By Jill Smith
First of all, thank-you to the wonderful crew (Captain Ron, 1st mate Jason, Adam, Jill, Charlie, Tohru, Scott, Yari, Jesse, and Tom), who made our week extra special; it was one that we will never forget thanks to you!
For some divers who have been on the Aquacat before, you will remember Jill and Adam, and we were so happy to see them again! What a happy surprise to find out that they are a couple now (super adorable), and have some big plans for their future! Jill and Adam are investing in gear and equipment to launch their business and travel adventures! They will be travelling and taking beautiful macro, artistic, abstract underwater photography quite unlike anything else. They are also looking forward to creating some very unique travel vlogs, blogs, and books for the discerning traveller who appreciates some creativity and humour with their research efforts. They are still in the preliminary phases of this endeavour, but I will share their website and Facebook page when they get it going – Peru will be first on their travel list this winter, so I look forward to experiencing Peru through their eyes. Good luck Jill and Adam!
Favourite Dive Site – Austin Smith wreck
The first time we visited the Austin Smith in 2014, it was still intact, but on October 6th of 2015, Hurricane Matthew blasted the Bahamas, causing extensive damage to the area, and breaking the Austin Smith wreck in two. It still remains a beautiful site to dive, with sharks frequenting the area, and a lot of life thriving both on the wreck and the nearby reef.
I had the happy privilege of diving this site with my son Sam; so we entered the water and made our way to the mooring - I am doing my mapping project on the Austin Smith wreck for my divemaster program, and our plan was to start at the mooring pin so that I could count fin kicks to the stern of the wreck to estimate distance, followed by a slow and brief ascent to 25 feet over the wreck so I could get a birds-eye view photo, followed by more wreck measurements - however, we were distracted by a very friendly grouper who approached us directly, and I lifted my camera to take a portrait, but he got between my camera and my face, looking into each of my mask windows in turn - he was too close to photograph! He swam around our heads, and when Sam offered a hand, he went straight to it, and only sat still to be petted. What a fish! He clearly wanted to be stroked, and harassed divers until he got a pet! I tried to continue counting my fin kicks, but then felt strong yanking on my bikini strings at my neck – the little stinker untied the bow of my strings (when we surfaced Sam reminded me to do it back up as he did not wish to be scarred when I removed my wetsuit)! We definitely had to take some time out of our plan to interact with Fred (the friendly grouper), and he was the delightful highlight of the dive hands/fins down!
A Whale (shark) of a Surprise
At Crab Mountain dive site, about half of the divers had the great pleasure of a whale shark encounter! What a very rare and special treat! The other half of the divers were either in the swim through, or (ahem), looking too closely in the little cracks of coral for shrimps and crabs. James was the first diver to come up and tell Adam that he saw a whale shark as Adam hosed him down, and Adam called him a liar! When diver after diver came up extolling the virtues of their wonderful whale shark experience, he began to think maybe there had been a whale shark after all! Our divemaster and guide, Jill (a different and wonderful Jill), was in the swim through, and had a spectacular temper tantrum at the surface when she discovered what she missed!!! Good times. David White captured the photo featured at top for our viewing pleasure.
Full Moon, Ostracods, and Sparkling Universe
We did have a full moon on this trip, and after the night dive was over and the boat was quiet, I spent a little time at the boat railing enjoying the breeze and the view. I was admiring the very slight glow of the reef areas; the coral heads were glowing ever so slightly. As I lingered and my eyes adjusted further, I began to see blinking lights in the water – it looked like a starry night sky with the stars blinking on and off – ostracods!
Ostracods are very small crustaceans that will rise close to the surface during a full moon (and for a few days after) in the Caribbean to find mates with their bioluminescent vomit. Yes, that is correct – blobs of bioluminescent vomit emitted by the males to impress the females. Sometimes I'm glad to be human. Regardless of that little detail, it was beautiful, and I went to fetch Jody and tell the others.
What a romantic moment – instead of watching the starry sky, we watched the light show in the water, and it was perfectly appropriate for all of us who are drawn to the ocean. It’s moments like those that make me feel very small in this miraculous universe, and very fortunate to be able to witness some of its wonders.
I hope everyone has enjoyed a beautiful Christmas with loved ones, and that the new year brings you happiness, joy, and some new and wondrous surprises.
A few photo highlights of the week. Photo Credit: Jill Blanchette
So I am going to simply pick one dive to tell you about.
Why just one dive? There will always be time to write about the other amazing dives, and if any of our Bahamas adventurers wish to submit their own story-experience here, then by all means, fill your boots (send to: firstname.lastname@example.org). Share away. As winter sets in, we sometimes suffer a bit from lack-a-scuba-itis, so reading about your diving experiences actually helps soothe this trial period.
The Washing Machine Video
It seemed this week on the Aqua Cat, that I popped up from every dive exclaiming, “That was the best dive ever!” ...and the “Washing Machine” was no exception.
What is the “Washing Machine”? It is a drift dive that is the stuff of fairy tales. Well, maybe a scuba diver’s fairy tale, anyway. The current runs between two islands here, and a bowl shaped area has been eroded away where the current turns around on itself; where divers delight in a good tumble.
To begin the dive, all divers must be ready at the same time, lined up to 3 dive deck exits at the stern of the boat; so much like little para-troopers, we count down to the jumping phase, and then DIVE, DIVE, DIVE! One after another, we jump in, negatively buoyant, and begin to drift. The water is swift, our buddies are all around us, and there is the distinct sensation of flying like Superman. We are Supermen. Or Superpeople. Whatever. What a feeling.
After a couple of kilometres of “flying” through water, listening to our meditative breaths in, and our bubbles out, we encounter the Washing Machine itself. The current is strong, and turns back on itself in the carved out “bowl”, and I can see my Superbuddies in front of me starting to do somersaults in the churning water. I enter the arena and I’m immediately tumbled in circles, pushed down low, then sucked up high, and as I laugh through my regulator I am vaguely aware of my computer complaining about the crazy ups and downs, “Beep beep beep beep beep!” it complains. After thirty to forty seconds we are spit out the other side to continue our relaxing flight through water.
Along the way, we come across a stingray buried in the sand. The current is much lighter here so we hover to take pictures, and I can see his stinger tail slightly elevated and rigid in warning. After tolerating a few seconds of this he decides it is time to relocate, and gracefully turns and swims away.
Then I spot a small reef shark approaching. Just a leisurely swim today, he sails past without a second look.
And THEN, wonder of all wonders, there is a turtle. A loggerhead, I think, although some of you may correct me if I’m wrong (see video). He is resting under a coral head with two remoras. Looking like a very relaxed dude, he simply observes us for a while as we video tape. I am amazed at how close I am to a turtle - I have always wanted to see this - most of my turtle viewings have been very fleeting. This was just incredible! He too gets tired of the attention (I’m sorry dude, we just love you so much), and swims away to a place where divers may not follow. Soon, dive leader Diego gives the signal it is time for our safety stop, and it is with some regret that we all grasp the line when it is time to ascend. We pop up shouting, “That was the best dive ever!” or if you are Bree, “I’ve seen everything on my list now, that was amazing!”
I’m jonesing for more. Counting down the days until we are there again...