The Dream Helps Recovery

An aerial view of Morrison Springs including the caverns, dive platforms and beach.

An aerial view of Morrison Springs including the cavern to the right, the underwater dive platform center, boardwalk and dock top and the swim platform and beach to the left.

For those who know me, I have always loved the water and especially underwater. That is why I became a Frogman. My favorite night time Dreams are that of diving and swimming underwater.

That said, fighting and recovering three different cancers over the last few years has begun to take it’s toll. I have gotten fatter, weaker, listless and more importantly it has begun to affect my spirit. It seemed like every spring and summer (time for enjoying the water), I have spent using all my energy to fight for recovery. Recovery has been defeating the Dream.

My grandson Tim is staying with me through the summer. He has not scuba dived since his dive certification a couple years ago so I decided that no matter how weak or listless I feel, I was going to get Tim and myself back into the water. Damn the current BCG treatment! I am going to get my gills wet and get some underwater photos of my grandson scuba diving that he asked me for and wanted very badly so he could post them on Facebook.

Tim swimming to the Cypress Log and Cavern.

Tim leading the way and swimming to the Cypress Log and Cavern.

A great place to reenter the underwater world that is very clear, calm and a very easy swim and dive is Morrison Springs. Thankfully, Morrison Springs has finally cleared up after the heavy winter rains and flooding. I really enjoy diving in the very clear freshwater springs of Florida. It is true that the marine life of freshwater spring does not match the color and diversity of marine life in the ocean but if you look closely there is always something new to see in the freshwater.

So Tim and I set a goal to go diving at Morrison. We checked out both the 50cf and 72cf scuba tanks and they both were filled with air to the max capacity. We checked out our buoyancy compensators, regulators, depth gauges, fins and face masks. All were in working order and we loaded them into the back of my jeep. I got a little tired doing all the pre-dive work but thankfully I had a teenager slave to do the heavy scuba bottle lifting. The pre-dive work tiredness did concern me a little since I was going to dive the next day but I said we would dive no matter how I felt. I can’t disappoint my grandson!

Since all my recovery periods, I have been sleeping in late to at least 9:00 am or even 10:00 am every day. Well I wanted to get to Morrison Springs before the summer crowds of children playing, adults floating in inner tubes and kayakers clouded up the spring waters. That meant I had to get up early at 6:00 am in order to drive to Morrison and be in the water by no later than 8:30 am. YUCH, I despise early rising. There is no worm big enough to get me up early except for scuba diving.

My phone clock woke me up promptly at 6:00am and surprisingly I did not feel horrible getting up that early. Probably the dream of getting in the water made the early rise more tolerable. We got our last minute gear of towels, trunks and cameras ready. I fed the teenage food monster a Jimmy Dean breakfast bowl so he would not starve to death during our hour and fifteen minute drive to the springs. The drive went very smoothly with little traffic on the back roads to Morrison.

We arrived at Morrison Springs and there were only a few cars in the parking lot and they were all a student group of scuba divers. Since I had been sitting and driving the car for over an hour, bladder cancer treatment makes it imperative that you relieve on time. I sent Tim to the springs to check the water clarity conditions while I was off to the spring park restroom. We met back at the car and Tim had a good report of great water visibility in the spring. We opened all the doors of the jeep and dawned all of our scuba gear. Tim had a very loose fitting wetsuit top which we knew would not provide him too much insulation. Tim was geared up and I gave him a pre-dive inspection. Then I dawned my gear and hooked up my huge underwater camera system to my buoyancy compensator. Just the camera alone was an extra 25 pounds of weight besides all my dive gear. I knew this would be a long and slow walk down the board walk to the water. I had not exercised in months so I knew getting to and from the water would be the hardest part.

Tim hanging upside down like a bat near his underwater cave in the background.

Tim hanging upside down like a bat near his underwater cave in the background.

I sent Tim off ahead and told him to get into waist deep water and wait for me. No need to slow him down in the getting hotter every minute sun. I took the walk very slow with the 25lb camera hanging in front and the 40lbs of gear on my back. I looked like a humpty dumpty shuffling two short skinny legs down the long wooden boardwalk. I did need to stop at least three times holding onto the boardwalk railing to catch my breath. Finally I made it down the last stairwell to the water and quickly into the water I went to join up with Tim. I went into chest deep water right away where the cool refreshing 69 degree spring waters not only cooled me down immediately but it took the weight of the gear off my body. Tim and I put on our fins and face mask with one last check of Tim’s dive gear. I started my watch timer and underwater we went swimming a short distance to the underwater platform for training divers.

Once fully underwater I felt the weight of the world lifted off of my shoulders and body. Not only that, my neutral buoyancy allowed me a freedom of movement and peace that the world of gravity above the water does not allow. My fluffy, humpty dumpty body was completely weightless! We got to the underwater dive platform and stopped there to check my underwater camera settings and make sure Tim was comfortable in the water. I had to help him clear his mask and he seemed to have his ears cleared for the new shallow water pressure. I took a couple of photos at the platform and then off we swam to the Cypress Tree log that hangs over the top of the Morrison Springs cavern and cave. We had a special photo we wanted to take at the log.

I let Tim lead the way because I wanted to watch him closely but also to get some photos of him diving. He seemed very comfortable in the water but was having a little problem with clearing his ears as we descended. We made it to the Cypress Tree log and Tim sat on top and got his ears cleared for that depth. Water visibility was incredible. We could see the entire perimeter of the spring. I was surprised by the lack of marine life in the basin but I knew from past experience that all the fish would be around the perimeter in the shallows. I asked Tim to move over to the middle of the log so he was right over the top of the spring cavern. The unique photo we wanted to take was of Tim hanging upside down from the log and over the spring cavern looking like a bat hanging near its cave. Tim did it perfectly and I took several shots. Then we dropped to the bottom near the entrance to the spring cavern.

Water flow from the spring was pretty strong so I did not attempt to take Tim into the cavern. We hung around down below to take some pictures with the cavern ledges in the back ground and then

Tim at the bottom just before the cavern entrance. Debris flowing out the cavern shows the current flow.

Tim at the bottom just before the cavern entrance. Debris flowing out the cavern shows the current flow.

headed back up to swim the perimeter of the springs. I did notice that Tim was shaking pretty badly. I used underwater sign language to ask if he was cold and did he want to surface and stop the dive. He put on a brave face and indicated he wanted to keep diving. We went back the the log and there we took several other photos of Tim modeling underwater. Tim was still shaking. He did not have same blubber insulation that I had. We swam around the perimeter of the springs and saw some very large Chain Pickeral and various Bluegill and Sunfish. The Florida Largemouth Bass still seemed to be hiding out.

We took some more photos of him near the Cypress Tree root systems in the water and over by the dive platforms. We made it back to the training dive platform and noticed that there was a large amount of Bluegills and Sunfish hanging around under the decking. We chased the fish all the way around the platform deck. Finally, I decided that Tim was shaking too badly so we swam to shore so he could get back into the warm sun. I dreaded surfacing and getting back into the world of gravity but I had to get Tim out of the water. I sent Tim ahead to open up the jeep. I took my time very slowly climbing back up the stairs and the long boardwalk trek back to the jeep. Once again I had to stop three times during the return walk to catch my breath but I made it safely back to the jeep. Immediately I put the 25lb camera down and took off my scuba tanks with Tim’s help. What a relief! I took off my hooded vest and grabbed my snorkeling underwater camera with a Go Pro video camera. Together they both were lighter than five pounds. What a relief.

Tim underwater modeling at the cypress tree log above the spring cavern.

Tim underwater modeling at the cypress tree log above the spring cavern.

Tim decided to go to the beach and warm up laying out in the sun while I went back into the water to take some marine life photos while snorkeling the river and the spring. As usual, I spent another hour snorkeling looking along the shoreline of the river and spring where all the fish and turtles hide out. To my surprise the river had not fully cleared up from the winter’s flood waters so I did not go very far down stream. I only saw one turtle hiding out amongst the silty bottom. It knew I saw him because it would keep swimming to a new location and stop. I decided to swim back to the much clearer waters of the spring and on my way I saw a multitude of very large Chain Pickeral hanging around in groups of two in the shallow waters and the tree root systems. I must have seen at least twenty large Chain Pickerals before I made it back to the springs.

As I swam the shallow waters adjacent to the spring, I finally started seeing some very large and fat Florida Largemouth Bass. One

 

was so fat it almost looked pregnant, which it may very well have been. I swam through the Cypress Tree root systems and saw a multitude of bass, bluegill, sunfish and schools of mullet. What I did not see this time were any large Grass Carp.  There were lots and lots of schools of guppies hanging around the tree roots. As I looked closer at one of the tree stumps I found something very unusual and not characteristic of freshwater marine life. I hung around snorkeling down several times looking at this unusual scene of spikes sticking out of a tree root with a set of eyes that would pop out every now and then. I finally realized that the spikes were the whiskers of a small dead catfish trapped within the root system. The catfish whiskers looked like white spikes of a sea urchin in the gulf or ocean. The full body of the catfish was stuck up behind the tree roots like it was stored there.

Tim model poses.

Tim model poses.

TimModeling_UnderwaterPier

I could not figure out what the set of eyes where that were right next to the catfish whiskers. I later discovered after looking at my photos that those were the eyes and nose of a Soft Shell Turtle poking it’s head out right next to the catfish whiskers. I had never seen a Soft Shell Turtle before at Morrison Springs so that was new. Then I could not figure out

why the Turtle head was hiding behind the Catfish whiskers. My best guess is the Turtle had the dead catfish stored in the tree root system and was eating the catfish. That was another strange site. Plus I could not figure out how that Soft Shell Turtle could stay underwater that long without coming up for air.

Soft Shell Turtle and Catfish Whiskers that look like spikes.

Soft Shell Turtle and Catfish Whiskers that look like spikes.

This photo shows the body of the catfish in the roots.

This photo shows the body of the catfish in the roots.

The 69 degree spring water was finally getting me a little cold so I decided to end my snorkel time and go back to the heavy world of gravity. Good news was that the dive and snorkel seemed to re-engerize my body. I felt restored and more energetic!

