The first week of November, 9 adventurous divers set out for the Blackbeard's scuba trip in the Bahamas. One of them, Barbara, has graciously agreed to write about the experience and share it with all of us! Barb is to be congratulated for completing her 40th dive on this trip (a personal goal), while having a great time with friends. I hope you enjoy her account of the week as much as I did.
Blackbeard's Live-Aboard Scuba Adventure 2014
by Barbara Slezak
So what happens when you put 19 almost strangers on a 65 foot sloop with 5 crew, limited space and enough air to dive for a week or more? An epic adventure that words cannot possibly capture!
Nine of us from Adventure Sports arrived in Nassau ready to board Blackbeard’s Sea Explorer for a week of diving and piracy. I had no expectations going into this trip, and was pleasantly surprised and very, very happy by the end. You would think that putting that many people in bunk style cabins where you literally keep all of your stuff with you in your bunk (except your dive equipment which is stowed on deck), 3 small marine heads, a salt water shower (with 30 second freshwater rinse), and 20 of the 24 people on board are guys, that you would end up with a harrowing tale of doom. On the contrary, it was quite the opposite, and I wouldn’t have changed a single thing. Our crew was absolutely amazing, keeping things in ship-shape (ha ha), giving us the most out of our diving experience, and literally we had 5 star meals prepared for us in the tiny galley by the spitfire Chef Callula...I already miss her cooking! The divers were incredible - such a great group of people coming together and enjoying each other’s company. From Kevin the free diver who managed to catch a lobster, to Allen, a 70 year old gentleman who did his open water certification on the boat!! He is an inspiration, and what amazed me more, and one of the reasons why I love diving, was how various people on the boat took him under their wings and dove with him after he was certified.
As we set sail on our journey (literally, they raised the sails) you could only wonder at the possibility of what you may find. There were too many perfect moments to be able to capture in a single blog post, so here are a few highlights:
The First Dive
I had my reservations; I’ve only been diving since February and had a lot of new gear on this trip. Jason (one of the crew) checked my gear before I went in (big sigh of relief) and what did I do to get over my fear....I was the first one to get in the water. Honestly, there was no going back after that first giant stride. On my first dive I was watching the shadows of Caribbean Reef Sharks gliding through the water in the distance, countless corals swaying in the arms of the ocean, and every colour and size of fish ready to greet you. Other than that first giant stride off that boat, I will never forget how it felt to be wearing my prescription dive mask (for the first time) and seeing all the fine details of the fish and corals. It was like doing my first dive all over again. It truly was the beginning of a new adventure!
So what is the best way to celebrate your birthday? You start with a dawn dive, where you descend and swim through a coral lined tunnel playing hide and seek with the fish and come out floating over an abyss that is so magnificent and endless that it leaves you speechless. Later on in the day you do a shark dive, no biggie right? Again, had a few reservations about the dive....but not because of the sharks, I was so excited to see the sharks! It was the whole, "you have to stay in one spot on the bottom" ....hmmm, I’m not so practiced at this. But once I found my spot there was no tearing me away. In all honesty the shark dive was probably the most peaceful and meditative moment of the whole trip. You heard nothing but your own breathing and watched in amazement as these beautiful creatures glided past you and they didn’t care that you were there. It was like you had been invited into their home. I even put down the camera because it didn’t matter if I got anymore pictures; I wanted to remember that incredible feeling of being part of a world that seems so far away. We docked at Cape Eleuthera that night for real showers, another spectacular meal and my day was only made better by an incredible sunset and cupcakes with rum icing!
The Last Dive
So why did I pick this dive when I could have blogged about the Washing Machine, the elevator, the night dives, the shenanigans on the boat or even the plane we dove? Because of all the dives, the sea gave me many opportunities on that last dive to see things I hadn’t seen yet, and now that I was more comfortable with the diving, was more willing to see. As had become my norm over the week, I was one of the first divers in the water and on this dive it proved to be a good thing. On entering the water we were greeted by a Caribbean Reef Shark. Then as we reached the bottom, not even 5 minutes into the dive I floated over top of a 6-8 foot Nurse Shark who was probably a little irritated about being disturbed and swam away...we came across the same Nurse Shark later in the dive and again...not too happy to be disturbed as he swam away. We saw a reasonably sized stingray on the same dive, and in the distance I saw a Hawksbill sea turtle swimming away...now if only I had been able to see it close up!! I also saw, what became one of my favourite creatures of the trip - Christmas tree worms! They hide out in corals, look like Christmas trees and are tiny, buy if you get close to them with your finger or snap your finger they pop right into the coral. So much fun! And as we began our final ascent of the trip a barracuda lazily greeted us from its spot under the boat.
