Caribbean Sailing Vacations by Ed Hamilton

SCUBA DIVING on charter
General Notes for Scuba Divers in the Caribbean

Some popular Caribbean dive sites
Contact information for dive companies

Virgin Islands The most popular choice. Many sites but many divers.
Dive suggestions.

St. Martin
Antigua
More exposed, but some nice sites including Saba & Anguilla.
Dive suggestions

Dominica Spectacular diving in a more remote location. Local dive shops used for all dives.
Dive suggestions

Grenadines Dive sites are more spread out than some areas. Tobago Cays are popular.
Dive suggestions

Bahamas Many dive sites covering a large area.
Dive suggestions

Belize First class diving on the second largest barrier reef in the world - over 350 miles long.
Dive suggestions.
Notes:

Virgin Islands:
British Virgin Islands


PAINTED WALLS: Long canyons, a cave, a sponge encrusted tunnel, numerous barracuda, rock beauties, angelfish and a variety of pelagic fish make Painted Walls an exciting and picturesque dive. Depths vary from 28 to 50 feet.

THE RHONE: Just about everyone in diving has heard of the classic wreck, the RMS Rhone and even those who have not visited the British Virgin Islands have seen the Rhone in Columbia Pictures treasure diving epic 'The Deep'. An ocean steamer 310 feet in length, this magnificent vessel sank off Salt Island during an extremely violent hurricane in 1867. After 117 years of silent slumber in 20 to 80 feet of water, this great ship remains remarkably intact with much of her decking, rigging, steam engine and propeller still visible. Gilded with colorful sponges and flourishing corals, the Rhone is perhaps the most impressive shipwreck in the entire Caribbean.

RHONE REEF: Two coral encrusted caves are located in less than 25 feet of water at Rhone Reef, Salt Island. A variety of hard and soft corals, fish, turtles and the occasional shark can be found here. Due to its proximity to the Rhone it is a protected area.

GREAT HARBOR: Directly across the channel from Road Town Harbor lies a large protected bay on the north side of Peter Island. At the center of this bayis a shallow coral reef less than 20 yards offshore, beginning in eight feet of water. Loaded with colorful sponges and a marvelous array of small marine life, this reef slopes gently to approximately 18 feet and then drops vertically to a depth of 40 feet.

INDIANS: The Indians are four large rock formations that rise from the ocean floor to a height of about 90 feet. Deepest depth is 50 feet on the westward side. The Indians have just about everything for the snorkeler as well as the scuba diver. Brain, finger, star and elkhorn corals are abundant as well as gorgonians and sea fans.

CAVES: The caves at Normal Island can provide many hours of fun for snorkelers. There is a large variety of subject for the underwater photographer such as schools of Dward Herring. These fish are food for many pelicans in the area. The reef in front of shallow caves slopes downward to a depth of 40 feet.

ANGELFISH REEF: One of the best sightseeing dives is a sloping reef located off the western point of Norman Island. Depths here range from 10 to 90 feet. The highlight of the dive for some is a visit to the bottom of the channel where a large colony of angelfish reside. There is plenty of fish action at this particular site because of the swift flowing currents in the nearby channels and close proximity to the open sea.

COOPER ISLAND: The southeastern shore of Cooper Island called Markoe Point is a sheer rock wall that plunges some 70 feet to the ocean floor. Nurse sharks are frequently encountered lying on sandy floors at the base of small canyons formed by the rugged walls of the island.

SCRUB ISLAND: The south side of Scrub Island is a splendid reef with depths up to 60 feet.

LITTLE CAMANOE: The northeastern tip of Little Camanoe offers 30 foot reef dives. The coral overhands in this area are exceptionally good. At times there are ground seas, therefore caution is advised.

SEA DOG ROCK: Plenty of pelagic fish. Depth of 80 feet usually in a current. This site is recommended for experienced divers only.

GEROGE DOG: The rocky point in the anchorage at George Dog is an easy 25 to 30 foot dive for less experienced divers.

INVISIBLES: East of Necker Island this spectacular site has soaring peaks from 70 feet to 4 feet below the surface. Flashing schools of fish, sleeping nurse sharks and multiple forms of sea life make this an exciting dive for experienced and less experienced alike.

VISIBLES: This site is an underwater pinnacle southwest of Cockroach Island. Caves, canyons with depths to 70 feet, and a resident 8-foot nurse shark highlight this site. This is also a spawning ground for many species of jacks, snappers and groupers.