Before we left I did send my UAV drone up into the air to get some aerial photos of Morrison Springs while the spring water was very clear. I don’t think any of the people sunning or swimming realized there was a drone 200 feet above there head. I got a couple of good aerials of the spring and we packed up the jeep and left the park. I knew I had a teenage monster that needed feeding so we stopped off at the recently re-opened Rabbit Creek Cafe formerly the Red Bay Cafe. The cafe looked much the same as before but with different menu and a quite colorful single owner, Alabama Charlie. I ordered a breakfast meal and Tim ordered a BLT with french fries. They were the most unique looking and good tasting fries I have ever eaten. What made the cafe though was Alabama Charlie. I tried to squeeze out of him what his last name was but he said it was a secret. He had lots of interesting stories about knowing the King of Ghana and many celebrities that own Ferraris and Porches. His cafe is a rally point for many of their rallies. He is also publisher of the Black Tie Magazine and he has a photo studio in Destin, FL. As I said he had lot’s of colorful stories and the cafe food was good.

FloridaLargemouthBass_Pregnant

A very large and fat Florida Largemouth Bass

ChainPickeral_UnderTreeStumps

Chain Pickerel hiding under a cypress tree stump.

AlabamaCharlie2_RabbitCreekCafe_Porche

Alabama Charlie leaning on his Porche and standing next to his cafe sign.

TimDiving_ShallowsTreeRoots

Tim diving in the shallows around the cypress tree stumps.

That ended our Morrison Springs dive trip and I am very thankful the good Lord gave me the strength to complete the dive with Tim, renew my Dream and energize my recovery.

7th Annual U.S. Navy SEAL Danny Dietz Memorial – Rosenberg Texas

I live in Florida. What do I know about events going on in Texas? Of course I should know because I have a home in Baytown, TX where my daughter lives with my three wonderful but rambunctious grandsons.

I was there in Baytown helping my daughter with some repairs to the home when this very old and crusty Texas friend of my, Clint, called me and asked me if I would like to go with him to the Danny Dietz Memorial for this Memorial Day weekend? The Danny Dietz what?, I said. He told me this was the 7th annual memorial to Danny at the Fort Bend County Fairgrounds. Although I am a retired SEAL of 34 years, I knew of Dietz but I did not personally know him. Then I thought what a great way to support his wife Patsy Dietz-Shipley who would be there with several other Navy SEAL widows, so of course I told my grumpy old SEAL buddy that I would go with him to the memorial. Clint then told me he would pick me up at 0800 on Saturday, 28 May 2016.

SEAL Widows appreciation award in the rodeo arena.

SEAL Widows appreciation award in the rodeo arena.

Another thought crossed my mind and that was what better way to spend Memorial Day holiday than by attending a military memorial event. I still did not understand why Rosenberg, TX would be hosting a memorial to an East Coast Navy SEAL killed in action. The event homepage explains the connection:Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 11.18.35 PM

Danny Dietz

Danny Dietz

The 7th Annual U.S. Navy SEAL Danny Dietz Memorial Classic (USTRC Affiliate) and
Bar-B-Q Cook Off weekend will be held on May 27-29, 2016 in Rosenberg, Texas at The Fort Bend County Fairgrounds. This year’s event may prove to be the biggest and best yet with the help and dedication of our generous sponsors, wonderful staff and hardworking volunteers. Seven years ago, event coordinator Danny Quinlan met Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny Dietz’s wife, Patsy at an event where she was speaking about her husband’s life in the SEAL Teams and Operation Red Wing; where on June 28, 2005, four of America’s most elite warriors were conducting a reconnaissance mission in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan and came under fire, ultimately taking three of the four men’s lives.  Mr. Quinlan approached Patsy with the idea of bringing together the exciting sport of team roping with the SEAL community in an effort to honor her husband. The action packed weekend of roping events, great music, Bar-B-Q CookOff, and the growing Car Show will be a great way for each of us to get out this Memorial Day Weekend to honor and remember our Fallen SEALs. Proceeds from the weekend’s events benefit The Navy SEAL Foundation, and The Navy SEAL Danny Dietz Foundation.”

Since my cancer recovery periods during the last two summers I have not traveled much nor have I written any travel

Clint, Heath Mike & Jackson at a rifle vendor.

Clint, Heath Mike & Jackson at a rifle vendor.

blogs. What a great way to get back “into the saddle” so to speak than to attend a rodeo that is also a memorial. A big pickup truck pulled up into the driveway and it was Clint and his huge son and fireman Heath. I went out to the truck and asked if they had any climbing gear for me to climb up into the back seat of the very tall truck. They had no climbing gear so I had to haul my aged, short and fluffy body up into the Texas size truck. We drove to pick up Clint’s other son Michael and his friend Jackson and off we headed to the Fort Bend County Fairgrounds. Of course during the drive there was some pretty colorful conversation and bantering going on between the two brothers and their father to pass the time. Jackson and I were fairly quite.

Clint.

Clint.

We arrived at the Fairgrounds and were greeted by the beginning of a hot summer day in Texas. The night before it poured down rain and there was flooding but this day it was typical Texas heat and sun. The fairgrounds were quite spread out with various areas for rodeo arena, car show displays, music arena, auditoriums for barbecue  contests, vendor auditoriums and a VIP auditorium. As we entered the fairgrounds there was a group of attractive ladies walking the opposite direction passing us by and they were all dressed in brown t-shirts and shorts. Little did we know we just passed the group of Navy SEAL widows attending the memorial.

We started off the day participating in a barbecue judging with Clint’s boys judging before us

Clint after BBQ judging.

Clint after BBQ judging.

and Clint and I at the final judging table. I had never participated in any judging contest much less a barbecue contest. There were nine of us judges and all had judged many times before except for Clint and I. The poor judge overseer had to explain the judging process to me very clearly and detailed before I finally understood. I kept putting barbecue samples numbers in the wrong place on the judging sheet. By the time the barbecue entries reached our table there were only 18 entries left. I had not eaten breakfast that morning and thought this would be a good way to kill the hunger pains.

I was some what disappointed when I found out that we were only allowed one bite of each of the BBQ entries. I did not think that one bite each would fill the tummy. We also had to use a new fork and knife for each entry, drink water or eat a cracker to clear our palette in between entries. The scoring was between 1 & 10 per entry. I don’t know if it was because I was a novice judge but my lowest score was a 5 but my highest entry was only an 8 out of 10. All the entries were good but significantly different making it a little hard to judge. This was an “open” BBQ contest so there was a wide variety of meats, seasonings and combinations of ingredients. I did learn though that even one bite of 18 entries was very filling. I was stuffed by the end of the judging.

Clint and I meeting a Texas Ranger and a volunteer.

Clint and I meeting a Texas Ranger and a volunteer.

Clint’s boys, being much younger, were off checking out the rest of the fair grounds as Clint and I exited the BBQ judging. I don’t know if it was the heavy stomach, the heat or what, but Clint and I, each with our cane or walking stick, started slowly hobbling around looking at the fairgrounds. We checked out the music and rodeo arena, visited many vendor displays that had either Danny Dietz or Navy SEAL artifacts and luckily ran into the senior security manager who asked us if we were former Navy SEALs. We said yes, and he began to explain the history of the event, who was participating, and let us know that there were several Navy SEAL widows in a group attending. Clint and I both wanted to meet the widows so the Security Manager gave us VIP wrist bands to access the VIP auditorium where the widow group would be hanging out during the day. We said great, and off we went to the VIP auditorium mainly to get out of the heat and into an air conditioned building.

Once in the VIP area the Security Manager introduced us to several police, sheriffs and Texas Rangers that would congregate there between shifts. The SEAL widows were not there at the moment so Clint and I took the opportunity to enjoy some free beer donated to the event from Budweiser. Our choice was free beer and air conditioning or walking outside in the heat. Clint and I may not be the brightest stars but that was an easy choice.

SEALwidows2_ClintMike_DietzMemorial

Clint and I group photo with the ladies.

We got to meet and talk to numerous volunteers and managers that ran this event. We wanted to know if there were any official representation or booths from the SEAL community such as the Navy SEAL Foundation or the local chapter of Frogs and SEALs. There was no official representation from the SEAL community other than a few old farts and younger SEALs walking around the fairgrounds. There was no booth set up to represent our community. The only representation was the SEAL widows group. Clint and I were a little dismayed at this lack of official representation because a significant amount of funds were raised by this event for the SEAL foundation and the widows. There was one speaking engagement scheduled by Marcus Luttrell, of “Lone Survivor” book and movie fame to speak later in the rodeo arena.

Calf roping event in the rodeo arena.

Calf roping event in the rodeo arena.

About the time of the third beer when some of the back and hip pains were gone, Clint and I decided to continue

Clayton Gardner singing some country.

Clayton Gardner singing some country.

hobbling around the fairgrounds. We listened to some great country music, watched some action calf and bull roping, visited and met more vendors especially the weapons vendors where we actually met another SEAL working the fair. We got introduced to and met an elderly and distinguished still working Texas Ranger. We later watched a ceremony where this same Ranger got an award in the rodeo arena. We started heading toward the car show area and something drew us back into the air conditioned and free beer VIP pavilion.

SEAL widow face timing with their children in the VIP room.

SEAL widow face timing with their children in the VIP room.

Luckily we did return to the VIP area because the SEAL widows were all there at a far table. One of them was on the phone face timing with her daughter and all the ladies seemed very engaged in this very cute interaction with the young daughter. Clint and I waited and then introduced ourselves to the group. The group was incredibly gracious and welcoming and even tolerated a group photo with the ancient SEALs. The ladies were a little surprised by our Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) class number of class 54 and 55. Most of their husbands were all graduates of class numbers in the high 100s and low 200s. They were a little taken back by meeting a couple of SEAL relics that

Clint talking with Patty Roberts.

Clint talking with Patty Roberts.

were still alive. Clint was especially glad to meet Patty Roberts because when her husband passed away Clint had been surprisingly affected by his death. He did not even know Roberts but Clint wanted to give her a poem that he wrote about her husband.

