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Urban Access: Scuba

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NEW YORK CITY
Diving in NYC”””Fuhgeddaboudit,” says your typical Big Apple cynic. But what few New Yorkers know is that there are some very diveable spots just outside the concrete jungle.

1 Hour Radius: Wreck Valley, NY
Along Long Island’s south shore is “Wreck Valley,” a concentration of 18th-century to contemporary shipwrecks””including tugboats, barges, rumrunners, wooden schooners, paddle-wheel steamships and warships, which were part of Teddy Roosevelt’s turn-of-the-century Great White Fleet. One of the most intriguing wrecks is the Lizzie D, a Prohibition-era rumrunner that mysteriously went down in 1922 with a full load of Johnny Walker and other spirits. Lizzie D delivers her contraband cargo to folks today: lucky divers still unearth intact bottles of sweet Kentucky bourbon. The area is also ripe for catching lobsters. Before you go, get a $10 resident’s non-commercial lobster permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation (631-444-0470). If you go with a commercial boat, like the research vessel Wahoo, then you’ll be covered under the vessel’s commercial lobster license. If you time it right, you could have yourself a scrumptious dinner of reef lobster and perfectly aged liquor. For extreme divers, the Andrea Doria has been hailed as the Everest of diving. Sunk off the coast of Long Island, it lies 240 feet down. Charters head out from the south coast of Long Island at Captree State Park. From NYC, head east on Long Island Expressway Route 495 to Exit 38S Meadowbrook Parkway. Continue south and follow signs to Jones Beach. When you reach the tollbooths, pass on the left to avoid paying the fees. When you cross Meadowbrook Bridge, you’ll be on Ocean Parkway East. Follow it for 10 miles to Captree Boat Basin. On the right side of the parking lot, Berth 5, you’ll find the research vessel Wahoo. For more information and a site map, contact Steve Bielenda at Research Vessel Wahoo, 631-928-3849, www.wahoo.org.

3 Hour Radius: Bermuda
The ultracivilized island everyone thinks is in the Caribbean is actually a self-governing British dependency that lies 600 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. A two-hour plane ride (US$500-550) will take you to this place a world apart in attitude and ideology from New York City. In fact, Mark Twain called Bermuda “the right country for a jaded man to loaf in.” So grab your passport, trade in your wingtips for Bermuda shorts and head off to paradise. Don’t forget your logbook: you’ll want to detail the diving among the northernmost corals in Atlantic waters, where hordes of tropical and temperate fish species are housed by some of the best wrecks and reefs in this ocean. For more information, contact Scuba Look, 011-441-292-1717, www.diveguide.com/scubaluk/index.htm.

5 Hour Radius: Block Island, RI
For excellent visibility and your choice of several hundred documented shipwrecks, head up to tiny Block Island, 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. The water here is flush with rays and giant sunfish. The distance from shore and lack of runoff makes the water especially clear. Block Island is home to a laid-back community that spends its summers catching bluefish and striped bass and hiking along the rocky bluffs. Drive out to New London or Port Judith, CT, where boats make the half-hour ride to Block Island (call ahead to rent full gear, from $70 a weekend). For more information, contact New England Dive Center, 203-284-1880, www.nedive.com.

NOTE: TWO DIVES, INCLUDING TANKS AND WEIGHTS, WILL COAST YOU APPROXIMATELY US$60-80 ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.

CALIFORNIA
California is home to some of the best cold-water diving in the U.S. Your only caveat for this wet and wild adventure: get a nice thick wetsuit. California waters can be very chilly.

SAN FRANCISCO
1 Hour Radius: Monterey, CA
The craggy cliffs and lush kelp beds in Monterey Bay are home to brilliant orange garibaldi (the state fish of California), rockfish, sea lions and others. Right off the Monterey Aquarium the marine life is protected under sanctuary regulations and divers are protected from extreme weather conditions. Some operators also head to the state reserve park of Point Lobos, which charges a $10 entrance fee. To get to the Beach Hopper II boat from downtown San Francisco, head south on Highway 280 to 101 South. Follow the signs for 156 West; this route turns into Highway 1 South to Monterey. Take the Pacific Grove Del Monte Avenue exit, stay right to take a right turn to Fisherman’s Wharf. Turn right on Figueroa Street; the loading ramp is located right next to the harbormaster’s office. For more information, contact Marin Skin Diving, 800-806-2345.

