The following pictures are from previous trips aboard the Aqua Cat.
May 19th 2006 Wiley and myself have said goodbye to the Sea Explorer group and with Carrie in tow we head for the Lucaya Hotel at Port Lucaya Grand Bahama. We check about early check-in and had to wait until 2:00pm for room check-in. We stored our stuff at the Bellman room and head for the shopping area to have some lunch. After a great burger, and the first good meal of the week, we beat feet to check out the area. We headed for the beach by the Casino and hotel. We stopped for a drink at the Prop Club and watched the ocean gently lapping the soft white sand just a few hundred feet to the south. We were reminiscing the last week and all the new great stories that would be told and sizing up the weather for the next week. If today were any indicator it would be a great week in the southern part of the Bahamas. We waited at the Foyer, for a bathroom break by Carrie, to the Prop Club where the Hostess asked if we needed any help, she was not sure witch way we were headed, I was wearing my Pirate T-shirt and she asked me if "I was a Pirate" at witch point I recited Jimmy Buffett?s A Pirate looks at Forty. She never caught on! Even when I said "I have made enough money to buy Miami, but pissed it away to fast, wasn't meant to last!" She smiled thinking I might have some left! We all chuckled and said good-bye as we headed back to the Hotel to grab our room a shower and some time around the pool. This ended up to be the only place I got sun burned by falling asleep in a pool chair. A week in the Bahamas under the Sun and no burn I fall asleep one afternoon at the pool and ouch!
After re-charging our batteries and having another good meal at Zorba's in Port Lucaya we headed for the square and some entertainment. We were more tired than we thought and ended up back at the room by 10:00pm ready to get some sleep in a bed that wasn't moving.
Saturday the 20th of May 2006.
The next morning was travel day for Carrie, and use as well, so we grabbed a good breakfast. Tony enjoyed his grits for breakfast and was looking forward to the food the next week on Aqua Cat. We saw Carrie off in the cab to catch her flight back to Idaho and started thinking about the week coming up and what we had accomplished in the past week. We organized all our stuff; witch means I stuffed as much of my camera gear into Wiley's bags as I could to meet what we thought would be the new 50lb limit per bag. We headed to the airport for the thirty-minute flight to Nassau. This was going to be a domestic flight so we were dropped off at the domestic terminal at the airport. We checked in and were informed that we were allowed 44lbs per person! So we PAID the over weight fees and took our seat. The flight was on a twin-engine jet with lots of capacity to haul our entire luggage with no problems, so there goes that theory of the small plane that would hardly hold our gear let alone anyone else's, we arrived at the airport two hours early and waited one and a half hours after checking in. the flight was thirty-minutes long and waiting for the bags to be unloaded an hour! We were at the domestic terminal in Nassau Bahamas and The Aqua Cat people were not, not a lot of people come in domestically for the Cat, so we hired a cab and headed for Hurricane Harbor on Paradise Island. We had a cab driver that was hoot and brought us right down to the boat with our entire luggage in tow. We spotted our group at the pool and the Green Parrot pool bar and hauled all of our bags down to the Cat and put them aboard for later. We headed for the Bar after a long travel day, ha ha, as the rest of the group flew in from LAX on the red eye via Fort Lauderdale and were lounging by the pool catching a few rays and a nap or two. Tony and I grabbed another great Hamburger at the Green Parrot Bar along with a Top Shelf Margarita and we were ready to board for the briefing and get settled in our new home for a week.
Now this boat (The Aqua Cat) is not sea camping, it is a four or five star resort on the water, it has been said that this is your yacht for a week complete with Captain and Crew. (103ft by 36ft three story Catamaran). Around six pm we board to unpack our stuff, get the briefings, and do the paperwork for the boat. By 10:00pm all are tucked way in their beds in their cabins safely tied to the dock. This was going to be an interesting week with a group from Louisiana and Mississippi that included a diver they called Chief, a Lady named Mom, and one called Pinky! Not to ever forget Claude. We even had a diver from Fort Collins Colorado to round out the other side of the boat for a week. We had the Roy Bunch from the shop and there was talk that Roy being their boss ordered them to attend the trip. Roy also had his Sister and Brother-in-law on board. So we had Roy, Steve, Matt, Danny, Tim, Linda, Jim, Tony, Christine, Duane, and Me all from the SCUBA Locker. So it was Southern California Vs. Southern Good Old Boys. It made for a very fun trip for all including the International crew. Manny the DM from Chili received Tony's standard pre-dive briefing at which time he told Manny that "we had no Hotdogs on board" to which Manny replied "that was up to Chef Kirk he takes care of the meals"! This was going to be fun!
