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

  • Updated: December 29, 2018
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

December 29th, 2018

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!

And so we found ourselves sitting outside the dive shop a good 40 minutes before it opened trying to suck down as much coffee as we possibly could.

One cool thing about Looe Key is there's a tiki bar next to the dive shop and they give you a free drink coupon with each dive trip. So we were going to rack up a few of those...

The staff at Looe Key Reef Resort was super friendly and they recognized us right off as "the people that wanted to dive a bunch" and helped us get sorted despite the occasional innocent bonehead question from our end.

We soon boarded a boat with 40 other people who were about 1/3 divers and 2/3 snorkelers.

The dive shop backs up to a channel that leads out between a bunch of houses and eventually out to the open ocean.

The biggest downside of the day would turn out to be the sheer amount of transit time getting us out to the reef and back. It took about 45 minutes each way for the big boat and probably 30 in the smaller one due to the low speed required in the channel and the fact it was another 7 or 8 miles across open ocean to the reef.

Our first time out it felt relatively quick. We saw a few dolphins and spent the time getting all our gear ready so we could be the first into the water when the boat arrived at our destination.

We were the first ones into the water and found ourselves with a good 30 ft of vis. This wasn't quite as much as we'd had in the springs but compared with what I'd been in out in California this was heaven.

Also unlike back in California the water was actually fairly warm. Granted after our experience getting chilled in Crystal River we were using our 7mm wetsuits (much to the amusement of the locals) but it was nice not to need hoods or gloves

We didn't have much of a plan other than just wandering around and seeing what we could see.

The highest density of fish seemed to be in the shallow areas on top of the rock though we saw a lot down lower along the sides as well.

One of the really cool things for me was seeing the Christmas Tree Worms. I'd seen them before in the aquarium hobby but of course everything there is small while here they covered huge rocks.

We also saw a lot of coral that was dying back but I never got a solid answer as to whether that was due to temperature change, storm damage, or something else.

Sometime during the dive I managed to brush against a fire coral that I didn't even see. The surge just carried me a bit closer to a rock than I anticipated and suddenly I felt a sting on the skin just below where the wetsuit stopped.

At first it was just a light but persistent sting that I rubbed at periodically for the rest of the dive but it was a bit more obnoxious once we were back on the boat. The staff said it would probably hurt for about 40 minutes and it did leave a mark that flared up periodically over the next few weeks.

Coming back to the boat after the second dive we became acquainted with another reality of Florida diving: people throwing up off the side of the boat. Coming up underneath the boat I saw a huge frenzie of fish which turned out to be yellow tails helping themselves to the offerings provided by the poor souls bent over the side of the boat. This would be a common sight over the next few days as we had large swells every day.

Two dives down we were both excited and hungry as the boat made its way back to the dive shop. When we arrived we found we were being switched to a smaller boat so we could do both the afternoon and night dives.

It was a significantly smaller boat with 3 other divers and two staff. While I worked on moving our gear over Jen made a mad dash to the tiki bar next door to grab food which we then inhaled just as the boat was leaving.

One of the other dives was a woman who was there alone who was also intending to do the night dives and asked if she could tag along with us.

She ended up being an ideal dive buddy that I'd happy dive with again.

This time out we even managed to see our first shark. He was just resting out on the ground until we got close and he decided to take off.

Also this filefish had a damaged eye and so didn't see me until I just about ran over him.

Two 60 minute dives later it was back to the dive shop once again where we docked just long enough to swap tanks before heading out again. This time it was just the three of us divers and the boat captain.

The captain took us over to the same spot we'd dove earlier, parked the boat, and turned us loose. The boat was getting tossed around quite a bit so it was a relief to get into the water and sink down below the surface.

I didn't get as many pictures as the lighting situation was challenging and we had quite a bit of surge to deal with not to mention navigational challenges. We did see a lot of crabs, one octopus, and a huge grouper that Jen at first mistook for a boulder.

We came up after about 35 minutes to locate the boat and at first it looked like we were all alone in a dark ocean a very long way from shore. I rotated slowly and after turning 90, then 180, then 270 degrees and not seeing anything I will admit I had a slight moment of concern. Fortunately the boat lights were visible at pretty much the last point of my survey.

Due to all the surface waves we dropped down and swam in the direction of the boat only to get pushed off to the side. We ended up having to surface swim the last little bit dragging out the first dive a longer than expected.

Getting back on the boat was a bit rough and Jen was starting to show an uncanny resemblance to a mostly drowned cat. But we'd decided to do 6 dives and damnit barring any safety concerns we were going to do 6 so back into the water we went.

The second dive we stuck closer to the boat and also came across a lot less wildlife. One neat thing that didn't come across in the pictures very well was that there were all sorts of tiny shrimp suspended in the water.

After about 35 minutes we hit our agreed return time and went back to the boat fighting our way back up the ladder for the last time (today)!

Our 3rd ride back in was a lot rougher with the boat launching over waves and slamming down hard enough to knock us off our feet though we did get to see some rather neat bioluminescence in the wake.

By the time we got back to the shop, unloaded, rinsed ourselves and all of our gear, and wandered next door to the tiki bar it was after 9 pm and we were pretty much beat. The food was fine for what it was, the margaritas had a kick, and the beer hit the spot. (I did mention we had a lot of drink coupons to go through right?)

The downside was the music...wasn't the best and they allowed smoking which I really could have done without.

After that we had to return to our small patch of dirt at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge RV Park. They were closed (again) by the time we got there so we had to let ourselves in the locked gate and set up our tent as quietly as possible so as not to disturb our neighbors a few feet away.

(It was warm enough we could have slept out but we were finding that Florida in December is actually mosquito season and we'd collected quite a number of bites already)

We were exhausted but felt accomplished having set a high score for number of dives in a single day even for Jen who has a lot more time diving than I do. And all we needed was a shower and a few hours of sleep and we'd be off to Key West for a dive to the Cayman Salvager wreck and more reef dives!

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