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Visibility: 30 – 60 feet
Thermal Protection: 3mm shorty or full
Mary-Lou & Brian, John, Mike, Wendy, Betsy, Alex, Rosemary, Dennis, Ron, Victor, Robbie, Dora & Jim, Max, Jaime & AJ and Gene.
Captain – AMANDA SMITH
2nd Captain – CHRISTY WEAVER
Engineer – ROB SMITH
Chef – MATT CRAWFORD
Video Pro – CONOT FERRIN
Sunday: Amphitheatre & Eel Garden – NWPT
Monday: The Dome – NWPT & Gullies – West Caicos
Tuesday: G-Spot – French Cay, West Sand Spit & Rock & Roll – French Cay
Wednesday: Rock N Roll, Half Mile & G-Spot by night – French Cay
Thursday: Brandywine – West Caicos & Stairway - NWPT
As our guests boarded on Saturday afternoon, the crew were all eager to get out to our dive sites and ensure that all our resident critters were still around following the near pass of Hurricane Matthew. We departed as soon as the guests had boarded and briefed en route to catch the tide. We arrived at Northwest Point just before supper and settled down after a tasty dinner from chef Matt.
This meant that our first dive site was Amphitheatre and we were keen to establish whether our newly resident frogfish was still around, and indeed he was, precariously balanced, as usual, on a sponge on a fairly vertical wall. Once we saw him topple, but just a couple of swift punts with his fins, put him back on the sponge again. He was far more agile than appearances would lead you to believe. The edge of the wall was alive with schooling creole wrasse and blue chromis and in the sand channels between the reefs, yellow-headed jawfish bobbed out of their holes, coming to the surface occasionally with mouthfuls of sand as they cleaned house. A move to Eel Garden for the afternoon and night dive delivered southern stingrays and garden eels, after which the site is named. A hawksbill turtle created delight for all, but in particular new divers AJ & Jaime were very excited when three adult bottlenose dolphins played with a couple of damaged tube sponges, that were rolling around in the sand.
We moved to The Dome for the following morning for one dive, where we enjoyed the wall before returning to the game show prop, which is covered in encrusting sponges and corals and the home to grunts, snapper and, for those with good eyesight, secretary blennies.
For the rest of the day we spent time at Gulleys in West Caicos. We saw a couple of Atlantic spadefish up in the water column and our resident Caribbean reef sharks cruised along the edge of the wall. In the purple gorgonian to the south of the gulley neck crabs clung to the fronds with their hind legs whilst using their long front claws to feed in the passing water movement. The night dive brought the reef sharks out again, in particular a young male, seemingly trying to prove that he was top of the food chain, much to the chagrin of guest AJ who was doing his first night dive.
After the night dive we moved around to French Cay where we would get much protection from the northerly swells that were forecast. With hardly any wind and the protection from the islands the conditions were beautiful. G-Spot was our first dive spot and as usual it delivered turtles and sharks of the Caribbean reef and nurse variety. The nurse sharks were snoozing after an evening of ardent hunting and were most accommodating as far as photographs and video were concerned. We were hanging out over the wall and so a short swim under the boat took us directly to the G-Spot. Here we saw the enormous cubera snapper that frequents the area - aloof and distant but constantly aware of its surroundings. A very large hawksbill turtle created a stir with two large shark suckers attached, one of top of his shell, the other beneath. We were not sure from what they had come but they were hitching a temporary ride in the meantime. Three grey angels swam through the group appropriately sized from smallest to largest, in which order they remained.
For the afternoon, we took advantage of the weather and spent a couple of dives at West Sand Spit. Southern stingrays were the order of the day and it was evident from the large dents in the sand that many more had fed in that area. On the corner of the reef, schools of Creole wrasse, blue chromis and blue runners darted through the water column.
