The Mountain Divers


Panama City Beach, Florida - Sat, 28 Jun 1997

Panama City Beach, Florida
June 28-29, 1997

Dive Log
Dive - Site..................Depth - Time

Well, it was summer and time for the annual Panama City Beach trip with the Atlanta Reef Dwellers. I was unable to get out of town on Friday, so I got up way too early on Saturday morning for the 5 hour drive to Panama City Beach.


A brief round of car trouble slowed me down and it was late in the morning before I pulled into town. I got to the hotel just in time to see my roommate throwing a smoking camera strobe out of the room. Apparently he had just had it serviced and when he plugged it in to charge it up it burst into flames. So much for the service. Between my transmission and his strobe, I hoped that all of our problems were done for the trip.


Saturday's plans were for a dolphin encounter. We met with a representative of the Human-Dolphin Research Institute who was to take us to the encounter. Unfortunately, no one had remembered to invite the dolphins. We did some snorkeling around Shell Island and saw a good number of fish but the dolphins were elusive.

The problem is that the dolphins in Panama City have become almost too used to humans. More specifically, they are too used to humans as a source of food. Whenever a boat pulls up the dolphins come to the boat long enough to see if there is food. If they are fed, they stay. If not, they leave. Since we weren't feeding them (which is actually illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act) they wouldn't stay.

Eventually we did see a few dolphins, such as the one here, but overall I considered it a bust, especially after my experience in Bimini. After we returned to the dock several people rented a pontoon boat to go out and look for the dolphins again. I went back to the room to sleep.

Atlantic Spadefish

Sunday we headed out for some Gulf diving. There are no reefs in the Panama City area. However, the state of Florida has a very active artificial reef program. These "reefs" are, for the most part, either sunken ships or "trash piles" where debris has been dropped into the water. These items, sitting on the otherwise barren sandy bottom of the Gulf, attract fish from all around. In a few cases we almost had to push our way through a school of baitfish to get to the wrecks.

Blue Angelfish

Our first dive was on the Black Bart . The Bart was a freighter which was sunk as an artificial reef. It sits upright in about 80 feet of water (the top of the wheelhouse is at 50 feet). Visibility was around 30 feet. Dense schools of fish crowded the wreck. There were many angelfish and a surprising number of toadfish.

One interesting thing on the Bart is that about a third of the fish in the wheelhouse were swimming upside down. The divemaster had told us to look out for this but it was still strange to see. I didn't get any pictures because I had lost my Aquashot during the dive and had last seen it 20 feet above me headed for the surface.

Atlantic Guitarfish

Back on the boat I recovered my camera (another dive boat had picked it up off the surface) and we headed for the LOSS Pontoon . The Pontoon was a device used by the Navy for underwater salvage work. This particular one had washed off the back of a tender during a storm and is now part of an artificial reef. Several segments of an old bridge span are nearby as well. (When Panama City Beach built a new bridge the old one was cut into sections and dropped offshore as part of the artificial reef program.) The site is in about 50 feet of water.

For what is essentially a hollow tube, the Pontoon turned out to be a very good dive. The pontoon is completely covered in growth and home to a surprising number of fish. There were a good number of cubbyu juveniles and adults but the most unusual thing we found was an Atlantic Guitarfish lying on the bottom near one of the bridge span sections.


After the pontoon, it was a short boat ride back to shore then a long car ride back to Atlanta. While it certainly can't compare to the Caribbean, Panama City remains the closest decent diving to Atlanta and for that reason remains a place to visit.

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Bimini, Bahamas - Sun, 08 Jun 1997

Bimini, The Bahamas
June 6-8, 1997

Dive Log
Dive - Site..................Depth - Time

Located just 45 miles off the coast of Florida, Bimini is the closest of the Bahama islands to the United States. Most tourists bypass it for the better known islands of Nassau and Grand Bahama but it is known to big game fishermen and divers. Once again hooking up with the Lanier Dive Center crew, I hopped a plane and headed for Fort Lauderdale and the start of another dive trip.

Getting there is Half the Fun


While I was flying down, the rest of the group was driving. (I decided to avoid the 12 hour drive from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale). Of course, they couldn't drive all the way to the island and my flight didn't go there either. Instead, getting to Bimini involves a seaplane. We flew over to Bimini using the Pan Am Airbridge (formerly known as Chalks Air Service). One of the highlights of the trip over was a brief stop in Miami, in which we landed in the harbor alongside the large cruise ship docks. I saw several cruise ship passengers waving as we took off again.

