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Going Bananas in the Bahamas

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Time management took on a whole new meaning during my balmy 5 day tour of the Bahamas. We couldn’t have crammed in anymore activities even if we tried, it was absolutely bananas! Nathan Birac from the Bahamas tourist office had arranged visits to 4 different islands which included multiple flights, speed boats, taxi rides, hotel inspections, sightseeing tours and yes, I even managed to squeeze in one or two dives. I could have quite happily played the lead role in the 1987 comedy movie planes, trains and automobiles.

My whistle stop tour began at Nassau international airport where we were all issued with boarding tickets to North Eleuthera airport. I was travelling with a small group of UK tour operators and dive journalists so at least I wouldn’t be suffering in silence.

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After sharing a bizarre flight with the Billy Bob clan, we piled into Lazy Joe’s taxi and shot off at a break neck speed of 10 miles per hour heading for the boat transfer. I’m not sure if Lazy Joe had problems with the gearbox but we only changed up to 3rd gear once throughout the entire 20 minute journey. I always find that British sarcasm works well in these situations! After a 15 minute boat taxi ride we arrived on Harbour Island which would be our temporary home for the next 24 hours or so.

Harbour Island, known locally as Briland, is located at the northern tip of Eleuthera. Valentines Resort and Marina is the biggest hotel on the island. The resort offers 40 luxury suites with kitchens and patios, a swimming pool, restaurant and a resident PADI dive centre which turned out to be a friendly well run business.

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Valentines Dive Centre is owned by 2 couples, George and Francine Gross and Dawn and Boyd Reise-Ward. This was actually their first year of ownership. They operate 2 hard boats from the on-site marina. We managed to commandeer Sea Dweller, an 11m Sea Hawk with twin 300hp engines, for the whole day and visit some of the local dive attractions.

Bahamas 12For our first dive George took us to a site called Current Cut which was an exhilarating 7-9 knot drift dive through the main channel between Current Island and mainland Eleuthera. What makes this dive unique is we actually did 3 x 15 minute drift dives using just 1 cylinder of air. So to explain further, we jumped in, drifted through the channel, made an ascent to the surface 15 minutes later, got picked up by the boat, drove back to the other side of the channel and then repeated steps 1 to 5 again and yet again. The depth varied from just 2-3m at the outer edges to 18m in the middle of the channel. There was no shortage of marine life including turtles, batfish, jacks, sharks, angelfish and row upon row of big meaty lobsters. I found plenty of swim through’s, gullies and channels which offered me some protection against the strong currents while I was taking pictures. The whole group gave this site a 10/10 rating.

Bahamas 22Our next dive site was called Devils Backbone. Over the years this treacherous barrier reef had claimed several ships. George recommended the Arimora which was a 79m long Lebanese freighter that had ran aground in May 1970 carrying a cargo of fertilizer. The low lying wreck is scattered over a wide area at a maximum depth of 8m. I managed to persuade PADI Instructor Chelsea Crowthers to guide me around the site and double up as a model for my pictures. I focused on the more intact section of the wreck which made my pictures slightly more interesting. There was also a good selection of colourful reef fish darting about as well as nurse sharks and barracuda.

The next day we were back at north Eleuthera airport bound for Stella Maris airport on Long Island. Nathan had rented an 8-seater twin engine Piper Chieftain charter plane for the short island hop. This was the first time I had been in a plane this small, I felt like a VIP. We had some great views of the islands, cays and islets a few thousand feet below us but it was a real shame I had left my camera locked away in the hold. At the airport we were met by Brook Castelsky, the GM of the Cape Santa Maria Resort, and chauffeured to the property. The secluded resort offers 20 bungalows and a few villas spread out along a beautiful white sandy beach. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to thoroughly explore the place but what I saw I really liked, great ambience, the perfect getaway for couples and honeymooners.

