I had the opportunity to dive WPB on Aug 17 & 18 (last Thurs and Fri). On Thursday, I set up 2 morning and 2 afternoon dives with SS Minnow Charters and for Friday, I set up 2 morning and 2 afternoon dives with Jim Abernethy's Scuba Adventures. I can definitely say that the diving exceeded my expectations. For those of you that have not had the chance to dive here, it is typical drift diving, with tons of life, fairly strong currents, free descents/ascents, blue water safety stops, and good viz. A SMB (sausage etc.) is definitely recommended.
SS Minnow Charters (Thurs) -
The boat seemed to be fairly typical of the boats in this area. It is 40', can hold about 20 divers, has a covered area if you want to get out of the sun, a large cooler filled with soda's, a water cooler, and snacks (tootsie rolls, animal crackers etc.). After parking at the Marina (Phil Foster Park), you sign in with Renee (curbside at her truck) and load your gear. The nitrox tanks that I reserved were already loaded on board. I had to ask for an O2 analyzer and found both tanks within .5% of 36%.
Dive 1: Princess Ann
On the boat were 7 bug hunters, a father and his son (doing his AOW) and the AOW instructor. Renee and the captain decided that we would do our first dive on the Princess Ann, which is a 350' car ferry, sunk as an artificial reef. They drop the lobster hunters off a couple hundred yards up current of the wreck, then drop us off on the wreck. Most of the lobster hunters seem to be diving solo, but only one had redundant first stages and a lift bag. Anyway, we descend onto the wreck, with me buddying with the DM and the father-son-instructor team buddying up. To make a long story short, the son had problems clearing and they missed the wreck, as the current was kicking. I was hanging near the DM, exploring around the stern (or was it the bow?), and he hooked the float onto the wreck. I assumed the other three were on the other side of the wreck, but then the DM spotted them, unhooked and drifted away from the wreck. I followed, and pretty much spent most of the dive finning like hell into the current since the DM hooked the float into the sand. Still not sure what he was doing/waiting for, but he eventually unhooked to drift a ways but the others were on air so the DM (and hence myself) went up when they did. In a nutshell, my first WPB dive was a clusterf*ck. One bug hunter came up with 5 keepers, the rest got skunked. The successful hunter had a DPV, so he did have a bit of an advantage. Viz was 50' - 70', water temps about 85. First time I've ever been hot on a dive in an 3 mil full. Max depth: 106, total dive time: 31 minutes. For those of you looking carefully, yes, 106 was pushing the P02 to 1.5 and I mentally clubbed myself for slipping that deep. The bottom here will allow you to hit or exceed a PO2 of 1.6.
Dive 2: Front Side of Larson's Reef
The bug hunters were dropped off up-current and shallower than we (the non-hunters) were going. Compared to the first dive, all I can say is WOW!. This dive was filled with tons of tropicals, 7 turtles of various sizes, most up close and personal, a 7' nurse shark, and several lobsters. With the amount and diversity of fish, if the reef structure had been more impressive, I would have sworn I was in Coz. Now this is the diving I was hoping for. The DM and I were on EANx36 and the father-son-instructor team were on air. They, of course, signaled that they were heading up due to NDLs much sooner we would have to and I had a tad over 2000 lbs left. The DM started to head up with them, but I quickly got his attention and showed him my air and my dive computer and gave him a "you've got to be kidding me" look. He decided that the other team could ascend without him and we continued the dive for another 12 or so minutes before beginning a 10 minute slow ascent and safety stop. Viz was again 60' - 80', water was mid 80's. Max depth: 76, 42 mins total dive time. Current was kicking pretty good. I could barely make any headway kicking into it to look at something.
The Scuba Club (Thurs) -
We get back to the dock around 1:30, and Renee informs me that 4 divers had cancelled so she was not going out on the afternoon dive. I asked if she knew of any others, and she did not. On a hunch, I decided to find Abernethy's and see if they had anything going out. Anna Abernethy said that they didn't, but that The Scuba Club did and called down and got me booked on the afternoon boat, which was leaving in 10 minutes. I hauled ass the 3 or 4 miles South down to Scuba Club (no lunch for me today) and signed in (they were waiting for me since Anna called down for me). The boat is pretty much the same as the Minnow and there were about 18 divers on board so it was a tad crowded, no big deal though. The on-premises dive shop was pretty nice and the equipment room was clean and well organized. I did a quick O2 analysis on a tank of EANx36, carried it down to the boat, and we were off.
Dive 3: The Anchoring Spot
This was another very good dive. Tons of tropicals and 5 or 6 turtles. Also spotted another large nurse shark in the 7' range and interestingly, it had a large turtle hanging out right beside it under the ledge. Current was a tad weaker on this dive, but it varied some. Max Depth: 86' for a total dive time of 47 minutes.
