Wednesday, 14 August 2013


After completing my TDI Full Cave Course in May this year (blog here) Henrietta and I headed down to the Keys to dive Dry Tortugas and Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg (simply known as Vandenberg) aboard MV Spree.  Unfortunately 2 months after the trip some of the finer detail may have been forgotten however I’ve tried to describe the itinerary as accurately as I can using my logbook.  I’ve also made references to the Red Sea, as apart from the Maldives it’s the only other place I’ve been on board a liveaboard.

The Boat
Docked in Key West MV Spree is 100ft long and can hold 22 passengers, 2 DMs and 8 crew.  The accommodation is bunks, not the luxury twin or double rooms you will find in the Red Sea.  Everyone has their own individual bunk and they are arranged in 4 cabins of 4 and a large common area of 8; each bunk with its own privacy curtain.  Sheets, blankets and pillows are provided but no towels or robes.  If your baggage allowance allows I would suggest bringing a robe from home as it would come in very handy as no wet clothing is allowed inside the boat.

The communal area has 4 large seating areas, a charging station and a widescreen television with DVD.  This area also doubles as the galley at meal times.  The food served is excellent and there is lots of it.  There are also plenty of snacks during the day you can nibble.  Additionally there is a beverage dispenser with coke, diet coke, sprite, root beer, ginger beer, pink lemonade, soda and water as well as beer and wine in the cooler.  All of this is included in the price.

For washing, there are 2 showers located on the dive deck and one inside the toilet room on the dive deck.  There are 2 additional toilets inside the communal area.

On the dive deck there is a cylinder placement for each diver, a large camera table; camera and SCUBA rinse tanks and 2 ladders.  On top there is a large sundeck complete with sun loungers, bean bags and traditional picnic tables.

Captain Frank and his crew are very safety conscious and this was evident throughout.  A thorough safety brief was delivered before the boat departed including a boat brief and a diver safety brief and an abandon ship drill was carried out after dive one. 

Before each dive a dive brief was conducted and before entering the water a physical cylinder valve, computer check and bunk number booking out was conducted.  Upon surfacing dive time and depth were recorded and once everyone was back on board a final health/ok was carried out.

The general daily programme was as follows; 0700 wakeup call, continental breakfast (fruit, porridge, cake), dive 1, cooked breakfast, dive 2, lunch, dive 3, snacks, dive 4, dinner, night dive and finally, desert.  Yes that’s right, five dives a day!

The water temperature was a very warm 28°c so I was wearing my 3mm long wetsuit whilst Henrietta was wearing her Fourth Element Thermoclines. 

The dive sites we dived within the Dry Tortugas National Park were Keenys Wall, Bat Cave, Dante’s Inferno and Texas Rock.  The only thing I can really say about the reef dives is that they are similar (but probably better) to the reef dives found in the Red Sea.  Personally I’m not a reef fan, I prefer wrecks and caves, but the Americans can’t get enough so it seems.  For some on our trip this is an annual vacation.  We finished up with 2 dives on Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg (simply known as Vandenberg); what a wreck.  The Vandenberg dwarfs anything we have here in the UK but be warned, as it’s an artificial reef like a lot of the wrecks around the Florida Keys it’s not yet covered in marine life however it is home to some very large grouper.  The largest I’ve ever seen.

My one warning regarding diving around Dry Tortugas or the Keys is that there are ripping currents.  If you don’t hold on to the shot line, especially on your safety stops, be prepared to become separated from the dive boat. 

Overall it was a great week and if I happen to go back to the Keys I’d happily dive off the MV Spree again.  For those who have dived the luxury Red Sea liveaboards this is nothing like them so be warned, but 12 dives in 2.5 days plus the food and beverages it’s excellent value.  My only real complaint is that we tended to do 2-3 dives per site; maybe it’s just me but I’d prefer to do just the one, maybe 2 if it’s a spectacular dive, and see more of the sites the Dry Tortugas has to offer.  Captain Frank’s report of the week can be found here.

The boring bit!
All opinions expressed in my articles are my own and may differ to other instructor’s and agency guidelines; by no means are they wrong and I would not wish to disrepute any of them.  This article is for information only and should not replace proper training.
Safe diving!

Timothy Gort
BSAC, PADI and SDI/TDI diver training
l Mob: 07968148261 l Email: l

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