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If you are expecting to learn about sailing charters off the coast of Australia, you are going to be disappointed. Rather, this is all about exploring the splendors of the deep as you scuba dive in the dramatic seascape of the Caribbean. With its warm, crystal clear waters, the Caribbean is an ideal spot to dive. It is a superb playground for any level of diver thanks to the sheer abundance of marine life and the fact that many islands have protected the highly complex reef ecosystem by designating the coastal waters around their shores as marine parks. Pinnacles, slopes, wall dives, coral gardens, drift dives, wreck dives, and under mountain dives all await the scuba diver. Hundreds of well-equipped dive shops are available throughout the islands. Many people chose to dive while on Caribbean sailing charters. Rendezvous diving options are available on most sailing charters; and on some crewed sailing charters, not only is scuba equipment available, but you can become PADI certified with a resort course for an additional charge. Imagine doing your check-out dive in the turquoise blue warm waters of the Caribbean rather than in some cold, dark pool or low-visibility lake. Check about diving options with your charter broker when arranging your sailing charter. So, strap on your tank, adjust your buoyancy compensator, clear your mask, and let’s take it down under!
The British Virgin Islands
There are more than 100 dive sites in the BVI, and the underwater vistas are among the world’s most breathtaking. Dives off the Sir Frances Drake Channel include ledges, caves, canyons, wrecks and sponge-encrusted walls. Some of the more popular dives include the following:
1) The Chikuzen – Lying at a depth of 75′ six miles north of Beef Island, the ship was sunk in 1981. The full 246ft. length of this once-refrigerated vessel is teeming with fish of every description, including big rays, horse-eye jacks, barracudas and more.
2) Painted Walls – A shallow dive (20-30 ft) off the southern point of Dead Chest. Divers can delight in the kaleidoscope of colors created by encrusting corals and sponges on the walls of four long gullies.
3) Alice in Wonderland – Experienced divers looking for a deep dive will enjoy this one at South Bay on Ginger Island. The wall here slopes gently downward from 15-100ft. Huge mushroom shaped corals give the site its name.
4) The Indians – Off of Norman Island, 4 large, jagged pinnacles protrude from the surface after rising 50′ from the ocean floor. The formations feature a series of canyons and grottoes with both soft and had corals that are overwhelmingly colorful as the sun’s rays shine down on them. Myriads of reef fish swim along the canyons.
5) Wreck of the RMS Rhone – A royal mail steam packet that sunk off of Salt Island during a hurricane lies well-preserved in two halves on a sandy bottom. Her steel wreckage is home to many species of fish and encrusting corals. The bow section, laying in about 80′ of water, reveals the coral encrusted cargo hold and other interior chambers. The wreckage field reveals the ships foremast complete with crow’s nest and the bow spirit lying in the sand. The stern section contains the ship’s engine, prop shaft and enormous propellers. Part of the BVI National Parks Trust, this is the perfect two tank dive.
6) Blonde Rock – A pinnacle between Dead Chest and Salt Island which rises from a depth of 60′ to just 15′ below the surface. Its rock ledges, tunnels, caves and overhangs are home to crabs, lobsters, hordes of reef fish and beautiful fan corals.
Diving on the island is good, but compared to the rest of the Caribbean, not in the top league. Visibility in the waters around St. Martin typically extends for about 100′ and sometimes can even reach up to 200′. The diving is generally fairly shallow, typically in 60′ of water or less. There are approximately 55 dive sites that are a mixture of wrecks, old coral reefs and encrusted rocks. Some of the more popular dives include:
1) Proselyte Reef – This is the top dive site in St. Martin. In 1801, the HMS Proselyte sank in 60′ of water. The reef surrounding the frigate rises to within 15′ of the surface. Divers can see fish, coral and occasionally turtles and rays.
2) Split Rock – This is a large boulder divers can swim through. Nearby is Cabie Reef, where large fish such as pompanos can often be seen. Both sites are at 55feet.
3) Old Simpson Bay Bridge – The remains of the old bridge was submerged in the 1980’s and now serves as an artificial reef. Schools of reef fish now congregate at the site which is 55′ at its deepest. Nearby, there are a number of wrecks, including an aircraft.
