A dive in the Gulf of Mexico for my sister and I. We arranged it through Scuba Quest's Madeira Beach location. It would have sucked to never dive off shore, then become an instructor and be asked what it's like. Dive trips through Scuba Quest are: $50, which includes tanks (+$5 per nitrox tank); $65 and they'll provide all gear you'd need. As usual, book ahead.
Diving off of Madiera Beach:
- Directions from Tampa: Get on I-275 South. In St. Pete, take Exit 13 and turn right onto 38th Ave. North. 38th meets up with Tyrone Blvd.; take a right onto Tyrone Blvd. Look for SR-666 which should lead you to a draw bridge called the Tom Stuart Causeway. It dead-ends on the other side of the bridge at Gulf Blvd. Take a left. The shop is on the left (I'd say about a mile or so down...like most dive shops, look for the big dive flag!). It's about an hour's drive from USF.
- Conditions on the day of my visit: Sunny with some very scattered clouds.
- Personal Notes: Most people think that any boat that puts 18 people on it is a cattle boat. Well, not if the boat is well designed. The Conch Quest was redesigned as a very good dive boat, and can fit 18 divers comfortably...as long as they take only one bag apeice (so pack well). Don't pack a cooler if it's a full boat; put your food/snacks/soda (you really don't need to bring water, they provide that) in a plastic bag and they'll put it in the boat cooler.
Mark was our boat captain and briefed us well both at the dock and at both dive sites. If you're going alone, seriously consider tipping $10; Mark (and co.: Dan, a Dive Master, and Charlie, an instructor from another Scuba Quest shop, who had a class with him) switched gear for all divers between dives...and that in most books is earning an extra tip. Two people can get away with $15 but I'd be sorely tempted next time to make it $20. The worst thing about the boat (me being of small stature and small bladder) is that it has no head (bathroom for the nautically deficient).
Boat ride out to the first site wasn't much more than 30 minutes. Mark called it "Scuba Quest Artificial," an artificial reef made of concrete pilings and tubes. Saw two large barracuda here, one which had a hook and lure in his mouth, along with assorted other fish (other divers on the boat had better luck spotting stuff than my sister and I did) that included some larger spadefish and a couple of triggerfish. Mark described the shape of the reef, and with the 'regularity' of the seascape (though in one sense it's 'irregular' in that certain pilings would look different from other pilings), it was hard to get lost...it was always easy to make your way back to the anchor.
Second location was roughly 5 minutes away from the first, closer inland (took longer to get the boat back running and get the anchor back up than it did to get to the site). Lots of smaller life here; it was "Coco Reef" and it was natural (limestone base). Some beautiful angelfish, butterfly fish, stone or scorpion fish (very hard to spot until you see one and know what to look for), and some interesting coral here and there. The trick here is that visibility was worse than the first site, and with the 'irregularity' of the seascape (and conversely, there were sections that I'd swear looked just like other sections), along with the current, it was easy to loose the anchor. I batted about 800: found it four times (my sister was quite impressed the first time when she wrote on her slate "We swam into the current, so the current should take us back to the anchor," and I responded with a "kinda" hand wiggle and pointed off at an angle and *poof* about 40 feet away there was the anchor), but when another couple of divers found my sister and I and asked where the anchor line was near the end of the dive, we decided to go looking for it...and my sense of direction seemed to fail me (had the knawing thought that I was probably a little 'current-ward' of the line but not sure). I was probably about 100 feet off of the anchor (with the current, as I had thought) when my sister decided that we should go ahead and surface...and we ended up being about 50 feet away from the port side of the boat (not a bad swim, really). I don't think we were the only ones...others seemed to pop up in the general vicinity but never right on the anchor line.
Both locations: Visibility was at most 15 feet but we were within sight of land and I'm told that's not uncommon. Depth never passed 35 ft. that I could tell. Mark said that at depth water temp was 83 degrees...I was very comfortable in a shorty. It's kind of a loud dive too...you hear snaps, crackles, and pops constantly that I would guess would be shells and rocks clinking in the current.
This, I think (as does my sister) is a good 'fun' dive for a class (though I'm sure better visibility would be preferred). Also, you could probably manage some drills (I would guess other than ascent drills, unless your students have had the 30ft/min ascent rate drilled into them) since the water really isn't that deep.
If you're not sure if you have the diving bug or not, this is the dive for you, I think. I also think it would make a decent good first ocean/sea - or non-spring - dive (though it might be better off as your *second* dive, your first being some place with better visibility). The vis is low, and if you in any way, shape, or form are annoyed by this, then you probably don't have the bug. If you accept it as part of the conditions and enjoy the dive just as much (or at least almost as much) as if the water were clearer, then you've probably got the bug. My sister's opinion, though (and I can see her point), is that the low visibility might scare off inexperienced divers. I would guess that you really have to realize that at 10 foot visibility means that you can't see anything more than 10 feet away from you...*anything*.
I personally feel, though, that this is a bad boat to be a diver's (especially a student's) first boat dive. They treat you too well! You should know what it takes to get you into and out of the water on your own, get your tanks switched between dives, and have to carry your own stuff so that you appreciate more exactly what they do for you when the boat captain and dive master do it for you.
This is also a good dive to see how good a buddy you are. If you find yourself all alone after doing the 360 degree search for your buddy, then you (and your buddy) might need some practice.
Dive data for dives on this day:
||Madiera Beach Artificial