Then back to Rock N Roll, at French Cay, for the night dive. The night dive turned out more black light divers than the regular white light. As we descended over the wall and turned on to our black light, with our yellow masks in place, all the corals that fluoresce under that wavelength of light, glowed a variety of colours. Hidden within the veins of a brain coral, a tiny goby shone bright orange, whilst on a gorgonian sea plume a neck crab became obvious by its orange eyes as the light passed over it. Tiny tube dwelling anemones became apparent that would never have been observed under regular white light. Guest Mike, a keen fluorescent diver, captured it all on video to entertain those onboard later that evening, whilst it was a first for fluorescent diving for Alex.
We remained at Rock N Roll the following morning to see what the site had to offer in daylight. A pretty dive along the wall with some activity from porcupinefish and cowfish, but it was not until we returned to just beneath the boat that we were entertained by two Caribbean reef sharks and a couple of nurse sharks; the larger of the two slept and then moved off whilst the smaller, just two feet in length, kept following the group, particularly interested in Dennis to begin with, before landing on the bottom and posing to all those who wanted to photograph her. As soon as we moved on she started following us again. A barracuda joined in the action and all remained there for the second dive too.
We went for a shallower site for our afternoon – Half Mile. Three Caribbean reef sharks this time under the boat, there to welcome everyone into the water and there to welcome everyone back from the wall. New divers Jaime & AJ continued their streak of luck with an encounter with an octopus, whilst they were completing the Peak Performance Buoyancy dive for their Advanced Open Water Course.
During supper that evening we celebrated Alex’s birthday, which involved decorations, cake and an impromptu song from Betsi accompanied by the rest of the guests and crew.
For the night dive, we went into the depths of G-Spot. Six nurse sharks accompanied us for the entire dive along with two Caribbean reef sharks and the previously distant cubera snapper – keen this time to be in the thick of it. No fish was left unturned as the nine of them, along with an escort of black jacks, terrorized everything in their path. Porcupinefish and ballonfish managed to evade the hunters, but some parrotfish were not so fortunate although all turned their noses up at the greater soapfish. In the small cavern at the G-Spot, our resident hawksbill turtle had settled in for the night. It turned out to be a very exciting dive and despite all this we still managed to see a couple of crabs and some orange ball coralimorphs as well as a tiny slender file fish – almost post larval and a juvenile trumpetfish.
Thursday morning took us back to West Caicos to dive at Brandywine. A hawksbill turtle brought about a good deal of enjoyment but the hysterical laughter came from a lone shark sucker that had lost its host and was in search of a new one. Starting with crewmember Rob, it systematically worked its way around most of the guests, from Ron to Alex’s hair, much to the amusement of the few to whom it did not go.
During lunch we travelled to Northwest Point and Stairway. Here we enjoyed a small hawksbill turtle that we had initially seen as we pulled up to the mooring. Just four feet away from us, he was completely unconcerned that there was a 120ft yacht right next to him. He took a couple of breaths and headed down to what we later discovered was a tasty sponge. As we came across him during the dive he was unperturbed by our presence and carried on snacking. The late afternoon dive had us accompanied by a couple of Caribbean reef sharks. Our turtle bumbled past again, just too fast for us to keep up with him, but slow enough to allow us to enjoy him.
Our final dive site of the week was Shark’s Hotel, and whilst we did see a couple of sharks as we entered the water and during the dive, it would probably have been more aptly named Lobster Hotel. They were everywhere! A siting of a couple of fingerprint cyphomas made a nice end to the dive and an end to an awesome week.
Back to the dock for a relaxing afternoon and our cheese and wine party of the sundeck. Congratulations to all our newly certified students this week: Jaime & AJ for Nitrox and Advanced Open Water and Vic for the Nitrox course. Further congratulations go to Betsi for reaching her 100th dive and Mary Lou for completing her 600th dive. Of course we must not forget our Iron Divers Wendy, Mike and Rosemary. What a week of celebrations!
Join us next week to see what delights the ocean chooses to share with us.