2023: Florida, Man

Getting Wet

February 21-27

No more wide open spaces.

It was four hard days of driving to reach Florida, especially for Mike. I offered to drive some after we passed Houston; naturally my leg included ALL the construction. I left the driving to him after that. Obviously, that meant no more construction.

We also saw the driving landscape change radically over the trip through Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama.

Finally we reached The Cove Pub & Campground, a very small but lovely RV park about an hour northeast of Tampa. We would spend a week here while getting into the Florida vibe.

Country setting. Oh say can you see... A long driveway. The pub. The camp dock.

A big reason for coming to Florida was, I hoped, to get back into scuba diving in a small way. The price tag so far was not small; all our old dive gear was too tight and too old, so...two new wetsuits, a prescription dive mask for me, new dive boots, a tune-up for our regulators -- let's just say the local dive shop knows us by name. Our first planned outing was to Ginnie Springs, a shallow freshwater spring. The idea was to rent a couple of tanks and try out our new gear without supervision.

Epic. Fail.

A lot of things went wrong. The water entry to the springs was down a staircase of about twelve steps - tough when carrying forty extra pounds. We'd both bought too-thick wetsuits which forced us to wear more weight to counteract the extra buoyancy; so it took a couple of water entries, struggling to get down to the bottom and then thrashing back onto the steps, for each of us to get our buoyancy even close to right. The springs was not as big/deep a dive as we thought, so we were hemmed in by shallow depth and people at the surface. And of course, neither of us was in great physical shape to start with.

Bottom line, we were exhausted in under an hour. The whole affair was such an effort that we decided to cancel a dive we'd scheduled two days later. And the idea of diving the ocean at all was now a big question mark.

We limped back home to enjoy the dulcet tones of the airboat that revved up 8-10 times a day, about 100 yards from our rig.

The Cove has some kayaks they loan out to guests. Since we weren't going scuba diving, we decided to check out the local waters. There's a mangrove channel that links directly to the nearby lake; this is also where the airboat goes in and out.

It was a pleasant but short paddle: while my knees complained about scuba, my arms let me know they weren't thrilled with kayaking. *Sigh*. Apparently my fitness level is "Recliner".

Learning the rules. Yes, he dives with a hat.

A couple of days later, we went on a manatee-hunting snorkel with a local outfitter on Crystal River. We were up at the crack of dawn and at the boat dock by 6:30,an hour I usually don't recognize. After getting our wetsuits and viewing a short dos-and-donts video, we were ready to launch.

The boat took off in the half-light of morning fog. I was cold even thru the heavy wetsuit I was wearing. Fortunately they had "boat-coats" for us.

After a few minutes of motoring, Captain Jake and divemaster Shelley thought they'd spotted a manatee. We slipped into the chilly water as silently as possible and started the hunt.

The visibility was awful; the water was awash with silt and I could barely see the bottom in only three feet of water. All of us snorkelers followed Shelley closely hoping she would find our target.

I was dog-paddling along (kicking was verboten) when suddenly I noticed a huge flat disc just inches from my side, slowly waving its way thru the water. A manatee tail!

I started paddling like mad to keep up, but that huge disc was much more efficient than my front flippers. Eventually that wide, wide body left me in the watery dust.

I took a peek at the surface and saw a circle of other snorkelers. After a few minutes of paddling around blindly, directly below me I saw a huge snout. It was munch, munch, munching the river bottom -- no wonder the water was so cloudy! That busy mouth never stopped chewing its lumbering body forward thru the silt.

Can you spot the nostril?

The manatee was BIG, much bigger than a person. And the magnification of the water made it look even bigger. It was awe-inspiring to be swimming along next to the creature, even with poor visibility. I touched it a couple of times, accidentally (you're not supposed to). But because I had less control than the animal, I was unable to keep my hand from brushing against its rough, scarred hide.

Finally there was a big payoff: I managed to be alongside when the manatee surfaced to breathe. I saw that big snout slowly rise to the surface just long enough to blow out, suck in. Then it was right back to Munchtown.

Divemaster Shelley was a wizard with her GoPro and took an amazing series of the manatee surfacing.

I was cold and figured I'd seen what there was to see, so I was first out of the water and into the hot chocolate. You won't hear me singing that last line from "Let It Go" anytime soon.

After the rest of the small group straggled onto the boat, we were off on a leisurely cruise to another site.


As we cruised along, Captain Jake pointed out an inflatable swan boat moored near a house on the canal. He claimed it was bought from some extinct Disney attraction, but I can find no evidence that any such ride existed. In any case, it appears the "Crystal River Swan" has its own Facebook account.

Our second stop was Three Sisters Springs, a spot mostly notable for the crystal-clear water -- quite a contrast to our first outing. Shelley told us that in colder weather, there might have been manatees here; but the unseasonable heat wave has sent them downriver toward the ocean. We swam against the current up a small shallow channel to reach the springs. Mike and I were glad we'd brought our fins!

There really wasn't a lot to see here, apart from admiring the clarity of the water. A few small fish swam around near the bottom making me nostalgic for scuba. Shelley asked each group to submerge as far as possible for an underwater photo op. My wetsuit was keeping me afloat so Mike gave me an assist, then demonstrated how it's done. Showoff.

Ready...set... ...deep dive! Well, THAT didn't work... Wheee! Aquaman.

As we swam back thru the short entry channel, I followed Shelley as she videoed some small bass swimming near the rocks, and I dreamed again of scuba.

Jake and Shelley. Manny.

Soon enough, Captain Jake had us back at the boat dock where we shed our wetsuits and tried to dry off and warm up.

It was in the Plantation Adventures shop that I found my first souvenir of the trip.