We managed to rack up 2 dives with the resident dive centre. Our first dive at a site called Barracuda heads was about 25 minute’s boat ride away. This was a small reef surrounded by sand with a number of lionfish inhabited swim throughs. Other marine life included barracuda, a shoal of jacks, grouper and a number of inquisitive Caribbean reef sharks which was more than enough to keep everybody interested. As we made our way back to the mooring line I spotted a 1.5m stingray patrolling in the sand. I tried to get closer for a wide angle picture but the ray was way too skittish.

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In 1986 the 31m long British freighter MV Comberbach was sunk as a diver attraction about 15 minutes boat ride from Cape Santa Maria Resort. Lying at a maximum depth of 30m it was too deep for some members of our party but I still wanted to take a look. The wreck sits upright and is virtually intact. It’s still possible to penetrate the bridge area down to the engine room and explore the cargo hold. Just to make the wreck more interesting a Ford van has been dumped at the front of the cargo hold. I tried to get a shot of Charlie Munns, from Dive Worldwide, holding onto the steering wheel but there was far too much silt kicking about. My best moment was watching a pair of white spotted file fish nibbling away on the bright orange tube sponges that had colonised the decks.

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In no time at all we were back at Stella Maris airport and flying to Nassau International airport ready for another hotel transfer, this time, to the 694 room Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort and Casino on New Providence Island. Stuart Cove Dive Centre seems to dominate the entire island. This uber professional operation has all the Disney like trappings including pink trademark tee shirts, mugs, coasters, gift cards etc. Stuart opened the dive centre in 1978 with his earnings from a James Bond film. His empire, which is based at the 1995 Flipper movie set, now runs 7 dive custom boats.

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Nathan had booked us up for the Stuart Cove extreme shark program which is 2 dives at the shark arena site. This is basically an orientation dive along the wall so divers can get used to seeing sharks followed by a more intense session where everybody sits in a circle and watches the staff feeding the sharks.

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Dynamic duo Terri and Georgia were running the show. I wanted to take some close up pictures so Terri gave me a chain mail suit to wear for protection. There were around 20 Caribbean reef sharks and the odd sneaky nurse shark lunging for the fish. Other marine life included big black grouper and 100’s of yellow tail snapper. The snapper were a total pain and ended up getting in all my pictures. Overall the sharks behaved well, the punters were extremely happy and the staff provided an excellent service.

Bahamas 14I had always wanted to see the old James Bond wrecks especially the Vulcan bomber used in Thunderball but when we arrived on site the plane wasn’t exactly how I had imagined it to be. There was just a triangular mesh of steel tubes covered in corals. In fact the only resemblance to a plane was the undercarriage. The Tears of Allah wreck sits right next to the ‘plane’ so I managed to fire off a few shots of Terri looking through the torpedo hole but all in all I was a tad disappointed.

Bahamas 19Terri suggested we take a look at another shipwreck lying upright at 20m. I looked for the name of the ship back at the dive centre but I couldn’t find it anywhere so I’ve christened it the Scooby Doo wreck because I haven’t a Scooby what it was called! I got some colourful shots of Terri by the prop and inside the square framework that used to be the bridge and then Chris, the official Stuart Cove photographer, handed me an imitation skull used in a Bollywood film production. Apparently the wreck had been used in an underwater scene along with 2 full skeletons. I positioned the skull inside the cargo hold with Charlie modelling in the background. I’m not sure what looks more scary, the skull or Charlie!

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In the evening Nathan gave us a guided tour of Atlantis which is the mother of all holiday resorts. There are multiple hotels, marina, casino, water park and the world’s largest open air marine habitat all located on Paradise Island. It’s extremely flamboyant and OTT but well worth a look. Nathan particularly liked the huge glass sculptures located in the foyers.