Sunday the 21st of May 2006.
The Aqua Cat starts her engines about 5:00am and leaves thereafter for points south in the Exumas. I rise early in order to catch the sunrise on the bow, something I have done every time I have taken this trip, it is a time for reflection and beauty as the Sun rises in the east over the ever-present clouds this time of year in the tropics. Tim was the first of the group to join me on the bow with coffee in hand shaking off the cobwebs of sound sleep. He said, "He had not heard us leave this morning and was surprised to find us at sea already." He was enthusiastic that the week was starting and there was going to be so much to do and see. He and Linda were very happy with the accommodations so fare as he was relaying to me that this was their first vacation in 18 years! At 8:30am Chef Kirk and Suse Chef Kelly served breakfast in the main Salon. Now this was weight gaining food that was for sure and plenty of it. I had a custom made omelet every morning consisting of the meat of the morning and cheese, now this was living the good life.
By 9:30am we have had our dive briefing, by Manny the Dive Master and are splashing down at Flat Rock in the Exumas. I chose to dive a 100 cubic ft. at 3300psi tank on Nitrox all week. We got 32% consistently the whole week at about 2900psi after cool down, but the crew was good at topping off my tank when I asked. 100 cubic ft. at 3300psi tank has about 12% less at 2900psi. that was okay for most dives except the deep dives, but most of the time I was carrying only an extra 10 cubic ft. it is after all just a weight adjustment and a little extra air pushing the beast around is a good thing. I always ran out of bottom time before air, but it gave me a safety margin that could come in handy. Besides I like the first in last out thing that I end up doing. This trip allows for up to 24 planned dives or more dives if you push it a little. The water was a little green from a quick warm-up that had occurred in the last week. I splashed the HD on my lanyard system that worked so well on the Sea Explorer the week prior. I attached it to the stern of the Cat and it worked as well as I had hopped. Drop it in, step off the stern, give the okay, and drop down to 15ft unhook the beast and push on. This became the routine for the week with only one our two exceptions.
Flat Rock is a pretty spot behind a small key that is sallow with lots of coral and net little critters almost everywhere. Where the boat moors the bottom is sandy which gives people who need it a place to get their weights adjusted. I headed toward the Key to find some critters to get on HD. It was warm and wonderful to be back in the water at a place I know so well. I found a number of cool things and got them in the can. Played in the coral heads for an hour plus and headed back to the ladder. After a shower and a snack it was time to head to the next site called Madison Ave were a Lyon fish was supposed to be hanging out at a pillar coral head. Another hour dive but no Lyon fish at this site all though we did see some nice critters. The after lunch dive was a drift dive at Coral Cut that everyone had a good time doing in the fast moving tide that pushed us along at what felt like break neck speed for forty minutes. I even got the Beast in the water off the stern with one hand!
We hit a great site at Lobster No Lobster were I had the still camera and photographed a Leopard Flatworm, Yellow Jaw fish, Angel fish of all kinds and little critters of all kinds. We also did the night dive at this site and for some it was their first time dropping into the clear dark warm waters for all the critters of the night that come out when the sun goes down. The new Night divers were thrilled at this new experience. Although not a lot of divers doing the night dive the some of the Roy group and a few of the Southern contingency. With another day in the can for the Beast & me we settled in for another good nights sleep.
Monday the 22nd of May 2006
As usual I am up for sunrise and breakfast. In-between the two I was on the dive deck getting the cameras ready for a full day of diving. Cleaning and changing charged batteries for all the light systems and flashes that get packed and carried on these adventures. You have to have an electrician?s license to set up the charging station for all the batteries and chargers that it takes to take all the pictures and videos. On the boat last week I kept tripping the breaker from sharing the plug with the coffee pot! The Aqua Cat has wonderful charging stations for camera gear. It maybe the best I have seen on any live aboard so far. It is away from the wet camera table and gear in a dry area of the dive deck. I always bring my own power strip so that I only take one plug, as this is the limiting factor. One of the nice things about a live aboard is that you set up once and it is good for the week and it is right there!
