Where do you look for a new diving destination? It’s a simple question, but with the growing popularity of diving, and the increasing number of destinations catering for the travelling diver the choice is becoming a hard one. This story is about a leap of faith we took during our planning process for a holiday early this year. If you will bear with me I’ll give a bit of background to our diving history first.
We were in a mixed marriage, and it’s a familiar scenario to many divers. I started diving 6 or 7 years ago, got addicted, and wanted more on each holiday. I set myself a different challenge every year, worked up to Rescue Diver, flirted with Tec and have recently qualified as a Divemaster. I have to say that Rescue Diver is still in my opinion the best course to develop your diving awareness, while Tec training is brilliant for developing self-reliance. My wife Sandy on the other hand was barely a swimmer, hated getting her face in the water and wouldn’t go out of her depth. In fact she didn’t even learn to swim until in her late 30’s, and managed to do a few lengths of the pool here and there as part of her fitness plan.
Holidays used to be a compromise between diving and ‘other activities’ (think spa, all-inclusive cocktails, comfortable sunbeds and so on). That changed a bit on a 30th wedding anniversary holiday to the Maldives a couple of years ago. The snorkelling was fantastic (as was the diving, but that’s a different story involving Mantas and a night dive), and giving Sandy a snorkelling vest plus an underwater camera to play with distracted her enough to forget about the distance between her and the seabed while I explored the reef. After a repeat in the Red Sea where I cheated and inflated her snorkel vest a bit less each day without her realising until it wasn’t even inflated on the last day (which earned me a tongue lashing with some words I can’t use on here), she realised that she could be (relatively) comfortable in the open water. Unknown to me, after the holiday she went to our local club (Christal Seas Scuba, Norwich) and asked for a try dive. Now, a couple of years down the line Sandy has done her PADI Scuba Diver in Cozumel, and split her PADI Open Water and Advanced between Malta and Egypt. As you can tell from that she prefers warm water destinations and any suggestion of joining me on a UK dive has so far met with a less than polite refusal.
So, as we were now both divers, we were in the position of looking for a holiday where diving was the main activity. We holiday in Egypt at least once a year, Malta most years but we do like to try somewhere new almost every year and the Caribbean had been on my radar for a while, with Tobago, Cozumel, St Lucia and Grenada the front runners.
While pricing up various destinations, I was looking at The Holiday Place website, which has incorporated The Scuba Place into the main site. I noticed that although I could select scuba as an activity, the resulting choices did not have any information on the diving available so I made a comment to that effect on their Facebook page. The very helpful John Spencer-Ades who is the sales director for The Scuba Place contacted me, thanked me for the feedback, asked what I was looking for and quoted a price for various Caribbean options including a 10 day Saint Lucia holiday, 8 days diving included with Dive Saint Lucia, that I found very tempting. It was an unsolicited offer, and I’m more used to travelling independently than on a package, researching flights, hotels and dive centres separately. This was the leap of faith I mentioned earlier. Did I go with a company I didn’t know, to a destination I had never been before to a dive centre I’d never heard of? I took the leap and booked.
After a long flight with BA from a cold and wet UK, stretching my legs and stepping out into the Saint Lucian sunshine felt marvellous. A short wait at passport control with none of the chaos we were used to in Egypt and we were outside looking for our transfer. The Barefoot Holidays kiosk pointed us to our driver, and we enjoyed the next two hours scenic journey (two hours because we hit the capital Castries at rush hour on the way to Rodney Bay, but never mind). Check in at the Coco Palm hotel was efficient and friendly, and after dumping our bags, a quick change then a look around the hotel. All right, we got as far as the bar to check out the hotel friendliness (that got a big tick). Much as we wanted to continue enjoying sampling the cocktails on offer I had contacted Dive Saint Lucia before travelling, so I knew we were being picked up to dive in the morning. We were both tired after a long day thanks to the time zone change so headed off to bed.
The pickup was on time so off we went, not quite knowing what to expect. Dive Saint Lucia is a new outfit, only opened a few months ago, so there were not many reviews on Tripadvisor. The vast majority of these were positive, and from pre-trip research I knew the centre was partnered with the London School of Diving so had high hopes. First impressions were certainly favourable. A shiny new building with a range of dive equipment for sale, friendly reception with the usual required paperwork waiting for us, and a view of the pool which had a few divers being checked out prior to the day’s trip. Usually we take all our own gear, but this time to save baggage allowance we were going to use the DSL BCDs & Regulators. Any worries I had on this front were quickly dispelled. All the gear was as-new and had obviously been well looked after.
