Archive for the 'Diving/Snorkeling' Category
One of my favorite dive sites in West Palm Beach in Spearman’s Barge. But before I talk more about about this great dive site, I want to thank my good friend Lazaro Ruda for allowing me to use a few of his photos and the video clip at the end. For more images, visit him at the www.thelivingsea.com.
Spearman’s has a greater abundance of yellow, blue, black, and silver marine life than any other sunken barge in West Palm Beach and is also tied to a tale of murder-for-hire and a missing million dollars.
Robert Spearman loved snaring spiney lobsters and shooting Nassau groupers for dinner. In 1966, he opened a diving business named Little Fin and spent his weekends under the calm ocean. He learned that the big game fish preferred the larger boxy structures of artificial reefs to the smaller crevices formed by rocks and corals. Business expanded, Little Fin grew into Spearman Marine Construction, and Robert sank his first and only artificial reef. The large- lipped, heavy-bodied fish schooled to a new home.
In November 1985, Robert found his second wife, Anita, bludgeoned to death in her bedroom. Anita was the assistant city manager of West Palm Beach and well-liked by business associates and personal friends. Five months later, police arrested Robert and charged him with his wife’s murder. Days before the court proceedings started, Robert transferred close to a million dollars to his ex-wife to hold until the good citizens declared him innocent.
During the trial, the prosecutor showed that Robert Spearman answered a murder-for-hire ad in Soldier of Fortune magazine and enlisted two gunmen, one an owner of a strip-tease bar in Tennessee. The jury convicted Spearman and sentenced him to life in prison, plus twenty years at Zephyrhills Correctional Institute.
In the cool spring days on chain-gang duty, Spearman handed out hundred dollar bills to fellow inmates for information on how to break out of jail and get even with the prosecutor.
Finally, he devised a plan to charter a helicopter to fly into the grass compound, carrying two machine guns and four hand grenades, and snatch him free. On the day he presented the cash to his would-be-pilots, he was arrested by undercover agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Three days later, Spearman hung himself with a bed sheet in his cell.
Anita’s murderers were tried and convicted. Spearman’s cremated remains were scattered at sea. Anita’s children won a libel suit against Soldier of Fortune magazine for 12.4 million dollars for printing the ad. The magazine has stopped running such ads. The million dollars given to the ex-wife? She says Robert gave the money to her as a gift and refuses to return it to the State.
And the sunken barge? The rectangular structure rests on a rise in a sparse patch of sand and rocks. A row of rusted iron railings at the southern end has a circling school of grunts and snappers that at times block the view of the barge. Lobsters and morays peek out along the pitted base. And a goliath grouper roams the outside greeting divers before he slips inside and hides in the shadows.
Please visit Lazaro Ruda’s The Living Sea to view the video: https://vimeo.com/43056003
Until next time,
Honeymooners go for the romance, fishermen for the hook and line, and divers/snorkelers for the gorgeous reefs. I don’t fish, but Kitty and I act like newlyweds everywhere we go, and we both loved the ocean. So I hit two out of three.
Last July, my good friend Walter Burns invited us to go with him and another friend Carol Chesser for a boat ride to Key Largo and to stay a week for fishing and snorkeling. No way was I turning that down.
My past experiences of diving and snorkeling in the Keys were fun, but the charter boats always seemed to be overcrowded, taken to reefs that had other boats anchored around them, and I always seemed to bring bad weather and rough seas with me. But Neptune was smiling on me this trip. Every day was blessed with flat, lake-like seas, water warm enough to bathe in, and the visibility on the reefs stretched for miles. OK, maybe not quite that far, but several hundred feet.
Into the water I went. Oh, yeah. Lots of fish. The daytime temperatures reached into the mid-90s, so I guess the hull of the boat provided some shade, and all reef creatures moved into the filtered light. Fine with me, as I don’t like to swim far. Isn’t that the purpose of the boat? Instead of swimming a great distance, motor close.
I stayed with the sergeant majors as the sun tracked across the sky. These guys were merciless when it came to attacking the Sargasso weed. The palm size fish would hit the grass with such intensity, bits of the yellow strands would cloud the water. The black and yellow fish would hit the floating grass in onesies, twosies, then in mass so that the ocean was a blur of fins.
