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A long Bahama trip in a small boat

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C

cdavis

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Jan 21, 2003
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Well, It was one heck of a trip, 31 days, 450 miles out to San Salvador and back. Don't ask about the fuel bill. Great freediving all along the way. Some of it was world class, a privilege to be there. It takes a while to tell the tale, so relax and enjoy.



The plan was to string together several sets of divers,. The boat was my 25 Seafari, “Someday Came,” of course. First set of divers for two weeks plus, Ft Lauderdale to San Salvador then back to Georgetown, Exuma, with stops at Conceptcion and Rum Cay. All three world class dive spots. Drop the divers in Georgetown, pick up my wife, a week through the Exumas, drop my wife in Nassau, pick up two more divers and spend a week diving our way home. Dolphin diving on the last two days. Pulling all this off, given the vagueries of weather, airlines, boats, Bahamian efficiency, yada ,yada, was going to be some trick.


Everything came together wonderfully. Ted, Unirdna, and Simon, azapa, both extremely competent divers and long time crew on other trips, jumped at the chance to do the first leg. My wife's schedule allowed. Two other divers, a father son team, Dbers of course, signed up for the last leg. The weather looked perfect. El Nino was keeping the hurricanes away. The boat checked out great, and I started getting very nervous. This was way too easy.


Sure enough, a month before take off day, Ted hit a major personal problem and was out. Where in the world was I going to find a diver with the right combination of time, diving skill, boating experience, personality and cash on that kind of short notice? Ted volunteered his share of the expenses, which helped a lot, but that wasn't the major problem. The trip needs three to make the diving work right(one guy driving the boat and two diving). I emailed or called everybody who had ever made a trip with me or wanted to, all the divers I knew and some I didn't, Even asked them to ask their friends. No takers and only about 3 weeks to go. Desperation was setting in. Then I remembered a diver I had corresponded with several years before on another site. A Palm Beach spearo, so I knew he was a pretty good diver and seemed like a nice guy. He owned a Seafari, so he had to be ok. I PMed him and HALALEUYA, he could go. Kudos to his very understanding wife. Matt turned out to be a great shipmate, a real addition to the trip. Luck was working my way again.


The weather on take-off day was so good you could have gone to Bimini in a jet ski and it stayed like that all the way to Conceptcion. We ran pretty hard all the way down, stopping each day to do a little diving and collect some seafood. Some places I knew and some I did not, like Dog Rocks in the Exumas, where you can throw a rock from the island to 100+ feet of water. Nice ledge, but a cloudy day and we (especially me) were not in shape to really appreciate the depth. Tried a cave in the southern Exumas which promised to be as good as some of the springs I dive in Central Florida. It wasn't, dark, poor vis, generally spooky. I'll pass next time. Stopped in Georgetown to resupply and then it was on the the main event, starting at Conceptcion. We got there on the morning of the 6th day and immediately went north to a big reef that I remembered as spectacular. Time had not been kind to it. Mostly dead coral and no fish, as in zero, not even any small fish. Never saw anything like it. Matt did get a huge(7 lb) lobster, so we ate well that night. Next morning we tried the walls on the south end of the island and hit pay dirt. Good vis, healthy coral and spectacular terrain. It was fairly deep and I was pleased to realize how much better diver I had become since I'd been there in 1989. The wall started around 60 ft, more or less vertical to 110 or so then straight down. On top of the wall were these gigantic coral heads that extended out over the edge of the wall, 60 + feet wide and tops at 40 ft or so, bottoms blending into the wall at about 80. The things were hollow, sometimes you could see right through them at their base. You remember your childhood dreams of flying like Peter Pan? Well, freediving this stuff was like that. You could dive vertically to 50 or so, level out and fly along and around these coral heads, dropping slowly, vibrant corals of all sorts on one side, bottomless blue on the other, fish all around. You would come around the head as you dropped to 80 or so, to see another gigantic coral head in your path, rearing up 40 feet high above you. Underwater, it looked a lot higher than that. Just an incredible visual feast and what I came for.

