A Grand Turk night dive exposes another world
By day, diving The Library leaves little lasting impression other than its steep profile. Starting about 40 feet from the surface, the wall features a few small ledges at 80 to 120 feet.
With Grand Turk's vast array of deeply grooved walls, intricate furrows leading to yawning canyons and circular swim-throughs, I wonder why this site has come to be an island favorite. After making a second dive at the Library - this one at night - I realized why it is so popular.
The Library turned out to be a carnival at night. The wall that was monochrome by day was now splashed with a world of color and bristling activity.
Forget the expected assortment of parrotfish, butterflyfish and tangs bedded down in the coral. Using the cover of darkness, creatures that were absent in daylight fully emerged from their burrows, crevices and alcoves to prowl.
Just beyond the narrow beam of my light, the glitter of eyes belonging to Spanish, spotted and red-banded lobsters sparkled and glowed from every corner of the wall.
A seemingly endless parade of moray eels zigzagged through the coral, including large green morays, some five feet in length, and diminutive goldentails, less than two feet long. Reticulate and chain morays were now out and about in their hunt for small fish, octopus and shrimp.
Robust channel crabs in hues of orange and maroon, as if out for a leisurely stroll, scoured for succulent bits of algae for dining. Close inspection of the sponges revealed small troops of flamboyantly decorated cryptic teardrop crabs, tiny red night shrimp and long-horn nudibranchs.
Shortly after sundown you can watch the feeding procedures of corals and their kin, such as banded tube-dwelling anemones and orange ball corallimorphs, which extend like colorful flowers.
The Library is just one of many great dive sites formed by Grand Turk's extreme underwater topography. Often less than 1,000 feet from shore, the coral-dotted shallows instantly become the deep waters of the Columbus Passage.
If that were not enough, Mother Nature placed the wall on the island's leeward side. Except for an occasional strong northwesterly blow, seas are both clear and invitingly calm on virtually every site.
Little and Laid Back
While the oceans around Grand Turk are a colorful riot at night, the island itself is anything but.
Grand Turk was a bustling port 100 years ago when salt - the white gold - was harvested from most of the island. It is far more tranquil today. Fast food and shopping malls have yet to arrive.
Restaurants and accommodations are a blend of small hotels and family-owned and operated guesthouses. Among them, the Turks Head and Salt Raker inns still function as they have for more than 150 years.
For the budget-minded, the Salt Raker Inn remains at the top of the list.
Originally built in the early 1800s as an estate home for a Bermudan shipwright, the two-story house with old-style wooden balcony overlooking the beach is the center to the Inn's adjoining guest quarters.
Although the inn is traditional in appearance, owner/manager Jenny Smith keeps the amenities and services on schedule. She hosts the restaurant and bar as well.
Dive operations are small and few in number - three, to be precise.
Catering to small groups of divers with a personalized touch is a way of life for Mitch Rolling, proprietor of Blue Water Divers for the last 18 years. His two 24-foot Carolina skiffs and larger 28-foot V-hull boat pick up guests in front of the Salt Raker Inn daily for short runs to the reef.
Diving with Mitch can be an experience in itself. His combination of professionalism and safety, with a high dose of fun-loving spirit, makes for an unforgettable adventure.
An entertainer by nature, this dive guide/troubadour also shows his talents with the guitar, singing a blend of new and old rock favorites on Wednesday and Sunday nights at the Salt Raker Inn.
Depending on the tempo of the crowd, the music can progress to a very lively state as Mitch throws in a few of his original, whimsical ballads about life on the island.
Improving the Neighborhood
Jenny Smith recently purchased and renovated the neighboring, 28-room beachfront property, formerly known as the Sitting Pretty Hotel. Completely re-attired with furniture and amenities from AC and kitchenettes to premium-channel TV, the property was recently christened Osprey Beach Hotel. To see the new look, check out the Osprey Beach Hotel Web site at www.ospreybeachhotel.com.