Bottom Time E-Mail News Archives
March 10, 2013
We have all the dates set up for spring classes for Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, and West Fargo. They are posted on the website calendar and Training.
Rick Schmidt and Ken Johnson went to Key West this last week to dive a couple of wrecks and spear fish. Chris Winter and I were supposed to go along but we could not get airline tickets at a reasonable price. After hearing what happened I am kind of glad that we did not go. Here is Ken's account of the trip;
Went spear fishing off Key West, Florida from March 1 through March 4. What a great trip!
On the first dive we visited the Hoyt S. Vandenberg and I shot a very nice amberjack. Long story short, that large fish never made it back to the boat. My gear was a cluster so I decided to leave the amberjack on the spear shaft instead of hooking it onto the stringer. I made sure the wing on the spear shaft was deployed and lodged the fish between my hand and the extended wing. It seemed secure. At the safety stop I shifted the position of my hands holding the gun and spear shaft. When I shifted my hands the pressure on the fish against the wing decreased, the wing fell to the shaft and the fish slid off the shaft and into the deep blue sea. I waited patiently for my computer to clear and surfaced. When I returned to the boat everyone aboard was at the swim platform wanting to see the big fish. I shinnied up the ladder with only a memory and some guilt. Rick's video tells the story better than I ever could.
Our second dive was a wreck dive on the Cayman Salvager. This was a great dive with my gear reconfigured and adjusted to fit me. I came back with a mutton snapper, some amber jacks, and a black something or another that was great eating. This dive was great but I did not make up for the loss of the amberjack. After this dive we headed west.
We were 8 to 10 miles west of the Cayman Salvager when Ralph dropped us off in buddy teams for our third dive. Dan and I hunted together starting deep and then going shallow. We shot a few fish and then had a couple nurse sharks follow us around sniffing for a meal. The larger of the two, maybe 8 feet long and 3 feet across at the head, was close enough to reach out and touch. We surfaced and the boat was far off. Then we sat on the surface with our sausages up waiting for the boat. It seemed to take forever as large waves hampered visibility and the dive boat search pattern seemed to drift away from our location. Obviously we were found. After boarding, we headed for Fort Jefferson. The seas were rough and it would be very late before arriving at the fort and calmer water.
Our first dive of the second day was from where we were anchored in the marine sanctuary close to Fort Jefferson. Visibility sucked. I did not take the camera or a gun. Spear fishing is not allowed in Dry Tortugas National Park. Outside the safe area where we were sheltered, at the water line, large waves broke and the wind howled. A small craft advisory had been issued by the National Weather Service the previous day. Waves were 6 to 9 feet and winds blew 20 MPH or so. None of us were seasick but I've seen many a boat passenger sick as a dog is much less turbulent seas.
The waves were big outside the protected area as we ventured outside the park for our next spear fishing dive. Captain Ralph wanted us to dive in a group and bring the sausage and reel for a surface marker. I shot the sausage from depth, practicing a tech skill, and we used this procedure for the rest of our dives. Somebody ran low on air and we ascended. I think I was the only person not shooting a fish on this dive. Dan shot a nice hog fish. At the surface all heck was breaking loose as the wind whipped the water. The Captain called diving after we boarded the dive boat.
On board the dive boat, the waves rocked the boat severely breaking loose a floor cabinet holding the coolers, weights, and stored gear. Dan was doffing his suit at the back of the boat when the cabinet slid to the rail trapping Dan's leg against the starboard bulkhead. Tanks stanchioned along the bulkhead stood out far enough to prevent the cabinet from crushing Dan's leg. It was a close call. We tried to move the cabinet to free Dan but could not move it and the boat was rocking so extensively that we feared getting trapped against the port bulkhead or crushed by the shifting weight of the cabinet. Captain Ralph throttled for calm waters inside the harbor. We freed Dan's leg and eventually moved the cabinet back into position for reattachment. Dan's foot wasn't hurt too badly and his leg wasn't hurt at all. With no more diving allowed, we toured Fort Jefferson.