We headed for one of my favorite dives in this area called Up Jumped the Devil, which is a wall dive into the deep. Last year my computer exploded at one hundred and five feet on this dive. It is always a nice dive with cool things to see including a Guitar placed there by a Chief Engineer of the Aqua Cat a couple years ago. It is in amazingly good shape at 105ft. it now has a chair from the Cat so you can sit and play! I love the channels that lead you to the wall. I headed south in one of the many channels pushing the beast ahead of me trying to capture that feeling of flight you get as if you were a pilot flying through canyons. I cam out a chute to the edge of the wall next to a large pinnacle and in front of me was a large shark swimming north along the wall. I captured him in HD at 100 plus feet in all the color HD can capture at that depth. I was noticing the visibility was not the best I have seen here or this time of year. I swam along the wall behind him until he left me behind without any effort at all. I started to see other people from the boat coming out on the wall. I now know what had him in such a hurry to get out off Dodge. All those bubbles and people was no place for him. We played the guitar sat on the chair and headed back to the boat after being deep. I headed up another channel while Wiley was teaching Steve about air management at depth or lack of it! Their route was much more direct than the one I chose. Some beautiful Soft Corals and Sponges were along my path to the stern and a safety stop. Some more good stuff in the can and four more planned for the day!
The next dive at Dog Rock Wall is another deep dive but on Nitrox and an hour and half on the surface there should be no problems. This is very similar to the last dive on the wall but has its own unique features including more swim throughs and channels. One of these is called the Church for its high ceilings and light through windows. I headed for the Church and came through the wall opening to find the Roy group on my heels. I went half way through the Church and got the group pushing through this beautiful feature. You can almost feel the oohs and aahs as each one swam in. I headed out through one of the windows and back north along the wall looking for large fish and cool critters. Again I meet back up with Tony & Chris and we played fallow the leader through the channels and swim throughs. I was traveling along when I looked down to see a rear shell setting on a sponge at the bottom. We stopped long enough to Video it in HD put it back where we found it and continue on our adventures in the channels. After a nice long safety dive at 15ft to 20ft under the stern it was time to go.
We were back on board headed for lunch and Captain Ron's suggestion of heading for Eleuthera and Little San Salvador. After two deep dives we needed some surface time and with the three hours to Eleutheria we were going to have enough for another deep dive. Lunch was wonderful as always on the Aqua Cat and we had time to relax and get some Sun and clean the cameras as I again was on the dive deck changing batteries and cleaning lenses. Not much time for me to lay in the Sun, but that's okay I should stay out of it anyway, even though I had the right Skinz swimwear for it!
We arrived at Eleuthera Island at the south end of the island for our next dive at a place called The Monolith. The briefing had everyone going south for the Monolith that was to the north behind and almost under the boat. So many missed the Monolith, but still had a great dive seeing a turtle and cool stuff. I dropped down to the Monolith an Videoed it and a couple Flamingo Tongues that were in the same place as the previous year. I think they must be territorial not going very fare from their home fan. More good stuff in the Beast with water that was now deep blue warm and clear. This was for many of the California divers the best visibility they had seen. The group seemed sold that this was the way to go for a dive trip. Most were wondering where the Monolith had been? Oops!
The next stop was Jake's Hole an under water cave system that is effected by tidal flow and may connect or drain the nearby island with fresh water. It is an interesting place with a lot of small critters to capture on HD video. We splashed late afternoon on a very sallow dive site maybe thirty feet if you laid on the bottom. It is more like a safety dive with lots to see and a great coral structure. We also stayed on site for the night dive where a few more tried night diving for the first time. We where ending our second full day of diving and some had ten dives under their belt by the time their heads hit the pillows. I was now on number 22 for the two-week period. Here is where I was able to capture lots of many small critters with the still camera. Another restful night on the Cat and the weather was turning out great. Some of the best temperatures I have seen this time of year. This trip was going buy fast and I still had so much to do!
