Wow, what a week !! Conditions were ideal ~ it rained for 30 minutes the morning we left, the rest of the time was perfect sun-bathing weather, no currents to contend with, water temperature a consistent 80 degrees and vis of 100 + ft at every site !! The diving is wonderful, diverse and yet challenging. This dive destination is ideal for the snorkeler, the novice as well as the expert diver.
We did 7 dives and at each site, the topography was beautifully unique ! They say that variety is the spice of life ~ well the Small Hope Bay Lodge sure showed us a great sampling of that variety.
Home again, I realize that I have barely scratched the surface in discovering what the waters of Andros Island have to offer. I have had new and exciting experiences underwater in the Bahamas ! This is a trip that I will want to do again and again.
Tuesday, October 29th Our charter flight from Fort Lauderdale took about an hour, filled with conversation with Len and Michelle, two of our three divemasters for the week. We looked down into dark blue water, then light blues and greens, easily seeing the coral formations from the air. Looking through clouds that reminded me of spun cotton candy, I could see Bimini below, then within a few minutes, the largest of the Bahamian islands was below us - Andros, home of the most Blue Holes in the world. We landed on the unlit landing strip (you must arrive before dark ) and chatted with the Customs personnel. We did the obligatory paperwork, loaded baggage into the complimentary cab to the resort, and took the short ride to the resort. Our cabdriver, Adolphus “you can call me Doy” was friendly and informative as he spoke of his people and their history, graciously stopping for me to get pictures along the way.
Small Hope Bay Lodge is everything I could ask for in a dive resort ! Built by Dick Birch in 1960, the family still operates the business 36 years later. The Small Hope philosophy is relaxing, rejuvenating, and infectious. The "order of the day" is HAVE A GOOD TIME and as we sipped our welcome drink and sat down to lunch, we met staff and guests and knew that we could follow these orders without a hitch. This is a deep diver’s dream !! Safe, escorted diving with the emphasis on freedom for the guests, makes each dive a pleasant experience. With such extensive visibility, the guides asked only that we stay in sight of the white bucket suspended on the anchor line, and not touch the corals. We were thoroughly briefed about each site and what to look out for.
The resort extends for about 2 miles of beachfront and back inland further than I could see. ALL the guest cabins are beachfront. Each cabin is comfortable, but unpretentious. Ours was 2 rooms with a connecting bathroom, carpeted, with louvered windows, a ceiling fan, plenty of closet and shelf space -- but no TV and no phone -- just the way I like it.
Sunscreen and sunglasses in place, I headed to the dock for our 1st dive. I geared up my tank, left my dry gear in the locker, then I hopped onto the boat and Divemaster Jim filled us in on the routine. We dove with steel tanks, and I found myself needing less weight. Larry & I did our check out there at the dock, and then we took off for Klein’s Place, a short 10 minute ride away. In fact, we never had more than a 20 minute trip from shore.
Water temp was a balmy 80 degrees ( on every dive ) and visibility exceeded 100 feet, even though it was mid-afternoon by the time we got wet. The waters were calm all week. Looking at a map can really put it in perspective. There are many islands in the Bahamian chain. Andros sits in the Atlantic, east of the Keys and 30 miles southwest of Nassau. Along Andros’ eastern shore lies the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world and the wall drops off to 6,000 feet deep at the “Tongue of the Ocean”. Because of this trench, there are never major currents in these waters, making all the dives no-stress, no-strain.
At Klein’s Place I spotted fish that I have never seen before. I attribute this to the fact that most of my diving has been in the Caribbean, not the Atlantic. But many of the Caribbean species are found here, as well as Atlantic Spadefish that I had only seen previously in Florida waters. But their abundance thrilled me, they swam in schools of 6-12 fish and they were larger than most of the angels I have seen. Others that I was recognizing for the 1st time were juvenile puffers, a lizardfish, corkscrew and knobby anemones, and a Pederson Cleaner Shrimp.
The reefs were in great health, and Hurricane Lili did NO damage to these waters. I logged 54 minutes to a depth of 46 feet on this coral mound. All of the typical tropicals are abundant here: Yellowtail Snappers, many varieties of Damsels, Parrotfish in all stages, adult and juvenile Tangs, Fairy Basslets and many large groupers every time we went into the pool. As we swam over the sand to the beginning of the coral mound, we saw a couple of southern stingrays burrowed into the sand. One decided to join us to the edge of the reef and then gracefully swam away. Although we saw Grey and Queen Angelfish, I never spotted a French Angel. Also surprisingly absent to my eyes were eels, turtles and shark.
