Weather turns snorkel trip into island tour

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — I was skeptical about the snorkeling trip when I woke up 45 minutes before and looked out my bedroom window at gray skies, but as I drove further and further south towards Homestead at 8:45 a.m. the dark clouds began to disappear and the sun led the way.

After parking, I made my way to the Visitor Center gift shop where I checked in for the snorkeling trip. A sign on the cash register read “no such things as refunds, only rain checks.”

At left, snorkelers explore Elkhorn Reef in Biscayne National Park (Photos courtesy of Biscayne National Park). Next, a snorkeler enters the bay. The park’s concessioner offers daily trips to the coral reef.

The boat’s captain decided that it was still nice enough to go out so my companion and I decided to take the chance and pay the $45 snorkeling fee.

Before the boat was loaded with snorkelers, a younger female ranger gave us a short speech about where we would be riding out to and what we would be seeing.

“And this coral looks like the shape of a brain,” explained the ranger as I looked into the distance watching the

dark clouds get closer and closer.

“Everyone come grab your snorkeling gear,” the diving instructor yelled, as the gear was included in the charge. My companion, Brendan McNaboe, a recent UM graduate, was fully prepared with gear so I ran ahead to pick up mine.

Slowly everyone got onto the boat; I sat under the covered part against a side that did not have any doors. I figured this could keep me out of the sun for a while and if those clouds came rolling in I would be sheltered from rain. Little did I know this would become the best seat in the house.

The captain got on the loud speaker and introduced himself and the snorkeling instructor. He was a witty elder man who had clearly done many of these trips and liked to make some … jokes.

We sailed off and stopped first at an island called Boca Chita Key where a lighthouse was. One man got off who wanted to investigate the island and the rest of us remained on the boat to travel out to the reef.

As soon as we went through the cut, the ocean hit us hard. Seas were about four to five feet and the boat was being tossed around. One lady on board was slowly turning green. When we finally got to the reef neither the captain or instructor could find the reef to anchor at.

Eventually we tied ourselves to a buoy. The instructor warned us that we would not be able to see more than a few inches in front of our faces and that the waves may have a strong current so to be careful.

Brendan turned to me, knowing I was terrified of sharks, and proclaimed, “I don’t think you’ll want to get in there. You won’t be able to see anything around you.”

That was all I needed to hear to be convinced to stay in the boat. The rest of the group jumped off the boat and came back on under a minute complaining that they could not see anything.

At right, the diversity of life on coral reefs is the highest of any marine environment. Below, the rock beauty is one of over 300 different species of fish found in the park.

The waves picked up and I slowly felt the seasickness rising. Our captain didn’t feel it was safe for us to be out there any longer and insisted that we go back to Boca Chita Key and explore the island. Everyone agreed immediately.

As we pulled up to Boca Chita Key everyone ran off the boat almost excited to be on land and out of those waves. Brendan and I explored the island and went on a walk around the perimeter.

We ventured to the top of the lighthouse and saw as far as the eye could see. This was much better than being stuck on a boat.

Eventually we made it back to the Visitor Center after plowing through cold winds and ominous clouds on the snorkeling boat.

The trip was unsuccessful in regards to snorkeling, but I was able to explore an island I had never seen before.

A word to anyone planning on doing this trip: Check the weather before getting on the boat.

If You Go

Reservations: Go to or call 305-230-1100.

Address: 9700 SW 328 St., Homestead, Fla. 33033

Directions: When leaving from the University of Miami campus head south on U.S. 1. Take the State Route 878 West. Then take the Florida Turnpike Extension, State Route-874 South. Get off on Exit 6 (SW 137th Avenue). Turn left onto SW 137th Avenue. Turn left onto SW 328th Street / North Canal Drive.

The porkfish, named for the grunting sounds it makes is a common sight on Biscayne National Park’s reef.

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