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Tobago Live-Aboards diving reviews_ chapbook 2006

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					       The Wider Caribbean Liveaboards                                       TOBAGO
      Experience: 1,000+ dives. Vis: 50 to 80     lent from captain to DMs to cook etc.
      feet. Water: 82 to 86 F, currents. When     The warmed towels and hot chocolate
      a group is going, book through the          with Baileys Irish Cream option was
      parent company and take out insur-          a fine touch. Cabins were more than
      ance in case someone has to pull out of     adequate. They provided dive alerts
      the group. Generally the diving is for      and sausages on a reel. There was no
      experienced/advanced divers. All dives      instruction and when I decided, at 65 ft.
      are moored so the boat swings quite a       to abort a dive I couldn’t get the sausage
      bit. Visibility was good and the seas co-   inflated so I made a normal ascent with
      operated though a storm formed near         safety stop. Had I gotten the sausage
      the Florida Keys. The food was excellent    inflated at depth I probably would
      with good variety. A couple of the crew     have gotten bent because I had the reel
      could use some, as we say in the Navy,      hooked to my BC and was unprepared
      extramilitary instruction, on how they      to let out the line safely. Now that I
      respond to and treat their guest. We        understand how the equipment should
      did have one handicapped diver who          be used it wouldn’t be a problem but it
      was given personal hands-on guided          could have been bad news for me then.
      dives on the ones the Captain thought       Even something as simple as a sausage
      he could handle. Several opportunities      and reel can be hazardous without
      to do short shore excursions in Saba,       the correct knowledge in how to use it
      Statia and St. Kitts at only $15 to $25.    properly. I remember reading about a
                                                  DM who got bent using this same gear
                                                  set up when the reel snagged and pulled
      TOBAGO                                      him up instead of just letting the line
                                                  run up to the surface. Peter Hughes
      Wind Dancer, August 2004, Lester Li-        joined us for most of the week. He’s a
      cht (chiroman@ccomcast.net), North          fine host and a gentleman.
      Haven, CT. Experience: 251-500 dives.
      Vis: 50 to 120 Feet. Water: currents.       Wind Dancer, November 2004,
      With more than 350 logged dives and         Timothy W. Smith (reefexplorers@
      15+ years of diving, I thought I was        sbcglobal.net), Richardson, TX.
      fairly experienced but I was quite the      Experience: 501-1000 dives. Vis: 20 to
      novice compared with my shipmates.          80 Feet. Water: 79 to 82 Fs. We knew the
      That was good in that they allowed us       diving wouldn’t be the best due to
      a great deal of ‘diving freedom’ and bad    weather conditions, but we had an
      for me because I hadn’t been in the         overall great experience. There is surge,
      water for a year and a half and could       current, and changing conditions that
      have used more support from a reliable      require a diver with experience. You
      buddy. I was a solo traveler. It was my     must be comfortable controlling
      1st live-aboard trip and he wake up-        buoyancy, and entry on and off a tender
      breakfast-dive-snack-dive-lunch-dive-       in rough surface water. Trinidad was
      snack-dive-dinner-night dive routine is     quite dirty, and overcrowded. I wish we
      a wonderful way to go. The group was        had time to explore the nicer parts of
      friendly and congenial. Staff was excel-    the Island, but really only stayed

