A Fish Watcher's Guide to the Caribbean
In all the clear warm waters that surround the islands illustrated on the previous pages half a swimmer's day seems to be spent face down with a mask, watching the strange, beautiful world beneath the sea. The mask, the snorkel and the flipper are mastered quickly and safely enough by anyone able to dog-paddle in the shallows. More advanced diving with tanks of compressed air that take a man below the surface into the fishes' realm is not so simple. Scuba diving, as it is called, for "self-contained underwater breathing apparatus," should never be attempted without instruction and never be done alone.
One of the best places to learn is BERMUDA. All guides and instructors are licensed by the government marine board. Park Breck (SI, Sept. 9 & 16, 1957), a former Philadelphia newspaperman, and his wife Jeanne are particularly good with beginners. They conduct supervised fish-watching, snorkeling swims in a shallow marine garden, providing snorkel, mask, flippers and a guide for $5 an hour. After indoctrination in a swimming pool, the Brecks take beginning scubamen on a dive of from eight to 10 feet to see a 19th-century ship's anchor, providing all gear and instruction for $8. Bermuda law prohibits the rental of regulators, the vital and sensitive breathing apparatus used with scuba tanks. This is one piece of equipment experienced divers take with them wherever they dive—they often rent the heavy tanks and harness on the spot. Breck takes more competent divers down 20 feet to the wreck of the 19th-century packet Sir George Somers, which he has stocked with replica pieces of eight for diving souvenirs. He also has a 20-foot underwater-photography dive for $10.
The Bermuda Divers Company has a 39-foot boat, the Shearwater, especially designed for scuba expeditions. Ten fully equipped divers and a few snorkelers who go along to watch from the surface are taken on day-long expeditions to the towering reefs in the morning and in the afternoon to one of the 200 to 300 wrecks that lie on the inner and outer reefs of Bermuda waters.
January 20, 1964
Bermuda Divers charges $11 for divers using their own equipment, $22, including two tanks, for those using the company's gear and $6 for snorkelers, who must be good swimmers. They will also arrange scuba lessons in the Bermudiana Hotel pool at $8 for 1½ hours.
For experienced divers, T. J. Wadson and Son rent filled tanks and weight belts for $4.50 the first day, $4 the second, $3 the third. Tanks are refilled for $2. Park Breck rents masks, snorkels and flippers for $5 a week. From now till early spring, Bermuda's waters, so clear you can see 200 feet, are also a chill 62°, and a foam-rubber wet suit is advisable. You have to take your own suit. No spear guns are allowed in Bermuda, and the fish are so tame they will eat out of your hand. A warming thought: there's gold in those waters—Professional Diver Teddy Tucker has brought up $200,000 worth of treasure.
In the FLORIDA KEYS, from Key Largo to Key West, skin diving is such a popular sport that there is an Underwater Guides Association which has 16 member guides, all registered and licensed by the state. The group has established standard prices for instruction and rental of equipment throughout the Keys. All of them teach beginning snorkeling and all stages of scuba. They take customers to both the inner and outer reefs, to wrecks that date to pirate days and to the Pennekamp Coral Reef Preserve off Key Largo where grow the only living beds of coral off the shores of the continental U.S. Head of the group is Captain Hugh Brown of Islamo-rada, who will furnish the names and addresses of all the guides in the Keys. Captain Brown has a 44-foot, twin-diesel boat that sleeps six and a crew of two. He takes skin-diving charters to the Bahamas, the Dry Tortugas, Cay Sal and other offshore places for a minimum of $125 a day. Day trips in Florida waters cost a minimum of $50. In the Keys lessons are $10, complete gear rental $7 per day.
In THE BAHAMAS, where water temperatures rarely slip below 72°, where the coral formations are spectacular and the water is as clear as a dry Martini, the biggest skin-diving season ever is getting under way. No area is better equipped for the sport. The Gardner Youngs and Charles Badeau, who operate MM Underwater Tours, take two reef tours a day, seven days a week, to the lee sides of New Providence and Exuma. They start beginners in a hotel pool: MM has instructors at the Montagu Beach, the Pilot House, the Dolphin, the Nassau Beach and the Emerald Beach. Once indoctrinated and ready to go to sea, skin divers are picked up at 9 a.m. at their hotels in a Volkswagen bus and taken to the Nassau Yacht Haven, where a cabin cruiser, the Queen Anne's Revenge, licensed specifically for skin diving, sets out at 9:30 for one of 75 locations. The price is $20 for the half-day trip with scuba, $10 with snorkel. The cruiser sometimes takes "lookers" who pay $5 for the ride and gaze at the world below through a glass-bottomed bucket. One qualified staff member of the firm descends with every two divers. After two hours on the reef, the Queen Anne's Revenge returns to Yacht Haven, and swimmers are back at the hotels at 1 p.m. Another tour leaves at 1:30. Bahamas Water Sports owns the Mania, a 35-foot, twin-diesel cruiser berthed at the Nassau Harbour Club. The Howard Adamsons, who operate the Mania, take groups to a variety of spots, leaving at 9:30 in the morning, returning at 3. Price for a novice, with instruction and all gear, is $25; for experienced divers, $20; for snorkeling alone, $10. The Mania is well-equipped with life-saving gear, tank rack, fresh-water shower and a rear surface-level platform to facilitate diving. She draws only 2½ feet of water and explores the reefs as far afield as Andros, Eleuthera and Exuma.
In the winter months, Bronson Hartley has an old-fashioned helmet-diving cruise leaving Yacht Haven each morning and afternoon. The cruise costs $9, including a reef trip. Each passenger spends 20 minutes underwater, walking 14 feet down on the ocean floor among schools of tame reef fish.
In addition to these, the following resort hotels on various of the outer islands specialize in skin-diving activities. Prices vary considerably with the area and the number of people in a group, but the Bahamas Development Board, 620 Fifth Avenue, New York 22, can furnish the particulars. The Grand Bahama Club, Grand Bahama Island, has all sorts of equipment to rent, boats, guides and scuba instruction in its pool. The Fishing Hole on Grand Bahama has a half-day trip, including an instructor and snorkeling gear, at $10 per person. The Staniel Cay Yacht Club on Exuma, in addition to all other facilities, has a two-man submarine. The Current Club on Eleuthera furnishes face masks and snorkels to guests, but has no scuba gear. The Elbow Cay Club on Abaco organizes underwater treasure hunts. Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros caters to experienced divers. It has 12 complete rigs to hire but suggests that guests bring fins, masks and regulators. The Avis Bimini Club's Forty Fathoms Shop takes up to 16 persons on a day's excursion for $20 per person with all equipment. Peter Lloyd's Game & Spearfishing Resort at Spanish Wells is among the best-equipped in the Bahamas. Snorkeling gear and a Boston Whaler come with each housekeeping cottage, which rents for $135 per week. And scuba equipment, guides, sea sleds, power submarine and glass-bottomed boats are all available for hire.
Cozumel, an island off the coast of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula, is the setting for the Sporting Look pictures in this issue. Its beaches and waters are among the most beautiful in the Caribbean. There are many good guides. The most sought after is Ramon Zapata—Jacques Cousteau came to Cozumel to dive with him among sunken Spanish galleons and Mayan ruins. Zapata and the other Cozumel guides instruct the novice in the quiet water of Chancanab lagoon before taking him to the spectacular reefs in the nearby Caribbean. A Cozumel guide not only takes you out where the crab, conch, crayfish, grouper and snapper play, but cooks a beach picnic, Cozumel fashion, with the day's catch. If you are not up to spearing your own lunch, you can lie in the sun on the boat while your guides do the work, but that is not half the fun. Conch becomes the basis for seviche, with fat Yucatan avocados; crayfish are split and grilled over coals or steamed with round white pompano in a tent of green palm leaves. Grouper is filleted and fried in oil with garlic. A day's diving with Zapata, including the picnic and beer, costs $8 per person. Cozumel guides rent complete scuba equipment for $6 per day, snorkeling gear for $1.20. It is best to bring your own mask and spear gun. The best place to stay for diving is the new Cozumel Caribe, in a coconut grove at the edge of a superb white-sand beach. Rates are $16 American plan for a single, $28 double.
Jamaica has an interesting fragment of history on its south shore: the sunken city of Port Royal, once the pirate capital of the world and one of the wickedest and wealthiest cities in the Western Hemisphere before it dropped beneath the sea in an earthquake in 1692. Morgan's Harbour Hotel is built on the ruins of the King's Yards of the old city and, although the water tends to be murky, skin divers can still find the ruins of two old forts. Tradewinds Underwater Toursat Morgan's Harbour has compressors and scuba and snorkeling gear for hire. They also take guided excursions to Lime Cay and Maiden Cay for $40 per half day, $75 all day, for four, all equipment included. At Bull Bay, Grant's Pen and Cow Bay, east of Kingston, the spearfishing is fine for many kinds of rock fish. Spear guns are allowed all over Jamaica except in swimming areas and rivers.
On the north shore, reefs stretch from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios and Port Antonio. At Montego Bay, the Sea Crabs Diving School at the Chatham Hotel has a compressor and equipment for hire. Instruction in scuba and snorkeling is $8 per hour and a half and reef trips with guide are $12 per hour. At the Jamaica Hilton, the Plantation Inn and the Tower Isle in Ocho Rios, Ernie Smatt Enterprises gives instruction in scuba for $12 an hour, takes reef trips for $12 per two-hour tour. The new Reef Club in Ocho Rios has dredged up a wreck far out at sea and resunk it off its own shores, to provide verisimilitude to the name of Shipwreck Bay and a playpen for its diving guests.
Puerto Rico, most populated tourist island in the Caribbean, has almost all of its hotel facilities on the north shore of the island, an area with few reefs and poor diving. The best-protected waters are on the eastern shore, in the lee of Cayo Icacos reefs. Bill and Shirley Brown take novice snorkelers in groups of six from San Juan hotels out to the fishing village of Fajardo and by native sloop to Icacos Island for three hours of swimming and viewing the reefs and reef life. Cost is $15 for the day. Walter Hendricks of El Conquistador Hotel, the first development for tourists in the Fajardo area, teaches beginning scuba at Icacos for $20 per day, equipment included. The fishing is negligible at Icacos and is best on the southwest coast, at La Parguera, Cabo Rojo and Boqueron Beach. Experienced divers can rent equipment from Original Don's Aqualung Service in San Juan for $7 a day and boats from the local fishermen to go out on their own. They will find conch, turtle, snapper, amberjack, kingfish, bonito, tuna, pompano and grouper.
St. Thomas is the location of the Navy's underwater demolition school, which is a strong recommendation for the quality of the diving. Guides Red Raisch and John Hamber specialize in teaching beginning scuba; Jean Archi, a veteran skin diver in the Mediterranean, Greece and the Red Sea, is available to the more experienced diver. All three guides like Water Island in Charlotte Amalie's harbor—there are many wrecks, protected beach waters for beginners and a 50-foot ledge on the east side. Raisch starts his beginners off Morningstar Beach. His Kon-Tiki diving school (see color facing page 22) charges $17.50 per half day, including equipment. Hamber, who trained with the Navy frogmen in St. Thomas and was in a Marine reconnaissance diving company, takes his beginners off the beach at Sapphire Bay, his intermediates off Koki Beach, where he has a big parrot fish trained to eat out of his hand. For advanced scuba, he likes Mingo, Lovango, Congo and Thatch Cays. All the guides take expeditions to the British Virgins, particularly to Virgin Gorda and Anegada, which bristles with wrecks. A two-night-and-three-day trip with Hamber to Anegada on the 42-foot Pan-Hani costs $150 per day for four passengers, including meals and all gear. Less venturesome wives or beginners can be programmed in easier diving while the serious boys explore the reefs and wrecks. Hamber also teaches underwater photography for $17.50 for three hours, including use of camera and a roll of film. Jean Archi is very enthusiastic about Buck Island and the fringing reefs of the St. Croix north shore, Virgin Gorda and Norman and Peter islands. His price is $20 a day each for a minimum of two people, a maximum of six, a 40-foot diesel cruiser with all equipment included.