Regrettably I do not remember the ladies names. Shame on me because they were an awesome and very accommodating group. We did find out they would be attending a ceremony in the rodeo arena later that day at 5:30pm. We roamed around and visited a few more vendors and happened to run into Marcus Luttrell as he entered the fairgrounds. He was immediately surrounded by fans. Clint’s boys really wanted to meet Marcus but he was kept on a tight schedule and did not have an opportunity to meet them or us fellow SEALs.

Texas Ranger addressing the SEAL Widows.

Texas Ranger addressing the SEAL Widows.

Marcus Luttrell speaking to the crowd.

Marcus Luttrell speaking to the crowd.

Patsy Dietz-Shipley speaking to the audience.

Patsy Dietz-Shipley speaking to the audience.

Time went by fast and we went to the rodeo arena and got our seats. There were presentations and awards to Patsy Dietz, the elderly Texas Ranger. Then the Ranger made a presentation to all of the Navy SEAL widows thanking them for their sacrifice and service. Marcus Luttrell came in and made a brief speech expressing praise and thanks to the SEAL widows. With that, the Danny Dietz memorial was closed for the day to start again on the following Sunday and Monday celebrating Memorial Day.

Overall it was a great day and I am glad we attended the 7th Annual Danny Dietz Memorial.

For anyone interested in reading more about U.S. Navy SEALs history, my book “U.S. Navy SEALs in San Diego” is available at this website and Amazon.

Texas Ranger presents an appreciation award to the SEAL widows.

Texas Ranger presents an appreciation award to the SEAL widows.

Clint admiring a donated rifle that was purchased for 10K.

Clint admiring a donated rifle that was purchased for 10K.

Trident embossed on the donated rifle.

Trident embossed on the donated rifle.

 

 

 

Roatan – A Surprise Experience

Beautiful cruising skies. Calm before the storm.

Beautiful cruising skies. Calm before the storm.

Joyce enjoying the cruise ship serenity deck.

Joyce enjoying the cruise ship serenity deck.

My wife and I took a long awaited Caribbean cruise in 2012. We had never cruised before and were totally excited about this one. Little did we know that

Port of Tampa showing Harbour Island light house and Seddon Channel near the docks for the cruise line ships.

Port of Tampa showing Harbour Island light house and Seddon Channel near the docks for the cruise line ships.

we would not only be chasing Hurricane Sandy but we would be running away from it as well during our transit through the Caribbean. The ship even had to slow down once in route to let the storm go by.

Of course I wanted to scuba dive in all of the ports of call and my wife wanted to see the historic and cultural sites so we came up with a compromise excursion plan. That allowed me to scuba dive in Belize, Grand Cayman and Roatan. I had not scuba dived in Belize or Roatan before and was looking forward to returning to Grand Cayman as well.

When we pulled into Grand Cayman the port authority made us anchor the big Carnival cruise ship on the lee side of the

Dive group plays follow the leader as the dive guide leads them through a tunnel in the coral reef at Grand Cayman.

Dive group plays follow the leader as the dive guide leads them through a tunnel in the coral reef at Grand Cayman.

island which meant we had to take a liberty boats ashore to the island. Normally this is not a big deal but when you are hauling around a heavy and cumbersome underwater camera system amongst a gaggle of tourists going ashore, it can be burdensome. I got to the dive shop and we went on our dive which was still surprisingly decent but some what murky for normal Grand Cayman waters. It was not Grand Cayman’s fault, it was Hurricane Sandy stirring up trouble. There were not any pelagics such as sharks, turtles or dolphins on our dive though there was a decent amount of tropical fish.

I don’t remember the order of our ports of call but Belize was one of our stops and it turned out to be affected by the storm as well. The waters were cloudy, though there were plenty of colorful and healthy reefs but did not seem to be a good amount of tropical fish or pelagic marine life in the area of the dive. Seems like the marine life knew to avoid the storm.

I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed in the diving conditions so far. In fact it dawned on me that diving excursions during cruises going port to port may not be a good way to experience diving in those areas. I have been on live aboard dive boats for diving excursions and that is definitely the way to go. That is the thing about various escapades is that you learn the good and less than good way to travel.

Dive group swims toward a large barrel sponge on the coral reef at Roatan.

Dive group swims toward a large barrel sponge on the coral reef at Roatan.

Our last port of call before our return transit to Tampa, Florida was Roatan the largest of the Bay Islands of the Honduras. I am a person prone to disappointment if I let my expectations get to high so this time I curtailed my expectations. Why should Roatan be any different? Then I had to scold myself because there were people whose lives and livelyhoods were severely affected by Hurricane Sandy and here I am bummed out because the hurricane made my scuba diving less desirable. What a baby! I got my perspective back in check with a better attitude and outlook.

Red Lionfish in full threat display on a colorful reef at Roatan.

Red Lionfish in full threat display on a colorful reef at Roatan.

Here is the surprise. I did not really go through all of my underwater photos from this trip until four years later in 2016 because the diving

Barrel sponge.

Barrel sponge on the reef ledge at Roatan.

experience did not impress me that much. So in April of 2016 I am looking through all of my Roatan underwater photos and discover what a great dive I really had after all despite the hurricane. The water was much clearer in Roatan. It seemed the further east and north we got away from the mainland of Central America, the water seemed to become clearer, the marine life more abundant and the coral reef life became alive.

As I looked through my underwater photos, I relived the diving experience in Roatan. The coral reefs were colorful and bountiful. The water visibility was excellent. The tropical fish were colorful and every where and there were a few reef sharks. It took going through my photos to really have it dawn on me what a great time I really had!

Here are some links to the photo galleries: RoatanBelizeGrand Cayman

 

Soft corals and fan corals flow with the current in the clear warm waters of Roatan, Honduras in October 2012.

Soft corals and fan corals flow with the current in the clear warm waters of Roatan, Honduras in October 2012.

Squirrelfish big eyes under a reef at Roatan.

Squirrelfish big eyes under a reef at Roatan.

Queen Anglefish at Roatan.

Queen Anglefish at Roatan.

Parrotfish getting cleaned by a Wrasse at the barrel sponge at Roatan.

Parrotfish getting cleaned by a Wrasse at the barrel sponge at Roatan.

Dive group swimming over the coral reef at Roatan.

Dive group swimming over the coral reef at Roatan.

Yellowtail Snapper school of fish swimming over the reef at Roatan.

Yellowtail Snapper school of fish swimming over the reef at Roatan.

Angelfish_Cayman

French Angelfish hanging under a reef at Grand Cayman.

Cruise ship leaving the Port of Tampa, FL.

Cruise ship leaving the Port of Tampa, FL.

Pontoon Boat Escapade – Ichetucknee River

There is a country music group called Little Big Town and they have a great song called “Pontoon”. Some of the words are “Makin’ waves and catchin’ rays up on the roof Jumpin’ out the back, don’t act like you don’t want to”.

Family on the pontoon boat on the Ichetucknee River.

Family on the pontoon boat on the Ichetucknee River.

Pontoon boat at the RV resort boat dock on the Santa Fe River.

Pontoon boat at the RV resort boat dock on the Santa Fe River.

This helped inspire us because we had long wanted to take a pontoon boat trip down the Suwannee River. A couple of stars aligned in the heavens when we found a RV park on the Santa Fe River very close to the Suwannee River and they had boat docks where we could leave our pontoon in the water near our RV site. Next star aligned when Spring Break came for our grandchildren in Texas to be available to join us for five days at the Ellie Ray’s RV Resort near Branford, FL. We really wanted our daughter and grandsons 16, 14 and 6 to experience a pontoon escapade on the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers so we could all have fun like the “Pontoon” song talks about. This promised to be great fun because neither my wife or I had visited this area before so it would be a new experience for all of us!

I get a little nervous when I have such high expectations for an escapade. Most of the time things never go as planned. It started out a little contentious because there were some problems with getting the rental car for my daughter to drive from Texas to Florida. Luckily it all worked out. My daughter and grandsons arrived in Florida ahead of schedule and we had plenty of time to load up the motorhome and get the Jeep and Pontoon boat trailer all rigged up for the caravan from Panama City to Branford, FL. The motorhome, Jeep & pontoon caravan got underway on time and we took a familiar route north on 71, then east on 20, south east on 267 and then due east on 98/27. When we reached Perry, instead of going south on 98 like normal when we go to the various spring, we went east on 27 toward Branford.

This was new ground for us. After we drove east past Perry, we saw signs for four different springs and state parks along 27 east. I never knew that

Family on the bow of the pontoon boat looking into the clear waters of Ichetucknee River

Family on the bow of the pontoon boat looking into the clear waters of Ichetucknee River

Blue, Peacock, Convict and Troy springs were along this route on 27 east. I almost wanted to turn in and investigate all these spring and state parks but we had a mission to make it to Ellie Ray’s RV Resort in Branford. Of course I will have to come back and visit all these springs on 27 east. We made it to the RV Resort and all went well until the jack stands on my motorhome decided not to work. No worries, I called a mobile RV repair and they fixed the problem and we got the motorhome set up at camp and launched the pontoon boat and docked it near to our RV site. All of this still occurred in a timely manner leaving us enough time to take our pontoon boat up the Santa Fe River for a reconnaissance to look for the Ichetucknee Springs intersection.

It had been raining quite a bit so both the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers were very high and brown. Most of the springs along both rivers were turbid and flooded. We heard about the Ichetucknee River which was supposed to still be crystal clear so we headed north east on the Santa Fe River hoping to find the Ichetucknee. We got a late start that afternoon and drove for about an hour and a half without finding the Ichetucknee River intersection. Everyone was pretty tired by then so we head back down river to the RV Resort and called it a day. We still had a great time “Pontooning” on the Santa Fe River.

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White Ibis foraging along the river.

A Muscovy Duck, Cairina moschata, appears to be log rolling on the Ichetucknee River with Cypress Tree trunk in the background.

A Muscovy Duck appears to be log rolling on the Ichetucknee River.

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Peninsula Cooter turtle refuses to leave the log and hides in its shell as we get close.

The next morning we got up a little late. Joyce and I went to breakfast while they all still slept in but we did gather local intelligence that the Ichetucknee River was the place to go to find clear waters. We got every one up and moving and boarded our pontoon boat. We headed the same direction as the previous day up the Santa Fe River. This time we eventually did find the Ichetucknee River intersection after asking a couple fisherman along the way. We knew instantly when we found the Ichetucknee. The water went from zero visibility brown to crystal clear water. Much to our surprise and delight we had a mother and calf manatees greeting us at the mouth of the Ichetucknee River. What an incredible surprise. The grandkids were totally excited!

We enjoyed the encounter for a short while and then headed north up the crystal clear Ichetucknee River. The Ichetucknee was not near as wide or deep as the Santa Fe River. Thankfully my boat fish/depth finder was working as we slowed way down to head up the Ichetucknee. The water depth went from 10-15 feet deep to 4-6 feet deep. Our pontoon can transit in 2-feet of water so we were OK. We had heard from the locals that we would not be able to drive our pontoon all the way to the Ichetucknee Springs state park that there was a bridge at HWY 20 that would prevent further boat transit to the state park. That was OK because we were having a great time navigating the shallow but curvy river. There were beautiful homes all along the river with their boat docks and landscaped yards all the way to the river.

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Amy and Ryan hang onto a line floating in the current of the river.

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A curious Peninsula Cooter turtle swims up close for a photo.

We saw lots of fish in the water below as well as turtles drying out in the sun on logs and Commorants and Vultures in the thick forrest of trees along the river bank. There was one section along the river where it gave us flashbacks of the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”. The tree tops were filled with Florida Black Vultures looking down on us as we creeped up river in the Pontoon. The hair on our necks raised a little expecting them to dive bomb any minute. There were logs fallen in the river that covered almost the full width across the river but we managed to maneuver the pontoon around the downed trees. The water depth got to about 2-3 feet deep. I kept an eye on the depth finder and we confidently moved up river at about 2-3 miles per hour. We never saw the HWY 20 bridge because there finally was a fallen tree that crossed the entire width of the river. There was a point where I thought we could get the boat and up over the fallen tree but no luck.

We found a deep section of the river right on a curve and decided to anchor the boat and stay awhile. It was an absolutely stunning scenic area with the Cypress trees draped in spanish moss lining the river, water plants such as tape grass flowing with the water current and plenty of fish swimming below including largemouth bass, bream, bluegill, Florida gar and mullet. What a great place to let the kids get out and snorkel along the river. We did discover pretty quickly though that there was a very good river current flow, so I warned all the boys to swim up river and not to go past our boat down river. The two eldest, Timmy and Mikey had their mask and fins on and were in the water quicker than a blink of the eye. The water was a warm 72 degrees and crystal clear.

American Coots swimming the river.

American Coots swimming the river.

My wife Joyce and daughter Amy decided to relax in the beauty and serenity of the area while we flailed around in the water. I of course grabbed my mask, snorkel, fins and small underwater camera and jumped in the water and swam up stream. There were lots of overhang tree limbs, eddys of water near the shoreline with plant life and lots of places for the fish and turtles to hide. Off I went for my photographic hunting mission. Luckily I brought my webbed gloves for my hands because I needed the extra thrust to swim against the current up river. I could not believe how crystal clear this water was  even though we were a good three miles downstream from the Ichetucknee head springs at the state park.

Myself, Timmy and Mikey spent a good hour in the water investigating all the nooks and crannies of the area and shoreline around the boat. I finally had to head back to the boat because the battery on my underwater camera was running out of power. My daughter Amy and youngest grandson Ryan got in the water and hung onto a buoyed rope I had in the water and let the river flow all around them. We got out for a lunch break and then decided to pull up anchor and head back down river. We went about a half of a mile and noticed the Manatee mother and calf swimming up river slowly foraging along the river bottom. I turned the boat around and anchored about a couple hundred yards up stream.

Manatee mother and calf foraging as they swim up river.

Manatee mother and calf foraging as they swim up river.

Me and the boys grabbed our gear and jumped in the water. I instructed them to let the manatees swim toward them and not to harass them. The boys surprised me and actually listened and obeyed me. Much to their surprise the manatees actually swam right up to them even brushing up against them in the water. The boys were ecstatic. My wife was able to shoot some photos from the surface of the very fortunate encounter. Luckily I had a little battery power left in my camera and was able to get three underwater photos of the manatees before the battery totally died. The mother moved up river of the calf as the calf took its timing foraging on the bottom. As the calf passed us by we finally got out of the water and back in the boat still in shock about this incredible encounter. The distance from the Sante Fe River to the Ichetucknee head spring and state park is about six miles. We were about the two-mile mark up river from the Santa Fe intersection where we first saw the manatees.

Here is a description of the Ichetucknee springs and river from a state Florida website: “Flowing forth from this first magnitude headspring, as well as six other springs, the Ichetucknee river system is one of the most pristine in the state of Florida. © Russell Sparkman

The boat trip back down the Ichetucknee and down river in the Santa Fe to the RV resort was complete silence and went by so fast as we all were mulling over this encounter in our minds. We had to come out of our trance when it was time to pull up to the dock at the RV resort. Everyone thought what an absolutely incredible escapade this had been. The weather was even cooperating with perfect temperature, sunny day, no winds and the famous Florida bugs had not woken up yet from the winter. What a total blessing from God is all I can say!

While our daughter and kids took naps or played at the RV resort pool, Joyce and I drove by car east on 27 to look for the Ichetucknee Springs state park. We wanted to see what the head springs looked like. What we discovered was that there was a south and north entrance to the state park. The north entrance is what leads to the head springs and state park and the south entrance was the kayak termination point. We got up there and saw how absolutely beautiful the head spring was. We decided then and there that the next day we would rent kayaks and paddle down the Ichetucknee river from the Blue Hole head spring to the south entrance about four miles down river. This part of the river was north of HWY 20 where we had not taken the pontoon boat the previous day.

Joyce and I must have been tired because we, mostly me, got discombobulated driving back to the RV resort. We were driving west on 27 from the north entrance. We saw the south entrance and knew all was well. Then I passed another sign that said “North Entrance” and I got totally confused. I decided we went the wrong way and turned around. We headed back east and saw the south entrance sign and decided that I was still crazy and turned around again. We drove west and saw the north entrance sign and again thought I was going totally bonkers. Then Joyce said check the map on your phone and I could not find my phone. We also discovered Joyce left her sunglasses at the Blue Hole head spring. It felt like I was in the Ground Hog day movie where it kept repeating the same day over and over again.

I again turned around and drove east to the south entrance but this time kept heading east to see if I would see another North entrance. Sure enough, I discovered there were two north entrances to the state park with a south entrance in the middle. We went back to the head spring and found Joyce’s glasses and then also discovered my phone fell down under my car seat. Relieved we found everything we then headed home after an hour of driving around in circles. We absolutely confirmed heading west on 27 there was the real “North Entrance”, then the real “South Entrance sign and finally the North Entrance sign that started all the confusion. By the time we got back to the RV park the kids were hungry and my daughter had already taken them to get something to eat at the RV resort resturant. What a confusing end to an absolutely beautiful day. Every one slept well that night.

Cypress trees with hanging spanish moss line the river shoreline.

Cypress trees with hanging spanish moss line the river shoreline.

This morning we made everyone get up early so we could get to the kayak rental center near the Ichetucknee state park north entrance. We rented a kayak for each person except poor Ryan who had to ride in the back of Amy’s kayak. The kayak rental personal drove us to the head springs launch point and offloaded all of our five kayaks. One by one every one loaded their kayak and where launched into the crystal clear river and waiting just down stream. I was the last to load.

Tim, MIkey and Joyce paddling the Ichetucknee River.

Tim, MIkey and Joyce paddling the Ichetucknee River.

I have thousands of hours of experience in paddling or coxswaining small boats on the open ocean and freshwater. That said, my elderly girth and weight combined with my rusting skeleton and joints made balancing in this narrow beam and short 10-foot length kayak far more difficult than anticipated. My many years of waterborne experience were literally wiped away in an instant when the worker launched me backwards sitting in the kayak into the river. It was a battle for my butt and leg muscles to furiously and reflexively compensate for the magnitude-4 level wobbling affect as my boat entered the water. Everyone was waiting down river for me. I eventually got control over the extensive side to side wobbling. I had my underwater camera hanging around my neck but I had no idea how I was going to put the oar down to pick the camera to take photos without capsizing the kayak.

Luckily it did not take long for me to gain control and down the river we all went. There were not any rapids but the current flow was fairly fast to the point you almost did not have to paddle to transit. I warned the boys earlier for us all to stick together on the river. That warning went completely unheeded as the two older boys went speeding down the river paddling there kayaks like experts. I was envious! Finally they slowed down enough for Joyce, Amy and I to catch up and take a river group picture.

The river scenic was incredible. The shoreline was lined with Cypress trees and spanish moss arching over the river like a military honor guard and apex

Joyce looking at a sun bathing turtle on a log nearby.

Joyce looking at a sun bathing turtle on a log nearby.

of rifles. It reminded me of an old Ansel Adams photograph of children walking down a road with arched trees overhead. As we traveled down river there were birds and turtles everywhere above and a multitude of fish swimming under us below. What was very strange was the turtles that rest in groups on the logs, called “shell stations”, were not at all skittish to our approach. Anywhere else the turtles would be hopping into the river but these seemed to show contempt at our presence and wondering why we would bother their rest and sunning time. Only once did a turtle jump in the water. In fact, my grandson Mikey was able to slowly approach one log filled with turtles and posed for me to take his photo right next to them.

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The boys climbing a tree over the river.

The boys climbing a tree over the river.