Tuesday the 23rd of May 2006
Up again for another sunrise this time over little San Salvador. This is an island used by a couple cruise lines for their beach day. It is known for its beautiful white sand beaches. With the water every shade of blue you can think of it is a beautiful island and dive site. The next dive site is Pinnacles and is very deep, even the mooring is in 40ft on one of the pinnacles that hits the sand at 70ft plus. I went straight down off the stern to the sand at 100ft to catch the garden eels. From there I headed west to a deep lower coral head at the base of one of the larger northern pinnacles. Here I saw Neck Crabs and Flamingo Tongues. I saw Tony & Chris again and showed them the Crabs. Chris had forgotten to turn her computer on at the surface and had to head back up. I headed for the drop off and Pinnacle to the west shooting as much of this giant coral pinnacle as I could in the crystal clear water that is typical at little San Salvador. I was heading around the base of the pinnacle with the camera on looking at the coral to my right, when some motion to my left caught my attention; looking left I saw a 8ft to 10ft Great Hammerhead Shark coming towards me. I caught this one on tape in HD and the only draw back is I had the wide-angle dome port lens on the housing. Add 100 plus feet and some narcosis and I wanted a do over! It circled back and forth like I had stopped it from an intended mission of some kind and did not know what it wanted to do or go. I followed it as deep as I dared on Nitrox and watched it finally drop off the reef into the deep. I headed back around the pinnacle working myself higher and looking back over my shoulder to see if my friend was possibly coming back. I was pushing my bottom time even on Nitrox and put my backup air computer into the red. This is were the extra size tank came in handy. I did a Deco stop anyway as not to violate my air computer. After my safety stop it was back to the boat with a shark tail and it was on tape. This was a good dive!
The next dive was on the same site and some saw a Red Lyon fish on the pinnacle we were moored to. This was a great sit and a great day of diving.
As for me I felt the next one could not be any better so I decided to use the opportunity to go ashore on Little San Salvador. This would give me some time to off gas and do some thing different. A chance to take pictures and sink my toes in the soft beautiful sand as well as explore a deserted beach where inhibitions can be left on the boat. (Right Claude?). Drew later found a Rocking Horse further down the beach and brought it back as a mascot for the southern group, like they needed another symbol to run up the flag pole, it never left his sight on the remainder of the trip. A few divers stayed aboard or went back aboard for the next dive, but most stayed on one of the most beautiful beaches in the Bahamas. I spent, as many did, too much time in the Sun on this one beach trip. We all came back to the boat pretty red, but ready for lunch!
The next Dive sight was a place at Little San Salvador called Pillar Ledge in about 45ft of water to the sand. This was a group of coral heads around a large central coral head with a swim through under it and soft corals on top with many fish and critters. This was a nice after lunch dive not too deep with a lot to see. I mostly shot people and critters on this on looking for the Red Lyon fish that was supposed to be here as well. We looked and looked but still no Lyon fish to be found by me and my Beast. Still I wasn't complaining the diving here was wonderful and we all wanted more of this kind of diving on our plat. Roy found a Mask & Snorkel, but it had been lost for a long time and he sent it back to the bottom. Of course I didn't know he didn't want it so on my way back to the stern I see it headed down and chased it back to 40ft and snagged it only to have Roy shake his head that he did not want it, oh well I needed the excise and air was not a problem.
Well we next headed off to Cave Reef just a short distance south from our present location when Captain Ron spotted a pod of Pilot Whales just ahead of us! We cruised in and out of them and put some snorkellers into the water and they were able to swim with the whales for quit some time. The people who were able to scramble to get in had quit an opportunity. They noticed large Sharks following the Pod and a fish boil on the surface; it was looking like conditions were just right including calm seas. How could it get any better?
Our next stops Cave Reef where I finally found the Red Lyon Fish for myself. I took a load of pictures of the little beauty and moved on. The next very interesting stop was under the reef with a Caribbean Grey Reef shark asleep under a coral head. Took a load of pictures of him too. We were all very happy at the diving and this site was no different. We also saw Stingrays and turtles, especially on the night dive, as one ran directly into Tony's light hitting his hand before swimming off into the dark. Night dives can get interesting! The Lyon fish was not to found on the night dive, so I assumed he was out hunting or in hiding, just never figured out which.
Another great dinner and some socialization on the Sun Deck found more able to stay up a little longer. More time for me on the dive deck with batteries and the such and some dive stories later my head hit the pillow and morning found us back at the Exumas Land & Sea Park.
Wednesday the 24th of May 2006
It was raining as we awoke to a gray sky and another great breakfast. We unloaded supplies for the Ranger at the park and some of the group headed to the Park headquarters to make the trek to Boo Boo Hill and enjoy the park sight seeing tour that includes a large Whale who's bones monument the beach at Park Headquarters. So the next dive has never impressed me, as I have done it before, so I headed out with the park group to see the blowhole. (Ask Tony I missed a good shark dive that wasn't supposed to be a shark dive at all). We all had a good time with the Cat off in the fare distance we played Musical Rocks and hiked the trail through the mangroves to Boo Boo Hill high atop the Bahamian Key. We could see 360 degrees as the rain stopped and clouds started to break. Roy & Steve became very close on top of the hill, thankfully the found a peace of wood or a sign or some thing before the cameras showed up.J This was a good day to go to the Park and stretch our legs. You can't do it all and must decide between diving and other fun stuff aboard you floating hotel.