Approaching Bimini

Landing in Bimini, we were met by the representative from Keefes Bimini Undersea Adventures . Our group stayed at the Weeches Bimini Dock. The rooms were basic but clean and comfortable. After a brief period to settle in, we made our way to the dock for our first dive.

Diving Over Atlantis


Our first dive was a site called The Kinks. The Kinks were a set of coral outcroppings scattered over a sandy bottom. Visibility was around 80 feet (and stayed consistent the entire weekend). There was a good deal of life on and around the coral heads. Angelfish and squirrelfish were common as were damsels and basslets. I found the obligatory lizard fish. (I seem to come across one of these on every dive). On the way back to the boat we were met by a fairly large remora which seemed intent on attaching itself to someone in the group. After some splashing, it decided to go on its way.

Spanish Hogfish

We made one dive at the Kinks then returned there for a night dive. The night dive was excellent. A fairly bright moon combined with the clear water and fairly shallow depths (around 50 feet) to provide excellent visibility, even with lights turned off. We found several lobsters and crabs, including a shovelback crab, and a good number of hogfish. A shark showed up briefly but it immediately left the area as soon as the first dive light was shown on it.

Shovelback Crab

We made several dives the next day. Our first dive was on the Bimini Barge . As our divemaster explained, no one really knows who sank the barge or why. They suspect that it was sunk by someone who had used it to carry building materials and supplies over from Florida. The barge sits very near the edge of the continental shelf where the bottom drops off for thousands of feet. Apparently the previous owner thought it would sink into the abyss.

Instead, it is now home to numerous fish and other sea life. The barge is almost completely overgrown with sponges and soft corals. A few divers ventured inside the barge, chasing out a few barracuda who lived there.

Squirrel Fish

Our second dive of the morning was at Turtle Rocks . The site consist of two very large brain corals with a dense scattering of other coral formations around them. Apparently the two corals look like turtles on the surface at low tide. Fish were everywhere, mostly consisting of angelfish and file fish. We also found a good number of urchins hiding around the coral heads.

Swimming With the Dolphins

Saturday afternoon was to be the dolphin encounter. This was to be snorkel only; apparently the dolphins dislike bubbles. On the way out we were told the etiquette for the encounter. We were asked to not touch or grab the dolphins. The fear is that something on our hands may be harmful to them. We were also told not to feed or chase them. (Yeah, like one of us could catch up to a dolphin.)

Dolphins off our bow

We had barely reached the site when several dolphins appeared and started riding the bow wave ahead of the boat. Several more could be seen swimming around us. There is nothing here, just a flat sandy bottom at 30 feet. According to the divemaster, their theory is that the dolphins come to this area in the afternoons to play. The open spaces let them see any danger before it can get to them, so they can relax. And, they apparently think of us as playmates.


We were able to swim with the dolphins for about 45 minutes. We took turns, one group would enter the water for a while, then they would return to the boat while the next set of divers went in. The dolphins kept a slight distance away from people on the surface (for the most part; I saw one woman from the boat who was practically picked up by a pair of them) but if we dove down 10-20 feet then rolled over onto our backs and slowly kicked back up to the surface they would come up to us. Apparently they take this to be some sort of play behivior. I once was swimming with a dolphin only a few feet away when a shadow passed overhead. I ducked as three more dolphins passed only a foot or so over my head.


I would guess that there were about 20 to 30 dolphins around. All that I saw were spotted dolphins, but some people saw a few bottlenose as well. All too soon, it was time for us to return to shore. As we headed back in a few dolphins continued to play in our wake as if they were sorry play time was over.

Sunday was rainy. A few people went diving anyway but I stayed at the hotel (since I was flying out that evening). They reported seeing some lobsters and an octopus. Then, it was a short hop by seaplane back to Fort Lauderdale. I waved goodbye to the others at the airport as they climbed into their van for the long ride back to Atlanta then crossed the terminal to catch my flight back home.

Bimini has become my favorite dive destination. It was very uncrowded (and most of the tourists that were there were deep sea fishing, not diving). The diving was good and the dolphins were a special treat. It is definitely a place I plan to go back to again.

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Lake Lanier, Georgia - Sat, 03 May 1997

Lake Lanier, Georgia
Dry Suit Experience
May 3, 1997

Dive Log
Dive - Site..................Depth - Time

Living in Atlanta I am most used to warm water diving but I recently had the chance to try out a Dry Suit, normally used for diving in cold water. The Lanier Dive Center had gotten in several Dry Suits on loan from a manufacturer and were running several sessions to let divers try them out. I got the opportunity to try one on a May afternoon.

