Archive for July, 2011

AsInvest 91L continues to move west, organize and intensify, it looks like it may curve to the north before reaching the Bahamas or the Florida Keys.  Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.  I have been working to prepare my personal belongings and Escape for the season.  I got to take most of Saturday off and spent some of that time better preparing and organizing in the event of a major storm.  Here’s the latest track forecast, courtesy of Weather Underground.  (We don’t like the blue track.)

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Scuba Commissioner Laura Kuras handled all of the scuba issues Saturday.  Thank you!  The divers actually got in some decent dives yesterday, despite the persistent winds.  “Thanks” to the Captains, Mates and Dive Staff for making that happen.  The sailors got in some GREAT sailing.  “Thanks” to the Captains, Mates, and Sailing Staff for their hard work.  The galley served hamburgers for lunch – always a crowd pleaser.All was realitively well.  Captain Rich had another tough day but is enjoying today off.  Due to circumstances beyond the control of the Florida Sea Base, the remainder of this year’s crews scheduled for the Open Oceans Adventure aboard the Schooner Halie and Matthew have been cancelled.  Captain Rich’s job will get a bit easier now.

Yesterday’s north bound traffic was worse than a hurricane evacuation.  From Key West to the mainland the average speed made good could not have exceeded 10 mph.  Everyone is headed home from lobster mini-season.  The normal schedule is something like this.  Hotels and marinas mandate a five night minimum stay.  Enthusiasts arrive on Monday (night one).  Tuesday they conduct reconnaissance (night two).  Wednesday and Thursday they kill lobster (nights three and four).  Friday they celebrate the massacre (night five).  Saturday TENS of THOUSANDS of cars, boats, RVs, boats, motorcycles, camper trailers, and trucks hit the only road out of the Keys.  It would be great if REEF could start a similar program to help eradicate the invasive Lion-fish in our area.

Capt. Steve Willis
Aboard S/V Escape

According to NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center, the water temperature topped 87ºF (30.5ºC) on Thursday.  Great for diving, but VERY conducive to serious storms.  Here’s yesterday’s report from Dr. Jeff Masters on Invest 91L:

African wave 91L a potential threat to the Lesser Antilles
A well-organized African wave near 9°N 44°W (Invest 91L) is headed west-northwest at 15 – 20 mph, and could arrive in the vicinity of the Lesser Antilles Islands as early as Monday night. Residents of the Lesser Antilles should pay careful attention to this system, as it has the potential to organize into a tropical storm before reaching the islands. While visible satellite loops currently show only minimal heavy thunderstorm activity and no signs of a surface circulation, there is a pronounced large-scale rotation to the cloud pattern. Water vapor satellite loops show that a large area of dry air from Africa lies just to the north of 91L, and this dry air is inhibiting development. The SHIPS model is diagnosing low shear, 5 – 10 knots, over 91L, but the University of Wisconsin CIMSS analysis shows that moderate shear, 10 – 20 knots, is affecting 91L. Sea surface temperatures are 27.5° – 28°C, which is 1° above the 26.5°C threshold usually needed to support a tropical storm.

Forecast for 91L
Low to moderate wind shear of 5 – 15 knots is predicted along 91L’s path over the coming three days, which should allow the storm to steadily organize, assuming it can shut out any incursions of dry air that might intrude. The latest 06Z run of the GFS model does show 91L developing into a tropical storm by Monday, but the other three most reliable models for forecasting formation of a tropical storm–the ECMWF, NOGAPS, and UKMET models–show little or no development of 91L in their latest runs. On Monday, when most of the models predict that squalls of rain from 91L will begin affecting the Lesser Antilles, wind shear is expected to rise to the moderate or high range, which should act to interfere with development. The latest runs of the GFDL and HWRF models show 91L developing into a hurricane by Monday, but these models are not to be trusted for systems that have not developed into a tropical depression yet. The long-range path of 91L could take it through the Caribbean or towards the U.S. East Coast; it is too early to know with path might be more probable. NHC is giving a 30% chance that 91L will develop into a tropical depression by Sunday morning.

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I am trying to take today off. 🙂  We will see.  If so, my major project of the day will be to get as fully packed as possible for my impending trip to the Mother Country (Texas) for the birth of my granddaughter, Josie.

Capt. Steve Willis
Aboard S/V Escape 

Captain Rich was awaken at 0330 yesterday morning.  At 0430 my phone rang.  (Actually I received a text message.  Fortunately I am a light sleep and the “dunt-dunt-dunt” woke me up.)  It was a frenzied day from that point forward.  I was still dealing with issues at 1930 last night and I have no idea how late (VERY late) Captain Rich was up dealing with his issue.  He will be back at it very early this morning.  The good thing about the day was the positive attitude displayed by the staff and participants.  Just like raining at a camp-out, we simply cannot control the weather.  Scuba Commissioner Laura Kuras worked very hard to keep the grounded scuba crews entertained.  And we did get some dives in late in the afternoon.  So the day was not a total wash.

My primary assignment for today is to drive the dive boat for the Scuba Certification crew.  The wind is still holding at 15 – 20 knots from the east.  I am not overly optimistic that we can get the crew out to the reef.  If not, there is a place on the bay side called Port Antigua that we use as a back-up.

Tropical Storm Don is still moving towards South Texas and poses no threat to the operations of the Florida Sea Base.  However, there is (or was) a BSA local council facility near Brownsville, Texas called Sea Base.  If it is still in business it may get a bit of weather soon.

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Another tropical wave has now been designated Invest 91L.  As you can see, it is a long way out.  However, as you can also see, both the Florida Sea Base and our Bahamas base are potential targets for this new system.  Stay tuned!!!

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I’m going to try to get back to sleep.  Have a great day!

Capt. Steve Willis
Aboard S/V Escape 

Shortly before 1700 EDT yesterday, Invest 90L was upgraded to Tropical Storm Don.  The good news is T/S Don poses no threat to the Florida Sea Base and, at this time, is expected to primarily a rain event when it makes landfall in South Texas/Northern Mexico.

Yesterday's initial posting of T/S Don.

Today's 0500 update.

The ocean conditions were too much for the Scuba Certification crew to conduct their open water training dives.  The Scuba Adventure crews (who were on much larger boats) were able to get in their scheduled dives.  We will do what we can to get the Scuba Certification crew caught up over the next two days.

The sailing programs continued per usual.  The captains have done an incredible job this summer insuring that our participants are safe and having a great time.  Sitting at anchor with a 50″ metal rod overhead during a lightning storm can be intense.  The captains have to keep the participants safe and calm.  We have over 40 captains serving an independent charterers to the Florida Sea Base.  Steering that ship is Program Director Captain Richard T. Beliveau.  He is a super-hero.

Captain Holley sent me this photo from the Scuba Liveaboard vessel Schooner Conch Pearl.  Great catch on the opening day of lobster season!!!

Scuba Instructor Megan Ware front row center.  Dive Boat Mate Spencer Olson top left.

According to the National Weather Service, our winds are expected to remain fresh and generally out of the east for the next few days.

Today…East to southeast winds 15 to 20 knots. Seas 4 to 6 feet. Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms.
Tonight Through Saturday…East winds 15 to 20 knots. Seas 4 to 6 feet. Seas higher in the gulf stream. Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms.
Sunday…East to southeast winds near 15 knots. Seas 3 to 5 feet. Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms.
Monday…East to southeast winds near 10 knots. Seas 2 to 3 feet. Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms.

It will be a challenging day for the divers.  It’s all about attitude; if the dive staff and captains keep a positive attitude it will be a great day.  So here we go!

Capt. Steve Willis
Aboard S/V Escape

Here is the latest from our friend Chip at the Key West offfice of the National Weather Service:

Tropical weather systems have been fairly quiet in our region so far this season, but that is not unusual.  A disturbance currently moving westward over the Caribbean just south of Cuba is slowly organizing.   However, the system will have little impact locally other than to steer more Cuban sea-breeze thunderstorms our way this afternoon through Wednesday morning.  An intensifying high pressure ridge north of the Keys will result in freshening east-southeast breezes during the next 24-36 hours, reaching a steady 15 to 20 knots (occasional gusts over 20 knots) by Wednesday evening, with moderate to fresh breezes persisting into the weekend.

