In recent years, a growing number of travelers are demanding more than bottom time from their tropical dive vacations. In response, dive resorts have scrambled to add topside activities and ''family'' programs to their itineraries. This new trend is old news to Duncan and Annie Muirhead, the owners of the Cuan Law. For the better part of two decades, their luxury live-aboard has allowed thousands of guests to combine great diving with an unforgettable week of sailing, island hopping and water-sports adventures. For most of the year, the Cuan Law roams through the British Virgin Islands. Steady trade winds, secluded coves and palm-fringed beaches make these islands a veritable playground for sailing yachts, while the surrounding waters offer miles of protected coral reefs for divers to explore. The region's varied underwater terrain offers something for every diver. Novices will find dozens of shallow, protected coral gardens, while more advanced divers will enjoy the current-washed pinnacles and cascading reefs that lie a bit farther from shore. Decades of governmental protection and a well-established mooring system have resulted in plentiful fish populations and miles of undamaged reefs. The undersea plateau that connects these islands also holds a number of noteworthy wrecks, including the wreck of the Rhone. The remains of this 310-foot Royal Mail Steamer, including her massive shafts, boilers and propeller, lie in depths ranging from 30 to 85 feet, and are considered to be one of the Caribbean's finest wreck dives. Divers can also visit the more recently sunken wrecks of the Fearless, Marie L, Pat and Chikuzen, all of which lie in depths of less than 90 feet and harbor bountiful populations of fish. To take full advantage of all the British Virgins have to offer, the Muirheads have created a mixed-bag itinerary that includes not only plenty of diving, but also time to snorkel, sail, swim, waterski, explore ashore and perhaps grab a nap in a shaded hammock. This ''do as you like'' schedule makes the Cuan Law a favorite with diver/non-diver couples, new divers and families. Big Boat Comforts At a length of 105 feet, the Cuan Law is the world's largest sailing trimaran - and unlike any other live-aboard dive vessel. The additional width of the tri-hull design makes the Cuan Law extremely stable, and allows for extra large private cabins and expansive deck space. Ten guest staterooms enjoy ocean views, and open onto a large central lounge. Each cabin is equipped with a private toilet and shower, and can be configured for a double berth or separate twin beds. All cabins are air-conditioned, but many guests prefer to open the deck hatches and enjoy the views and the natural ventilation provided by the trade winds. In addition to offering the privacy of individual cabins and deck areas, the layout allows for a comfortable blend of social activities. The central salon includes a self-host bar and several conversation areas, while the separate stern salon fitted with an entertainment center and video library. In between, the full-width stern deck becomes the focal point for delicious family-style meals that mix crew and guests against an open-air backdrop of blue water and Caribbean skies. The boat's forward deck contains an assortment of water-sports equipment that includes sea kayaks and sailboats, while the aft deck does double duty as dive deck. The Cuan Law's seven-member crew handles all aspects of housekeeping and service in a low-key yet thoroughly professional manner, and also pamper divers by taking care of tasks such as tank changes and gear storage. Three dives are planned each day - morning, afternoon, and night - with ample surface intervals for water sports, beach combing or simply relaxing. Dives are staged from the twin dive platforms of the Cuan Law, or from a pair of inflatable dive tenders. Conditions are benign, with water temperatures typically in the 80-plus-degree range, calm seas and minimal currents. Summer Specials From mid-July through August, the Cuan Law offers an additional incentive for active families: special rates that allows children under 18 to travel with their parents for half price. In addition, the boat's resident dive instructors can provide first-class instruction and certification at half the normal rate, and equipment rental fees are also reduced by 50 percent. All other water-sports are free, and children can participate in daily shore trips and a weekly beach barbecue at the famous Baths of Virgin Gorda, where house-sized boulders are piled along the beach like giant marbles. For reservations or more information about live-aboard diving from the Cuan Law, click on the home page below. For general information about the British Virgin Islands, click on the home page below.
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