KEY WEST, Florida -- Eleven Florida divers recently became the first "Wreck Trekker" dive enthusiasts to complete nine wreck dives as part of the Florida Keys Wreck Trek Passport Program.
The dive challenge, developed by tourism officials and area dive operators, showcases the world-class diving destination's string of sunken vessels and artificial reefs, and awards participants for completing a series of wreck dives featured in a passport-style dive logbook.
Rocky Welch, manager of a diving and adventure sports outfitting company, helped organize the Florida dive group from areas around Tampa, Clearwater and his hometown of Pinellas Park.
Theirs was a unique itinerary, planned with Tavernier-based Florida Keys Dive Center and designed to include all nine wreck dives within one vacation.
However, participants in the Florida Keys Wreck Trek Passport Program also can make multiple trips to complete the dives in their passport logbook. The program continues through Jan. 1, 2012.
Welch said he first explored Islamorada's Eagle shipwreck in 1989 as the initial wreck dive of his 26-year diving career. This time, he reported spending 30 wonderful minutes exploring the ship.
Though he said the group considered the Vandenberg artificial reef the crown jewel of the trek, Welch's personal favorite was the Bibb, located off Key Largo. Diving the Bibb, he said, had been a goal of his for 23 years.
"The team decided I would be the first down the line," Welch said. "The water was glass-smooth with no apparent current ... it was truly a pinnacle moment in a long diving career."
Each of the 11 initial Wreck Trek divers are to receive a free print collage of the wrecks, as will any diver who logs a wreck in each of the five regions of the Keys. In addition, they will be entered into a drawing for prizes including merchandise, dive equipment and accommodations packages in the Florida Keys.
For Welch, however, the experience and challenge of the Wreck Trek was a significant reward in itself.
"All the adventures are there [in the Florida Keys], from shallow, beautiful reefs to mysterious wrecks," he said. "The Keys offers the most diversity of any dive location I have seen."
To learn more, visit www.fla-keys.com/diving/wrecktrek.
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