Captain Slate's Atlantis Dive Center

by Stephen Frink

One of Key Largo's most revered dive operations is taking off in some interesting new directions; travel, dive equipment repair, nitrox and other water sports. This is in addition to offering daily dive trips to the reefs and wrecks of the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary and a heavy emphasis on scuba instruction. Captain Slate's Atlantis Dive Center is prepared to offer its guests the convenience of 'one call does it all' booking.

Atlantis Travel: Let's say you have done your homework and decided on a dive vacation in Key Largo. You know you'll find great shallow reefs rich with marine life, warm tropical waters and enthralling shipwrecks. But you have a bit of a budget, in terms of both time and money. One call to (800) 331-DIVE can answer all your questions. You will learn about air connections from your home city, the cost of airfare, the price of various rental car options and the cost of the dive lodging package. Atlantis Travel will book it for you, give confirmation numbers and send your tickets to your home or office. Travel planning for a Key Largo dive holiday has never been easier.

Dive Equipment Repair Center: Captain Slate's has just tripled the size of its dive equipment repair facility and now services all brands of regulators and BCs, in fact, all dive gear except computers. The technicians even do tank VIPs and offer two day turnarounds on hydrostatic testing.

Nitrox Facility: Captain Slate's offers the largest DNAx nitrox fill station in Florida. Utilizing the new membrane technology that extracts nitrogen from the mix rather than adding oxygen, its fill station can blend various percentages without the need to keep highly flammable pure oxygen on the premises. This also allows consumers to use their own tanks and regulators instead of special oxygen-safe rigs. The compressor system contains 30,000 cubic feet of cascade storage and can pump nitrox at 30 cubic feet per minute.

While most dives off Key Largo are on reefs 25 to 40 feet deep, shipwrecks such as the U.S. Coast Guard cutters Bibb and Duane (maximum depth 130 and 120 feet respectively) make the enhanced safe bottom time of nitrox I or II quite an advantage. Or, you can use nitrox like I do, by diving air tables and thereby enhancing the safety margin. Key Largo is actually a perfect environment for nitrox because there are no deep vertical walls where it might be possible to exceed the depth limit for the specific mix being used. Atlantis Dive Center has enthusiastically embraced this very viable diving science.

Atlantis Watersports: Captain Slate's has long worked in collaboration with the Key Largo Howard Johnson. This lovely 100 room resort complex is in the center of Key Largo (Mile Marker 101.5) overlooking scenic Florida Bay on the sunset side of the island. Offering a small sand beach on the water; freshwater swimming pool; restaurant and lounge; and in-room amenities, such as cable color television, direct dial telephones, refrigerator, coffeemaker and even a microwave, the Howard Johnson has long been popular with traveling divers. Now, with the addition of Atlantis Watersports on the beach, there are more things to do during the nondiving hours of the day. Atlantis Watersports offers kayaking, parasailing, sunset cruises and complimentary scuba demonstrations several times each day in the hotel swimming pool.

I recently tried kayaking while researching this article. There is a wonderful world in the backcountry of the Florida Bay. The vast mangrove forests represent their own unique ecosystem, one that is most perfectly experienced from an ocean kayak.

I found kayaking was much more effortless than the canoes. The paddle is more efficient for a single operator and the water resistance is minimal. It also helps that the bay is almost always in the lee of the prevailing winds. It is very quiet out on the ocean without the noise of a diesel or outboard engine. I was able to approach brown pelicans and herons resting in the mangroves and, incredibly, I even got close to a Manatee mother and calf. I will definitely go kayaking again soon and next time I'll bring my snorkeling gear.

Scuba Instruction: Captain Slate's is very eclectic in its scuba certification credentials. Its instructors offer courses sanctioned by YMCA, NAUI, PADI, SSI, NASDS, CMAS, ACUC, IANTD and NASE, specialize in resort courses, open water referrals, specialty instruction, technical diving and can teach in several languages. Atlantis is the only year-round YMCA Instructor Training Career Institute in the nation and features placement opportunities within a network of more than 1,700 YMCAs across the country. It certainly helps in terms of credibility and placement that Slate is the National Chairman of the YMCA Scuba Program.

Daily dive trips: The reason Spencer Slate originally got into the dive business in Key Largo in 1978 was that he loves scuba diving. He has never forgotten this is the motivation that drives his clientele, keeping them returning year after year. Everything else is complementary to this dive imperative shared by the guests and staff at Captain Slate's Atlantis Dive Center.

Three custom 42 foot diesel V-hull vessels are used for the daily reef trips. Although the boats are U.S. Coast Guard certified for 40 divers, only a maximum of 25 are ever booked. The range of available dive options covers sites from the far northern end of the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, such as Carysfort Reef, all the way to Molasses Reef and the Bibb and Duane to the south. Because Atlantis Dive Center is nearer the north end of the island, the boats visit The Elbow quite frequently.

The Elbow is so named because it juts farther seaward than most reefs. This has made it a magnet for shipwrecks. Two of the wrecks provide a scenic background for Captain Slate's world famous Creature Feature. As seen on two separate Discovery television specials, 48 Hours, Fox television and Ripley's Believe It or Not, Slate personally conducts exciting fish feeding sessions on the City of Washington and Mike's Wreck. Both were steel hulled vessels, now mostly scattered remains of deck plating and exposed ribs. But they provide wondrous refuge for tropical marine life.

Slate has been handfeeding his 'pet' Barracuda and Green Moray Eels for years, especially at the City of Washington. Large Barracuda show up as soon as the boat is tied to its mooring. Once the divers settle onto the sand bottom and Slate pulls the first Ballyhoo from the bag, a high voltage fish feed is inevitable. Barracuda flash by with mouths agape to snag the baitfish Slate holds between clenched teeth. Six foot moray eels wrap themselves between Slate's legs and around his neck, looking for their fair share of the handout. Swarms of Yellowtail Snappers dart about, looking for any spare scraps, and occasional interlopers such as Nurse Sharks are likely to drop in for an opportunistic feed.

While Slate is an excellent ringmaster for this underwater circus, an interactive aspect to the show has evolved over the years. Slate will actually bring the morays to his divers and let them hold them in their arms. Staff videographers document the whole Creature Feature, producing the ultimate souvenir of Key Largo's most exciting dive.

For further information on any of Captain Slate's Atlantis Dive Center programs, call (800) 331-3483 or (305) 451-3020. E-mail may be addressed to capt or visit the Web site at