Diving and Dining in Lauderdale By The Sea
By Gene Muchanski, Southeast Correspondent
Dive News Network
To celebrate Florida’s mini-lobster season, a little seaside village with a population of 6,000 residents annually sponsors a diving event called BugFest-By-The-Sea As new residents to the State of Florida, Dana and I gladly accepted an invitation to drive down to the beautiful Town of Lauderdale-By-the Sea (LBTS) to see what this event was all about. The following four days turned out to be one of the nicest diving vacations we ever experienced.
The Town of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, located just north of Fort Lauderdale, is known as the Shore Dive Capital of South Florida because of its beautiful coral reefs located less than 100 yards off the beach. Snorkelers and scuba divers alike frequent the shallow water reefs for the warm, clear water and abundant marine life, especially Lobster. So it makes a lot of sense to hold BugFest in a place that not only has great shore diving but plenty of Dive Boat Operators, Dive Stores, and a local diving community that comes together every year to volunteer their time to throw a party that welcomes all Divers who want to participate in a fun event.
This year’s BugFest started on Friday, July 25th with a reception to showcase the Sinking World Art Exhibit of Andreas Franke and ended on Saturday, August 2nd at the Beneath The Waves Film Festival. There was something to do every day for the entire nine days. Over 200 certified divers signed up to compete in the Great Florida Bug Hunt with over $15,000 in dive gear and prizes. There was a mini-season kickoff party, four days of beach and boat diving, a beachfront Lobster Cookoff, a Lobster Chef Competition, and in the El Prado Park event there was a lobster cookout and Live Calypso Music There was even a photo & video contest and a “Catching The Bug Seminar” by local Author Jim “Chiefy” Mathie.
Promoting diving in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area is a cooperative effort between the local diving community, diving businesses and city, county and state entities. At the invitation of The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, Southeast Dive News Correspondents Gene Muchanski and Dana Polites joined a group of Journalists to participate in BugFest-By-The-Sea and be treated to an entire “Diving and Dining” experience in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea and her neighboring cities. This was one dive trip we were really going to enjoy!
Kaymi Malave, Senior Account Supervisor and Aubrey McGovern, Account Supervisor with the advertising agency M.Silver, and Jessica Savage of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau were going to show us why Lauderdale-By-The-Sea was such a great destination for travelers, and I would have to say they succeeded. We met with Aubrey, our guide and dive buddy for the next four days at The Sea Lord Hotel & Suites. The Sea Lord Hotel is a beautifully updated AAA Three-diamond, oceanfront boutique hotel on Florida’s most exclusive stretch of beach. It has spectacular views from apartment-style accommodations. Our Media Group included writers from Southeast Dive News, Bonnier Corporation, and Advanced Diver Magazine. We were delighted to become dive buddies with the young Schyler Cox, the 2014 Bonnier Corporation Intern from the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society. The Sea Lord Hotel is right on the Beach, peaceful and quite, yet close enough to our dive operator’s dock.
The diving was provided by Jeff Torode, President of South Florida Diving Headquarters Not only was Jeff one of the promoters of BugFest, he volunteered to be our Host, Tour Guide, Dive Boat Captain, Dinner Guest and Local Tourism Ambassador. All we had to do in return was dive, take pictures & video, eat, try “FlyBoarding” and climb 132 stairs up the Hillsboro Lighthouse! Where Jeff gets the energy to do what he does is beyond me, but he definitely is the guy to call if you want a fun watersports experience in the Fort Lauderdale – Pompano Beach – LBTS area.
We knew this dive trip was going to be all about diving and dining when Jessica and Aubrey arrived in the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitor’s Bureau’s (CVB) van on our first night to take us to the Blue Moon Fish Co. a chic waterfront restaurant located on the Intracostal Waterway serving creative fresh Florida cuisine. This deco-inspired exterior with a contemporary American menu is on our “must go to” list for visitors to LBTS. The “Tower” appetizer, Mahi Mahi, and Key Lime Pie were our favorites.
