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  • The Graceful Cuan Law
    This Elegant Trimaran is the Perfect Host for Your Next Luxury BVI Dive Excursion
    by Bill HArrigan
    Cuan Law was sailing down Drake's Passage Friday evening, with the sun setting in golden splendor off the bow and a full moon rising astern like a radiant white balloon. Explorers and pirates had sailed here 300 years ago, warmed by the same sun and propelled by the same wind along this exact course. Today we were enjoying the perfect end to a glorious week of perpetually blue skies, tropical breezes wafting gently through protected bays and warm water shimmering over colorful coral reefs. Sitting on deck with new friends that I seem to have known for years, I tried to remember the adventures we had shared that made us so comfortable together now. The week had already blurred, though, into a pleasant stream of diving, sailing, eating, laughing, sunning and relaxing. We were left with a unique sensation of feeling spent and rested at the same time. It seemed the ideal way to finish a dive vacation, something I suspect happens on Cuan Law every week.

    DESIGNED FOR DIVING

    Custom designed for live-aboard diving and sailing, Cuan Law spans a piece of the ocean 105 feet long and 44 feet wide, providing lots of living space. The seven crew members, headed up by captain Danny Betta, make you feel at home immediately. Two doors on deck lead to the enormous salon, which looks more like the parlor of a fine hotel with its wall to wall carpet and comfortable couches. Ten overhead hatches and framed prints on the walls make it bright and cheery. This is the social center of the boat and the location of the bar with free sodas, juices and an impressive assortment of beer and other alcoholic drinks. Ten double cabins are arranged in a U-shape around the salon, each with air-conditioning, two overhead hatches, a big window and a private bathroom. The beds can be made up as either queens or two singles and there is plenty of walking-around space. The toilet works just like the one at home, so you don't have to worry about which valve or lever to push first. All of Cuan Law's systems seemed to function flawlessly, thanks to engineer Gerry Matts expertise.

    The second salon, in the back of the boat, also functions as a theater with a collection of TV movies and a video editing center. Danny and Gerry use the equipment to produce and sell a video of the trip that will be great to watch while the snow is coming down back home. They will also help you edit your own video into a polished production.

    The full width teak afterdeck is transformed from efficient dive deck to charming waterfront restaurant three times a day, a feat made possible by the clever design of the teak tables and chairs and the efficiency of hostesses Emma Askfelt and Vicky Jamieson. Breakfast and lunch are buffetstyle; dinner is a more formal sit down affair complete with wine. Think of 18 or 20 of the best meals you've ever had and you'll have a good idea of the level of dining chef Kim Huish provides aboard Cuan Law. Freshly baked appetizers, bowls of chocolate goodies and fresh fruit are placed in the salon for between meal snacks. This week is an excellent time to relax and enjoy superb cuisine;but don't come hoping to lose weight!

    CUAN LAW DIVING

    Diving in the British Virgin Islands exactly matches the pace and quality of life aboard Cuan Law;easy and excellent. Most of the dives are not deep or demanding. The water temperature is above 80F most of the year and the visibility is usually in the 60 to 120 foot range. Surface conditions are normally quite calm and strong currents are unusual. Although large animals such as Caribbean Reef Sharks, Manta Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays and even Whale Sharks are sometimes seen, the British Virgin Islands are known more for their incredible diversity of reef fish. Pick up a fish ID book for the Caribbean and you can find almost everything in it here. The natural abundance of the reefs is protected by the National Parks Trust, which works in association with the BVI dive operators. Mooring buoys minimize anchor damage and regulations prohibit damaging or removing any plant or animal, keeping the reefs packed with life.

    Three dives are planned each day, including a morning dive after breakfast, an afternoon dive after lunch and a night dive. In between there is time for kayaking, Hobie Cat sailing, snorkeling or even additional diving. Dive sites are available throughout the island chain, so Danny picks the ones that are likely to have the best conditions at the time. Either Johanna Askfelt or Gavin Bladen;PADI instructors;go on every dive; buddy teams can either stay with them or go off on their own.

