Bahamas trip report
In early September, Bob & I embarked on a trip to experience a new itinerary offered by Explorer Ventures www.explorerventures.com. In early April with the addition to their fleet of their latest vessel, M/V Turks & Caicos Explorer II, they found themselves with their original vessel, M/V Caribbean Explorer I, looking for an exciting new destination. After much research & months of planning, they've established a new itinerary based out of Georgetown, Great Exuma, Bahamas. (We're planning a group trip for Aug. 5-12, 2006)
We flew through Miami into Georgetown and were met by their friendly local taxis driven by Mary and her son, Les. After the luggage was loaded we were transported around the island to the Georgetown Harbour and the CEX I as she's affectionately known! The crew met us at the dock and handled all our luggage and gear very efficiently and introduced themselves and the boat to us. We were then on our own from early afternoon until 6:30 p.m. when the tides were right and we departed for our first stop, Long Island. Dinner the first evening was served en route to Long Island, gear stations were picked on the dive deck, cameras were unpacked and set up and after a relaxing evening up on the sundeck getting to know the crew and other guests, it was off to the cabin for a good night's rest!
The boat is equipped with 4 cabins on the upper deck, all have queen beds and en suite baths. Two of the cabins also have upper twin bunks. The remaining 5 cabins are in the lower deck and share two full baths. The crew cabins are also located on the lower deck. All cabins were well-maintained with attractive tropical furnishings. There was ample storage space under the beds for dive bags. The upper cabins had a limited supply of hangars but no closet/drawer space. We utilized the top bunk to stack our swimsuits and t-shirts & shorts. The lower cabins did have some closet/drawer space. The showers were separate from the toilet in all the baths. Outside the bath was the separate sink. Water was plentiful and hot.
The main level of the ship accommodates the bridge, galley, salon & spacious dive deck with an additional head. Breakfast and dinners were served inside the air-conditioned salon. Lunch is served up on the sundeck. Barbeque night is also served on the sundeck. Inside the salon is also a TV/VCR/DVD for your viewing pleasure. This boat is not yet equipped with a computer station for the growing number of digital photographers. If you're shooting digital, plan on bringing along your own laptop/remote hard drive/CD-DVD burner to download and store your photos. E-6 processing is only available if reserved in advance and a minimum number of rolls are required for them to process due to the extremely short life of the chemicals required.
The dive deck is extremely well organized as all modern liveaboards are expected to be! A spacious camera table is located at the fore end of the dive deck. Two shelves below the camera table hold all the camera/housing essential parts & there is a separate charging station near the camera table. Cubby-hole space under the bench is provided for each diver to store mask/fins/gloves/lights, etc. Both Nitrox and air hoses service each diving station. The usual protocol is to remove your first stage after your dive for prompt refills. Fills were never less than 3000 psi; usually closer to 3200. Nitrox was consistently analyzed at 32%. Henri, the engineer, prided himself on his ┐spot-onţ Nitrox mix! Diving is done from the swim platform at the rear of the dive deck. You can also exit from either side of the dive deck if you so choose, but it's a pretty big giant stride! Two ladders accommodate returning divers and two hang lines are provided at 18-20' for safety stops. A tender is in the water in the event it is needed. Cameras are expertly handled by the crew and there is a dedicated camera rinse tank at the back of the dive deck.
Diving began and ended at Long Island, about a 3-hour sail from Georgetown. All of our luggage arrived with us but their alternate itinerary includes a few dive sites around Great Exuma in the event of luggage delays. It seems that the Continental flights out of Ft. Lauderdale seem to be ┐missingţ bags frequently and then they must overnight in Georgetown and do the first two dives locally before the afternoon luggage delivery and departure to Long Island. Three of our fellow passengers arrived on the CO flight with luggage intact and the rest of us arrived via AA out of Miami and all luggage this Charter was accounted for so we could depart immediately.
Our first two dives at Long Island were the only wreck dives of the week. The Cumberback Wreck is a small shipwreck in around 100' of water with great visibility and teeming with fish life. It's a great dive to begin your trip with although some newer divers might find it a bit deep. The deck structures are at about 60-75'. The other dive site that first day was Hog Cay Reef.
After a day of diving Long Island, it was off to Conception Island overnight and more great dive sites. Dive sites there were Grouper Ledge, Chutes & Ladders, Hocus Pocus, & Missing Link. Depth limit aboard the CEX I is 130' with 500 psi remaining in your tank at the end of the dive and no decompression diving allowed. Time/depth/remaining air were logged at the end of each dive. As long as your computer allowed you to dive and you had a buddy, you had freedom to dive your own profiles. If you are a certified solo diver with proof of certification, solo diving was permitted.
