When my alarm started to sound at 8a.m. I groaned aloud, this surely couldn’t be time to wake up already?? Unfortunately, this was indeed the case and after getting our stuff ready we headed over to Denny’s for a quick breakfast of hash browns and bacon before making our way to the dive shop. Crystal River Watersports was right across from our hotel – Day’s Inn – so it worked out pretty perfectly. We were introduced to Colby our dive instructor for the dives and to a lovely lady from D.C who would be joining us. We kitted up and after learning the hard way in South Africa a few years ago I purchased some gloves, with water temperatures of 22 degrees they would definitely be needed.
We would be diving 2 sites which are around the Williston area around an hours drive from Crystal River so we hopped into Colby’s truck and enjoyed the drive up not having to think about navigation or gas. On arrival at Blue Grotto, our first stop, we watched a short video about the site and signed the disclaimer before kitting up and checking it out for ourselves. Blue Grotto is a large underwater fresh spring around 30m in depth. The main chamber is really wide and it then gets narrower with a sort of thin tail. I was surprised by how many fish there were as we descended to the first platform. We were also lucky enough to spot the cavern’s resident soft shell turtle – Virgil who was very inquisitive and came over to say hello and welcome us to his home. Another feature of the cavern is an air box they have attached to the ceiling so that divers can swim up inside and remove their regulators to chat before descending back into the water again. This was a fun feature and definitely added to the excitement of the dive. We then descended down further to a deeper platform before diving right down to the bottom of the tail. There wasn’t as much visibility at this depth and nothing much to see either so we ascended back up to check out the catfish and hang out with Virgil some more. The water was a gorgeous clear blue and the fresh water was a nice change from the salty sea water we are used to. We got out of the water and immediately stripped out of our wet gear before basking in the sun to heat up some with some yummy hot chocolate courtesy of Colby!
Our second site was Devil’s Den, just a few miles drive from Blue Grotto. This site was a lot less busy and we were the only divers when we arrived! We had a wander around the site which was had a long staircase descending down into the cavern and from the surface you could walk around and see the huge sinkhole that had created it. Again we kitted up and waddled down the stairs into the cavern. When you first enter the water it’s a bit of a shock to the system but soon enough we had acclimatised and were descending down. This cavern is only around 17 m is depth, but the really cool thing about this dive is all the rock swim throughs. When the sinkhole was formed, a lot of the rock from the surface caved in essentially. So we spent our time weaving in and out of very tight rock tunnels and spaces that were created during the cave-in. It was very interesting to see into all of the nooks and crannies and was a great opportunity for us to work on our buoyancy skills. Although there were less fish than the previous site, I actually preferred this one of the two (although they were both great), just due to the challenge of meandering through, up, down and around all of the rock tunnels. In one of the deep sections I spotted a huge catfish and there were more fish towards the shallows.
As we surfaced and de-kitted and warmed again we were all really hungry from all the diving and from going all day with no food. It was an hour back to the dive shop where we slept the whole way before thanking Colby and our dive buddy Annie for a great day. We were absolutely starving by this point and on a recommendation from the dive shop drove the few miles out to Pecks Old Port Cove Seafood Restaurant just as the sun was setting. We both ordered the soft shell crab to start which was nice and then I opted for the garlic blue crab (12oz) which I only managed to make a small dent in over the hour I was eating for. It also came with sides of cheese grits (not a fan) and coleslaw. Feeling very full and sleepy I ordered some key lime pie to go and we headed back to our hotel via the supermarket to pick up some snacks for our long drive the next day. The key lime pie was phenomenal and I ate it in bed loving life.