Diving the Vandenberg Wreck In Key West Florida

December 31st, 2018
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Today was to be the crown jewel of dives we had planned for our Florida New Years dive vacation and the one I was the most nervous for.

The Vandenberg is an old military troop transport that was intentionally sunk ship off the coast of Key West as an artificial reef and recreational dive attraction. It's the second largest artificial reef in the world and while it starts at only 45 ft below the surface the bottom is on the sand at 140 ft and most of the interesting attractions require you go down to at least 100 ft.

I was currently straddling Open Water (which allows you to dive to a recommended 60 ft) and Advanced Open Water (which ups that to 130 ft) certifications due to weather holding up the last of the certification dives but after a good amount of research and a warm up dive the day before on the 70 ft deep Cayman Salvager wreck we were all set to at least give it a cautious try.

We had hired a local dive guide through Lost Reef Adventures and after meeting him the day before we ended up requesting Randy Pekarik who I can't recommend strongly enough. Even if you're experienced and comfortable at that depth Randy has over 2000 dives on the Vandenberg and can show you swim throughs and features you probably wouldn't have time to find on your own. Also he brings viking hats for post dive victory shots. Just sayin...

Diving Key West Florida - The Cayman Salvager Wreck (With Horrible Visibility) and 9 Ft Stake

December 30th, 2018
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After yesterday's 6 dives across 3 boat excursions we were a bit run down and majorly low on sleep. Still, we only had so many days in Florida for our News Years 2019 Dive-cation of Amazing Awesomeness so far from taking it easy and doing something unreasonable like sleeping in we were once again up before dawn and headed south along the Keys.

This time we were diving off Key West with Lost Reef Adventures.

We picked our diving days by just looking around online and picking dive shops and excursions that reviewed well and figuring we could change things on the fly if needed. One of the things that jumped out majorly was the the Vandenberg which is a well-known wreck of the coast of Key West.

The only problem was that the Vandenberg was down at 100 ft and the Open Water certification only OK's you for 60 ft these days. After reading online the dive shop said OW divers were fine at long as they had 10 to 15 post cert dives and went down with a guide so we started to hope it might be doable. Just to be safe we decided to book a warmup deep dive to the Cayman Salvager (which is at 70 ft) the day before. And that was today!

Diving Looe Key In The Florida Keys - A 6 Dive Day!

December 29th, 2018
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So far our Florida News Years 2019 Dive-cation of Amazing Awesomeness had consisted of freshwater diving with the occasional manatee belly rub but finally it was time to kick off the ocean diving portion of the trip!

The previous day had been rough with two hour long dives and almost 500 miles of driving to get us from the Crystal River area down to the Florida Keys. We arrived late, fell asleep on a small patch of dirt in the Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge RV Park, and left before dawn.

When we planned the trip today had originally been a rest day of sorts with a single two dive excursion in the morning and tentative plans to explore the Keys a bit possibly snorkeling, paddling, or just catching up on sleep.

But as some of you know I can occasionally be slightly allergic to anything that feels too much like planned downtime. And so while struggling through some enforced relaxation at my parents over
Christmas I prodded Jen into amping up our plans just a bit. An amused Looe Key dive shop said that they had morning, afternoon and night dive boat options and happily confirmed us for all three giving us 6 dives for the day and not a lot of downtime. Now we were talking!

Ginnie Springs Ballroom Florida Freshwater Cavern Dive & A Disappointing Failure To Find Herpes Monkeys

December 28th, 2018
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We had decided on Devil's Den first and then looked around for what other diving options we could fit in before driving south towards the Keys. We ended up settling on Ginnie Springs because it was another cavern advertised as safe for Open Water divers but seemed like it would be a bit of a progression from Devil's Den.

Jen was nervous at first but we decided we'd go in and take a look and turn back if it wasn't something we were comfortable with. For what it's worth we both found it to be straightforward but well worth the side trip if for no other reason than the visibility in the spring was something like 200 ft!

Devil's Den Florida Freshwater Cavern Dive

December 28th, 2018
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Devil's Den is easy to find online because the pictures taken there are spectacular. It's hard to see the blue water cavern with sunlight streaming down from above and not want to go visit.

This was our second day of diving activity on our Florida News Years 2019 Dive-cation of Amazing Awesomeness after the previous days drift dive in Rainbow River. This was a whole different experience since there are less fish and no plants inside the cavern.

Rainbow River Freshwater Drift Dive, Florida

December 27th, 2018
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Next up on the Florida News Years 2019 Dive-cation of Amazing Awesomeness was a freshwater drift dive in Rainbow River!

Freshwater diving was briefly mentioned during my Open Water dive certification but 99% of the focus there was on diving saltwater. So when we were looking for diving options around Crystal River and came across this I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The dive shops bill it as something anyone can do since you can have people tag along with snorkels, kayaks, or just ride along on the boat.

After looking up some trusty YouTube videos I started getting exciting and sure enough it was amazing!

Snorkeling with the Manatees in Crystal River Florida

December 27th, 2018
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This was the first activity of our eight-ish day Florida News Years 2019 Dive-cation of Amazing Awesomeness. Up until this trip I only had a vague awareness of manatees but it turns out Jen has been fascinated by them since learning about them from some school assembly as a child. When we first came across the option of swimming with manatees while trying to pull off this last minute Florida trip she was ecstatic and insisted that we try and make it work.

Florida News Years 2019 Dive-cation of Amazing Awesomeness! - Planning & Particulars

Florida News Years 2019 Dive-cation of Amazing Awesomeness!
December 26th 2018 to January 2nd 2019

This trip was yet another last minute -ish see what we can manage with what we got sort of trip. I knew I was spending Christmas in Colorado Springs with my parents and I knew I wanted to do something significant for New Years. Initially Jen and I toyed with running back out to Arizona and building a trip around a that technical route we'd failed on last year but the more we talked about it (and the more Kristen talked about her trip to Thailand which involved diving and had been the trigger for me getting my cert) we kept coming back to diving.

We briefly considered just running around SoCal trying to get in as many dives as we could but that didn't seem suitably epic enough for a New Years trip. So we started looking for diving destinations with limited travel time that we could make work within a reasonable (for diving) budget.

We settled on Florida which I'd never been to and Jen had only ever been there as a child. I could use airline points for the flights and we could camp instead of staying in hotels to save money. And then of course we proceeded to jam in as many activity as we possibly could in the time had which kind of left the whole affordable aspect in the dust.

But hey, it was an epic new year trip!

Diving La Jolla Shores - First Time Diving On Our Own

December 15th, 2018
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As I've recounted elsewhere the last few weeks have been a somewhat hurried progression towards getting our Open Water diving certs and starting Advanced Open Water classes in order to get ready for some diving-centric plans around New Years.

Friday Kristen and I had both taken the morning off work in order to do our 4th and final Open Water cert dive at Crescent Bay in Laguna. We did that instead of waiting for Saturday since that way we could rent two tanks and get out on our own. Also we were going to be down towards San Diego anyway since we were scheduled to be on a boat with Sea Stallion on Sunday for a few specialty dives so it all worked out.