C. and M. Caron, owned by Leslie Caron's father, rents first-rate equipment in both St. Thomas and St. Croix: a regulator and tank is $5 a day. Generally all rental places in the Caribbean require substantial deposits, ST. CROIX'S leading guide is Bill Miller. He rents equipment, teaches the novices and guides the experts. Touristic though it is, Miller gets a large share of his business running trips to the Buck Island Reef National Monument, either in a native sloop ($8.50 a day) or in his 63-foot powerboat ($10 a day). At Buck Island novice snorkelers are first indoctrinated off a pink-sand beach, then guided through the maze of spectacular coral and underwater life, the beauty of the area marred with underwater signs that label as carefully as the street signs on Broadway: "This is a Brain Coral," "Here Live the Angel Fish." Miller also takes groups to the British Virgins—$90 a day for six people. In St. Croix, the Hotel on the Cay is on an island surrounded by snorkeling grounds. Rates are 430 to $38 per day, double occupancy, with two meals.
In the British Virgins, Allan Batham's MARINA CAY (page 27) is a snorkeler's and scuba diver's idyll. Batham, expert though he is, will not instruct—he is too busy running his small island resort. He will, however, swim with competent and experienced divers. Marina Cay accommodates only 18 guests in its six A-frames. The price here is $35 a day for two, meals included. Getting there is no snap. First you take a boat from St. Thomas to Road Town, in Tortola, then a taxi from Road Town to East End, where the Marina Cay boat collects you for free and takes you the last 20 minutes. Total traveling time, not counting waits, is 3½ hours. Total cost is about $10.50.
On January 1 a new resort opened on VIRGIN GORDA, which, with its 50 rooms, doubles the available guest beds in the entire British Virgins. It is Laurance Rockefeller's Little Dix Bay, a quietly luxurious seaside complex, mindful of Cancel Bay on St. John in its serenity. Emphasis here is on the fabulous water surrounding the British Virgins, and the beachside-buffet lunch always includes fish from the front-door yard prepared in native fashion. Snorkeling and scuba gear is available for hire—scuba lessons are $5 per half hour. There are special trips to the wreck of the Rh√¥ne, to the flats of Anegada, to the caves on Norman Island. The boulder-formed grottoes called The Baths are just around the bend from Little Dix. Rates are $25 to $27.50 per person, American plan. As in almost every Caribbean resort, they drop by about half in the pleasant months of summer.
The chain of islands that stretches from St. Martin down through St. Kitts, Nevis, the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique to St. Vincent is not as yet equipped to take out the casual diver, even though in some cases the potential is superb. At St. Martin there are two fine old galleons very near the surface. Stetson M. Risdon, in Philipsburg, will guide you and rent his equipment. Montserrat and Dominica have no reefs or beaches from which to dive. At Nevis there is the submerged town of Jamestown, sunk in an earthquake in 1680, but you are on your own there.
Antigua is another story. The principal organizer of water sports there is an Australian named Tony Johnson who learned to dive for food while a prisoner of the Japanese in the South Pacific. Tony operates out of the Caribbean Beach Club and takes guests of other hotels—The Anchorage, Blue Waters, Half Moon Bay and the Jolly Beach Hotel—on instruction and diving tours. His rates are $12 for two hours, which include instruction and a 45-minute dive. You have to furnish your own equipment, but he has compressors to refill your tanks. He also has a glass-bottom boat, the Antiguan Queen, which leaves the Caribbean Beach Club every day at 2:30 for a two-hour trip over the reefs—fare $4 per person. One of the best ways to explore the waters of the Leeward Islands, including the ships sunk in the Mt. Pelée volcanic eruption on Martinique in 1902, is from a charter yacht out of Antigua. The Nicholson Yacht Chartering Service of English Harbour has eight yachts listed with scuba equipment aboard. For example, the Pas de Loup, a six-berth ketch, has compressors, tanks, underwater movie cameras, harnesses, flippers and snorkels. Captain John Guthrie is a trained scuba instructor. He charters for $814 per week, with equipment. The 116-foot schooner Panda, with four double cabins, formerly owned by a Vietnamese emperor, charters for $2,500 per week. It has compressors and three tanks. Mike Badham, a World War II diver in New Guinea, has built at The Inn at English Harbour a 49-foot trimaran, Spearhead, ideal for diving, and equipped with compressor and tanks. He charters it for $1,260 per week. A good place to stay for snorkelers is Hawksbill, which has excellent reefs, a Boston Whaler, fins, masks and snorkels for guests.
