Rosie couldn’t scuba dive as she was recovering from a torn calf muscle but she was able to snorkel. We booked a snorkel trip with Stuart’s Cove Dive Bahamas. The sky was clear, temperature a comfortable 84 degrees as the boat cruised past a few tankers and pleasure boats toward open water.
First stop we snorkeled for an hour next to a small island one mile off the southwest coast of Nassau. The island is Goulding Cay but local divers call it Hollywood Cay. The island is bare except for one lonely palm tree. The island is featured in the Scooby Doo movie and several other action movies. With visibility at 45 feet, the reef below was teeming with a variety of colorful fish and a few barracuda. Once aboard I enjoyed several times jumping from the upper deck of the dive boat into the water.
The second snorkel location that day was a mile away and was a shark viewing opportunity. We were in the water holding on to a long rope attached to the boat. The dive master tossed food in the water which settled about 40 feet below. A dozen Caribbean reef sharks and nurse sharks appeared out of nowhere. After three minutes of viewing the sharks below us, we scampered aboard the dive boat as their attention turned to us. I videoed the sharks a moment later as they came to the surface seeking more food.
Scuba Team: Matt Miller, Austin Whitt, Dave Miller, Adrian Warfield
Scuba Date: June 11 & 12, 2107
Tuning up for fall diving in Florida & the Caribbean we dove the East River Road Pond. Saw bass, catfish and many large 8 inch bluegill. At about 6 feet down while viewing rocks and shells in non-plant areas, Dave found the jawbone and teeth of some large animal (hopefully wasn’t human). Visibility was 5 to 8 feet. Too dark at about 15 feet depth to see anything. From his kayak Adrian measured the depth at the middle of the large pond at 38 feet.
The following day we dove the Deer Meadow Park Pond. The green algae had reseeded and the water looked clear but surprise – about 10 to 15 feet out from shore and to a depth of four feet was white cottonwood under the water all along the coast. Imagine trying to swim in cotton balls. The cottonwood did not permit us to see the bottom very well and locate frisbee discs. Only four discs were found. Quite a change since October 4, 2016 when the pond was much clearer and we found 21 discs.
Dive Team: Matt Miller, Austin Whitt, Holly Miller, Dave Miller
Dive Date: August 15, 2016
This was an environmental cleanup dive to promote safe fish habitat and remove harmful plastic from Deer Meadow Park’s nine acre pond. We concentrated our cleanup around disc golf course water holes #2 & #3. We removed six plastic bottles, 31 discs and one golf ball. We also saved the life of a turtle who had swallowed bait and a hook. After the dive we took the turtle home and Dr. Matt & Dr. Austin surgically removed the hook and fishing line and Nurse Dave drove the turtle back and released him in the pond.
Visibility was only 1 to 4 feet. Dive lights had no effect. We did see some bass, crappie and bluegill. We wore swimming trunks & dive gear but no wetsuits. The water was warm but in deeper water we hit many thermoclines (a layer of colder water between the warmer surface zone and the colder deep water zone). My max depth was around 12 feet but brave scuba divers Matt & Austin went deeper. They finally abandoned their descent at 18 feet due to a freezing thermocline and zero visibility. A thunderstorm ended our 70 minutes of diving.
The next afternoon Holly and Dave used the final two tanks of air diving a large pond beside the Moraine Miami River Boat Dock off of East River Road. Once again dodging rain showers we dove 50 minutes with 10 foot visibility. Aquatic plants near shore gave way to grass slopes and dirt bottom with many shells. Barren pockets in the grass held bluegill and small fish. Saw a few large catfish. Hit very cold thermo clines at 20 feet. Did not go beyond 24 feet in the dark depths. This was a surprisingly clear, safe and warm water dive for the first 10 feet. Can’t wait to go back.
After a morning of diving a reef and a shipwreck at a depth between 60 and 102 feet, we enjoyed an afternoon dive at a depth of 13 to 20 feet at Stingray City reef on the northwest side of Cayman Island. I took photos of Holly (Photo #1 & #2) feeding cut up squid to a large sting ray while Matt (Photo #3 & #4) fed another large ray. A lot of snapper hung around trying to grab a bite of squid if the opportunity was there. One snapper bit my finger. We spent 37 minutes on the bottom feeding the rays until we ran out of squid.
