Stuart Cove's New DPV Dive Sensation:
by Stephen Frink, Feb. 1997
It had been 16 years since I had gone scuba diving without an underwater camera in my hand. Given the tremendous photo opportunities found off the southwestern coast of New Providence Island in The Bahamas, I couldn't imagine I'd be coaxed into diving sans camera. But, during a recent visit to Stuart Cove's Dive South Ocean I heard the excitement in the voices of divers as they came off the boats after trying an exciting new adventure. I decided I'd have to try Wall Flying just to find out what all the buzz was about.
The Concept: Wall Flying is a unique dive program created by Stuart Cove's Dive South Ocean and involving Diver Propulsion Vehicles (DPVs), also called U/W scooters. Dive scooters have been around longer than single hose regulators. It is unusual to see a scooter on a dive boat, not because it is not a fun way to dive, but because they are reasonably expensive and a hassle to travel with. Recognizing the exhilaration and fascination scooters could bring to a dive, Stuart Cove addressed all the problems and benefits of scooter diving with his Wall Flying Adventure.
Much of the diving off New Providence is ideally suited to DPV use, especially the spectacular walls beginning as shallow as 40 feet. The deep ocean abyss known as the Tongue of the Ocean lies just offshore, providing miles of spectacular drop-offs decorated with Purple Tube Sponges, deep water gorgonians and Black Coral. Sharks are prolific along certain areas of the wall, especially around places such as Shark Arena and Shark Wall, where Stuart Cove's Dive South Ocean has created one of the world's premier shark dives.
Stuart decided that, because there's so much great wall diving, dive scooters would be the perfect vehicles to enhance exploration. Also, they would make it fun and effortless. Now the challenge was to make the scooters available to his clientele and design a program specifically tailored to the increased range and mobility inherent in scooter diving.
The Scooter: Once committed to the concept of Wall Flying, Stuart had to find the right DPV. He tested several scooters before choosing the Apollo DPV. (Note: The Apollo DPV is distributed in the United States by Dacor.) He based his decision on the durability of the unit, its ease of battery charging and replacement, and that the Apollo DPV is lightweight (easy to transport on the dive boat), maneuverable and fast. Fourteen Apollo DPVs were purchased to accommodate a maximum of 12 guests and two dive guides on each Wall Flying Adventure.
The Program: The Wall Flying divers are first instructed on the operation and safety considerations of using a DPV. There is just one on/off switch on the Apollo, so operation is quite simple, but there is a best way to channel the prop wash away from the body, keep gauges out of the way and position an octopus so it doesn't purge air accidentally. It is also important to avoid rapid ascents/descents, maintain the buddy system and be able to read gauges while riding along on the scooter. Dive computers are required for the Wall Flying Adventure owing to the multi-level aspect of the profile (Stuart Cove's Dive South Ocean rents Aladin Pro computers for those who don't already own computers). These issues are all addressed in the pre-dive briefing.
The scooters are loaded aboard a dive boat dedicated to the two tank Wall Flying Adventure. The first dive will visit a shipwreck in 40 to 50 feet of water, perhaps the island freighter Willaurie or the James Bond wreck Tears of Allah. This provides a combination of coral reef and wreck as a backdrop while divers learn to maneuver the scooters in a safe and controlled environment. One dive is all it takes to become a proficient scooter diver. By the second dive, riders are doing barrel rolls, playing chicken and generally acting like squadron bombers.
This second dive of the program is what Wall Flying is all about. The boat moors at a special site along the wall and offloads divers and their vehicles. Then, as the group cruises more than a mile along the Tongue of the Ocean, the boat motors on ahead and picks up a different mooring. The whole thing is a sort of motorized drift dive. Underwater guides make sure everyone knows where the boat is. Rather than making a boring safety stop hanging on a line, the group does a 'safety scoot,' a three to five minute buzz around the reef at 15 feet to offgas. What happens in between being offloaded and the safety scoot is the grand adventure of Wall Flying.
A personal reflection on Wall Flying: I felt a little naked entering the water without a camera but riding the scooter fulfilled my need to do something more than just sightsee. The group started out in the same basic direction and, for the most part, we kept our guides in view but we didn't have to ride in formation. We picked the depth we were interested in, obviously choosing our deepest depth first and gradually working up the wall as our personal interests dictated.
There were dozens of Caribbean Reef Sharks around at the beginning of the dive but when we zoomed too near they would tend to dart off. Given a respectful distance, the sharks stayed in the vicinity and provided a fascinating complement to what was a beautiful wall dive. I ventured no deeper than about 75 feet. I saw numerous Black and Nassau Groupers, a school of Horse-eye Jacks, a turtle, an Eagle Ray and, of course, plenty of tube sponges and deep water filter feeders. Of course, the big thing is that we covered so much of the wall in a single dive, probably more than a mile. No wonder we saw a lot!
The thrill of Wall Flying to me is much like riding a motorcycle. You can go fast but, unlike riding in a car, you are much more one with the environment. I felt like a participant more than an observer and for once I didn't feel clumsy and slow compared to almost any fish on the reef. The Wall Flying Adventure was really fun for me. Judging by the level of excitement and enthusiasm of the other guests, I'd say it was a big hit with everyone.
But, there is no way a scooter diver can buddy up with a nonscooter diver, so the most practical way to enjoy the full thrill of the DPV is with a program such as Stuart Cove's Wall Flying Adventure.
In addition to wall dives, Stuart Cove's Dive South Ocean also offers shallow reefs noted for pristine corals and abundant marine life (places such as Pumpkin Patch or Southwest Reef), five different shipwrecks (including the Tears of Allah, Vulcan Bomber, Sea Viking and Bahama Mama) and, of course, truly thrilling shark diving at Shark Runway, Shark Arena or along Shark Wall. These are all Caribbean Reef Shark encounters but there is also an exciting Silky Shark dive opportunity beneath a large tethered buoy in 6,000 feet of water. The Shark Buoy offers a rare chance to see open ocean pelagic life such as Dolphinfish, Wahoo, tuna and, of course, the star of the show, as many as a dozen Silkies.
Underwater photo enthusiasts will appreciate the services of the new Fin Photo Center at Stuart Cove's Dive South Ocean. Under the direction of resident photo pro Pamela Christman (a talented still shooter and videographer with credits that include most of the dive publications as well as broadcast television), Fin Photo offers E-6 film processing, camera and video rentals, custom still and video shoots, Cibachrome prints from slides and photo instruction. Guests are invited to charge their batteries, load cameras, edit film or even store their cameras overnight at Fin Photo.
Stuart Cove's Dive South Ocean is at the South Ocean Golf and Beach Resort, a lovely 190 acre complex featuring a PGA rated 18 hole golf course, 1,500 feet of beach frontage and amenities that include 250 rooms, two swimming pools, tennis courts, exercise room, child care facility, three restaurants and several bars. The dive center features a fleet of five fiberglass V-hull custom dive boats, a massive compressed air system with an incredible 90,000 cubic feet of cascade storage and ample classrooms, guest gear storage and retail areas. For further information about Wall Flying or any of the other dive/lodging packages, contact Stuart Cove's Dive South Ocean at (800) 879-9832 or, on New Providence, at (809) 362-4171; phone/fax (809) 362-5227.
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