Barbados has two skin-diving establishments, each equipped with 12 tanks and all the other required gear. Both have guides who instruct all grades of scuba enthusiasts. At Coral Reef Beach—center for the Coral Reef, Colony, Miramar and Sandy Lane hotels—Les Wotton, an English diver with 12 years in Barbados, teaches scuba with two assistants, for $10 per hour, all gear and a trip to Coral Reef included. At the Aquatic Club, one mile from Bridgetown, American Gene Tinker, a diver with 15 years' experience, and his partner, Harold King, serve the divers in south coast hotels. He charges $15 per person, including equipment, for a half-day excursion. The east coast and North Point are the best places for spearfishing. Special for sightseeing is the wreck of a World War I freighter, which even beginners visit—its highest point is only six feet below the water.
The Grenadines have very primitive facilities, excellent underseascapes. The thing to do in Grenada, Les Tantes, Carriacou or Bequia is to take your own equipment or, as in Antigua, explore from the comfortable deck of a charter boat containing all of the facilities for diving. The 106-foot steam yacht Xebec, which books out of Nicholson's in Antigua, specializes in skin-diving trips to these waters. Its charter fee is $35 per person per day for a party of six. The waters of the Grenadines are exceptionally clear and the spearfishing is first rate. The best diving is on the reefs surrounding the Tobago Cays, and in Tyrrel Bay on Carriacou. At Point Saline on Grenada, there is a beach which is white sand on one side, black on the other, where you can find sizable mackerel, crevalle and snapper.
Trinidad has poor diving, but nearby TOBAGO is superb, from the Giles off the north shore to the fabulous Buccoo Reef on the south. The Buccoo Reef is about two miles offshore. To reach it look up Cecil Anthony, an experienced fisherman of impressive girth. He will either take you himself or send you out with one of his boys. On the way you cross the Nylon Pool, a body of water so named because it is so clean. On the reef, when the tide is out, even nonswimmers stand knee-deep in tennis shoes to protect their feet from the coral and peer through goggles at a display of reef life as stunning as can be found in the entire Caribbean. Anthony rents all gear, but divers should bring their own masks and regulators.
The Dutch islands called the ABCs, ARUBA, BONAIRE and CURACAO, far down in the Caribbean, are just developing their skin-diving facilities. Bonaire has the best spearfishing—for both beginners and experienced divers. Don Stewart is the local guide; he has a compressor for refilling tanks and equipment for hire. He will take you to reefs that are only 20 feet from the Hotel Bonaire or down to sunken cannon fragments off the southeast coast.
In Aruba, Dr. Dolfi Oduber is the best authority on skin diving. He will take you (or put you in touch with someone who will) to the wrecks off the northwest tip of the island. They are fairly deep. On all the ABCs, the best diving is on the west coast, for the winds from the east make for choppy water on the windward side of these islands. Cura√ßao is best for advanced scuba, and there is good spearfishing around Spanish Bay. Robert Schouten is a licensed guide who rents gear and takes experienced divers on tours.
Underwater Natl. Park
growing coral beds
ISLA DE MUJERES
Tulum Mayan ruins on the shore
divers find Mayan objects
GRAND BAHAMA I.
ruins of Kings Yards
GREAT ABACO I.
no tourist paradise
Long Pt. Morningstar Bay
Underwater Natl. Park
Underwater Natl. Park
two fine galleons
JACK ADAM I.
wreck of the "Rh√¥ne"
WW I freighter wreck
good for non-swimmers
advanced scuba only
BONAIRE best spearfishing
best display of tropical fish at Buccoo Reef
no spear fishing
unusual coral reefs