For more Florida Keys marine weather information, visit

For the latest tropical weather information, visit

As a reminder, we now have a Facebook presence as well:

Best Regards,

Chip K.
Kennard “Chip” Kasper
Senior Forecaster-Marine Program Meteorologist NOAA/National Weather Service
1315 White Street
Key West, Florida 33040
Operations:  (305) 295-1316 ext. 241
Voice Mail:  (305) 295-1316 ext. 406
FAX:           (305) 296-2011

Today and tomorrow aren’t looking too pretty.  But we deal with these conditions frequently and will do everything possible to ensure the participants are safe and having a high adventure experience.  There will be THOUSANDS of disappointed vacationers who are here to slaughter lobsters.  I’m guessing alcohol sales will be up.

Tuesday was pretty quiet.  The weather was much better than forecasted, until about 1900 (7:00 pm).  Shortly before 1900 the front came through with rain and strong, gusty winds.  Invest 90L is now being given a 70% chance of becoming a tropical storm, probably later today.  Saturday the system was pronounced dead.  Now it may come ashore near Houston, Texas as a hurricane.  For those of us living in hurricane prone areas, the lack of forecast accuracy is maddening.

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The NWS marine forecast calls for 15 – 20 knot winds from the east today through Saturday.  Reefed sails, very challenging scuba diving conditions and multiple cases of gastroenpukeulitis are likely.  HIGH ADVENTURE BABY!!!  Woo-Hoo!!!

Capt. Steve Willis
Aboard S/V Escape

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Invest 90L was declared dead yesterday but is back this morning.  As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the Florida Sea Base could experience some rain and wind from the system over the next two to three days.  We have a Small Craft Advisory in effect for today.  Operationally that does not impact us much since our vessels exceed the definition of “small craft”.  From a practical standpoint it means that it will be a good day for sailing with reefed sails but too so great for snorkeling or scuba diving.  Here are Dr. Jeff Masters’ comments from yesterday on other tropical developments:

Other North Atlantic waves

There are a couple other waves to speak of that have left the coast of Africa in the past few days, one located near 40W and the other closer to Africa, around 30W, which is tangled up in the monsoon trough. The former is expected to take a southerly track, skirting northern South America, and possibly into the Bay of Campeche. Given this track, none of the models are suggesting it will develop. However, tropical cyclones that spin up in the Bay of Campeche generally have a short forecast lead time, so it’s something to watch. The latter wave could take a slightly more northern track through the Caribbean islands, and a couple of the models seem to favor this wave for development at the end of their runs.

Tropical wave activity has been lacking so far this season, but climatologically we should see an increase in African easterly waves in August and September.

As Dr. Masters said, we are getting close to the time of year when the tropical weather will become more active.  Hang on to your hats!

Monday was relatively benign at the Florida Sea Base.  The Scuba Mates had reported “a tingly feeling” when touching the frame of scuba compressor #2.  The electrician came out this morning and fixed the problem.  The Halie and Matthew was delayed in its departure for the Dry Tortugas but finally headed west late Sunday.  Three or four of the scuba staff are still grounded but reinforcements are enroute.

Direcor of Program Rob Kolb is spending the next week in a tent at Philmont Scout Ranch to learn how to manage a Facebook® site for the Florida Sea Base.  The seem to be several contradictions in that sentence.  Rob and anything computer related.  Rob and tent.  Tent and computers.  Facebook® and Philmont.  Etc.

We had an ice cream sundae sparkler for the seasonal staff last night.  Some of the Coal Reef Sailing captains joined in.  Thanks to Dr. Ellen for making the arrangments, Katie and the Galley staff for obtaining the goodies and everyone who helped clean up.  The original plan was to hold the sparkler at the scuba training tanks but air conditioning was the order of the day so the shin-dig was moved to the Chart Room.

Scuba Commissioner Laura Kuras is enjoying a day off today.  I always think of a jillion things I need done when she’s not around.  Unfortunately for them, I tend to rely on Captains Dennis Wyatt and Alex Bergstedt to be my whipping posts when Laura’s not around.  Thanks for supporting me for so many seasons guys!

Welcome to Tuesday.  Here we go again.

