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Turks & Caicos Aggressor II Captain’s Log
15 - 22 JUNE 2019
Turks & Caicos Islands
Air temperature: 80° - 84° F
Water temperature: 82°F - 83°F
Visibility: 50 - 100 feet
Thermal recommendation: 3mm full wetsuit
Captain: Amanda Smith
Engineer: Robert Smith
Chef: Sarah Pearson
Video Pro: James Whittle
Instructor: Luis Peralta
Stew: RJ Beckford
Dennis, Pat, Katya & Sean, Jamey & Wolfgang, Annie & Tim, Robin, Bebe, Jim & Jack, Patricia & Erin
Our Dive Sites
Sunday: Eel Garden & The Dome - NWPT
Monday: Amphitheatre – NWPT & Boat Cove – West Caicos
Tuesday: Driveway & Spanish Anchor – West Caicos
Wednesday: Gulley & Brandywine – West Caicos
Thursday: Elephant Ear Canyon – West Caicos, Shark’s Hotel & Amphitheatre - NWPT
Friday: Two Step - NWPT
It was with great excitement that our guests boarded on Saturday afternoon. We remained at the dock for Saturday night giving our guests the opportunity to enjoy a delightful meal prepared by chef Sarah and to start getting to know each other.
At first light on Sunday morning, we started the engines and departed Turtle Cove Marina, navigating the winding channel to get out to open water. After a short while we arrived at Northwest Point to dive the site of Eel Garden and here we briefed our guests on the back deck and took them into the briny blue. As soon as we were in the water we saw Caribbean reef sharks cruising along the edge of the wall and we were favoured with the presence of a Hawksbill Turtle as it maneuvered its way along the reef in search of a tasty looking sponge. In the reef a large green moray peered out and watched us as we watched it sensing the surrounding water with the sensors in its mouth. In the sand the garden eels after which the site is named bobbed up from their holes elongating their bodies as they reached out for the microscopic food upon which they feast.
We moved to The Dome early this week and spent Sunday afternoon diving around the structure that provided the subject of the reality TV show Pago Pago in the late eighties. The site also offers a stunning stretch of wall where neck crabs nestled in gorgonian sea rods, and tiny wire coral shrimp run the length of the whip corals. Brightly coloured sponges protrude from the wall home to gobies offering their cleaning services to the fish. In the Dome itself, blue striped grunts and schoolmaster school together using the protection of the structure, whilst secretary and rough head blennies live in holes left by abandoned tubeworms and feed on their surrounding area. Around the edges of the reef a small banded clinging crab fed beside an anemone, whilst Pederson cleaner shrimps hung out as cleaners by the corkscrew anemones. On the night dive we saw our resident hawksbill turtle snoozing under the Dome. Crabs and lobsters haunted the edge of the wall and sharks cruised the edge of the lights with the jacks, that feed on the smaller critters attracted by the boat lights.
On Monday morning we moved to Amphitheatre. The wall here is quite stunning, with the Amphitheatre area providing a great feature with the inner walls covered in encrusting sponges and the outer edge is formed by star coral in a plate formation, providing great homes for banded coral shrimp and yellow lined arrow crabs. The gorgonian sea plumes equipped the neck crabs with a base upon which they shed their old carapace and we encountered a few who were molting. As we moved up to the top of the wall the reef alternated with sandy fingers. Here we came across large numbers of yellow-headed jawfish. We searched every hole that was inhabited by one of these fish until we discovered not one but two males that were mouth brooding eggs. One of them showed mature eggs - silver with eyes visible, and the other were younger and therefore more cream in colour.
For our afternoon we travelled across to West Caicos and spent the afternoon at Boat Cove. Our friends, the sharks were ever present and we were also happy to encounter a hawksbill turtle. A school of Atlantic spadefish swam along the reef edge as well a large school of mutton snapper. These blended well with other fish up in the water column and filling our vision with schools of fish – yellow tailed snapper, blue runners, horse eyed jacks and bar jacks filled the waters above the reef whilst flounder and stingrays hugged the bottom. The night dive was amazing with orange ball coralimorphs poking out from under reef edges, and an intermediate spotted drum, making reappearance from the previous dive during the day. As we made our return to the vessel we came across a very accommodating reef octopus allowed us to watch as it moved across the reef and spreading its mantle to encompass potential food sources. It crisscrossed over a sand chute several times whilst an agitated lionfish looked as though it were trying to muscle in opportunistically. Our fluorescent diving was well supported this week and we had some spectacular sightings. On Boat Cove, not only did we experience a good number of nudibranchs, including trapania and longhorn, but we also saw a tiny mushroom scorpionfish, just the size of a thumbnail and glowing red.
Driveway, on Tuesday morning, proved to be spectacular. Not because of the beauty of the site, which is phenomenal or the great visibility, which was present, but due to the loud cries of “hammerhead” that resonated across the reef as a scalloped hammerhead shark cruised close above guest Erin’s head and then returned back toward the group before heading away. Everyone was very excited. Also creating great enthusiasm were the two hawksbill turtles that interacted with our divers. A number of puffer fish were seen moving around the reef, including a very large porcupinefish as well as a smaller ballonfish, with what looked like the universe in its eyes.
