Archive for July, 2008

Where I’ve been

July 31st, 2008 | Category: Travel

I’ve traveled a lot, but looking at the maps, it looks pretty anemic! I’ll have to work on South America

(These maps were generated using tools wriiten by Douwe Osinga and found on his site).

visited 24 states (48%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

visited 9 states (4%)
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Restaurants in the Cocoa beach & Canaveral area

July 28th, 2008 | Category: Travel

Right at port canaveral, just across a narrow channel from the south gate of Canaveral Air Force Station, there is a concentration of good restaurants. Cocoa beach, where i stayed, is also a concentration of good places.  Between the two lies the festering pustule that is Ron Jon and its associated bric-a-brac.  Ignore this and drive on.  The really good stuff is in unpretentious, small places slightly off the beaten path.  Search and be rewarded, no regrets will you have.

  • My favorite is the Smokehouse, which is an unpretentious small-town place where you can get… any kind of smoked flesh.  Many kinds of seafood, pig, beef, chicken, whatever.  It’s all good, and served cheaply and with a smile by proprietor Wes.  I ate lunch here almost every day for a few weeks, and never had a fatty or greasy meal.  Try the green salad with smoked salmon, marlin or whatever was fresh that day.  I think the smokehouse is only a lunch place, closing at 5.
  • Grills is right across the street from the smokehouse.  This is a larger, more “proper” restaurant sometimes with live bands at night, and is always mobbed.  The fresh fish there is superb, and it’s right on the waterfront.  Good place for lunch or dinner, if the crowds aren’t too bad.
  • Fish lips is good, but somewhat lesser than grills or the smokehouse in quality.  I wouldn’t hesitate to eat there again, specially if you went to Grills and were turned away due to crowds.
  • In cocoa beach there is a cuban diner called Roberto’s Little Havana.  I loved this place, where the service was very friendly, the food simple and inexpensive.
  • Also in Cocoa beach is the fat snook, which is an upscale place serving nouvelle cuisine.  Highly recommended, and expensive.  Worth every penny though.
  • The pompano grill in Cocoa beach is also first-rate.  Order seafood here, and love it.
  • A lovely little breakfast/lunch cafe place is the Simply Delicious Cafe & Bakery.  It’s like eating at a friend’s house, a friend who can cook really well.  Get some pastries afterwards.
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“The Bridge” in West Palm Beach

July 27th, 2008 | Category: scuba,Travel

This dive site is widely acclaimed to be one of the best in the region.  Now that I’ve been there, I can see why people feel this way:

  1. It’s a shore dive entry – no boat ride, no sea sickness, less expensive
  2. No surf – it’s not on the shoreline, but inland along a channel and a bay
  3. Good shore support – a fresh water shower (although no privacy) and rest rooms, nearby restaurants
  4. Parking near the site
  5. Several areas to explore (under the low bridge or the high bridge)
  6. Even for non-divers, there’s good snorkeling
  7. Max depth is about 20 feet – easy, safe, long dive times even on air
  8. Due to shallow depth, usually no thermocline, so water is warm to the bottom
  9. Tons of animal life on the bridge pilings and numerous sunken small watercraft

That’s a lot of reasons!  The bridge is an ideal site for diver training or for divers who are a little nervous.  Having heard this, without seeing it I almost dismissed it as a “miniature golf” site that wouldn’t be interesting.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I think this site has something to offer a wide variety of divers.  I’m a nitrox diver particularly interested in photography and biology, and not afraid of a little adventure in pursuit of a good dive, and the bridge suited me just fine.

The bridge site is at the Phil Foster park in west palm beach:

900 E. Blue Heron Blvd.
Riviera Beach, FL 33404
(Google Maps)

Animals seen: rays, lobsters, banded cleaner shrimp, arrow (“spider”) shrimp, various crabs, flounder, Scorpionfish, gobies, snook, baitfish of all kinds, drums, grunts, numerous worms, soft corals, various unidentified invertebrates and oodles of unidentified fish of all sizes from tiny to impressive. I’m told that it’s common to see octopus here as well, athough I did n’t see any.