The shallowest mooring of the week was 45' and the deepest was 75'. The reef structures at Conception and San Salvadore are among the most beautiful I've seen in the Caribbean. Sheer walls, 100' plus vis and deep blue water contrasted with blindingly white fine sand. I've never seen so many shades of blueŮ.azure, turquoise, midnightŮ.and all shades in between! In the sandy areas one had to be very careful of buoyancy. The slightest fin touch put up a sandstorm that took forever to settle! There were lots and lots of swimthrus and we were happy to be the first ones through most times since there were a couple of novice divers in the group who were struggling for good buoyancy!
Conception Island is known for frequent reef shark encounters and we weren't disappointed. Several of them cruised in and around us at the various dive sites. One of the highlights of this new itinerary for the CEX I has been frequent hammerhead sightings near San Salvadore. Unfortunately for us, the water temp ranged between 86 and 88 degrees and it appears the hammerheads have taken to deeper than recreational limits to avoid the warmer water. Dive sites at San Sal were Sandy Cliffs, Sea Garden, Telephone Pole (didn't find it!), Devil's Claw, Hole in the Wall, the Humps, Pyramids & Town Wall. Eagle rays were often spotted off the walls below us, turtles were seen on most every dive and both Southern and yellow stingrays were encountered in the sand flats and between the ridges. The reefs were teeming with the usual Caribbean fish and we even were able to find some new macro opportunities! Oh, and I found a LIONFISH at Conception Island at Missing Link! Yes, a lionfishŮobviously someone has released one from an aquarium somewhere and it's made its way to the Bahamas! The reef has lots of cardinals & juvenile fish for food so this juvenile has a fairly good chance of growing into an adult. I wonder if it will like the cooler Bahamian waters in the winter?
Dive briefings were announced by their signature ┐conch blowingţ & were well illustrated on the white board with recommendations for a dive plan and significant features and depths noted. A divemaster was in the water on every dive to serve as a guide if you wished to follow him/her. Because this boat is part of the ┐Explorerţ fleet and this is a new destination, every trip tries to incorporate at least one ┐exploratoryţ dive and ours was no exception. We did one at San Salvadore called ┐Town Wallţ because of the proximity to the main town. Everything other than the name on the dive board was question marks and all guests were invited to diagram the board after their dive so they could compile a ┐briefing sheetţ for the next trip. It proved to be an interesting dive and will probably wind up as one of the more ┐regularţ sites on upcoming trips.
Lucy & Graham were our dive guides with a third guide off on vacation that week. Henri, our South African engineer, was interesting to talk with and a whiz with any type of mechanical problem, be it air con/camera/housing/regulator, etc. One of his previous jobs was an underwater diamond miner so he had some interesting stories to tell. John (Bear), our Australian chef, guarded his galley like his nickname but had the usual Aussie sense of humor and personality and put together some incredible meals. Prime rib on the first night gave us an inkling of the fare to follow! Eamonn is the captain and Nicola, his wife, wears hats as the stewardess, cruise director and trip coordinator. This is their first liveaboard assignment and they are loving it and it shows. It's a very well-run ship with an extremely competent crew and service and safety are their main concerns. Your happiness and a well-enjoyed holiday are right up there and they'll do anything to make sure you're enjoying yourself. They are also a fun crew who work extremely well together and appear to be enjoying themselves in the process.
This is a remarkably reasonably priced liveaboard considering the amenities included. The regular pricing for the lower cabins is $1195 per person with a $65 fuel surcharge and port fees of $75. The upper cabins are priced at $1595 per person. For the ┐low season (August/September)ţ they were offering a discounted rate of $995 for the lower cabins and $1395 for the upper cabins. This includes the accommodations, all meals and snacks, soft drinks, beer & alcohol and diving per the published itinerary. Nitrox was available for the week for an additional $150.00. It's an older boat but you'd never know it. It's in fantastic shape and certainly rates up there with their competition in the Caribbean. I'd highly recommend it for someone's first liveaboard experience since a lot of divers think liveaboards are so expensive in comparison to some of the land-based operations. I'd also recommend it for experienced divers because the destination offers some incredible diving.
On a scale of one to five, I'd rate this boat/destination/crew/value a FIVE!