226
   TOBAGO                                    Liveaboards The Wider Caribbean
overnight on both ends of the trip for        and Cozumel for the large size of fish.
transfers. It looks like little America       The Caribbean side was more rocky,
with KFCs and Pizza Huts everywhere.          and deeper dives, but provided an
Tobago is a hidden gem, a place to            incredible glimpse of game fish, and
escape time. We were picked up at the         sharks. The dive through London
airport by Ray of Peter Hughes, and           Bridge was an incredible experience.
spent the day at the Hilton on Tobago         Listening to the waves crashing
as day guests. This is a nice hotel. It is    overhead, and having the surge push
on the Atlantic side of the coast, and        you through this arched tunnel was
gets a fair amount of wind, and waves         awesome. We saw tons of Spotted
along its private, and a secondary semi-      Drums, Golden Eels, Angels, Trunkfish,
private beach. The hotel food was             Scorpion fish, and thousands of Creole
reasonably priced, and good. The fruity       Wrasses. It was not uncommon on the
drinks were given a thumbs up by              Caribbean side to see jack and barra-
Tisha, and I found the local Beer Carib       cuda chasing after them. Also on the
to be tasty. There is a second beer called    trip, a Manta was seen from the surface,
STAG that is the “Man’s beer,” but only       Dolphins off the bow of the boat, Sea
had more alcohol content. The pool            Horses, and Hammerheads (unfortu-
and services were great at the Hilton.        nately not my group). Captain Brian
some international guests were                did the best he could to provide great
unreceptive to locals, and Americans.         diving for the group, and has a
On the Wind Dancer, the crew was              background in medical training, diving,
professional and a blast. I ran into an       and now working on his 500 ton
employee that was on the Sundancer I          license. He is worth to sit down and
when it was in Palau (now the Star            chat with. He went out of his way to
Dancer in PNG). The Instructor                make us feel like we were at home!
Suzanne, and all the DMs: Tian, Tyson,        When we docked back on Friday in
Mr. Miller, and Motley (aka Mr.               Scarborough, Tom, Mary, Tisha, Craig,
Handsome to the ladies) were profes-          Marc, and I ventured into town. Craig
sional and fun. The meals were typical        and Marc found Pizza and an Internet
5 stars, and there was always plenty of       Cafe. The rest of us found local shops
entertainment from the crew and the           and pubs to pass the time. I made many
guests on the boat. They have had             new friends at one of the mini-markets
much rain and mud slides on Tobago,           with a large quantity of Carib passed
so the dives close to shore were poor,        out. The prices were extremely
but the dives away from the main              affordable. Tenders have long overdue
shores were incredible. The Atlantic          maintenance. The overall condition of
Side provided the most reef, and fish          the boat was good, but none of their
life I have ever seen in the Caribbean!       boats that I have been on are as nice as
The reefs are lush, vibrant, and covered      the Sun Dancer II in Belize. We spent
in diverse marine life. I have never seen     two full nights in port, which was
so many large fish, and in so much             disappointing. The rationale was to
quantity. Similar to Belize for the reef,     keep it calm for dinner, but I would


                                                                                 227
       The Wider Caribbean Liveaboards                                         TOBAGO
      have rather steamed ahead to our              a day on the tenders. Some divers com-
      destination earlier. The Wind Dancer          plained that the dives were too close
      could benefit from some stabilizers —          together (much of the surface interval
      this is not a boat for people who are         is in the tenders) and that the number
      looking for smooth calm water the             of dives should be reduced! When it
      whole trip. The benefit was good easy          was pointed out that doing every dive
      drift dives, and lush marine life. I used a   is not mandatory, that idea died. We
      Sea and Sea 3.1M total underwater             dove Nitrox 32%. Fills nearly always
      Digital Camera with two Sea and Sea           >2950 psi, topped off on request. We
      Auto Strobes for this trip. http://           rented a (backup) computer because of
      pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/timothy-               a threatened malfunction; no Nitrox-
      waynesmith/my_photos. There was               capable computers for rent! Dives are
      ample space on board the Wind Dancer.         shallow enough and surface intervals
      Compressed air, towels, separate              long enough that neither air nor nitrox
      charging station, rinse tank. On the          should put you in deco. There are some
      Tender there was a safe, secure place to      rough seas between the Caribbean and
      store the equipment, but no fresh water       Atlantic, so pack your best seasick-
      on the Tender for rinsing photo gear.         ness remedy. Anchorages were pretty
                                                    calm. Every dive is led, but the guides
      Wind Dancer, December 2004, Martha
                                                    allow for photographers and other slow
      and Jeff Hubbard (hubbard182@att.
                                                    people. If you like diving on your own
      net), Glenmont, NY. Experience: Over
                                                    (with or without buddy), forget it. The
      1000 dives. Vis: 30 to 60 Feet. Water: 82
                                                    diving, as Peter says, is like the Carib-
      to 84 F, choppy, surge, currents. Wind
                                                    bean used to be. Great topography,
      Dancer is a pleasant ship — a lot more
                                                    corals, and small reef fish, and the big-
      so if you have Cabin 1, with queen bed,
                                                    gest angelfish (French, queen, grey) and
      instead of a lower-deck cabin with a
                                                    turtles we’ve ever seen. No groupers or
      double lower bunk and a head-bump-
                                                    other table-size fish — they’ve all been
      ing upper. There is a nice dive platform
                                                    eaten. We did 22 dives of an available
      with big exit ladders, but you won’t dive
                                                    24, average dive time 53 min. Most were
      from it. (Pity — we had a great time on
                                                    50-80 ft max, a few in the 95 ft range.
      it 8 years ago.) All the diving is from
                                                    Captain Eddie dealt with mechanical
      two tenders, and regrettably, they’re
                                                    problems and the Whiners From Hell
      ordinary day-diving six- packs with un-
                                                    with equanimity. First mate Brian did
      comfortable seats, insecure tank racks,
                                                    diving, plumbing, photo, whatever,
      low freeboard and portable exit ladders
                                                    always cheerful. The local divemasters
      put over the gunnel when someone
                                                    know the sites well and try to please
      wants to board. (Divers remembering
                                                    everyone. And chef Yanis, familiar to
      the commodious jet-driven tenders of
                                                    PHD veterans, keeps the Belizean home
      Sun Dancers in Palau will weep.) Since
                                                    cooking coming. Ray Sloper makes
      the rides to and from the dive sites are
                                                    transfers to and from airport as painless
      10-15 minutes each, you spend 2-2.5
                                                    as possible, and will take you to the
      wet, bumpy and uncomfortable hours
                                                    Hilton — good place — or arrange an


