornucopia of colors from the reef were a bit much to take in all at once.

This area is a preserve, and is protected from fishing, so wildlife is relatively fearless of humans. Barracuda were scattered all over, and the majority of them approached to investigate. Parrotfish of all colors cut through the various reef formations. We spent several hours at Grecian Rocks, and snorkeled several other areas that day. I felt a little ridiculous not knowing about the unique beauty of this area. I’ve lived in Florida my whole life, but have only been to the Keys a few times, and mostly as a small child.

After returning home from our trip, I began searching for information on scuba diving in this area. Since I was recently recertified to dive, I was already set to plan another trip to Key Largo for some scuba. I was surprised when I couldn’t find any videos that actually discussed the various snorkeling and diving spots. Almost every video I found was just a montage of underwater shots set to music. While this can be fun to watch, it didn’t satisfy my hunger for information.

This is really where it started. And so now here I am. I want to produce some video content that I feel will do these wonderful areas justice. I want these videos to include interviews, animated maps, and underwater footage, and then it will really give viewers a comprehensive look at these dive locations.

The problem is, where would viewers go to watch these videos? YouTube? Blah.. While that would be nice, it would be even better to have some kind of searchable database. This database could include textual information along with photographs and maps to supplement the short form documentary content. Therefore I constructed this database website to serve as a home for the short form documentary videos. And now I am currently fundraising for some much-needed cash to produce the first seven documentaries to put in the database. So fundraising will be the next blog entry discussion.

Stay tuned………

Your Underwater Guide to Key Largo