Archive for December, 2007

Bahamas, December, 2007

Friday, December 28th, 2007

The Trip

Between work and the stress of the holiday season, my wife needed a break! On an impulse we headed down to the Bahamas for Christmas. We booked a flight down and a room listed as ocean view, and beach front.

A few background notes: my wife, Valerie does not dive due to a medical condition in her ears. (Those that know us refer to here as Saint Val for putting up with me and my diving for all these years.) She does snorkel, and her ideal vacation is sitting on a beach reading a book (often several). This works well as my ideal vacation is sitting about 100ft off the beach watching fish. My diving does not interfere with her reading, and vise versa.

We had not been to the Bahamas in years, so we were not sure what to expect. In my book, travel during the holiday season is always a scary proposition, and should be avoided. Flights out were delayed, and we were sure we missed our connection by about an hour. As it turned out this flight was delayed also and we made it with time to spare. Upon arrival at our lovely hotel, we found that our reservation was not on file, and they were booked for the week. We grabbed a drink and sat with our luggage for a bit before they finally found a room. It was the penthouse with a spectacular western view of the beach and the island. Ok, something finally worked out.

By this point it was too late in the day to hit the beach, so we unpacked, and took a stroll around the grounds. The calm, clear, blue Caribbean waters were calling me, and the warm air and gentle breezes were calling Val.

The next day the weather was more like home, it had cooled down a bit, there was a medium breeze and occasionally a few clouds would roll by and rain. At 75 degrees, this was hardly December in NJ, so we donned shorts and went for a walk on the beach. The gentle lapping ripples of yesterday were replaced by 3-4ft waves with whitecaps.

By the reaction of the locals, you would have thought they were in hurricane conditions. The beaches were closed for swimming, and one of the lifeguards told us we could not walk on them. Now over half a mile from our hotel, we prepared to walk back, but were again told we had to get off the beach. We had to laugh, as the conditions would be considered mild back home. Not even enough to make the east coast surfers happy.

Leaving the beach we found ourselves in the middle of a large aqua park / aquarium. We spent much of the morning strolling the grounds and admiring the diversity of creatures housed there. Many times we heard children asking, “What type of fish is that?” The responses were interesting, if inaccurate. Apparently parents aren’t permitted to answer, “I don’t know”.

The next day, the weather was more typical for the Caribbean: warm, sunny, gentle breezes. Val and I made our way to the beach. After completing my duties of setting up beach chairs and procuring towels, I dragged out my snorkel gear. I had been eyeing up the barrier reef and a small island off the hotels beach. I figured it was in swimming reach, but by mid morning, we found out why it was not recommended. Between the barrier reef the beach there was a large amount of Jet Ski and boat traffic. Even my SMB would not be enough to avoid danger. Locals indicated that there was good snorkeling at the point at the end of the beach.

In the Caribbean sun I was hot and probably sunburned by the time I reached the end of the beach. I hit the water to cool off, and soon surrounded by colorful fish. This was not a reef, but the macro algae covered bottom and jagged shoreline provided nooks and crannies for juvenile fish and anomies. A few eels were about and many stingrays searching in the sand. I passed several others snorkeling in this area. We discussed what we had seen and where. Without a wetsuit I quickly cooled, and started the long walk back.

OK, now I’ll have to arrange for a boat trip. There clearly is not a lot to see within reach of the hotel. The local dive shop was had discover Scuba and Resort classes at the hotel pool, so I talked to the instructor. There must have been a bit of a language barrier. Even though I told him I was an instructor, he kept trying to sell me on lesions. I eventually obtained a few phone numbers and soon contacted Stewarts Cove. I had heard the name since they advertise heavily in most of the dive magazines. A quick call, and I was booked on the next day’s dive.

Stewarts Cove

They pickup at the hotel lobbies with a medium size bus. Mine was the last stop. With a bus full of divers we headed to the other side of the island. During the ride, we were asked to fill out the waivers and a list of equipment needed. We arrived shortly at a fair sized facility. I was not sure how this was going to work out, but all in all I was impressed with the organization of the staff and facility. I picked up a reg, BCD and weight belt, and headed for the boat. There were several going out. I was directed to the one on the end, which was empty when I arrived. I set up and tested my Scuba unit, defogged my mask and stowed the rest of my gear in the order I like to don it. Once ready, I sat quietly in the shade (yes I got burned the day before) and drank water.

The Divers

Soon more divers started showing up. A father and son team started setting up gear. Both assured me that they were still teaching the other how to dive. Three other divers showed up independently, but they seem to know each other from earlier dives that week. One diver, Tim, was particularly out spoken, and proceeded to tell everyone about his diving experiences. Little bells went off in my head “this is the guy they tell you to avoid”. The one that talks the most is often the one that knows the least. When Tim warned me that I should get ready, I smiled and said “thanks”. When the father mentioned an issue with his reg, I pointed out that it was an Oceanic model that had been recently recalled, and he should have it services when he gets home. Tim quickly corrected me, stating that it was not that model of first stage. Since I own the exact same reg, and work for an Oceanic dealer, I again gently recommended having the reg serviced.