I am not familiar with all the springs on the river except for the head Blue spring. We did see a sign for Devil’s Eye spring and we stopped there for a break. Apparently it is a congregating point for kayakers because there were several already there exploring the area. Everyone in our group got out of their kayak except for me. I was worried I would not be able to get back in if I got out. I was able to take several photographs of the family at the spring. Mikey, Timmy and Ryan all climbed a overhanging tree and jumped into the water. Mikey borrowed my camera and took photos of two Banded Water snakes coming out of their burrow near the shoreline. BandedWaterSnake_IcheRiverBank

We all started back down stream and within a short distance we noticed another congregation of kayakers. This time the attraction was the same Manatee mother

Amy and Ryan watch a manatee in the river.

Amy and Ryan watch a manatee in the river.

and calf feeding in the river. This location was about three miles north of where we saw them the day before. It looked like they were still heading up river toward Blue Springs. We watched them for awhile from the kayaks. It was amazing watching these large mammals moving so effortlessly in the shallow clear waters and it seemed like the down stream current did not affect them at all. We passed the Kayak midpoint and were heading toward the south entrance and termination point. Suddenly it dawned on everybody that the kayak trip was almost over. None of use even paddled anymore trying to extend our time in the river. The current was persistent though and we floated into the kayak termination point at south entrance. None of us wanted to leave but we had to beach the kayaks and meet up with the van to drive us back to the rental center. The kids were talking a mile-a-minute about their kayak experience.

Aerial view of the Blue Hole spring at Ichetucknee state park.

Aerial view of the Blue Hole spring at Ichetucknee state park.

We got back to our car and decided to drive to the Blue Hole head springs and swim there for awhile.Everyone was a little tired but they all peaked up when they saw the head spring. Blue Hole is a first magnitude at 35-60 million gallons per day and the largest of the seven springs that feed the Ichetucknee River. As usual, before we could blink, the boys were all jumping into the spring along with about 20 other visitors. Both Amy and Tim dove down the 40 feet to the cave opening. I got my camera and began my systematic exploration of the entire Blue Hole investigating the deep and shallow waters. I was amazed at the amount of marine life that was in the spring. Amy saw a Florida Gar that I did not see but I saw plenty of Florida Largemouth Bass, Blue Gill, Breams, Golden Shiners, and Mullet. Most of the marine life was hiding in the shallow waters near shore hiding under tree overhangs and beds of water plants. Pristine is an excellent description of the Blue Hole Spring. We were all tired but reluctant to leave. I did manage to get an aerial photo of the spring before we left.

Our luck of beautiful weather did not hold out for our last day at the RV resort. We took off in the pontoon southwest on the Santa Fe River toward

The boys in the water at Blue Hole Spring.

The boys in the water at Blue Hole Spring.

the Suwannee River junction that ran north and south. We chose the north route hoping to make to Troy Springs. Soon after leaving the dock the clouds moved in and after about an hour of transiting north on the Suwannee it started raining pretty heavily. We got within five miles of Troy Springs but had to turn around and go home. The pontoon has a canopy that provided some protection from the pelting rain but the wind came up and the temperature dropped. Everyone was huddling under the canopy except for Mikey and Ryan who tried to get out of the rain by hiding under the table. Of course none of us brought jackets or wind breakers so it was a long and quiet drive back to the dock.

We packed up camp, motorhome and pontoon in the rain in preparation for an early start back home the next day. The rain did not ruin the spirit of the trip because all were still remembering the previous two days of fun. We all decided that we will plan a future trip to this area and visit the other springs.

Here is a link to more photos of this trip at Phojo-Frog galleries

A juvenile Bluegill swims through the towering tape grass and under the floating plants in the shallow freshwaters of Ichetucknee Springs a state park in Florida.

A juvenile Bluegill swims through the towering tape grass and under the floating plants in the shallow freshwaters of Ichetucknee Springs a state park in Florida.

A teenage boy hangs his feet in the water and relaxes in the sun on the pontoon boat as it transits up the Santa Fe River in Florida.

Tim hangs his feet in the water and relaxes in the sun on the pontoon boat as it transits up the Santa Fe River in Florida.

A six-year old boy is tired and rests his head on the railing of the pontoon boat as they transit up the Santa Fe River in Florida on a warm spring day.

Ryan is tired and rests his head on the railing of the pontoon boat.

MikeyKayak_TurtleShellStation

Mikey slowly approaches the turtles on a log.

A teenage boy gives a typical teenager look as he walks by on the bridge to the Ellie Ray's RV Resort boat dock along the Santa Fe River in Branford, Florida.

Mikey gives me his typical teenager look as he walks by on the bridge to the Ellie Ray’s RV Resort boat dock along the Santa Fe River in Branford, Florida.

A baby boomer grandfather instructs his teenager grandson in how to drive the pontoon boat up the Santa Fe River near Brandford, Florida.

Mikey gets instruction from Bapa on how to drive the pontoon boat.

Florida Largemouth Bass Profile - Ichetucknee Springs

Florida Largemouth Bass swims by in the Blue Hole Spring.

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Manatee surfaces for air in the Ichetucknee River.

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Family gets ready to go kayaking.

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A stack of Largemouth Bass hide under a ledge along the shoreline of the Blue Hole Spring.

Idiom: Good Things Come in Small Packages – Ponce De Leon Springs

An aerial view of Ponce De Leon Springs in the winter time shows the crystal clear freshwaters surrounded by forests of trees in northwest Florida.

An aerial view of Ponce De Leon Springs in the winter time shows the crystal clear freshwaters surrounded by forests of trees in northwest Florida.

The Title Idiom certainly applies to Ponce De Leon Springs in Ponce De Leon, FL. It is a very tiny spring but it hides a suprisingly wide variety marine life and aquatic plants and trees. During the winter months, when tourist traffic is low, Ponce De Leon Springs state park is a slice of heaven displaying nature’s beauty and solitude. If you get a chance to be there all alone you can almost feel God’s gift of splendor and contentment seeping into your soul. I can see why the spanish explorer Juan Ponce De Leon may have thought this was the fountain of youth.

Archway to the springs.

Archway to the springs.

Below is a description of the spring from the official Ponce De Leon Springs state park website:

“This beautiful spring is named for Juan Ponce de León, who led the first Spanish expedition to Florida in 1513-as legend has it-in search of the “fountain of youth.” Visitors might well regain their youth by

A senior woman enjoys knitting in the beautiful and serene atmosphere of Ponce De Leon Springs a state park in Florida.

A senior woman enjoys knitting in the beautiful and serene atmosphere of Ponce De Leon Springs a state park in Florida.

taking a dip in the cool, clear waters of Ponce de Leon Springs where the water temperature remains a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. The main spring is a convergence of two underground water flows, and produces 14 million gallons of water daily. Visitors can take a leisurely walk along two self-guided nature trails through a lush, hardwood forest and learn about the local ecology and wildlife. Rangers also conduct seasonal guided walks. Picnicking is a popular activity at the park; grills and pavilions are available. Anglers will enjoy fishing for catfish, largemouth bass, chain pickerel, and panfish.”

An over/under view of friends on the surface and sunfish below the water.

An over/under view of friends on the surface and sunfish below the water.

My wife and I have compatible hobbies. She loves knitting and I love investigating and exploring bodies of water if they are clear. Ponce De Leon (PDL) provides the perfect solution for both of us where

A senior woman enjoys knitting and relaxing in the serene atmosphere of clear freshwaters, Cypress Trees aand morning sun at Ponce De Leon Springs state park, Florida.

A senior woman enjoys knitting and relaxing in the serene atmosphere of clear freshwaters, Cypress Trees aand morning sun at Ponce De Leon Springs state park, Florida.

she can remain topside and enjoy the quiet atmosphere while knitting and I can snorkel the beautifully clear waters exploring every nook and cranny to photograph the creatures underwater. Even though the spring is very small, I can easily spend an hour and sometimes even two depending on what I find that day.

There seems to be enough diversity of underwater life that I am still finding new creatures. It appears that the Chain Pickerel may come and go in the spring but there are some very good size Largemouth Bass that seem to be a constant. There is one Largemouth Bass in particular that I seem to keep running into. I don’t really recognize it by it’s physical features but by it’s attitude. There are two spring boils at PDL where the fresh water discharges from below. It is near the perimeter of one of the spring boils that I consistently encounter this one Largemouth Bass that has no fear. In fact I would say at times that it is aggressive trying to get me to leave it’s domain. It will swim at me to within inches and then it will circle around and approach from another direction and it will not stop until I move on somewhere else in the spring. I almost get a crick in my neck looking around in a circle trying to keep track of this underwater bully. It also chases away the other Largemouth Bass in the areas well. I don’t know if is a grand daddy dominant male or it is the senior female with a nest of eggs nearby. One thing is for certain, it does not care how much larger I am than it.

My last visit to the spring I ran into that Largemouth Bass again and the resulting photos are included in this story. I have seen a couple of different types of turtles in this spring including Musk Turtle and Peninsular Cooter Turtles. The turtles do not seem too skittish with human invasion but they will scoot away if you get too close. The Musk Turtles think their camouflage is working  because they will not move until you almost touch them. If is fun watching their different behaviors. Some think their hiding and others stretch their neck out and look over the plant life to look for you. The trick to watching their behaviors is to remain dead still in the water and eventually their curiosity will cause them to look out from their hiding spot for you and in some cases even swim over to you.

Whether the King or Big Daddy, this Largemouth Bass was the master of the tiny Ponce De Leon Springs and backed down to no one including the photographer.

Whether the King or Big Daddy, this Largemouth Bass was the master of the tiny Ponce De Leon Springs and backed down to no one including the photographer.

The grand daddy Largemouth Bass of Ponce De Leon Springs faces off with the underwater photographer on a cold winter day in northwest Florida.

The grand daddy Largemouth Bass of Ponce De Leon Springs faces off with the underwater photographer on a cold winter day in northwest Florida.

A pair of adult Largemouth Bass parade by in the clear freshwaters of Ponce De Leon Springs a state park in northewest Florida.

A pair of adult Largemouth Bass parade by in the clear freshwaters of Ponce De Leon Springs a state park in northewest Florida.