5 Hour Radius: Barview Jetty, OR
Brave the elements! Head north to the cold waters of the Oregon coast. Barview Jetty, where Tillamook Bay opens into the Pacific Ocean, is popular for its easy access to the water. At Three Arch Rocks, sea lions nose right up to divers. Water temperatures (54 degrees F) and visibility (10-15 feet) are fairly consistent, allowing for shore diving year-round with wetsuits or drysuits. Take care: the jetties are slippery and unexpectedly massive swells can sweep up and toss you against the rocks. To get there, fly from San Francisco to Portland (about US$150 roundtrip) and drive two hours west. For more information, contact Garibaldi Aqua Sports, 503-322-0113, www.oregoncoast.com/aquasports/index.htm.

LOS ANGELES
1 Hour Radius: Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, CA
Power your way through vast curtains of kelp and come eye to eye with bass, opaleye, lobsters, nudibranchs and sea lions, the kings of the kelp jungle, The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is a 100-mile spread of islands off the coast of LA, with visibility up to 100 feet and water temperatures in the 53-70 degrees F range. The water’s cold, but the diving here is among the best in the west, especially off Catalina Island, 45 minutes by speedboat from the LA Harbor. For more information, contact the Channel Islands Council of Divers, www.venturaweb.com/cicd/cybrlink.htm.

SAN DIEGO
1 Hour Radius: Coronado Islands, Mexico
The Coronado Islands, 21 nautical miles south of San Diego, host colonies of sea lions, northern elephant seals, rock reefs and purple hydrocorals. Boats leave daily from San Diego’s West Mission Bay Marina. From downtown San Diego, get on the Freeway 5 north. Exit onto Sea World Drive, go west and make a right on west Mission Bay Drive. Stay in the right lane, and make a left onto Quivira at the first signal light. Follow it all the way to West Marina. For more information, contact Dive Pro San Diego, 760-632-7060, www.diveprosandiego.com.

3 Hour Radius: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
To locals, Baja is known as the “pelagic paradise.” From Cabo San Lucas, you can dive two different chains of islands off Baja’s Pacific Coast. In the fall, dive operators runn out to Socorro, Clarion and San Benedicto Islands. In summer, divers journey to the Sea of Cortez with Cabo Pulmo in mind. Cabo Pulmo is the eastern Pacific’s northernmost coral reef, famous for giant manta rays, whale sharks and schools of hammerheads. From San Diego, you can fly straight to Los Cabos International Airport (for under US$300), where you’ll take a bus to Cabo San Lucas. For more information, contact Amigos del mar, 800-344-3349, www.solmar.com.

MIAMI
Florida is the U.S.’s answer to drive-thru scuba diving in the tropics.

1 Hour Radius: Miami Wrecks, South Beach
The waters around Miami’s South Beach are a virtual shipwreck city. Dade County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management began a hugely successful program for artificial reef development in 1981 by sinking a steel-hulled tugboat called the Orion. Since then, they have added other wrecks including an oil platform, three dozen ships and freighters, a pair of army tanks, radio towers, concrete pyramids and the fuselage of a Boeing 727. Tenneco Oil Platform, the most popular of these sites, is covered with orange cup coral and frequented by bull sharks, barracuda and amberjack. The platform is home to several hundred more fish species. Miami’s shipwrecks are accessible by dive boats that leave from the Miami Beach Marina. To get there from downtown Miami, head east on the MacArthur Causeway 395, which ends in South Beach. Exit on Alton Road, and the marina will be on your right. For more information on diving in the area, contact South Beach Divers, 888-331-DIVE, www.southbeachdivers.com.

3 Hour Radius: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo
Located underwater at the Key Largo Dry Rocks Reef is the famous but crowded Christ of the Abyss. The nine-foot bronze statue was donated to the Underwater Society of America by an Italian diving group in 1961. It is a replica of a statue off the coast of Genoa, Italy, dedicated to the marine life of the world’s reefs. Pay a visit and share the experience with locals: French angelfish, blue tans, scorpionfish, yellowtail snappers and squirrel fish. From Miami, take U.S.. 1 south to Mile Marker 102.5 and look for the park entrance on the left. All local operators also dive in Pennekamp. For more information and reservations, call 305-451-6322, www.pennekamppark.com.