The centre was quite open plan, which made it easy to check out the equipment storage, tank filling and training facilities etc, and I was thoroughly impressed. I have dived in multiple dive centres in Egypt, Malta, Tenerife, Mexico, Cozumel, Jamaica and Turkey as well as the UK, without seeing any place purpose built like this. We were introduced to the staff, who were from a range of countries including locals, and kitted up. BCDs were weight integrated and we even had a choice of bar or PSI regulators. When we were ready we were shown to the boat, one of two Newtons moored outside the centre on a clean uncluttered jetty. These boats, like the dive centre, are new, open plan and well organised with a sun deck for sun worshippers – but remember the sunscreen because the sea breeze fools you into thinking it’s not that hot.
The daily dive plan was to set off around 09:30 for the first dive site which usually took about an hour, sometimes with a pick up at another bay on the way. Diving in the shadow of the Pitons made for an impressively scenic dive site. After the first dive a nice lunch was provided and the boat moved to the next site. If I have any comment it is that EVERYTHING was done for us. Equipment setup, tank changes, removing kit from the boat and washing it, everything. I am not used to this; I am used to being responsible for my own equipment, changing my own tank, turning my air on, buddy checks etc. The crew soon got used to us though, and left us to set up and change our kit as we wanted. To be fair, as a Tec diver I am probably over sensitive about other people touching my gear. After the second dive the boat returned to the dive centre for mid afternoon. This was perfect for us, as it meant we could adjourn to the bar to ‘re-hydrate’ while filling logbooks. OK, if I’m honest it meant we could indulge in a few early all-inclusive cocktails before dinner each day without it affecting the next day’s diving. Pickup and return were available every day, but after the first couple of days we elected to walk the less than 15 minutes each way to help work off the all-inclusive food & drink. Our equipment was always on the boat ready for use each morning too.
The diving itself was on the whole relaxed and easy, suitable for Open Water divers. It was mostly at 18 metres or less, although where a site was suitable and buddy pairs were suitably qualified there was no objection to exploring deeper so of course we did, although most of the interesting stuff was in the shallower areas. Occasional currents could make a dive challenging for some, and visibility was generally around 20 metres, never saw it below about 15 metres. Common encounters included various Morays and Snake Eels, Garden Eels, Lionfish, Lobsters, Barracuda, Clinging Crabs and Pederson cleaner shrimp. Less common were Seahorses, Rays, Jawfish and Turtles (we only saw one at the surface). We explored the Lesleen-M wreck a couple of times, a freighter sunk as an artificial reef about 30 years ago in less than 20 metres. There was lots of life on the wreck and it was easy to spend a lot of time there due to the depth, plus there was a nice atmospheric swim through with some cabins to explore.
We were there for Friday 13th, which passed without any ill effects, but the time zone change must have confused matters because the next day wasn’t so lucky. I woke up with a bit of an ear infection. I had muffled hearing and tenderness around my left ear, but I could still ‘pop’ them easily so I elected to dive anyway. My camera chose that day to flood, and a sudden wave caused Sandy to slip on the boat ladder when exiting the water, bruising her thighs. She later tripped over an uneven pavement during an after dinner walk and grazed her leg – not too badly thankfully, although it needed a dressing under the wetsuit the next day. Thankfully after drying out the camera it sprang back to life, although at Sandy’s suggestion I changed the SD card to avoid any chance of losing the pictures taken so far.
It was a busy holiday; we dived for 8 days out of the 10, so if I have any regrets it is that we didn’t have time to explore more of the island and its culture. The little exploring we did showed us that the Saint Lucian people are welcoming and friendly, not just when they are interacting with you for tourism but by nature. Many of the dive centre staff became good friends, the island is scenic, and there is a lot to experience. All the more reason for a return visit then…
We are currently looking forward to our next holiday, another first for us – a liveaboard in the Southern Red Sea with a group from Christal Seas Scuba. I hadn’t looked at this type of holiday before as it would have been unfair for a non diver, but now all options are open. I might even write about our first time trying a liveaboard – I know a lot of my friends say it is the best type of diving but there must be many like us that haven’t considered it before.
Saint Lucia essentials
Language – English plus Saint Lucian Creole French patois
No visa required
110 + 220V UK sockets
Currency EC Dollars / US Dollars (change will be EC)
The Scuba Place (email@example.com)
How to get there
BA or Virgin flights from Gatwick
Diving season – year round
Water temperature 26-28 degees
Exposure protection – Shorty or full 3mm wetsuit
Easy diving suitable for all levels, but no Tec
Have you been diving in Saint Lucia? Tell us all about it in the Scubaverse Forum here.