10/24/98 – 10/30/98
That was my first liveaboard trip, and it was a great experience. You become friends with your buddies very quickly. There are tons of pictures on the photopage.
Trip Report Blackbeard cruise on the Sea Explorer to Bimini and the outer islands 10/24 – 10/30 1998
I flew in to Miami on Saturday morning pretty early and arrived at the docks (22$ cabfare incl. tip) before the official boarding time, but they let me board anyway. One crewmember showed me my berth and the boat and some of the basic stuff (kitchen is homestyle, feel free to fix yourself a peanutbutter-jelly sandwich anytime
So, it started right with a nice family atmosphere. To kill time I went with some of the other arriving passengers to Bayside Mall, to have some food, drink and fun.
Upon return to the dock some more food was ready and the not so nice note, that we will not leave too soon, due to choppy sea and wind … we actually saw people leaving from one of the other boats, they had booked the 4 day weekend trip and did not get over to the islands yet
After the great crew filled us up with rum punch and beer (note: not all the three boats are alike: the Sea Explorer has its beertab topside and we were all sound asleep we finally ‘set sail’ at 3 am … I woke up in my berth feeling like riding a bull .. it was VERY choppy … several guests spend the night on deck feeding the fish and getting wet ! But we made it and when I woke up the next time, I saw blue sky and water around me !
About the accommodations.
There are basically 4 compartments on the boat (not, as I thought when I saw the plan that it is one big thing)
the rear is the engine room/crewquarters, then the main salon, with galley and 6 double bunks, the next one (I have never been in that one) hold 4 double bunks I guess, and the front doghole leads to the ‘happy singles’ area: 2 single berths on each side and through the door one room with another 4 single beds. The berths are 72 inches (which is exactly my size) but when you lay diagonal you can get another foot… and you have 2 nice corners where you can put your stuff
You will get used to climbing ladders with usually a cup or a plate or other stuff in one hand big time. Most of the time you will spend topside in the ‘horseshoe area’ anyway (or diving). Yes, I would say as I heard from others before: It is camping on the water, with all it’s fun and adventure.
The ‘rumor’ about the 30 secs freshwater shower is true and did not bother me at all… the only shower that I actually took was in Bimini where we could use a ‘real’ shower on portnight. I got used to the salty feel on my skin, and thanks to the breeze, no one was sweating at all (only time was: dancing in Bimini
Well, as to the diving
First of all, I am still impressed with the great way the crew organized to get 24 divers in and out of the water without a hassle. That was especially the case with our drift dive, where we had to jump parachute style. Most of you know the hassle on cattle boats, where dive gear is all over the place… in this case they came up with the right plan and lots of experience made the whole process very smooth.
On the first day (Sunday) we made 3 very shallow dives (25-30 ft) to get used to diving and the boat. The viz was not really good thanks to the heavy wind that was still blowing. The first night at sea was very nice, the Captain ‘parked’ us in a nice cove, so no bullride this night.
4 nice dives on day 2 (Monday) with a little better viz and the weather was getting better too (more sun) and then Tuesday was very impressive: It started with the aforementioned drift dive, which was a first for me: all jump in parachute style and fly along the wall following the guy with the buoy (sp?). A short and deep diving fun.
Next dive was a shark feeding experience, we had caught some fish the days before and now they came in handy. Unfortunately some of the divers stirred up the silt a lot when the got down to the arena and sat down, but It was still very impressive. And actually, the divesite around that feeding (Bull Run) is very nice, a lot of swim thrus and nice reef architecture. Oh, by the way, the briefings by DiveMaster Darin (please, I hope I spelled that right ?) were excellent and entertaining. I heard somebody actually recorded his usual doghole call ‘If you are making the next dive come topside for a briefing’ to use it as a startup sound for windows
On Wednesday we only did 2 dives to be in Bimini before the stores close (and unfortunately before the bars open). A little more about portnight later. Then, on Thursday we had 3 more dives, all pretty shallow, and the last one was a wreck dive, ‘the mighty sapona’ … very impressive, a ship which was basically made of rebar and concrete .. easily penetrable, very cool looking storage compartments. The ship has a very interesting history. Half of it actually is visible on the surface, so, for those with early flights the next day it was a nice snorkel spot too.
Some more general things about the diving: The viz was not too good most of the time, max I’d say 70ft. But someone who was there 2 weeks before told me about 100-150ft .. so that is all in weather’s hand. The weather was not too bright the first two days either. And when you get out of the water, and the wind is blowing, this is f’ing cold. Speaking of cold: the brochure says that skin or shorty is sufficient for that time of year .. hmmm, I really felt cold on a couple of dives (the night dives especially) so, you may want to bring a longsuit as well.
