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Published: August 23rd 2008
Filled with artificial canals and waterways, Key Largo is packed full of boating holidaymakers
After 60 some hours of travel from Bangkok, Simon and Lauren wound up in Miami and spent a weekend in the Florida Keys, diving on a reef and shallow wreck the first day, and doing a double dip on the USS Spiegel Grove the second. Lauren was pleased to be back home, and enjoyed showing Simon around the Keys and Miami. They witnessed the colorful sunset festival in Key West and vibrant fireworks displays in Miami, but the Spiegel stood out as the highlight of the weekend for both.
Splashing in Florida is much more refreshing and less brisk than some colder climates. Here the summer ocean maintains a surface temperature just above 80º (or about 30C). Initially, Simon and Lauren descend an infinite line into the deep. But the blue, tropical Floridian water soon allows for a majestic view of the superstructure from far above the deck. Giant cranes perch on the edge of the basketball court-like rear loading bay, and as they descend past the arms it is surreal to watch schools of five-lined snapper swarm around the giant mooring capstans on either side. Gorgonian fan corals festoon the undersides of machinery on deck, looking for all the
Simon and Joe
Simon and Joe swimming along the Spiegel towards the bridge
world like a forest in a breeze as they vibrate in the strong current that sweeps the wreck. The Spiegel lies perfectly upright and intact, in such clear water that it is very easy to imagine you're flying through the air above a dockside ship rather than 30m underwater. At more than 500 feet in length, the Spiegel is also so large that taking a seat in the centre of the loading bay is akin to sitting in the middle of an empty stadium 35m down! Because of her proximity to the popular Key Largo dive community, on any given day you can expect to see 50-100 divers entering the water above the wreck but you'll only see a fraction of them underwater as she's such a monster!
Launched in 1955, the USS Spiegel Grove was a Dock Landing Ship (used for transporting vehicles such as giant hovercraft) of 510 feet (155m) in length and of 11,525 tons displacement. After her retirement in 1989, the state of Florida intended to have her converted to an artificial reef. Organizers fought years of red tape and painstakingly cleaned the hazardous material from the hulk only to have her prematurely sink in
Turtle over the wreck
This guy really didn't care about divers at all.
2002 - upside-down en route to the planned sinking site! Although the Spiegel lies outside of John Pennekamp State Park (where Simon and Lauren did two shallow dives the previous day), the wreck is still a protected area for native wildlife. In 2005, Hurricane Dennis ripped through the Florida keys and the the massive swell generated by the storm flipped the Spiegel (100-130 feet deep) into an upright position!
Because of her size and depth, you can only expect to see half of the Spiegel in a recreational dive. The stern is nice, but the swim towards the superstructure/bow and you'll find one of the reasons why the Spiegel is so famous. At around 300kg, the wreck's resident Goliath grouper (or Jewfish, Epinephelus itajara) will inadvertently sneak up from behind and scare the bejeezus out of you! Curious, unafraid of divers and returning in big groups to the same location each season to spawn, these fish were decimated by spearing and line fishing and the species was afforded complete protection in 1990. Nevertheless, the species is still critically endangered as they grow so slowly, so seeing such a large fish is a very special thing. Already colossal, the Goliath
Simon and Jewfish
Simon meets the Spiegel Grove's resident Goliath Grouper/Jewfish
grouper on the Spiegel is perhaps a teenager - as with many species of hunted fish in the Atlantic and other places like New Zealand, much larger specimens have been seen and caught in the past.
The upper decks of the Spiegel have been intentionally left open, with passages cut through in some areas, so that even recreational divers can swim through the wreck and look through its now encrusted portholes. Casual penetration is limited only by depth (shallower than 90 feet). Many openings keep the passageways and rooms well lit, so the claustrophobia element is almost non-existent. During their forays around the superstructure, Lauren's friend Joe spied a huge Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) gliding in from the blue, just a foot behind her! Lauren and Joe eagerly watched the turtle, and signaled to Simon. Cautiously maintaining a distance between himself and the Turtle, Simon was taken aback when the turtle swam towards him! More nonchalant than curious, the turtle, who's head was about the same size as Simon's, swam slowly over the deck and around the bridge before gliding over the bow into the blueness, barnacles and algae in tow. Simon swam with it for several minutes resisting
the urge to ride this natural underwater scooter.
Swimming from mid-deck to the front of the bridge, a Lauren and Simon gazed over the enormous bow as the view opens to blue expanse, where schools of Crevalle Jacks (Caranx hippos) and Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) swim by in a blazé manner that reminds you that everyone's going by island time in the Florida Keys.
Tot: 2.299s; Tpl: 0.081s; cc: 18; qc: 68; dbt: 0.0461s; 2; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb