With my last bite of key lime pie in tow, I bid adieu (more like au revoir) to the Florida Keys. It’s been real and I liked it down here more than I had anticipated. I’ll definitely be coming back and in the meantime, I’ll miss the pink sea bungalows, the fried fish sandwiches, and the extraordinary variety of people.
The Turtle Hospital and the Dolphin Research Center were great, but the highlight of the trip was definitely the diving. I learned how to dive last summer in San Salvador. I even completed my advanced open water certification, but unfortunately, this didn’t stop me from knocking my regulator out of my mouth 90 feet below.
Let me back up. As I mentioned in my last post, we were scheduled to embark on a diving trip to Roatán, when the night before our scheduled departure, my younger brother discovered a travel warning for the whole of Honduras on the State Department website. Although issued in 2012, it had not been revoked and was troubling, so we decided to keep our flight to Miami and come to the Keys instead.
To keep with our prior plan to SCUBA, my mom and I, the only certified divers in the family, called the Southpoint Dive shop in Key West. Our first two dives were at a shallow reef and were pretty uneventful—and by that I mean pretty, but at 30 feet, not very exciting.
Our dive guide, a twenty something guy with light blonde dreadlocks and a barracuda tattoo, encouraged us to dive the Vandenberg the following morning. Coincidentally (or not), my mom had just finished reading about the wreck on a list of the best dives in America. Needless to say, we signed up.
My mom has a longer dive history than I, and she has dived several wrecks over the years, but the Vandenberg was to be my first. It was my initial idea to go, but I was nervous. My lingering childhood fear of drowning didn’t mesh well with the idea of a cavernous, dark, metal maze where it’s so easy to get lost.
The dive was great, and despite the youth of this up-and-coming artificial reef (the Vandenberg was sunk four years ago), there was already a lot of growth and many fish and rays calling the ship home. Side note: we did unfortunately see a couple of lionfish, an unwelcome and invasive ecosystem-disrupter.
Toward the middle of the dive, I lost my regulator. I froze for a second then reached out, grabbed it, shoved it back in my mouth, purged it, and breathed in the wonderful air. Although not as glamorous a dive mishap as, say, a shark attack or getting lost in a wreck, I get the shivers when I think about it because if I had panicked, the dive could have turned into a disaster.
Back on board the boat during our dry interval, I chatted up the captain, a man fitted with a single emerald earing, before our second 17-minute dive. He was a cool guy. I asked him about how many dives he’d been on. “I’d say over 10,000. I love my job. I love my office,” he replied, gesturing to the sea.
It was just dusk when we got back to port. The captain closed with the following: “thanks for cheating death with us today.”