Lisa & I were guests of Blackbeard's Cruises on the Sea Explorer, a 65 foot sail/motor vessel equipped with dive gear storage under the seats on deck and cabins with single and double bunks below accommodating up to 23 divers. There were only 15 divers on our boat and the Pirate's Lady, a sister ship had another 15 so there was plenty of room to spread out and relax.
The crew of six on the Sea Explorer were attentive without being overbearing. Captain Joe's boat briefing marked the journey's beginning and although the crossing was a bit rough, with occasional rain that sent us to our cabins, we got to know the others onboard and by the time we reached the dock at Bimini, we were ready to adventure with some of them. The Pirate's Lady had arrived at the port before us, and we tied off beside them - we had arrived after-hours and had to wait for the Customs office to open in the morning to check us in, so as brave but illegal aliens, we wandered into the End of the World Bar to absorb some of the local color and get some refreshment. The Sand Bar is a bit wild in a subdued kind of way - panties on the walls, but quiet until it becomes crowded. Lisa showed off some of her many talents by winning the limbo contest, and then we found another of Ernest Hemmingway's hangouts down the road called the Compleat Angler. Inside this nightclub which used to be a private home, we found a "museum" of artifacts and pictures of Hemmingway with many of his 1930's cohorts. From 1935-37 Hemmingway lived in an upstairs room writing, drinking and catching some LARGE fish in his boat that was designed for big game fishing, the historic allure of Bimini.
Dave, our Dive Master was also from Houston, and was quite entertaining with his five dollar descriptive words and humorous pre-dive briefings.
The first 3 days of diving, we remained anchored after the 3rd dive, and after dinner we could do a night dive on the site we had done in the afternoon. For safety reasons, Blackbeards has a rule that you must have a light on your BC so it was easy to keep up with where the wanderers were. Dave mounted a strobe light to the anchor line which made it easy to know which direction to turn. My dive light would not function, so I had the perfect excuse not to be a "gorilla" diver. Frankly, 3-a-day is quite enough for me and once I was dry, warm and fed, I really didn't want to get back in the water.
Diving ~ Most of the dives were anchor dives. We swam to the bow of the boat to descend when the currents dictated. Through the week, as 1 person or another would lay out a dive, we became buddy teams of 3 or 4 and shared our discoveries with each other. For the most part, visibility was good to great, with large populations of all the typical Caribbean fish, corals and sponges. Here are the highlights:
Sun. Aug. 31 North Turtle Rocks - 33 feet for 1 hour 3 minutes. Our orientation dive was like diving in a nursery over scattered corals on a sandy bottom. Close to Bimini, we saw over a dozen other boats mostly on the south side of Turtle Rocks, this site is under pressure from so many divers. We saw a 6" skate and the tails of a couple of spotted moray eels.
Lunkhead - 54 feet for 42 minutes in a slight current. Visibility was much better here, from the sandy bottom we could see the hull of the boat, so I gauge it to be about 50 feet. A couple of great swim throughs we saw larger grouper and a midnight parrotfish almost 3 feet long.
Grouper on the Head - 45 feet for 55 minutes. Located off Ocean Cay, this site had very nice formations. We saw a hermit crab inside a conch shell wedged inside a basket sponge. Spotted a large lobster and a crab burrowed under some coral with a claw as big as my hand !!
Mon. Sept. 1 Labor Day Fantastic - 91 feet for 46 minutes. I enjoyed this site so much I even wrote down the GPS coordinates. The was virtually no current as we descended with a barracuda escort. We saw 3 schools of Atlantic Spadefish traveling in groups of 12-20. A beautiful pair of Filefish and lots of large and small groupers. Another gorgeous and large midnight parrotfish !
Antler - 42 feet for 1 hour 6 minutes. Voted by many as the favorite site of the week, this site is a "must" ! We dropped down the anchor line to a huge bed of staghorn corals where we saw spotted scorpionfish, several midnight parrots and 5 reef sharks that ranged from 2-6 feet long, cruising throughout the dive. Lisa wanted this safety stop to last till the last ounce of air was gone.
Doughnut - 65 feet for 47 minutes. Obviously, some imaginative Captain over morning coffee named this ringed coral mound and scattered little "doughnut holes" surrounding it. All the usual culprits and dozens of huge to small barjacks. As we relaxed after this dive, we realized that we had not been in the right place at the right time ..... so Barb & Kathleen get the award for most turtles spotted, AND for staying calm & collected after the lemon shark charged them at this spot on the night dive.
Monday evening Dave took us in the dinghy to a little island where they mined sand. The mine works 24 hours a day, so it was not too quiet, but we rendezvoused with some passengers from the Pirate's Lady and hung out around a big campfire drinking tuaca, rum punch and swapping stories.
Tues. Sept. 2 Tuna Alley - 78 feet for 46 minutes. This was our first drift dive and although there was a steady current, we seemed to swim the entire time fighting to keep up with the group.
For the record, I am not thrilled with the procedure of drift diving with this operation. Yes, I understand their reasoning for everyone doing their safety stop together, the tag line, and surfacing together. This is due to the fact that a 65 foot sailboat cannot turn "on a dime" to pick up individual buddy teams, but I am used to the freedom of drifting in Cozumel, and did not enjoy the regimentation.