Expedition Team: Holly Miller, Matt Miller, Dave Miller
Dive Date: December 2015
The second morning dive was the wreck of the Oro Verde, a wreck both tragic yet with a funny side to the story. More on that in a moment. What made this dive unique was someone we met underwater. The dive master briefed us before diving and stated their was a large grouper that hung around the reef and wreck. Supposedly you could swim up to the fish and scratch or rub under its chin. So in we dove and descended to 50 feet in 82 degree water with 80 feet visibility. Within a minute I saw a large five pound grouper. I slowly swam towards him. Now if I had a spear gun a grouper that size would have made for a couple of nice dinner meals but in the wild once you interact with the creature you don’t have the heart to want to hurt it. I slowly swam toward the grouper, eased my hand forward and rubbed under the gills of his chin. I turned and swam off over the wreck. Holly got my attention and I looked back and the grouper was following me so I turned and scratched under its chin again. The grouper ended up following me for over 35 minutes of the dive like a puppy followings its master. If I entered the cabin of the wreck, the grouper would follow me in and out. When I shined my underwater light in the porthole, the grouper went in and then swam back out. The photo’s show him following me around the reef and the wreck.
The Oro Verde was a US World War II Liberty Ship built in 1942 (supposedly a sister ship to the infamous USS Pueblo) which carried supplies across the Atlantic for our USA war effort. It was a 131 foot long, 692 ton freighter. It sunk only 100 yards off the famous seven mile beach on the west side of the island. After the war the ship was sold by the Navy and began operations as a merchant cargo ship sailing in the Caribbean, South & Central America carrying fruit or other cargo. It ran aground in 1976. It has deteriorated significantly due to three hurricanes (see the photos) which has scattered the shipwreck over a wide debris field which draws an abundance of fish life. Local divers call the site the “Wreck of the Wreck of the Wreck of the Oro Verde” as the decks are pancaked, the boiler, props and deck plates scattered all over on the sand flats with just a few rooms intact. We saw patches of coral, sponges, butterfly fish, grunts, yellow tail snappers, angelfish, parrot fish, barricuda, porkfish and a large sea turtle thriving on the wreck.
Now the story of the wreck. The boat was carrying bananas from Jamaica to Grand Cayman. However, the captain smuggled on a load of green gold, marijuana. The captain was nearing retirement and in an effort to retire more comfortably planned to make a few extra dollars on the trip. He kept it a secret. As the story goes the crew discovered the marijuana under the bananas and demanded a cut of the profit. The captain refused saying “my boat, I’m not sharing it”. The crew beat him, tied him to a chair and tossed him overboard. However, none of the crew knew how to navigate the boat around the dangerous reefs into harbor and the boat ran aground and started to sink. The crew swam to shore and tried to hire local thugs to grab the sinking cargo. The police boats arrived first and seized the marijuana.
The police took the marijuana to the east end of the island to burn. Forgetting that the prevailing wind blows from east to west the large marijuana smoke cloud blew across the island to the populated side and rumor has it there were many traffic accidents and a large run on dorritos and potato chips at the local food stores that evening.
Our youngest son Shane died on August 5, 2014 at age 20. We miss him very much. In memory of him I dedicate this adventure, our last father/son trip together.
Family trips are fantastic but one-on-one trips are priceless. Just Shane & I flew to George Town, GC and stayed at the Sunset House Dive Resort for five days of diving. It was a memorable trip as Shane enjoyed fifteen reef and wreck dives. Shane was usually very selective on what he ate but on this trip he relished trying the West Indies and British food at the resort. As for diving, the average depth for a dive on GC was 50 to 90 feet but he handled the deeper water well. I lost lots of great photos as my inexpensive dive cameras could not withstand the pressure at the deeper depths. However, on one 45 minute dive to Sting Ray City I did get many photos of Shane feeding squid (Photos#1-#4) to a school of thirteen sting rays. After the feeding, we spotted a hawksbill turtle swimming by (Photo#6 & #7). Later we posed by the famous underwater statue of a mermaid (Photo#9).
