Turks & Caicos Aggressor II
27 May – 3 June 2017
Air temperature: 80° - 84° F
Water temperature: 80 - 82° F
Visibility: 50 – 80 feet
Thermal recommendation: 3mm or 5mm full wetsuit
Captain: AMANDA SMITH
2nd Captain: CHRISTY WEAVER
Engineer: ROB SMITH
Video Pro: JESSICA POLK
Chef: CHRISTY BROWN
Instructor: MICHAEL WEINBAUM
GUESTS from Rhea’s Diving Services, Tennessee
Alan & Holli, Bobby & Jenny, Kreis, Jackie & Bob, Stephanie, Emily, Katie, Vicki, Cathy, Karen, Sharon, Peggy, Danny, Kelly and Greg
Sunday: Eel Garden, NWPT & Spanish Anchor, West Caicos
Monday: Rock N Roll & G-Spot, French Cay
Tuesday: Magic Mushroom & Brandywine, West Caicos
Wednesday: Elephant Ear Canyon & Gullies, West Caicos
Thursday: Boat Cove, West Caicos & The Dome, NWPT
Friday: Shark’s Hotel, NWPT
The crew was filled with anticipation upon the return of our guests this week, from Rhea’s Diving Services, Tennessee. Led by group leaders Alan & Holli, we welcomed back old friends and new. We briefed, ate a delightful meal prepared by chef Christy and as soon as we had enough tide we departed for Northwest Point.
Eel Garden was our first site and for guest Katie, her first ocean dive, having been limited to a quarry in Tennessee up until this point. We were hopeful that the frogfish that we encountered was still there and we were delighted to find it perched up in exactly the same sponge as last week, as photogenic as ever. At lunchtime we moved across to West Caicos as a staging post to get to French Cay, early in the week.
Spanish Anchor was our destination and all looked forward to swimming through the gulley there to experience the old anchor lodged in the reef and covered in encrusting sponges. At the edge of the wall the Creole wrasse and blue chromis flowed as a group creating a waterfall effect down the water column. In the gorgonians two tiny neck crabs accompanied a juvenile flamingo tongue in challenging the close up vision of our divers. A honeycomb cowfish blew sand away from the reef looking for something to feed upon, whilst close by a banded coral shrimp waited for a customer to swing by that it could clean. The night dive showed two long snouted decorator crabs fluorescing under black light. The whitelighters shared their dive with lobster, large channel clinging crabs and stingrays searching for a meal.
We moved after the night dive to French Cay and prepared for our first dive on Monday morning at Rock N Roll. We enjoyed three spotted eagle rays that created great delight as they cruised along the wall. A large hawksbill turtle hung out with the divers unperturbed by their presence, and all the while our resident reef sharks circled in the distance.
At lunchtime we moved to everyone’s favorite site at French Cay – G-Spot. Renowned for the nook in the wall shaped like the letter G, it is also filled with deep-water gorgonians that are home to shrimp and small crustaceans alike. By the mooring we happened upon a number of yellow-headed jawfish, male and female alike, but it was the male with eggs in his mouth that fascinated us all the most. With two dark stripes down the throat and a mouth bulging with silvery eggs, we were sure that the young were soon to be released. Nurse sharks and reef sharks seemed to be in every area of the reef and at the edge of the wall, enjoying the outgoing tide, full of nutrient rich waters from the Caicos Bank, we enjoyed the Creole wrasse and blue chromis cascading together.
The night dive was spectacular, but patronized only by two guests. So the seven nurse sharks that dominated the entire dive were quite spectacular. Our resident cubera snapper was of course involved in all the excitement, but whenever the guide paused to point out a little critter, nurse sharks shunting their way into the small areas together immediately swamped the area. At least on white speckled nudibranch became free swimming as the tail of one of the boisterous boys knocked it off, but it landed and carried on about its business. A similar plight befell a juvenile Atlantic grey cowrie that was minding its own affairs on a sea rod as the wall of sharks came through. A small arrow squid hung with us for a while before inking and darting off as a black jack approached. At the edge of the wall, positioned beautifully to capture any morsels of food in the water column, large basket stars remained unfurled and poised for action, only starting to recurl when illuminated with our lights, which we kept to a minimum. It was a very active and exciting night dive although it did feel a little as if we were walking the dogs!
As the wind was picking up we moved back to West Caicos after the night dive and the following sea gently rocked our passengers to sleep. For the following morning we were located at the site of Magic Mushroom. The tide was out and the mushroom was in full view. The dive was a wonderful way to wake up. Along the wall we enjoyed a small hawksbill turtle that was breaking its fast and was nonchalant about our viewing. The second was a little deeper along the wall, a little larger and on the marine version of a morning perambulation; nicely paced and taking in all his surroundings. The isolated coral heads housed a variety of anemones – corkscrew and branching. Every one of these further housed a number of shrimp – squat anemone shrimp, Pederson cleaner shrimp and spotted cleaner shrimp; the latter dancing to show their interest in the hygiene of the reef. In Lobster Tower, five Caribbean spiny lobsters were squeezed into the crack. Sadly at the entrance, the remains of something’s lunch had been left in the form of a spiny lobster carapace – surely a disturbing sign for the tower’s residents. As we returned to the boat a small wahoo circled with the bar and horse eyed jacks underneath the boat, which made the safety stop a little more interesting.
