Flower Gardens Scuba Diving

It takes about 1-1/2 hours to get to Freeport from any of the downtown Houston hotels. Watch your speed on Hwy 288 as it is well-patrolled by the police.

On the Boat — I was on the Fling, but procedures are the same on the Spree as well. We boarded at about 9:00 pm, and went below deck to claim our bunks. About 10:30, we were gathered in the dining salon for our briefing. At about 11:00, we pulled away from the dock and headed for the Gulf.

We slept while the boat headed for the Flower Gardens scuba diving site. The staterooms are somewhat small, but being 6’2″ (188cm) tall, 210 pounds (140kg), any room on a boat will seem small to me. Because of the space limitation, it is advised to pack light as you will pretty much have to stash your bag in some corner of your bunk. Also, you may have a little trouble sleeping the first night due to the boat pitching in the sea and drone of the engines, but you get used to it. In fact, after that first night, I slept very well during my naps and on the second night.

Our meals were fine and we always had plenty to eat, and they always had a continental breakfast, a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner ready for us. They provided water, tea, Tang, Gatorade and snack food. Beer and soft drinks are also available for sale; You just keep a tab which is paid at the end of the trip.

I mentioned about packing light. For a summer trip, you will not need much more than t-shirts, shorts, and swimsuit; I would also bring a sweatshirt and a light jacket for those times that it can get cool. As for toiletries, you will not need much more than a toothbrush and toothpaste. There are three heads (bathrooms) and two showers on the boat.

The Diving — On my two-day trip, we went from one weather extreme to another. When we arrived at the Flower Gardens scuba diving site, the sky was overcast and dark. The sea was so rough that standing up on the boat was a very difficult task. However, by that afternoon, the sea had calmed considerably and the next morning, the water was so smooth that I could have skipped a rock back to Freeport.

The crew has every safety precaution you can think of in place. Both boats have an inflatable that they can send out to pick you up should you drift too far away. They set up a safety line running from one of the stern (rear) ladders along the beam (side). They also had another line running from the other stern ladder that you can pull yourself to the ladder with. After you jump into the water, you will swim over to the safety line and pull yourself down the line as it is attached to the mooring line at about 50 feet (15m) deep. Coming back up, you just follow the line to the stern ladders. For the night dive, there is a strobe attached at the base of the mooring line to help you find it.

While you will dive on your own, you are watched very carefully by the divemasters both above and below the surface. You must check out when you enter the water and must check back in when you come out. The people on the boat are always on the lookout. Once, my dive buddy and I came up a mooring line and found ourselves between the Fling and the Spree about 30 yards from either boat. We were very quickly spotted and signaled by the divemasters on the Fling. About that time, a crew member from the Spree arrived in their inflatable to check on us. The water was very calm at the time so we just flipped on our backs and surface-swam back to the Fling.

Yes, the currents are always present in the Gulf, but they vary in speed and strength. The divemasters will never allow anyone in the water if the currents are too strong. They do get in the water and check it. On my trip, one of our planned dives was canceled for that reason. At the end of your dive, you will need to climb a boat ladder with full scuba gear on including tank and weight belt. This is no big deal to many including me, but I do know some people to whom this is and for that reason, they will never go to the Flower Gardens.

You will need to bring a full tank and your own weights. There are compressors on board and the crew will fill your tank between dives but you must bring a tank. I do suggest that you bring a wetsuit, polartec, or diveskin. It gets a bit cool after the sun goes down. Gloves are recommended for no other reason than you will need them for holding on to the safety lines. If I had not had mine, my hands would have been ripped to shreds trying to hold to those ropes. But do not touch the coral at Flower Gardens or Stetson Bank.

The Flower Gardens — I had heard about the Texas Flower Gardens for years, but when I saw it for myself, I was awed. My first impression is that it is one large coral field. I have to plead ignorance on what the names are of the different kinds of coral you see here, but if you have seen them in Cozumel, you will see them here. The same goes for the fish life. On my trip, we had groups of Barracuda that were cruising around checking us out. A few people reported seeing a Manta Ray up closer to the surface. The visability there was around 70 feet (20m), the water temp around 80°F (26°C), and the depths in the 60 – 80 feet (18m – 24m) range.

Stetson Bank is different from the Flower Gardens. Whereas, the Texas Flower Gardens was a garden (hence it’s name), Stetson Bank struck me as an underwater desert. That does not mean that it was not beautiful down there. Like the cactus and other plants in the desert, there were many forms of reef and marine life here. We even had a 7-foot (2m) Hammerhead Shark swim over us and went on it’s way. The vis, water temp, and depths are the same as the Flower Gardens.

On our way back to Freeport, we stopped at one of the offshore oil rigs to make one dive there. The depth and vis can vary from rig to rig depending on how close to shore it is, but this one was fairly close to Stetson so the depth was to 150 feet (45m), vis was about 70 feet (20m). Diving on a platform, I felt like I was diving in an aquarium. With the rig’s ‘legs’ around you, it was like a box. You do have to watch your depth because you can be too deep before you know it especially if you want to stand on one of the rig’s support beams. I liked this so much that I hope to take some rig-diving trips later on. After this dive, we headed on in to Freeport and arrived back at the dock at 7:00 pm.

Summary — In all, I did 7 dives over the two days. That is quite a bit of diving. Usually, one can do 8 dives over a two-day trip, but the currents were really bad at the East Bank of the Flower Gardens scuba site so we canceled that part of the trip and went on to Stetson. Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable trip. I can not emphasize enough that you will be taken care of no matter what experience level you are at. Being an experienced diver does help, but it is not mandatory.

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