Capt. Steve Willis
Aboard S/V Escape



I apologize for posting late today.  Sometimes the stars don’t align properly.  I was busy until bedtime last night dealing with some scuba and sailing program issues.  Then I woke myself up from a dead sleep shortly before midnight when I snagged the nail on my left small toe on the sheet.  [Side bar: A couple of weeks ago I was auditing a PADI Instructor Development Course.  About mid-course we were running the instructor candidate and a Rescue Diver Course student through rescue drills in the swimming pool.  During those exercises I managed to tear most of the nail off the little toe on my left foot; not all the way off, but I guess I snagged it on something and tore it about 80% across and 75% in from the end.  So the nail was sort of hanging on.  When I got home that evening I used some nail strengthener/polish goop from CVS to try to glue the nail in place.  I’ve been keeping it covered with a Band Aid® but, of course, it comes off when I shower or swim.  I failed to put a new Band Aid® on yesterday.  So it caught on the sheet in my sleep and I pulled it loose again.  It hurt, but I was so exhausted I feel back asleep before I could make myself get up.  I snagged it again around 0100 and got up that time.  I put more glue/polish goop on it, let it dry and covered it with a Band Aid®.  While working on that, I realized I had a killer headache so I took some ibuprophen and chugged some water (dehydration).  By 0145 I was back in bed.]

Invest 90L is no longer.  It’s remnants are still moving west and will likely bring us showers on Tuesday and Wednesday along with some increased winds, but nothing severe.  Our local weather is hot still hot with a daily chance of scattered showers.  The wind has filled in a little from calm to 10 – 15 knots from the east.

There are 34 days left in the 2011 summer program season.  Some of the staff are realizing that they are running out of time to enjoy the benefits of working at the Florida Sea Base.  This leads to an annual panic of sorts; a frenzy of “where has the time gone?”

Everything else is “normal”.  The staff are doing a great job but getting a little tired.  Boat motors and captains are getting a little tired too.  Most are doing great; but very few days off for maintenance combined with sea water temperatures in the high 80s to low 90s are stressful on the motors and transmissions.  All in all, very typical for late July.

600 posts.  Two adult leaders checking in yesterday comment that they read the blog.  Some of the staff have even admitted to reading it.  There are times when I wish I could say much more.  There are other times when I wish I hadn’t started this project.  But the bottom line is I hope it helps some of you a little every once in a while.

Capt. Steve Willis
Aboard S/V Escape 


Invest 90L

in Weather  •  0 comments


One model has the system coming right to us.

Invest 90L is not an immediate threat to the Florida Sea Base and may be no threat at all, but we are keeping a close eye on it.  Here is Dr. Jeff Masters comment on the system:

Invest 90L is looking ragged on satellite as it makes its way across the Caribbean islands. While this wave looked ripe for eventual development earlier this week, it has really taken a turn for the worse as it moved across the Main Development Region of the North Atlantic. Today, low level circulation is could favorably be described as less than moderate, and almost nonexistent at higher levels. Today, not one of the global models I’ve looked at (ECMWF, NOGAPS, CMC, UKMET, or GFS) develop 90L, but they are coming into better agreement that the wave’s track will be across the Caribbean islands and into the Gulf of Mexico, rather than up the east coast of Florida. This could be one of the reasons the models are not suggesting development—too much land interaction, not enough time over open warm waters. However, its hard to say that this wave will not show some signs of improvement when it reaches the Gulf. Water will be toasty, moisture will be relatively high, and wind shear will remain incredibly low. Today the National Hurricane Center is giving this wave a 20% chance of development over the next 48 hours. My forecast has been the same for the past two days, right around 20% chance of development over the lifetime of the wave.

Our local weather remains “seasonal”.  The sailing staff handled the onslaught of Coral Reef Sailing crews with great poise and professionalism yesterday.

I got to take my day off.  I slept in until 0545, worked on the engine cooling system on Escape until it got too hot to stay.  Then I went to Key Largo to look at Kawasaki Mules and trailers to haul tanks with.  The drive back was s-l-o-w.  The masses are arriving for the two day lobster mini season.

Lobster mini season is officially a two day event for snorkelers and scuba divers that precedes the opening of the commercial lobster season.  It is the single biggest grossing event of the year for Monroe County.  All hotels have a five day minimum.  There will be THOUSANDS of boaters and divers searching for “bugs”.  Two or three people usually die each year in the pursuit of lobster meat.  People who don’t own a boat will be renting one.  The locals call these people SPORES, Stupid People On Rental Equipment.  Out of ignorance, some of these people will anchor and snorkel in navigable channels, literally run over each other, break and kill coral, kill undersized lobsters and egg bearing females, exceed the bag limit, and then go home.  But the locals will make $$$$$ so it’s all okay.

