Trip report: Northeast Caribbean diving aboard Caribbean Explorer II, Nov. 22-29, 2008
Our group of 11 embarked from Detroit early in the morning of November 22 and with a quick connection through Miami, arrived in St. Maarten mid-afternoon….wow, on-time departures were amazing! After a tedious amount of time clearing Immigration in St. Maarten, all bags were accounted for and our Explorer Ventures taxi drivers greeted us as we left the Customs Area. A ten minute drive through Philipsburg brought us to Bobby’s Marina and the CEX II as she’s affectionately known. Introductions were made with the crew greeting us and luggage was swiftly loaded aboard the vessel. Most of our fellow passengers had also arrived so we met our soon-to-be friends from Houston, the United Kingdom & Virginia.
Cabins were assigned and luggage unpacked, dive gear assembled on the dive deck and safety briefing accomplished, we were free to enjoy several hours of “sun-time” while the ship was refueled and we waited for the last arriving passenger. Cool drinks and the sundeck beckoned! Dinner was steak and baked potatoes and after the last guest arrived, Capt. Dave started the engines and we cruised out of the harbor on our way to Saba, a 2-1/2 hour crossing.
Sunday, Monday & Tuesday had us diving various dive sites around Saba. The sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm but quite windy. We soon realized that we were in the middle of a “weather hump” as Capt. Dave called it, which resulted in choppy waters, strong currents and less-than-optimal visibility. The crew worked their tails off to get us to the smoothest dive sites possible for three days…several times reaching a site they rejected as undiveable….in those three days, the only dive that had been scheduled that was missed was one night dive…pretty amazing considering the water conditions they were dealing with! Unfortunately, we had to miss one of the signature dive sites of Saba, Diamond Rock, but everyone had great dives at many other sites around the island including Ladder Labrynth, Dave’s Dropoff, Big Rock Market, Tent Reef & Tent Wall.
On Tuesday afternoon, those who wished to skip a dive were offered a land tour of Saba. The hand-made road that winds up/down and around the island is always a treat to travel on and the homes that are all painted white with green shutters and orange roofs had everyone’s cameras clicking! The highlight feature of Saba is Mt. Scenery, which is a dormant volcano, and visits were made to the lace factory and the glass artist’s studio. On a clear day, Statia, St. Maarten, St. Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla & St. Barts can be seen from various spotting locations on Saba.
Early Wednesday morning had us heading for St. Eustatius (Statia) for a day of diving in their Marine Park. A guide from their local MP office is required for all divers in their waters, so after picking up Liz, our guide for the day, 5 dives were enjoyed on Statia. Dive sites there included Barracuda Reef, Anchor Point, the Ledges & Wreck City. Yes, there were barracuda at Barracuda Point and anchors (SEVERAL) at Anchor Point! An independent afternoon tour of Statia was also offered in place of one dive and several of the group thoroughly enjoyed wandering the streets of Oranjestad, the capital of St. Eustatius. After the night dive at Statia, Capt. Dave headed the ship over to St. Kitts, a 1-1/2 hour sail away across smooth waters.
Thursday and Friday had us diving the dive sites of St. Kitts including Paradise Reef, Anchors Aweigh (yes, there were anchors!), the Corinthian (a tugboat shipwreck) and River Taw. Five dives were accomplished on Thursday and 2 on Friday morning. After the last scheduled dive of the trip, Capt. Dave made our way to the dock at Port Zanthe. Dive gear was washed and strung out on the top sun deck…looked like a SCUBA garage sale in progress! Those wishing to wander left the boat for a walk around the area near the Port; the remainder of the group stayed onboard reading and watching their gear dry!
Saturday morning, after a continental breakfast, we had Percy, EV’s local St. Kitts tour guide, pick us up for a tour of the island. First stop was Fort Brimstone Hill, a fort built by the British in the 1700’s and in the process of full restoration since the mid 1960’s….a beautiful historical site indeed. We saw the sugar cane windmills still standing as a testament to the island’s history of being a major producer of sugar for the world and saw all the beautiful old churches, the original on the island dating back to 1625! After a tour of the local batik factory, it was time to head to the airport for our return flight home.
All in all, a fantastic week was had by everyone….marine sightings included lots of turtles, huge stingrays, schools of jacks and barracuda, queen and French angelfish including lots of juveniles, porcupinefish, puffers, nurse & reef sharks, trumpetfish, HUGE lobster, clinging crabs, scorpion fish, lots of flounder & conch and the usual butterflyfish & durgeon and damselfish that everyone expects to see on Caribbean dives. We even saw a Caribbean snake eel, a new sighting for all of the group, I think! Several of the reefs showed some damage from Hurricane Omar with some broken corals and sponges but since we were diving in Marine Parks, recovery should be complete within a moderate amount of time.
Clare, Dawn & Rachel were our diveguides for the week and did a superb job; Ryan made sure our cabins were kept in tip-top shape and Zach fed us well…and often! Cyprian served as Engineer for the week and kept the generators running, our cabins cool and the compressors filled so our tanks had as much air as we needed for the week. Capt. Dave drove that boat all over the islands all week plus acted as “jack of all trades” when the ice maker failed because of the choppy waters! Thanks to Explorer Ventures and the Caribbean Explorer II for a memorable Thanksgiving trip (oh, yes, we DID have a traditional turkey dinner as well!)