"Answer the phone honey"
"Bulls__t. Its got to be one of your diving buddies. Who else would be calling at 5:00 in the morning?"
Sure enough it was Buddy Gremer. Optician supreme and owner of a nice 26 ft Thunderbird cuddy. Rear curtains and a hot shower make changing out of a cold wetsuit in 50 degree air a true joy.
"IT"S FLAT CALM!"
6:30 am. Me, Buddy Gremer, Bill Wright, and Cavin Henry break through the jetties leaving the St. Johns River behind us. Crystal clear sky meeting the morning sun and the seas flat as a mirror. Not even a baby's breath for a breeze. For no other reason than the flat calm we decided to try for the BR ferry boat 32 miles due east and some BIG fish. The enthusiasm of the moment causing us all to be giddy with anticipation and forgetting the cardinal wintertime rule. Nary a care in the world about what the working people were going to be doing that day.
DON'T spearfish on wrecks in the winter. The man in the grey suit owns the wrecks in the wintertime..........
Now the BR ferry boat is a 350 foot ferry that used to run the ST Johns Crossing at Mayport in the 40's and 50's. It was towed out 32 miles in the early 60's and scuttled on a sandy/rocky bottom in 115 of water. The relief off the bottom runs from 6 to 20 feet and with the superstructure collapsed and 35 years accumulation of growth on it makes for a class A fishing spot. It also is where I go to collect lost brand new anchors and 120 foot lengths of rope when I need them.
So anyhow. Throttles in the corner. Nose trimmed up high two big block Mercruisers screaming. Ride so smooth we were sitting down and drinking coffee from ceramic cups while making 50 knots eastbound. Around quarter after seven we pulled up on the wreck.
Who knew we were late? Two commercial fishing boats and ten assorted 18-45 footers already there. None of them divers. Up goes the dive flag. On the radio we are listening to fishermen and fisherwomen complaining about getting lots of good bites but not being able to get anything in the boat and now, dammit, DIVERS!
So we get on the radio and let'em know we are here for maybe 45 minutes and promise we will clear out after our dive. One woman called us crazy. Little did we know how right she was.
Geared up, spearguns loaded with 357 mag powerheads, Buddy and I break the surface and start down. To our amazement the visibility was as clear as I can ever remember offshore Jacksonville. As soon as we broke the surface we could see the entire 350 foot wreck over a hundred feet below us stem to stern.
Grouper everywhere hundreds of them. Sharks. Yup, about twenty big sand tigers in the 8-10 foot range. And four of the biggest Mako's I have ever seen. Twelve to fifteen footers. Over a thousand pounds of 70 mph grey death and nothing we could do but descend back to back to the bottom.
That's when the problems started. I couldn't get my ears to clear. It was one of those pissant descents where you drop 15 and up 5 blow, pop and drop another 15. About 50 feet down I hear Buddy's powerhead go off. He is about 15 feet below me and one of the 8 footers now dead is spiraling down toward the wreck below him with a spear shaft sticking out of his face and trailing a cloud of blood like a locomotive under a full head of steam.
This ain't good. Things are beginning to get a mite close down here. Buddy looks around and sees me above him and kicks up to me and hands me his now empty speargun and takes mine. He power kicks down to the bow of the wreck where the sand tiger landed and yanks his spearshaft out of the shark to reload.
Now ya gotta look at it from the sharks' point of view. Here they are surrounded by hundreds of grouper and easy pickin's from the ones that have been getting hooked for the last hour by the fishermen. The sand tigers are still hungry 'cause they have been playing second fiddle to the much faster makos who have by now stuffed themselves to the point of sublime satisfaction and are swimming lazily around the wreck not showing an interest in anything at all. Lucky for us.
The sand tigers are finally beginning to feed and are extremely curious about that funny looking fish standing in that 20 foot cloud of blood and making all those bubbles.
Step one, get rid of the bleeding shark. While Buddy is reloading his powerhead I am tying off a 2 foot float bag to the dead shark's tail and 1/2 filling it with air. Sayonara shark. Sent him to the surface in a cloud of bubbles and blood. About then is when we realized that the makos were fat and happy and were not going to be a problem.
I was on the bottom with my back against the wreck watching two of the biggest and most dangerous sharks I have ever seen swim by 15 feet away. Awe is the only way to describe the feeling. It was like sitting at a railroad crossing and watching freight cars go by in slow motion. As we worked our way down the wreck, I float bagged an anchor with 120 feet of fine 3/4 inch double braid. Buddy shot a couple nice 30 pound gags. As I approached the stern, I spied and shot a 300 pound cubera snapper and float bagged him too. I just didn't want to be holding that big a fish when the sharks came for breakfast.
After that, we called the dive and headed for the surface.
Arriving at the surface we are heartily congratulated for scaring the crap outta the lady who called us crazy. Seems she was hanging it out over the side whizzing when the water under her started boiling from the expanding bubbles. When she looked down she was butt to face with the dead sand tiger.
We collected the other two float bags with the cubera and the anchor and headed to the reefs for some lobster. Nobody else seemed to want to dive the wreck again.
All in all it was one of my better dives. 15 minutes of bottom time and got the crap scared out of us, a 300 pound cubera, 3 nice gag grouper, and a 24 pound danforth. Not to mention 120 feet of really nice double braid.