Anguilla’s turquoise blue waters boast seven marine parks: Dog Island, Prickly Pear, Seal Island Reef System, Little Boy, Sandy Island, Shoal Bay Harbour Reef System and Stoney Bay Marine Park. Dive sites include wreck dives, shore dives, wall dives, night dives, and heritage dives. Expect to see stingrays and garden eels in the sand that surrounds the dive sites. Anguilla is specially known for its intentionally sunk shipwrecks.
1) El Buen Consejo – A truly unique attraction, the 960 ton Spanish galleon rests quietly on the ocean floor with her cannons and cargo serving as a silent testament to the Caribbean ‘s turbulent past.
2) Prickly Pear Cays – For the best diving on Anguilla, head out to this underwater cavern, where nurse sharks and barracudas swim through rock formations not far from several sunken shipwrecks.
3) The Steps at Little Scrub – This dive site is at a depth of 20-90feet. A ledge dive takes you between and under huge boulders to a dramatic five foot arch. Angel fish, blue tang, nurse shark, great barracuda, rays and tiger grouper are among the marine life that can be seen. A great site for photography.
4) Dog Island – At a depth of 90′, there are two sites: West Cay and Devil’s Wall. Weather permitting, this is a drift dive for experienced divers along a spectacular wall face with lots of marine life.
5) Stoney Ground Marine Park – Anguilla ‘s first underwater heritage site with a fully guided tour. The underwater collection includes a display of anchors, bronze devotional medals and other historically significant artifacts.
Most people do not think of St. Barts as a dive destination, and yet there are approximately 26 dive sites. The dive sites fall into two separate areas. The main dive area extends from the main town of Gustavia, with several others sites no more than five minutes from the entrance to Gustavia Harbour. Many sites have structures that divers can swim through and in, including some large caves. There are also two wrecks. The most spectacular dives are around Pain de Sucre, an islet off Gustavia Harbour or around a small cape, l’Ane Rouge off Colombier Bay. Since being protected in 1991, marine turtles are all around Colombier, Fourchue and the rest of the island. Anemones, urchins, sea cucumbers and eels are typically present on all the sites.
Saba ‘s beauty extends below the waterline into an exciting marine environment rich in corals and active in fish life. Superb diving is the main reason most sailing charters make it to this island. Divers will encounter huge populations of colorful tropical fish as well as larger fish and pelagics (large open ocean fish, like spotted eagle rays and sharks). There are nearly 30 different dive sites around Saba, most of which require a boat to reach, however, since the island is so small, dive boats can reach all sites within minutes. Lava tunnels and hot springs remind divers of the dramatic volcanic beginnings of the island.
Although Saba ‘s underwater attractions include shallower yet spectacular reefs and walls, it is for her pinnacles that the island has gained a reputation as a must go destination among experienced divers. The pinnacles are actually summits of underwater mountains, beginning at around 85′ and extending into the abyss. The best of these is the Eye-of -the-Needle. Another great spot is the Labyrinth – a series of channels around 50’ deep created by old lava flows on which star and brain corals have formed. Expect to see brightly colored tube sponges and lots of fish gathering in this area.
Another impressive area is Tent Reef Wall. This is a steep and extended ledge that plunges into the depths with tons of interesting marine creatures seeking shelter on its walls. Three things are particularly unique to diving in Saba. First, the reefs are in pristine condition because the entire waters surrounding the island were designated as a Marine Park in 1987 and dive operations are carefully controlled. Second, Saba is one of only a few islands in the Eastern Caribbean where you can dive using nitrox. Because of the depths of the dives, various mixes of oxygen are used to extend bottom times on the pinnacles by about 50%. Finally, Saba has a hyperbaric chamber, which is the official sport diving chamber for a territory ranging from Puerto Rico to Barbados.