    Diving could be easier if you had a caddie to carry your tank and hand you caddie to carry your tank and hand you your camera with the correct lens for each shot but almost everything short of that is done for you on Cuan Law. The routine is simple and convenient: throw on a shorty, pull your mask, fins and weightbelt out of your private bin and step up to the waist-high platform where Johanna or Gavin has your BC waiting. Buckle up and step away, ready to go. When you come back aboard, putting your tank away is less trouble than checking your coat at a restaurant.

    Most of the diving is done from a pair of new 20 foot rigid hull inflatables. The fiberglass V-hulls also give them a much smoother ride. There is no awkward climbing necessary to board the inflatables, just walk down a wide ladder to a broad platform where a crew member is waiting to help you get seated.

    Alice's Wonderland, off the rocky cliffs of Ginger Island, offers acres of coral ridges and mounds, piled high during centuries of industrious growth by Star and Brain Corals. The diving is excellent at any depth from 20 feet down to about 80. The lobster here make restaurant-sized crustaceans seem like mere bugs. Carvel Rock rises abruptly from the bottom of the deep channel between Ginger and Cooper Islands. A comfortable pace will let you cover about half of the rocks underwater circumference, which is liberally coated with green and orange sponges, seafans and globes of brain coral. Queen Angelfish, French Angelfish, Spadefish and Horse-eye Jacks are nearly always in residence but the mid-channel location of the rock is likely to attract almost anything. Coral Garden is an excellent shallow dive, day or night. Octopus, Spiny Lobster and Nurse Sharks are often seen among the large boulders of Star Coral.

    The colorful canyons at Painted Walls are like corridors in an underwater art gallery. Three parallel passages with vertical walls run perpendicular to Dead Chest Island, each with vivid coatings of corals and sponges. Nurse Sharks and Hawksbill Turtles are likely to be resting in the passageways or roaming at the entrance. There are lots of interesting smaller creatures, too, such as Fingerprint Cyphoma and Atlantic Deer Cowry. The Pillar Coral at Painted Walls has grown from several large colonies to a dozen or so healthy patches.

    When the wind is from the right direction, the submerged pinnacles at Santa Monica Rocks are an interesting dive with lots of craggy overhangs. The vertical rise attracts many fish, including Barracuda, Bar Jacks, Horse-eye Jacks and cruising Cero Mackerel. Reef fish such as Rock Beauties and Stoplight Parrotfish are prolific among the sponges and corals. The freighter Inganess Bay was sunk in 80 feet of water between Salt Island and Cooper Island in August of 1996, creating an interesting new wreck dive that will steadily improve as the ocean claims it.

    The Royal Mail Ship Rhone is consistently voted one of the ten best wrecks in the world and the appellation is well deserved. The vessel rests in two main sections off Salt Island, near the formation called Black Rock upon which it broke in two during a hurricane in 1867. The bow, with its graceful bowsprit, is about 80 feet at the deepest part. The stern section, with the propeller and rudder intact, is much shallower. Scattered between are boilers, deck supports and other pieces, many holding fascinating relics of the ship such as tools or silverware. The holds are lined with Orange Cup Corals and filled with schools of snappers and jacks. Almost every solid surface of the wreck is covered with a kaleidoscope of corals and sponges. Diving the Rhone from Cuan Law is particularly nice because on two out of the three scheduled dives, an early morning dive and a spectacular night dive, you have the wreck to yourselves.

    TRAVEL INFORMATION

    The British Virgin Islands are only a hop, skip and a jump from anywhere in the U.S. American Airlines flies to Tortola via San Juan, Puerto Rico, with a choice of several flights each day. U.S. citizens can enter the BVI with a certified birth certificate or voters registration, along with a photo ID or a passport. T-shirts, shorts and bathing suits are the standard outfit on Cuan Law, with perhaps a warmup suit for the sometimes cooler winter evenings.

    For reservations or more information about Cuan Law, call Trimarine at (800) 648-3393. If you have any special requests or just want to talk directly with owners Duncan and Annie Muirhead, call them at (809) 494-2490. You can also reach them by fax at (809) 494-5774 or write to Trimarine at P.O. Box 4065, St. Thomas, USVI 00803.