Then there are times, I like a quieter ocean. To watch the light dance across a bluish-white sand. Often, away from the madding action along a reef line, there is a coral structure sitting out on the plains, its own oasis.
The water was shallow enough to hover above the coral and study it. Flashes of solid yellow or blue fingerlength fish dart around the curves, indentations, and caverns that are a part of the structure. And with a little concentration, one can watch the polyps spread out and latch onto pieces of food floating by in the water column. It seems a quiet place, but the longer I observed, I noticed it was just as busy as the major reef, but on a smaller scale.
Which seas are considered the “7 Seas”? Historical scholars cannot agree on which ones to include or excluded. These muses of wisdom say it depends on which civilization you’re talking about. It seems the Romans had a different set than the Greeks who had a different set than the Arabians. From my limited history in grade school, I think the most romanticized sailors were the Arabians, thus in their world the 7 Seas are: Adriatic Sea, Arabian Sea, Black Sea, Caspian Sea, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and the Red Sea.
Fueled by stories of Sinbad from my childhood days (OK, I still like stories and movies of Sinbad), I’ve always wanted to travel the routes he sailed. And when the Eurythmics had their hit song, “Sweet Dreams”, the lyrics were forever planted into my mind. You know the song: “Sweet Dreams are made of this, Who am I to disagree, I travel the world and the 7 seas, Everybody’s looking for something.”
Thus on my bucket list is to swim in the 7 seas.
Last October, while with my wife on her victory trip of beating breast cancer, we went to Tuscany. In the middle of the two weeks there, we scheduled a side trip to the eastern shore of Italy and visited the town of Rimini and splashed into the Adriatic Sea. For a Florida boy, the water was a little cool. While in West Palm Beach our ocean temperatures were still in the upper 70s. Here in the waters that have seen battles by the Arabians, Greeks, and Romans, I’d say warmth of the sea was just below mid-70s.
Into the water I waded. Had to get in, didn’t come all this distance just to wimp out.
In the summer time, this beach is a tourist destination. There is barely enough of the sandy beach to go around for the thousands of blankets needed by the bikini wearing sun worshipers. In October, the place is deserted. The hotel we stayed in was the only one open. Season closes October 1st. The hotels were boarded up for the winter. It looked like the town was abandoned. Thus, my wife and I didn’t have to share the beach or the water with anyone. The way I like it.
The sea was calm, and with the hard packed sand bottom, it was easy to wade out from shore, letting my body adjust to the temperature. The Eurythmics’ song blaring in my head. Visions of Sinbad sailing in the distance.
I love the oceans and the salty seas. It must have something to do with the water and our bodies being mostly composed of water and salt. I feel a true connection that cannot be broken.
The swim was relaxing. I didn’t quite swim out to the horizon and back, but I did go far enough to have a nice workout. It felt amazing to be in the same waters that eons of history have been written upon.
Now, I’m trying to decide which sea I should visit next, and how I can combine more than one on a journey.
Until next time, “Sweet dreams are made of this.”
Some people have told me this would be a great place to write. Not going to get any neighbors dropping by on a whim, or the telephone ringing constantly. And it’s pretty quiet sitting in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Well, not quite in the middle, but you have to admit, not much here just a mile south of Key Biscayne. At one time twenty homes sat in the north east corner of the bay, but in 1992 hurricane Andrew with her 190 mph winds knocked that down to around seven.
But how did this collection of homes start?
Back in the 1930’s, an enterprising fisherman by the name of “Crawfish” Eddie Walker decided to sell bait and beer from his shack. His establishment was a wooden house plunked down on a barge. For the men who fished, netted, and trapped the reef, it was a time saver to stop at Eddie’s, rather than motoring all the way back to town. Eddie was given his nickname because he made chowder from the crawfish he harvested under his shop.
Soon prohibition caused an economic boom in the bay. Gambling was allowed (and bootlegging) a mile off shore. Stiltsville is about 250 yards over the limit. The good times flourish. The structures grew into a small town. And of course, no taxes were being paid. Can’t have that, now can we. And the Federal Government changed the law to a three mile limit.
The flappers, rum-runners, and speakeasies left, but the homes survived.
As you can see, some of the homes have a lot of square footage. The structures are built in water between five and twenty feet deep. The stilts look like telephone poles that were driven into the sandy bottom, and the homes are made out of Dade County pine. Very sturdy.