Statia has diving like no other destination in the Caribbean. The warm water and underwater volcanic fissures and canyons have given this area a diversified diving selection. It is one of the few locations in the world that offers walls, coral reefs, archeological and wreck dives in such close proximity. During the Golden Age, Statia was the main trading post between America and Europe. Divers can still find glass shards from old plates, wine bottles, old Dutch clay pipes and the blue beads that were used as currency. Over 200 shipwrecks are thought to litter the water off the west coast of the island, but only a handful of these are accessible to divers. The western shore is where the majority of Statia’s 30 dive sites are located. The sites range in depth from 20-220′ with visibility over 100 feet. To help preserve Statia’s pristine marine life, the St. Eustatius Marine Park was established in 1998. One of the highlights for many divers to Statia is to dive with the flying gurnards. Statia has several dive areas where divers can see dozens of these spectacular fish. They are considered uncommon throughout the Caribbean, however, in Statia’s water, one can see them everyday. Some of the many fascinating dive sites include:
1) Charlie Brown (a 330′ fiber optic cable laying ship) and Chin Tong (a Taiwanese fishing vessel) are two artificial reefs created by the Marine Park. Both are relatively modern “wrecks” – sunk in 2003 and 2004 respectively – and make for interesting dives.
2) Anchor Reef – Located in the southwest, this reef is covered with an extensive array of sponges, corals and sea fans. Lobsters, sea turtles and a myriad of reef fish hide in the many shelves and crevices.
3) Crack in the Wall (aka Grand Canyon ) – This is a large pinnacle of coral reaching up from the ocean floor. There is an abundance of life here, including large fish such as barracuda and black-tip sharks.
4) Triple Wreck – This site is actually two coral-encrusted shipwrecks lying just 150 feet apart at a depth of 60′.
Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua has approximately 42 dive sites, of which many are close to shore. Both Antigua and Barbuda are almost completely surrounded by well-preserved coral. Although there is no wall diving, and most dives are fairly shallow (depths generally range from 25-80′), there are some good cliffs and canyons, and a handful of wrecks. Expect to see colorful reef fish, including an occasional sea turtle, dolphin, and nurse shark. The best diving is on the southern and eastern coasts of Antigua. The Ledge of Sunken Rock on the south coast is a popular dive site. One of the best-known offshore sites, Cades Reef, is now partly contained in a designated underwater park. Another popular destination is the wreck of the Andes, a 3-masted merchant ship that sank in 1905 and now rests in less than 30′ of water in Deep Bay.
Barbuda’s diving is at least as good as Antigua ‘s, with countless wrecks dotted around the nearby reefs. Many of these wrecks have yet to be explored. Unfortunately, there are no established dive operators on the island of Barbuda. To dive off Barbuda, it is best to make arrangements with a dive shop on Antigua to have the necessary equipment taken over by air or boat.
St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Kitts and Nevis are not major dive destinations in part because the islands have never really been promoted in that way. With the new emphasis by St. Kitts’ government to make the island a tourist destination, that may change. More than 400 ships sank near the islands between 1493 and 1825, but only a dozen or so have been identified to date. Most of the dive sites spread between the eastern coast of Nevis to the western end of St. Kitts. Visibility is usually in the 60-100′ range. Dive sites include shallow inshore sites, offshore shoals, and a large coral reef in the channel between St. Kitts and Nevis. There is a good range of marine life. There is a good chance of seeing turtles on many sites, and areas with overhangs often house nurse sharks. Some of the more popular diving locations include:
1) Black Coral Reef – This dive is for people searching for rare black coral. The reef begins at 40′ and descends to 70′.
2) The Caves – Lying 40′ under the west coast of Nevis, just north of Charlestown, the Caves are a series of coral grottos. These grottos, a well-kept secret, allow divers to swim through holes in living reef without ever being more than a breath away from open water. Excellent visibility and the shallow depth allow divers to explore the Caves until the tanks are almost dry. Thousands of fish are found here varying from the squirrel fish to lobsters to barracuda.
3) Nags Head – Due to the strong current where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea meet, this is for experienced divers only. The reef is colorful, plunging dramatically down to 80 feet. You will find stingrays, turtles, squirrel fish and sea urchins, along with assorted large reef fish.
4) River Taw Wreck – This site is a large wrecked freighter measuring 144′ x 70′. The wreck is in excellent condition and only 50 feet deep. Encrusting coral and large numbers of reef fish can be observed.