The DM showed up and gave us the usual and very detailed boat brief. He discussed possible dive locations. They were all new to me, and since others had been diving earlier in the week, I let them decide. During the debates, Tim mentioned that he ran out of gas quickly when diving on walls or into a current. My dive buddy options were dwindling. I was hoping to dive with Chris, a short blond woman who had set up her gear close to mine. While my gas consumption is rather good, women as a rule have better consumption then men; so if possible, I try to buddy with them. The fact that she had a cute Dutch accent, and was rather attractive, had nothing to do with my reasoning. Really! The last diver on board set up his gear on the far side of the boat and kept to himself. Tim started talking to Chris about dives earlier in the week, so I was assuming they were buddies, and I’d be with Mr. Quite. He set up his gear without issues and went about preparing for the dive. The DM finally asked the magic question: “Who needs a dive buddy?” The father and son pointed to each other as buddies, then Chris and Mr. Quite pointed to each other. Tim’s hand went up in the air. … Well, I assumed that “needs” was the operative word in the question, and kept my hand down. Then the question changed: “Who doesn’t have a dive buddy?” My life flashed before my eyes. OK, I have to raise my hand. Now I’m Tim’s buddy. I must admit that the joy of the situation overwhelmed me, and I was unable to contain my emotions. I’m sure my feelings were clearly visible in my expression (Oh… SHIT)!

In my defense, I dive with students all the time. I have no objection diving with a new diver. However, I’m on vacation, and am only going to get two dives. What is extremely frustrating is diving with someone who does not listen to advice they really do need, but gives advice they really should not. As the old saying goes: “Those who think they know everything are very annoying to those of us who do”. (That’s a joke son.)

The Dives:

Guess what, the first dive was a wall dive into the current. Tim had been gearing up since he got onto the boat. By this time he was in full paraphernalia, knife, gloves … Once the dive brief was complete, I donned my mask and fins and jumped in the water, first as usual. As I passed by Tim, who was still gearing up, he mentioned that he had problems clearing his ears all week. I hit the bottom, broke out the camera, and started taking pictures as I waited for the DM and others to arrive. The visibility was good. The reef looked healthy, and I was just happy to get wet. Before long we were all sitting on the bottom glancing up as Tim slowly descended.

We started the dive into the current. I was peeking under ledges and in the holes trying to see what wild life inhabited these reefs. Yes, I did keep an eye on Tim. I was surprised to see Lion fish, and took a few shots of the ones we ran into. They are not native to this area, and are quite invasive. I knew they were in North Carolina, but did not know they were this far South. Trumpet fish were about, and as well as a few lobsters. We were right behind the DM, so I tried to point out anything of interest to those behind us.

Shortly Tim gave the half tank signal, and the DM turned the dive. On the way back, Tim swam about 20 ft above the group. I assume to conserve gas. When we reached the mooring line, he was already on the surface and the DM followed. The rest of us swam along as a group for another 20 minutes ’till we approached the gas / time limit.

The Bond Wrecks:

Apparently the warm, clear waters are often used for filming moves. Both James Bond films “Thunderball”, and “Never say Never Again” were filmed here. The movie props were left on the bottom as shipwrecks, and have become encrusted with coral. The dives are in 35 ft of water close to shore. Again I hit the water first, and tried to get some shots of other divers jumping in. Digital camera lag prevented it.

The first wreck was the plane from “Thunderball”. It now looks like a few pipes strung together like a jungle gym. The skin is long gone, replaced with soft corals flowing with the current. Sea fans replace the engines. Actually it was kind of cool to see, as it stood up off the sand it was covered with sea life. Even in the surrounding sand there was evidence of life. Washouts could be seen beside small piles of sand, indicating sand-filtering creatures buried beneath. We swam slowly around the wreck. I got a few pictures before my compatriots had there way with the visibility. I hope the subterranean creatures survived.

Only 30 ft away was a prop from the movie “Never Say Never Again”. This was s boat about 100ft in length. We swam around looking in all the holes, nooks and crannies. I had a fear of getting too close as my buddy kept standing on the bottom, adjusting his mask. One or two of the holes were large enough for penetration, but again the fear of my buddy’s response prevented me from checking them out.

After the wreck lost our interest, I pointed to the reef some 40 few feet in the distance. As we reached it, a turtle started heading up from the reef to the surface. Unfortunately he saw us and headed away. This was probably best, as I did not have my compass, and may have gotten spun around following him. We continued on for a few minutes looking closely at each little patch of reef in the sand. My buddy was looking back nervously, so we headed back to the wrecks. We stopped on the way to check out a field of macro algae in the sand. I was hoping for some small critter like seahorses and the like. No such luck.

The wrecks were in clear view from here. We swam back slowly as I tried to get some wide-angle shots. Soon I heard a beeping sound. Tim gave me the “half tank” signal, and then showed me his computer, which indicated his tanks were nearly empty. We were in 20’ of water directly under the dive boat. We did our safety stop and headed up.

We were quickly back at the dock. A hot shower to rinse of the salt, and we were headed back to our hotels. I’m the last stop on the bus again, but just in time to change for dinner.

Even though our flight was delayed, our trip home was less eventful than the trip down. Customs was actually in the Bahamas airport. We arrived back in time to exchange presents with family and friends. Not a bad way to spend Christmas.