Summer’s Last Gasp – Key Largo

I decided a trip to “The Keys” was in order. I had not been there for nearly a year. OH THE HORROR OF IT ALL!!! So I figured that would be a perfect first step in keeping summer going past Labor Day. I always agonize on where to go in the Keys… Key Largo or Key West. Yeah, Yeah… I hear you; such a tough decision.

I lived in Key West for a little while a last year and I’m still completely in love with the place. But… it had been only a few days since I had visited there while on the Carnival Breeze cruise ship. The thing is that cruise ships always miss the night stuff. Ships are required to sail from Key West a minimum of two hours before sunset. The sunset at Mallory   Square is one of the best in the world. And… nights in Key West are always good for the soul.

On the other hand, the SCUBA diving in the Key Largo area is the best in the Keys… some of the best in the whole world. And Key Largo is 100 miles closer to the Florida “mainland”. I always figure I can just zip down to Key Largo from Miami and be SCUBA diving in the afternoon with my favorite dive operator… Rainbow Reef. Also… even though Key Largo is a little more laid back than Key West, my favorite tiki bar in the world is in Key Largo.

At Rainbow Reef dive kiosk... just in time to make the afternoon boat trip.
At Rainbow Reef dive kiosk… just in time to make the afternoon boat trip.

 

If I had unlimited time and money I could spend as much time in the Keys as I wanted. But it is an expensive place to visit. Barely acceptable rooms cost nearly $200 per night in Key West. It’s a bit more reasonable in Key Largo… especially if I book through “Rainbow Reef”… but it’s still not cheap. Finally I decided. I would on a few days in Key Largo before heading back to the Northernmost Caribbean.

I was already in Miami so just like I figured, a little after noon I was in line for a 1 PM dive boat trip out to Molasses reef. I was once asked if I could only dive in one place in the world, what I would choose. For me Molasses reef would be it. It’s a huge barrier reef just a few miles off shore from Key Largo.

But I suppose choosing “Molasses Reef” is kinda cheating on my part. That’s because “Mo”, as the locals call it, is actually a collection of dive sites. With places with names like “Wench Hole”, “Spanish Anchor”, “FireCoralCave” and “Hole in the Wall” there’s always plenty to see and explore. There are “un-officially” 10 dive spots at “Mo” along with over 25 mooring buoys.

For those that might just want to go snorkeling, there are just as many places on the inside part of Molasses Reef that are really good. There are also lots of other places in the area including several other reef areas and ship wrecks to explore. I won’t try to describe them all here, but as you can see, it’s not likely that you will ever run out of places to dive or snorkel

The visibility… or “vis”… is almost always great anywhere around Key Largo. “Vis” is the “holy grail” for divers. For most places in the world, 30-40 ft “vis” would be a great day. In Key Largo that would be a bad day. This time was great as I expected… we had 60 – 70 ft. “vis.” Just an average day for Key Largo.

And the water was in the mid-eighties. I fully admit that when it comes to cold water, I’m a wimp. I consider it to be winter-time diving any time the water is below 80 deg. F. And I won’t dive if the temperature is much below 75… even then I wear a thicker wet-suit. Did I say… “wimp”. Warm waters are the reasons I dive in the Keys and the Caribbean. The pacific coast of the US is simply too cold for me all year round.

The Tropical Adventure on the way to "Mo".
The Tropical Adventure on the way to “Mo”.

 

I arrived at the Rainbow Reef kiosk just in time to go out on the boat dive for two single tank dives in the afternoon. For the first dive we went to FireCoralCave. It’s just what it sounds like… a cave with fire coral. Besides being a cave, this is also a swim through. You enter at one end and come out the other. But for this dive we couldn’t swim through… it was occupied by a giant Grouper. This was a truly massive fish that must have weighed four or five hundred pounds. No… I’m not making a silly exaggeration. It was really that big. Although the giant groupers don’t seem aggressive toward divers, we didn’t want to make him mad. Giant groupers are known to eat sharks. So we just let him have the cave.

Although it's not a very good image, this is the giant grouper that occupied Fire Coral Cave. Look carefully to the left of the groupers mouth and you will see a sergeant major fish.
Although it’s not a very good image, this is the giant grouper that occupied Fire Coral Cave. Look carefully to the left of the groupers mouth and you will see a sergeant major fish.

 

For the second dive we moved over to Wench Hole. This has nothing to do with pirates or women or anything like that. Rather, a three masted wooden schooner, the Slobodana, sunk here in 1887. Today, what remains is a massive wench, some ballast, and a few gears. All around Wench Hole are huge coral heads which are home to zillions of marine life. I have been to Wench Hole a number of times and no matter what, I always see amazing stuff.

The wench at "Wench Hole".
The wench at “Wench Hole”.

 

After the dive I grabbed a quick bite to eat and then went to my favorite tiki bar. It’s actually the bar at the Holiday Inn swimming pool. The Holiday Inn in Key Largo has kind of a “Bogie and Bachal”…  theme. The restaurant is called “Bogies Café” and posters of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bachal adorn the walls. And of course the tiki bar is “Bogie’s tiki bar”.

I sat down at the tiki bar and ordered my usual when in Key Largo… a Mexican Mojito. I’m probably the only person in the world that orders that… tequila instead of rum… so the bar-tender immediately did a double take and then recognized me. He said it was good to see me and that it had been a long time. I said, “yeah… way too long”. I don’t plan on it being that long ever again.

I sat at the bar for a while chatting with some of the other people that had been diving with me. Most of us were going to go diving the next day and wanted to go to the Duane… an ex Coast Guard cutter sunk as an artificial reef. After a couple of Mexican Mojitos it was starting to get dark. I figured that I should go check in. It had been a really good day… warm weather, warm water, great diving, and new friends.

Even though it was September, it was a good day and a great way to keep summer going.

 

 

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