Capt. Steve Willis
Aboard S/V Escape


Day Off?

Saturday is my scheduled day off.  I hope to sleep in a little, but that RARELY happens.  I’ll try my best.  Then I’ll see how things are going on base.  If all is well, I have two work related assignments off base.  I was aked to go to the Kawasaki dealership in Key Largo and check out a 600cc 4 wheeler and I need to stop at Key Dives and Quienscence Diving Services to photograph their tank trailers.  Captain Paul Beal, the General Manager of the Florida Sea Base, is considering allowing us to purchase a Kawaski and build a trailer to haul tanks from the scuba area to the sea wall.   This is a definite maybe.

The seasonal staff members are being challanged by injuries and illnesses.  One broke his foot, one may have walking pneumonia, another has a sinus infection, another had an infection lanced on his back, and there are some others that are slipping my mind at this time.  None of these folks can get in the water and that is leaving us very short handed.  We do not have adequate staff housing and certainly can’t acccomodate spare staff members.  When one staffer goes down it causes issues.   We have reinforcements coming on the scuba side, but we are still hurting for the next week or two.  The sailing staff is also in a pinch, especially for tomorrow when they have seven instead of the usual four crews arriving.

Invest 90L is on the (morning) horizon and its forecasted track is a little concerning; 005º shift to the north and she will be knocking on our door.  But it is several days away so we will continue to monitor the situation.

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In anticipation of sleeping in, I am going to post this tonight.  Have a good weekend.

Capt. Steve Willis
Aboard S/V Escape

I know this news is a little late for those of you who are Weather Channel addicts, but Tropical Storm Cindy popped up about two days ago.  This system, like Tropical Depression Bret, poses no threat to the Florida Sea Base.

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We finished our monthly Team Meeting in record time yesterday.  We wrapped up around 1130.  Captain Rich and I took advantage of the time and jumped on our budget.  We finished all of the accounts except the income account before breaking for lunch.  After lunch I filled in the numbers for the income sheet and notified Captain Paul Beal and Rob Kolb that the first attempt was completed.  It was received with kinder words than I expected by Captain Beal, our General Manager.  Mr. Kolb had no comment.  (No news is good news!  Right?)

Speaking of Rob Kolb, he has been selected to spend next week at Philmont Scout Ranch to learn how to put the Florida Sea Base website onto Facebook®.  Rob may be more technically dysfunctional than me (if that is even possible) and does not seem to be looking forward to this challenge.

One of my scuba instructors has broken his foot and one of my divemasters is on week two or three of some yet undiagnosed sinus/ear infection/issue.  Scuba Commissioner Laura Kuras is struggling to find ways to keep our crews covered with these two staff members out of the line-up.  To compound the problem, we have a special, three person Scuba Adventure crew arriving today.  Basically Laura will serve as the crew’s Divemaster today through Sunday and I will take the crew on Monday and Tuesday.  Maybe the ear infection will be healed by then, but if not, Laura and I will continue to share the crew for the remainder of their week.  Captain Dennis Wyatt has also volunteered to donate his Saturday afternoon (he is usually off then) to drive the boat for Laura and the crew who will go to Alligator Reef for dive 1.  Thanks Captain Dennis!!!

The sailing staff will have more than a handful today as well.  We usually have four Coral Reef Sailing crews, one Scuba Liveaboard, and one Eco Adventure crew arrive on Fridays.  Today there will be three ADDITIONAL Coral Reef Sailing crews arriving.

And what a horrible mess this will create for Dr. Ellen Wyatt doing check-ins/outs.  She will have seven Coral Reef Sailing crews, one Scuba Liveaboard crew, one Scuba Adventure crew,  and one Eco Adventure crew checking in and four Coral Reef Sailing crews, and one Sea Exploring crew checking out.  (I included a SIGNIFICANT raise for Dr. Ellen in the 2012 budget.)  I am going to propose a plan to recruit someone (maybe Laura or me) to cover the check-out process and maybe another person (likely Hanna Johnson from Admin) to assist Dr. Ellen with check-ins in the event all of the crews arrive simultaneously.  Anyway you cut it, today will be INSANITY in the Program Office.

Have a great day.

Capt. Steve Willis
Aboard S/V Escape