It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Southern Bahamas, 2007

We spent a week on the Caribbean Explorer 1 in the Southern Bahamas. It was a lot of fun. It was our first dive liveaboard, and we really enjoyed how easy and plentiful the diving was. It was also nice to be constantly fed between dives, without having to find a place to eat. This is an executive summary of the trip. I've also posted day-by-day dive reports (see the next 6 posts).

Pictures are here.

Getting There

We flew on American Airlines using frequent flyer miles, through Miami. Of course since we were using miles, American had to punish us in some way, and they chose to punish us with an 8 hour layover in Miami. It wasn't actually that bad, except that I saw the biggest roach (by far) that I've ever seen in the Miami airport. I've heard people talk about how big the roaches are in Florida, and wow, they aren't kidding. The last time we flew through Miami (on the way to Bonaire), we saw a mouse scurrying around in the terminal. I would vastly prefer a mouse. On the way back, the only wildlife we encountered at MIA was a bird flying around the terminal -- that was a relief.


We flew in on Friday, so that any delays would still get us and our luggage to George Town in time to not miss the boat. Friday night we stayed at Club Peace and Plenty, which was pretty much the only hotel in downtown George Town. George Town is a really boring place. We walked all around (it's just one road that runs around a lake), and there were basically two places to eat dinner, one of which was our hotel. The hotel was adequate, but for the price and being in a podunk town, you could do a lot better on other islands. There is a bar at the hotel that was hopping on Friday night. Well, hopping in the sense that they were blaring music late into the night, but there really weren't that many people there. I tried to get a pina colada at the bar, but they didn't have them, nor did they have strawberry daiquiris. What kind of self respecting bar in the Bahamas doesn't have pina coladas!?! Strike 1. Saturday morning, we went downstairs for breakfast at 10:10. According to the flyer in our room, breakfast is served until 10:30. No, it's not. Breakfast is over, the hostess rudely tells us. Strike 2. She doesn't even offer any advice as to where else we might be able to get breakfast. Of course, with only 2 restaurants in town, there probably isn't any place :)

On the other side of the trip, we stayed for two nights (Saturday and Sunday nights) at Palm Bay Beach Club, which is WAY nicer than the Peace and Plenty, and only marginally more expensive. It isn't downtown, which is slightly less convenient (there is very little to do downtown, but at least there is a grocery store). Plus there is a beach. We spent most of those two days laying on the hammocks by the beach and reading. And I went for a swim on the beach one day.

The Boat

Enough about the boring time spent on land. The boat is the oldest in the Explorer Ventures fleet, but it is in good shape. The only place where you can really tell the age is the bathrooms (which were clean, just had an aged look to them). The boat was full (18 people), but there was always plenty of space on the dive deck, in the salon, and on the sundeck. The dive deck in particular was very spacious, which was nice. The crew were all very helpful and nice. The food was good (and plentiful). They served standard American fare. The schedule was breakfast at 8, dive 1 at 9, sweet snack after the dive, dive 2 at 11 to 11:30, lunch, dive 3 at 1:45, savory snack, dive 4 at 5, dinner (and dessert, yum), night dive at 8. And hot chocolate after the night dive. And usually popcorn in the evening too.

The Diving

The sites at Long Island were flat, coral garden-type sites (40 to 50 feet), and the sites at San Salvador and Conception Island were all walls (starting anywhere from 50 to 80 feet). They pump 32% nitrox, which was consistently between 31 and 32%, and they consistently gave good fills. There was a detailed briefing, with a little map drawn on the whiteboard, before each dive (even if the boat had not moved, they'd give an update like which way the current was moving on the first dive, what sort of stuff had been spotted on the first dive, etc.). There was always a DM in the water, although there was frequently no one following him.

The water temps were between 76 and 78 degrees. I wore a full 3mm with a 3/5 hooded vest. By the end of the week (or even the middle of the week), I was pretty chilly by the end of the day. I don't think anyone other than Rob and I wore hoods (except maybe on night dives), and several people were wearing shorties -- I don't know how they did it! I can definitely see the logic behind a tropical drysuit. Getting into a wet wetsuit over and over again was not fun!

The Critters

I was really impressed by the number and variety of fish. I'm usually not that into fish, but all the pretty fish were impressive. Especially all of the schools of fish. I did not know what most of the fish were, but afterwards, I went through the Humann and DeLoach book to try to identify what I could remember. Here's some of what I saw (and could identify, there were lots I didn't get a close enough look at to identify): fairy basslet, blackcap basslet, queen angelfish, french angelfish, bank and longsnout butterfly fish, blue tangs, foureye butterflyfish, French grunts, white margates, gray angelfish, bicolor damselfish, yellowtail damselfish (adult and juvenile), Nassau grouper, many other groupers, harlequin bass, peppermint basslet, blue parrotfish, midnight parrotfish, stoplight parrotfish (initial and terminal phase), bluehead, various squirrelfish, yellowhead jawfish, peacock flounder, coney (brown and bicolor), spotted scorpionfish, balloonfish, pocupinefish, scrawled cowfish, honeycomb cowfish, smooth trunkfish, queen triggerfish, ocean triggerfish, black durgon, scrawled filefish, slender filefish, yellow goatfish, spotted moray, goldentail moray, brown garden eel, gray reef sharks, nurse sharks. And those are just the fish :) There were lots of different types of coral (which I'm just not that into, so I didn't bother to identify the various types of corals), and lots of sponges (stovepipe, barrel, vase, etc.). Some other cool critters that we saw: A cymothoid isopod on the side of a bicolor coney -- this is a critter that lives on the side of the fish's face, and just eats stuff that floats by (so it isn't a true parasite, since it isn't actually feeding on the fish). There were golden crinoids everywhere. They really added to the garden look of the coral gardens because of their color and because they sway in the "breeze". Same goes for all the purple gorgonians and sea fans, they made the coral gardens look so colorful. I also saw some cool tunicates that reminded me of the light bulb tunicates we have here -- they were painted tunicates (in red and purple), and bulb tunicates (in yellow/black). I'm sure I would not have even noticed these except that they looked like something I am familiar with. This made me wonder how many other critters I didn't even notice!

Here are the daily dive reports:

Day 1   Day 2   Day 3   Day 4   Day 5   Day 6