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  • A Rhapsody of Dive Adventure Awaits Those Lucky Enough to Catch Sea Fever
    by Stephen Frink
    The question most commonly asked of dive journalists is Where is your favorite place to dive? The question encompasses the whole world of exotic diving and is generally too broad to answer. So, the second most commonly asked question seems to be Where is your favorite place to dive in the Caribbean? For me the answer is one that involves a couple of disclaimers. First, one of my favorite destinations is not in the Caribbean Sea at all but in the southern Atlantic Ocean. And second, it is not a single island but a collection of 700 islands. However, considered in its entirety, Id have to say The Islands of Bahamas offer the best dive adventure in this hemisphere.

    At this point the questioner will inevitably ask 'Yeah, but where in The Bahamas?' That is a more difficult question, for I've had great diving throughout The Bahamas. In the Northern Bahamas, off the West End of Grand Bahama, I've snorkeled with a large pod of Spotted Dolphins along a shallow bank known as White Sand Ridge, dived dramatic walls decorated with Black Coral and colorful sponges and had terrific night dives at the shallow Sugar Wreck. At Cay Sal Bank, I've dived unique oceanic blue holes, fed Sharpnose Sharks and photographed incredibly vibrant and colorful filter feeders along the vertical wall. In the Western Bahamas, in the area from Bimini to Orange Cay, I've snorkeled with Spotted Dolphins at Eldorado Shoal, photographed Caribbean Reef Sharks at Shark Reef and dived with the huge schools of fish that now occupy the Bimini Trader and the Bimini Barge. In the Berry Islands and off North Andros, I've explored the Lady Moore, swimming amid myriad Silversides and schooling grunts. The shallow Elkhorn forests off the Jolter Cays and Holmes Reef provide stunning snorkeling opportunities and, for good reason, Chub Cay is known as the Fishbowl of The Bahamas. And, in the Southern Bahamas, I've been thrilled by true 200 foot water clarity off San Salvador, dived the incredible walls and historical shipwrecks of Conception Island and photographed the tame groupers and abundant reef fish of Rum Cay. Ive visited all of these amazing dive sites, and many more, aboard the live-aboard Sea Fever.

    As you might imagine, the dives mentioned did not happen in a single week, on a single cruise but over nearly two decades of diving with my friend, Captain Tom Guarino. Tom began offering diving services in The Bahamas in 1974, with a day boat operation visiting the reefs and wrecks off Bimini. In 1978, Tom became involved in the early era of dive live-aboards with a 40 foot boat christened Sea Fever. By 1983, Tom was the first dive entrepreneur to realize the potential the crew boats designed to work the oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico might have as a dive live-aboard. He converted a 90 foot aluminum crew boat and gave it the same name as his first live-aboard. The new Sea Fever was bigger, faster and, in all ways, better. Its extended range and cruising comfort gave Captain Tom the means to explore, discover and offer his clients the very best diving in The Bahamas, no matter where it might be found.

    With six distinct itineraries, it is hard to decide which Sea Fever adventure to join.

    Each Sea Fever itinerary is constantly evolving as Captain Tom and crew explore new areas. For example, the Exumas/Eleuthera tour is quite a bit different than when I took the trip in 1995. It still departs Nassau but now includes the northern Exumas all the way to the southwest tip of Eleuthera. Some of the highlights include wall dives along Eleuthera, such as the fantastically photogenic Whips and Chains. This whimsical name alludes to an old anchor chain that loops down the wall to 180 feet and then terminates in an anchor embedded in a ledge at just 70 feet. The chain drips with Black Coral, large sponges and seawhips, while the anchor provides a terrific wide angle set-up.

    Just to shoreward is the shallow Fluke Reef, one of several outstanding macro and night dives on this itinerary.

    For pelagic enthusiasts, the pinnacle known as Marlin Mountain has delivered Sailfish and Marlin sightings on rare occasions. Rich populations of reef dwellers such as Tiger Groupers, however, are a sure thing.

    Off Highbourne Cay is a new wreck, the Austin Smith. It was named for one of three Bahamian crewmen killed when a Cuban MIG fired on a Bahamian Defense Force vessel in the process of arresting Cuban lobster poachers off Ragged Island. The Austin Smith was once a Cape Class U.S. Coast Guard cutter. This 95 footer worked as a Royal Bahamas Defense Force vessel for years before being decommissioned and sunk as an artificial reef in 60 feet of water. In the year she has been down, this perfectly upright vessel has attracted lots of resident fish and is a great wreck dive.

    Little San Salvador island is a perfect blend of topside beauty and underwater delight. Along the West Bay is a gorgeous anchorage with turquoise water lapping a broad white sand beach ideal for those seeking to renew their land legs. Offshore is a series of giant pinnacles draped in deep water gorgonians and Black Coral, as well as a wall site known as Matterhorn, where massive pink tube sponges decorate the wall from 60 to 100 feet.

    Still, one of the most exciting dives of the Exumas/Eleuthera itinerary is the appropriately named Danger Cay, where a wonderful Caribbean Reef Shark encounter has evolved. Dangerous Reef is the site and the stars of the show are one-half dozen Caribbean Reef Sharks that are in no way shy about posing for pictures, a particularly brazen Nurse Shark and, perhaps the most aggressive of the lot, a pair of Black Groupers, obviously accustomed to being handfed. A drift dive along the tidal flow through Wax Cut provides a high velocity glimpse of gorgeous shallow reef comprised of brain and Star Corals punctuated by giant sponges and gorgonians.

    Cat Island is a highlight of this itinerary and, as the Sea Fever visits the area with greater regularity, ever more exciting dives are logged. A pod of Spotted Dolphins off Hawksnest shows promise of future interaction and off Port Howe there is a series of pinnacles that top out at 50 feet and drop off into the deep blue abyss. Huge schools of grunts and goatfish inhabit these pinnacles but, as good as the reef critters are, it is always prudent to keep an eye seaward for the turtles and Eagle Rays frequently cruising past.

    The Sea Fever is a 90 foot aluminum live-aboard that has been under nearly constant renovation and improvement since Captain Guarino bought her. She is powered by three 12 cylinder diesel engines and can cruise at 17 knots. Her cabin configurations are for 14 passengers in seven fully air-conditioned staterooms and there are amenities such as an E-6 darkroom, underwater video with 8mm and VHS decks for editing and playback, reverse osmosis watermaker, full marine electronics and a complete galley. The oversized dive deck has tank racks, a dive platform with extended ladders, camera table and freshwater rinse. For nitrox aficionados or those who wish to become PADI or IANTD nitrox certified, the Sea Fever is the first live-aboard to offer the UBS Nitrox membrane system to extract nitrogen from the air, thereby enhancing the percentage of oxygen necessary in enriched air mixes. This system eliminates the fire hazard that pure oxygen might present and does not require dive gear to be oxygen clean.

    For further information about the Sea Fever schedule of Bahamas dive adventures, phone (800) 443-3837 (44-FEVER) or (757) 481-2075 or write to 1413 N. Great Neck Rd., Virginia Beach, VA 23454. The e-mail address is seafever@seafever.com or to visit their Web Site call up http://www.seafever.com.