228
   TOBAGO                                    Liveaboards The Wider Caribbean
interesting tour of the island on the last    parrotfish, eagle rays, stingrays, nudi-
day. He makes you feel that you have a        branchs, cherub fish, lettuce sea slugs,
knowledgeable friend. BWIA must have          flamingo tongues, brain coral, purple
the worst on-time record of any airline       vase sponges, varied colorful sponges,
since the Iron Curtain came down, but         sea rods and sea plumes in a dive area
they don’t seem to have the miserable         with mountainous and volcanic under-
baggage attitude that TACA, ALM and           water formations. Staff was exceptional.
c. have. Getting from Trinidad to and         Yanis a wonderful cook. Warm towels
from Tobago seems pretty disorganized         with a shoulder massage after every
but worked o.k. UW photography:               dive. Service world class.
Rinse tank on Wave Dancer, none on
                                              Wind Dancer, February 2005, Tom
tenders. Crew is careful. Divemaster
                                              Rain (tomrain1@hotmail.com),
CNN knowledgeable. No computer on
                                              Irving, TX. Experience: 251-500 dives.
ship for downloading (but room to use
                                              Vis: 50 to 80 Feet. Water: 78 to 80 F.,
your own.) There is E-6 processing but
                                              calm, no currents. Typical Peter Hughes
nearly everyone was digital.
                                              live-aboard excellent operation. Very
Wind Dancer, February 2005, Bridget           nice Caribbean diving. A nice, new
K Thomas (divingdocs@aol.com).                dive location. Takes all day to fly there,
Friendly staff, big animal action, macro      though. Didn’t see any big critters.
life with mountainous and lush scen-
                                              Wind Dancer, March 2005, Jeff and
ery is what the International Society
                                              Elaine Byland (jandebyland@email.
of Aquatic Medicine group found.
                                              com), Fremont, MI. Experience: 251-
Exhilarating and critter-filled dives in
                                              500 dives. Vis: 40 to 60 Feet. Water: 79
both the Atlantic and Caribbean. Did
                                              to 81 F., calm, choppy, surge, currents.
a dive at Black Jack Hole that could
                                              All of the crew were hard working. The
rival the best dive ever in the Carib-
                                              Wind Dancer was well kept for its age.
bean. The dive gave us blue water with
                                              Local divemasters made a big difference
large green morays out free swimming
                                              in the quality of the diving. We met
and stretched across the coral. Mat-
                                              divemaster Tyson 3 years ago on a land
ing season for green morays, we were
                                              based Tobago trip and he was on the
told, and the males were on the prowl.
                                              Wind Dancer. He continues to be one
Mountainous volcanic terrain with
                                              of our favorites. Divemaster CNN is a
exciting and varied marine life on a reef
                                              macro wizard! Motely made the strong
filled with colorful corals. The Sisters
                                              current dives seem fun and relaxing.
and Brothers Rock; from the topogra-
                                              Captain Brian and the crew were top
phy of the area you had the feel of the
                                              notch. We saw the largest angel fish and
Galapagos Islands. It was an exciting
                                              nurse sharks we had ever seen. Other
diving and provided sightings of ham-
                                              sightings of interest were two 1 2 inch
merheads. Large Queen Angel fish and
                                              juvenile scorpionfish and a longhorn
brain coral. Highlights were opportuni-
                                              nudibranch that CNN found on a night
ties to dive with hammerheads, manta
                                              dive, 3 blacktip reef sharks, several
rays, jacks, turtles, scorpion, eels of
                                              nurse sharks, several turtles, flameback
varied species, French angels, rainbow

