February 12, 2010

The View From My Window: Day Five

Leaving Key Largo

Due to high swells, the reef was off limits again today, so my instructor took me to the lagoon where resides the Jules Undersea Lodge. Originally an underwater observatory located in Costa Rica, the structure has been permanently installed in a 30-foot-deep lagoon in Key Largo. Since I'm not a lodge guest, I could peek in the window and go up into the entry port but not inside. Not much excitement for me at 30 feet, but they were expecting new guests that afternoon. (Guests must dive to the bottom and enter through the underwater port. My instructor Andy is an employee for the marina and associated laboratory.)

The bottom of the lagoon was much like the inlet in that it was covered in silt. But the site owners had brought in some cannons, anchors and other sights of interest that also attracted fish. The recent freeze killed a lot of the fish, but some were returning. I saw a few bright fish, among them bass and sheepshead. A lobster was hiding under one of the supports to the lodge. Andy led me to a pile of rocks and motioned me to look through an opening about a foot in diameter. It took me a minute to realize that I was observing a resting shark, about six feet long. Andy told me later it was a nurse shark, known for its passivity. In the middle of an open area, a small puffer fish sat trying to go unnoticed. When we approached, Andy pointed at it. It puffed up and drifted away. Do you know how hard it is to laugh with a regulator in your mouth?

We were in the water until we got too cold to stay. I am now certified to dive. Again. Interestingly, both of my open water tests—40 years ago and this week—were in lagoons. All of my earlier experience was in Florida rivers. So technically, while I have dived, I have yet to dive in open water. One of these days.

I went back to the hotel to rinse the salt water off and check out. Rather than stay another night, I found a cheap room back in Ft. Lauderdale, where I sit while it rains gently against the window. Tomorrow I head for home in Sarasota.

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