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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.

News

Get moving with the new RAID DPV training programs

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The thrill of speeding through the water behind a diver propulsion vehicle (DPV) is an experience that really gets the blood racing. Using a DPV provides divers both immense fun and the means to achieve goals that would be impossible without their use.

RAID is proud to announce the new two-tier DPV training program with certifications for DPV and Advanced DPV.

Why DPV and why now?
Recreational and technical divers are using DPVs to access sites that would be difficult to reach and explore using traditional propulsion methods; to help propel large amounts of heavy equipment; to increase the safety of dives in areas of strong current; or just for the pure exhilaration of shooting through the water at speed and performing underwater acrobatics.

By extending your capabilities and extending your range, using a DPV opens new vistas for exploration and fun.

DPV
This certification option is aimed at the recreational diver who wishes to learn how to use a DPV to enhance their diving by using mainly natural navigation.

Advanced DPV
This certification option is available to anyone who is familiar with longhose configuration, has logged a minimum of 20 dives and is certified as Navigation specialty divers.

This certification option is aimed at the slightly more experienced diver with preexisting navigational training and diving on a single, twin or sidemount setup with a longhose. Although this level is slightly more challenging, the more advanced navigation exercises provide an important base for more complex types of DPV diving within a team.

PREREQUISITES
You must:

  • Be a minimum of 12 years old.
  • Be certified as RAID Open Water 20, Junior Open Water or equivalent.

Just visit www.diveRAID.com to put some extra dash into your dives.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Beers raise cash for ocean clean-up

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The Driftwood Spars Brewery, a pioneering microbrewery based on the North Cornwall coast, is donating a percentage of all profits from its Cove range of beers to Fathoms Free, a certified charity which actively cleans the ocean around the Cornish peninsula.

Each purchase of the small-batch, craft beers – there are four different canned beers in the Cove range – will help generate funds to purchase a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and fund retrieval dives; every brew will raise the equivalent cost of a fully-funded dive. 

Fathoms Free is a Cornwall-based charity whose day-to-day mission involves dives from their fast-response specialist vessel to recover ghost fishing gear; abandoned nets, pots, angling equipment and other plastic causes severe damage to the marine environment and the death of countless seabirds, seals, dolphins and other sea life.

The campaign to raise funds for an ROV is a new initiative which will take the clean-up work to a new level; the highly manoeuvrable underwater vehicle will be used to scour the seabed, harbours and remote parts of the coastline for abandoned fishing gear and other marine litter.

Project Manager Natallia Paliakova from Fathoms Free said: “Apart from helping us locate ghost gear underwater, the ROV will also be capable of recording underwater video which is always great for raising awareness about marine pollution issues.”

She added: “We are really excited to be partnering with The Driftwood Spars Brewery and appreciate the proactive support of Mike and his team in bringing the purchase of an ROV a step closer to reality.”

Head Brewer Mike Mason personally approached the charity after their work was featured on the BBC 2 documentary, ‘Cornwall with Simon Reeve’.    

He said: “As a keen surfer I am only too aware of the problem of marine litter and had heard about Fathoms Free, but seeing them in action prompted me to find a way of contributing. The scale of the challenge is scary, but the determination of organisations like Fathoms Free is inspiring.”

Photo by Beagle Media Ltd

Photo by Beagle Media Ltd

The Driftwood Spars Brewery was founded in 2000 in Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes; the microbrewery is just a few steps away from it’s co-joined brewpub, The Driftwood Spars; both pub and brewery are well-regarded far beyond the Cornish cove they call home. 

You can hear the waves and taste the salt on the air from the door of both brewery and pub, and the rough seas along the rugged North coast often throw up discarded nets and other detritus; Louise Treseder, Landlady of The Driftwood Spars and a keen sea swimmer, often collects washed up ghost gear on her daily beach excursions.     

Louise commented: “This is a great partnership to support a cause close to our hearts – I know the money we raise will have a positive and lasting impact. The Cove range was inspired by our unique surroundings and the artwork – by local artist Jago Silver – reflects that. Now donations from each purchase will contribute towards the vital ocean clean-up taking place right on our doorstep.”

The Cove range can currently be purchased online here, and is available in good independent bottle shops in Cornwall.

To find out more about Fathoms Free visit their website here.

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