SCUBA diving around English Harbor

Today we went diving. We booked with the dive company located in Nelson’s Dockyard. The cost was $89 USD per person since we had our own gear, and without gear it is $110. He swore to us that he is the cheapest dive company on the entire island.

There were four people total, the two of us, a French Canadian, and the dive master. We did our own gear on shore, then all loaded into an 18 foot, open fiberglass boat with an outboard motor. It is the kind of boat locals use for fishing, and hadn’t been customized for diving. There were no tank holders or anything like that; you just kind of threw all your gear in a pile on the floor. This is the first time ever we have been on a dive boat where there weren’t two dive operators, one to stay with the boat and one to go under.

The first dive spot was literally at the west edge of the entrance to English Harbor. We pulled up to a mooring, and since there was no staff member around to do it, Eric took care of securing the boat to the mooring. We wonder how he manages to tie up when he doesn’t have anyone on board with boating skills.

Diving got off to a bad start from the minute we tied up. The dive master told us he picked the spots he did for today’s dive so that we were more protected from swells. Were not sure how protected we really were, because the swells were huge. It made getting the tanks on quite tricky, especially because the bottom isn’t flat, and with all the stuff on the floor, there wasn’t really anyplace for one person to stand with the big, awkward fins on, let alone 4. Getting off the boat was even trickier. We were supposed to do a backward roll into the water, which means you sit on the edge of the boat and let yourself fall back into the water. The boat edge has a lip on it, and we all had a hard time getting our tanks up and over the lip while still sitting. We all wound up standing in an awkward low crouch, and rolling back from the crouch is not as smooth, graceful or safe as from sitting. Eric banged his leg really hard.

When we got in, the Canadian guy realized his mask was broken, so we all had to wait a few minutes before we could descend while he switched out masks. When we started to descend, it was clear Christi wasn’t wearing enough weight. The dive master handed her a weight, and she dropped it. He retrieved it, but it took another few minutes. Christi had a hard time equalizing, so it took a few more minutes before the group was actually moving.

Once we finally got over all the hurdles, it was a good dive. The spot is nice. We mostly followed a sloping wall, but there were a few other mounds of coral nearby that we checked out, as well. The coral on the wall was mostly shades of purple. There was a lot of fan coral, but here it is all purple, not purple and green like in Guadeloupe. There was some pipe organ coral and purple tube sponges. There were some giant sponge corals, the ones that look like trash cans, but they were significantly smaller in size than the ones we saw in Guadalupe — more like the bins next to the toilet in your bathroom than the bin in the kitchen. There were a lot of soft corals in tow varieties. One looks like a tiny tree with no leaves and the other looks like heather. There is a sponge that is green and looks an awful lot like a cactus.

In terms of animal life, we saw some neat stuff. There was a huge lobster hiding in a small cave in a rock. We saw two sting rays, one large and one small. We saw quite a few squirrel fish. We saw several grouper. We saw some yellow snapper. There were some parrotfish, again with colors more pastelish than in South Pacific. We only identified one of the varieties, called a bridled parrotfish, but there were a few different varieties around. There were also a lot of schools of bi-color damselfish and schools of little blue damselfish. The most exciting fish we saw is called a spotted drum. It is very unique looking. Most of the fish has black and white stripes, but its tail and bottom fins are black with white spots. It has small little fins near its belly, and on top is a very long and thin crescent shaped striped fin. It is quite different than any other fish we have seen and is super cool.

It seemed like we were only under a few minutes before we turned around. When we ascended, we both had about 1200 psi of air left and had only been down for 30 minutes. We figured the French guy must suck air like crazy and that we came up because he was out of air.

We pulled into the bay for our rest time. Eric anchored us. The dive master had brought one 2 liter bottle of water for all 4 of us to share, with no cups. No snacks or food of any kind was provided. Fortunately, we had our own. We immediately got to work switching our tanks. While in the bay, the dive master got a phone call. From his conversation, it was clear he had planned to be back at his office no later than noon. We realized that the reason the last dive was cut short had nothing to do with air consumption every minute we were late in starting was cut off the dive time so we could keep with his schedule.

