One of the major bucket list items we planned for this vacation were multiple trips out to the various reefs for some snorkeling and scuba diving. Coming to Key Largo and missing out on the snorkeling is like going to
and not having a drink. For the boat-impared it’s hard to say “Missed that!” due to the multitude of excursion boats leaving at almost any reasonable hour. Fortunate that we have the Rhum Brave we set off on a mission to snorkel the string of reefs off Key West . The Park offers mooring buoys on each of the reefs and the wife has become highly proficient at reaching over the gunnels to snag the floating line. She uses my fishing gaff and has managed only once to gaff herself in the hand (minor pinprick thank God). The reefs vary in depth from breaking shore to 25 feet with excellent visibility. The water color varies with the angle of the sun and bottom features. Imagine the most amazingly vibrant teals, greens and blues unlike anything Benjamin Moore Paints could recreate. After gearing up we’d hit the water which tended to be a major relief from the hot weather. If you’ve never seen barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) then brace yourself. They were everywhere ranging in size from 1 to almost 4 feet. They sit there motionless except for their eyes that seem to follow the movement of my children’s petite fingers (the toes are comfortably tucked away inside a set of flippers). My wife suggested that I remove my wedding ring after reading something on the Internet describing local divers watching their hands being cleanly clipped off in a millisecond by some hungry barracudas. However, I suspect that these creatures have become so familiar with humans swimming in the water that we have little to fear (I still took off the ring). Our experiences became so common with these creatures that my seven year old daughter had no trouble diving repeatedly into the water while the largest barracuda we had seen to date calmly floated about ten feet below the boat. She knew he was there but I nonetheless stayed in the water with her just in case he got the munchies. John Pennekamp State Park
As we explored one of the first reefs out came the yellow tail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus), hogfish snapper (Lachnolaimus maximus) the largest queen conch (Strombus gigas) I’ve ever seen (in the water and out). The conchs were every where and I was immediately reminded of the best conch I’ve ever eaten (I now diverge). Several years ago my wife and I took 3 night NCL cruise to the
Bahamas with a stop in . We were on a mission for fresh conch salad and I’m not sure who told us but we ended up taking the local jitney to a large produce & fish market located below the return bridge from Atlantis Resort. Along the waterfront was a collection food shack’s serving a variety of Bahamian seafood cuisine with freshly prepared conch as a staple. Now when I say shacks to describe these restaurants image Jimbo’s in Virginia Key ( Nassau ) only worse. Send me a message if you don’t know what Jimbo’s is. Each shack seats about 8-10 people along a bar front that overlooks the kitchen (closed enough to reach into the kitchen actually). The cook takes your order (start with an ice cold Kalik Gold and keep a second one on the wing) and then heads across the street to buy all the ingredients from the local vendors. We ordered conch salad, fried yellowtail snapper and freshly made french fries. For a show this place is better than Benihana’s. The cook starts dicing everything (onions, peppers, tomatoes, limes) right there in front of you (I had him go light on the scotch bonnet peppers) and then goes to work on the conch. Mind you he just bought the thing live and now proceeds to remove the animal for slicing and dicing. After watching him prepare the animal it seems like you need to know what you’re doing or else you’re eating poop or sea snail leather. Apparently preparing conch is something of a generational garnered skill. The wife was a little freaked out at first but after a couple scoops of the conch salad she was sold (and so was I). We even got to keep the conch which incidentally they were selling for $20 bucks to the tourists off the ship. We plan to return to Miami soon with a large group of friends so we’ll be heading over their again (let me know if you want to join our little foodie shore excursion). The place we ate at was called “ Nassau 21 Jump Street”. Apparently Johnny Depp is still popular in the . Bahamas
Ok. Back to the reef. The reef was teeming with a variety of small fish that seemed to spend the majority of their time darting around looking for food while trying not to become a snack. On one section I could count at least three black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci) hiding in and around the rocks. In one hole I found a massive
lobster. This thing was a pig! One memorable sight was the 100+ pound tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) that suddenly appeared next to me (I was a little startled at first imagining something more “teethy”). He was gliding around reef and rather uninterested in us. The highlight for the girls though were the six foot nurse sharks gliding along the bottom. I had seen them earlier but was not sure how they would react. They loved it. Florida
Unfortunately we don't have any underwater photos so our next major investment will have to be an underwater camera. The wife made the original suggestion so maybe it'll be under the Christmas tree this year (hint, hint!). Here's a couple of us hitting the water. Enjoy.