As a final treat Nathan had booked dinner at the 5 star Graycliff Hotel. This place really does have an impressive pedigree. The original Graycliff mansion was built in 1740 by infamous pirate Captain John Howard Graysmith. Throughout the years guests have included Lord Mountbatten, Winston Churchill and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The property was purchased by present owners Enrico and Anna Maria Garzaroli in 1973 and turned into a 20 room hotel and restaurant. There is also a working cigar and chocolate factory located in the grounds. Enrico’s multi-million dollar wine collection has a quarter of a million bottles from 15 different countries. We were given a full guided tour of the cellar and shown one of the most expensive wine bottles in the world, a 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein, priced at $200,000 USD. The full wine list can be viewed on the hotel website.

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On our last non-diving day Nathan had mentioned visiting the swimming pigs at Big Major Cay in the Exumas. I was really keen to get some pictures and write a story but at the last minute the trip was cancelled so we opted for a day with Powerboat Adventures. This was basically a glorified booze cruise to Ship Channel Cay in the Exumas, including lunch, non-stop drinks and snorkelling gear, which didn’t sound like my cup of tea. In my mind the swimming pigs would have been a far better option.

We crowded onto a huge speed boat. There must have been around 70 to 80 people in total. The distance from Nassau to the Exumas is approximately 38 miles which takes about an hour by speed boat. We even had ‘go faster’ Miami Vice music playing in the background, it really was that corny. But my opinion changed when we reached Ship Channel Cay. The trip also included a shark feeding session where staff members would throw a fish on a rope into the water and try and wrestle with the shark. I managed to persuade them to let me go in the water while they were feeding the sharks. Charlie also came in to cover my rear. There were about 10-15 sharks, mainly Caribbean reef, nurse and lemon sharks. This was followed up with a 2 – 3 snorkelling session. The sharks got closer and closer and eventually came within touching distance. I thoroughly recommend this day out, the photo opportunities are endless.

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Back at the Sheraton hotel there was time for a quick shower and a change of clothes followed by a final taxi transfer to Nassau International airport. The past 5 days had been a real transportation overload but in a masochistic kind of way I had enjoyed every minute. Settling into my seat I closed my eyes and thought about planes, boats, taxis, Lazy Joe and then sleep overcame me.

Stuart has spent the past 26 years taking pictures and writing stories for diving magazines and other publications. In fact, this equates to more than a year of his life spent underwater. There have been plenty of exciting moments from close encounters with crocodiles and sharks to exploration of deep wrecks and more recently rebreathers. He lives in Poole, Dorset and is very much an advocate of UK diving.

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PADI Recognises EMEA Members with New Professional Development Excellence Award

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PADI® (Professional Association of Diving Instructors®) has recently launched their new Professional Development Excellence Award in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), celebrating PADI Five Star Instructor Development Centers (IDC)  that are championing creating more PADI Professionals, at all levels, during the previous calendar year.

“While becoming a PADI Five Star IDC Center is a prized accreditation amongst members, this exclusive rating comes with the responsibility of training the next generation of divers to become PADI Instructors,” explains Dave Murray, Managing Director for PADI EMEA.

“PADI’s commitment to a continuing education philosophy encourages divers to realise their dreams of a career as a PADI Pro, teaching others to do what they love – to scuba dive. This new recognition award distinguishes productive PADI Five Star IDC stores for the time and effort they dedicate to marketing and conducting the professional training needed to grow the scuba diving industry.”

PADI’s EMEA Professional Development Excellence Award recognises members for reaching specific milestones based on the number of PADI Pro certifications they issue annually. It also provides an extra layer of credentials in their “Pro Development Status” to potential Divemaster and IDC candidates, along with any other prospective Pro-level customers and prospective employees.

The first awards were distributed earlier this year, with 12 PADI Five Star IDC Centers receiving the Platinum Award. This means that they have issued a minimum of 100 PADI Professional certifications from Divemaster to IDC Staff Instructor, which include 30 Core Professional certifications and 70 Continuing Education Instructor level certifications.

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The 2025 PADI EMEA Professional Development Excellence Award is already underway and renewed PADI EMEA Five Star IDC Dive Centers and Resorts are automatically eligible. Stores that reach the recognition levels during 2024 will receive their award in the first quarter of 2025.

