|The surf, sun and sand of South Florida.|
Life in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., revolves around the Intracoastal Waterway and conspicuous displays of beauty and wealth. Here in the "Venice of America," the liquid boulevards are crowded on all sides with palatial estates, immaculate yachts and self-satisfied socialites all competing for your attention.
With all the topside eye candy, it's easy to forget some of Lauderdale's true beauty and wealth--a three-tiered reef and more than 40 diveable shipwrecks. Take the Rodeo 25, for example. This 215-foot Dutch freighter was sunk off Pompano Beach in 1990, and the upright wreck is now a haven for French angels as big as cafe tables. At 90 feet, the bridge looks out over clear water while a crew of bar jacks, blue tang and bicolor damselfish patrols the ship's lower quarters. The wreck is also home to some pugnacious Goliath groupers that have been known to engage divers in fierce stare-downs.
Minutes away, the Sea Emperor sits upside down in 75 feet of water. Sunk many years ago as part of Broward County's ongoing artificial reef program, the ship was filled with tons of concrete cylinders and an "Aqua Zoo" was created around the wreck when the tubes spilled out of the falling vessel onto the sand below. Scattered about like oversized Lincoln Logs, the encrusted cylinders bustle with marine life--shoals of grunts cruise through the pipes and sergeant majors fly at intruders to defend coveted spots.
As our October 2002 issue went to press, Broward County announced the sinking of two new wrecks at recreational diving depths off Hollywood Beach--the MV Dantor (128 feet) and the Eben-ezer II (70 feet). But wrecks and artificial reefs are only half of the Fort Lauderdale diving story. Three parallel reefs run the length of the Broward County coast. The first starts just offshore in 20 feet of water and is easily dived from the beach at Lauderdale-By-The-Sea. The outer reef is located a little more than a mile offshore and runs anywhere from 55 to 70 feet, with a backside ledge that slopes down to 90 feet.
Strong Gulf Stream currents make this reef ideal for long, languid drift dives past swaying soft corals and bright, multicolored sponges. Spotted drum peer from small crevices and every barrel sponge is like a city in miniature with wrasse, hamlets and blue chromis swirling together like cars in rush-hour traffic. Nearby, green morays poke their heads out of narrow holes and balloonfish hide in the soft coral.
Slowly plying our way back up the Intracoastal, we pass waterfront hot spots, sun worshippers and the gleaming luxury cars of well-heeled beach bums. The diving was great, and who knows, the surface interval might be just as memorable.
|Sunset on the Intracoastal.|
Dive In: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
LOCATION: Greater Fort Lauderdale stretches from Deerfield Beach in the north to Hallandale Beach in the south.
WATER CONDITIONS: Year-round, diving is excellent, with water temperatures ranging from 72F to 85F degrees. Visibility ranges from 60 to 100 feet. The best conditions are found in September and October.
DIVE PROFILES: Steady currents make for great drift dives, but they can also be challenging on deep wreck sites. Use or follow a dive flag while drift diving, and take gloves for the wrecks.
DIVE OPERATORS: South Florida Diving Headquarters, (800) 771-3483, web: www.southfloridadiving.com. Pro Dive, (800) pro-dive, www.prodiveusa.com. For more listings, visit the Greater Fort Lauderdale Dive Association web site at www.diveftlauderdale.com.
FOR MORE INFO: For a free vacation planner for Fort Lauderdale, call (800) 22-sunny or visit www.sunny.org. For more information on Broward County's artificial reef program, visit www.coralreef.noaa.gov/outreach/welcome.html.