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Once Upon a Time
Lobster Scuba Diving
It was mid summer, on the eve of opening day of lobster season. A small group of friends loaded my boat, "the Benz", for an afternoon of scouting out places to dive at the stroke of midnight. You see, there are so many divers that when bug season opens, it is first come first served in a really big way. The spiny critters do walk at night, which assures that they will always be found again. Even if your favorite hole was cleaned out, if you're looking to bag your limit, you'd better be spot on with your coordinates before everyone else gets there first.
We headed for our favorite and most plentiful hole - we call it "the hole". It was one of those places that was so unspectacular and so easy to find that divers rarely bothered to look there, yet it was always full of bugs and other surprises. Only in about 15 feet of water and so close to the highway you could hear trucks passing, that little rocky ledge, only about as big around as the average kitchen, even at times produced a fat grouper or a nurse shark. Little sting rays were plentiful and never hesitated to come begging for a share of your catch. It was an entertaining spot you could always depend on to impress your friends with your incredible navigational abilities. Yes, it made us great sea captains in their eyes, being able to lead them to such a wonderful place.
One particular day our hole was occupied by a very old man with an even older hookah rig, a little air compressor that floated on the surface by means of an inner tube and connected to the diver by about 20' of rubber hose with a mouthpiece at the end of it. He was a curious sight - as agile as a porpoise, and as old as Neptune himself. He greeted us as if he knew all about us, and why we had come. "So you're planning on coming back tonight to get some lobster I guess, huh." Well of course we were, we knew we'd find them - they were all over the place, so plentiful and so bold that they actually were poking our feet as we spoke. "Don't bother, you'll never find the hole. It's as if the earth swallows it up at night!" he chuckled. Ridiculous, we all thought in unison. He just wants to scarf up on all these wonderful bugs. "A really good place to get lobster is under the bridge - but be careful of the big seh'em foot 'cuda that lives there, heh, heh." Cripes, does this guy think we're stupid, or that easily scared? We were almost laughing at the guy. Some of the guys were beginning to get annoyed with him, so sure of himself. "Yeah, if you want the really good lobster you have to go clean up to just this side of Sawyer Ridge." Jeez - Sawyer was about twenty miles run from where we were - why the heck would we go way up there when we had all the lobster and fish we could bag right here on easy street!! We thanked him politely and decided to leave and gear up for a good dinner, nap and a spectacular night dive.
We set our alarms for eleven, jumped in the boat and proceeded out to the bay to claim our territory. Countless boats were no doubt doing the same, as red, green and white lights whizzed past in every direction. Arriving at the cove some twenty minutes later, we lined up our land marks, turned on the spot lights and entered the water precisely where we always did. But it wasn't there. Thinking we were off by a few yards, another diver entered the water, then another. And another, until we were all in the water, shining our lights and making patterns across every inch of that cove. The old guy was right! We searched for three hours and never found a sign of our hole, just sand and more sand! I, among others, was getting tired of the search and opted for some more sleep, and a fresh start at daybreak - ahem... At the Bridge.
In the morning, we headed out, our bags and tickle sticks in hand. I found one nice bug right away, but it was a chore staying with the boat, the tide was still running out a bit. My hair, and goody bag kept drifting in front of me, making bagging my prey a real problem. As I turned slightly to fix my mess, I was greeted by the biggest set of 'cuda teeth I have ever seen in my life! He was just hovering over my shoulder, not trying to be menacing but being very menacing nonetheless! THE SECOND PROPHECY, I thought, as my imagination began to run wild. Who the heck was that guy and how did he know all this stuff? We got back in the boat with a couple of bugs, but almost everybody was pretty shaken - either by the sight of that monster 'cuda, or by the fact that the old salty dog was just so darned spooky!
We spent a lot of time looking for more bugs but couldn't seem to find any! It wasn't long before we all voted to make the long run to - you guessed it - Sawyer Ridge! When we got there, we knew it just as sure as if it had a neon sign advertising the location - there were dive boats everywhere! Great, I thought, there won't be a bug left alive. We dove anyway. We didn't find one lobster, except for a couple of shorts that looked more like shrimp than lobster! But the diving was excellent! I was so glad we didn't miss this little wonderland out in the middle of who knows where! There were pretty rock ledges and all kinds of soft corals, pygmy sharks, cucumbers, trigger fish, angels - you name it and we saw it. We were FINALLY having a ball snorkeling, touching, giggling, gasping for air and laughing about it. The sun began to hang low in the sky and we headed back to home base, our goody bags light, but satisfied we had at least had a great time.
Still talking about the old guy, and how he was right on the first two counts but definitely dead wrong on the third! But wait! It dawned on me that we were passing over a really interesting bottom - you could make out swiss cheese-like formations in the coquina rock bottom, and fish - lots of 'em - moving in and out of the holes. I threw on a mask and dove in. To my amazement, found hole after hole full of lobster - big juicy wonderful lobster! I grabbed one, then two. Shoving them under my arm, I went for three. Then I realized --oops-- I'm holding my breath! I signaled to my daughter to get me a bag quick, because I didn't want to lose my place, shoving number four under the other arm. I went back for my tank, and started a mass exodus into the water. We all got our limit. Steering a course home with a beautiful sunset upon us, I have to say it was one of the most memorable lobster trips I can remember. And I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking, Old Man, whoever you are, wherever you are, thanks!
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