The dive was my third of the day, having dived earlier in the 80-foot reefs just offshore.  Dive Buddy Steve and I simply drove from the Jupiter Dive Center to the bridge area, stopping at a large dive emporium along the way to get rid of all that extra cash that had been weighing us down. The excuse was that we had to wait for the tide and needed to kill some time (this dive site is heavily tide-dependent; the best time to dive is just before slack high tide, as with most channel dives).  There is a large parking lot at the park, but it can be crowded.  If you are there at a popular time,you might have to hunt for a parking spot.

Because of the necessity of timing the dive with the tide, it’s a single-tank dive.  However, because of the depth – or lack of it – you can dive forever on one tank.  Our dive time was 1:16, and would have been at least 1:30 if not for the fact that I had to return equipment before the dive shop closed.  Oh yeah, if you come here don’t forget to bring a towable surface marker – it’s the law, plus it would suck to get “manateed” by a boat.  I was comfortable with a 3MM, mostly to protect me from things, but also with such a long dive you could get cold even with a bottom temperature of 86F (In July).  With such a shallow dive, there’s almost no concern about DCI/DCS, and your entire dive is a safety stop.  Just don’t forget your weight belt, like me.  I must have a subconscious hatred of the thing.  Luckily I could simply trot back to the car and retrieve it.

We entered on the swimmer’s beach beneath the west (high) bridge, and snorkeled over to the east (low) bridge.  Underneath the bridge, the columns and dim light gave the area a cathedral-like appearance.  Directly under the bridge, hanging over a small sunken boat, a school of large snook hung, eyes glowing menacingly in our lights (bring a light, it can get dark under there and there’s lots of crevices for you to explore).  Lobsters and crabs backed into snug places under rocks and the wreck.  We dove through slack and into the ebb tide.  We could really tell when the tide started to go out – the vis got worse, and we got pulled south with an irritating insistence.  Legs began to cramp, the dive got slightly less fun.  But only slightly.  On the way back I enjoyed seeing the multi-tentacled wormlike invertebrate that radiates from a central hole in the sand, which when poked withdraws like a person sucking in spaghetti strands.  Young peacock flounder, invisible until they move, flowed along the bottom as we passed over and alarmed them.

highhat drumcoralimg_8994.jpgimg_8964.jpgimg_8987.jpgimg_8995.jpg

I never get tired of finding and observing these scorpionfish (below), because they look like lumps of crap on the bottom and are almost invisible until they move; then you can see their beautiful fins and elaborate camouflage.


Just for fun.


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Jupiter Dive: awesome

July 27th, 2008 | Category: scuba,Travel

Another Saturday, another dive on Scarface and Captain Kurl’s reefs. I used Jupiter Dive Center, and enjoyed their roomy boat “Republic IV.” Due to the long drive between the Canaveral and Jupiter areas, I had to get up at 5AM and drive for two hours. I met my buddy Steve and we carpooled down there. We hopped on the boat and sped out to the reef as if skating over a frozen pond; the conditions were fantastic: 88 degrees in the air, 84 at depth, and a surface as smooth as glass. I love the Florida sky with its obvious weather and spectacular clouds. I can often see more of the local weather in this flat place than from more mountainous regions. As you can see by the large haul of images, it was a great dive. One of the cool things about diving is the variety of life you can see. In this post I try to provide a small taste of that. There are so many animals with so many unique lifestyles. On land you get this kind of variety only with insects, and perhaps birds – at least when looking in one place. And even then, they’re hard to find or too small to observe easily. There are a lot of animals in the forest, but underwater, there’s an explosion of life. Let me assure you, what you see here is only a fraction of what I saw on this one dive.


As we were gearing up to dive, Steve said “Let’s find some grouper, a moray, and some rays!” We dropped to 80 feet and immediately spotted a grouper! Soon enough we saw the same large green moray we’d seen a week ago – I’m sure it was the same individual; it was the same size and was hanging out in the same crevice. Shortly after that we saw a smaller, spotted moray eel. We then headed into the sand to look for rays, without luck – although I did see one later that day (see my entry for “the bridge”). It was a good fish day; several large schools (spadefish, tomtate grunts) hung above the reef, and the slowly waving soft corals made it the kind of reef diving I’d wanted to do.