Just keep in mind that topside the wind is blowing and in the cabins the AC is running ! As for reef and fish: compared to what I have seen so far: Grand Turk and Curacao still rank higher. The reef was ok, the fishlife lush, all the usual suspects around, a few biggies… but on one nightdive I had the feeling it was a squirrelfish-only party (until I found this huge turtle sleeping under a ledge) … to my surprise I did not see a single big green moray eel, but some small yellow spotted ones.
Portnight and other fun
Blackbeard had a lot to offer: like funfilled group entertainment (peeling shrimp together actually it WAS a lot of fun !!!), or ‘shopping’ (getting their merchandize:) and of course the one night in Bimini: There are basically two bars you just HAVE to go to: The end of the world salon, a small hole in the wall (or rather ‘the sand’) with Sarah as one of the nicest Barladies around.
The place is a small shag plastered with signed underwear and other goodies (dollar bills, business cards, I spotted 3 driver’s licenses stapled to the ceiling) and three of our ladies donated their bras and one guy (Rick ?) gave his pants. Then there is the ‘complete angler’ bar , which has an Ernest Hemingway Museum, a live band (Conga, Baby!) and a weird ring-swing-toss game.
Oh.. and beware of the local beer ‘Kalik’ which has 14% alcohol ! You can also do some duty free shopping, you are allowed to bring 2 liters of spirits. Cigarettes are usually more expensive (5$ a pack) and I have not checked out Cuban cigars, but I saw that they are available.
And a special treat the Blackbeard organized for us: They arranged a space shuttle start that we could see bright and shiny on the horizon, just when we headed back to Miami
What else there is to say ???
First of all a big thanks and hello to the marvelous crew:
Captain Steve who sailed us safely back and forth, 1st Mate Dan, Engineer Cody, Deckhand Jack, Cookie Jemes (speaking of food: plenty and tasteful, though I do not want to know how it is on the fat and cholesterol content) and Divemaster Darin.
And of course thanks to all the new buddies who made this trip really a big experience: My divebuddies Burrman, Susan, Dale + Coco, Shelly and Cassandra. Fred who was the guy snoring over me, and all the other boatbuddies: Kevin, Mike, Quentin, Rick, Boyd & Becky, Jim & Lee Ann (with whom I had email contact before), Ken & Cheryl, Pat, Diane, Terry, Bo and last but not least Kent & Cindy.
Another noteworthy thing: upon return it feels weird to be not able to leave the boat before we are cleared by customs and emigration. Thanks to the good weather we were back in Miami on Thursday evening about 11 p.m. But we had to wait until 7 am next morning to ‘enter the US’
Would I do it again?
Big YES !!! I wish someone told me before It is really great for a single traveling diver may it be male or female, age does not matter. Also great for couples and families (as long the kids are old enough)
I may pick another time of year … what you get for your money is outstanding, though not first class, but they tell you up-front what to expect (and what not)
Do NOT go if you are: allergic to fun, have really trouble with motion-sickness, expecting to be pampered 24/7, getting cranky in confined spaces, having trouble socializing with strangers
Things to bring and things to leave home:
Basically the FAQ and checklist on blackbeard’s webpage gives already a good idea … but I also learnt my lessons: Yes, travel very light, you end up sleeping with your stuff in your bunk, very little storage place. You can leave travelbags / suitcases behind in a container (e.g. keep some fresh clothes there).
Out on sea it may be colder than you think… I have been freezing quite a lot. Thanks to the wind it felt cold most of the time, also, a second wetsuit does not hurt (while the other one dries). You have enough storage space topside for your dive gear.
Almost everybody mentions heavy duty clothespins. Indeed very handy…. I found out that large binder clips work very well too
Some seat cushions are available, but if you want to be really comfortable, bring your own.
Seasickness medication.. the crossing can be really rough.
You get a plastic mug with your name on. Since I do not drink coffee, I was fine with it, but I saw many people bringing their own insulated mugs (which worked for beer too
Sunscreen, the wind lets you forget easily how burning the sun actually is.
The boat is equipped with a CD Player and a Videoplayer.. so, bring CD’s (not tapes) and if you are TV addicted, bring Videos (and leave them with the crew).
I envied the guys who actually brought a windbreaker and/or foul weather gear, which came in handy at the beginning.