SS SaponaLog lots of bottom time with this shallow wreck dive in the Bahamas
You want big encounters. You want epic visibility. You want the Bahamas. This easy-to-reach chain of islands remains at the top of scuba divers' wish lists because it consistently delivers face time with sharks and dolphins; dives here also get you close to wrecks, macro life and schools of fish so massive that you lose yourself inside them.
Average Water Temp: low 80s in summer; high 70s in winter
What to Wear: skin in summer; 3 mm wetsuit in winter
Average Viz: 100 feet
When to go: year-round
Nassau, New Providence
Everyone expects to see Caribbean reef sharks in action at Shark Runway, where as many as 30 arrive daily for an a la carte herring lunch — but at Ray of Hope -- downed cargo ship a mere 100 yards away -- it’s a welcome sight when a half-dozen linger, curiously. It’s not feeding time, but they still seem hopeful.
Earlier during his dive briefing, Chang Chin told us that shark sightings are more or less a given. He’s one of the chainmail-clad feeders at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas -- a PADI Five Star Dive Resort -- and he knows the reefs well.
For the past 30 years, Stuart Cove's has been working alongside sharks, setting the standard for safety. With its fleet of 12 dive boats, the resort offers daily afternoon shark feeds, as well as charters to other sites around the island.
“These are mostly second-and-third generation sharks whose grandparents have been here since the feeding started,” says Chin. “They’re extremely comfortable around divers and are just hoping to figure out who has the food.”
Sharks aren’t the only big game claiming territory. While at Ray of Hope, a goliath grouper emerges from one of the ship’s walkways, studying us, as if wanting to protect its dwelling from unexpected guests.
From the wreck, it's a quick swim to the wall where a coral head of Mesozoic Era proportions serves as a base for the army of snapper funneling around it. We stay fairly shallow, taking in the purples, oranges and yellows of the overgrown sponges slowly fingering across the reef.
Before ascending, we position ourselves inside the invisible circuit that the sharks swim repeatedly, and I recall what Chin had said of moments like this one.
“Even if a group of divers has done the shark feed, they get excited seeing sharks in their natural habitat. They know that’s what the Bahamas is all about.”
Divers looking to log deep dives shouldn't target North Bimini -- many of the best sites are also the shallowest at Bimini Big Game Club, a Guy Harvey Outpost Resort & Marina.
Capt. Joey Lawless is taking us to the SS Sapona, a cement ship that wrecked on a shallow reef when a 1926 hurricane barreled through, relocating it to 18 feet of water.
The ride to the site couldn’t be smoother: We’re aboard the operation’s 63-foot-long custom boat that easily handles seas of any condition. And the boat isn't the only customized feature -- Dive Bimini offers charters at times that best suit guests’ schedules. Not an early riser? Not a problem.
When we arrive at the Sapona, our captain briefs us on the wreck.
“Its fate was the same as every other boat here in the islands,” Lawless says. “It had several careers — as a troop transport ship, a rumrunner and as a target for Navy drills. But it had run its course, so they islanders left it to become a reef.”
About half of the 270-foot ship juts above small waves. The hull is awash with purple and orange sponges, attracting queen angelfish. The swim-through near the prop leads to a hold filled with French grunts; nearby, scattered wreckage shelters a nurse shark.
Post-dive, we return to the Bimini Big Game Club for sunset. The poolside bar starts to crowd with suntanned travelers. At the end of the dock, a man cleans the anglers’ bounty, tossing the guts into the drink. Within minutes, a handful of opportunists — stingrays and a couple nurse sharks — appear. Here in Bimini, you don’t even have to get wet to watch predators feeding — you can do it while holding a cocktail and enjoying the sunset.