RMS Rhone, BVIsThe RMS Rhone is one of the most popular wreck dives in the British Virgin Islands. Photograph by Jeff Yonover.
Caribbean Explorer II, St. Kitts/Saba
My dive extravaganza aboard Caribbean Explorer II begins at Bobby’s Marina in St. Maarten. After checking in early on the boat, I meet the amiable Capt. Tim Heaton, who greets guests by asking them to remove their shoes. Smiling compliantly as I begin to obey, he issues another gentle order, “And keep them off when walking on the boat, for the rest of the week.”
No shoes? Shirt optional? No problem, I think. As a photographer, I’m a kid in a candy store on the boat. I find large camera-rinse tanks, an oversize camera table and ample recharging stations. This is going to be a fun-filled excursion, I tell myself. What follows is a blur of gourmet meals and snacks, excellent dives (and briefings), and hanging out with some easygoing guests and crew. Convenience is the constant for each day.
The yacht runs a packed itinerary between the tiny Dutch gem of Saba and laid-back St. Kitts and Nevis. Volcanoes played a vital role in the origin of the islands, gifting them with marvelous landscapes and prolific reefs. The trip turns out to be something of a mini cruise, touching all three exquisite islands and offering a chance to do some topside touring as well.
More than 60 percent of tiny, mountainous Saba’s visitors are divers, and it’s easy to see why with this underwater topography. I’ve got three days to frolic in these waters and make the most of it at sites like Diamond Rock, probably the island’s most famous landmark — though it’s in the ocean — and only one of my favorite dive sites.
This underwater pinnacle extends from the ocean floor at about 80 feet, and rises out of the water to some 150 feet. Every imaginable species of sponge creates a stunning palette of color, while the many queen angelfish, squirrelfish, creole wrasse and snappers add more vibrancy to this breathtaking canvas.
Sites off equally laid-back St. Kitts form the second part of our itinerary. We descend onto the wreck of the River Taw, covered with a proliferation of yellow tube sponges, blackball sponges, split-pore sea rods and large sea fans. Next to the wreck lie a sunken bulldozer and the remains of a cargo van, offering great photo opportunities. Yellowtail snappers, sergeant majors, barjack and bluehead wrasse round out the fish life.
That night on board, I feel totally content and think to myself that any diver who wants a change of scenery between three lovely islands would relish a most memorable vacation on the Caribbean Explorer II. And they won’t even have to wear shoes. — Solomon Baksh
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