A warm welcome to Scubaverse’s latest blogger: Bobbie Renfro AKA The Bikini Biologist!
Sailing Yacht Ocean Star, an 89 foot schooner stacked with six sails above her black hull and enough varnished wood above and below deck to harken an era of truly classic ship-building, has been my home for the past two months. After completing my PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer certification in Honduras, I landed a job as marine scientist and diving instructor for Sea|mester, an experiential learning program for university and gap year students.
Our first voyage was twenty days taking twenty-four students aboard two vessels from the British Virgin Islands to Antigua and back. Most of our students entered the program with no dive training, so the first week was concentrated on getting them certified in time for the once-in-a-lifetime dives we had planned in renowned stops like Saba’s pinnacles and the Pillars of Hercules in Antigua.
Starting off in BVI with our Open Water training dives, Savannah Bay, Virgin Gorda was a perfect spot for the confined water dives. The shallow bay has a sandy beach with typically high visibility and pool-like conditions just a short wade out into the water. We anchored in the sandy area off shore and used a couple of Sea|mester’s dinghies to scoot over to the beach. After completing our confined water dives we hopped over to Mountain Point, Virgin Gorda where our Open Water students could see a little bit of reef for the first time while completing their training. Added bonus of this locale: a brand new shipwreck, the Kodiak Queen was recently sunk at Mountain Point.
The wreck is enveloped in the arms of a larger than life Kraken sculpture, which will eventually become an artificial reef as organisms colonize the structure. The artistic new wreck wasn’t suitable for Open Water training dives, but was a treat for the already certified divers aboard. I personally didn’t get the chance to hop in with the Kraken, but I appreciate the melding of art, science, and diving!
From BVI we moved on to Nevis and then to Antigua where we dove near the Pillars of Hercules both in day and night. The Pillar’s themselves are a geological formation on shore and a worthwhile hike. The diving at this site was fairly average by day, but breath taking at night! As I slipped through the dark sea with a group of Advanced Open Water students, the water rolling off our fins ignited in lime green sparkles, kindled by bioluminescence brighter than any I’ve seen throughout the Caribbean. I’m not sure if this was a lucky night or if Antigua frequently has such brilliant bioluminescence on night dives, but I am going back shortly so I’ll be sure to update!
After Antigua we continued on to Saba, an island that has been high on my diving wish list as I am sure it is on yours. Diving around the pinnacles was like flying around giant upside down ice cream cones. The visibility at the moment is unfortunately a hair poor, but local dive operator Sea Saba explained that it’s typically much better and accounts from my dive buddies that have visited previously support that statement. Even with low vis, the dive was still a unique experience in my dive log for sure.
If you do hit up Saba to dive be sure to explore on land as well. Saba’s Mount Scenery is the tallest point in the Netherlands and while visibility on this hike was equally low due to cloud cover, it was one of the best tropical hikes I’ve done. The vegetation beckons your mind into a Jurassic Park like state the entire way up and standing in the clouds on the tiny round top of the summit felt like standing on top of the world. After hiking Mount Scenery, head to the town of Windward where you can visit local glass artist JoBean and have the chance to make your own glass bead. Mine is teal glass with lime green and coral spun through out like a tiny earth; its my favorite souvenir thus far.
Rounding out the trip back in the British Virgin Islands, we dove on the wreck of the RMS Rhone. This eerie dive site is the result of an actual storm induced sinking of the once proud vessel. While the wreck as been moved and adjusted to make it a safer recreational dive site, the heavy feeling of her lost passengers looms as you slink into the dimly lit swim-through of her bow section. On top of the swim-through and the unique history of the wreck, we encountered several large puffer fish and a small reef shark cruising amongst the wreckage.
The Rhone wrapped up our diving, but we squeezed in some snorkeling and rock jumping at The Baths, an outcropping of large granitic bead rock revealed from years of erosion of the overlying volcanic material. You can climb and swim in and out of a labyrinth of massive boulders at this crowded, but worthwhile BVI tourist stop. This twenty-day voyage blew by fast and now we are starting up a forty-day voyage to explore further along the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles. I’ll have more Caribbean dive site information and descriptions of dive training sites to come.
Bobbie Renfro, M.Sc. Biology — Marine Ecology
PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/thebikinibiologist/