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

  • Updated: December 30, 2018
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

December 30th, 2018

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!

Lost Reef is located near the boat docks along the north end of Key West.

We checked in and explained we were diving with them for two days. Jen worked out the rental gear while I wandered around and chatted with some folks one of whom turned out to be our guide.

They also had this rather neat poster explaining the different reef environments.

Soon we had all our rental gear and we were off!

The divemaster was quite the character and kept everyone entertained on the way out and back. Guide-wise we ended up pulling Randy Pekarik which turned out to be a lucky coincidence as he was the local expert on the Vandenberg with over 2,000 dives on the wreck.

Originally we were just going to be with him on the Cayman and get someone else the next day but after chatting with him Jen and I ended up putting in a request enabling the awesomeness which was the Vandever dive the following day!

After the dive briefings the boat arrived at the Cayman location and one of the guides jumped in to set up a safety tank on the line leading down to the wreck. (This is done so that if anyone runs low on air they can breath off the safety tank and still do their safety stop.) He emerged declaring 40 ft visibility which had me quite excited as the only wreck dives I'd been on so far had suffered from horribly visibility.

In addition to Jen and I there was a father son pair who would be diving in our little group.

When it was time we jumped in and swam over to the drop line which was the point where things started to get a bit chaotic.

The father in our group dropped underwater and started swimming down by himself promptly getting his tank twisted up in the line. I help him out and looked up to notice that the dive master was in the water helping the son who was still on the surface.


Randy swam up and they apparently got everything sorted out. The son had apparently taken motion sickness medication and in addition to being incredibly nervous was also feeling woozy with tingling hands.

Still, they got him down and we were soon following Randy along a line under the boat to the point where the crew had placed a safety tank.

From there we dropped down on the line connected to the wreck.  Everything was great and it looked like we had our promised 40 ft visibility...until we dropped down past 60 ft and found ourselves in milk.

So this was my view of the Cayman.

For the record this is what the wreck is supposed to look like. We came down the line attached to the wheel in the front, swam all the way to the back, and then came right back. We didn't bother to drop down the side because we couldn't see anything beyond a few feet.

We did get to see a bit of encrusted structure but it was lacking any sense of scale which was kind of a bummer. Still, it was a 70 ft dive and it went well so mission accomplished. -ish.

We technically had Randy for the second dive which was at a nearby reef but after the experience with the father son pair I quietly told him that it looked like he had his hands full and that we'd go do our own thing.

Since the seas were a bit on the rough side out at the dive sites they did happily request any puking be done off the side and not into the marine toilet. They claimed the record was 17 ft and if that was beaten they'd buy the winner a free t-shirt or hat.

I managed to hold onto my lunch the entire day but at one point I was talking to Randy when he said "Uh oh!" and pointed at Jen who was bent over the rail. She didn't qualify for the t-shirt.

After a good long dive it was back to the dock just long enough to grab a sandwich we headed out for another two dives on the same boat.

A few of the jokes *might* have been recycled but we still had a blast with the crew.

This time out we did San Key and Eastern Dry Rocks.

You can see a bit of the swell going on which made getting back into the boat an interesting experience. Still, once you got underwater life got better!

We saw a lot of lobster and some of the crew was out hunting them but we had no real interest in that.

We did see another shark this time swimming around! Sadly it was at the limits of camera so I didn't get a more dramatic shot.

We also saw this rather mellow puffer fish!

Unfortunately despite the fun day of diving Jen's ear had started to hurt on the 4th dive. She was still able to clear it but something felt wrong making the big plan for the following day potentially an issue.

When we crawled back on the boat after the full 55 minutes of the 4th dive we found the rest of the boat a little less than enthused. Apparently most of the folks had been cold and sea sick and had come back a bit earlier and there had not been a small amount of vomiting going on.

Since we were diving with Lost Reef again in the morning they let us keep our dive gear hung up in their back room which was a nice gesture. On one of the staffs advice we decided to walk into downtown Key West and get a bite to eat.

It was a bit of a zoo but not as bad as I expected. There were people everywhere and all sorts of expensive stores along with occasional entertainment like the Donald Trump & Kim Jong Un street performers.

We eventually found a mexican restaurant we could get into in with only a short delay and got Jen a margarita which improved her mood a bit despite the ear pain.

I on the other hand was being driven nuts by the mosquito bites I'd managed to accumulate thus far and couldn't drink enough to make that go away since we had a bit of a drive to get back to our campsite.

Sadly we were still staying at Big Pine Key again because anything closer that was halfway affordable was full up. We made it back around 10 pm, showered quickly, then passed out hoping Jen's ears would be improved in the morning.

Next up, the Vandever! For some of us :(

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