Fort Jefferson with over 1.6 million bricks is unfinished. It's an amazing place that most everyone should see but once. Walking on the top of the fort the wind blew gusts to and fro igniting fears of a quick trip to the moat or the inside parade ground. The fort tour can be as short as a half hour.
The next day we began our dive adventure near the lighthouse on a reef surrounding the fort. Visibility was poor, like swimming in milk. I think we were looking for pieces of a wreck but didn't come up with a sighting. We were inside the breakwater so the waves were small but the rash of bad weather over the last couple days left the water stirred. We were all tired of diving in the marine sanctuary as the dives were poor and we could not spear fish legally.
After heading the boat south and leaving protected waters we passed the edge of the park and entered hunting waters. The waves, still 5 – 10 feet, were big but doable. We started our dive in a group at about 35 feet in depth and worked our way down to about 60 feet deep before returning to the surface. Having the sausage on the surface helped the boat find our location and speeded the time to board. Boarding worked smoothly when we were huddled together at the surface and it was safer for Ralph as he maneuvered the boat. We boarded under power; the propeller thrust curled my fins back as I lifted my feet from step to step ascending the dive ladder. Safely on board we headed east for a long ride to the next safe harbor. It was dark as we arrived and Bobby already had the fishing gear ready for action. We had caught a few fish trolling but this would be the night to get a prize or two.
On the 6 hour trip in rough seas the previous day my wetsuit had decided to fly with the breeze. My wetsuit is forever lost to me. The water wasn't very warm, around 72 or 73 degrees, and I'm not inclined to jump in without thermal protection. Both Rick and Mike brought extra wetsuits so I tried Rick's, too small, then Mikes, too large. Large is better than small so I used Mike's wetsuit (he says he washes it after every use) and a hooded vest from Ralph. It's hard to describe the experience of jumping in 70 some degree water with ill-fitting thermal protection. I was shivering after 50+ minutes of this activity.
We again entered the underwater world descending onto a southern facing slope. We hunted the slope and shot a few fish then returned to the boat after the first person ran low on air. We surfaced to still active but calming seas. The sun felt good when you could stand on deck in the sun's direct rays but the wind chilled too much to be comfortable with a wetsuit on. The temperature was cold; not Wisconsin or Minnesota cold, but Florida cold, with highs in the upper 60's. Wind chill takes that high down a notch and exiting the water in wet gear means quick heat transfer.
Rick used his GO PRO video camera on this dive. He mounted it on his head so he could use his hands and arms for game gathering. Rick spotted the only lobster we saw the entire trip. It was not a banner trip for lobster tails.
After freezing the last dive I added my shorty over what I was wearing and used my hood under the hooded vest for the next dive. This worked very well to limit water flow and I stayed warm. We jumped in at 30 feet and worked out way down to 80 feet or so before coming back to the 50 foot range for the last fifteen minutes of the hunt. Hunting the southern slopes is a very nice dive and you can go to the deepest deeps of the Caribbean if you keep going. We saw some interesting things and picked up a few more hogfish but did not see any large fish.
This was my last dive of the trip. Mike and Dan dived in twice more, Rick once. I did not want to don the cold wetsuit again as tempting as it was to get in another dive or two. It was warming up but the wind was stiff and chilling. By afternoon the weather had passed and it actually started to get nice. The temperature was very comfortable when we docked the boat and hauled the fish to the cleaning station - but that was hours away.
Rick came back with some bad news, the camera that held nicely to his head the previous dive was lost along with the footage he had taken that day.
This trip was hard on dive gear: I lost my wetsuit and an air conditioner unit fell on my camera housing breaking the deflector. I haven't tried the housing yet to see if it is water tight.
It was a great trip, exciting and productive. We came home with hogfish, shark, snapper, tuna, and a few other kinds of fish. Sweet memories revisited.
We are looking at running a spearfishing trip out to Lake Sakakawea to spear game fish Aug. 16, 17, and 18. If you are interested in going let me know so I can determine if we have enough to run the tripRyan Tangan and I did a recovery last Wednesday east of Long Bridge on Big Detroit Lake. Someone had dropped a snowmobile in by the cattails close to shore. We had recovered and back to shore in less than an hour.
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