The excitement of the first day was upon us as we got in our CVB Van (Thanks Joseph Rodman) and headed out to meet Jeff Torode at South Florida Diving Headquarters . Our Dive Guide for the first two “bug” dives was non-other than Mr. Bug himself, Jim “Chiefy” Mathie. Jim’s written a book on catching Lobster and we knew we were in good hands. We set up our gear and took some pictures as the dive boat made its way to Chiefy’s secret Lobster spots. After two dives with Chiefy and his Divemaster, they had all the lobster they needed and we had all the pictures and video to prove it.
One thing that makes a vacation interesting and well-rounded is when there are non-diving activities you and your family can participate in after your dives. After our first two dives we caught a quick shower and headed south to Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center in Fort Lauderdale. We were greeted at the newly constructed $50 Million Dollar Oceanographic Center by the NSU Staff; Wendy Wood-Derrer, Director of Development, Brandon Hensler, Interium Executive Director of University Relations, and Joe Donzelli, Associate Director of Public Affairs. Wendy shared the History of the NSU Oceanographic Center with us in their beautiful Boardroom overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. NSU is the largest private not-for-profit university in the Southeast and with an enrollment of more than 29,000 students, is the eight largest in the United States.
Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center has been at the forefront of marine science education and oceanographic research for nearly 50 years. It is the home of the National coral Reef Institute, the Guy Harvey Research Institute, the Save Our Seas Shark Center, the Broward County Florida Sea Turtle Conservation Program and a number of other Institutes as well. We were able to catch up with Assistant Professor David Kerstetter and get the scope on some of his marvelous Lionfish Research.
Having been on two dives in the morning followed by a tour of the NSU Oceanographic Center in the afternoon, it was time to check back into the BugFest and see how the Lobster Chef Competition was going. As you can imagine, the five culinary chef teams battled it out and after tasting the entries, only two were proclaimed as this year’s winners. There was an overall winner and a “Divers Choice” winner. See BugFest’s Facebook Page for all the details. If there was an award for best “Key Lime Margarita” we’d have to give it to our Host Jeff Torode, now wearing an apron and cooking for Serenity Yacht Cruises.
BugFest was a great success and we look forward to participating next year. It was time to end our second day with a great dinner at 101 Ocean. “Casual but classy beach dining experience. Beautifully designed and decorated with a hugh outdoor bar.” Needless to say, the food quality was excellent and the service was above and beyond the norm.
Our third day in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea showed us exactly how diversified and forward thinking Jeff Torode really is. Jeff took us for a boat ride to the Hillsboro Lighthouse at the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Hillsboro Beach where we actually got to climb up the 132 stairs to the top of the Lighthouse and catch a breathtaking view of the Pompano Beach Inlet and surrounding area. Jeff gave us a history lesson of the area and then introduced us to Arthur A. Makenian, President of the Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society. He knew every detail about the Lighthouse and about the barefoot mailman, who, as the story goes, got eaten by an alligator after someone “borrowed” his boat and he had to swim across the channel. After the tour, I snuck away to talk with an fellow Navy Submariner, Rob O’Neil, Lodge Host for the Recreational Cottages on the Lighthouse grounds. Retired Military personnel can actually rent two cottages on an available basis by making reservations with Rob at 954-781-1817.
While we were having lunch, Jeff got out the Jetski and Flyboard and we were in for a treat. Think of this new watersport toy as a pair of ski boots attached to Marty McFly’s hover board that connects to the exhaust port of a jet ski with a 35 foot firehose. Put on a life preserve and a helmet, strap yourself into the boots and when Jeff hits the throttle of the jet ski, you go flying upward, up to 35 feet in the air. Lean right, you go right. Lean left, you go left. Lean too much – oh well. You don’t have to be in perfect shape to master FlyBoarding, but the stronger your legs are and the more balance you have, the better. See what Flyboarding is all about at Flyboards of South Florida
Besides pretty reefs and abundant marine life, The Greater Fort Lauderdale area boasts some pretty decent wrecks to dive on. Some old, some new, but all worth diving on. Our awesome DiveMaster Dave guided us on the Aqua Zoo, a Florida Wreck Site with the nickname for the piles of culverts next to the wreck of the Sea Emperor, and then on the United Caribbean, a Deerfield Beach Wreck Dive Site. Diving on these two wrecks with cameras and video was what we needed to get some good footage of the abundant marine life in South Florida waters.