As I drifted slowly over the reef, a cowfish (the scrawled variety perhaps?) darted paranoically away, and a trumpetfish froze amongst fronds of soft coral, thinking he was perfectly invisible. Yeah, ok buddy. But this is a better strategy than it seems, because the naked eye – and presumably the fish eye also – is not color-corrected like my photos (Hmm… is this so?). Someday I’ll do a post showing just what this looks like, how at depth, with reds and greens filtered out, those colorful fish are much better camouflaged than you might think.That’s a bluestriped grunt hiding in the soft coral with some cousins (black grunts?) and a spotted goatfish.


One of the more astonishing things about fish is how their bodies and colors change so completely in different phases of their lives; many of them look like different species as they age. They may even change sex, food preference, and habitat! The small yellow fish above are “initial phase” bluehead wrasses, which will eventually grow into a larger, much differently colored animal with a slightly different head shape, and possibly a different sex. While young they are cleaner animals and will pick parasites and dead skin off of other fish, which sit still and wait patiently for to be serviced. Here you can see them cleaning a spotted goatfish – another animal that changes colors radically, but at will, not just during growth.


Above: a spotfin butterfly fish, with another fish right behind it, giving the appearance of a longer tail. Also a porkfish (a type of grunt), a goby of some sort, a yellowhead jawfish and a bicolor damselfish. The jawfish are particularly interesting. The dig burrows in the sand, from which they pop in and out like thumbs. You have to sink to the bottom and lie still and very patiently until they slowly creep out. If you literally blink, they will zip! back into thier holes and disappear. The males incubate eggs in thier mouths.

All of my equipment worked great; I’m love my Suunto Vytec. I’ve kept my SPG, and have been keeping track of my dives the old fashioned way in order to compare tables to the computer. Post-dive analysis does show me that the computer’s numbers make sense. The computer is a very valuable thing to have; I can see that it’s a conservative machine but still allows me a longer dive than tables would. I had time to think about this as Steve deployed the safety marker and we hung at 15 feet for our 5-minute stop.


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Merritt Island Refuge

July 26th, 2008 | Category: Travel

Merritt Island contains the Kennedy Space center, a substantial human population, a bug population to match, and a sizeable wildlife preserve.  It is on the critical path for migratory birds on the eastern shore of the US, and is one of the best bird-watching spots in the country.  Mosquitos can be quite bad here; special water-control methods are used to control them, but that only reduces their density a little.  If you come here, wear clothes that fully cover your body, and if you will be outside for any length of time, bring a mosquito screen hat that protects your face.  Repellent will reduce the landing frequency a little, but prepare to lose blood anyway, even with 100% deet.  I’ve been here a few times and the bugs have been tolerable some times, nightmarish others.  On one visit, I was pursued by a visible and deafening cloud of mosquitos.  Covered with clothing frpm head to toe, pants tucked into socks, wearing rain gear and covered with oily 100% deet, I had trouble seeing through my mosquito-net headgear because of the layer of crushed bugs on it.  You’ve been warned.

However, Friends have recently reported a bug-free visit on the wildlife drive, so your mileage may vary.  This visit wasn’t too bad for me.  Either way, it’s worth it, particularly if you go during migratory season, when the population and diversity of birds increases.  You’ll likely see alligators, armadillos, lizards, coots, eagles, herons of all sorts, spoonbills, flycatchers, and of course more common birds like blackbirds, vultures and varieties of seagulls.  And then there’s the plants.  if you’re from a more temperate place (like me) everything will look tropical and exotic.


The armadillo pictures here was actually photographed on Canaveral AFS, which is right next door.  But I’ve seen these guys all over on merritt island.  They’re quite common wherever there’s scrubby vegetation in Florida and Georgia.

There are a lot of things to do on Merritt Island; you can fish in designated places, kayak, of course bird-watch, there is a wildlife drive (a couple of miles of dirt road that forms a loop, with interpretive signs), some hiking trails and a beach.

