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February 1997 Flower Gardens Trip Report

Text and images Copyright (C) 1997 David M. Read.  All rights reserved.

I went back to the Flower Gardens for my second trip, this time on the weekend of February 1, 1997. I booked the trip through a shop here in Austin, Clearwater Divers.

Conditions on this trip were a little rougher than on my previous trip. Instead of perfectly flat seas, we had 3-4 foot seas during the whole trip. That's "calm" for the Gulf at this time of year, but the real problem was that during the drive out to the Flower Gardens, the waves were abeam, hitting the boat from the starboard side as we drove. That makes the boat roll quite a bit. Had the waves been head-on, the ride would not have been so uncomfortable. To make a long story short, about 75% of the people on the boat got seasick to some degree (including myself, which is a first for me). One poor girl missed the entire day of diving on Saturday because she was chumming over the rail! :-( The seas at the dive site were the same 3-4 feet, which really wasn't too bad. In fact, I suspect that had the waves not been abeam the night before, few people would have been seasick on Saturday.

We also missed a dive, due to a pair of people who showed up to the dock significantly late. The boat got a late start as a result, and the seas slowed us down a little, so we didn't actually reach the West FG Bank until about 7:00 the next morning, delaying the first dive until just before 8:00. So, four dives on Saturday rather than 5. :-(

Enough bad reports. The diving was great. Water temps were plenty comfy, for the most part. We stayed at around 71F at the East & West Banks, dropped to around 66F at Stetson Bank, and finally had a cold dive of 61F at the inshore oil platform on our way back to Freeport. The surface buoy at that platform read 56F, but my dive computer read 61F. Take your pick; I believe my computer.

I dove the entire trip in a 5mm farmer + jacket. I wore no hood at the Flower Gardens, but I did opt for the hood at Stetson Bank and at the oil platform.

Visibility was good, although not as good as it could be. Our first two dives (at West FG Bank) served up 75-foot visibility, the second two (East FG Bank) delivered 50-foot vis, while Stetson Bank was a murky 30-foot vis. The visibility at the inshore oil platform varied with depth, ranging from a pretty-decent 40 feet near the bottom (85 feet) to a soupy 15 feet near the surface.

What did we see? Plenty. This trip was advertised as a "Hammerhead Trip," because the hammerheads supposedly migrate at this time of year, and they pass through the area. I went to see hammerheads. I was disappointed in that desire; I saw none, and only a few people on the boat saw any. Perhaps we were too early in the year? Whatever. There was plenty to see other than hammerheads; apparently this is a good time of year to see Manta Rays, as I saw 10 or 12 of them (including a 14-foot monster) over the course of 4 dives at east & west banks. One of them gracefully consented to let me swin alongside it for a minute or so, with me blasting away with the camera all the while.

Other large critters were around, as well. On dive #2, I saw two Spotted Eagle Rays swimming along about 40 feet below me as I started my descent. Dive #1 showed me an octopus, as well as a few mantas. Dive #4, a night dive, was populated by a spotted moray, a HUGE red snapper (I mean HUGE, at least 3 feet long), and an 8-foot nurse shark. Of course, all dives served up plenty of smaller creatures, including squirrel fish on the night dive, lots of black durgon triggerfish, parrotfish, blue-head wrasse, blue chromis, tons of yellow cleaner wrasse, a few banded cleaner shrimp, damselfish, etc. I even saw one of my favorite fish in the sea, a juvenile yellow-tail damselfish.

Dive # When Where Depth Time Comments
1 Saturday 9 AM West FG Banks 76 36 octopus, several mantas, zillions of small fish
2 Saturday 12 AM West FG Banks 75 37 Spotted Eagle Rays, GIANT Manta
3 Saturday 4 PM East FG Banks 72 28 More Mantas, damselfish
4 Saturday 8 PM East FG Banks 69 31 Night Dive! Morays, nurse shark
5 Sunday 7 AM Stetson Bank 73 34 Murky, colder. Lots of french angelfish, rock beauties
6 Sunday 10 AM Stetson Bank 73 41 Spent whole dive looking 'up' for pelagics. None seen. :-(
7 Sunday 4 PM Oil Rig "East 350" 87 35 Saw gray reef shark on bottom, found live
conch, lots of blennies living in barnacles.

Last modified December 28, 1998

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