Tuesday afternoon, took us to Brandywine, home of the roaming anemone. At 67 feet this week, this condylactus anemone appears blue in ambient light, but under the radiance of our flashlights it turns a brilliant pink. This was the time for our group video and before we headed off to locate our wanderer the group engaged in an arm locked wave, which started at one end and worked its way back. From the surface, all the support could see was one long line of bubbles, with a very small burst of bubbles in front from the videographer. Entertaining from above and below and all in the name of art! The night dive had more blacklighters than whitelighters and the group that went out with crewmember Rob, who was guiding, happened upon a juvenile green moray – only a few inches long. For the regular light dive, a very happy diver, Kreis, came back having seen and photographed an octopus.
To Elephant Ear Canyon for the morning dive and we were happy to see good number of southern and roughback stingrays, one of which was over three feet wide. All of them seemed to be aiming for the garden eels, which were more nimble and disappeared upon approach of both stingray and diver. Our resident reef sharks patrolled the sand and the reef and our divers delighted in the tiny critters that reside in the sand. Our flapping dingbats have returned in force! These tiny bubble snails have a mantle that they flap to right themselves if they find that they are up in the water column – great to watch; very difficult to capture by still photography. At one point we were seeing things that may not have even been there and it was not until it was blown up on the big screen that we realized what it was, as guest Cathy discovered with a shrimp. More easy to see was a netted olive that bulldozed its way through the sand at relative speed. We are always happy to see pipefish, of which there were a few, and pipe horses, not quite so common. The difference between the two is a prehensile tail that allows the pipe horse the ability to wrap its tail around the sea grass. All manner of weird and wonderful tiny critters were observed delivering a great dive site.
For the afternoon we moved to Gullies and again saw evidence of the Hamner’s Tritonia up on the purple gorgonian sea plume at the edge of the gulley. Not so many reef sharks on this dive, but plenty of reef fish schooling over the edge of the wall and under boat, including blue runners, yellow tailed snapper, horse eyed jacks and a lone spade fish that cruised around on its lonesome. This was the site of our underwater birthday party for guest Bobby with birthday banners and candles. More Birthday celebrations after supper included an Oreo cake and more candles. The blacklight night dive was amazing here with goatfish showing their propensity to fluoresce as well as peacock flounder both juvenile and adult. We also discovered that the Hamner’s Tritonia do not glow under black light.
A short move in the morning to Boat Cove and a couple of dives filled with very curious Caribbean reef sharks. Again we experienced plenty of fish under the boat, schooling by kind – jacks and snappers. The reef sharks came increasingly closer to us and even circled as we were approaching our safety stop. At lunchtime we moved back to Northwest Point and the Dome where we were to spend our afternoon and evening. The wall here is beautiful, covered in encrusting sponges, star corals, barrel and rope sponges and wire coral, all in varying colours. The gorgonian sea plumes housed neck crabs and the nooks and crannies revealed arrow crabs and banded coral shrimp. As we got to our turnaround point a friendly hawksbill turtle decided to join us. We came across it feeding, not concerned of our presence and when it chose to swim on, it did so quietly and slowly allowing many wonderful photograph and video opportunities.
At the Dome, tiny secretary and rough head blennies peeked out from their adopted homes, the abandoned tubes of calciferous worms. French and blue striped grunt used the structure as protection from outside water movement and predators whilst the contraption that threw pearls into the water column for the crazy contestants of Pago, Pago, provided lounging space for a reclining spotted moray eel. The eel was not alone with a banded coral shrimp sharing its locale.
Our turtle friend visited us again on the night dive but was outshone by an enormous Caribbean spiny lobster strutting across the reef. Just off the Dome our resident green moray had vacated its usual spot underneath the structure and ventured into the dark reef. More fluorescence diving revealed another juvenile green moray. The sponges were covered in nudibranchs, longhorn and trapania, and in the sand the black light lit up two mantis shrimp.
An earlier dive at Shark’s Hotel showed that the sharks had indeed checked out, however we saw plenty of groupers, including a very large Nassau, tiger and yellow fin. A juvenile trumpetfish sought protection from the plumes of a gorgonian and the divers were accompanied for one of the dives in its entirety by a porcupinefish. The dives ended, our divers returned to the vessel and started their preparations for a relaxing afternoon followed by our cheese & wine party, on the sundeck.
Much to celebrate, with Bobby’s birthday already covered, we also celebrate the 30 year anniversary of Vicki and Cathy diving as buddies. Kelly and Emily became our only two Iron Divers this week and Katie, who not only dived for the first time in clear, warm ocean water, also completed her first night dive with us.
Our thanks go out to Alan and Holli for hosting their group with us here in Turks & Caicos. It is a delight to renew and deepen acquaintances and meet fresh new faces. We always look forward to Rhea’s Diving Services joining us – the question is…. When are you coming back?