Sea Eye Diving
Your Guide to Grand Turk's Diving
Text and Photography by Bill Harrigan
Diving is delightful off Grand Turk, where one of the world's most spectacular walls is only a few hundred yards off the beach. This is diving as it is meant to be convenient and fun in glorious conditions with tons of marine life. Where else can you step off the beach onto a small boat, ride for about three minutes and drop over the side into unbelievably blue water where the edge of the coral drops from 40 feet to infinity? How about snorkeling with stingrays, playing with curious groupers or cruising pristine coral reefs? These are only a few of the diving experiences off Grand Turk and Sea Eye Diving can guide you to all the best.
There are few people who know the waters off Grand Turk as well as Cecil Ingham. Cecil grew up on these beaches and learned many of the ocean's secrets while he was still in grade school. He has always enjoyed sharing the beauty of Grand Turk reefs, so becoming a PADI instructor in 1986 was a natural decision. Cecil and partner Connie Rus opened Sea Eye Diving in 1992 and have expanded it slowly, determined to keep the service personal and the boats uncrowded. Sea Eye Diving now offers dive instruction from resort courses to instructor, as well as most of the warm water specialty courses. A full range of rental equipment is available, including dive computers. Underwater photography is a specialty at Sea Eye Diving, which offers daily E-6 film processing. Rental Nikonos cameras with a selection of lenses and underwater video cameras are also available.
The staff members at Sea Eye Diving are one of the reasons people keep coming back to dive Grand Turk. Divemasters Malcolm Adams, Algrove 'Smitty' Smith and MacDonald 'Macky' Williams are all from the Turks and Caicos and share Cecil and Connie's intimate knowledge of the reefs. This trio obviously takes your safety seriously, but they are also great fun to dive with. Normally divers go out with the same divemaster during their stay on Grand Turk, which works well because they can arrange dives according to your preferences and abilities. All of them have easy going manners and infectious smiles that brighten every Sea Eye Diving boat.
The boats are 24 foot Carolinas, perfectly suited to the conditions on the protected leeward side of Grand Turk. They are stable, well-maintained outboard boats with Bimini tops and dive ladders. There are four of them, which means the number of divers on each one can be kept low. It also gives Sea Eye Diving the ability to accommodate simultaneous requests for different dive locations. The boats will pick you up on the beach outside your hotel and zip you out to the dive sites a trip that generally takes around five minutes. Between dives the boats come back to the beach so you can spend your surface interval comfortably lounging in a hammock with a cold beverage in your hand.
Grand Turk Diving
Diving conditions in Grand Turk are excellent year-round. In the summer the water temperature hovers around 85 degrees F. It stays above 80 degrees F most of the year, dropping only to about 76 degrees F during the winter. The normal range of visibility is 80 to 120 feet but, when the weather is settled, it will often reach 150 feet on the walls. Easy diving on pristine walls and moderately shallow reefs is the main attraction, but there are also many possible animal encounters. Getting eyeball to eyeball with a big Nassau or Tiger Grouper is pretty routine. So is coming across a Hawksbill or Green Sea Turtle. Flying Gurnards are seen frequently and divers who know where to look can usually find seahorses. During the summer months giant Manta Rays are often seen cruising along the walls. Topside dolphin encounters occur often and there have been a few memorable in-water encounters. Humpback Whales migrate past Grand Turk in February and March and although they have only been seen by divers on rare occasions, their songs can be heard echoing through the water.
Five species of Black Coral can be seen along the wall at Black Forest. Don't look for coral that is black in color, though. The name refers to the protein skeleton of some Black Coral species, but the jet black color is only apparent after the coral has been processed into jewelry or sculptures. Of course, these corals are within the Columbus Land and Sea Park so they won't suffer that fate. Underwater, Black Coral will appear white, pink, green or rust colored. Wire Coral, another member of the Black Coral family, can be bright yellow or even lime green.
MacDonald's Arch is named for the graceful coral swim-through on the edge of the wall. At Tunnels a series of deep cuts knife down through the top of the wall, exiting about 75 feet down. Below the opening, the wall is coated with Elephant Ear Sponges, Green Tube Sponges, soft corals and Plate Corals.
The reef at Coral Gardens is a classic Caribbean style reef, formed by a series of ridges and slopes made up principally of Star and Brain Corals. Soft corals, like seafans and searods, are also abundant. The fish life here is incredibly prolific, including some very friendly groupers.
Library is a shallow reef named for the picturesque library that is directly opposite the reef on the shore. The reef also extends to a section of the wall with interesting undercuts, so the Library can be either a deep or shallow dive. Library is also one of several great night dive sites visited by Sea Eye Diving. Fish that are active during the day, referred to as diurnal fish, are tucked away in holes all over the reef and nocturnal fish, the night feeders, are out foraging.
Don't miss the opportunity to spend some time on SunRay Beach. Sea Eye Diving offers a snorkel/barbecue excursion there that is the perfect antidote to personal stress. The beach is on Gibb's Cay, a small island close to Grand Turk, protected from development. If you close your eyes and imagine the perfect beach, you'll probably have a good idea of how SunRay Beach looks. White sand and warm, clear water, dunes topped with sea oats, blue sky, golden sunlight and peaceful quietness are its primary features. Smitty also makes his famous fresh conch salad here, a true culinary delight and also the original source of another SunRay Beach attraction. The discards from the conch attracted Southern Stingrays to the area and now there is a resident population. Several Spotted Eagle Rays and a small shark or two have also begun to show up off SunRay Beach.
Like their Stingray City brethren, the stingrays have adapted to interaction with humans. Just stick on a mask and snorkel and you can watch them feed in three or four feet of water. It is a fascinating opportunity to see and even touch these unusual fish.
There are two easy routes to Grand Turk. American Airlines provides twice daily service to Providenciales and a number of inter-island carriers make the short hop over to Grand Turk. Alternatively, Lynx Air flies twin engine turboprops directly from Ft. Lauderdale. A passport or certified birth certificate and photo ID is all that is required. Money and electricity are both U.S. standard. T-shirts and shorts are the general rule and visitors are only asked not to wear bathing suits in town.
For more information, contact Sea Eye Diving by phone or fax at (809) 946-1407. They can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and by regular mail at P.O. Box 67, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies. Additional information is available at the Sea Eye Diving Web site at http://www. interlog.com/~reefnet/GTurk.