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Text by Jennifer Graham
Photography by Curt Bowen



tropical breeze picks up the charcoal scent off the fiery grills and permeates through the air, the sweet and succulent savors of lobster now stimulate and tease the senses of the crowds as the "2014" Bugfest-By-The-Sea, Master Lobster Chef Competition begins at Lauderdale-By-The-Sea’s, El Prado Park Beach Pavilion.

Eagerly the five chefs and their teams jump into action as the announcer for this year’s flavor filled event Lenore Nolan-Ryan of Lenore Nolan-Ryan’s Cooking School & Catering in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea starts the clock. With only 45 minutes to prepare the freshest of culinary lobster cuisine, the teams work diligently on their tastiest cooking creations. All for a shot at this year’s official BugFest-By-The-Sea trophy!

Bug Fest “2014” is in full swing and fully embraced by the greater Fort Lauderdale area.

"The lobsters are plentiful"  "It looks like a good season" “I know where to find the biggest bugs you'll ever see in these waters" says Captain Jeff Torode, as we board the Aqua View, a custom built glass bottom catamaran, one of 3 dive charter boats of the South Florida Dive Headquarters, located at the Guy Harvey Dive Outpost, and head out for the first of our many dives into the Atlantic Ocean in search of our host, the “Florida lobster”!


  Lobster is the big prize here at Bugfest!!!


This unique 3 tiered reef system, The South East Florida Reef Tract extends from Miami northward to Palm Beach. Greater Ft Lauderdale accounts for 23 miles in the middle of the tract. It has the largest number of dive sites with over 100 reef and wreck sites to explore. The Gulf Stream current often flows close to the shoreline, bathing the coral reefs in clear, warm, water. It is the habitat to an abundance of spectacular sea life that flourishes along the coast. It's also home to some of the best honey-holes that harbor the highly prized Florida Spiny Lobster!

"The reef systems are healthy, alive, and well" says staff, from the Nova Southeastern University (NSU) Oceanographic Center. "Our research facility and live coral nursery’s have been successful at reviving lost parts of our reef structure". "Our grafting system has been most successful at restoring and rebuilding the reefs naturally”. Having equal success, our artificial reefs have brought 100’s of species of marine life to the coastal reef system as well. The NSU is working closely with Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, forming 4 off shore coral nursery programs in Broward County. The artificial reef programs are being designed so divers can view and observe the growing reef system.  

The South Florida's reef track begins less than a 1/4 mile offshore. You can be out and on your first dive in a matter of minutes. Whether it's a magnificent drift dive you want to enjoy, shore diving from the sandy beaches or partake in some of the most excellent wreck diving on the Florida coast. These magnificent and sea life filled dives are astonishing to witness first hand!




All geared up we were in the water within 35 minutes of leaving the outpost to catch what we hope to be the first of our big bug limit for the day. A drift dive a cross Steve’s Twin Ledges landed us on the first of our lobster sightings, then another drift dive over Horseshoe Ledges did indeed put us on the bugs!

"Captain Chiefy" a retired Broward County fire chief and our personal lobster guide for the day, spots the camouflaged crustaceans tentacles waving along with the current and poking out high above the coral ledge.

Chiefy signals for the group to gather, cues the cameraman Curt Bowen, from Advanced Diver Magazine, and skillfully Chiefy moves into action. Demonstrating his polished technique, Chiefy slides the tickle stick into the hole, tapping on the tail of the tenacious creature, swiping and taunting and tickling at its toes. The lobster clearly disturbed by the intrusion scoots far back into its dark coral hideaway. Not giving up easily, the lobster moves to hold its grounds. It shifts and shuffles and scoots back into the tiny coral cave as Chiefy taps and probes deeper into the hole with his tickle stick. After a short skirmish, Chiefy masterfully herds the lobster out from its enclosed grotto. It’s out and onto the open ocean floor, we get our first look at the mighty crustacean and it’s indeed a big one! Swiftly Chiefy shifts his position to stay over top of the agile creature as it perks up high on its tiptoes, swiping its tentacles at us, scurrying in all directions, warning us to stay clear and surely devising its plan of escape. But captain Chiefy masterfully usher the brute into his awaiting net hoping that this beauty, a 3 1/4 pounder just might take the prize for this year’s biggest bug or maybe even take center stage at the mouth-watering Lobster Chef Competition or at the very least Chiefy can take home bragging rights for the days catch.



The five-minute warning buzzer bellows beneath the pavilion. A slight panic moves through each of the contestant’s stations. The chef’s anxiously shout out orders to their teammates. Shouts for temperature checks, plating presentations, and more shouts for time checks, as the featured ingredients are combined together for the final plating presentations to hopefully entice this years judges. 

Jeff Torrode a man of many hats including a Lobster cook-off judge and committee member for Bugfest-By-The-Sea, has a long standing history in the Greater Ft Lauderdale area. Jeff has lived and worked in Greater Ft Lauderdale and the Florida Keys for more than 20 years. As a captain and owner of South Florida Dive Headquarters, Jeff proudly speaks of the history in this quaint little area. He holds a plethora of information about the reef system, the economy, and the history of what once was. Jeff has contributed to much of the success of Bugfeast-By-The-Sea and is very involved and dedicated to seeing the area itself grow and become a top destination location. He runs a first-class operation from his dive charter business which also offers a multitude of water sport activities.




We thoroughly enjoyed or days aboard the Sea View with Captain Jeff, Dive Master Dave Heaney, Jim Mayhiw, Captain John See, and Brandon Whitworth, diving the many shipwrecks, The Sea Emperor and Aqua Zoo, The United Caribbean, The Ancient Mariner, and The US Copenhagen, and diving a multitude of off shore coral reefs with the attentive crew.   

