Nekton (Rorqual) --- Southern Bahamas
Jan 25-Feb 1 2003
I left home (just north of Orlando) at 10:50 AM on Friday. The temperature was a rather chilly 32 degrees. I arrived in Fort Lauderdale around 2:15 PM. First I found the Bimini Island Air building at the Fort Lauderdale Executive airport. I stayed Friday night at the Marriott Courtyard next to the executive airport. The flight was scheduled to depart at 8:00 AM on Saturday and they wanted us at the airport at 7:00 AM. I arrived at the Bimini Island Air counter at 6:50AM on Saturday. My baggage weighed 98 lbs. D'oooh! That cost me a $76 surcharge (38 lbs over 60 * 2). It's just not possible to pack a full set of scuba gear, a housed camera with 2 strobes, and a heavy laptop computer without seriously exceeding the 60 lb "goal".
We had 11 Nekton guests and two Nekton crew on the flight to Georgetown. At around 8:00 AM we loaded onto the plane (Fairchild Metro ?) . But the left engine wouldn't start because of an 'issue' with the generator. So they had us get off the plane and go back into the BIA waiting room. A short time later they informed us that we would be using a different plane. They moved the luggage to the other plane and then had to wait for the fuel truck to fuel the plane. Eventually the fuel truck arrived but it would not pump fuel. So they sent for a different fuel truck. After waiting a while for the other fuel truck they decided to load the passengers onto the plane and taxi over to the fuel station. After all the passengers were loaded on the plane, the fuel truck arrived, so they had us deplane (again) and then the plane was fueled. WooHoo! And then we got back on the plane. Again. Once again the left engine wouldn't start. But after a while the captain was able to twiddle with the controls and the engine finally fired up. We got off the ground around 10:30 AM. The flight to Georgetown took about 1 1/2 hours and was very smooth. Everyone's baggage arrived intact. The customs process in Georgetown amounted to: "How are you doing Mr Fletcher? Welcome to the Bahamas."
We were taken by "Luther's Taxi" (mini vans) for the 20 minute drive from the airport to the dock in Georgetown harbor where the Rorqual was located. It was a very pretty drive although it was rather unnerving to be sitting in the co-pilot's seat in a left had drive vehicle in a country where you drive on the left (wrong!) side of the road.
After arriving at the Rorqual everyone was shown their cabin and then given the opportunity to walk to the nearby liquor/food store for 'supplies'. I got cabin #12 (port side downstairs, all the way forward). There was one other guest diver who had flown in on American Eagle the day before. There were a total of 12 divers (3 couples, a husband/wife/brother, and 3 solo divers). We left the dock around 2PM on the way to Conception island. It was a rough crossing with winds in the 20-25kt range and headseas 6-8 feet with the occasional 9-10footer. I had not gotten sea-sick since I was a kid, but I got sick after trying to take a nap in my cabin. And I was not the only one adversely afflicted. I found that staying up on the top deck cured my seasickness. Dinner was breaded/fried fish with salad, rice, etc. I passed on dinner. At dinner the ship's clocks were moved ahead 1 hour for "Nekton" time. Around 8PM we arrived on the leeward side of Conception island and the seas flattened out completely, but the wind continued to blow strong.
There were 10 crew members:
Summary: The crew was outstanding. They were attentive, entertaining and very willing to provide assistance when needed. The weather was not great but the captain made the best of the situation and the weather never kept us from getting 5 dives per day. Numerous cold fronts blew through during the week which resulted in strong winds, some rain, and chilly temperatures. After diving I found that filling my wet suit up with hot water from the shower before heading up to the "Sundeck" was the best strategy for staying warm until drying off. The food was very good but not quite up to the standard set by Arminda on the Nekton Pilot. According to my dive computer the minimum water temperatures were always 76/77 degrees except one dive which was 75 degrees. I did a total of 25 scuba dives (out of 27 possible) and 2 snorkel excursions. And I should probably mention that we got to swim with dolphins during at least 5 or 6 dives.
Morning Divesite -- Grandmother's Garden
General Nekton dive briefing, setup gear, then dive site briefing. I saw a Blacktip shark on the initial descent during 1st dive.
Afternoon Divesite 1 -- Out of Bounds
Dive buddy bailed 10 minutes before I ended my dive because he was in deco 'red' zone. I was attempting to shoot macro, but my strobe wouldn't fire. Once back on boat I found I had forgotten batteries. D'ooh! So I shot macro with ambient light. But then I fat-fingered the image files into oblivion. I was curious if digital 'magic' could have saved those shots. I need to check the strobe BEFORE I get in the water....