We initially gathered at the dive shop where Mike, our instructor, gave us a lesson in Dry Suit use. We also watched a video and examined the suits themselves. Then, we went through the suits and found the one that best fit us. The one I wound up with was a bit large for me but I decided to give it a try anyway.

We then headed out to West Bank at Lake Lanier. West Bank is a Corps of Engineers operated recreation facility on the lake normally used for picnics, fishing and swimming. It is a popular spot for people diving in the lake as it is near the dam and depths of over 100 feet can be reached fairly close to shore. The lake can also be quite cold, even in summer. While the May temperatures in Atlanta were quite comfortable the lake was still cold; it was 45 degrees below the first thermocline at about 20 feet.

We had the swimming area to ourselves as we suited up and entered the water. It was a strange experience for me; entering the water and staying dry. We gathered as a group and swam out from shore.

Lake Lanier usually has very poor visibility (normally around 5 feet) so I was surprised to see that it was quite clear this time of year. One advantage to cold water I suppose. Of course, there wasn't that much to see either; just tangles of fallen trees and scattered beer cans. I did find a couple of golf balls lying on the bottom; someone had been practicing their drives.

Lake Lanier is an artificial lake. When the lake was created the Army Corps of Engineers did not clear all of the trees from what would be the lake bottom, they did so only down to around what would be the 40 foot depth mark. Most of the trees are still standing below the lake. The trees have lost all of their leaves but swimming through them gives the impression of swimming through a forest.

We swam down to the tree line at about 40 feet and turned around. So far I had not had any problems but on the way back I came across a fishing line in my path. I nudged it out of the way to pass but the person fishing apparently saw the movement as a fish strike and started rapidly reeling in the line. I kicked upward a few feet to avoid the hook as it went whizzing past. This turned out to be a mistake.

The few feet I gained was enough to cause the air in my Dry Suit to expand enough to cause me to start floating upward. We had covered this possibility in the class session and I had been told in such a case to simply kick downward again until the suit had recompressed a bit and then vent some air. No problem.

Unfortunately, my suit was a bit too big for me (remember?). When I kicked, one of my feet came out of the boot of the suit. One fin was now flopping uselessly at the end of the leg. I tried kicking harder as my buddy tried to get to me. We almost made contact before my other boot popped off. Unable to make any more progress, I floated to the surface. My buddy and the dive master surfaced to assist me but I was unable to get my feet back into the boots while floating and had to be pulled to shore.

Despite the problem I had it was an interesting experience. I was much more comfortable than I would have been otherwise (though I was still a bit cold) and I can see that a (properly fitted!) Dry Suit would be worthwhile for someone who did a large amount of cold water diving. Since most of my diving is in the Gulf or the Caribbean it is probably not an investment I would make but I was glad to have had the chance to try one.

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Ginnie Springs, Florida - Mon, 21 Apr 1997

Ginnie Springs, Florida
April 19-21, 1997

Dive Log
Dive - Site..................Depth - Time

Into April and another dive trip. Once again I was on my way to Ginnie Springs, except this time I was the trip leader with the Atlanta Ski Club . After a brief stop to pick up Pam and Brian, we left Atlanta and headed for Florida.

Inside the cave

This time, we were staying at Ginnie Springs itself. Now, Ginnie normally provides camping facilities (with camp sites and trailer hookups) but they do have one cabin available for rent which is where we were staying. The cabin is nice; with three bedrooms, a kitchen and a nice deck and grill outside. Arriving at Ginnie, we took a brief trip into town to pick up food and supplies for the weekend then settled into the cabin.


The rest of the group showed up overnight and so the next morning we headed down to the springs. There were only two of us in the group who were certified divers but the others were going to snorkel. We rapidly checked out the springs; Ginnie itself and the three Devil's springs (Devil's Claw, Devil's Eye and Devil's Ear). The water was as clear as always and the springs were less crowded with divers than the last time I had been down. At one point, I think we were the only divers in the main spring!

The springs at Ginnie empty into the Santa Fe river, which is usually opaque with tannin. This time, to my surprise, the river was fairly clear. The visibility was very bad compared to the springs themselves (of course) but seemed to be around 20 feet. We could easily drift on the surface and see the river bottom.