Jeff took us to the magnificent Hillsboro Lighthouse at Hillsboro Inlet in Pompano Beach; we were given a privet tour by Arthur A. Makenian, President and light keeper of The Big Diamond, “That’s what we call her” says Arthur “The name comes from the shape of the glass on the outside of the lantern room. Each piece of glass is in the shape of a diamond”. “She’s the most powerful light in the entire world” he converses to us as his chest boastfully puffs.

We then shuffled off where we played along the inlet beach beneath the majestic lighthouse. Jeff broke out the latest sport to hit the water, “Flyboarding” courtesy of Flyboards South Florida. Wow! What a rush this was! An exuberant fun, fun, fun, did I say fun, experience! A must try for the active individual or someone just looking for the new and the different. It’s an energy lifting skill that is learned in mid air!



  Photo Caption: Cap’s Place Island Restaurant, where we had a spectacular dinner and enjoyed hearing the old stories about Bugsy Malone and Al Capone and how they used Cap’s as their hangout during the prohibition days.


Jeff later took us across the bay on a much slower paced pontoon boat, to the historic and now recognized national landmark, Cap’s Place Island Restaurant, where we had a spectacular dinner and enjoyed the old stories how Bugsy Malone and Al Capone used Cap’s as their hangout during the prohibition days. Not a boards been changed in this island beach shanty since it was frequented by FDR and Churchill during World War II and was a favorite of Jack Kennedy, now sought out by TV celebrities, Cap’s is Broward County, Florida’s oldest restaurant.

The Lobster Chef Competition isn’t quite in the same class of a dining experience as Cap’s Place is, but what an impressive competition BugFest lobster cook-off “2014” is turning out to be. The meals are almost plated with mere seconds left on the clock. A true showdown it is. The seats are filled with eagerly awaiting spectators. Who will take home this year’s trophy and take away bragging rights for this year as the “Top Lobster Chef”?

Seconds fly off the clock. “Come on” shouts one team, “we got this”.  “Plate it, plate it, get it on the plate” shouts another! The buzzer sounds-off the final hail. All teams throw their hands into the air finishing with no time to spare.

One team after the other proudly and confidently carry their creations to the judges for a hopeful victory. Immediately the judges begin the tasty task of sampling the one serving morsels. Anticipation builds and a winner is declared. A Lobster sandwich, a Maine classic takes the cake! The winning team “By-The-Sea Realty” now holds the “2014” title for Top Lobster Chef. A grilling competition indeed!   

Our next day’s adventure takes us to a South Florida Wreck Dive Site that was given the nick name Aqua Zoo due to the piles of culvert pipes that slid over the edge of the United Caribbean as the old girl went down. There is a diverse amount of marine life that inhabits this wreck including large southern rays, goliath grouper, nurse sharks, eels, and hundreds of other marine life species. The United Caribbean – a Deerfield Beach Wreck Dive Site, is a steel cargo ship. It is 147 ft long. The bow points to the SE Off the stern.  Lime rock boulders were placed in a line leading divers to and from the wreck of the Sea Emperor 250 to the NE. The United Caribbean is just one of the wrecks in the wreck triangle because of its close proximity between the two other wrecks and a reef. This wreck triangle has populated very quickly with an immense quantity of marine life. 

There is certainly no shortage of fine culinary cuisine in this town with taste. We dined at many of the local favorites and hot spots including The Village Grille, featuring some of the freshest seafood and juiciest steaks on the strip. 101 Ocean, they're operating a class act at this casual but classy restaurant. You will enjoy an excellent menu and a large outdoor bar. Shooters Water Front, Ft Lauderdale’s most popular waterfront dining establishment offers a fresh tantalizing menu; you can relax and sink yourself into a first class experience while enjoying a scenic Sunday Brunch that overlooks the chic outdoor waterside lounge, with 340 feet of dockage.


Arrive by vehicle and have valet parking or you could choose to arrive by water Taxi as we did. We toured the intercostal waterway lined with multimillion dollar houses, passing Yachts that you could hardly see end to end and the opulent mansions that stand impressively along Millionaire Row. The water taxi delivered us to the docks of down town placing us within walking distance of a multitude of great shops and more fine restaurants. We stopped a The Royal Pig for a beer and a few appetizers, they indeed have a menu to feed on, located on the posh main strip, you can come as you are for a feast of pork, rotisserie duck, free Range chicken, seafood, ribs, and lots of bacon!

The final dive of our exciting and fun filled week full of history, education, and adventure and lots of great diving has landed us ashore for a beach dive with Brian Gagas of Gold Coast Scuba. For one of the best shore reef dives in the area the “Florida Shore Diving Capital” We set out from the beach pavilion in the main square with Brian as our guide. We drift out along the pier as we stop to help in a pier clean up dive. Brian tells us that “there is a pier clean up event held about two or three times a year with a mass of dedicated volunteers to help remove the debris that has become tangled around the pilings”. Fishing lines and hooks are a massive problem as birds, plants, and marine life are terminated from their carefree journey by becoming entangled in the accumulation of lines and trash that have been cut free from poles or thrown from boats or left behind from fisherman on the pier.

Lauderdale By-The-Sea is an absolute must to put on your vacation radar for a great experience packed full of fun and adventure. You’re sure to enjoy great food, lodging, entertainment, adventure and some of the best diving on the Florida East Coast! .......... Relax.... you're here


BugFest-By-The-Sea 2015

Lauderdale by the Sea

July 25th to August 1st 2015