Text and Photography by Bill Harrigan
Our trip cruised the reefs north and west of Grand Bahama Island, working south across the Gingerbread Grounds to Bimini before returning to Fort Lauderdale. One of our first stops was White Sand Ridge, the habitual territory of a pod of wild Spotted Dolphins willing to share their underwater antics with snorkelers. Their grace, speed and maneuverability are incredible! Since they are wild, there are no guarantees they'll show up or stay to play, but the chances are good. About 10:30 am, four Spotted Dolphin showed up to invite us into their world. For the next hour or so we watched them nose in the sand for food, zoom around with abandon and swim slowly in a tightly knit formation. Judging by their size and number of spots, which increase with age, the group included one youngster and three adults. Periodically the youngest would swim right up to us for a close look, escorted by one of the adults. Swimming in sync with dolphins is so cool!
I love exploring new places, especially underwater. The possibility of seeing something new gives every dive an element of adventure, no matter where we go. And, there are few better places on earth to explore the mysteries of the sea than on the countless reefs, walls and wrecks of The Bahamas. With more than 700 islands and rocks spread over an area about the size of Connecticut, much of The Bahamas must be considered remote, even though it is only a short hop from Florida. Live-aboard dive boats such as Nekton Pilot provide access to those rarely visited spots on the fringes, places where an underwater explorer can truly cover fresh ground and see the previously unseen.
After the dolphins left we headed to a pristine site called Mt. Olympus, definitely one of the best dives in The Bahamas. Two large coral buttes are on the edge of a sloping wall here, with a number of smaller mounds scattered around. Descending toward the top of the buttes at 60 feet, we could see large hemispheres of Smooth Brain Coral and mounds of Giant Star Coral while Deep Water Seafans and a dazzling array of sponges coated the sides. Orange Elephant Ear, long brown branches of Moose Antler, Purple Tube Sponges and Leathery Barrel Sponges pack each vertical crevice. Look in any direction on Mt. Olympus and you'll probably see fish from the full spectrum of Bahamas species. Schools of Horse-eye Jacks circle overhead and reef fish such as Queen Angels and Rainbow Parrots munch on the coral and sponges. Predators are well represented by Nassau and Tiger Groupers, Great Barracuda and Spotted Morays. A Spotted Eagle Ray swam idly past as we finned around the buttes and explored the overhangs.
The Sugar Wreck is just about the most fun you can have in less than 20 feet of water. The metal ribs, plating, deck machinery, anchors and masts of this vessel host the thickest concentration of reef fish I've ever seen in one place. We were neck deep in Yellow Goatfish, French Grunts and Mangrove Snappers across the entire wreck. If you want to see Pufferfish, this is the place because there's one every ten feet. A pair of gravid Nurse Sharks lurked beneath the hull plates, sharing the space with reclusive Blackbar Soldierfish and a Spotted Moray.
The diving policy on Nekton Pilot is perfect for sites such as the Sugar Wreck. Within the normal sport diving limits you can dive as much as you want, when you want, so we easily had time for two daylight dives and one night dive on the wreck. Night ushered a new set of players to the stage, including a huge old Loggerhead Turtle covered with barnacles the size of golf balls. Five remoras hung on to various parts of the turtle's broad carapace, clearly unwelcome guests.
The Hesperus is another superb shallow Bahamas wreck. This barge was carrying sacks of cement to the islands when it sank north of Bimini. Lying in only 20 feet of water and surrounded by vast plains of eel grass, the Hesperus attracts marine life like an oasis in the desert. Thousands of Blue Striped and French Grunts swarm around the intact bow and stern sections and huddle in closely packed schools in the shelter of the deck plates and hardened bags of cement. In addition to many large Ocean Sunfish, a dozen free swimming remoras and a couple of Nurse Sharks, we were surprised to find a ten foot Sawfish lying on the sand near the bow. It let us get close enough for a good look at its bizarre, wicked-looking saw before it swam off. At dusk, five enormous Loggerheads arrived to spend the night sleeping within the protective walls of the wreck.
By Wednesday we were just more than halfway through our week of exploration. Nekton Pilot had proved to be an excellent vessel with a fun loving, hard working crew and she was our ship now, at least for a few more days. Ahead lay the Gingerbread Grounds and more adventure!
Nekton Pilot's advanced SWATH design provides extraordinary stability, which significantly reduces problems with seasickness. The design also provides a lot of living space, so the cabins are huge and you never feel crowded. The on-board amenities and service are what really make a week on Nekton Pilot fun, though. My favorites include:
- Dry towels after every dive
- Warm water shower on dive deck
- Two dedicated camera rinse barrels and tables
- Set your own dive schedule
- Adjustable dive deck for easy entries/exits
- All cabins with large private baths and daily fresh towels
- Individually adjustable air-conditioning
- Picture windows in every cabin
- Great meals and snacks
- Fun, talented crew
- Daily E-6 film processing
- Underwater camera and video rental/instruction
- Dive instruction includes open water, advanced, specialties
- Enormous sundeck with whirlpool
- Kayaks, snorkel boat
For more information, contact:
Nekton Diving Cruises
520 SE 32nd Street
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33316
(800) UW-WORLD (U.S./Canada).
From other locations, call (954) 463-9324 or fax (954) 463-8938.