The diving was excellent as always, but the buzz about the upcoming dinner at the famed Cap’s Place Island Restaurant had us looking forward to this dinner all day. We met Jeff at 7:00 pm for a boat ride to a place infamously known for rum-running and gambling, nestled on an island in the Florida Bush. Not a board’s been changed in this island beach shanty since it was frequented by FDR and Sir Winston Churchill during World War II. A favorite restaurant of Jack Kennedy, Cap’s Place is now sought out by TV celebrities. Recognized as a national landmark, Cap’s Place is Broward County, Florida’s oldest restaurant. After drinks, appetizer, entrée and dessert, we knew why Cap’s Place is “Famous For Seafood Since the 1920’s.”
Divers are known for being good stewards of the environment and Brian Gagas of Gold Coast Scuba gave us an opportunity to participate in the Anglin’s Pier and Reef clean-up. After the dive we paid a visit to the Village Grille, right up the sand from the beach clean-up. Village Grille is a seaside culinary feast featuring fresh caught seafood, juicy steaks, crisp salads, sandwiches and many other specialties. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And for those skipping the beach dive and still on breakfast time, I suggest the Egg & Bagel Sandwich!
Wanting to get some more pictures and video of the reefs off of Deerfield Beach, we headed out to make a wreck dive on the Ancient Mariner, an ex-Coast Guard Cutter followed by a reef dive to blow off some nitrogen. When you’re shooting video and taking pictures, every dive is a new experience. If the current cooperates and the weather is good, there is always good footage to get.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau didn’t want us to go home without showing us the night life of Fort Lauderdale, and the most scenic way to get there is by Water Taxi from Las Olas Marina. Our post-diving adventure continued as we explored the Intracostal Waterways that surrounds Greater Fort Lauderdale. The waterway is lined with multi-million dollar yachts and opulent mansions along Millionaire’s Row belonging to Fortune 500 company CEO’s, celebrities and other socialites. We kept our eyes peeled to see where all the Diving Equipment Manufacturer’s waterfront palaces were, but no luck. Taking a water taxi is a fun way to pass the time and travel from beach to downtown to Las Olas Boulevard’s upscale thoroughfare with al fresco dining and boutique shopping.
Our ultimate destination for the evening would be the Royal Pig. “With a name like The Royal Pig, you’ve got to bring the goods when it comes to meat and poultry. The restaurant even makes its own sausage and foie gras.” The Royal Pig lived up to its reputation for food quality, and the restaurant certainly had an enormous amount of energy in it. Young crowd, loud music, and great service.
On Sunday morning it was time to say goodbye to some of our Media friends and new dive buddies, but not to Fort Lauderdale. Shooters Waterfront just happened to be on the way to the airport and who would pass up an opportunity to have Sunday morning brunch at Fort Lauderdale’s most popular waterfront dining destination. The restaurant features Fort Lauderdale’s most scenic Sunday brunch with a completely new look and a freshly inspired menu. With a 340 foot dock and great valet parking, guests are welcome to arrive by car or boat.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, M. Silver and South Florida Diving Headquarters could not have been better Hosts to us on this trip. The entire Diving & Dining Experience has made this Author think twice about the way we promote the diving industry and local diving. Thanks to Jessica Savage (Hello Sunny), Aubrey McGovern and Jeff Torode for all the effort you put into promoting local diving in the Lauderdale-By-The-Sea area. We encourage diving and watersports entrepreneurs to market and promote local diving in conjunction with their local Chamber of Commerce and their Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau or their Regional Tourism Bureau. Scuba Diving is a great recreation and it’s more fun when integrated with other lifestyle activities. Here’s to improving the recreational diving vacation experience.
See the complete Lauderdale-By-The-Sea Story in pictures on Southeast Dive News Facebook Page: