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By Bill Harrigan
Now, normally I wouldn’t use the words vacation and study in the same sentence. Vacation days are hard enough to come by; who wants to waste them poring through a textbook? Learning to scuba dive, though, can make a vacation exciting and truly memorable. And, learning to dive in a lovely spot such as St. Lucia is nearly all fun. Even checkout dives are enjoyable when the water is clear and warm and colorful reef fish are swarming all around.
Diving conditions on St. Lucia are well suited to beginning and experienced divers who feel their skills are a bit rusty. Almost all of the diving is along the leeward side of the island, where the water is calm and the reefs are close to shore. A number of the shallow reefs are excellent for snorkeling, which can be a good way to ease into the sport. The water temperature stays above 80F most of the year, peaking around 84 in the summer and only getting down to about 76 in the winter. Visibility is normally in the 60 to 100 foot range, with less visibility when it rains heavily; there are many sparkling days with more than 100 foot visibility when the weather is clear. Current strength varies from none to moderate. When currents are present, the dives are normally done as relaxing drift dives.
St. Lucia’s marine park extends from Anse Jambon to the south tip of Gros Piton. It includes many wonderful dive sites such as Anse Chastanet Reef, the Pinnacles, Trou Diable, Turtle Reef and Piton Wall. Other excellent dive sites are found north of the park, many of them clustered around protected bays known as Anse Cochon and Anse La Raye. Boat rides vary from a couple of minutes to about 45 minutes, depending on the resort of departure.
Divers come to St. Lucia from around the world, so dive operators on the island generally have instructors certified by a variety of agencies. This means you can usually choose among courses by PADI, NAUI, SSI and others. If you are already taking a dive course at home, your instructor can refer you to a St. Lucia instructor for the required open water dives. When your options are limited to lakes or quarries, it’s nice to use a referral to enjoy the Caribbean Sea instead. Check with both your instructor and the dive operation to ensure your referral arrangement is set up properly.
The courses available vary with each dive operation but, in general, they range from resort to instructor, including most of the warm water specialty courses. St. Lucia is an excellent choice for Underwater Naturalist and Fish Identification courses because there is such a variety of species present on the reefs. Many unusual creatures, such as Spotted Snake Eels, Frogfish, Gold Spotted Eels and Atlantic Guitarfish can be found here, particularly on Anse Chastanet Reef. You may see things on your first dive that other people haven’t seen in 10 years of diving!
Taking a full certification course doesn’t have to monopolize all of your vacation time. Resort courses, non-certifying introductions that include a guided open water dive, generally only take about three hours. Specialty courses take one or two days, depending on the course. Open water certification generally takes four or five days. If you are planning to take some dive instruction on your trip, ask about home study materials when you make your reservations. Quite often you can reduce the open water certification time to three days by arranging to use videos, texts or CD-ROMs at home.
Many of St. Lucia dive operators also have a good selection of high quality, well-maintained rental equipment. Check ahead to see what is available; you may be able to save the initial expense of buying all or part of your own equipment. And, sometimes it’s worth using rental gear just to avoid the hassle of bringing your own.
Above water, St. Lucia’s reputation for romance makes it an excellent place for couples interested in diving. Idyllic beaches, rustling palms, fragrant tropical flowers and the dramatic peaks of the Pitons all contribute to the convivial atmosphere, but there is more to it. The feeling is there when you check into your hotel, fostered by the people and the scenery. Many of the resorts that cater to divers are all-inclusive, so you don’t have to worry about where to eat or any of the other distracting daily decisions. Couples can just relax and let the island work its magic.
Call the St. Lucia Tourist Board for more information, or check with any of the dive operators listed in the sidebar accompanying this article. The resorts and dive operations vary considerably in style, price and location, providing a variety of choices for services on both land and water.
ST. LUCIA DIVE OPERATORS
Dolphin Divers Royal St. Lucian
(758) 452-9485 (800) 255-5859
Marigot Beach Club SunSwept Resorts
(800) ST-LUCIA (800) 549-DIVE
(758) 451-4974 (758) 450-8551