Another dive, this time to Armchair Reef at a depth of 50 feet, a school of 20 large silver tarpon (Photo#10) near a vertical reef. Shane glided into the pack and hovered ten minutes surrounded by 15 of the tarpon, each fish at least three feet long. We also speared one of the prolific lionfish (Photo#11). Only a few of the tarpon photos survived but the memories of the diving and of the trip with Shane will last a lifetime until we meet again in heaven.
Dive Team: Dave Miller, Holly Miller, Shane Miller
Dive Date: April 5, 2010
HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The Norwegian merchant freighter Benwood and the American steam tanker Robert C. Tuttle collided on the night of April 9, 1942. Rumors of German U-Boats in the area forced both ships to travel completely blacked out. The Tuttle was damaged but survived. The Benwood turned to make shore but sank.
DIVE FINDINGS: Four years later we returned. This was our second expedition diving on this World War II wreck and Holly & Shane’s first wreck dive. It was also Holly’s first dive at age age 16. It was a beautiful morning, 77 degrees, sunny, good underwater visibility at 40 feet for our 51 minute dive. Descending to a 45 foot depth, we were greeted with an eerie underwater setting created by the huge aft section of the wreck that looms sharply upward off the ocean floor. The maze of steel wreckage provides a haven for large numbers of fish from small tropical to large grouper. Swimming over the top of the wreck hiding in the steel ribs and coral were blue parrotfish, wrasses, sergeant majors, trumpet fish, blue tangs and butterfly fish. Swimming down to the sandy ocean floor on the starboard side, we sighted a barracuda staring at as with its evil eye and sharp teeth. Holly then spotted a sting ray hiding in the sand which rose and swam away as we approached. Schools of 10 to 40 grunts, snappers or jacks clustered along the side or on top of the wreck. For their first wreck dive Holly & Shane did great and enjoyed all of the aquatic life.
I included a photo taken in 2014 just north of Ormand Beach, Florida of a WWII Coastal Watch Tower. Manned by civilian observers, these towers were built after Pearl Harbor and located every 7 miles along the entire coast. Citizens rotated shifts to watch for German U-Boats.
Dive Team: Dave Miller, Matt Miller Dive Date: April 19, 2006
HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: This was our first dive on this World War II wreck off the coast Key Largo. Many of you may not know this but eastern American shipping lanes were threatened by Nazi U-Boats including southern Florida coastal waters. On the night of April 9, 1942, rumors of German U-Boats in the area forced the two ships to travel completely blacked out. The captain of the Norwegian merchant freighter Benwood kept the Florida coastal lights three miles abeam while the captain of the American steam tanker Robert C. Tuttle kept the Florida coastal lights 1 ½ miles abeam. The Benwood was built in 1910 and carried a crew of 38. The Tuttle was built in 1940 and carried a crew of 47.
THE INCIDENT: At around 12:45am, both ships saw black objects ahead in the water. Both took evasive actions but unknowingly steered toward each other. Just past 12:52am the bow of the Benwood punched into the Tuttle just aft of the port side bow above the waterline. This caused the bow of the Benwood to collapse upon itself and take on water at a brisk rate. The captain turned hard for shore attempting to save the ship by grounding but around 1:30am was forced to abandon ship. The Benwood sunk in 40 to 55 feet of water north of French Reef. (While the Tuttle survived the collision and was repaired, it sunk two months later from a mine laid by German U-Boat 701 off the coast of Virginia).
DIVE FINDINGS: The day was clear, temperature was 80 degrees, underwater visibility good at 35 to 40 feet for our 35 minute dive. As Matt and I descended, we saw that over time most of the decks of the Benwood have pancaked down on each other & are covered with corals, aquatic plants and fish. The compartments were too tight to enter. It appears the cargo of phosphate rock was salvaged long ago. There was no sign of the original armament which included a four inch gun, six depth charges, rifles and 36 bombs. Parts of the hull plates litter the sand around the perimeter of the decks. The main body of decks were 285 feet long & 51 feet wide teeming with abundant aquatic life. As our photos show, we saw crabs, barracudas, snappers, grunts, butterfly fish, parrotfish, angelfish and much more. Off the port side of the wreck Matt spotted a sea turtle and a nurse shark. Matt did great on his first wreck dive.