Of course, nothing is perfect. The wind had hauled around to the south and picked up, so that a significant chop was coming from offshore of the wall. When it arrived, it jacked way up, very square and made the boat driver, Simon in this case, extremely uncomfortable. My boat has a pretty good roll and those conditions made it crazy.. I was so enamored with the underwater scenery that I hardly noticed until I looked up and could see the keel out of the water. I think Simon was a little spooked (rightly so).


What a day, but the next looked like more south wind, so we decided to go on the San Salvador, which had better sheltered walls.


More to come.
 
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C

cdavis

Well-Known Member
Jan 21, 2003
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Running to San Sal was the only rough passage of the trip, about 40 miles, wind on the beam around 18 kts, sea 3-5 and surprisingly confused. Bumpy and wet, but no cause to slow down.


In San Salvador, we were finally back in the Bahama Out Islands I remembered. Poor development, very nice people, very limited stores, bad water, little ice available, hotter than blazes on land. I felt right at home. We refueled and went back out to dive the walls in the middle of the western shore.
Again disappointed, sick coral, few fish, and the wall started deeper than advertised, 60 instead of 40. Fun diving if you had never seen a wall, but I'd seen better. Then we ran up to the north end for a couple of days to explore, get out of the tourist areas and shoot some fish. Fish were slim, but we had little trouble loading several days worth of fish and conch to go with it. Ah, conch salad, a favorite. Scenery wasn't as spectacular, but coral was healthier and much more fish of all sorts. The wind had been blowing pretty good for a couple of days, then started to die off. Time to try our luck on the south end of the island. Ran down there and dove an inside spot that was real nice, max depth less than 100, nice cliff, sheltered from the wind, which was still blowing. It really slowed down that night and the next morning we hauled around to French Bay, on the windward side. The wall diving was just plain beyond belief.


The current runs parallel to the wall, 1-1.5 knots, top of the wall in about 50, deep crevasses cut into the wall 20-30 feet deep, some just wide enough to swim into, some 40 ft wide. The bottom of these crevasses sloped down at about a 45 degree angle and they end on the wall at 100-120. Everything is covered with hard corals, soft corals, all around are big schools of horse eye jacks, sharks, grouper, turtles, and school after school of other kinds of reef fish. You could not decide what to look at next.
Visibility was about 80 ft on top, but much clearer below the top of the wall. As soon as you dropped below the lip – BOING – stuff that was far away in the hazy distance was suddenly so close you felt like you could touch it, way over 100 ft, hard to say how much.


Laying on the surface, waiting to dive,a crevasse would appear in the distance. Dive quick and you could arrive at the top of the crevasse just as the current swept you over it. Drop into the crevasse and the current stopped, turn left and fly down the crevasse. At this depth, the diver is negatively buoyant and can use that negative to “fly” forward without exerting any effort. The narrow crevasses were twisty so that you could not see very far in front of you until you came around a corner and there was the intense electric blue of the open ocean far out in front. Simon was in his element, coming out of a crevasse at 90+, turning right and flying further along the wall before he had to come up. I was stopping a 80 or so, shorter and shallower dives, but still fabulous.


Sometimes a big school of horse eyes would come blasting out of a deep crevasse and ball up around us as we started down. That was too good an opportunity, so we would stop in mid dive and play with them. Lots of sharks, off in the distance. Some turtles, big hawksbills, and not shy. You could swim right up to them. They were used to scuba divers and could not quite figure us out. We moved way to fast.


At this point, Matt was getting good. He had not been all that much of a deep diver, but Simon taught him mouthfil. Works fabulous if you can do it (which I can't), and he was getting deeper and deeper, staying longer and longer. I watched all this with more than a little green around the ears. He learned the technique almost immediately and I've been trying for a long time.



