40 Have you ever wondered just exactly what is living in the deepest, darkest part of Boca Grande Pass? Southwest Florida Capt. Chris Wittman and his first mate, Chris Zolman were so intrigued to explore the water they have made several dive trips to bottom, taking a GoPro camera with them to record the footage. Best friends since childhood, the outdoorsmen said they were both naturally curious to see what’s going on beneath the surface. They’ve been certified divers and spear fishermen together for decades, and that’s how they grew interested in diving in local passes. The first time they explored the bottom of Boca Grande Pass was in 2005. “We’ve been diving for more than 20 years and we’ve done some very aggressive dives together,” said Wittman. “The (Port Boca Grande) phosphate docks are always fun to dive in too, there is literally a ton of fish,” said Zolman. “You can probably see every different kind of fish species near those docks – I’ve seen redfish, snook, trout, jack tarpon, goliath grouper. I was amazed at the huge groups of 15- pound sheepshead and the amount of gag grouper hanging at the bottom. And, of course, hundreds of sharks.” Both men admitted it can get quite spooky at night near the end of the phosphate docks. They are sure that many sharks have kept an eye on them. The deepest part of the Pass, they said, looks similar to a sinkhole. The ledge is filled with sand and limestone. “Outside the dock where it rolls off, it all just turns black very quickly. It’s very hard to see more than a few feet away,” Wittman said. Capt. Chris Wittman and his first mate, Chris Zolman. One part of being an experienced diver is knowing when the conditions are proper to do it safely. “We specifically plan a time to dive when we know the tide and moon phases are optimal. We wait for the right colored water, when the tides haven’t been too strong. We wait for a good clean end of a passing tide. There is a lot of planning involved. We want to get the best visibility when we dive,” Wittman said. Wittman said when they went down in the “Lighthouse Hole” which is the deepest point in Boca Grande Pass, they planned to just drift in and then come back with the incoming tide. “It’s a very challenging dive and that’s also what intrigues us to do it. The extreme part of it is kind of the allure to it. We used electronic devices and threw an anchor out, but the current usually pulls that out really quickly,” Wittman said. We are basically between two and three atmospheres of pressure. The deeper you go the less buoyant you become. So at 30 feet, your lungs can only hold half the volume of air you could hold on the surface.” Communication is also key. They have dove together so many times they know each other’s patterns. “We’re always prepared with dive knives, wire cutters and flashlights to bang on each other’s tanks when we need to communicate something via hand signals. We can easily become entangled in wires very quickly,” Zolman said. Both men said they were extremely impressed with how clean the Pass was the last time they dove it a few years ago. “The anglers who are out there for the most part are very responsible. When many of them hook into a string of old line, they’ll reel it in and take it with them to rid of it when they’re done fishing instead of just throwing it back in the water,” Wittman said. The salinity and nature of the water can dissolve metal pretty quickly, including sinkers and hooks. The pair record their footage with dive computers that record water temperature and depth. “Once we get a visual we will take a compass setting and draw out the shape on a sketch pad where the ledges exist,” Zolman said.
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