That being said, I really enjoyed Tuna Alley !! It was like flying over the Texas Hill Country and as I coasted along, the Michael Murphy song "Alleys of Austin" kept ringing in my head. Highlight of the dive was an immense Blue Parrotfish in supermale phase that I have christened Mr. Piggy
Bull Run - 57 feet for 1 hour 5 minutes. And now for something completely different ........... we dropped down the descent line in a group to the Arena, where Divemaster Dave arranged us into a semi-circle with our backs to a coral mound. Lisa was on the end with me beside her. Using a pulley system, he brought down a spear with cut up barracuda and mackerel and 3 nurse sharks were the first to coming visiting. By the second spear, 2 black tip reef sharks had heard the lunch bell, and they swam right in front of us as they rushed to tear away a snack. Fearless yellowtail snappers surrounded the sharks as they performed their tug of war with the spear. Once the food was gone, I really felt that the reef sharks were probably still hungry, so I was constantly looking over my shoulder during the remainder of the dive as we swam over nice formations and enjoyed the antics of a baby puffer.
After lunch on Tuesday, George motored us over to a little deserted island to offgas and snorkel in the shallow waters where dozens of starfish caught our fancy. We had anchored on the windward side of the island, but wandering the leeward side left us hot and our shoes filled with stickers.
Wreck of the Miami Rita - 34 feet for 58 minutes. In 1963 the tugboat, Miami and a Bahamian supply ship Rita collided and burned. Apparently the Miami Captain had been drinking for hours at the End of the World Bar before getting behind the helm of the ship. This is one of my favorite wreck dives to date ...... lots of life and this 'artificial' reef and some lovely encrusting corals and sponges thriving there. Spiny oysters were a real treat on this dive along with Big Eyes everywhere and an almost 3 foot long African Pompano that weighed in at over 20 pounds.
Wed. Sept. 3 South Peak & the Nodules - 109 feet 38 minutes. Again, the drift diving procedure disappointed me. Since Lisa & I were toward the back of the group, we swam the entire time trying to catch up as the others kicked into the current during the entire dive. It seems our Captain put us in the water too far from the wall, so by the time we got there, we did not have much bottom time left. The dive was salvaged by sighting several Mr. Piggy Blue Parrotfish and admiring their blue to violet shimmering scales.
Picket Rocks - 39 feet for 43 minutes. We had to use the anchor line on this dive site. We kicked into current hardly moving, until we found some nice coral mounds to hide in. Deciding not to try to cover much ground, we found many subjects for Lisa's camera here ..Lying amidst the ocean floor carpeting of red sponges there were Pederson shrimp, and arrow crabs tucked away barely in sight, puffers, trumpetfish in excess of 3 feet with all different colored markings - especially the one with the purple snout !! Also we saw 2 lizardfish camouflaged in the sand and the iridescent sand tilefish darting about atop the sand.
Big Greenie ( and Little Greenie ) 35 feet for 1 hour 5 minutes. This really large coral mound is connected to Little Greenie with a bridge of interconnecting corals. This was a really good dive, highlighted with the moray eel who swam about for awhile, turning to greet me with a determined look in its eye. Again, many of the hard to spot critters were in abundance: Lizardfish, spotted scorpionfish and the tiny arrow crabs.
Nancy, our chef for the week was talented and amiable, accommodating the vegetarians and carnivorous divers as well. From her crispy bacon to the yummy desserts, she pleased our palates all week long, especially with her preparation of the fresh seafood that the other crewmen "harvested from the sea".
Bahamian law dictates that only free divers may bring up edibles, so although we saw lobster and conch on almost every dive, it was in waters too deep for us to bring up for dinner. Throughout the week while we offgassed, various crew members would jump in with spears and snorkel till they found a good target. We had snapper and the African pompano along with grilled steaks on Port Night and guests from the Pirate's Lady joined us for dinner that night.
Thurs. Sept. 4 Hawksbill 67 feet for 51 minutes. None of us saw any turtles on this dive but FINALLY I spotted a nudibranch - specifically, a Flamingo Tongue. Jill & I were apparently the only ones on the "lookout" for them, but Lisa's camera can't record the essence of these small but ornate creatures, and when I spotted it, Jill was not in sight ( darn ! )
Moray Alley - 50 feet for 41 minutes. Ernie buddyed up with Lisa & I for this dive, so I was spotter for some really good shots. Once again, we saw all the typical tropicals, plus Spotted Scorpionfish, Pederson & Banded Shrimps and Blue Parrots, but just after we did our turnaround at 1500 lbs., I heard Ernie yell through his regulator. At the time, I thought it was a pair of sharks I could not identify ..... 3 1/2 feet long, with a flat head that looked like tire treads. These fish moved fast and were headed straight at Ernie. To make a long and adrenaline-filled story short, these were free-swimming ramoras who seemed possessed. These were not the docile 8 inch freeloaders latched onto turtles and shark that I have seen in Cozumel .....
Road to Atlantis - 16 feet for 1 hour 5 minutes. I managed to find another Flamingo Tongue to round out the trip on this last dive, but there's no need to be repetitive ..... look back to the story's beginning if you want to revisit this site's details :-)
Many passengers tried their hand at sailing throughout the week and despite some rain we were able to be on deck for most of the return crossing - Kathleen at the helm. Just before sunset we topped off a terrific time with 3 bottlenose dolphins riding the bow criss-crossing back and forth for about 10 minutes !! Then shortly after dark we enjoyed a beautiful lightning display before the rain drove us to our bunks for the remainder of the crossing.
Back at the dock in Miami, once again we were quarantined till we cleared customs early Friday morning. Then we were off in the rent car headed south down Highway 1 to Key West, the most southern tip of the continental U.S. Now THAT adventure is another whole story ............. Rated R for a rip roaring good time !!! Yours Truly, P J The Diving Temptress
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