Vis was best in the morning (usually was, not sure why). We did a morning session and an afternoon session on this wall. Afternoon vis got down to 50 or so on top and finally stopped us. We should have gone back the next day, but that was Sunday, no stores open and the boat had developed a leak in the power steering ram and I needed to buy some more fluid. That was the only mechanical failure of the trip, so I should not complain, but it made a mess. I went through a gallon and a half of fluid before we got home, was soaking it up with the few oilsorb cloths we had on board, wringing them out and reusing.




We had planned to get water in San Sal, but the dock water was undrinkable and buying bottled water was both difficult(getting to the store and back) and expensive. Supplies were tight to do an extra week without resupply, so we took on some bad water and crossed our fingers we'd make Georgetown.


Anyway it was time to move on, Rum Cay was calling. I had done a very little diving there in 1988-89 and was eager to get back.
 
C

cdavis

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Jan 21, 2003
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The run to Rum, about 45 miles could have been very rough if we had to go into it, but quartering away was no problem. Sea started out a minimal 2-3, but ended up a steep, nasty 4-6++ . What looked like a tropical wave was moving through, cloudy, lots of squalls, generally unsettled. We started out exploring the reef that sticks north from Rum's NW corner, reputed to be extremely pretty. It had been, once, lots of dead elk horn and very few fish. You could tell it had been spectacular, once. Hit some deeper spots, but there did not seem to be a wall in decent depth. We covered enough ground that I'm confident there is not much there for freedivers today.


Next Flamingo Bay. This is a spot I'd heard of and been on my list for years, big protected bay, full of coral heads, long gorgeous beach, uninhabited, supposed to be outstanding.


It was.


Getting into the bay was an intricate dance with a jillion close together coral heads that came right up to the surface. Not a problem in good light but something I'd never try any other time. We anchored off one end of the beach, near a set of colonial era ruins and some coconut palms. Matt quickly produced and opened some coconuts. I'd long forgotten how good and how different fresh coconut tastes instead of the stuff we can buy in the store, outstanding! I took the opportunity to go for a long walk on the miles long beach. My kind of place, not a footprint on it but mine, and drop dead gorgeous.


Now we had a problem. We had come to Rum, found the diving I'd heard about to be mediocre. Now what? There is some great stuff on the south side, but its hard to find and I had not arranged for a guide. Nobody ever said anything about the north side, where we were, so we just went exploring. Did some diving on the coral heads just outside of Flamingo Bay. Heart breaking. They had been beautiful, but most of the coral was dead. You could get dinner there, with effort, but that was all. Ran about half way down the island to where the 100 fathom curve comes close in, thinking we might find some walls like San Sal, but no luck. We did find a real nice 60-100 ledge with good, coral covered spurs and a fair abundance of Nassau grouper. You had to be below 80 to really appreciate the place, so Simon loved it and I was a bit limited. Did my only 100 ft dive of the trip, so it wasn't all that bad, just limited. The weather was not great, cloudy, windy, dark diving. Again, Simon felt right at home. .In Chile, where he lives, he dives in 40 degree dirty water, on rocky shores with 12 ft swells(I ain't kidding) so these conditions were just fine. I thought it was a bit less so.


Back to Flamingo for the night. I'd seen enough to know that the north side was worth exploring for several more days, but Conceptcion was calling. The wall there was so great and the wind was much more easterly now, so the wall was sheltered. We were running out of time, but had saved a day for that wall. Next morning early we crossed, did a short wall diving session(vis was poor) then spent most of the rest of the day shooting dinner. Next morning we really hit it. Bright sunny, no current to speak of so we could tie up to buoys over the best part of the wall. All three of us in the water this time, near perfect conditions and we took advantage of it. Simon was doing ridiculously deep dives, Matt did his deepest, around 120. I was having a wonderful time flying around the big heads. We spent pretty much the whole day there and I was so tired at the end that the next day I stayed in the boat. We crossed to Long Island that day and shot a fair load of fish on some heads I knew about.
 