So I decided to visit one. The captain of the boat didn’t want to motor under the house or anchor very close. Shallows come up quickly in the bay and the risk of running aground is always present. Thus the boat was anchored just outside the channel, meaning I’d have to snorkel a ways. And, not checking the tide chart, we arrived as the bay was emptying itself into the ocean.
Strapping on my fins, de-fogging my mask, and grabbing the dive flag, I slid off the boat’s swim platform and headed to the nice blue color house with the pink shutters. Everything in Miami has flair. The salty water felt warm against my bare skin and I kicked against the current looking for a place where I could stand. No such luck.
Underneath the house, the water was twelve feet deep and the current still kicking. I snagged the dive flag’s stainless steel hook onto a barnacle encrusted piling, held on, and rested. To my surprise this stilt was made out of concrete. The boat dock under the house was destroyed and the stairwell leading up to the home was gone. I had picked the wrong house to try and explore.
Underneath the structure, there was calmness. Some yellow stripped sergeant majors swam by and every now and then a barracuda scooted over to see what I was up to. But as I lay floating on the surface, holding onto the float line to keep the current from swirling me out to the reefs, I’m thinking, this would be a great place to hole up and write. Especially if your story involves the ocean.
It seemed I was only there for a few minutes, when the boat crew signaled that my hour was up and for me to return.
In my last post my post I mentioned I had the cytomegalovirus. I have been receiving daily infusions (seven days a week) of foscarnet which is a drug designed to control the virus. If we can get the CMV count down to zero twice then we will discontinue the treatments but monitor the CMV counts. The foscarnet kicks my butt.
Last week two of my good friends paid me a visit. Frank Green, who has taught me more about the craft of writing than anybody. He is truly a master of the Word. He holds a free writer’s workshop in his home every Wednesday night and has for twenty years. Frank has crewed for me on my boat and I have killed him three times but each time he has resurrected. His doctor won’t let him travel with me any more.
The other friend was Jeffrey “Hammerhead” Philips who has also crewed for me. I’ve known Jeffrey for almost 20 years. He is a terrific writer and you can buy his book Murder on Devil Ray Reef by clicking on the book cover to the left of this post. It’s a terrific read and I recommend it.
It is good to have friends who support you when times are tough. They stayed with me while I slept through part of the 3 1/2 hour infusion process and then we made a quick run to the store.
Thank you to all of my friends.
As with most large companies, quarterly or annually, it’s best to stop and assess where your business is and where you want it to go. I work for a small periodontal company and we do the same. But instead of meeting in some boring board room with a dull paint job and a conference table strewn with electronic gadgets and smudged coffee cups, we headed to a palm tree lined beach.
We meet at 9 am at the Jupiter Island Beach Resort for breakfast. I’m sure that sometime between bacon and eggs, pancakes, and hash browns, we mentioned the business. This resort we chose is just south of the Jupiter Inlet and has a rock ledge that runs in front of the hotel extending north and south for about a mile. The reef is close in shore, 50 feet from the beach, and at low tide the depth ranges from eight to fifteen feet. The off-white colored beach is narrow, but has room for blue lounge chairs, white oversized umbrellas, and plastic tables for cold rum punches. At the water’s edge is a series of rectangular boulders, perfect for sitting and splashing the ocean with your feet. There are several sandy cuts so entry into the blue water is easy. Perfect for snorkeling.
Friday, May 25th., three days before Memorial Day. God bless all of our veterans.
There are many different ways to arrive on Peanut Island. I usually hop a ride on Captain Joe’s ferry, the Buccaneer. Ten bucks for a round trip ticket.
Some people motor their own boat and tie up at the docks or drop anchor in ankle deep water close to the beach. Some come by canoe or kayak and beach their vessel on the sand. Today, I saw a first. A couple came by paddle board. No, that wasn’t that unusual, but strapping a life vest onto the family dogs, sticking them into a plastic box, that is. And this is before the craziness begins. Each to their own.
On Sunday, the 20th. of May, Kitty and I arrived at Peanut Island on the backside of high tide. But knowing it’d be slack for about an hour and have maybe another 30 minutes before the out going tide dragged the dirty water over the rock islands, we hoped for clear water. And we were right.