The first dive after the Park trip was the shark dive at Jeep Reef. It is named after a cement carrier that was used to build a airstrip on one of the Keys close by. It was mistaken for a Jeep. This is a tidal dive and must be done a high or low at the change. It is one of the best patch reefs in the Bahamas. It has the biggest Lobsters I have ever seen and is very colorful to say the least. This is a dive you don't always get to do, but is worth asking for if conditions are right. This was a good dive for those that did the morning dive as well as the park folks. Jeep Reef is one of the best in the Exumas.
After lunch we're off to Amber Jack Reef for the shark dive. After an intense dive briefing with all the do's and don'ts we all suited up and hit the water one after the other until all were in and on their way to the mooring line. The players had taken their positions early circling the boat in anticipation of the action to come. Some of the new divers had to look down to clear the splash-down spot to see a large shark cruise by going the same way that you were going to go. It is a little un-nerving to a new diver to say the least. I lowered the Beast off the stern stepped off into the warm clear shark infested water and unhooked her from her leash and pushed forward against a pretty good current coming from the bow. With a little bit of an effort we were at the coral head where the mooring is located. We all waited to see Manny swimming as fast as he could toward the mooring pen where he looped the rope that carried the chum sickle with at last 10 sharks trying to attach themselves to the line in some sort of reverse fishing thing. Then once it is secured to the pen it floats up ward with the current and then sharks start their systematic dance to remove every last piece of fish from the metal rod that is the stick. This action goes on longer than some people?s ability to use the air and some must leave before the last piece is gone. The action gets frantic for the last piece, which can take as much as 45 minutes to over an hour to free the last piece. The action occurs in 45ft of water and can raise breathing rates substantially. This one of the best Shark feeds in the Caribbean and can get interesting at times. We have been bumped and run into passed by close enough to get excited and see the muscles ripple as a shark glides by you. You realize quickly that these are strong and wild animals in their environment and you're a guest at best and a meal at worst!
After another great shark dive we headed for a sallow reef not too fare from the shark dive. It was an interesting reef that I had not been on before, but had interesting critters and Silversides below the stern on a coral head. We stayed in this area for one dive and moved back to Amber Jack reef for the night dive with sharks! All had a great time and I have hours of great video in the can.
Thursday the 25th of May 2006
Our last full day of diving, less a night dive for the Captains Cocktail Party, We dove in the Exumas park area for the four dives on Thursday including the Washing Machine drift dive that everyone finds so much fun that in past years we have done it twice! It was our last dive of the day and the tide ripped through the cut and everyone got tumbled in the Washing Machine! I did my best to control the Beast and pick up weight pockets as well. The last day was almost a blur it went by so fast as had the week.
Friday the 26th of May 2006
The Lost Blue Hole was our first dive, and you never know what you will find at this 100ft by 200ft deep round hole in the sea floor. We found a Juvenile Red Lyon fish at the top as well as the Black Rhino at 80ft deep on the wall of the hole where Tony had placed it in plain sight. It now has a new home at the Blew Hole until next year or it is found. More video in the can and one last dive to go! Periwinkle was to be our last stop on the way back to Hurricane Hole Harbor. It is a shallow reef in 25ft of water with a billion hungry fish looking for a hand out! Good last dive on a pretty reef with lots of fish and coral.
We cleaned and hung our gear to dry out on the sun deck as Captain Ron headed for home port. It was time start breaking gear down and packing it away for the trip home the next day. One more great lunch and we were pulling up to the dock with time to visit Nassau and do some shopping before being back for the Crews Cocktail party at 7:00pm until the last man was standing! Matt was still standing when I went to bed! Thirty eight dives in two weeks in the Bahamas and we were going home on Saturday. What a great time with a bunch of great people and new friends with funny accents, can't wait until next year!
Epilog: At the airport in Orlando I found out I was going to be a Grandfather! Next years trip is set and summers trip to Roatan & Belize are set. At home a doctors exam will discover Melanoma on my leg and send me to the surgeon asap. Those of us in the Sun should be diligent to changes, it can save your life! I will keep everyone informed and I open this part of my life so to bring attention to something that should be done in order to catch it early. Please get checked!
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