C

cdavis

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Jan 21, 2003
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Then it was back to Georgetown. Still had a gallon. of good water. We got there and fueled up no problem then discovered that the next day was Independence day, nobody was going to be open again until Monday (3 days off) the stores were crazy, and nobody had any large quantities of water left. Typical Bahamian snafu. I tried to envision my wife drinking the stuff we loaded in San Salvador. Not a pretty picture. So we spent minor megabucks buying water in quarts and smaller, only to discover that the dock water was free and just fine to drink., filled all the tanks . I loaded up on produce and more, even though Karen was bringing a cooler full with her. In the Bahamas, if its available and you might need it- BUY IT. From there it was easy. Divers caught their plane, Karen arrived, having been relived of all her produce in customs and it was off to the rest of the Exumas


We had cruised this area 25 years ago and were looking forward to seeing it again. Not much to report except it was very fun to be back. Second night we spent next to a wonderful blue hole(which happened to be full of lobster, so we ate well). Leaning back on the canvas on the back deck, holding hands,watching the sunset with the lines of a Buffet song running through my head, “and 25 years slipped away,” very very nice.


One thing that really struck me, the megayachts. I'm sure I saw over 50. Also much fewer of what used to be the normal cruising boat, 35-45 ft sailing monohulls. I'd read a lot about how well the rich have done in the last 30 years and how the middle class is being stressed, but it had not affected me much and I'd kind of ignored it. Seeing the result so graphically was eye opening.


Stopped in Staniel Cay for some extra fuel. Funny how places don't change their character. We had not liked Staniel before, bad atmosphere. Much more upscale now, full of megayacht passengers, but still the same boozy, unpleasant atmosphere. Stopped at Compass Cay at a marina owned by Tucker Rolle, who once invited us to dinner when he had no money, about 12 very well mannered kids, and one chicken to split between all. Impressive guy and I was delighted to see he'd done well. The place had its quota of megayachts, but the atmosphere was so good I would like to have stayed.


A few days later we were in Nassau, again switching crews. Picked up Chris and Jake, Cborgert and
Freedivingjake,a father son team who dive the springs in Central Florida. They had never spearfished, never spent any time on a small boat, or done much salt water diving, so this was an experience. They picked up spearfishing real fast. I was worried about having to feed us with little help, but, not a problem. Jake is 13, and already an outstanding diver. Know any 13 year olds who can dive 80 ft + and stay down a couple of minutes?? Very fun to dive with these guys. We spent a couple of days in the Berry Islands and then headed for Riding Rock, south of Bimini. Worked north, diving spots I knew about, especially a big ledge call Victory Reef, south of Cat Cay. 40-80 ft humongous ledge several miles long. The current blows you along it so its a different spot each time you dive. Good coral, lots of healthy soft corals, extremely nice place.



Next day was dolphins. Oh boy, did we get into them. Found them very early(rather, they found us), almost the moment we arrived in the right area. Suddenly, dolphins were all around the boat. Divers getting gear on as fast as they can. I'm jumping up and down and screaming at the divers HURRY UP, GET IN THE WATER BEFORE WE LOSE' UM--- HURRY UP!! These guys are spring divers, where there is a premium on getting everything just right and none on speed. Afraid I was not too polite, but they were forgiving. Apparently the dolphins really wanted to play. They stayed around and went wild when Jake and Chris got in, tale slapping, mobbing the divers, just crazy. More than once I could see a diver with several dolphin in front of him only to have a couple of more surf a wave right over the divers back. 25 minutes of this and I couldn't stand it anymore. Switched places with Chris and got in with my Dol-Fin. Its a monofin with an aluminum blade that pivots much like a dolphin's tail. Unique design and these dolphins had never seen it before. They went nuts again. The reaction was much like two years ago with a different group, but even more so. They were so close and moving so fast, just amazing. I could not have stuck my arm out without sticking it through a dolphin. A couple of times, I was afraid of getting hit. Never did though. They seemed to like balling up around me as I did loop-d-loops as fast as I could spin, the dolphins going very fast, shaking their heads and chattering like crazy.