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Canaveral Air Force Station’s Missile Museum

July 25th, 2008 | Category: Travel

Now that we’re done with official work duties, we’ve taken a couple of hours to scout around and see what kind of tourism the Air Force Station has to offer.  We found the missile museum, situated at the launch site of explorer-1.  Here is the description from their web site:

The museum is located at Launch Complex 26, the site of the first successful launch of an American satellite, Explorer I, in 1958 by the U.S. Army. Beginning with early Redstone, Jupiter and Juno flights in 1957, Complex 26 hosted 36 launches until its deactivation in 1963. Three primates, Gordo, Able and Miss Baker, were launched here in 1958 and 1959, paving the way for future manned space flights. Complex 26 also served as the site of numerous Jupiter launches as part of NATO’s combat training program for Italian and Turkish missile crews through the early 1960s.

dsc_3953.jpgThe Explorer-1 blockhouse is now a museum with a small shop, there are a number of interesting artifacts in there.  I particularly liked the ancient computers.

We also found the pad used for the early manned missions.  It’s not associated with the missile museum, and is off the beaten path.  There’s not much left of the launch tower, but the pad and its long ramp are still there.  At the ramp’s foot sits a monument to the early space program.  The blockhouse also remains; it looks like it could survive a nuclear blast.  Those pipes sticking out of the top are periscopes.  It appears that the blockhouse is maintained as a prestigious meeting place; it is not open to the public, although you can walk around the outside if you have base access.

dsc_3965.jpgdsc_3969.jpgdsc_3966.jpgMy colleague Scott at the blockhouse door.

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Tricolored Heron Fishing In The Surf

July 25th, 2008 | Category: animals,Travel

I didn’t know that these birds ventured into the ocean. That goes to show how an observer’s experiences can prejudice an observation; I’ve simply never spent much time in this kind of environment, so of course I never saw herons fish in the surf. But they know were the fish are! Which is more than I can say, because I wouldn’t have realized that there where so many fish in the 1 or 2 inch turbulent, cloudy water just at the edge of the retreating surf. This week I’ve also seen sharks in this shallow water; they were basically beaching themselves while (presumably) going after the same prey as the heron. The shark would run up on to the sand and wait for the next wave to rescue it. Didn’t get images of that, unfortunately.


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A beautiful Cocoa Beach Sunrise

July 24th, 2008 | Category: Travel

Every day I wake up early, get ready for work and eat breakfast on the porch – before it gets too hot – and watch the sun rise.  On many days it has been jaw-droppingly spectacular.  I could get used to this!  It will be hard to go back to normal life in Maryland.


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Working on the space coast

July 21st, 2008 | Category: Travel

I’m working at Canaveral Air Force Station for a few weeks.  Here’s some pictures from the test site.


The beach is secluded, as it is off-limits to the general public.  It’s nice to see a beach in a more natural state; most beaches are very strange, unnatural places, although many people are used to it and don’t realize how damaged they are.  A natural beach has plants right up to the tide line, and is covered with shells and debris.  Lots of animals live in the scrubby, tough vegetation.


Jupiter dive: scarface and lighthouse reefs

July 20th, 2008 | Category: scuba,Travel

img_8809.JPGI’ve been working in the Canaveral area, where the viz is poor and the bottom sandy and visually uninteresting. It seems like nobody dives from the Canaveral area, unless there’s a really long boat ride involved. So, on a day free from responsibility I drove down to Jupiter to do a boat dive with the Jupiter Diving Center. They are a nice operation, with large, comfortable boats, easygoing (and well-trained) staff and great rental equipment, although perhaps on the expensive side.

The reefs are just a few minutes from the dock. The water here in mid-Florida is fantastic; it’s turqoise and warm, not at all what I expected this far north. Both reefs lie at about 80 feet, although the tops are around 60. Of course, a lot of the action is on the deeper sides, in the crevices, so plan to spend time closer to 80. There are decent currents here, so these are drift dives. Water temperature: 88 degrees, viz – 50 feet, very calm surface, current gentle but firm – relax and enjoy the ride!

Near the end of the dive we encountered an enormous turtle, perhaps 5 feet across. For perspective, check out the size of the diver in one of the photos!


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