CHIMNEY: This site on the west bay of Great Dog is a winding canyon leading to an underwater arch. There are many coral heads with an unbelievable variety of small sea creatures making this an excellent site for the underwater photographer.

JOE’S CAVE: Cathedral effect cave with schooling glassy eyed sweepers located on West Dog Island. Clouds of silversides overshadow a variety of eels, pelagic fish and other species with an occasional school of tarpon.

VAN RYAN’s ROCK: Located off Collison Point, Virgin Gorda this site offers huge lobsters, turtles, and many varieties of fish among brilliant corals and swaying sea fans.

GINGER ISLAND: Mushroom coral heads 15-20 feet high with great visibility mark this site that graduates to depths of 70-90 feet ending in a high sand patch. Opportunities usually exist to pet stingrays and play with huge jewfish.

SOUTHSIDE OF GREAT DOG ISLAND: This reef runs east and west 100 yards off shore. Each dive presents new and different coral, butterfly fish and other marine life.

ANEGADA REEF: This site is a graveyard of 300 documented shipwrecks dating from the 1600’s to the present day.

THE CHIKUZEN: This 245 foot ship was sunk in 1981 and provides a fantastic home for all varieties of fish including big rays and horse-eye jacks. Diving depth is less than 80 feet and this site is located north of Camanoe Island by about five miles. Summer only. Return to top of the page

U.S. Virgin Islands

CARTENSER SENIOR: Near Buck Island, this site is a spectacular dive on the coral-encrusted intact hull of a World War I cargo ship in 50 feet of water. Tours can be easily arranged for this wreck near St. Thomas.

COW AND CALF: Two rocks between Christmas Cove and Jersey Bay 5 feet below the surface. The lee side of the western rock provides intricate arches, ledges and caves. Angelfish and beautiful coral abound.

CHRISTMAS COVE: Good beginner’s dive on the northwest side of Fish Cay in 450 feet of water where you can swim among the coral heads with plenty of fish to see.

DOG ROCK: This site for advanced divers because of the potential rough seas is located on the northwest side of Dog Island at 40 to 50 foot depths. There are rock and coral ledges as well as caves to explore.

COKI BEACH: A good place to snorkel off the beach. Coral ledges are close to the Coral World Underwater Tower.

LITTLE SAINT JAMES: A 40 foot dive on the lee side has some deep ledges which serve as shelter to various schools of fish.

TWIN BARGES: Located off Limetree Beach lies two wrecks sunk during the 1940’s. Although visibility is limited outside the wrecks, the clarity improves inside the chambers of the ships.

CARVEL ROCK: Off the northern side of this rock near St. John in depths to 90 feet big schools of pelagic fish pass the colorful sponge-encrusted caves.

THATCH CAY: At the Tunnels to depths of 40 feet, divers explore eight different arches and tunnels.

SCOTCH BANK: Off St. Croix this popular dive spot is a favorite for spotting stingrays and manta rays.

LONG REEF: This 6 mile long reef provides dives at depths from 30 to 50 feet revealing many colonies of pillar and elkhorn colonies.

SALT RIVER: This area has two distinct walls; the East Wall plunges from depths of 50 to 100 feet with many caves and caverns, and the West Wall which peaks at 30 feet and tumbles to 125 feet. The colors of the sponges grasping the crevices and pillars are awesome.

BUCK ISLAND: Off St. Croix, this is a national monument with abundant tropical fish, and a jungle of huge staghorn and elkhorn coral. An absolute must for anyone visiting St. Croix.

FREDERIKSTED PIER: Thirty-foot deep pilings offer splendid diving either day or night. The pilings provide a home for bright sponges and algae as well as sea horses, crabs and octopus.

CANE BAY, DAVIS BAY & SALT RIVER: All these sites have walls of coral from 20 feet to depths of over 1000 feet. Several anchors have been discovered along the wall. One of the most photographed anchors is nestled in sand at 60 feet on the Northstar wall.

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St. Martin, Anguilla and Antigua:

Anguilla

You are not allowed to anchor at most of the dive sites so the remote sites are best explored using a local dive company. There are however many that are accessible by dinghy. Use the small red bouys. Popular dives are at Sandy Island (two dive sites), Prickly Pear (30-70 feet, forests of elkhorn, ledges, caverns) and Little Bay (rays and turtles). Using a dive company increases your options, including Frenchman's Reef, Paintcan Reef, Grouper Bowl and at least 6 intentionally skuttled ships.