For more information about the award and to see the full list of award recipients visit here.

About PADI 

PADI® (Professional Association of Diving Instructors®) is the largest purpose-driven diving organization with a global network of 6,600 dive centers and resorts, 128,000 professional members, and more than 30 million certified divers to date. Committed to our blue planet, PADI makes the wonder of the underwater world accessible to all, empowering people around the world to experience, explore and take meaningful action, as Ocean TorchbearersTM, to protect the world beneath the surface. For over 50 years, PADI is undeniably The Way the World Learns to Dive®, setting the standard for the highest quality dive training, underwater safety and conservation initiatives while evolving the sport of diving into a passionate lifestyle. For divers by divers, PADI is obsessed with transforming lives and, with its global foundation, PADI AWARETM, creating positive ocean change. Seek Adventure. Save the Ocean.SM  www.padi.com

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Introduce family to the wonder of the oceans with new family weeks from Regaldive

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diving holiday

Regal Dive, the diving holiday specialist, is offering Learn to Dive and Family Weeks this summer to encourage divers and those new to the sport to spend some time in the water together, learning and developing their diving skills. There are multiple itineraries on offer providing affordable diving certification, including a range of liveaboard trips which are designed to be inclusive – so that even those who would prefer to simply snorkel are still guaranteed a good time.

ITINERARIES IN THE MALDIVES:

MV Keana: Family Week, perfect for snorkellers, beginners and children.

Spend 10 nights in a Maldivian paradise exploring warm turquoise waters for exciting marine life and beautiful corals, all with a highly experienced diving team on hand. The MV Keana takes guests on an adventure around the remote atolls, home to manta rays, sharks, turtles, dolphins and whale sharks. The vessel accommodates up to 18 guests in comfortable upper deck cabins and features an outdoor bar and dining areaThere is a sundeck to soak in the views of the ocean and pristine white beaches of the surrounding islands.

Price: A 10-night trip on MV Keana costs £3,015 per adult, with children under 11 costing £2,735, including flights, departing 8 August 2024.

AMBA: Liveaboard Diving Beginner’s Tour, Family fun between Male and Vaavu Atoll

Take advantage of a variety of courses and family rates on this week-long beginner’s tour. Guests will complete a diving theory course prior to embarking on AMBA, allowing for the possibility to complete up to four courses whilst aboard, including the Open Water certification. Once certified, guests can explore the Vaavu Atoll, which has the thrilling possibility of shark encounters. More experienced divers can hop aboard the Dhoni to access some of the area’s more challenging dive sites.

Price: A 7-night trip on AMBA costs from £2,400 per adult, with children 11 and under costing £2,210. This price includes flights. Departing 13 August 2024.

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DIVING RESORTS IN THE PHILIPPINES:

Atlantis Puerto Galera & Atlantis Dumaguete Family Weeks

The Atlantis Dive Resorts is offering a range of exceptional deals for family groups this summer. The Family Week special offers include free stays, free meals, free diving places for children (one free child per paying adult). Puerto Galera Resort, in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, offers accessible diving, diverse coral reefs and exotic marine life. Dumaguete, in the Visayas region, is home to a diverse range of macro species, including ghost pipefish, flamboyant cuttlefish, and various seahorses and octopuses. The resort also grants access to the Dauin Marine Sanctuaries and Apo Island – one of the finest diving destinations in the Philippines. Both hotels are situated in stunning beach-front locations with tropical landscaped gardens and thatched-roof bungalows.

Price: A 7-night stay Atlantis Puerto Galera costs £3,593 per adult and £1,375 per teen, including flights. A 7-night stay at Atlantis Dumaguete costs £3,895 per adult and £1,475 per teen, including flights.

Family week deals at the Atlantis Dive Resorts are available on selected dates in July, August, November and December 2024.

For more information visit www.regal-diving.co.uk.

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