Florida Keys‘ clear, warm waters attract almost 800,000 scuba and snorkel aficionados annually, and there is no better destination to learn how to get “up close and personal” with the undersea environment.
The Keys’ combination of vivid coral reefs teeming with exotic sea creatures and a wealth of professional snorkel/dive operators offers a ready-made vacation paradise for those who can’t wait to get into the water and start exploring, even as first-timers.
Dive the Best Sites
The waters off Marathon are home to the wreck of the Thunderbolt, a 188-foot cable layer that later served as a research vessel to explore the electrical energy in lightning strikes. The local dive community purchased the Thunderbolt, originally named Randolph, and sunk it intentionally as a dive attraction on March 3, 1986, in approximately 120 feet of water, 6.5 miles south of Duck Key Channel in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
She is referred to as the queen of the Marathon wreck fleet.
An easily navigable wreck, the Thunderbolt is accessed by following the lines of two submerged mooring balls that are positioned at the bow and stern. The top of the observation deck is at 75 feet. What is unique about this wreck is the opportunity for divers to see it in its entirety during one dive, and reportedly great visibility on any given day.
She sits perfectly upright with large angelfish patrolling its decks and notable giant cable spool at the bow; barracuda stand watch in the wheelhouse, an easy and intriguing swim-through. The aft end of the wreck has been cut away to expose the engine room and the interior of the hull.
Thunderbolt’s superstructure is coated with colorful sponges, corals, and hydroids, providing refuge and sustenance to large angelfish, jacks, cobia, tarpon and a variety of deep-water pelagic creatures.
Perhaps the most popular residents are the three Goliath grouper that hang around the engine room, one nearly 800 pounds. Schools of amberjack, plentiful hogfish, black grouper and the occasional reef shark reside near the rudder and propellers, left on the ship to complement the stern section of the hull to appeal to divers.
Other undersea favorites include the wreck of the Ivory Coast, the obscure remains of a sunken slave ship run aground in 1853, and Sombrero Reef, marked by a large, lighted tower. A notable historic dive site is an artificial reef created from the center span of the old Seven Mile Bridge, built by Florida pioneer Henry Flagler for his Overseas Railroad.
Dive With the Pros
You’ll want to dive with the best of the best, and Hall’s Diving Center & International Career Institute is just the ticket, for any kind of diving – beginner, advanced or technical. You can learn every skill there is underwater, become a better diver and even learn underwater videography and photography. A wealth of specialty classes are available too, from advanced to wreck and night diving. You may even get some personal tips on spearfishing from the staff.
Settled into their new location at 5050 Overseas Highway, Hall’s is not only a dive shop but a vocational school – the only one of its kind in the state of Florida – that teaches and trains students to become dive instructors, enabling them find careers in scuba diving and work in the field.
Hall’s graduates can be found at resorts in the Caribbean, onboard cruise ships, dive liveaboards, the islands of Hawaii as well as among staff in many dive shops in the Florida Keys.
Why leave paradise to find work, right?