Our afternoon delivered us to Spanish Anchor, where our guests were happy to swim through the gulley in which the anchor is wedged. Having been there for many years it is covered in encrusting sponges and quite spectacular when lit. Earlier in the day guest Dennis, who visits us every year, posted a number of photographs of the Anchor and the Dome, dating back to 2001 through 2012 and up until 2017, giving us a great opportunity to see the changes over the years, most prominent of which was the large sponge that grew from the base of the anchor until a couple of years ago. It also gave us the opportunity to see the Dome in half of its glory before Hurricane Ivan rearranged it in 2004. Despite our vigilance for daytime scorpionfish, it was not until the night dive that two large reef scorpionfish revealed themselves.
We moved north on Wednesday morning to Gulley – a crew favourite. Again we encountered large schools of mutton snapper apparently on their way somewhere as it seemed a never-ending stream of these fish, three or four deep. In the reef a juvenile sharp-nosed puffer delighted guests Annie & Tim, whilst they searched for a slender filefish. Our reef sharks cruised by in their proud way, whilst schools of Creole wrasse and blue chromis surged together at the edge of the reef. Guest Sean was eager to find the elusive golden hamlet, but had to settle for a barred and butter hamlet, both of which made great photo subjects. Another hawksbill turtle stopped to feed and was accepting of our presence as we captured his image in our cameras as well as our hearts and minds.
Brandywine was our site of choice for the afternoon. We went to visit the travelling anemone that glows bright pink under introduced white light and fluoresces green under black light. This was to be a dive of spotted drum, both intermediate and adult. For both dives at the site in opposite directions we came across this photogenic subject, although the adults proved to be more timid than the intermediate. That, I believe comes with maturity and wisdom. The sharks joined us once again, with them this time a very young male that brought to life the tune to “Baby Shark….”! The sharks themselves seemed very interested in one particular rock on our first dive, which gave us reason to believe that there was something within that they would have liked to eat. The night dive brought out the fluorescents, in particular the condylactus anemone. Longhorn nudibranchs fluoresced on the sponges and yet another mushroom scorpionfish became suddenly visible under black light.
Our last dive site along West Caicos for the week was Elephant Ear Canyon, the home of the little critters. Along the edge of the wall, reef sharks cruised, whilst arrow blennies hung out with the gobies in the crevices of the wall. The black coral was home to tiny neck crabs and skeleton shrimp. As we crossed the sand to the shallower area we encountered headshield slugs and a tiny juvenile slender filefish in the grass. One of the few coral patches provides the a great base for a variety of anemones, including condylactus, corkscrew and branching, all of which house a number of different shrimp, such as Pederson, sun and squat anemone shrimp. On our way back to the boat, again over the sand flats we were delighted to find a pipehorse, wrapped around a bristle brush algae, with a pipefish not so far away. In an old detached sponge a juvenile grey angel flitted about full of energy. By the second dive the stingrays were out in force and our reef sharks were more apparent.
We then travelled back to Northwest Point to dive the afternoon at Shark’s Hotel. The shark’s had not checked out and provided great entertainment to the guests and crew alike. Our resident Nassau grouper appeared a little bashful to begin with but was back in character by the second dive.
We moved to Amphitheatre for the night dive and a great encounter with a reef octopus, which checked all the boxes for the week for guest Jack, of things he wanted to see. That alone made the dive great, but the reef squid that became enamored with guests Jamey and Wolf, made it spectacular. Seemingly attracted to the red light of the camera rig, this delightful critter remained with them for at least five minutes before taking off up in to the water column. White speckled nudibranchs clustered around a gorgonian sea plume and the fluorescent divers spotted another mushroom scorpionfish – it must be the season for them – our challenge for next week is to get a photograph of one!
Our guests opted for a dawn dive on Friday morning and so not wanting to disappoint we plunged in to Two Step at 0600 to watch the reef wake up. Everyone, who partook, agreed that it was great way to wake up. Back for a hearty breakfast and to see the movie of the week, before diving in again at 0900 for our last underwater experience for the week. Lobsters strutted across the reef. A Hamner’s tritonia provided the focus for the dive laying its eggs along the gorgonian fronds. It was a relaxed last dive with many of the guests stating that they were sad for that to be the case. Guests Dennis & Pat enjoyed the fact that they were booked on for another week and got to do it all over again.
Our crossing back was smooth and once in Turtle Cove Marina, everyone relaxed in to their afternoon. The cheese and wine party was lively where we celebrated all our Iron Divers, Erin, Jack, Jim, Jamey, Wolf, Robin & Sean as well as our Educational Divers – congratulations to Patricia for becoming Nitrox certified and to Jamey, Wolf, Robin, Erin & Bebe for becoming certified Fluorescent Divers.