Almost 24 years ago, on Jan. 28, 1980, the worst Coast Guard accident occurred. Twenty-three men lost their lives when the Cutter Blackthorn collided with the freighter Capricorn near the the Sunshine Skyway. In 1991, the wreck became an artificial reef, 21 miles northwest of St Petersburg. We descended on the Sheridan Tug where John Schmidt shot a nice amberjack and then swam about 100 yards crossing over to the Blackthorn wreck. With visibility nearly 50 feet, we found several pieces of the wreck's extensive debris, covered with mangrove snapper and small gags. The wreck has changed, of course, crumbling down more. But it still has 20 feet of relief at the stern. As we swam south toward the bow, Mike Barnette, a local shipwreck author, and I disappeared into the biggest school of large bait I've ever encountered. Hovering around us, they made spearfishing virtually impossible. Ledges in 75-95 feet produced plenty of keeper gags and large hogfish. Visibility has dropped to 20 feet and the shallow water of our last dive on the South County Orange Tug should be tough. Two free spearfishing seminars and numerous hook-and-line clinics will be held at the Tampa Bay Boat Expo at Tropicana Field. For more information go to www.tampabayboatexpo.com.
_ Chad Carney teaches scuba and spearfishing and charters out of St Petersburg. Call 727-423-7775 or e-mail from www.mobilescuba.com.