Every year, thousands of people flock to Key Largo to experience the world-class snorkeling. Most return home to live their everyday lives.
But a select few choose to stay in the Keys and make snorkeling a way of life.
Yet, fewer still experience snorkeling to the degree of the McPheeters family.
On July 1, Bill, Julia and their adult son Perry made their thousandth snorkeling trip with the Sundiver III.
“We decided to go on vacation and made our first trip with Sundiver May 6, 2002,” said Bill McPheeters.
From there their love of snorkeling grew, completing their one hundredth trip in 2007 and five hundredth trip in 2011. Each trip and every dive was with Sundiver Snorkeling Tours.
“People go out and walk around the park, we go out and swim around the reef.” Bill said. “We do this for exercise and have completed as many as 22 trips in one month.”
However, the number of dives isn’t all that stands out with this family. Every dive has been carefully documented and photographed.
“I’ve taken 40,000 underwater photos of the Marine Sanctuary dating back to 2003,” Bill said. And Perry, the McPheeters’ son, has spinal bifida.
“We were refused service in Key West because of my son’s handicap,” Bill said.
But diving from the Sundiver III, Perry, who uses a sea scooter and also free dives, is able to get on and off the boat.
“We built the boat for the comfort of our passengers,” Sundiver co-owener Kathie Theiss said. “The rear panels are removable and there’s a nice dive platform that’s almost level with the water.”
When Perry was asked about his most memorable dive he replied, “The first time I saw a spotted eagle ray, I was like ‘Wow!’ here’s a fish that looks like an airplane.”
To celebrate the family’s momentous dive, friends gathered in Key Largo and presented the McPheeters were with a plaque.