Back onshore, we watched the sunset and walked along the beach. In the great room, folks logged their dives, munched conch fritters and fresh veggies, and sipped cocktails. It was relaxing late afternoon camaraderie before a scrumptious dinner of grilled lobster. The fruits and many of the vegetables are island grown, and the cuisine is quite tasty. After dinner, we were treated to an entertaining and informative slide presentation by resident Marine Biologist, Tim Turnbull. Then I turned in for an early night.
By the next morning my shoes had found their home by the door and I walked barefooted in the sand to the dining room. Wednesday had begun. A beautiful sunrise greeted me, breakfast, followed by a stroll to the dock about 9:30. Len was our guide for the morning. We took the short boat ride to an ocean blue hole, about 300 feet in diameter. This "Level 2-Specialty Dive" took me into my first overhead environment. We dropped into the limestone, and after a couple of minutes, I turned off my light and looked up into shafts of light streaming down from the “windows” at the top of the cave and then we traversed the hole, viewing the formations, as we did a slow ascent from 140 feet. As we rose from about 90 feet, I saw many fish, unlike the Blue Hole in Belize where there is very little life. Large Dog Snappers (another 1st for me) a Queen Trigger, Ocean Surgeons, French Grunts, Angels, Yellowtail Snappers, Basslets, Groupers and Damsels rounded out this totally awesome dive. We did a long safety stop and I reboarded the boat, thrilled by this unique experience.
The second dive site was Love Hill, a favorite late morning dive. We were in 13 feet of water for 25 minutes in patch corals and sandy patches. There were huge elkhorn corals rising almost to the surface. This is a great spot for snorkeling too. We could have stayed longer, but we could smell lunch from the boat ;-) so it was back to shore for Irene’s special spaghetti and a tasty salad.
Michelle was waiting for us at the boat for our afternoon trip to Brad’s Mountain. Love that Bottom Time !! 37 feet for 63 minutes consisting of a multitude of familiar and unusual fishlife. Again, schooling Atlantic Spadefish, Queen and Ocean Triggerfish, and way too many Grouper to count ( any 1 of which could feed all the guests ) I saw of group of Sharpnose Puffers, dozens of Damsels - bicolor, yellowtail and Cocoas. School was definitely in session with Grunts, Sergeant Majors, Blue Tangs everywhere, Blue and Brown Chromis schooling with Rainbow Runners. Big fish were everywhere including Barjacks and Horse Eye Jacks that I have seen rarely. Parrotfish in all sizes, colors and stages. And I even spotted a half dozen Harlequin Basses !!! As we hung near the anchor line for our safety stop, a Great Barracuda floated beside me for over a minute posing for the video camera. Michelle is a real fun lover ! As we hung suspended over the reef, she began blowing bubble rings ~ what a talent !!!
Back to the Lodge for a long hot shower, and then to the patio for a cold drink and conch fritters. Visiting diners from the nearby Navy base provided us with lively conversation. They were submariners from England, who knew how to party. Head Chef Daniel provided a gastric orgy of fresh fish and lamb with wonderful salad and cooked vegetables and the ever-present freshly baked breads and desserts. Steve, one of the visiting Brits, played 12-string guitar and led us in 40+ songs. Everyone laughing, singing and howling along to the music of the Beatles, Beach Boys, etc. and old English folk songs, and the wine flowed freely. My favorite was about 9:30 when we harmonized to "Bad Moon Rising". I walked to the hot tub with Randy & Larry for some stimulating conversation and round-robin jokes, and that night I dreamed of Mr. Big.
Thursday morning after eggs "my way" we had more company on the boat. Captain Skeebo at the helm, Len and Randy were our guides "Over The Wall" at the Tongue of the Ocean. Skeebo escorted our guitarist Steve for a more conservative 90 ft. max at the Edge of the Wall, as Larry filmed one of my most thrilling underwater experiences to date !! The beginning was a rapid descent over the edge of the ‘false wall’ starting at about 65 feet and at about 140 feet I leveled off to adjust the flow of my regulator. Then Randy & I continued our drop over the wall to join Len & Larry at the sandy beach that juts out of the wall at 185 feet !! This wall drops off to 6,000 ft and I felt I was hovering in space. Now THAT’s Deep !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes your eyes are not deceiving you, and my computer gauge proves my all-time deep on my 110th dive. I did a couple of 360’s looking for pelagics, but they weren’t curious enough to come within our line of sight. Did I get narced ? Well, not as much as Larry, who giggled thru the entire dive, and was thankful for the hang tank for our 5 minute safety stop at 20 feet. It was 28 minutes of bliss for this thrill seeker !!!
