Walls Galore! Composing Great Underwater Photograhs

Precipitous Adventures Aboard the Turks and Caicos Aggressor

By Stephen Frink

Repeat business is the best kind of recommendation. Next February I will charter the Turks and Caicos Aggressor a third time, on this occasion to visit the Humpback Whales that congregate in the Silver Banks of the Dominican Republic. I ran a similar trip in February of 1996; I have also chartered the vessel in the past as a base for advanced sessions I’ve taught for the Nikon School of U/W Photography. For these seminars we cruised the walls and reefs around Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos.

Given the huge variety in live-aboard options, why do I go back to the Aggressor Fleet in general and the Turks and Caicos Aggressor specifically? While I may organize several live-aboard dive adventures each year, I have to admit the ones I book with Aggressor Fleet are among the easiest to put together. The boats are based where divers want to go and there is tremendous consumer confidence in the quality of the vessels and their staff. I know that once we arrive, my guests will be taken care of, professionally and courteously. It also helps that the crew is every bit as excited about the diving as we are.

The Vessel: With 12 boats situated throughout the Caribbean and the Pacific, the Aggressor Fleet has made a science of creating vessels to satisfy the demands of savvy clients. In the Turks and Caicos islands, the Aggressor Fleet has chosen a 100 foot aluminum V-hull, configured with five double cabins and one quad. A full guest complement is just 16 passengers. Amenities include a comfortable main salon equipped with a TV/VCR and stereo, air-conditioning throughout, sundeck (with shade), E-6 darkroom and U/W camera/video rental gear and, of course, the heart of any Aggressor charter, the dive deck. Here aluminum tanks are always filled and ready, guest gear storage lockers keep personal equipment organized and a spacious camera table allows for that crucial pre-dive maintenance ritual. Camera rinse tanks, freshwater showers and a large dive platform with extended ladders are further elements of an ergonomically efficient dive deck.

Her twin 12 cylinder diesel engines can power the Turks & Caicos Aggressor at 15 knots but rarely are the runs between dive sites very long in these islands. Instead of hours of cruising, time is spent making four to five dives per day. A pair of 5,000 psi Mako compressors with cascade storage system assures plenty of compressed air and watermakers provide ample fresh water during the charter. In keeping with the Aggressor program of redundancy for all crucial systems, there are two electrical generators.

The destinations: There is a short season, January through March, where the Caribbean population of Humpback Whales congregates in the Silver Banks of the Dominican Republic to mate and calf. The area is only 10 miles wide by 30 miles long, 80 miles to the southeast of Grand Turk. It is here the Turks & Caicos Aggressor comes to observe more than 1,500 whales breach, spy hop, tail slap and train their young. Occasionally, whales are friendly enough to allow very close in water encounters. The Turks & Caicos Aggressor is one of the few live-aboards licensed by the government of the Dominican Republic for Humpback Whale observation expeditions and these tours sell out very quickly.

The rest of the year finds the Turks & Caicos Aggressor operating out of Providenciales, just 575 miles southeast of Miami, an hour and a half by jet. The dive itineraries from Provo offer a wide range of reef and wall diving. The Turks and Caicos are at the south end of The Bahamas chain and consist of two gigantic limestone plateaus separated by the 30 mile wide Turks Islands Passage. These islands rise from an 11,000 foot deep oceanic trench, forming seven major islands and 40 small cays. They are arid, with sparse vegetation. With no rivers or mountains, minimal topsoil or rain and little urban effects of population, there is little to spoil the water clarity. Visibility of 120 to 150 feet is common and the entire archipelago is rimmed by healthy fringing reefs. The walls typically plunge precipitously and are decorated with massive Elephant Ear and tube sponges, making them the delight of wide angle photo enthusiasts. There are ample subjects for tropical fish watchers as well. Since the crew members of the Turks & Caicos Aggressor are so photo oriented, they have, of necessity, become students of marine life habitats. They can advise where to find the best macro life or cleaning stations, and where the pelagic life is likely to be found. While the pelagic life most commonly consists of turtles, eagle rays and dolphins, it should be noted that the Turks and Caicos are on the migration route of the Humpbacks. Coming and going to the Silver Banks they pass by these islands and divers share the weird and wonderful sensation of hearing their songs underwater. On occasion, divers will even get to glimpse these magnificent cetaceans. Of course, that is almost certainly the time you’ll be set up with your 105mm macro rig!

Through years of careful observation and literally thousands of logged dives, the captain and crew of the Turks & Caicos Aggressor know this destination intimately and proudly share this knowledge with their guests. Some of their favorite dives include the following:

Several sites along the Northwest Point of Providenciales provide outstanding wall diving. Shark Hotel is named for the Caribbean Reef Sharks sometimes found cruising along the wall but since this is not a shark feeding dive, a more realistic expectation is for magnificent sponge life along a spectacular wall. At Amphitheater Black Coral profusely adorns the wall. Hole in the Wall presents a lovely shallow patch reef with abundant tropical fish at 40 to 60 feet. At about 70 to 80 feet the wall becomes a sheer plunge dominated by a chimney covered with colorful bryozoans, tunicates and encrusting sponges.

At nearby West Caicos, an uninhabited island 10 miles southwest of Provo, wall diving again reigns supreme. At Elephant Ear Canyon a massive Orange Elephant Ear Sponge stands between two impressive coral buttresses. At a depth of 90 feet, this disk shaped sponge measures 11 feet in diameter. While this sponge is remarkable for its size, the Purple Tube Sponges decorating the drop-off are likewise impressive. The Anchor is another fine drop-off, unique for a giant fluked anchor wedged in a spur and groove crevice at about 65 feet. The friendly grouper found at The Gullies are always a favorite of visiting divers. Another 15 miles southeast of West Caicos is a sandy cay with low, scrubby vegetation known as French Cay. The southwest side of the island offers excellent scuba and snorkel opportunities and is a breeding area for Nurse Sharks during the summer.

The Aggressor Fleet has earned a reputation for a world class ‘Eat, Sleep and Dive’ vacation. Captain Julie Jordan and the crew of the Turks & Caicos Aggressor preserves this tradition in a destination ideally accessed by the range and convenience of a quality live-aboard.

For further information about the Turks & Caicos Aggressor or reservations, contact the Aggressor Fleet at (800) 348-2628 or (504) 385-2628; fax (504) 384-0817. E-mail inquiries may be directed to 103261.1275@compuserve.com or div boat@aol.com; Web browsers can visit the Aggressor Fleet at www.aggressor. com.

Don Foster’s Dive Cayman Corrections: The contact information at the end of our May editorial featuring Don Foster’s Dive Cayman was incorrect. The number for the Texas reservation office should have read (972) 722-2535; fax (972) 722-6511. The correct phone on Grand Cayman is (345) 945-5132; fax (345) 945-5133. The e-mail address should have read dfd@candw.ky. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.