Afternoon Divesite 2 -- Grandmother's Garden (Went back to Grandmother's Garden)
The Nekton Cachalot tied up to the mooring line and the Rorqual tied off on the stern of the Cachalot. The crew of both boats spent 3-4 hours moving supplies from the Cachalot to the Rorqaul and then they refueled the Rorqual as well. Apparently the Cachalot is headed to Puerto Rico to install mooring pins for a new Nekton itinerary.
Night Divesite --- Grandmother's Garden.
Very 'average' dive. Grandmother's Garden was very nice during the day, but I didn't see a whole lot during the night dive. I was shooting photographs using the small modeling light as my main dive light. I thought that if I had been using my main dive light (UK Light Cannon) I might have seen more interesting 'stuff', but apparently the other night divers also saw little of interest.
The boat moved overnight from Conception island to San Salvador. The captain said it was going to be a rough crossing, but I didn't notice it. Rain and strong winds on Monday morning as (yet) another cold front came through..
Morning Divesite -- Mt Rushmore
Wall dive with VERY high profile coral at the top. Very good viz (even with no sunshine).
Afternoon divesite -- Easy Glider
Wall dive (aren't they all?). Very nice growth on wall and individual coral heads on top of the wall. Had two porpoise swim with us during safety stop.
Night dive -- School of small squid between boat and wall. 3 large channel crabs, several spiny lobsters, several porcupine puffer fish, spotted sting ray.
Morning Dive Site -- San Salvador, Labyrinth
At lunch the boat attempted to move from the southern side to the western side on San Salvador, however the swells were quite large (8-10 feet) near Sandy Point and the decision was made to stay on the southern (leeward) side of the island.
Afternoon Dive Site -- San Salvador, Chris's Prize
I was kind of underwhelmed by this dive site. There seemed to be large expanses of mangled coral on top of the wall and not a high density of marine life. However some of the other divers thought it was a great site. After the first afternoon dive the dolphin showed up again so I went back in with snorkel gear and swam with them for about 20 minutes. I got some great photos once one of the divemasters (Sharon) came in and provided a suitable distraction. Otherwise the dolphin would stay within one to two feet of me and I couldn't get any decent photos that close up.
Morning Dive Site -- San Salvador, Stew Pot
This dive site was a couple hundred yards south of Riding Rock Inn. The reef on top of the wall was in pretty poor condition (silt, bleach, etc). The wind was really strong from the east.
Afternoon Dive Site -- San Salvador, Devil's Claw
Another wall dive. The dive site briefing mentioned "Pinnacle" formations off the wall. The "pinnacles" were actually "pinnaclettes" and they were only 30-40 feet from the main wall drop. As we swam south, the wall was not as steep and there wasn't as much wall "stuff" as usual. On the way back to the boat we swam along a plateau in about 40-50 feet of water that had more BIG (6-10 feet tall) soft corals and gorgonians.
Night Dive Site -- San Salvador, Stew Pot.
For the night dive we went back to Stew Pot. Saw dozens of southern sting rays in the sand and many yellow stingrays on the (largely dead) reef top. One huge lobster and a small spotted moray that would bite my dive buddy's camera strap when he tried to take pictures of the eel. Also saw a couple boxfish.
Morning Dive Site -- Juliet's Crack
There is a long (200' ?) crack that runs parallel to the wall edge. The wall (crack) starts at about 65' and extends down to about 140'. The dolphin stopped by again and played with us for about 25 minutes.
On the second morning dive I went thru the swim thru at the bottom of the crack which starts at about 110' and comes out on the wall at about 130'.
Afternoon/Night Dive Site -- Sandy Point
Ithought that this was a very nice site. Medium profile reef on top of the wall with many deep sand channels and a large sand area on the shallow side of the reef. First I snorkeled in to the 'sandy' beach. Then I did 2 afternoon dives. I saw my first Hammerhead shark on the first afternoon dive. Many small tropical fish that were quite cooperative (photographically speaking). The night dive was uneventful but other people saw a variety of interesting critters.
Morning Dive Site -- The Notch
This was a rather deep wall/reef dive site. I spent most of the time in the 70-80 foot range while swimming against a moderate current. That made for a rather short dive. The walls and reefs near Conception Island were in much better shape than some the San Salvador dive sites.
Dive 25 -- 97 feet, 38 min
The boat returned to the dock in Georgetown around 7:30AM and we were transported to the airport at 8:30. The flight from Georgetown to Fort Lauderdale left at 10:50AM and arrived around 12:30PM.