After a respectable surface interval, we jumped back in the pool at Pete’s Place for a leisurely stroll in 22 feet of water for 49 minutes. Again, I was impressed with pristine corals and multitude of fish. Highlight of the dive was swimming with a Queen Triggerfish around the anchorline, that was NOT shy ! We got some great footage of it lingering with us and the many parrotfish in the patches of coral along the sandy bottom. Another 1st for me on this dive -- I spotted a nudibranch for the 1st time !!! It was only about 1 inch long, and well camouflaged, and I am hoping the video captured it !
Back onshore for a great lunch of pork stew over rice that was yummy and then I practiced the fine sport of hammocking before we went back for our afternoon dive at 2 pm.
Michelle was once again our guide to Diana’s Dungeons for our final dive of the trip to a depth of 90 feet, once again with steel tanks. We hovered over spires of corals and dropped down to traverse swim-throughs and little caverns overflowing with Silversides. Visions of Tolkien’s Middle Earth ~ I was traveling over citadel-like structures of coral rising from the bottom of the ocean, providing nooks and crannies for a myriad of life to inhabit. Finishing this dive trip with 35 minutes of surrealistic exploration, I thought I had seen the best that Andros had to offer a sport diver. Michelle described the inland blue hole dive to us on the ride back to shore, then over dinner Jeff told me that there are over 80 established sites within 20 minutes of the dock, and I realized that it would take much more than 3 days to truly sample the wonders that Andros’ waters have to offer.
Our Final dinner was a Bahamian Feast with full salad and fruit bar, cooked vegetables, fresh baked bread, and grilled fish that was out of this world. As everyone had dessert, coffee and whatever, Big Jim stood up and gave each of us our certificates of achievement -- I am now a Diver Androsia Cum Laude -- I have “dutifully proven an ardent discipline in subaquatic explorations and have exercised extreme caution and bravado in upholding the exalted traditions of the Small Hope Diving Fraternity”. This will be on the Glory Wall for all to admire !
Len & Michelle joined Larry & I for a tub, and Michelle shared her astronmomical expertise as we star-gazed. Great conversations ! Before I went to sleep the last night, while packing my dry bag, I knew I would have to spend more time with these wonderful folks in this paradise.
I think that there is a lot offered to a casual traveler by the folks at Small Hope. There are amenities that make this a top-notch resort: all-inclusive which covers all service charges, taxes, diving and other water sports, drinks as well as the food and lodging. The hot tub (clothing optional after dark ) bicycles, wind surfers, sailboats, a masseuse, bonefishing, a “leave a book, take a book” library and a reference library of the ocean and its creatures are all part of the package. This is a family affair, and the children who live there are hosts too. I found Casey & Brian as gracious as their parents are. There is a games room, and children under 12 eat their meals there. So both families can enjoy this resort as well as single adults and couples without children. Other topside activities happened as we off-gassed Friday morning. After a sumptuous breakfast, we shot our last shots of the resort, bought a few goodies in the gift shoppe, said all our good-byes, and it was time to leave. Doy drove us through the mangroves to the road back to town. We toured the batik factory, and I had to buy a couple of goodies to bring home. After all, I am a tourist !!!
Gosh, I almost forgot to mention the nature trails. This island is lush beyond words. You can walk for hours without seeing another human being. This is the perfect, peaceful vacation spot.
Small Hope Bay Lodge is affordable compared with most of it’s competitors in neighboring waters, providing all the amenities that insure a smooth vacation. I enjoy a rustic environment, one that intrudes on nature in a minimal way. This resort is proudly eco-conscious: using bio-degradable everything. The water is pure and delicious and the ice is better ! SHBL is a REEF location and they have an excellent staff of instructors who will teach the Cousteau Snorkel Class, Resort Courses and PADI certifications as well as guiding the scheduled 3 tank dive days.
Sitting here, reviewing my log and journal, and re-living the moments of the week, I find myself craving to go back. These thoughts have me already planning my next trip to Small Hope Bay Lodge. Would you like to come along ? Don’t forget your favorite fishing rod !!
PJ the Diving Temptress
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