Getting the most out of your diving day Shallow coral reefs provide themaximum bottom time. What could be better than spending three hours in the water exploring some of the best reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary on the same boat trip? Three-tank dive trips are the big attraction at the Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center, a 5-Star PADI facility that sits next to U.S. 1 on Ramrod Key about 25 miles up the road from Key West. The extra tank and shallow nature of the Looe Key reef system adds up to the most bottom time that a diver can hope for without spending a week on a live-aboard. The Kokomo Cat, a comfortable 45-foot catamaran, takes divers out to the Adolphus Bush Sr. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The 210-foot island freighter was sunk as an artificial reef on Dec. 5, 1998. The ship's wheelhouse is at a depth of 50 feet, and its keel rests in about 100 feet of water. The rest of the week is devoted to diving on Looe Key, which is not actually a key, but rather a series of picturesque spur-and-groove reefs named after the H.M.S. Looe, a British frigate that sank there in 1744. The 5-square-mile area, which has been closed to consumptive activities such as spearfishing and collecting since 1981, is generally regarded as best diving in the Lower Keys. Schools of jacks and large barracudas dart among towering ledges dominated by star, brain and elkhorn corals that reach almost to the surface. Brightly colored sea fans wave in the tidal surge of warm water. During our dives, we reached a maximum depth of only 30 feet. In addition to the great diving, the seasoned crew on the Kokomo Cat definitely enhances the overall experience. Although we did not get to meet resort owner Joe Glenn, he obviously has a talent for hiring top-notch employees. Capt. Joe Clower knows the area's history, plus he grills a mean hotdog. Clower also deserves praise for alerting a passing sanctuary patrol about a boat that was fishing illegally in the area during our dive trip. Instructor Steve Spor was extremely attentive to his group of students that were completing open-water training dives on a gray and blustery January day. Crewman Pete Phillips dealt with equipment needs in a courteous and professional manner. The three middle-aged guys are each semi-retired Northerners who enjoy life in the Keys and take a no-nonsense approach to their duties. The resort's rooms are clean and cozy, though you should be prepared to wait a few minutes for the shower's hot water to kick in. Each room has a rear door that is just a short walk from the boat dock, which makes for convenient loading and unloading of dive gear.Besides an outdoor Tiki bar and pool, the resort has a restaurant - the Looe Key Grill - that features a casual atmosphere with first-rate food at reasonable prices. For more information on the Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center, call 800-942-5397.
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