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Last month I gave a slide show at a dive convention. During the question and answer period at the end, I was asked, ‘Where is your favorite place to go diving?’ Now that is a common enough request and, as my mind searched for the right response, the question became more specific. ‘Now don’t tell me the Red Sea or Maldives or Papua New Guinea because I can’t afford the time or the money to go there. What I mean is, where is your favorite place to go diving in the Caribbean?’
In some ways that made it a tougher question because there is so much good diving within a one to three hour airplane ride from Miami. However, my favorite place is not one island but a collection of 700; not in the Caribbean but the Atlantic. My favorite dives in the Western Hemisphere have been in the waters of The Bahamas.
When I think of The Bahamas, the images are colored by 18 years of dive adventure. I think of the first time I dived her waters, crossing the Gulf Stream in a 50 foot boat out of Key Largo and discovering the stunning walls of the Cay Sal Banks. Here we encountered 150 foot visibility and enjoyed a sense of exhilaration (and a little bit of narcosis) plunging down the vertical precipice. Here were perfectly intact corals and giant groupers, brazen enough to peer directly into my facemask. This was the first place I’d seen sharks in the wild, yet instead of causing fear they inspired admiration for their graceful motion and obvious efficiency.
Over the years I have traveled to most of the major islands of The Bahamas, each of which has contributed its own distinct memories:
In the Abacos I’ve been impressed by the masses of sharks in attendance at the famous Walker’s Cay Shark Rodeo, the fascinating historical shipwrecks off Green Turtle Cay and the shallow coral cathedrals chock full of Glass Minnows off Marsh Harbour.
Andros delivered a world of wondrous wall dives along the Tongue of the Ocean, as well as the alluring shallow wreck of the Potomac; a 345 foot British freighter sunk in 1929. The Barge was rich with fish life in only 70 feet of water and Black Forest, as implied by the name, delivered photogenic black coral trees.
Bimini has always surprised me by being so good, yet so near. Only 50 miles off the Florida coast I’ve found stunning water clarity, several shipwrecks jammed with marine life and a friendly pod of Spotted Dolphins perfect for snorkel encounters.
In the Berry Islands I have seen acres of perfectly intact Elkhorn Coral rising to within inches of the surface, a snorkeler’s delight.
Along the Eleuthera chain I’ve wondered at the shallow Train Wreck off Spanish Wells, hand-fed tame groupers at The Plateau off Harbour Island and experienced the ultimate high velocity drift at Current Cut.
In the Exumas I dived with sharks at Danger Cay, explored fascinating blue holes off Great Exuma and photographed a new 95 foot shipwreck purposely sunk as a dive attraction.
Off Long Island I’ve photographed Caribbean Reef Sharks in a feeding frenzy and found reefs rich with tropical marine life. A day trip to nearby Conception Island provided historical shipwrecks in just 20 feet of water and some of the best vertical walls to be found in this hemisphere.
San Salvador may offer some of the clearest water in the world of sport diving. I’ve commonly seen 200 foot visibility washing walls draped with giant tube sponges.
I have visited Grand Bahama repeatedly to photograph Freeport’s three hottest dive sites; Theo’s Wreck, a 230 foot freighter sunk in 100 feet of water; Shark Junction, where swarms of Caribbean Reef Sharks come to be hand-fed daily; and the Dolphin Experience, an open water scuba dive with Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins. I have also joined live-aboard dive boats exploring the waters off the West End of Grand Bahama to snorkel with the resident pod of Spotted Dolphins at White Sand Ridge, dive dramatic oceanic pinnacles such as Mount Olympus and photograph one of the best night dives anywhere, the Sugar Wreck.
New Providence Island offers a blend of historic and modern shipwrecks, walls, stunning shallow reefs and sharks; lots of sharks. There are Caribbean Reefs galore at Shark Runway, Shark Wall and the Shark Arena, as well as the Silkies that congregate beneath the Shark Buoy tethered in 6,000 feet of water.
Collectively there are hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing dive sites amid The Islands of The Bahamas. And, the great thing about them is that they are so close. Depending on whether you fly on propeller plane or jet, these islands are only 30 to 90 minutes from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. That translates to inexpensive airfares and the ability to dive on the day of arrival. Whereas other more, remote islands of the Caribbean thrive on week-long dive/lodging packages, The Bahamas can offer wonderful dive holidays of as little as three day’s duration. You’ll want to do more, of course, but the point is that with little time or money, The Bahamas can deliver world-class scuba and snorkel adventures.
Inexpensive and accessible, The Bahamas justify numerous visits. You’ll never see it all, but you’ll have a grand time trying. For more information on the dive options in The Bahamas, phone The Bahamas Diving Association at (800) 866-DIVE or (305) 932-0051.