5) Grid Iron – This undersea shelf is found in the channel between St. Kitts and Nevis. It rises to within 25′ of the surface. It contains a multitude of shallow water corals, sea fans, sponges and large numbers of angelfish.
There are a number of dive sites around the island. The coral reefs on Montserrat ‘s coast offer a variety of tropical fish and other exotic undersea life, such as spotted rays, sea turtles and sponges. The dive-able area reaches from Old Road Bluff in the west to the North West Bluff, around the northern shoreline, towards Hell’s Gate in the northeastern corner of the island and then along the eastern shore towards the border of the Volcanic Maritime Exclusion Zone – more than 13 miles of coastline. The 1995 eruption of Montserrat ‘s volcano had an unexpected positive effect on the coral reefs, and the underwater world is healthier than ever. The lava flows, which flowed into the sea in the south, have brought huge rocky boulders into the sea and new substrates for the reefs. Coral, fish, sponges, and other creatures have had time to recover and the dive spots are teeming with more life than ever. Some sites not to miss include:
1) Carr’s Bay – In the north of the island, this area offers several shore dives. Towards the south of the beach, one can get into the reef system. There are several huge boulders rising from the sea floor. Colorful sponges and corals cover these boulders. Tons of reef fish dart around. This is truly an el dorado for underwater photographers.
2) Rendezvous Bay – This area is one of the best for diving. One highlight of diving at Rendezvous Bluff is the bat cave dive where you are greeted by the chirps of 1000’s of fruit bats hanging from the ceiling. The northernmost dive region on Montserrat’s west coast is the reef system between Rendezvous Beach and the North West Bluff. This area consists of mostly boulders and ledges between the shore and about 60′ of water which supports a rich reef community. At the North West Bluff, submerged cliffs form a wild background for schools of reef fish and pelagics. The cliffs drop steeply from the surface to about 60′ into a sandy bottom.
3) The Northern and Eastern shores of Montserrat offer exciting diving as well. Little Redonda is a rock that reaches the surface from a depth of 80 feet. It is a spectacular dive. The Pinnacles on the northeastern corner of Montserrat offer fantastic submerged rock formations. In Yellow Hole, south of the Pinnacles, is the wreck of a 19th century steel schooner, which sank in 1886. Her remnants are scattered over a wide area in 25′ of water.
The diving in Guadeloupe is “average” according to the Undercurrent Insider Report. The majority of the island’s 27 dive sites are off Basse Terre. Expect to see several species of corals and classes of sponges. Guadeloupe has strict diving regulations. Unless you are a dive master yourself, you must dive with a guide, and not all operators speak English – so plan ahead. Some sites to check out include:
1) Islets Piedgeon – These are cone-shaped, coral-covered islands that fall to the bottom at 160 feet. This is the site of the Cousteau Marine Park. Despite its popularity with day-trippers and glass bottom boats, the marine life is in good condition. There are two wrecks near the Pigeon Island.
2) Grand Cul de Sac Marin – Several miles of reef have developed in the sheltered waters in the north between the two sides of Guadeloupe. Much of the area has been declared a marine park and access is restricted.
3) Le Sac Pate – Located north of Iles des Saintes is a group of large boulders rising to about 40′ below the surface. Some interesting coral and fish.
Dominica ‘s volcanic origins are evident all over the island, including underwater. Jets of hot water and bubbles spurt from fissures, lave plugs form underwater pinnacles and ferocious blasts have driven arches through the rim of ancient crater walls. There are approximately 26 dive sites. Some of the many spectacular sites include:
1) Toucari Bay – This is a secluded area with coral covered rocks reaching from the beach out to the main reef at about 40′. Excellent for day or night dives, this site boasts a wide variety of sea life, including octopus, moray eels, rays, squid, lobster and puffer fish. Toucari Bay is a honeycomb of tunnels. A couple of tunnels 25-45′ long provide exquisite swim-throughs. The reef then drops to 110′ and is home to large school of mahogany snapper, big crabs and frogfish.
2) Champagne Reef – One of Dominica ‘s best known and requested dive sites. The dive itself consists of a circuit around the reef, just a bit offshore, followed by a safety stop exploring the hot springs and bubbles. Expect to see seahorses and flying gurnards.
