Oh, What a Thrill!
Shark, Dolphin and Wreck Dives
in the Bahamas with UNEXSO
by Bonnie J. Cardone, Dec. 1997
The Underwater Explorers Society boat left the dock with a full load. There were 14 of us; 10 guests, 1 shark feeder, 2 safety divers and 1 videographer. It was pretty obvious who was staff and who wasn't; the staff was donning stainless steel chainmail suits. The guests, on the other hand, were notable for their warm water dress (most of us wore only nylon/Lycra skins) and multitude of cameras. We had already seen a video of a Shark Dive and received a briefing of what to expect, along with dos and don'ts. Now we were actually going to dive with Caribbean Reef Sharks and watch a UNEXSO staffer handfeed them.
We pulled up to the site and tied off to the buoy, then, one by one, we entered the water. From the surface we could see sharks lazily cruising below us. We descended to the bottom at 45 feet. When everyone was U/W, a safety diver led us to the feeding site and we arranged ourselves in a semi-circle with our backs to what's left of an old hyperbaric chamber. The sharks were already finning lazily by. Stingrays, groupers, jacks and Yellowtail Snappers were also in attendance. We all knew what was going to happen and nobody; the denizens of the deep included; wanted to miss anything!
I was on one end of the line, with a friend, Mike, on my right, a safety diver on my left. Noting we were all settled, the feeder began pulling whole dead fish out of a special container. Each fish was snapped up immediately! The feeder moved up and down in front of us, giving everyone a great view of the action. The videographer and the sharks; I counted 18; a ray or two and a multitude of Yellowtails and jacks circled him. It was a movable feast and an U/W circus all in one! I was amazed at the size of the sharks; some were at least eight feet long. Seeing them in action only a few feet in front of me left no doubt of their power. The sharks, however, showed absolutely no interest in anything except the food.
All too soon it was over. I had shot two rolls of film and spent several entrancing minutes just watching when the feeder shuffled off to my left, taking the circus with him. In a few minutes, calm prevailed and only the divers were left. At a signal from one of the safety divers, we filed off to the ascent line and returned to the boat. My computer showed a bottom time of 47 minutes; wow, had time passed quickly!
The Shark Dive was certainly one of the highlights of our stay at UNEXSO and several of us have the souvenir video ($35, available a few minutes after each dive at the Photo and Video Centre) that documents our participation (it's guaranteed not to bore family and friends!). The Shark Dive, however, is not the only wonderful adventure UNEXSO has to offer. Our weekend package also included a Dolphin Dive and Theo's Wreck.
I had wanted to experience the Dolphin Dive since it was introduced in 1990, so this was the fulfillment of a dream. As Mike would later enthusiastically remark, 'It was a hoot!' Leaving the UNEXSO dock, we traveled to Sanctuary Bay by boat to pick up dolphin trainers, Veronica and Chris, and the dolphins, Robalo and Kyla. We also got a briefing on what to expect and learned some handsignals that would bring the dolphins to us. As we cruised out to the dive site, the dolphins followed another boat running next to ours. If we had brought topside cameras we would have gotten great shots of the dolphins jumping and otherwise cavorting between the two boats; they seemed to be having a wonderful time!
On the site, the nine of us descended to the bottom and settled upon the sand at 44 feet. The dolphins and their trainers made the rounds, making sure everyone had plenty of time with each animal. All of us got to touch and feed the dolphins, received several dolphin kisses and were spun in circles by the dolphins.
Did we buy the souvenir video of this dive? You bet!
The third dive on our weekend agenda was Theo's Wreck. Intentionally sunk as a dive attraction for UNEXSO, the wreck is 228 feet long. She lies on her port side in 100 feet of water but divers can stay as shallow as 80 feet and still see most of her.
The divers gear up and enter the water, then a guide leads the group down to the wreck along a line. Theo's has been made very accessible to divers. There are large cargo holds and compartments to swim into and out of, some containing Glassy Sweepers. Since the wreck has been down for 15 years, she has considerable marine growth; including colorful gorgonians; and lots of fish. The various structures and machinery provide great photo ops and sightseeing.
At the end of the dive, guests swim along the top of the wreck to the ascent line. For safety's sake, there's a spare tank with regulator tied to the line near the surface. Be forewarned: You are very likely to find one dive on Theo's Wreck is not enough. There is so much to see you'll probably want to return.
UNEXSO offers very reasonable dive packages, including air travel, that range from two nights/three dives to seven nights/nine dives in length. There is a choice of six hotels. The packages include breakfast at the Brass Helmet (UNEXSO's restaurant/bar), as well as tanks, weights and weightbelt.
We stayed at Pelican Bay Resort, opened just last year and a five minute stroll from UNEXSO. Our air-conditioned rooms were spacious, very nicely furnished and all had balconies or patios that overlook the very pleasant pool/spa and bar area. We transported our gear to the boat the first day, then put down a deposit for a lock (you get your money back when you return the lock) and stored our gear in a UNEXSO dock locker. Tanks, weights and belts are available from the dive center, which has a freshwater rinse tank right in front of it.
Although Pelican Bay does not have a restaurant, guests can always get a meal or a snack at the Brass Helmet. And, a five minute walk farther is the Port Lucaya Market Place, which has numerous restaurants. (On the way there you'll pass the Straw Market, which is a great place to shop for native crafts.)
UNEXSO is in Port Lucaya, on the southwest end of Grand Bahama Island, a little more than 100 miles from Miami, Florida. The flight between Miami International Airport and Freeport takes about 40 minutes. UNEXSO is about a 15 minute taxi ride (taxis are cheap) from the Freeport airport.
For more information on UNEXSO's dive packages call (800) 992-DIVE (3483). You can also write to P.O. Box 22878, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33335, call (954) 351-9889 or fax (954) 351-9740. In The Bahamas call (242) 373-1244 or fax (242) 373-8956.
More Flights to the Solomon Islands: Solomon Airlines' flights to and from the Solomon Islands via Nadi have increased from one to two per week.
Flights will arrive in Honiara via Nadi Tuesdays and Sundays, and return Tuesdays and Saturdays. This is in addition to flights via Auckland, Vila, Port Moresby and Brisbane.
Rick Belmare of Bilikiki Cruises says the live-aboards Bilikiki and Spirit of Solomons will be running 7, 9, 11 and 13 night charters in line with the new schedules, with no overnights required in Honiara.
For more details on departures with Bilikiki Cruises, phone (800) 663-5363, fax (250) 383-6598 or e-mail bilikiki@ horizon.bc.ca.