Maybe 40 minutes total that seemed like 30 seconds and the dolphins decided they had other things to do. We hunted for another group for several hours, found a big group,more than 20, but they were going someplace and had no time for us. Oh well.


Next day we tried again, but had less luck, just one group of 3 who were not all that interested.
Broke off at 10 am and headed back to Ft Lauderdale. Uneventful crossing, nice and calm.



Some trip, and a good time was had by all.


Still working on pictures, have patience.
 
Bill McIntyre

Bill McIntyre

San Clemente, CA
Staff member
Forum Mentor
Jan 27, 2005
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Damn! That sounds like the trip of a lifetime.
 
foxfish

foxfish

Silver Smoker
Dec 31, 2005
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Sounds like it all worked out pretty well ideed, your Dol-fin sounds interesting too!
Thanks for writing and posting, would you do It again?
 
C

cdavis

Well-Known Member
Jan 21, 2003
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In a heartbeat!, but a little different to stay interesting. A month on the boat was no problem at all.

Getting that far south is a strain, an awful lot of running, but the south ends of San Salvador and Conceptcion were just amazing. I'd have to figure out how to focus more time on those areas, also go when I was in better depth shape.


Right now, the back side of Abaco is calling. Been there three times and always superb.

Next year.
 
C

cdavis

Well-Known Member
Jan 21, 2003
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some pics:

Matt, who needs fins for this kind of stuff.

Simon, who doesn't

Me and my boat

the crew for the first leg of the trip
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C

cdavis

Well-Known Member
Jan 21, 2003
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some more pics:

Conceptcion, a beautful placee

Your typical Bahamian grocery store. Amazing how well stocked some of these tiny stores are.

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C

cdavis

Well-Known Member
Jan 21, 2003
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more pics:

Azapa, decending toward a crevasse in San Salvador

Me, wearing Dol-fin(with my custom floats on the bottom) and one of Terry Maas's Freediver Recovery Vests, FRV

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cdavis

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Jan 21, 2003
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505 more pics:

Azapa, deep into a crevasse

looking into a crevasse at about 50 ft. Its another 30 to the bottom.

The galley that fed us.
 

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graycon

graycon

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Apr 23, 2014
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I love the pictures, and I want to come next time! (y)

Thanks for putting the time into your write up, and sharing the photos.
 
F

FreeDivingJake

Active Member
Mar 13, 2012
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Nice pics, Connor. The trip was great, appreciate the invite. I'm diving even better now that I'm home. Breaking 2+ minutes on deep dives was the goal. Learned a lot about pushing myself out of my comfort zone this trip. I'm always looking over my shoulder in the ocean. You really have to watch your buddy a lot closer in open water. Learned that real quick. The caverns in Florida are a really unique envitornment. It's so easy to get distracted and not watch your buddy in the ocean. In the springs, everything is extremely relaxed and easy. Watching your buddy is easy in the endless visiblity. This trip was a real change of pace for me. I really enjoyed it.


Jake
 
C

cdavis

Well-Known Member
Jan 21, 2003
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And I enjoyed diving with you. Watching you guys transition from spring diving to something unfamiliar and entirely different was more than a little interesting. Ya'll boated up real fast.

You may find that your times backslide some as you get farther away from the trip. Fairly normal reaction to no longer diving every day.
 
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FreeDivingJake

Active Member
Mar 13, 2012
157
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Maybe so. I was getting consistent 2:00 + at Troy springs when I felt good. On my off day I did 1:45's. Pretty good for a bad day. Hopefully my times don't fall off.


Jake
 
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