3) Rodney’s Rock – A shallow (maximum depth 50′) dive offering one of the best critter dives. The site offers mini caves and overhangs for spiny and slipper lobsters, crabs and morays. The walls of Rodney’s Rock are carpeted with corals and sponges, providing homes to octopus, seahorses, grunts and snapper.
4) Scott’s Head Drop Off – A world class dive site from 10-100′. Huge splotches of encrusting sponges cover the wall with blues, reds, oranges, whites and purples. Yellow tube sponges dominate. Creatures live in every crevasse.
5) The Cabrits – This is, in fact, several dive sites. Cabrits South and West are both beautiful reefs dropping off sharply to a sandy bottom at 155′ and 110′ respectively, and a third site further south drops off to below 185′. These sites often have currents and offer spectacular drift dives over barrel sponges and schools of Creole fish.
The catastrophic eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902 gave Martinique 12 ancient wrecks to supplement a coastline of fringing reefs and dramatic offshore rocks. You will need to speak French to get the best out of most dive operators. Of the many sites, be sure to see the following:
1) Epaves de St. Pierre (St. Peter Wrecks) – When Mt. Pelee erupted, she sunk many ships around St. Pierre. The nicest one is Roraima located at 150′. You can almost entirely explore the wreck.
2) Les Canyons de Babodi – Less than 300′ from shore, these are impressive canyons going down to 150′ filled with many fish.
3) Rocher de la Perle – This site is located two miles away from shore at a depth of 75-100′. The water is incredibly clear, allowing you to see many corals, fish and marine animal life.
4) Les Grandes Jorasses – This is a series of coral platforms situated away from the shore. The remarkable scenery also includes big ocean fish.
5) Cap Solomon – This site consists of massive rocks all around the cape. This is a coral platform with luxuriant and colorful flora and coral fish all around.
St. Lucia has some of the most colorful reefs anywhere in the Caribbean, making it a diving paradise. The island is at the tip of an underwater volcano where divers of all levels will enjoy the stunning variety of coral, sponge and marine life. Artificial reefs have developed around a number of sunken ships which have become home to huge gorgonians, black coral trees, gigantic barrel sponges, purple vase sponges, and black lace corals. Divers will see an amazing cross section of Caribbean marine life, including turtles, nurse sharks, seahorses, angel fish and golden spotted eels. Some of the more intriguing underwater dive sites include:
1) Anse La Raye – Found below a shallow wall, this is one of the finest wall and drift dives in St. Lucia.
2) Anse Chastanet – One of the most dramatic spots for diving, this reef is in the southwest of the island. The shallows, with depths to 25′ can be entered directly from the beach. The reefs fall away from 20-140′ in a unique coral wall that continues from Anse Chastanet Bay around the headland of Grand Caille and in towards the harbor of Soufriere, providing some of the best diving in St. Lucia.
3) Coral Gardens – Located at the base of the Gros Piton, this site offers breathtaking scenery where five finger coral trees range in a depth of between 15-50 feet.
4) Fairy Land – At the point of Anse Chastanet, this plateau slopes gently from 40-60′. Strong currents keep the coral and sponges clean. This site is ideal for underwater photography.
5) The Key Hole Pinnacles – Voted one of the “10 Best Dive Sites” by Caribbean Travel and Life, these are four coral and gorgonian encrusted seamounts that rise up from the depths.
6) Lesleen M Shipwreck – A 165′ freighter that sunk in 1986. It lies upright in 60′ of water near Anse Cochon in the west coast, just south of Marigot Bay. Divers can tour the entire ship.