I have not seen any Snapping Turtles yet but hope to one day. I have not seen any water snakes here either. My favorite time of the year here is the fall and winter because it is pretty much void of tourists. Spring and Summer are filled with locals and tourists enjoying the cool clear freshwaters to escape the heat.

Check out my Ponce De Leon Springs photo gallery to view or purchase some of the photos.

Bluegill_PDLsprings

Spotted Sunfish swims by.

A Peninsula Cooter Turtle standing up in shallow water putting its nose out of the water breathing air on the surface with its body reflecting on the underside of the water surface.

A Peninsula Cooter Turtle standing up in shallow water putting its nose out of the water breathing air on the surface with its body reflecting on the underside of the water surface.

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Penisular Cooter Turtle resting above the hydrilla plants.

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Clear fresh spring waters.

A Musk Turtle strecthes its neck above the bottom vegetation to see where the underwater photographer is located at the bottom of Ponce De Leon Springs state park in Florida.

A Musk Turtle strecthes its neck above the bottom vegetation to see where the underwater photographer is located at the bottom of Ponce De Leon Springs state park in Florida.

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Cypress Tree knees protruding out of the water.

A curious Peninsula Cooter turtle swims toward the photogapher and then swims away once its curiousity is satisfied.

A curious Peninsula Cooter turtle swims toward the photogapher and then swims away once its curiousity is satisfied.

A large Chain Pickerel emerges from within the bottom aquatic plants in the clear freshwaters of Ponce De Leon springs a state park in the panhandle of northwest Florida.

A large Chain Pickerel emerges from within the bottom aquatic plants in the clear freshwaters of Ponce De Leon springs a state park in the panhandle of northwest Florida.

A full sized Chain Pickeral cruses the clear freshwaters of Ponce Deleon Spring in March 2015.

A full sized Chain Pickeral cruses the clear freshwaters of Ponce Deleon Spring in March 2015.

 

Old Faithful Snorkel Site – Fanning Springs

I had a wild idea goal when I first came to Florida some five years ago and that was to either snorkel or scuba dive in all of the freshwater springs in Florida. It was a similar goal I had when I lived five years in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. Then I wanted to scuba dive in all the dive sites all around the island. I did end up scuba diving over 50% of the dive sites on the island so I did get to see a good portion of the underwater world around Oahu.

So far, I have snorkeled or scuba dived in most of the springs in the panhandle or northwest portion of Florida and I have been to many of the springs along the Gulf Coast of Florida all the way down south to Weekiwachi, Crystal River, Rainbow River, Homosassa, Devils Den, Blue Grotto, Wakulla, Ginnie, Manatee and Fanning Springs to name a few. There are so many springs in Florida that I hope to at least achieve the 50% goal like Hawaii. I have not been to many great springs in central or southeast Florida yet.

A pair of Manatees appear to be greeting each other as they meet in the clear freshwater of the Fanning Spring inlet to the Suwannee River in Fanning Springs, Florida as the sun sets in January 2016.

A pair of Manatees appear to be greeting each other as they meet in the clear freshwater of the Fanning Spring inlet to the Suwannee River in Fanning Springs, Florida as the sun sets in January 2016.

Among my favorite (at this point in time) is Fanning Springs where it is too shallow really to scuba dive but it is great snorkeling and a good diversity of marine life. There are many reasons why I have been to Fanning Springs at least seven times. One big reason is that when many other springs have gone tannic or brown from flood waters, Fanning usually stays clear even though it is only a short distance from the Suwannee River. The next biggest reason is that in the short Florida winter time, Fanning Springs is a little known great place to have encounters with Manatees without huge crowds of people. The Manatees come up the Suwannee River to Fanning in much smaller numbers than Crystal River and Three Sisters but if the temperatures are cold enough outside it is almost guaranteed there will be a small number of Manatees feeding and sleeping in Fanning.

GrandpaGrandson_BackFStrail

Bapa and grandson walk back to the cabin from the spring.

The other reason I continue to return to Fanning is they have a few nice cabins for rent at a reasonable price. That way you can check the spring out at any hour of the day or night which turns out to be a good benefit. The Manatees have figured out the Fanning State Park hours of operation which close at 6:00pm. There will not be any Manatees in the fresh clear waters of the spring during the tourist hours between 1o:oo am to 4:00pm. Around 4:00pm the visitors not staying in cabins, begin to leave the park which leaves the main spring with little to no visitors. I have noticed during my last three visits that as the sun begins to go down around 5:00pm, the Manatees will begin to swim the short distance of the inlet between Fanning Springs and the Suwannee River. Even though Suwannee is very brown, the inlet stays fairly clear and the setting sun goes down right through the row of trees on each bank of the inlet providing great lighting before dusk sets.

If you are in the water at 5:00pm in the main spring basin you can watch the Manatees make their way through the inlet one, two or three at a time. The park does not allow swimming or snorkeling in

A pair of Manatees appear to be flying in formation with the lead manatee and wingman in the crystal clear freshwater of the Fanning Springs inlet to the Suwannee River in the late afternoon of a cold January day in 2016.

A pair of Manatees appear to be flying in formation with the lead manatee and wingman in the crystal clear freshwater of the Fanning Springs inlet to the Suwannee River in the late afternoon of a cold January day in 2016.

the inlet because it is a boat traffic area but because the water is so clear you can easily see from the main spring basin 100-200 feet into the inlet to watch for the incoming Manatees. Many times the Manatees will spend a good amount of time in the inlet until the sun goes down but many times there can be over 10 manatees make their way all the way into the main spring where the water is a constant 72 degrees and there is plenty of food to forage and room to rest without any tourists or visitors interfering with the Manatees peace and tranquility (except for one or two photographers that is).  Even if there are visitors, many times the outside temperature is too cold for them to think about getting in the water.

 

ManateeWomanEncounter_FSjan2016

My daughter barely has time to enter the water and a juvenile manatee swims directly over to her and rubs up against her.

A young military wife has a gentile tactile encounter with a Manatee surfacing for air right next to the dock ladder at Fanning Springs state park in Florida.

A young military wife has a gentile tactile encounter with a Manatee surfacing for air right next to the dock ladder at Fanning Springs state park in Florida.

So that is why I return to Fanning Springs. Several times I will be the only person in the water with these majestic mammals photographing and watching their behaviors. My daughter, grandson and granddaughter visited us for Christmas and New Year so I wanted to let her and our grandson experience these gentle creatures. Sure enough, after the new year we got a cabin at Fanning and I took my daughter into the spring about 5:00pm. Several manatees made their way through the inlet into the main spring this time. I think the count was eight or ten manatees.

DeanoInAwe_ManateeWater

WHOA! What is that! My grandson sees the manatees swimming into the spring.

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Grandson telling me about the manatee that is in the water right behind him!

My wife and grandson were on the floating dock watching from the surface. Our grandson was ecstatic with typical three-year old excitement.  I explained the Manatee encounter rules to my daughter to not chase or touch unless they swim into you. No sooner did my daughter reach waist deep water and one of the juvenile manatees from the initial group swam directly over to her and rubbed against her. I barely had time to get my camera ready to photograph the encounter. My daughter did not even have to move because the manatee kept swimming around her. Then eventually it swam off to a group of four that were congregating around something in the water. Then my daughter swam over to the dock and she had a couple other of manatees come over and check her out. I taught her one trick to entice the manatees and that is when they approach you, to swim away from them. It seems like child psychology of taking it away so now they are more curious and want to play.

My daughter’s husband is in the military and on deployment over seas so her last three months of taking care of the home and two children alone had begun to drag her down a little. This manatee encounter at Fanning was a very cathartic and exciting experience for her. She also got to watch her three year old son get all excited on the dock watching the big creatures in the water playing with his mommy and Bapa. We stayed in the water floating, watching, photographing and encountering until the last rays of light turned to darkness. We did not want to let this moment end so we reluctantly exited the water and walked back to the cabin with the memories of this manatee encounters still floating around in our minds.

Then we got to relive the entire experience. Once in the cabin, I downloaded all the photos and videos on to my computer and we watched it all over again.

Fanning Springs old faithful came through again!

Manatees are large but very graceful creatures. I have children’s books about other very fun loving marine mammals known as sea lions.

Read about Sinbad & Papillon’s Escapades in e-Book or paper back at Amazon. 

Here are more photos and videos from my Fanning Springs photo gallery at Phojo-Frog.smugmug.com.

A curious juvenile Manatee comes in for an up close look as a fellow manatee feeds in the back ground in the clear freshwaters of Fanning Springs in the winter of 2016.

A curious juvenile Manatee comes in for an up close look as a fellow manatee feeds in the back ground in the clear freshwaters of Fanning Springs in the winter of 2016.

A Manatee chews on a dock rope like it is a pacifier while just under the surface of the clear freshwaters of Fanning Springs in January 2016.

A Manatee chews on a dock rope like it is a pacifier while just under the surface of the clear freshwaters of Fanning Springs in January 2016.

A Manatee appears to be getting a simultaneous belly and back rub as it swims upside down between the sandy bottom and the floating dock underside at Fanning Springs, Florida.

A Manatee appears to be getting a simultaneous belly and back rub as it swims upside down between the sandy bottom and the floating dock underside at Fanning Springs, Florida.

Four Manatee congregate to feed on the sam algae on the bottom at Fanning Springs state park in January 2016.

Four Manatee congregate to feed on the same algae on the bottom at Fanning Springs state park in January 2016.

 

When All Else Fails – Regarding Scuba Diving That Is!

Living in Panama City, Florida provides many opportunities to scuba dive and in my case do some underwater photography!

That said, recently it seemed that all the diving or snorkeling opportunities were closing their doors. Heavy rains and some storms made diving inshore or offshore unlikely. The freshwater springs around Panama City were also adversely affected by the heavy rains. Most of the rivers flooded and backed up into the surrounding springs turning them into zero visibility, muddy brown dive or snorkel such as Morrison Springs, Ponce De Leon Springs, Deer Point Lake and even the small Ponce De Leon Springs was cloudy. Only the tiny Pitt and Sylvan Springs were still crystal clear but diving is not allowed in those state springs and are way too shallow to dive anyway. I could have driven south to Wakulla or Fanning Springs but I wanted to stay in the panhandle.