St. Martin

Though the diving locations surrounding the island are not considered deep (45 foot average) the reefs are teeming with Marine life and the underwater visibility can range from 40 to 125 feet depending on weather conditions. Water temperatures vary from 72 – 80 degrees year round. During the winter months a 1/8” wet suit is advisable and during the summer you might be more comfortable wearing a “skin”.

FRENCH REEF: This is an excellent reef close to shore for both beginners and advanced divers. There are many varieties of fish life in large numbers. A perfect spot for photographers interested in close up photos. When the waters are too rough further out, French Reef is usually calm enough for a dive. Average dept is 12-25 feet.

CAY BAY REEF: This reef is a low lying reef beginning 100 yards off shore and continuing out for approximately 1/2 mile. The reef is spread out all though the Cay Bay area with some small outcroppings of coral. This is normally an area for beginners and certified divers on days when surface conditions elsewhere are difficult. Average depth is 15-30 feet.

EXPLORERS REEF: This reef structure is approximately 2 miles south of Great Bay Harbor. The coral formation begins at the top in 30 feet and goes off the sides at 45 feet. Its reef runs north/south to St. Martin and is about 150 yards long. Many fine soft corals, creanoids and anemones exist here. Sightings of barracuda, rays, groupers and larger fish are quite common. Average depth 30-45 feet.

THE MAZE: This reef is in close proximity to EXPLORERS REEF. Elkhorn coral stands are in place at the top of the reef. The sides offer some small caves to explore. Turtles, rays, nurse sharks and large French Angelfish are common. Occasionally there can be a strong current running over the top of the reef so caution is advised while making your descent. Average depth 25-45 feet.

PROSELYTE REEF: This is probably the most popular dive site in St. Martin. Here is where the British Frigate, HMS Proselyte went down in 1802. The only remains left to be seen of the ship are cannons, anchors and debris from the hull. The ship over time has been completely covered and today divers fanning the same with their hands might be lucky and expose a piece of her hull. Many varieties of marine life and fish have been seen here. Average depth 15-45 feet.

THE ALLEYS & CABLE REEF: There are actually two dive sites in one. The ALLEYS is a series of large rock formations rising from 45 feet to within 25 feet of the surface. There are several interesting caves to explore at the base. A short swim south brings you to CABLE REEF, easily spotted by a long tug boat cable draped over the top of the reef. There are more caves here with lots of fish life. Schools of barracuda and other pelagic fish are quite common. Photographers will have a good time. Average depth is 25-65 feet.

HENS & CHICKS: Only on exceptionally calm days can diving be accomplished on the windward side of St. Martin. The location is a series of rocks jutting out of the water approximately 2 miles off Pt. Blanche. This reef tumbles from 20-70 feet to a sand bottom. Elkhorn coral forests abound on top of the reef while schooling fish are encountered on descent along this wall. Average depth 20-70 feet.

FLAT ISLAND (TINTAMARRE): A 40-foot steel tug boat lies on its keel in 40 feet of water. Average depth is 40 feet.

SPANISH ROCK: Located between Flat Island and the mainland of St. Martin, this dive site offers a rock formation with many channels and ravines. Fish life in most cases is plentiful. This is a shallow dive and can sometimes be rough. Average depth is 10-30 feet.

CREOLE ROCK: Located off the town of Grand Case on the French side of St. Martin, this area is excellent for beginning divers. The water is always calm and normally quite clear with no currents. Nice shallow coral formation, soft corals and tropical fish are plentiful. Average depth is 10-25 feet.

LONG BAY REEF: This is a very low-lying reef close to shore at Long Bay. On days when conditions are not suitable elsewhere this reef can be quite interesting. Located on the leeward side of St. Martin, this reef offers quite a bit of marine life. Be careful of the currents in this area. Average depth is 20-25 feet.

Some good snorkeling locations are DAWN BEACH, ORIENT BEACH, GREEN CAY, PINEL ISLAND, CREOLE ROCK, BAIE ROUGE, PLUM BAY and SIMPSON BAY. Return to top of the page

Dominica:
This unspoiled paradise is as spectacular underwater as above. Dramatic dropoffs, walls, pinnacles and crystal clear visibility offers diving at its best to both the novice and experienced diver.

RODNEY’S ROCK: This rocky point drops off sharply to a sandy bottom and is cut by fissures and crevices. Schools of tropical fish inhabit the cuts and ledges. It is also popular with moray eels.

THE PINNACLE: Starts at 5 feet and drops away with ledges, walls and arches. Barracuda, stingrays, snapper, mackerel, kingfish and midnight blue parrots inhabit this site.