Canoing on the river

That afternoon instead of diving we rented several kayaks and took them out onto the river. We paddled up and down the length of the resort and visited the springs across the river. We found both of them to be small and weed-choked and were content to peer in from the surface. As I said earlier, the river itself was fairly clear and we could often see the bottom. We also had several encounters with wildlife, such as this turtle.

We had planned to visit Devil's Den spring on Sunday, but everyone was moving slow Sunday morning and we decided to head back towards Atlanta. We did stop along the way at Madison Blue spring. Madison Blue turned out to be a good-sized circular hole with a cave entrance on one side. Since there wasn't much to see outside the cave we elected to snorkel only. A good number of local teenagers were diving from the platform. Madison Blue has an underwater wooden platform for holding classes and we swam down to it and looked into the cavern. None of us went in and we did not see any cave divers while we were there. After a brief swim, we took advantage of their shower rooms and headed back home to Atlanta.

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Ginnie Springs, Florida - Sun, 16 Feb 1997

Ginnie Springs, Florida
February 15-16, 1997

Dive Log
Dive - Site..................Depth - Time

It was a cool Saturday morning in February as I packed my gear and loaded my car for another trip. This time, I was going to Ginnie Springs with the Lanier Dive Center. The weather was cool and the clouds increased as I drove south into Florida. After some confusion with the direction, I found my way to Jim Hollis' River Rendezvous; a diving campground located at Convict Springs on the Suwannee river.

Gearing up

I can't say much for the Rendezvous except that it was cheap and there was hot water. It would be a good place to camp (in warmer weather), but the rooms were minimal. Bare wallboard with exposed wiring, uncomfortable beds and I had to ask twice for sheets. You can't bring dive gear into the rooms (at a dive resort?) so you have to hang your wetsuit outside, which wouldn't have been so bad if the weather hadn't been down to the low 40s at night. And, the bar doesn't serve alcohol any more (at a dive resort?).

There had been a good deal of rain the past few days and Convict springs was flooded. We called around a few places and found that the only open spring in the area was Ginnie. So, off we went.


Ginnie Springs is a full featured dive resort. There are several springs on the site, two of which are diveable. There is also a large campground, several bath houses (with hot showers), a full service dive shop and more.

Ginnie allows snorkelers, divers and cave divers. They use a wristband system to distinguish between the three. Snorkelers can use any of the springs. Divers can dive in the main spring, Ginnie, and in the Devils springs. They are allowed to enter the cave at Ginnie, but not at the Devils springs. In fact, non-cave divers are not allowed to carry lights in the Devils spring system. Cave divers can enter any of the caves. It costs $5 to snorkel and $24 to dive (and that doesn't include tanks).

A few of our divers were startled to learn that Ginnie would not recognize their PADI Cave Certification. In order to qualify as a cave diver, you have to be certified by either NSS-CDS (National Speleological Society - Cave Diving Section) or NACD (National Association for Cave Diving). Something to keep in mind.

Diving is easy at Ginnie. There are plenty of picnic tables and shelters near the springs to set up gear and there are nice wooden steps for entrys and exits. And, as I mentioned earlier, there are bath houses with changing areas and showers.

Inside looking out

Our first dive was in Ginnie spring. The thing that gets me the most every time I visit Ginnie is the incredible clarity of the water. Despite having at least 30 people in the water, it stayed absolutely clear. (The 30 million gallon a day output of the spring probably has something to do with that.) Despite the large number of swimmers there was also a good amount of aquatic life around, much more than I have seen on my previous trips.

I also took the opportunity to enter the main cavern. The cavern is in two main sections, a low, flat upper section which opens up into a larger section that slopes downward to about 45 feet. There, the entrance to the mouth of the spring is closed off with a metal grating. The current coming out of the spring is quite strong and you have to hold on to keep from being swept away.


Moving from Ginnie, we went to the Devil's system. There are three springs sharing a common run. Devil's Claw is a narrow crack that descends about 40 feet to a sandy bottom. The spring comes from a narrow opening at one end of the crack. Devil's Eye is a circular hole about 20 feet across and 20 feet deep. A low, narrow cave opening is at one side. This is the main spring used by cave divers, and several entered the opening on DPVs while I was there. Finally, Devil's Ear is at the end of the run where it joins the Santa Fe river. It is a wide crack partially filled with large tree trunks. The crack seems to narrow as it descends, and I did not proceed to the bottom.

We did dives at Ginnie both days. Ginnie is a little small for an entire weekend (unless you are a cave diver) but for a quick getaway it remains one of my favorites.

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