Devil’s Throat: A bucket list dive, but experience is necessary

The dive boat pulled-up to the dock. 

The dive master pleasantly said “Buenos dias señor; would you like to dive down the “Devil’s Throat” (La Garganta del Diablo) today?

Several folks have suggested that I visit the devil, or where he lives. But, I never had a person - especially with a smile on his face – ask if I would like to dive down the devil’s throat. 

Ok. Why not try the dive? 

I was in Cozumel, an island approximately 51 mile southeast of Cancun, which is a popular cruise ship port of call famed for its excellent scuba diving.

Devil’s Throat, near Punta Sur at the southern end of Cozumel, is a “bucket list” dive for many advanced level divers visiting the island. 

Devil's Throat, an approximately 60 feet long narrow tunnel, is situated in a coral reef. It starts at about 90 feet deep, were the opening is about 5 feet wide) and descends at a 45 degree angle to either 115 feet or 130 feet deep, depending on the direction taken, where the opening is about  15 feet wide at the deepest point.

The coral formation surrounding Devil’s Throat includes an underwater cave, named the Cathedral, which was known for an unusual cross-shaped sponge formation that was torn away by Hurricane Wilma. 

We arrived at the dive site and everyone rolled backward into the water. The visibility was well over 100 feet providing a spectacular panorama of the giant sized coral heads, sea fans, plumes and other underwater structures.  

The divemaster finned down and ahead through the current searching for the small entrance to the tunnel, which is hidden between huge mounds of coral.

As I pushed a camera the size of a small suitcase in front of me, I hoped he would slow down so I could conserve the air in my tank. 

The divemaster found the opening and eased into the tunnel followed by three other divers and me. We turned on our underwater lights wondering what lay ahead. 

Behind us two divers saw the opening and decided the narrow tunnel wasn’t for them. They stayed above the structure and followed our air bubbles that rose through the cracks in the coral.

The divers in front of me in the tunnel were very experienced and did not scissor kick or stir-up sediment obscuring visibility, which  makes for the blurry photos that cause you to tell your friends back home, “if you look carefully you can see the awesome tunnel and cave we were in.”

As we descended through the tunnel the lights of the divers in front of me eerily bounced off the tunnel walls and fish darting about; it got darker and spookier.

There were just enough tiny tunnels radiating from the main tunnel to provide light from outside to help navigate. 

“Gee,” I thought, “I hope the devil’s throat doesn’t lead to the devils stomach.”

Then, as the saying goes, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. And, thankfully, it wasn’t the gleaming eye of a giant sea monster or man eating shark. 

The tunnel widened. I looked at my dive computer noticing that we emerged at about 125 feet below the surface of the ocean next to a magnificent coral drop-off with no bottom visible through the dark blue water. 

I checked my dive computer again to determine the remaining air in my scuba tank and for my no -decompression stop time (the time I could stay at depth without a mandatory stop on the way to the surface to vent off excess nitrogen absorbed through my lungs during the dive) -- All good. We ascended to about 80 feet deep and regrouped with the divers who didn’t want to dive through the narrow tunnel and cavern.

The current caught us and we drifted north towards a reef called Colombia Deep while taking in amazing views of coral canyons, sea turtles, blue spotted rays, and all manner of tropical sea life.  

We took full advantage of our large capacity scuba tanks for a nice long dive while slowly rising to shallower depths until making a safety stop at 15 feet deep to breathe out the extra nitrogen we picked up during our one hour adventure into the abyss.  

Because it is deep, there is a prevailing current, and it involves swimming through tunnels and caverns, Devil’s Throat can be dangerous. It is highly recommended that divers be in good physical condition, hold advanced certification and have recent experience in deep diving in confined locations. 

Proper gear, including a light source and dive computer, is a must.

Devil’s Throat is not a good dive for folks who suffer from claustrophobia or anxiety.  

Ok, you might say, “Devil’s Throat sounds like a cool dive for advanced level divers who are interested in or can take dive trips to other countries. But, what about right here in the Florida Keys?” 

Well, near Key Largo is a spectacular  dive spot called French Reef, located in a Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA), with dozens of ledges, tunnels, and caverns - many  large enough to swim through.

With an average depth of 15 feet it is great for newer divers and even snorkelers.

On just about any dive you can expect to see yellowtail, porkfish, moray eels, cooper sweepers, grunt, barracuda and the occasional turtle. 

Interesting swim -- throughs include Hourglass Cave (located 50 feet inshore from buoy F1), Christmas Tree Cave (located 50 feet inshore of buoy F3), and White Sand Bottom Cave,  the largest cavern in the area, which is located in the center of French Reef.

Numerous dive operators in the upper Keys visit French Reef and its equally spectacular neighbor Molasses Reef.

For more on French Reef see: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/zones/spas/frenchreef.html

Information about Keys dive sites is available at: http://www.scubadiving.com/travel/florida-florida-keys/florida-keys-dive-site-map-0

For a guide to the reefs of Cozumel, including Devil’s Throat, see: http://www.cozumelinsider.com/REEFS.

The computer site for Aldora Divers,  a dive operator that provides extra capacity SCUBA tanks filled with nitrox, a gas mixture containing higher percentages of oxygen than normal air giving a diver longer dive times at certain depths, can be found at: http://www.aldora.com/

Don Rhodes, in addition to a career in government affairs, has taught scuba for 29 years. He and his wife retired to Tavernier four years ago, where he works as an instructor for Conch Republic Divers. He can be reached at donrrhodes@gmail.com.