Shark RunwayIt's rush hour on Shark Runway in Nassau
The Bahamas might be the worst place to work toward navigation certification: The 100 feet of visibility makes cheating easy. Today's only goal is to wind around the 110-foot-long M/V Comberbach and the sailboat lying just off the freighter’s starboard side. Comberbach lies in a depth of 115 feet, so we’ll have to closely monitor our air consumption.
In the water, a slight current means we’ll work harder, but we'll also find greater reward. As we reach the deck, an eagle ray wings toward the stern. Inside the cargo hold, a green turtle eyes us before easing toward the surface.
After much time weaving around the wreck, it’s time to surface before our dive computers punish us. Luckily, at the PADI Dive Shop at Stella Maris Resort, the emphasis is on enjoying the surroundings and not keeping to a rigid schedule. You might return a bit later, but it will be for good reason: a suface swim with dolphins or a longer dive profile when something unexpected swims by.
During our surface interval, the group visits Conception Island, a protected site that serves as a sea turtle nursery. Today, this spot allows us to snap photos of white-sand beaches disappearing into the turquoise water.
Next, we visit Split Coral Reef. The structure rises some 50 feet from the bottom, surrounded by rippled sand and a string of patch reefs. As I watch a pair of tarpon approach, I realize that Long Island is a stellar place to study animal behavior. Visibility like this dramatically increases how much marine life divers see, and stretches each encounter from moments to minutes — epic indeed.
Five thousand cobias swarm the same site one and a half miles off the Cape Eleuthera Resort and Yacht Club. Granted, they’re stocked annually into a shark-proof netted cage, but this massive structure acts as an anchor for a thriving reefscape. The lot is fed daily, and the flotsam of extra pellets attracts snapper, grunts and small tropicals. These, in turn, attract dorado, wahoo and schools of horse-eye jacks. The diamond-shaped structure sits at a depth of 90 feet, just at the edge of the reef wall where predators can’t help but notice the activity.
It’s a site that stands out even to local live-aboard captains who regularly journey the 54 miles to the area, known throughout the Bahamas for its protected location; Cape Eleuthera enjoys a leeward position where seas and visibility are ideal 300 days a year.
“Tons of bull sharks, monster goliath grouper and the occasional tiger shark join us,” says Neal Watson Jr., owner of the on-site PADI Dive Resort, Cape Eleuthera Divers.
The morning we drop in, a small school of midnight parrotfish nibbles its way across the top of the 60-foot wide cage. Inside, the torrent of cobia rushes in all directions, creating a flurry of activity that’s hard to focus on. Take your wide-angle lens on this dive -- the structure makes an excellent backdrop.
That afternoon at Hole in the Wall, we slip into a cut-through that leads from 55 feet to 90. Visibility in the Bahamas never disappoints, so when we exit and find ourselves hovering over a bottom 2,000 feet below, a tinge of vertigo strikes.
“It’s unreal,” Stephen Kappeler, general manager of the shop, says of the site. “You feel like you pop out of the side of a skyscraper into the abyss.”