An aerial view of Vortex Springs including the owners home, the dive shop on the left and the picnix areas. Orinally purchased in 1970 but was not even a third of the size it is now.

An aerial view of Vortex Springs including the owners home, the dive shop on the left and the picnic areas. Orinally purchased in 1970 but was not even a third of the size it is now.

Alas, when all else fails there is still the commercially owned Vortex Springs with a 200′ basin with crystal clear water and a deep cave. Vortex is capable of being affected by high flood waters but they have a pumping system built in that returns the murky flood waters from getting into the Vortex Spring basin. I called Vortex the morning I planned to make the 1.5 hour drive and was assured that the spring was still very clear. HooYah, I said.

As their website states; “What is Vortex Spring? Created by Doc & Ruth Dockery, Vortex Spring is home to the Red & White “Diver Down” Flag and is the largest diving facility in the state of Florida. Vortex Spring is recognized as one of the best and safest diving resorts in the country. This 420 acre playground produces approximately 28 million gallons of crystal clear water daily at a year round temperature of 68 degrees.

I loaded up my dive and camera gear and made the one and a half hour drive which coincidentally took me past Pitt & Sylvan Springs, Deer Point Lake, Morrison and Ponce De Leon Springs. I arrived and was initially disappointed because it looked like there were a lot of cars in the parking area around the dive basin. When there is no where else to dive, scuba diving instructor come from hundreds of miles around to bring their scuba diving classes. I checked in at the office and found out quickly that there was only one rescue swimmer class in the spring and the other cars were contractors working at the site. More good news, that meant the water would not be stirred up by large bunch of student divers.

Sunfish and Bluegill swarming the diver.

Sunfish and Bluegill swarming the diver.

I staged my large camera and underwater housing as well as my smaller camera/housing system with a GoPro video camera attached. I quickly donned my single 50 cf tank and BC, grabbed all my cameras and walked down the grassy slope to the nearest diving dock. The rescue swimmer class were getting out as I was going in. Most Florida divers wear full wetsuits in the springs because they think 68 degrees is cold. To me that is a perfect water temperature and all I wear is a hooded vest. They all think I am crazy! I even saw Edwardo, the Vortex Springs working diver, donning his three layer wetsuit system adding over an inch of rubber. (I had a flash back to my SDV diving days of putting on our two-phased wetsuits).  I can’t make fun of him though for all his rubber because he spends a minimum of four-six hours a day in the water maintaining the springs.

The only hard part for me is carrying all the camera gear. I got to the dive entry dock, donned my fins and face mask, grabbed my camera gear and stepped down into the water to chest deep.

A large school of Spotted Sunfish and Bluegil swim under one of the Vortex Springs floating docks as the morning sun bursts over the dock and into the clear freshwater.

A large school of Spotted Sunfish and Bluegil swim under one of the Vortex Springs floating docks as the morning sun bursts over the dock and into the clear freshwater.

As I stepped down I felt the cool refreshing freshwater inch up my legs, torso, arms and chest and it felt like I was back in my natural environment. I wish I were a better writer to describe how great it feels to me to be back in the water. I call it getting my gills wet even though I don’t have any. I took the final step and fully submerged into the water but breathing from my snorkel. I did not want to use up any of my scuba air swimming over to the cave basin because I only had a 50cf tank.

I put the regulator in my mouth and down I went back into my wonderful world of weightlessness where regardless of your weight, gravity no longer drags you down. I stopped about 20 feet below to arrange my dual strobe system for my camera and to tie off my other camera to a structure on the bottom. Immediately I was swarmed and surrounded by a large school of Spotted Sunfish and Bluegill. Divers used to feed these fish so they are pretty assertive and even taking a few nips of my skin. I was prepared. I got my GoPro video camera out and videoed them swarming all around me. I took a couple minutes of video and much to my surprise discovered the battery died on my GoPro. I did get some video though. I continued to the descent line and down to 60 feet to the dive cavern entrance. About half of the Sunfish and Bluegill followed me to the cavern.

A small school of Spotted Sunfish congregate in the Vortex Springs cavern at 60 feet deep in crystal clear freshwaters with cavern vents in the background.

A small school of Spotted Sunfish congregate in the Vortex Springs cavern at 60 feet deep in crystal clear freshwaters with cavern vents in the background.

Normally I enter the cavern and swim into the tunnel that goes back to what is called the “Piano Room” which is a large room lined with LED lights right before the official cave entrance. It does look like a large orchestra auditorium.  Today, I decided to stay just inside the cavern. My main goal was to get some photos of the American Eels and Shaddow Bass that hang around the cavern entrance. Many of the Spotted Sunfish followed me into the cavern entrance. Right away I saw

An American Eel cruises along the rocky bottom of the Vortex Springs cavern floor in Ponce De Leon, Florida.

An American Eel cruises along the rocky bottom of the Vortex Springs cavern floor in Ponce De Leon, Florida.

four large adult American Eels slithering around the cavern walls and across the sandy and rocky cavern floor. There were many more Shadow Bass than normal swimming up toward the cavern ceiling. I have lights on my strobes so I used those to light up the bass and eels and took pictures to my hearts content. The cavern entry room is very large with several vents that look like windows out into the sunlight blue spring. Some times I just pause and take in the cathedral-like underwater scenery around me.

I checked my time and it was thirty minutes into the dive so I decided to exit the cavern and go back up into the dive basin. I had plenty of air left. Plenty by my standards that is! I did notice that once into the basin I could not see any of the large schools of grass carp or koi fish. I wondered where they were? There were a multitude of sunfish and bluegill with some juvenile Largemouth bass every now and then. I knew where to find the big largemouth bass. They would be hiding underneath one of the decks or floating docks hanging out over the water. Sure enough, I found a few large ones. A few of the sunfish and bluegill followed me the entire time and all around.

I noticed something strange, there was Edwardo, wearing white-twin tanks,  on the bottom of the basin with a pick ax, shovel, flotation bag and a stainless

A hardcore Vortex Springs employee works hard to break up rocks underwater with a pick ax and puts the broken junks into a crate lifted by the air bag.

A hardcore Vortex Springs employee works hard to break up rocks underwater with a pick ax and puts the broken junks into a crate lifted by the air bag.

steel crate. When I got over to his location he was swinging the pick ax into what looked like a cement slab and breaking it up into chunks. It looked like he was in an underwater prison breaking up rocks for the warden. I don’t know how he got any thrust swinging that pick ax underwater but he did. He broke up the cement or rocks and put them in the stainless steel crate he had nearby. Once he filled the crate, he put air in the floatation bag and effortlessly swam the “box of rocks” into the shallow water gradient of the basin and dumped the rocks down the slope. I have no idea why, but I assume it is a way to prevent erosion in the spring. I watched and photographed Edwardo awhile longer use the pick ax, shovel, haul more boxes of rocks and even used an underwater vacuum to suck up algae on the basin rocky-slope walls. My admiration for him as a working diver was significantly elevated!

I finally ran out of air about 50 minutes and exited the water. I took my bottles and large camera system back to the car and grabbed my snorkeling fins and re-entered the water with my small camera to hunt down the grass carp, koi and largemouth bass. The rescue dive class was still out of the water. I spent another 50 minutes snorkeling around the entire perimeter of the Vortex Springs area where I eventually found the carp, koi and largemouth bass. I also noticed in the children’s swimming area that the invasive hydrilla plants had almost taken over the entire children’s area. I guess that is why they call it invasive. I felt very sorry for Edwardo because I knew that before spring came he would have to clear out all of the hydrilla from that very popular children’s swimming area. God bless that guy! What a hard worker.

Largemouth bass hiding under a dock.

Largemouth bass hiding under a dock.

I spent over an hour and a half in the water and photographed every thing I could think of. Time to get out, warm up and take some land and air photos. I did take some ground photos to develop a panoramic view of the spring, Then I got my drone and flew it up to 200′ and 400′ elevation and took many aerial photos of the park, Daryl the owner was thrilled watching the drone fly over his park. We used the drone to fly over and check out his pumping station near the far end of the park to see if all was working well. Daryl was amazed at how well and easy the drone was to fly.

It dawned on me that even though I am retired Frog and SEAL, that I am still doing my Sea, Air, Land (SEAL) as a photographer!

Don’t forget to check out my SEAL and Sea Lions books at my Navy SEAL photo website and purchase a book to help an old retired SEAL. 

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A school of baby largemouth bass hover over the top of the invasive hydrilla plants.

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Koi and grass carp hiding under the steps of a dock.

An aerial view of the crystal clear freshwaters of Vortex Springs with the dive shop on the top right and the original owners display of the well known Dive Flag, bottom left, that he invented. The main spring is in the bottow left quadrant with docks located surrounding the many scuba diving area.

An aerial view of the crystal clear freshwaters of Vortex Springs with the dive shop on the top right and the original owners display of the well known Dive Flag, bottom left, that he invented. The main spring is in the bottow left quadrant with docks located surrounding the many scuba diving area.

A hard working Vortex Springs employee uses a flotation bag to hauls rocks underwater from the bottom to the incline gradient to replentish rocks and prevent shore erosion.

A hard working Vortex Springs employee uses a flotation bag to hauls rocks underwater from the bottom to the incline gradient to replentish rocks and prevent shore erosion.

An underwater worker uses a floatation bladder to air lift and move the stainless steel box for hauling rocks and debris at Vortex Springs in Ponce De Leon, Florida.

An underwater worker uses a floatation bladder to air lift and move the stainless steel box for hauling rocks and debris at Vortex Springs in Ponce De Leon, Florida.

Beginner Pilot Escapade

Christmas has come and gone and it took me three days to figure out how to fly my new present. As a child I have always had dreams of flying through the air like Superman or Peter Pan and now I can virtually fulfill those dreams.

Steve helps me with the first flight as the children watch.

Steve helps me with the first flight as the children watch.