The Scuba Club only does 1 morning dive and 1afternoon dive. The afternoon boat leaves at 2:30 during the week. I'm not sure about the morning dive nor the weekend times. I really liked this dive op. Very nice folks that made for a great dive. The DMs even refused tips after the dive.
Abernethy's (Friday) -
The Abernethy's have 3 or 4 boats that they run out of New Port Cove Marine Center (Riviera Beach). The two that I went out on (Infatuation and Deep Obsession) were virtually identical. They could hold 24 or so divers (and they packed 'em in), had ample cover, marine head, lots of snacks and drinks. Well run operation and super nice folks. They gave me 10% off on the afternoon trip for booking multiple trips, which was a nice touch.
They had many "short" fills on the morning boat, so everyone had to check the tanks before we left. At least they knew about it and had us check at the dock though. They also seemed to have a hard time getting properly functioning rental gear to people. My buddy got a bum reg the first time around, the girl beside me went thru 3 bum regs and a bum BC before getting working gear. Oh well, that's why you should buy your own gear. Another point is that you should be sure to check your mix before you leave the dock (to make sure an O2 analyzer is handy), as I found one fill with EANx33 and one with EANx36. Another diver said that he got a "hot" mix of EANx40 once.
Dive 1: The Princess Anne
This is the same wreck that I did for dive #1 yesterday, but a much better dive today. They broke us up into two groups for this dive (thank God). I was diving nitrox, my buddy was on air. No big deal, since the air folks were to come up after 20 minutes and nitrox folks after 25 minutes. Strong current again today and tons of tropicals. The highlight of the dive was when my buddy spotted a huge jew fish hiding in a piece of the wreck. Man, that thing was huge -- around 6' - 7' long and the DM (who has seen it on previous dives) guessed in the 600 lb range. First one for me, so I was pumped. My buddy headed up after 20 minutes, and I went to find the other nitrox divers so I could ascend with them. All I found left on the wreck were two divers on air who must not have been with our boat. I hung near them for a few minutes, thinking there must be some folks from our boat nearby, but after seeing no bubbles drift by (I was at the downcurrent end of the wreck), I decided it was time to boogie. Did a nice slow ascent with a 2 minute stop at 40' and about 6 minutes at 15' and surfaced to find the boat about 100 yards up current. I wiggled my fin (bright green) at them a few times to get their attention and settled back to catch some rays until they got there. Max depth: 101', total dive time: 36 minutes on EANx33. Viz was around 80'.
Dive 2: Southern Breakers
Much like Larson's the previous day, this dive was filled with tons of tropicals. As usual, I saw several turtles and more trumpet fish than the other Caribbean locations that I dove. I bet I saw 10+ trumpet fish on every dive; many had changed color to blend in to their surroundings,, ranging from their usual pale green to a dark hue of blue. As I was doing a safety stop, I floated over the statue of Neptune and noticed that the surrounding reef was nearly yellow with a massive school of Grunts. Was also treated to a turtle coming up for air nearby. Max depth: 64', total dive time: 47 minutes on EANx36. Viz 60' - 80', temps 85+.
Dive 3: The Corridor
As described on Abernethy's website: "A 1700 ft drift dive encompassing the Mizpah, PC1170, Amaryllis, China Barge, Brazilian Docks and Rock Rubble connecting them all together. Excellent Site with lots of fish and spotted eagle rays. Don't miss this one". Fun to dive several wrecks on one dive. Again, I was impressed by the amount and diversity of fish life. As we passed over one wreck, my buddy and I were several yards West of the main dive group (too crowded for us) and I watched a large turtle hang on to the side of part of a wreck, sort of peering over, watching the other divers go by, seemingly hiding from them. It cracked me up. Shortly after that, I see the DM motioning for everyone to slow down as we approach a wreck with yet another large jew fish hanging about. He skirted around the side of the wreck, but we still got fairly close to it. It was smaller than the previous fish -- probably only around 5' long. The DM got some nice video of it. Max depth: 81' for 39 minutes on EANx35.
Dive 4: North Breakers
This dive started about halfway down the reef (down current) from where my earlier dive on the Breakers site started. Same drill -- tons of tropicals, lobsters, and turtles. When we got over to the statue of Neptune, the DM kept banging on his tank for me to look at the statue, but I was too busy being amazed by a school of what I think were French Grunts, that must have numbered in the thousands, on the reef nearby. Right about then the folks on air had to head up and me, my buddy (new buddy, this one on nitrox), and the DM continued on for 7 or 8 minutes. Nice dive to end my mini-dive trip on. Max depth: 59' for 55 minutes total dive time on EANx33.
All in all, the diving out of WPB can give many Caribbean destinations a run for their money in fish life and diversity. Excellent diving, great weather, 60' - 80'+ viz, 85+ degree top to bottem water temps. The only downside to the diving is the crowded boat.
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