4/28/01 – 5/5/01
My most recent dive vacation was a Peter Hughes’ Wind Dancer Live-aboard trip, cruising Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos.
The second time on this boat, although in a location which I only knew from land-based so far.
Besides getting up at some ungodly time (the pick up was scheduled for 5:45 AM, the alarm was set at 4:00 AM, and of course for some unknown reason it did not go off, and I woke up at 5:28 AM … getting a very high adrenaline rush once I realized that I was super late) the travel has been quite smooth: No big lines at La Guardia Airport. No hassle or lost luggage. The only thing that really bugged me was our plane and the way it felt when landing. As I heard later, it was the 3rd day of this plane’s service, and it seemed to have had some obvious growing pains…
We landed in Miami, and though we would continue on the same plane, we had to get out. Oh, how I just love Miami Airport. Nice to see that this one stinky HotDog joint is gone…. and has now been replaced with a new stinking HotDog place (Nathan’s)
Well, the landing then in Provo was really horrible .. and it turned out that there WAS something wrong with the plane .. the return flight was delayed indef and I saw them opening up one of the engines.
To continue to Grand Turk, there are 2 major choices: Skyking and TCA. I paid 125$ to get to GDT and back, I hear that TCA may be 5$ cheaper. This flight was pleasant, short and sweet, and soon I was in GDT where crewmember Patti waited for the guests.
I have been to 3 Peter Hughes boats yet (all Caribbean) and the Wind Dancer is still the biggest and is laid out very nicely. Though I booked the cheapest cabin again (the one in the galley) I was upgraded to the lower deck staterooms, which are very nice and spacey for 1 person and quieter than the one in the galley. Fortunately, we were only 3 couples and 3 singles, so we had all the space we wanted (dining, divedeck, sundeck .. ) (full capacity would be 20 guests)
I still enjoy the amenities that the PH boats have: shower on divedeck for rinsing right after diving (though soap and shampoo have been replaced by mask defog), great food (and way too much of it), although I noticed that in general the “chicken & rice” quota is rising on the PH boats (which I guess is a budget matter). But other than that we had duck and lobster (kick me if I am wrong, but I think it was the only seafood besides some grouper at BBQ and some Conch here and there) and a great BBQ
The infamous fashion show was kept short by crewmember Marja alone (well, with only 9 guests, there would not be much of an audience left ..). Tony was the man behind the stoves, we heard rumors that he would wear his purple wig for special occasions, but we did not get to see it. Brett was the photo man and also freediving right into my face at one time. Patti had to fight with the Windows video editing system (been there, done that, i hope i could help her a bit) but in the end she produced a nice video of the week. Bert was the 1st mate, and a crazy chap in general (calls himself a Cuban redneck) .. make sure you hang out with him on Friday nights, he is an overflowing source of jokes. Guerline and Chislaine took care of the rooms and the galley .. and last but not least, Captain Lachlan made sure we get from point A to B.
He also used the extra time that the crew had (since they only had to tend to 9 people instead of 20) very efficiently for fun things like a fire drill, painting the boat and other chores around the ship.
This was actually the first time that all 27 dives were offered AND I did not sit out a single one (according to my super conservative computer I was always well within the limits, and I used nitrox just like air)
The dive deck setup is nice and easy: Each person has their own 2 tanks, one for regular air, one for nitrox. I usually do the first 2 dives on reg Air, since I most definitely will go below 110 ft, if the wall is pretty enough.
The dive briefings were informative. Good thing is that the wall diving around Grand Turk is quite easy. (go down, find the wall, go deeper, decide left or right, slowly come up in that direction, turn around when you are at 1500 PSI, stay on top of the wall, find the boat
As to the quality of the divesites .. the wall diving is a lot of fun .. especially Library is a beautiful walldive that can even be done in the afternoon / night (not too deep). Another highlight was the Airplane in South Caicos. The only wreck dive .. but also a great photo and video op day and night. Lots of stuff to be found there. The other dive site we did in South Caicos: Eagle’s Nest is fun too, it seems there is a 90% guarantee to spot eagle rays ..
Then again, you never know what you find at a divesite: early on this trip we did Finbars and it was boring, bad viz, the surge made video and photo really tricky … but then we returned to the same spot at the end of the week .. and it was great viz and great things to see (Manta, sharks, being followed by a huge gray grunt).
Also Black Forrest needs to be pointed out … it has a bazillion of very different black corals (reminding you of xmas coming soon). Coral Gardens is Alexander’s playground. He is a big fat grouper .. and he loves divers .. he may follow you the whole dive and tries what your snorkel tastes like. I strongly discourage nude diving for men on this dive !!!
The good thing about being on a boat is, you get to go to Salt Cay .. but then again .. it was not to great, besides again a Manta encounter .. viz was a tad murkey .. and why did I think there was a wreck somewhere ?
In general I was a bit worried about the health of the reef, but that may be a general thing (global warming and pollution) and I also think that I did not notice that when I visited Grand Turk back in 98, since I was pretty fresh back then.
The visibility was always around 100ft, fish life could be sparse on the morning dives .. but the 11 AM and the 2 PM dive were usually great for finding the “big stuff”
Besides the “usual suspect” I got to see eagle rays (3 at once), sleeping nurse sharks (again), 2 Manta Ray encounters (which was a first for me), 3 octopus’s at night.
although the watertemp was usually 80+ F, i got cold easily (what is wrong with me ?) so i was switching back and forth the shorty, the full… or just both of them on night dives.
One word of warning, if you go to South Caicos and there is no wind .. you will surely be eaten alive by mosquitoes !!! .. I counted 38 stings after the nightdive .. even in places that were covered by swimwear. I stayed in wetsuit and hood after the nightdive (and even hoped into one of the rinse buckets, which explains later silly photos) until the boat would move and make the air (and the insects) move away. The stings look really horrible after 30 minutes .. but they are gone the next day and do not keep you awake .. (well, Bailey’s helps too)
well.. now to the rants…
Actually not that many … The crew performance was .. very pleasent, but not overwhelming .. but that was mostly due to the fact that some of them were quite fresh on board and they just need to get used to each other and “the team” (hey, I am spoilt now, it is hard to overwhelm me)
Another thing i encountered now for the second time: whoever made that very wrong decision to get Sony Vaio computers on the ships to do the video ??? The windows OS has some serious trouble with Video rendering, the software that comes with it (adobe premiere LIGHT) is not comparable with iMovies (which is free and top notch on Mac computers nowadays) but takes a very long time to get accustomed to. In 1 or 2 years they will have to upgrade again, and I just hope they select macintosh laptops.
Oh, and yes, 4$ for a travel size pack of toothpaste is just hilarious !!!
To sum it up:
The trip is well worth it (although one guest was complaining about not seeing big stuff and lion fish, well, he is mainly a red sea diver). But then again .. i had the big advantages of yet another 20% off week and only 9 guests … at full price and full boat, I wonder how that would affect the fun ratio…
I also was very fortunate to have had a very nice group of divers with me on the boat. We all got along very well, Sidney and Holly were my main buddies and fun to dive with. And i guess I can say we all had a lot of fun together!!!
The biggest temptation at the end: I was asked if i wanted to stay another week … since they had a cancellation. And the discount they offered was quite nice … but, time restraints .. plus being a bit dived out after 27 dives made me go back to NYC. I even shelled out an extra 100$ to be switched to the earlier direct flight to JFK, which brought me home 6 hours earlier and saved me seeing the Miami Airport again …