24-JAN-2021 Sunday – John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo FL (0 nautical miles 0 statute miles)
Elevation: Sea Level
States (1): Florida
Along the Way
Great day for a dive. Swells from the NE at 1 foot 3 second duration and wind 6mph from the NE. It was hard to ask for better seas. We booked a trip with Bluewater Diver. http://www.bwdiver.com/ Although it has been several years since he last dove with them, my cousin Mark recommended it. His recommendations have been spot on so far.
First things first. We were handed wet suits to try on before we left. Mine slipped on like an old pair of zubaz. It was way too large for me. Dale looked like a 3 year old trying to put on tights by herself the first time. As I took it off I discovered I had been give the XL intended for Dale and Dale was trying to put on the S intended for me.
OK ….. my feelers about Bluewater Diver went on high alert. Too late. Too late to jump ship……
Instructions were given as we moved down the waterway. I quickly realized were with a highly competent, highly qualified dive operation.
Today’s destination was Molasses Reef. Molasses Reef is a Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA) protected area and as a result has splendid display of sponges, brightly adorned tropical fish, game fish, different species of sea turtles plus a whole lot of other stuff within its spur and groove coral formations. The nooks and crannies in the reef attracted tropical fish like wildflowers draw honeybees.
Molasses Reef is considered one of the best, if not the best, dive spots on the Florida Reef system.
We dove the Ray Alley, the Aquarium and Wellwood areas.
Molasses Reef is the cemetery, final resting ground for several ships. One was the Slobodna, a 3-masted 1,100-ton, three-masted, 170 foot merchant vessel iron-framed with a wooden hull that was reportedly delivering 4,500 bales of cotton from the docks of New Orleans to Europe’s textile mills. The Slobodna struck Molasses Reef in 23 feet of water in 1887. The corals chiseled away at the hull until water began to seep through the cracks and into the holds. The cotton began to absorb the warm Atlantic water. The jammed in bales of cotton began to swell and continue to expand until it was pushing at the sides of the ship until the distressed planks creaked, moaned, and split. Poof.
In addition to the approx 8 foot mechanical winch from Slobodna, there are other wreck pickings throughout the reef.
What a dive!!!!!
I’m reasonably certain we saw most of the 600 different species of flora and fauna the Molasses Reef is home to.
Although we didn’t see any octopus on our dive, we were so geeked from our dive that we went back to the boat and watched the ‘My Octopus Teacher’ documentary on NetFlix before calling it a night.
Reefs in the Florida Keys are typically named after an identifying feature or the name of a ship wreck or event. For example, Alligator Reef is not named after alligators in the area it is named after the USS Alligator. It is named for the USS Alligator, a ship assigned to suppress the trade of slaves coming from the African coast that ran aground in November 1822.
Molasses Reef is named for a ship carrying barrels of the sugary compound running aground. The story goes rum making by the local pirates was interrupted until the next shipment arrived.
On Aug. 4, 1984, the 400-foot vessel M/V Wellwood carrying pelletized chicken feed ran up on Molasses Reef, grinding away at nearly 20,000 square feet of reef until it was as smooth as the Overseas Highway. Nearly a quarter-million square feet of brain coral, elkhorns and seafans, sponges and star coral was destroyed or injured. The resulting fine for habitat destruction was assessed at $6.275 million and the bill paid over a 15-year period.
With technology, maps accurate charts and regional lighting available in 1984 how did they manage to hit it????????
We dove at the Wellwood location that is part of the restoration area.