Drift diving in the mighty Gulfstream with Pura Vida Divers!
by David Miner
What do a nutrient-rich current, crackling clear blue water, rich coral reef, warm water, large pelagics, many sea turtles, great wrecks and ledges, and photo-rich opportunities all have in common? Drift diving in the beautiful waters off Palm Beach County Florida.
Photo: Steve Straatsma
The Palm Beaches stretch from Riviera Beach south to Lake Worth on the east coast of Florida and comprise an area where the mighty Gulfstream current runs closer to shore than anywhere else along the state. What does this mean? This means that clear, nutrient-rich, warm water feeds the reefs and brings critters that are seen nowhere else in Florida. The current runs north and can range in velocity anywhere from 1 to 3+ knots. This constant flow of clear blue water often provides visibility in the 50 to 100 foot range and provides a unique and fun way of diving, called drift diving. Drift diving is a technique where all divers are dropped at the same time along with a dive master who is carrying a tethered surface marker. All divers drift together along the reef, while the boat above follows the tethered marker on the surface. When the dive is complete, all divers surface to the waiting boat. Drift diving can be very exciting and relaxing. Allowing the current to carry you along, only using your fins to steer, makes for effortless diving.
The Palm Beach area offers a variety of diving opportunities from the popular Breakers Reef and Juno Ledges to the wreck of the Mitzpah and a corridor of four wrecks called The Corridors. There are also many other sections of reef and ledges providing excellent diving, such as Breakers South, Fourth Window, Double Ledges, Undercut Ledge, and 100 foot Caves, just to name a few. Divers of all skill levels can enjoy the variety of diving West Palm Beach has to offer.
Photo: Jeff Nelson
For our dives in the area, we chose to use Pura Vida Divers, a dive shop and charter that operates out of the Singer Island area. Sirena, a 30-foot United States Coast Guard-certified Island Hopper, equipped for up to 12 divers, departs the Riviera Beach Marina daily for the short trip out to the reefs and wrecks. Pura Vida Divers is a full-service dive shop offering PADI dive training, equipment service, and all of your gear needs. Sirena is a safe and comfortable dive boat offering an array of amenities including a freshwater shower, shampoo, conditioner, sun block, towels, marine head, CD Player, fresh seasonal fruit, a variety of snacks, and refreshments including soda and bottled water. Sirena is also equipped with a wide dive platform and two Christmas tree-style ladders for easy on and off the boat, DAN Charter Boat Oxygen Unit, first aid kit, and an extensive save-a-dive kit. Your comfort and diving fun is their top priority!
Photo: Debi Buck
Photo: Dean Shuler
Photo: Debi Buck
Diving West Palm is unique due to the proximity of the Gulfstream current, the very short boat rides to the dive sites, and the ability to drift along with the current. The reefs are magnificently alive with an amazing array of corals, tropical fish, sponges, schooling grunts and spadefish, green and spotted moray eels, goliath grouper, nurse sharks, lemon sharks, occasional hammerheads, lobster, and a variety of invertebrates. The ledges can range from 2 to 15 feet tall with deep undercuts and swim-throughs and also offer the opportunity for great critter pictures or if you’re a hunter, spearfishing opportunities.
The wrecks are covered with extensive growth and provide a rich experience with many marine critters as well. Giant barracuda hover just above the wrecks, goliath grouper cruise the superstructure looking for their next meal, and reef sharks scoot by without acknowledging your presence. Due to the number of hurricanes that rampaged the area over the past two years, many of the wrecks have undergone damage. Some have been broken up with pieces scattered in many directions. There are still large sections of wreck superstructure to enjoy, but they’re not as intact as they were just a few years ago.
One of the greatest and most frequent encounters you’ll have on any dive in West Palm is with a sea turtle. Almost every dive we did, we encountered one of the four species of turtles that live in this area. Four of the world’s seven species of turtles can be seen diving these rich waters. Hawksbill turtles, Green turtles, Loggerhead turtles, and Leatherback turtles frequent the waters just offshore. Hawksbills and Loggerheads are the most common, but if you’re diving during nesting periods, you can see them all.
Over the course of a couple weekends, we made numerous dives with Pura Vida Divers, without ever going back to the same dive site. We have to say that, comparatively speaking, West Palm Beach is one of the best diving locations in the continental United States. The multitude of dive sites, the ability to be at a dive site in less than 30 minutes (from the dock), the clear blue water, the beautiful reefs and wrecks, the amazing critters, and the ability to relax while you drift effortlessly with the current knowing the boat will be right there to pick you up when you surface makes West Palm Beach a must diving trip for divers of all abilities. Whether you like to take pictures, dive wrecks, reefs, or ledges, spearfish, or just sight see, there is something for everyone.
Photo: Steve Straatsma
Half day charters are the norm, giving you the opportunity to get in two dives in the morning and be back to the dock by noon for a relaxing lunch and afternoon at the beach or shopping the area. We recommend that you spend at least two days diving the area to get a real taste of what West Palm diving has to offer. If you’re in the area longer, Palm Beach County also offers other excellent recreational opportunities. With renowned restaurants, white, sandy beaches, great shopping, sport fishing, championship golf courses, and a variety of nightly entertainment, Palm Beach has everything for a lengthy vacation.
For information on diving with Pura Vida Divers, go to their website at www.puravidadivers.com, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call them at (561) 840-8750.
Watch video of diving West Palm!
Photo: Jeff Hawes