Initial set up of my new DJI Phantom III Professional drone went well up until I needed to calibrate the compass. I did not realize how close I was to completing set up process but I did not want to proceed until I got help. Here is where Steve the policeman comes into the story. We go to the same church together so after the last service I cornered Steve and asked for his help finishing the setup. He had to feed someone’s cats after church but he postponed that and came over right away with his son and daughter. Steve is not much better with computer or device APPS than I am but due to his previous DJI drone experience he was able to quickly figure out how to finish the compass synchronization and the set up process.

His experience helped improve my confidence for the inaugural flight. Thankfully the DJI flight software has a beginner’s setting that restricts elevation and distance and autonomously manages most of the flight controls. Within seconds I had the drone elevating straight up. The beginner’s flight controls were simple and almost instinctive. There was about a 10 knot wind and the drone hovered effortlessly at the location and elevation. You could see the drone compensating for the wind to maintain it’s position. Both Steve and I flew the drone in a tight area in the front yard taking photos and videos of the children watching us fly. Both of us were very impressed with the camera gimbal system keeping the camera level regardless of the drone maneuvers.

Back yard view of the house looking toward St. Andrews east bay. Look close and you can see Cath and Deano on the porch and me in the garage flying the drone.

Front yard view of the house.

I finally took the chance and elevated the drone to the 400 foot maximum height and took a couple of photos of the front and back of the house. This was the initial reason I wanted a drone to get aerial photos of our home. Later my reasons expanded to other photographic options but within minutes into the first flight the initial reason was successfully completed. The camera sends a feed of the camera view while in flight so you can see where ever you are flying as if you were actually in the air. A “Bird’s eye view” so to speak.

We only used up 45% of the drone battery life but decided to play it safe and brought it back “Home” with a push of a button. It is totally amazing to me how within minutes of the inaugural flight and  without any flight experience I was able to fulfill a long ago childhood dream of flying through the air. My former military parachuting experience of falling through the air speeding to the rising ground below did not ever come close to that drone flying experience.

Back yard view of the house looking toward St. Andrews east bay. Look close and you can see Cath and Deano on the porch and me in the garage flying the drone.

Back yard view of the house looking toward St. Andrews east bay. Look close and you can see Cath and Deano on the porch and me in the garage flying the drone. You can even see our gazebo on the water. What a lazy man’s way to fly virtually.

Family Pre-Christmas Escapades

Grand parents are crazy! I can say that with authority because my wife and I went to great lengths to get our two daughters with their children to visit us in Florida. Both of our daughters were without their spousal units this Christmas so we wanted to make sure they and our grand kids had a memorable Christmas. One daughter’s husband is a U.S. Navy Sea Bee and on deployment overseas. The other daughter’s husband just got a great new job and had to attend mandatory company training which did not allow him to take any time off.

The ZamLouMcWood family pre-christmas dinner.

The ZamLouMcWood family pre-christmas dinner. Top-L/R: Amy, Joyce, Janet, Catherine, Tim, Mike. Bottom-L/R: Ryan, John Ryan, Kaylie, Mikey, Deano & John.

We used bribes, coercion, guilt and even enticement to ensure they left their homes in California and Texas to visit us in Florida. We even stooped so low as to invite my favorite nephew with his fabulous wife and children to visit from Georgia to help encourage our daughters strong desire to visit with their cousin. No devious method went unconsidered. We provided round trip tickets for our California daughter with her son and newborn daughter to fly out and visit for a month. Our Texas daughter, my wife drove half way from Florida to Texas to meet up in Louisianna to pick up the other daughter and three sons so they could visit us through past Christmas. She made that 12 hour round-trip drive in one night. Like I said, Grand parents are crazy!

Same crazy ZamLouMcWood family.

Same crazy ZamLouMcWood family.

My wife has been planning and preparing for months for this get together. She has completely decorated the entire inside of the home with decorations and a christmas tree trimmings. The dining table is so well decorated with beautiful ornate shiny service settings, crystal candle holders and large glass vases there is actually no room to eat at the table. You don’t want to touch anything for fear of messing up the decoration. I am the one that thinks worst case scenario all the time and all I could see was one of the rambunctious 2 year old, 6 year old, 14 and 16 year old grandsons fulfilling the “bull in a china shop” scenario and ending up with either her crystal or fine china crashing to the wood floors below.

The families taking a hay ride through a trail in the woods before dinner.

The families taking a hay ride through a trail in the woods and listening to Christmas music before dinner.

I could continue with this story but I just thought I would fill this post with mostly photos this time.

John Ryan & Ryan riding in the back of the pick up truck during the hayride.

Deano & Ryan climbing a tree trunk on the beach at Piney Point. .

JRZ_Ryan_TruckHayride

John Ryan & Ryan riding in the back of the pick up truck during the hayride.

The fearsome foursome John Ryan, Ryan, Mikey and Kaylie with the pug.

The fearsome foursome John Ryan, Ryan, Mikey and Kaylie with the pug.

Johnny & Janet during a rare quite moment at the dinner table.

Johnny & Janet during a rare quite moment at the dinner table.

The fearsome foursome plus one Deano on the front porch during a sunset.

The fearsome foursome plus one Deano on the front porch during a sunset.

Hundreds of dollars on Christmas gifts and they play with the boxes at the bon fire. Timmy in the box and Mikey taking photos of the fire.

Hundreds of dollars on Christmas gifts and they play with the boxes at the bon fire. Timmy in the box and Mikey taking photos of the fire.

Joyce and baby Sarah looking into each other's eyes.

Joyce and baby Sarah looking into each other’s eyes.

Sisters, Amy & Catherine who have not seen each other in a long while

Sisters, Amy & Catherine who have not seen each other in a long while

Deano with his Santa hat on a hayride.

Deano with his Santa hat on a hayride.

Hayride at sunset. Tim, Amy, Mikey, Joyce, Deano, Kaylie, Janet and hidden under the jacket is baby Sarah.

Hayride at sunset. Tim, Amy, Mikey, Joyce, Deano, Kaylie, Janet and hidden under the jacket is baby Sarah.

Ryan and Mikey stirring up the bon fire.

Ryan and Mikey stirring up the bon fire.

Mikey and Joyce on the hay ride down the trail into the woods.

Mikey and Joyce on the hay ride down the trail into the woods.

Boat Parade of Lights – Panama City, FL

This is a photo of the same boat but in different locations along the route.

This is a photo of the same boat but in different locations along the route.

A new experience for my wife and I. I have heard of boat parades of light and I have even seen boats parading with lights at Disney World but I have never seen a long line of personally and commercially owned boats decorated for Christmas parading along the shore line. When my wife first suggested the idea of going to the Panama City downtown marina to watch the parade of lights I was initially very apprehensive. I was not envisioning sugar plums dancing in my head. I envisioned dense crowds, heavy car traffic and a long walk to find one open spot to see the boats. “YUCH”, I thought! I have long learned though to over ride my initial intuition and go along with her good idea. (Which it was!)

The Panama City’s 29th Annual Christmas Boat Parade of Lights started at the Panama City marina and ended at the St. Andrews Marina about 3 miles due west and started at 5:30 pm. As we drove west toward the downtown marina I kept expecting heavy traffic. We arrived at Beach street and still no traffic. Then we reached the parking lot for the marina and not only was there no traffic but there we even a few parking spaces available. I guess we arrived close to starting time. It was a long walk from one end of the lot to the marina docks and it was there that I saw the crowds of people all lined up along the shoreline railing waiting for the boats. My wife is a crowd person so she led the way to a place to set down our chairs and then find a viewing spot along the railing. She found us a spot right on the railing overlooking the water. It helped that the people on either side of us gave me a little room to accommodate my camera.

Here is a boat right before making the turn to head toward the St. Andrews marina. If you look closely you can see a line of boats.

Here is a boat right before making the turn to head toward the St. Andrews marina. If you look closely you can see a line of boats.

Riverboat_ParadeLightsI set up my camera and monopod and soon after that the boats started parading along the shoreline. I was pleasantly surprised by the dispersed crowd and perfect weather temperatures. The parade of boats PowerBoat_Reflection_ParadeLightsincluded all sizes and types of boats. There were small power boats, pontoon boats and sail boats as well as large commercial boats both powered and sail as well as city and county marine patrol boats all decorated to the maximum. There were prizes in different categories for the boat decorations. I did not see where the judges were located but they had a lot to judge. About every minute a new boat passed by sometimes from the smallest to the largest boats about 25-50 yards off the shoreline. The water must be deep along the shoreline because some of the largest boats came very close to our railing. In fact I could not get the whole boat in my view even at the widest angle lens setting.

There were folks every now and then along the shore line with these multi-colored-lighted pistols blowing bubbles that blew with the prevailing breeze right out to the boats. As the bubbles floated through the air they picked up the colors of the boat light reflections in the water. I tried to capture with the camera but it was difficult to capture.

A young teen girl Mary was using her gun to the right of us.

A young teen girl Mary was using her gun to the right of us.

An elderly man to the left of us was using his bubble gun as well. Age did not matter.

An elderly man to the left of us was using his bubble gun as well. Age did not matter.

I am glad I was not a judge because it would have been a difficult choice to choose the category winners. I did have a favorite though. A large commercial craft came by an they had it decorated with the Minnion characters. Well before we knew it that last boat went by and headed toward the St. Andrews marina. There were many other things to do with the live music band, a long line of food and other vendor tents and a race car on display. We hung around awhile listening to the musical group and stayed until they were done.

I hope you enjoy these night photos of the boat parade of lights. I have recently published a 2016 calendar of vintage photos of U.S. Navy SEALs operations and training in the sea, air and land of which some are night time photos.

 

Race car on display.

Race car on display.

Line of food and service vendor tents.

Line of food and service vendor tents.

Live music concert.

Live music concert.

My favorite Minnion characters in the parade.

My favorite Minnion characters in the parade.

Marina grounds decorated with Christmas lights.

Marina grounds decorated with Christmas lights.

Boat returns to port.

Boat returns to port.