Diving Grand Turk Style


Text & photography by Bill Harrigan

What do you want most on a dive trip? All of us have our own priorities but some things are probably on everyone’s list. How about this one, for instance: sunshine, warm clear water, lots of fish, healthy corals, nice beach, no crowds, friendly people, comfortable room, easy dive arrangements, potential for unusual animal encounters, good food, great views and time to relax? Those are the things I like best about Grand Turk, the home of Blue Water Divers and the Salt Raker Inn. Simple and basic but extraordinarily fine.

Blue Water Divers: Mitch Rolling’s Blue Water Divers is a perfect fit for Grand Turk. Like the island and its people, Blue Water Divers is unpretentious and fun. This is definitely not a large volume, take a number dive operation with a rigid weekly dive schedule. It’s a small business and you’ll see Mitch everywhere dive store, boat, classroom and underwater. He and divemaster Carl Been are the only fulltime staff at Blue Water Divers, but they still offer a full range of services, such as rental equipment, dive boutique and instruction. The Blue Water Diving boats include a pair of 24 foot Carolinas and a 24 foot Privateer. All three boats are well-matched to the diving conditions on Grand Turk.

Grand Turk Diving: The Grand Turk wall is not only world-class, it is conveniently situated only a few hundred yards off the beach, along the western coast. Since this is the leeward side of the island, the water is usually flat. Although there are many distinctly different sites on the wall, the general profile is a reef that slopes gradually from about 25 feet to a ridge at about 45. From there it drops straight down more than 5,000 feet. The top of the wall is a living bluff of hard corals, mostly large colonies of Star, Giant Star and Brain Coral. The face of the wall is liberally coated with plate corals and gorgonians. Many sponges, such as encrusting Elephant Ears and multi-barreled tube sponges, provide bright splashes of color. At least four species of Black Coral grow on the wall, sometimes as shallow as 60 feet. The wall is cut by numerous clefts and ravines, with coral arches and swim-throughs.

The Turks and Caicos government wisely decided to protect the natural resources of the Grand Turk wall before it was well-known, establishing the Columbus Landfall National Park back in 1992. The benefits of that park are evident in the large numbers of fish present today, especially the bold Nassau Groupers. These large and curious fish may follow you around for much of your dive. The wall is like an underwater freeway for large pelagics; Spotted Eagle Rays, Manta Rays and Blacktip Sharks are often seen by divers. Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtles are also frequently encountered.

Mitch started Blue Water Divers back in 1983 and knows the waters around Grand Turk like the proverbial back of his hand. He took me on a wonderful tour of the wall at Black Forest recently. The delicate pastels of the Black Coral colonies, the vivid Purple Tube Sponges and large orange Elephant Ear Sponges give the site lots of color. MacDonald’s Arch is another favorite, with its fascinating swim-through and field of Garden Eels. A series of deeply cut ravines provide interesting places to explore at the Tunnels. Coral Garden and the Library both have excellent shallow reef areas and vertical drop-offs.

Blue Water Divers also makes excursions to Salt Cay and South Caicos. Salt Cay has both shallow reefs and walls, as well as the wreck of the Endemion. South Caicos is for the adventurous diver who wants deeper walls and the chance of large animal encounters.

Salt Raker Inn: Jenny Smith’s Salt Raker Inn was originally constructed about 1830 as the waterfront home of a Bermudan shipwright. It still has the same superb view across the beach and a century and a half has only increased its charm. The ambiance of the inn is casual and comfortable, the sort of place that makes you feel at home immediately. The Salt Raker’s ten rooms and three suites now feature modern amenities such as air-conditioning, refrigerator and satellite television. Blue Water Divers operates a dive boutique at the Salt Raker, with some of the most original T-shirt designs you’ll find anywhere.

Space for rinsing and storing dive gear has been set aside in the rear courtyard, among the lush tropical plantings. The popular Secret Garden restaurant, where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily, is also here. In addition to food, the Secret Garden features the live music and the entertainment of Mitch Rolling and Dave Warren. They play guitar and sing together on Sundays and Mitch goes solo Wednesday evening.

Of course, scuba diving is not the only activity on Grand Turk. Through Blue Water Divers and the Salt Raker you can arrange a round of golf at the governor’s residence, horseback riding on the beach or countryside, deep sea fishing or snorkeling at Gibb’s Cay. The Turquoise Summer Dive Package provides five days of diving and seven nights lodging and includes many extras such as round trip airfare from Providenciales.

Travel Information: Grand Turk is only a short flight from Miami on American Airlines, followed by an even shorter hop on an inter-island commuter. A passport or certified birth certificate and photo ID is all that’s needed at immigrations. U.S. dollars are the official currency and the electricity is 110 volts. Casual clothes are the rule, but visitors are asked not to wear bathing suits around town.

For more information or reservations, contact Blue Water Divers by e-mail at mrolling@caribsurf.com and by telephone or fax at (649) 946-1226. The mailing address is P.O. Box 124, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies. The Salt Raker Inn can be reached by telephone at (649) 946-2260 or fax at (649) 946-2817. E-mail can be sent to sraker@caribsurf.com; regular mail should go to P.O. Box 1, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos, BWI. Additional information on both Blue Water Divers and the Salt Raker Inn is also available on the web site at www.microplan.com/ bluerake.htm.