                                                                                  229
       The Wider Caribbean Liveaboards                                      TOBAGO
      angelfish, cherubs, shortnose batfish,       calm. Our primary interest was video
      flying gurnards, juvenile queen angel       and still photography, yet the arrange-
      (my first), juvenile French angels, huge    ment was for drift diving whereby
      lobsters and morays, crabs, many sting-    we were expected to keep up with the
      rays, scorpionfish and a huge goliath       group. Perhaps at times there is enough
      grouper. We did not see hammerhead         current to warrant drift diving, but
      sharks, manta rays, spotted eagle rays,    during the two weeks I was there, there
      toadfish (heard them on night dives),       was not enough current to affect diving.
      seahorses, frogfish or juvenile gray        During the first week my husband and
      angels. All of these are in the Tobago     I managed to do our own dives most of
      waters, but not sighted by us. American    the time, but during the second week,
      airlines just does not make it easy for    after my husband left, I faced a problem
      you to get there (we used air miles).      because though I am a certified solo
      We had to do an overnight in Trinidad      diver with my own redundant air
      on the way there and an overnight          supply and signed applicable waiv-
      in Miami coming back. We also had          ers, I was told to drag a safety sausage
      our underwater housing for our still       throughout the dive. That would have
      digital camera stolen after our case was   been dangerous since it would have
      checked, so when we arrived late at        become entangled on the coral and
      night in Trinidad that was our wel-        would have interfered with my camera
      come. All night dives are after dinner.    equipment. These factors were frustrat-
      We would prefer before dinner or a         ing and unpleasant: bad weather, rain,
      compromise and have it offered maybe       poor light; terrible visibility on many
      twice a week. This is not a beginner       dives, runoff from river; exhaustion
      destination due to some strong cur-        from almost constant hard swimming
      rents, panga diving, and at times low      to keep up; rapid use of air supply due
      visibility. Bucket designated for cam-     to swimming complicated by the chal-
      eras. Bucket on panga. All diving from     lenge of getting a full fill to 3000 psi;
      pangas (not the rubber type pangas,        dive sites ranged from nice structure
      but more like small boats). Some strong    with plenty of coral and variety to
      currents were encountered which            devastated coral patches overturned
      always makes photography more chal-        from the hurricane, piles of junk and
      lenging. Surface waves and getting back    old tires and sediment-covered coral
      into a panga can also make handling        rubble; often the group drifted up over
      of camera equipment more difficult at       the reef in what current existed so
      this dive location. There was a ladder     that they were carried along and were
      for exiting the water. The panga driver    kicking as well, while I, down closer to
      and DM were careful with all of our        the reef to take the photos, was out of
      equipment.                                 current and thus left behind. The dive
                                                 director admonished me for a couple
      Wind Dancer, May 2005, Edith and
                                                 empty shells I picked up off the sand.
      John Summey (summey11@aol.com),
                                                 She claimed that collecting shells vio-
      Carbondale, IL. Experience: Over 1000
                                                 lated the law of Tobago, export of shells
      dives. Vis: 40 to 60 Feet. Water: 80 F,

230
   TOBAGO                                   Liveaboards The Wider Caribbean
was prohibited, and having shells was        harbors. Thank goodness, there were
punishable by fine. She announced that        NO photographers on the boat
the Peter Hughes policy forbade picking
                                             Wind Dancer, August 2005, John
up anything from the sea. There is no
                                             Critchfield, Seattle, WA. Experience:
such Tobago law and the written Peter
                                             251-500 dives. Vis: 20 to 100 Feet.
Hughes preservation of nature clause
                                             Water: 80 to 83 F, choppy, currents.
restricts the taking of “any live animal,
                                             BWIA departed three hours late from
shellfish, fish, coral...” There is noth-
                                             Miami. We got to Port of Spain, Trini-
ing about seashells. UW Photography
                                             dad, at midnight. But, the flight did
Comments: Camera table on dive deck
                                             not continue to Tobago as scheduled. I
was adequate with air pressure supplied
                                             was stranded, along with two other div-
and rinse buckets. But, dive policies
                                             ers. Wind Dancer sailed from Tobago
were not photo-friendly in that rushing
                                             without us. Peter Hughes’ onshore
divers down the reef was not conducive
                                             representative was on top of the situ-
to photographic activity.
                                             ation and we could talk by borrowed
Wind Dancer, July 2005, Joe Alper and        cell phone. We caught a flight the next
Michele Pelanne (741stuff@comcast.           morning, and we were met curbside
net), Louisville, CO. Experience: 251-       with cool towelettes and cold drinks.
500 dives. Vis: 25 to 60 Feet. Water:        We took a 12 hour journey by van
80 to 82 F, choppy. Great, challenging       along the narrow, winding, scenic road
diving on a healthy reef system sur-         to Speyside and were on board Wind
rounding Tobago. We spent the first           Dancer by lunch. Boat operations were
two days on the Caribbean side, where        well-organized and functioned close
the visibility was good and the current      to schedule, with up to five dives per
was mild. We saw several batfish, and         day. Divemasters demonstrated expert
so many critters that our slates were        knowledge of sites and conditions. Pay
full by the time we came to the surface.     attention to the briefings, especially re-
The Atlantic side was breathtaking,          garding strong currents and procedures
both for its beauty and the 5-finger          for diving from the tenders. All dives
diving. We more octopuses out during         were drift dives along coral reefs and
the day, turtles galore and schools of       rock ledges, except at one wreck. Diving
tarpon. Crabs of all sizes and shapes,       conditions were variable in visibility,
nudis, fingerprint cyclomas, yellow           current and bottom features. Even
garden eels, a southern stingray the         in relatively poor visibility, there was
size of a manta, and waters thick with       plenty to see. The corals are beautiful
angels. The divemasters, Motley and          and healthy. The tropical fish popula-
Tyson, were outstanding. Not only did        tion is diverse and thriving. We encoun-
they know the reef, but they were truly      tered hawksbill turtles, nurse sharks,
interested in talking about what we’d        tarpon, barracuda, moray eels (green,
seen. The Wind Dancer is not the most        spotted and golden), sharp-nosed eels
stable boat in the world in the choppy       and stingrays. We found sea horses,
waters, so the boat rocked and rolled        large crabs, lobsters, squid, spotted
all night long, even in the “protected”      drums, jaw fish with eggs and bat fish.