After about ½ hour in the bay, we headed over to the next dive spot, on the eastern edge of the entrance of English Harbor. It was on the exact opposite side of the rocks from where we had gone snorkeling a week earlier. Again, Eric tied us up to a mooring. We thought it was an awfully short rest time until the dive master told us the dive would last a maximum of 40 minutes.

This spot was even better than the first spot. We saw tons of varieties of fish there. The dive master told us that all of the Caribbean fish species are represented at this spot. There weren’t very many of each variety, but the schools were decent sized, and we usually saw more than one loner fish, so there were a lot of fish overall. We didn’t see any huge fish, but they certainly weren’t little puny things like in Guadeloupe.

In the more common species we saw squirrelfish, rabbitfish, soldierfish, and cardinalfish. There were a few varieties of grouper, a few varieties of snapper, and several varieties of triggerfish. There were lots of tiny little wrasse around. There were goatfish, several kinds of angelfish, several varieties of sergeant fish and surgeonfish, and lots of blenny fish and sand divers hanging out on the bottom.

We saw another of those little trunkfish. We also saw more of those flamingo tongues, which may actually be a snail, not a shellfish. And we saw some more of those little jewel fish, the juvenile something or another that look like they have blue sequence glued to them. We saw four eyed butterfly fish banded butterfly fish, as well.

We saw a lot of new species of fish for us. One is a type of damselfish, called a goldtail demoiselle, that is bright blue and yellow with a ridged spine. One of the most exciting new ones is called a stoplight parrotfish. The male looks like the other varieties of parrotfish, mostly green with other bright colors, but the female looks totally different. Each of her scales is a different color, so she looks like she is covered by a mini-quilt, and the colors are mostly shades of brown. But, she has bright red fins, belly and tail. She is so neat looking. Another new species is called a white spotted filefish, which is sort of shaped like a triggerfish and has a unicorn horn on top of its head like some triggerfish do. It is brown and yellow with white spots. Another cool fish is called a Creole wrasse. They swim in schools, and are blue-purple in color.

As far as the plant species went, there were rock beauties, pink vase sponges, boulder star coral, staghorn coral, tubular coral, and finger coral. Even in terms of the plants we saw things we have never seen before, like the vase sponges, which was really neat. There were Christmas tree worms and the worms that look like bird feathers, as well.

We swam at a good pace, slow enough to be able to get a good look at everything. This dive site had no current, but it did have a big surge. The surge was really fun. You sort of feel like you are flying as the surge pushes you one way, then pushes you back again where you came from. When we came up from the dive, we both had about 1100 psi left.

Last time we went diving, we complained about everything about the dive company. We had absolutely nothing good to say about them. This time, we have no complaints with the dive master’s choice of sites and his expertise. We think he is lucky in being so darn close to such excellent sites, but we think this guy has enough knowledge that he would never take anyone out to a site where people might get themselves in trouble fighting the current. We are, however, frustrated at two things: the short dive times and what we got for the price. He used very little fuel, no snacks were served, he didn’t have a staff to help him with the boat and the gear, and we were under the water in total only an hour and 10 minutes. Really, what on earth did we pay for? Honestly, if we got to use the full tank of air for both dives, we probably wouldn’t be so annoyed about the cost. We kind of feel like we were ripped off by 40% because we spent 40% less time under water than we normally would have.

Unfortunately, we forgot our log books so we didn’t write down the name of the dive spots. But they are certainly easy to find, and if we weren’t leaving so soon, we would definitely take the dinghy back there and do them on our own.

After diving, we should have gotten busy doing chores. But neither of us felt like it and we wound up having a low key afternoon, instead. Eric’s leg bruised up badly — to the point where it hurt a bit to walk.

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One thought on “SCUBA diving around English Harbor”

  1. Sounds like they mimic the dive operations in Cayman…..Nobody stays with the boat. I’ll take a pass on that dive!

    On another note……When are you going to cross the ditch (panama canal)?

    Let us know, so we can watch you at the locks via the web cams.

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