IT’S DISAPPOINTING TO FIND YOURSELF dropping from the surface onto nothing but a desert of fine sand. Wayne, by now way over in the distance, pointed in the direction in which I should go, but it was across a stupendous current.
This was a one-off chance for me, so I got my head down and went for it, digging my spare hand into the sand and dragging myself, bit by bit, across the bottom until the shape of the wreck loomed up.
The little puffs of sand dredged up by my hands as I went were soon dragged away from me like little puffs of smoke.
I was safely out of the main thrust of the flow once inside the hulk of the Mizpah.
Captain JD had dropped us in over the wreck, but it seemed that most of the divers on board weren’t too proficient at getting down quickly. Everyone else had been irresistibly swept on, and I was now alone.
Lots of schooling grunts and a mass of glassy little sweeperfish, behind which two Goliath groupers lurked, was my reward.
These jolly green giants really are enormous fish, but they tend to be a bit shy. I’m not surprised. Spearfishing is a popular sport in this part of the world, and the corpse of one of these monsters would look just dandy, pictured hanging by the lip from the arm of some macho super-hero.

I SPENT MOST OF MY DIVE inside the wreck, attempting to get a front-on close-up of either of the Goliaths, but
it became a slow-motion game of duck-and-chase as I tried to head them off without exhaling any tell-tale bubbles. They were having none of it.
The Mizpah was one of many wrecks along this coast that were sunk intentionally. Before her sinking, all the doors and portholes were removed for divers’ safety, leaving the interior well-exposed to light and the flushing effect of ever-present currents.
I needed no light to see what I was doing, but I found it heavy going with my camera. I was still being pushed around by the flow.
The Palm Beach area of the east coast of Florida is very smart. It’s where a lot of rich Americans from the north come to soak up a bit of sun.
Cruising along the coast road, the famous A1A, and rubber-necking the residences confirms that this is a retreat for the rich and famous.
I had been lodged for a couple of nights at the Omphoy, a very smart boutique hotel and spa designed with modern Asian influences in mind. It’s in the Lake Worth area.
Deliciously luxurious it may be, with meals that are out of this world, but all this comes at a price. It’s the sort of place that gives you no choice but valet-parking, so it costs $25 each time you venture out, and a latte for breakfast costs $6!
The beach I’ve never seen four-poster beds on a beach before, but these are what are provided for sun-worshippers who are disinclined to get the sand between their toes.
The stylish pool area was devoid of people. Well, I was one of the few guests to be getting about without the aid of Mr Zimmer. So what do you do if you want to go diving
The Scuba Club is around 20 miles’ drive to the north at West Palm Beach.
It goes out diving every day and, remembering that several hundred wrecks have been intentionally sunk along the coast as an improvised barrier reef, I was determined to see if I could get onto one. The Scuba Club bills itself as the only country club for divers.
I explained to JD, owner of the Scuba Club, what I was after in the way of Florida wrecks. He told me that the club hoped to be diving three the following afternoon, and I duly turned up.
SO DID A LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE, and the boat was full when it left the Scuba Club’s private dock. I was surprised to discover during the briefing that the three wrecks were all to be visited during the first dive.
In 1968, the 57m Mizpah, formerly a Greek millionaire’s private steam yacht, was sunk to serve as an artificial reef and fish preserve. Some say she was a Greek cruise-liner, but the hulk patently isn’t big enough for that.
The wreck lies some 25m deep, about a mile north-east of the Palm Beach inlet. It is upright and fairly intact but for a split forward of the upper deck.
Lying beyond it are the battered remains of PC1170, a 50m patrol craft.
I was told that some of the largest moray eels on the east coast make their home inside the vessel, along with tons of fish, eagle rays, spiny oysters and soft corals, which cover the ship from bow to stern.
There are also the scattered remains of a wooden tugboat nearby.

THE GULF STREAM RUNS CLOSE to the coast here, and I recalled from a previous visit to Fort Lauderdale that the currents could be quite something.
I was once with Walt De Martini, a legendary dive-boat skipper, and met out-of-air divers from our boat returning back up the line from one wreck to which we were tied before I’d even had the chance to get off and into the water.
The plan this time was for our guide, Wayne Shoemaker (I guess he’s no relation to famed jockey Willie), to use an SMB and for us all to stay with him, ascending its line as and when we needed to. This seemed far more sensible, even if it was not actually going to happen.
No-stop diving is easy here because it’s not very deep but, eventually, alone and running low on nitrox 36, I decided to come out of the protection of the wreck and rejoin the ocean’s flow.
I had made my way along inside the hull, and was surprised to come across a large hawksbill turtle making very little headway against the current just outside my chosen exit.
After a time she decided to drop back inside the wreck for a rest. I was able to take a few close-ups of her before I allowed myself to be swept away in a gradual ascent towards the surface.
On the way, I collided with an equally big loggerhead turtle, which provided me with a nice set of scratches from its front flipper claws on the dome port of my camera. It had obviously been sent into a panic by that flotilla of divers travelling on the current ahead of me.
The others had followed Wayne as he towed the big plastic SMB, and had come up far from where they had gone in. Once I broke the surface I deployed my flag and waited while the boat picked up the others.
JD had no problem spotting my flag on its extended pole. I have the feeling that every time I use it, the manufacturer in England gets a few more orders.
None of the other divers had managed to get into anything but the last of the three wrecks, and Wayne decided that the next dive would be a fast drift over the fringing reef. No-one else had shown the mindset to get into the wrecks, so it was my one wreck-dive of the day, and I was soon driving back to unadulterated luxury at my hotel in Lake Worth.
I reflected that all sorts of wrecks have been intentionally dropped into the sea along this coast, from a Rolls-Royce car and a barge to several old freighters and an obsolete oil rig. That’s something for next time I pass through Florida.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Virgin and BA fly direct to Miami daily. From there it’s best to hire a car, www.rentalcars.com
DIVING: The Scuba Club in Palm Beach www.thescubaclub.com
ACCOMMODATION: John Bantin stayed at Palm Beach’s über-luxurious Omphoy Ocean Resort, www.omphoy.com
WHEN TO GO: October to August
PRICES: A two-tank boat dive with the Scuba Club costs $65. The Omphoy costs from $300 a night (room for two, two nights paid/third night free), though there are cheaper options in Palm Beach. Return flights from around £350..
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.palmbeachfl.com