USA – Florida – Key West

Operator Site Dive Depth Bottom Time
Captain's Corner Sand Key 51 24.0 52 minutes
Eastern Dry Rocks 52 23.0 46 minutes
Eastern Dry Rocks 53 27.0 46 minutes
Sand Key 54 33.0 66 minutes
Haystacks 55 33.0 58 minutes
Cannonball Cut 56 23.0 64 minutes

Travels to Key West

Our trip to Key West was wholly planned as a dive trip, one day each for arrival and departure, and three days of reef diving with Captain’s Corner, where cousin Derek Bardini works as a dive instructor.

Our departure was on the red eye from Sacramento, though delayed an hour and we missed our Key West connection flight. Instead of arriving at noon, we arrived in the early evening on Wednesday. Still arriving in time for three days of diving, we checked in on Wednesday to the Parrot Key hotel, went out for an arrival dinner, then got to bed to prep for our first afternoon of dives.

Sand Key – I’m Not Lost!

Miscommunication with Derek (he thought we were late to the whole first day, not just our arrival) meant that Tripp and I headed out on day one as unguided divers. We got to the boat around 1pm for a 2pm dive time.

Gear setup and ready, the captain gave us a rundown of our first dive site, Sand Key, and how the reefs are laid out in the Marine Sanctuary. We got down to depth and I saw plenty of coral and life, so we headed out to view what Florida had to offer. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t understand well enough the description, and we followed coral and life, but didn’t head out in the correct direction and missed the main reefs for the first half of our dive.

Visibility was moderate at best, though the warm waters were a nice treat. We spent about a half hour swimming through the coral, then caught one of the reef “fingers” for the last fifteen minutes of the dive site. Tripp would say I was lost, but I would say that I knew where we were relative to the boat fine (we came up within twenty feet of the boat), but we did miss out on a lot of what we could have seen.

With about ten minutes to go, Tripp pointed out (whether in “Oh cool, look at that!” or “Oh crap, look out!” I can’t be certain), a group of jellyfish at the surface. We swam for a few minutes longer at the reef, yet when getting back onto the boat, Tripp was stung in the leg! Fortunately, these aren’t horrible, just about the equivalent of a bee sting, and a bit of vinegar helped denature the sting. Three total divers were stung, as about ten jellies were hanging out at the boat ladders.

Eastern Dry Rocks – Reef Fingers

Tripp and I headed out to the reef following the captain’s instructions properly for the second dive. A few trips around the fingers of reef and we saw quite a bit more life on this dive than the first. We also ran into a lot more of the other divers this trip, and enjoyed viewing the plethora of coral and life along the reef. Unfortunately for the dive (and the first), we missed the shark, the sting ray, saw only one grouper, and generally all the “awesome” items to see in the Florida Keys, though we did have a great and beautiful dive. Visibility is only about 20 feet, and the surge was getting pretty strong by the end. In fact, the boat ride back was in 3-4 foot waves, and Tripp was looking a bit green before and after the dive, but altogether, this was a pleasant and fun dive trip, and much more successful navigation.

Eastern Dry Rocks – Day Two

Derek joined us on the ship today, taking us back to the same two dive sites from the previous day. The boat has limited locations for diving when the winds are heavy, so while things were a little more calm on day two, we stuck to the same sites as before.

Two big differences exist on these reef dives versus what I’m used to. The first is the start time; I’m quite used to dives starting early morning, but because Captain’s Corner dives the Vandenburg in the morning, the reef dives happen in the afternoon. The second is the surface interval. Typically, I’m used to a thirty to sixty minute boat ride between locations, which also happens to be the surface interval. But because the reef area is pretty compact, and because the dives are generally less than thirty feet deep, the surface interval is just enough time to switch tanks, and we’re back in the water. Today’s dives started earlier than the 2pm start time, because there were boat races happening in Key West that made accessing the harbor impossible at the normal start time, so we began today at 11am instead.

The sites are plenty big enough to show a good variety in life each day, and with a guide to allow me more time to focus on the reefs and less on navigating, I was content in seeing plenty of new things. Tripp also felt a lot more comfortable on these dives, bringing along his camera for this trip.

The keys are heavy with fan coral, brain coral, parrotfish, wrasse, tangs, and most things you find in warm water tropical dives. What’s different between these and Hawai’i, for example, are the nurse sharks, the groupers, sting rays, jellyfish, green morays, and more. While we again didn’t see any sharks or other big ticket items, the dive was plenty full of great flora and fauna, if a bit low on visibility.

Sand Keys – Day Two

The other item to note on today’s dives versus the previous is that Derek also had a Discover SCUBA student and a very new diver in the group with us. This is always risk; the depth of these reefs is perfect for a Discover dive, but someone with only a couple hours of pool experience may burn through their air in a few minutes, may need to surface and stop the dive, or any number of additional risks to their dive and ours. Fortunately, David (the DS newb) and Manju (the beginning diver) both did great, and we had a nice long dive together.

Our second dive of Sand Keys meant we spent the whole dive in the reef, not “lost” among the coral. Here we see our first lionfish, a spiny lobster and a lobster carcass, some beautiful huge brain coral, and a significant amount of life. This was a much better day than the previous, and left a lot of hope for an even better third day of diving.

Day Three – Hay Stacks

Our final day of diving brough us to two new dive sites. Unlike the “fingers” of coral on the last two days, our first dive site today brought us to various independent reef formations, each with their own life and coral on them. Joining us today was a semi-frequent diver with Derek who came as a solo diver to make our group four. A beneficiary of the current remote workforce, he moved down to Florida since his work only requires a good internet connection and proximity to an airport.

The highlight of the first dive was the smallest turtle I’ve ever seen on a dive. Probably just two feet long, head to tail, he was swimming alone among the reefs. Tripp has seen a plethora of turtles among his dives, so while not a unique experience, always a highlight item for any day of diving, and fortuitous since we saw several on our boat trip in, and I was hoping that wasn’t our only turtle visitation.

Cannonball Cut

Our final dive site of our trip was Cannonball Cut, named after the former existence of cannonballs dropped from ships as they had to lower their weight to pass through the shallow reefs. Here, we saw the best items of our entire trip.

Day two showed us our first grouper. This last dive showed us several. From a beautifully camouflaged grouper lodged in the coral, to a three-hundred plus pound goliath swimming with two other groupers, this would be the one unique item among my diving history.

We also did a fun passthrough beneath some of the coral, saw a second and very beautiful lionfish (the one pictured above), and finished with the best dive of the trip.

Thank you Derek Bardini for taking us out in your home town, thank you Captain’s Corner for the great coordination and support, and thank you to my family for letting me take Tripp away for a few days.

Mexico – Baja California – Cabo San Lucas

Operator Site Dive Depth Bottom Time
Manta Cabo Pelican Rock 30 72.0 42 minutes
Land's End 31 65.0 37 minutes

Highlights: The seals, the water
Lowlights: A dead computer battery, Josh’s sickness, and FREEZING cold shivers

Pelican Rock
I’ll be honest. I expected Cabo to feel more tropical and less … well, California-like. The coral color, the water, the feel of the life was much closer to what I’d expect in San Diego, which shouldn’t surprise me I guess, since it’s not that far off. My favorite part of this first dive was the puffers, as always, and the large number of schools that we saw. The water clarity was just good enough to see large numbers of schools swimming around. The location where we were diving was very near the most southern rock of Cabo, right inside the bay where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez.

Land’s End

Unfortunately, a bit of alcohol induced sickness kept Josh out of the water for the second dive. This second dive was a drift, starting near the perch of the local seals, and moving along the rocks to where the life was. By this point, I was shivering, and half of my thought was on keeping warm, and making sure that if I couldn’t stop shivering, I ascended.

By far, the best part of this dive was my first encounter with seals. Watching them swim down, do loops around each other, and come up near us having fun, and looking like they were generally playful, made for a great, and new experience! I actually captured a bit of video footage of them swimming, though this was the tail end when they didn’t come back.

From there, we progressed along the rocks, where I found that Cabo has some of the largest eels I’ve seen! They were wicked, and awesome. The fact that they’d just sit their with their mouths open and fish would continue to swim around, and through, their mouths surprised me. It wasn’t at all what I expected of the predator, prey interaction, but it was amazing to watch. Beyond that, the second dive was generally less colorful or full of life, and was somewhat ruined by the lack of cold weather preparation on my part (the rest of the divers were in 7mm jumpsuits).

Will I dive Cabo again? Sure! Would I have dove again that weekend? Maybe, but I had fun with the rest of the trip. I’d like to head out on one of the excursions a couple hours off shore, but all the operators do those runs during the May to November periods, not during winter. So next time, a summer trip.

P.S. – The “Experiment”
Having invested some money in a wetsuit with extra mobility for swimming, I figured I’d try it out for the dives. My opinion? My hands are at my waist or by my side so much that the extra flexibility wasn’t needed, and the general delicate nature of the tri suit says to me it’s not worth it. That and the arms being 1.5-2mm, and the core being 5mm, it was not nearly warm enough for the water. So, worth a try, but back to my Bare and O’neil suits for diving. Oh, and my gear that used to be a little big (but better that than constricting), is now huge on me! Ah well, I’ll take that versus the opposite.