With over twenty miles of barrier reefs reaching to within 40-60′ of the surface, as well as 9 frequently dived wrecks, Barbados is beginning to take dive tourism seriously. The fringes and reefs found off Barbados are full of healthy sponges, coral and plant life. There are several types of reefs – each one unique. The barrier reefs, located ½ -2 miles from shore contain large coral heads which form the habitat for 1000’s of beautiful fish. Larger organisms are also found on these reefs, feeding on smaller fish. The Hawksbill turtle can also be found on these reefs. Fringes and patching reefs are found closer to shore and have smaller coral formations and more abundant plant life than the barrier reefs. These reefs are home to seahorses, frog fish, giant sand eels and many other marine creatures. Barbados has several excellent sites for wreck diving. Carlisle Bay, with over 200 reported wrecks, is one of the most popular sites. There are four wrecks which are particularly popular: The Berwyn, Eilon, C-trek, and Fox. Divers can look for tropical fish, eels, frog fish and more.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Each island in this tropical archipelago promises divers something different. St. Vincent ‘s dramatic volcanic cliffs continue underwater with steep black coral walls. Bequia has a variety of pristine dive sites from calm colorful reefs in shallow water to steep walls that drop away into the deep blue where you will see monster schools of fish. The southern Grenadines offer the largest variety of fish and corals. Most of the area is a marine park, and thus offers unspoiled underwater beauty. Mayreau has the most dives site in the southern Grenadines. Be sure not to miss:
1) Puruni Wreck – A 1918 English gun ship approximately 140′ in length and found in only 40′ of water. This is a great wreck dive for all levels.
2) Hot Springs – An underwater volcano with continuous bubbles. The water temperature changes dramatically, becoming very warm. See an abundance of outstanding corals.
The Tobago Cays area is made up of five uninhabited keys and is a National Park protected by the government. Check out the following dive sites:
1) Horseshoe Reef – At 60′, you will find numerous soft and hard corals. There are sand and nurse sharks sleeping under ledges.
2) Ends Reef – At 70′, you will find schools of spotted eagle rays swimming in formation, as sting rays sleep in the sand.
3) Sail Rock – This is a pinnacle dive complete with a cave which has three separate exits, schools of fish, stingrays, and an old cannon. With a depth of 70′ and a very strong current, this is for advanced divers only.
Grenada ‘s underwater terrain is as beautiful as the dramatic landscape rising above it. Though shallow reef, wall and drift dives are all available, the most popular site is the wreck of the Bianca C – known locally as the “Titantic of the Caribbean.” This 600′ long Italian ocean liner was anchored in St. George, when on October 22, 1961, an explosion occurred in its engine room. Although all but 1 person was saved, the ship sank in 165’ of water 1 ½ miles offshore as it was being towed out of the harbor. It is now considered to be one of the top ten wreck dives in the Caribbean. Keep your eye out for spotted eagle rays, reef and nurse sharks, and large barracudas making the wreck home. In addition, because of its position in the ocean, the pelagics swimming around the ship are fantastic. Due to its depth, this dive is limited to advanced divers. Other popular dive sites include:
1) Molinere Reef – Running a depth of 60-130′, this reef is part of the Grenada National Park. The northern part of this bay is the site of where English sculptor Jason Taylor has developed the first underwater sculpture park in the Caribbean. Located at a depth of 15-25′, these fantastic and unique pieces of work depict Grenada ‘s colorful history and folklore.
2) Flamingo Bay -This area is also part of the northern part of Grenada ‘s National Marine Park. At a depth of 20-90’, it is one of the top three dive sites in Grenada. The reef is truly a treasure trove of all coral species (including elkhorn coral) and sponges. The prevalence of seahorses is a particular draw to this site. Flamingo Bay is as close as you will get to diving in an aquarium with its plentiful and diverse marine life.
The Caribbean is known worldwide for its calm blue waters with high visibility. No wonder it is one of the premier vacation destinations for those on sailing charters. Yet, if you do not tank up, you are missing an amazing and extraordinary natural wonder that you can only experience by getting in over your head. Whether you are enjoying a leisurely inner reef dive, an exhilarating drift dive along spectacular drop-offs, or thrilling night dives, you will discover a silent world teeming with life. There is no doubt that sailing charters to the islands offer you a bit of paradise onshore, but there is also a spectacular paradise awaiting you offshore and beneath the surface with a vast, unspoiled playground filled with exotic sea creatures and breathtaking vistas. There are canyons and caves, sheer mountain walls plunging to the ocean floor, coral formations of all shapes and colors, and wrecks of hundreds of ships – all teeming with an incredible diversity of sea plants and marine life from sponges to sharks – just waiting to be explored!
write by Roger