Officially, Florida’s Boynton Inlet is not an inlet, but nobody refers to it as the South Lake Worth Drainage Ditch. And nobody calls the Palm Beach Inlet, farther north, by its official name: Lake Worth Inlet. Every nautical chart denotes the Boynton Inlet with the caveat “Passage through the inlet is not recommended without local knowledge of all hazardous conditions affecting this area.”
When I was a boy, a fishing boat capsized in the Boynton Inlet. Five people died, and other passengers were injured, one seriously. In the recent past, the Boynton Inlet claimed two dive boats.
The cut from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean was made in 1927 as a drainage ditch for the huge C-15 canal, which brings agricultural runoff and water from Lake Okeechobee into the Intracoastal Waterway and then, at tide change, into the Atlantic. The cut is only 30 meters (100 feet) wide at the eastern edge, oceanside, where there is a 35-degree angle. Water courses through the cut at 6 knots, and tides, which vary from 0.65 to 1.3 meters (2.2 to 4.4 feet), account for fast water through the cut. Winds from the east blow at 15 knots 83 percent of the time, making passage still more difficult.
Knowing the precarious nature of the inlet, why would any boat operator choose Boynton Beach as a base of operations? Because the diving is great. Some of the best diving in the world is to be found between Paul’s Reef, north of the Boynton Inlet, and Little Shark, south of the inlet just off Boca Raton. The reefs are located about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) offshore, consistently about 18 meters (60 feet) to the sand on the shore side and 24 meters (80 feet) to the sand on the ocean side. There are shipwrecks sunk as artificial reefs, deeper dives, patch reefs, and rubble piles. The Gulf Stream meanders close in here and brings with it a flow of warm Caribbean water. With the Gulf Stream come big denizens of the deep. The reefs are home to an amazing diversity of underwater life.
Marinas dot the Intracoastal Waterway, as do private homes with their own docks. The City of Boynton Beach has spent a lot of money developing the downtown area. A jewel in that crown is the Boynton Municipal Marina, whose facilities have been enhanced to make it an attractive sport-fishing and dive charter area. It is only a short run north from the Boynton Municipal Marina to the Boynton Inlet. That is why the passage, although treacherous at times, is popular. The next-closest access to the Atlantic Ocean is at Boca Raton, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south, or the Palm Beach Inlet, 22 kilometers (14 miles) north.
Capt. Jim Hill has been diving and operating dive boats in the area since 1996. His boat, Loggerhead, is berthed next to Two Georges Restaurant at the east end of the marina. Hill obtained his captain’s license in 1996 and started running
liveaboard dive vessels to the Bahamas for Gold Coast Charters. In 2000, he moved to Boynton and joined Loggerhead Enterprises Dive Charters; he now owns the business.
“I know this area and the Bahamas pretty good. I was certified in 1989. I dove West Palm Beach to the Bahamas. I’ve got 5,500 dives under my belt,” Hill says. His experience gives him a great advantage when he takes divers out to offshore reefs, as he can select spots based on their experience and preferences.
His briefings include cautionary words about respecting sea turtles. The area is home to five species of endangered marine turtles. Loggerheads, leatherbacks, green turtles and hawksbills migrate to the area to lay their eggs on the beaches every spring and summer. Kemp’s ridley turtles are rare to see in the area, but they migrate through, heading farther north before returning to beaches in Mexico to nest.
Hill asks divers not to harass and never to hold on to sea turtles. He stresses that there are severe penalties for doing so. “Observe, take pictures and enjoy these marine creatures” is the mantra aboard Loggerhead.
Capt. Kevin Metz, another seasoned dive charter captain, operates Explorer out of the Boynton Marina. Metz has been diving, teaching diving and operating dive boats for many years in the area. He is one of the most experienced dive boat operators in Florida. He is a 50-ton master and operates Explorer as a boutique dive boat with no more than six passengers.
“We have high-profile reefs. This makes them different from other reefs in Florida. There is an abundance of life because of the Gulf Stream,” Metz says. “We have some unusual opportunities here. Several ships have been sunk as artificial reefs. On the Castor, goliath grouper aggregate in September, and we see 100 to 180 individuals over six weeks. There are always 15 resident goliath groupers on the Castor.
“The Budweiser, named for the beer company that provided funding for the vessel’s preparation and sinking, sits in 85 feet (26 meters) of water. There are many nudibranchs and macro-life on the superstructure.
“There is Captain Tony, also called the Beck’s after the beer company that funded it. … There are cup coral and lots of marine growth along with resident goliath groupers on the wreck. Blue bell tunicates and octopus offer great opportunities for underwater pictures.”
The Boynton Beach Dive Center is only about a block away from the marina, on Highway 1, and provides full service for divers and snorkelers. The fill station is equipped for nitrox or mixed-gas diving as well as air. Tom and Debbie Muscatello and their staff are welcoming and friendly. A dive shop is a great place to meet and enjoy fellowship with other divers or to spend time learning about the area.
If you are looking for world-class diving with exciting possibilities and some of the most majestic reefs in the world, plus experienced dive boat captains and a full-service dive shop nearby, diving out of Boynton Beach, on reefs from South Palm Beach to north Boca Raton, is the right way to go.
To reach Capt. Jim Hill of Loggerhead, call 561-588-8686 or visit loggerheadcahrters.com. To reach Capt. Kevin Metz, call 561-577-3326 or go to diveboyntonbeach.com. Contact the Boynton Dive Center at 561-732-8590 or visit boyntonbeachdivecenter.com.