USA – California – Monterey – North Cypress

Operator Site Dive Depth Bottom Time
Monterey Express North Cypress 29 60.0 44 minutes

Highlights: The Jelly! And my first Monterey dive
Lowlights: How sick can you get on one trip?

The blog (or should it be dlog?):

I was already a bit woosy going in, reminder to self: sit at the back of the boat. Once down, as always, things went great. Vis was poor to start, but as we left the boat area, it cleared up to probably 30 feet or so. The kelp was surprising; I expected “forests” of kelp, especially as it’s seen from the surface. Kelp, however, grows up, then continues to grow along the surface of the water. More often than not, there is a single kelp stalk rising up to the surface. We did see one rock near the end where there was a veritable “forest” of kelp, but that was still a 10×10 area, max.

The safety stop went fine; however, when we rose to the surface, we were a good 100-150m away from the boat. I went down 10′ to go swim below, but Josh was having problems coming down. Were it not for the viz, it would have been no problem swimming 10′ apart, but here, I didn’t want to separate for that long. So I went to the surface, too. Needless to say, we both got very seasick. So seasick in fact that we skipped the second dive all together. No harm, though, it was a great day!

USA – Hawai’i – Kauai – Koloa Landing, Hale o Honu, and Happy Talk

Operator Site Dive Depth Bottom Time
Bubbles Below Koloa Landing 25 40.0 58 minutes
Koloa Landing 26 40.0 71 minutes
Hale o Honu 27 62.0 64 minutes
Happy Talk 28 62.0 57 minutes

Koloa Landing

These were Josh’s first dives, so the dive started with him on skills, though I hovered around the area checking out the aquatic life. The vis to start with, because it was a shore dive, was pretty miserable; however, that quickly corrected itself. The number of endemic species around Hawai’i is wonderful. These dives gave us the opportunity to see domino fish, lizardfish, surgeons, and many more! The best sight was the dragon eel, which I saw while Josh was doing his cert work, but didn’t get to capture a great pic of.

We stayed pretty shallow (40′), so got over two hours of bottom time on these dives. They were great introductions to diving for Josh. My observations on this dive, having dove Kona and Maui before this, is that Kauai definitely lacks the color and variety of the main island. Whether it’s the 3 degrees cooler water, or the sugar and the algae growth winning the algae/coral war, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe both.

Hale o Honu and Happy Talk

Large turtle population. This area is an industrial runoff from a sugar processing plant, so the algae is prolific (winning the algae/coral war), however, it attracts turtes. Pictured at the right is a turtle that I got three minutes of video footage, as it hovered at a cleaning station. Notice its lowered head, several fish were cleaning the algae from around its neck.

Running across a school of Heller’s barracuda was intriguing, having been a very different picture than my previous barracuda encounters. These guys school, but are significantly smaller than their caribbean counterparts.

USVI – St Thomas

Operator Site Dive Depth Bottom Time
Admiralty Dive Center Stone Face 16 29.0 41 minutes
Navy Barges 17 39.0 44 minutes
Kennedy 18 61.0 41 minutes
Carol Point 19 42.0 59 minutes
MS Opportunity 20 89.0 32 minutes
Supermarket 21 44.0 63 minutes
Kennedy at Night 22 63.0 48 minutes
JBK 23 69.0 41 minutes
Buck Tank 24 61.0 36 minutes


Four days, nine dives, and an advanced cert to end the week. The timeshare was beautiful, and the diving was great. More wrecks around this area than anywhere I’ve dove so far, and where there are wrecks, there’s life. Very happy with the operator and their multiple divemasters.

Dive 1 – StoneFace
Led by a DMT, Jaime, this one had much less life than what I’m used to from Hawai’i, but the coral is definitely neat, the fan coral being one of the most unique things I’ve seen. This was a shallow dive (29′), so 41 minutes to swim around and enjoy.

Dive 2 – Navy Barges
Wow, wrecks sure allow life to flourish. 44 minutes at 39′, we lost the first part to advanced excercises. We did our nav dive here, the DMT did a horrible job communicating what we were supposed to be doing while underwater, it was inconsistent with someof the surface instructions, but neither of us had problems and we definitely learned a bit about using our compasses. Kevin was the supervising DM, and his post-dive talk was very good.

There were two wrecks here, and both were abundant with life, the ladder being one of my favorite shots from this dive.