                                                                                 231
       The Wider Caribbean Liveaboards                          TURKS AND CAICOS
      Accommodations were generally com-          were especially enjoyable. The T&C
      fortable and the layout was convenient.     Aggressor II is a beautifully appointed
      Some fixtures and furnishings were a         two-year-old boat. Piers has captained
      little worn. There were no thermostats      the Aggressor boats in the Turks and
      in the cabins and some were report-         Caicos for a decade, and he runs a
      edly too warm. The crew was friendly,       smooth operation. The cabins are small,
      attentive and kept everyone informed.       of course, but they are well organized
      Everyone seemed to enjoy the food and       and comfortable. The fluffy terrycloth
      dinners were elegantly presented. There     robes helped compensate for the usual
      were a fish identification slide show         too-cold air conditioning. The large
      and a comical fashion show with guest       sundeck, half open and half covered,
      participation.                              features a wet bar offering water, juices,
                                                  sodas, beer, and wine. Most divers
                                                  dozed away their surface intervals here.
      TURKS AND CAICOS                            The dive deck on this boat is hands
                                                  down the best we have encountered
      Turks and Caicos Aggressor II, No-          on any live-aboard. Large gear stations
      vember 2004, Rickie Sterne/Chrisanda        and easy tank fills of air and nitrox start
      Button (rickandchris@alltel.net),           each dive well. Getting back on board
      Elkins, AR. Experience: 251-500 dives.      is exceptionally easy via the stable
      Vis: 60 to 90 Feet. Water: 80 to 81 F,      ladders with well-placed rungs. Two
      choppy. The diving off uninhabited          warm showers and warm towels were
      French Cay and West Caicos is some          great après-dive. Not to mention the
      of the best Caribbean diving we have        hot cocoa after night dives. The crew
      done. The walls of NW Provo were            was superb. They acted as if they really
      beautiful, but the shallows were sand-      enjoyed their jobs and cared that we
      choked with some algal growth. Hard         were enjoying our vacation. When the
      corals, octocorals, and sponges were in     hairdryer in our cabin malfunctioned,
      good condition and profuse along the        one of the crew members lent me his
      walls and over the shallows. We saw one     for the week. Chef Bob kept great meals
      or two reef sharks on almost every dive.    and snacks pouring out of his tiny
      A single eagle ray soared along the wall    galley, and accommodated both picky
      at G Spot. Stingrays were common on         eaters and people with dietary restric-
      the sandy areas at the tops of the walls.   tions (not to mention those of us who
      T&C seem to be unusually well sup-          get hungry when diving). Annette at the
      plied with queen triggerfish, cowfish,        Aggressor office on Provo and Joe, the
      and indigo hamlets. There were two          Aggressor’s taxi driver, were extremely
      remarkable turtle encounters. On a late     helpful when our luggage was delayed.
      afternoon dive we watched what we be-       The Aggressor home office in Louisiana
      lieved to be a courtship dance between      was unhelpful. Our usual travel agent,
      two white spotted filefish. Night dives       Tony Smith, died after we booked
      brought out many crustaceans. We saw        the trip. His files were picked up by
      a number of speckled morays and an          Caradonna Caribbean Travel. But the
      acre or so of garden eels. Night dives

232

				
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