Last February, we took a group to New Providence Island in the Bahamas. This island is home to the town of Nassau and is commonly referred by that name. Nassau is famous as a cruise destination and also well known for wreck and shark diving. In a nutshell, that is what we wanted to see, wrecks and sharks. We were not disappointed.
What made this trip interesting is that we tried our hand at family travel. Once we found out that kids under 12 stayed free, we started asking some friends with kids if they would be interested in going and having some little ones tag along. It turned out to be quite an adventure. In all we had 12 adults and 5 kids on the trip. We stayed at the South Ocean Golf and Beach Resort and dove with the on site operator, Stuart Cove's. South Ocean is located on the southwest corner of the island, about 30 minutes from downtown. It had a great beach right out your front door, the dive shop next door and great dive sites not more than 10 minutes from shore.
A few words on South Ocean, first off it is remote. They have two restaurants on site but neither were very good and both were fairly expensive. The service was lousy, the maid service sporadic, and every few days the key cards we had would stop working. Having said that, we loved the place. The rooms had kitchens so we bought some food and did breakfast and lunch in our room. We rented a car with another family and rode into town each night for dinner. And then the fact that we were right on the beach made up for any other short comings. The beach was great, nice soft sand with warm, shallow, calm water a few steps away. It was a perfect spot to have your kids with. I read some reviews online and had to laugh. I love it when arrogant American travel abroad and are shocked to find things are not the same as they are at home!! Can you image, how dare people in a third world country who work six days a week in a service job for $100/week not bow and cater to my every demand!! Dave's First Rule of Travel-Patience and a smile go a long way.
Now a few words on Stuart Cove's. This has to be one of the best dive operators I have ever used. It's well run, the staff were extremely friendly and accommodating and even though we had a smaller group we felt like we ran the place. The shop itself is a series of small building connected together along a dock on a small lagoon where the boats are docked. It has a distinctive "wharfy" look to it all as it was remodeled when they filmed the movie "Flipper" here back in the early 90's. With all the kids in our group, we had some parents who only dove one or two days. Out of our 12, we had 5-6 divers who went out each day. We still had a nice big boat all to ourselves and the same crew each day. Irvine, a local fellow from Long Cay, was the captain. Beth, a Canadian ex-investment magazine editor, was our divemaster and Verity, an English lass, was our photographer. Each day, Beth would hope in for the first dive then sit out the second. Verity would be in the water for the first 10-15 minutes of each dive taking pictures then jump out. After the first day, they realized we could hold our own so we were pretty much left alone.
After the first nice reef dive, I took a poll and we all agreed that if we dove nothing but wrecks the rest of the week, we'd be happy. Let's face it, you've seen 1 angelfish, you've seen them all. With that in mind, we dove the Bond Wrecks, the Bahama Mama, the Ray of Hope, the Willaurie, the Steel Forest and numerous other smaller boats. The Ray of Hope and the Steel Forest were my favorites. The Ray of Hope is the secondary shark feeding site so as soon as we tied up to the mooring buoy, we could see sharks circling under the boat. Needless to say, you didn't want to spend too much time splashing at the surface when you hit the water. The Steel Forest is 3 wrecks right next to each other so you get to explore to your heart's content. Most of these boats were intentionally sunk so they were pretty safe for penetration. They were in the 50-70 foot range and very easy to navigate. **WARNING-Wreck penetration is potentially hazardous (and addictive) and should only be done by those with proper training and experience.** Frankly, that's why I was here. I have over 1200 dives but maybe only 10 or so on wrecks you could actually penetrate. I wanted to get some experience on fairly safe, shallow wrecks so when the opportunity to dive Truk or Bikini comes along I will be ready. My Divemaster/friend Duke and I spent every minute as deep inside these wrecks as we could to practice proper buoyancy, proper finning and line placement and reel use. This lead to a few good stories.
So there we were, completely surrounded…wait that's a different story. So there I was, about two rooms deep in the cabin of a wreck when I saw Steve Palmer, one of our other instructors cruising up along the walkway through the windows. I quickly swam up and as he passed the porthole, reached out and grabbed his leg. The jump he did out of his wetsuits was well worth it. Funny, the water seemed to warm up a little bit too. Hmm. On one of our last dives, I tried to follow Duke under a small opening into the bow area of a wreck. I guess I am a little bit wider than Duke because he fit and I didn't. So I'm trying to swim out while he was trying to pull me in. On another dive, Beth told us about an air pocket in the bow of one of the wrecks. Naturally we had to find it. I did and once I came up into it, I got covered in an oily substance that had gathered on top of the water. I didn't realize it until I got back up and couldn't figure out what that gasoline smell was. It took two showers to get it off.
The shark dive was the best dive of the week. As I mentioned once the sharks hear the boat motor, they start to school. The shark dive was actually two dives, the first to get you used to seeing the sharks, the second one the feeding dive. Since we had dove the alternate site earlier in the week we were used to the sharks. The feeding was something else. They took us down first and sat us in a small half circle on some coral rubble. Then Beth hit the water with about 8 pieces of frozen fish in a sealed milk crate. As you might expect, the shark followed her very closely. She stood in the middle of the circle and took out 1 piece of fish at a time with a long spear. Then the sharks came in and tried to beat each other out for the fish-cicle. It was actually very orderly and controlled. That is except for the time one shark came up under Beth and got caught in her reg hose. The shark quickly swam out but ripped her reg out and tipped her over in the process. That had to be pretty exciting. Verity and another gal from the shop swam around and took video and stills of the whole dive. These sharks were right in our kitchens as they swam by. It was the most exciting dive I've ever done. 20 minutes flew by. Once Beth was out of fish, she swam back to the boat, followed by the sharks and we got to dig around in the rubble for shark teeth. We all found 3-4.
On our last night, Beth and Verity arranged a slide/video party for us. Dominos delivered pizzas out to us and we had a great time looking over all the shots Verity had taken all week. That had a good package for the pictures, $80 for all 150+ shots put on a CD for you and $40 for the shark video.
This was a great trip. South Ocean is a great place if you want to lounge on the beach and Stuart Cove's is one of the best operators I've ever worked with. The kids had fun at the beach and already want to know when we can go back, like kids need a vacation. Come join us in February 2005 as we try Family Travel Part II-Grand Cayman!!
Let's go diving!