Dive 3 – Kennedy
Stacey was our DM for this dive, a great wreck that we used for our adv cert, including a significant amount of pre-talk about penetrating the wreck, and a guided swimthrough. BABS (short for big-ass-barracuda) swam out of the wreck as we swam in for the penetration. I only got a blurry shot of backside as I swam in, but needless to say, she was impressive. Favorite shot this is BABS’ back end. Got a couple boxfish pics here too.

Dive 4 – Carol Point
Now here is the type of life I was expecting. Lots of photos taken on this trip, we performed it as a drift dive, which being my first, I must say I love. Floating with the current and allowing or whims to take us wherever we want, not caring about where the boat is, only where the guy with the buoy is makes it amazing, using less energy (and thus less air! 59 minute dive). Here also, I got one of my best shots ever:

I decided at this point, I should use my flash for all pics. Now, I know better. I should use my flash for all close-up pics in enclosed areas. This shot really shows off how much better it becomes.

Dive 5 – MS Opportunity
Our deepest dive, 89′ total. We started with some skill work, though I was disappointed to get no narc effects. Tough to learn if you aren’t affected, guess I’ll just have to try a deep diver cert. Lots of penetrations in this one, including a full pass through the the ship from one end to the other (guided of course). The intact electrical boxes and lamps are great, though floating through a tilted ship and up and through doors is a bit disconcerting. The camera didn’t do well on this one, fogged up. I realize now that I forgot the desiccant, and also haven’t regreased the o-ring in a while.

Dive 6 – Supermarket
Another drift dive, led by Ryan, another DMT. As before, lots of life here, two rays, one “mid-flight,” lots of lobsters, and some neat black and white fish. No pictures from this dive due to the fogging in dive 5.

Dive 7 – Kennedy at Night
Porsche, the owner’s wife and trainer, took us around Kennedy (no night time penetration). The coolest thing was having BABS within a few feet of us at all times, following our lights and maybe looking for some food. Thank god they warned us this might happen. Lots of lobsters, lots of parrotfish, and I got to grab on to one of the boxfish, it’s quite amazing how solid their bodies are.

Dive 8 – JBK
A smaller barge than the others, a lot of life on this one. We circumvented the ship twice and took a lot of pics. Here, we saw a lot of trumpetfish, though none of the pics of those turned out well, those things move fast! Also, I believe this is the dive where we met Terri.

Dive 9 – Buck Tank
This was the second half of our navigation, since we missed a piece. 100′ for me is 62 kicks, just so I remember. This had the most variety of coral, and some really interesting fish that always swam around in pairs. This was our final dive, but most definitely, I love this area.

USA – California – Lake Tahoe

Operator Site Dive Depth Bottom Time
Dive Ventures Fannet Island 11 54.0 24 minutes
Barge 12 52.0 52 minutes
Cave Rock at Night 13 20.0 34 minutes
Rubicon Wall 14 76.0 29 minutes
Rubicon Wall-South of 15 42.0 38 minutes

Fannet Island
As my first Tahoe dive, this was horrible. Starting with Amy freaking out and shooting to the surface (and me being a world-class horrid buddy), to moderately low visibility, the circumvention of the island was uninteresting, with a lack of life, and a few schools of very small silver fish. There were lobsters to see as the primary life. While Tahoe in general was a successful and fun trip, this was a poor start to it.

Sunk in the middle of emerald bay, a huge all-wood barge is preserved by PADI and the Tahoe association for divers to visit. It seems a tad more interesting than it is, in that, well… it’s a barge. Large, flat, no steering, no complexities, just giant beams forming a large platform, railroad-spike looking iron pegs sticking out of the sides. It’s an interesting sight, for a change of scenery, but not one I’m likely to return to, as emerald bay is emerald for a reason… gross, algae-ridden, greenness.

Cave Rock
Now this dive is one of the two that make this trip worth recommending. A late night departure for a midnight dive, full moon shining through the perfectly clear waters… an awesome experience. While still lacking in life, the crawdads definitely come out en masse at night. With a small light light, or none at all, the div was peaceful, relaxing, and surreal.

Rubicon Wall
Majestic. The word that describes this dive. Over a thousand dives in, and my buddy counted this as her best freshwater dive ever. The “wall” isn’t quite what I normally think of as a wall: the drop was angled, the rocks split and sand making rivers through the wall, gigantic boulders splitting the peace of the sandfalls. Gullies in the rocks, the only word besides majestic is beautiful.

Rubicon Wall – South of
A few large fallen trees added dimensionality to the scape. The final dive of the weekend was shallow and short, to minimize nitrogen absorption so that we could make it out of the lake area by day’s end. A clean end to a fun weekend of diving at the lake.