After such a beautiful week of serenity, gorgeous scenery, incredible experiences with wildlife, making some amazing new friends and eating good food, it was very difficult to say good bye. The only question I had as I reluctantly disembarked from my floating home was, "Could I stay on board as a crew member?" And the next question was , "When would I would be back?" I still ask that question, when will I board the Sea Explorer for the next epic adventure?
Are YOU pirate enough to be on the next adventure?
The Washing Machine Drift Dive done on Blackbeard's and AquaCat Live-aboard trips
Other photos from the Blackbeard's trips and the Eleuthra/Exuma marine park area:
The Remora Attack
My first dive of this trip was dive number 12 for me. In total. Yep. Since last week's trip, I am now at dive 29, and I am pretty proud of how far I have come!
Anyway, my very first dive of the trip, and I was with Dive leader, Diego. As we swam along, I saw what I thought was a Remora swim by. I thought how unusual it was to see it swimming alone, not near, or attached to, the underbelly of some large, host marine animal. It was at least as long as my arm. I did NOT know a lot about remoras; I knew they attached themselves to the underside of large animals like sharks to eat the scraps they leave behind...but I wasn't entirely sure how (teeth?).
A few seconds later I look behind me, and see the remora coming... STRAIGHT. AT. ME. I mean, it was LOOKING at me, and coming fast! I turned around to defend myself, and tried to flick it away with a fin kick, but it would not be deterred. It ducked and weaved around my flailing fins - which were difficult to control effectively in the water for this purpose - he just kept coming at me. All I could think, was the possibility of it having rows of sharp, circular teeth for attaching to a host (like lamprey in the great lakes - look them up, they are the stuff of nightmares). It was a very intense hand-to-fin combat, and I was in a panic and a free ascent (not good), when Diego took my shoulders to face him and made the flat hand motion to calm down and breathe slowly. He conveyed with his eyes calm control (which made him look stoned - a detail I appreciated afterward), but I was now in full panic mode, and desperately looking around to see where the devil-fiend went. Nowhere in sight now. Diego motioned the calm, easy breathing again, and took my hand to continue the dive.
Slowly my breathing returned to normal, but I was watching all the time for the return of the remora. As we returned to the boat, Diego pointed out a Caribbean Reef Shark that was swimming lazily around the reef. He was beautiful. It really was peaceful. That was the first shark I ever saw in the water. With me. And I wasn't afraid (although I may have sidled up a little closer to Diego).
Back on the boat, Ellen, another diver, told me about a remora that attached itself to her chest on a dive one or two years previously. They just have a suction cup (#fishaware), and he had hung out with her for her entire dive, and reluctantly released when she gently encouraged him off her body so she could get back on the boat.
So I guess I was lucky it chose me, and lost the cool opportunity to dive with a remora attached to my chest. Huh. Who knew?
But more than that, I learned two other things:
The Shark Feed
I was surprised to discover that I did not feel any fear while watching the shark dive. I felt awe. They must be one of the most beautiful and graceful creatures that I have ever seen. A couple days later, when the Captain asked if we would be interested in a second shark dive, I was the first one to jump at the chance! So LOVE these guys!
If you look closely in the video, you will see that Finnigan made an appearance for this meal (around 14 second mark).
Who is Finnigan? Finnigan lost his dorsal fin at a young age; it is speculated that he may have been a victim of the barbaric "finning" practice (dorsal fin cut off to make soup), and tossed back in the ocean to die. Miraculously he survived. Not only did he survive, but he has grown into a strong dominant shark. I'm glad he made it.
I am told that the soup isn't even very good.
Our cabin featured a very comfortable king size bed, and a 3-piece bathroom (the stand-up shower was roomy). There were no restrictions on bathing; we could use as much hot water as we wanted, since the Aqua Cat filters its own water through a 3 step osmosis filtering system.
Towels were provided, and our room was cleaned and bed made every day. We really were spoiled beyond anything we expected. The only challenge was finding a dry bathing suit to wear as we spent so much time in the water!
The Dive Deck
The dive deck was immaculate and amazingly well organized. Granted, this was my first liveaboard scuba trip, but there was a lot of thought that went into making this space work efficiently for the divers.
We each had our own space for gearing up. Our gear didn't have to be taken down after each dive; they rinsed us off with warm fresh water as we exited the water, we took off our BCD/tank, and simply unscrewed the valve so that the crew could re-fill our tanks before the next dive. BCD off, and walk away for a snack from the salon. That easy. Loved it. We are so spoiled now!
There were towels specifically for the divers, for the crew, and for cameras. After the cameras spent time soaking in a fresh water bath, they were laid on a table in the centre of the dive deck where we could retrieve them for our next dive.
There was a dry charging station with multiple outlets for charging flashlights and camera batteries.
Chef Brian and Sous-Chef Mishka did an outstanding job - when he called over the intercom system that a meal was ready we usually came running; diving builds quite an appetite, and his cooking was amazing! The space in the dining salon was spacious and comfortable.