LA BIM: “The mother of all walls”, running for two miles and dropping beyond 800 feet. Cloaked with sponges, soft and black coral and nudibranches.

DANGLEBEN’S REEF: Deep reef running offshore, interwoven with small pinnacles and valleys. Rich coral growth, huge barrel sponges and large reef fish.

POINT GUIGNARD: Caves at 50 feet which makes this site perfect for an unforgettable night dive. Crabs, trumpet fish, sea horses, and lobster occupy these caves.

CHAMPAGNE: Sub aquatic, hot freshwater springs highlight this shallow dive. Tiny air bubbles covering 200 sq. ft. rise to the surface like drops of liquid crystal. A fabulous dive and lots of fun. Reef nearby makes another incredible night dive.

CONDO: Huge rock sitting on a sandy bottom interwoven with crevices, small caves and overhangs. Schools of solider fish and grunts inhabit the cuts and canyons. Large stingray frequent this area.

SOUFRIERE PINNACLE: Rising from the depths of Soufriere Bay to 5 feet, this site is ideal for beginners as well as advanced divers. Calm water, no current and abundance of small marine life makes it a macro photographer’s haven.

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Grenadines:
Dive site suggestions coming. Return to top of the page

Bahamas:
Dive site suggestions coming. Return to top of the page

Belize:
Dive site suggestions coming. Return to top of the page

DIVING IN THE CARIBBEAN

The same tremendous variety which makes chartering a yacht in the Caribbean so appealing extends underwater as well. The nature of the land is often reflected beneath the sea. Islands such as Dominica and Saba which are rugged and dramatic onshore have breathtaking walls, pinnacles and rock forms below. Antigua, St. Martin and the Virgin Islands which are slightly less mountainous have shallower dives, crystal clear waters and many varieties of schooling fish. Coral islands with more gentle land forms such as Anegada and Anguilla often have huge forests of coral below and the diving is often easier and shallower, thereby extending bottom time.

The first step in adding the diving dimension to your yacht charter vacation is to become a certified diver through one of several world recognized certification agencies such as the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), or Scuba Schools International (SSI). Certification is important not only for personal safety, but you must show your certification card to rent equipment and to refill air tanks.

Your local dive shop found in the yellow pages under "diving" can provide certification instruction for approximately $350.00. The course usually take one evening a week for three or four weeks and one weekend of open water (ocean, pond or lake) dives, two per day. In colder months you may choose to take these four open water dives during your charter. Upon successful completion of the instructional phase of the course, your instructor will provide you with a letter of referral. Present this letter to a dive shop at your charter location and their instructors will complete your instruction and issue your certification card. Anyone who wants to try diving before taking a certification course can take a "resort course". This costs little more than a regular dive and takes only half a day. For the first hour you learn the basics in simple, easy to understand lesson. Next you use the equipment in shallow water (usually a pool). Lastly, you go for your open water dive with your instructor. Any subsequent dives must also be in the presence of an instructor. You do not receive a certification card with this course.

Now that you and your crew are certified or near certified divers, the next step is to find a reputable dive operation in the cruising ground of your choice. We will be happy to provide you with a list of dive shops in your charter area. Several good reasons dictate the use of a professional as opposed to setting out on your own:
1. Local dive shops know the best sites to dive during different weather conditions.
2. Without local knowledge, locating the best dive spot on a large reef is often difficult and time consuming.
3. Most dive shops in The Virgin Islands (available by special arrangement elsewhere) will pick you up at your boat, bring your rental equipment (usually tanks, weight belt and weights), take you to the dive site and after diving, return you to your boat. This is called rendezvous diving.
4. Equipment problems can be generally solved by dive shop personnel on the spot, rather than having to lose a days diving due to equipment failure.
5. Dive boats are fast and can, therefore, move from site to site quickly and comfortably.

When given a choice, we generally recommend you select a well known, local dive shop affiliated with one of the national certification agencies (PADI 5 Star Facility – for example) that offers daily dive trips on their own dive boats. We do not recommend use of facilities that have large (over 25 divers) capacity dive boats because they tend to be crowded and less personalized. The further south you go in the Leeward/Windward chain, the fewer choices you will have.

We recommend you bring as much of your own dive equipment as possible, but not tanks, weight belts or weights. At a minimum you should bring your regulator, gauges, computer (if you have one, as they will extend your bottom time in multi-level diving), mask, snorkel, fins and dive skin.

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Photo credits for this page: Turtle and fish - Sunsail
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