The captain circled the boat back toward the reef and gave the two-minute warning. "Everybody ready to go in two minutes," he yelled. "Two minutes!"
Eight scuba divers with tanks on their backs and fins on their feet shuffled to the stern of the moving boat. Two abreast, they looked like paratroopers waiting to jump into battle.
"We'll go over it one more time," the divemaster said. "We're diving at 80 feet for 22 minutes, with a safety stop at 15 feet for three minutes. Is everybody ready?" The divers nodded in agreement.
With that, the divemaster tossed an orange buoy off the back of the boat. The marker, attached to two hundred feet of floating nylon rope, would show the captain where the divers were at all times. The divers checked their watches and went over their equipment one last time. Once they hit the water, there'd be no room for error.
So they pulled their masks down over their eyes and placed their regulators into their mouths. Then came the order, "Dive, dive, dive." Two by two, the divers hopped off the moving boat like penguins stepping off an ice flow.
The 75-degree Atlantic water felt refreshing after sitting in a hot wet suit for a half-hour. The water was remarkably clear and the divers could easily see fish moving on the reef 70 feet below. The divers waited in a circle for the divemaster, the last person off the boat. Then all together, they descended slowly to the rocks below.
The reef ran parallel to the beach for several hundred yards. The divers started at one end and drifted effortlessly with the current. The divemaster hovered about 20 feet above the group and moved down the reef with the buoy in tow. When something of interest came by, he tapped on a metal rod and the noise alerted the other divers. All they had to do was keep an eye on the divemaster and they wouldn't get lost.
With the fertile Gulf Stream just a few miles away, the reef attracted ample sea life. Within minutes, the divers surprised a sea turtle napping beneath a ledge. The startled loggerhead wasted no time in heading for open water.
A few feet away, two antennae poking out of the rocks gave away the hiding place of a spiny lobster. After some maneuvering, a diver coaxed the tasty crustacean into his bag. A large moray eel, the bulk of its body hidden by the reef, watched as the divers passed by. Still further along, a 4-foot nurse shark rested on the sandy bottom.
As they neared the end of the reef, the divemaster tapped on his metal rod and pointed to open water. A spotted eagle ray, with a wing span of 8 feet, floated by like a bird, then disappeared
Then, as planned, the divers regrouped and began their ascent. They stopped at 15 feet for several minutes and then bobbed to the surface. The captain circled back around, and then two by two, the divers climbed back into the boat.
Many divers find this "drift diving" appealing because traveling with the current requires little effort. Scuba divers will find the coast from Jupiter to Fort Lauderdale ideal for drift dives. The spring provides some of the best diving because the water is so clear. Visibility is often 100 feet, and the Atlantic often warmer than the Gulf of Mexico because of the Gulf Stream.