WEB EXCLUSIVE: Seven-month liveaboard!
PART 1: Keen diver Jon Boast and new-found dive buddy and photographer Greg Goldsbrough embark on seven months at sea and a target of 100 dives…
How do I do it? I hear you say, and how much does it cost? Luckily enough, I am a serving member of the Fleet Air Arm, a sub-specialisation branch of the Royal Navy serving aboard RFA Wave Ruler on operations in the Caribbean for seven months. As an active MSDT with over 1,000 logged dives, I set myself a target of 100 dives on this deployment. I believed this was totally unachievable if I am honest, but I thought it would be great fun and a great challenge to try to complete. Prior to deploying I taught a colleague and good friend of mine to dive. Greg is an Advanced Open Water Diver and we work on the same unit together, which meant I had a constant buddy for the whole seven months.
Being away from home for seven months has its drawbacks as you can imagine, but it gives you plenty of time to research while away at sea. Our first port of call was Mayport, Florida - not everybody’s first choice diving holiday destination. The good thing about diving in Florida is the variety of diving you can do, and the ease of organising it. My trusty Lonely Planet guides, Wifi and copies of Sport Diver (Ed: Good man!) allowed me to plan almost any type of diving trip you could imagine. In Florida you can dive on pristine coral reefs, dive with manatees on Crystal River, dive some of the biggest purpose-sunk wrecks in the world, such as the Spiegel Grove, or freshwater cave and cavern dive in any number of sink holes or cave systems within the state. Flights to Miami or Orlando are daily, and you can pick up a hire car at the airport, so all you need is a map, your dive gear and you have access to some great diving.
We opted for some cavern and cave diving and I don’t believe there is a better place to start than at Ginnie Springs. There is a huge camping area at Ginnie Springs; a pitch will set you back roughly US$20 per day, with the addition of diving costing a little extra. You can also purchase a day pass, which allows you to dive for the day on producing your cert card. You can also stay in the local area in places such as High Springs or Gainsville, where motel accommodation is very cheap. The good thing about staying in places like Gainsville and High Springs is that you are close to cavern complexes such as the Blue Grotto and The Devil’s Den, which are ‘must dives’ if you are in the area. We were lucky enough to dive Little Devil, The Devil’s Ear and The Devil’s Eye as well as a nice shallow drift along the Santa Fe River during our time at Ginnie Springs.
The entrance at Devil's Den, Florida
The trip was off to a great start - we had completed nine dives already. Next stop Grand Turk. Most divers are probably aware that Grand Turk has some of the best wall diving in the world and it didn’t disappoint. Grand Turk is part of the Turks and Caicos Islands and is directly north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We dived with a company called Blue Water Divers, who are situated in the capital, Cockburn Town, a very friendly and professionally run dive centre. I have been lucky enough to dive in some great places with some great walls but this place has to be the best so far - sheer mountainous cliff faces dropping into the depths of the ocean with incredible overhangs covered in soft corals with hardly any current. On most dives we had turtles, huge free-swimming green morays, octopus, lobster, banded coral shrimp, arrow crabs - the list is endless and we were even lucky enough to see two nurse sharks in the day, a rare sight. The diving was easy, all from a hard boat which could take about 14 divers. The journey out from the beach would take anywhere from five to 20 minutes but no more, as most of the dive sites were all very close. We managed to dive ten times in three days, diving on sites such as The Tunnels, The Library, Black Forest and the Amphitheatre; a truly amazing island to dive. Diving in Grand Turk was inexpensive and was certainly worth every penny. Not far to go now, as we had already hit 19 out of our 100 dives after only two visits.
Jon and Greg on Grand Turk
Well, it couldn’t last forever sadly, and our diving dried up for a little while - the good thing was that our next stop would be Tortola, part of the British Virgin Islands. I can hear you all screaming ‘they must dive the RMS Rhone’. Well, the research had been completed, and We Be Divin’, a great little dive company, would be taking us there. The Rhone lies in two sections and you could spend forever exploring this old Royal Mail steamer. The bow lies in roughly 24m and the broken stern section is in shallower water between 5m and 15m. This wreck is great for all levels of diver and is covered in hard and soft corals and all manner of sea life, ranging from huge barracuda to schools of sergeant majors. The wreck has some great distinguishable features, including a shiny porthole which you must rub for good luck, and also the Captain’s silver spoon, which allegedly flew out of his tea cup when the ship hit the reef near Salt Island during the fateful hurricane which sank her.
The 'good luck' porthole on the Rhone wreck
So with two dives on the Rhone completed, we ventured out the following day and dived two more sites, Wreck Alley and Thumb Rock. Where can you dive four wrecks in one dive? Well, the clue is definitely in the dive site name. Wreck Alley was an amazing dive, not the best visibility and very green water, which reminded me of diving in the UK although I was in a 2mm shortie in 29 degrees C water. The Joey D, The Beata, The Pat and Mariel all have different histories, but they were great fun to dive with swim-throughs and penetration available, the biggest stingrays I have seen and even a chance of reef sharks if you are lucky, all within 22m. Our total was now up to 23 as we sailed for our next island…
Find out where Jon and Greg visited next on their Caribbean ‘cruise’ in PART TWO, published next week here on Sport Diver Online.
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