Official literature rumors that Columbus may have made his first New World landing on Grand Turk rather than San Salvador. But don't begin that conversation in a bar. Brian Riggs, manager of the Turks and Caicos National Museum on Grand Turk, began to explain over beers at Salt Raker Inn that there's just no archaeological research supporting such a claim. An islander at the other end of the bar took offense. Riggs soothed the man's feathers and deferred the conversation until a museum tour could be arranged. Grand Turk is the capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and its museum is one of the centerpieces along a quaint and colorful waterfront that features places such as Salt Raker; the Turks Head Hotel, with its British pub; and the three dive operators - Oasis Divers, Sea Eye Diving and Blue Water Divers. All carry tourists 300 yards offshore to the often majestic, never disappointing, Grand Turk wall. In contrast to Provo's bustle, Grand Turk is sleepy. At night, guests walk the one-way paved road that runs along the west shore, ambling from a dinner special to an island party or to one of two weekly appearances by guitarist/singer Mitch Rolling, who also operates Blue Water Divers. Donkeys and horses roam the remaining roads on this 7-mile-long strip. Boys ride the animals for special events, then release them again to graze. Though the endless calm could become intoxicating, it is Grand Turk's wall diving that is addictive. At Amphitheater, a shimmering white bed of sand slopes to a natural keyhole cut in the wall. Through the breach is water as blue and rich as velvet and a soft coral garden of reds, yellows and greens. At Black Forest, shrub-size black corals grow from a vertical bed of red sponges. On top of the wall, peacock flounders hunt in the sand and garden eels capture floating tidbits. Swarms of juvenile fish and cleaner fish hover over coral heads, dodging and darting as divers swim past. As Sea Eye Diving's Cecil Ingham and Connie Rus put it - and it's really not hype - All the dive sites here are good. Some are even surprising. A group of six divers discovered that this spring as they suited up aboard one of Oasis' 24-foot Carolina skiffs, a standard dive vessel for Grand Turk because of the close proximity of dive sites. Divemaster Paul hinted that he would be conducting certain activities along the wall. The group rolled off the gunwales and met near the sheer drop. Rushing from the depths, a Nassau grouper beelined it for Paul. It turns out the grouper, nicknamed Alexander, has been trained since 1991. Paul held Alexander's face to his, kissed it, stroked the grouper's mouth and head, and blew him bubbles. As Paul swam toward the wall, Alexander raced to every diver, then back to Paul. Eventually, Paul signaled Alexander with his hand that it was time to eat. Quickly, Paul fed the animal before any other fish could circle. A second fish, a smaller grouper named Arthur, briefly joined the activities, though it was clear Alexander was the star. Dive operators conduct a similar feeding experience on the flats of deserted Gibbs Cay, a 20-minute run. Here the cast includes southern stingrays, eagle rays and a moray eel. The trips often include snorkeling shallow reefs with vibrant elkhorn coral, a free-diving experience to catch conch and a meal under canopy next to the island's infamous shimmering turquoise flats. As the skiff approaches the Gibbs Cay shore, the dark shapes of rays float ghostlike over the sand. In just 4 feet of water and with only snorkel gear, visitors watch rays as they pass through the group, stop to inspect hands, bump into shoulders and legs and continue in a hovering pattern. Ten, 15 or more rays join the swarm. Paul feeds them sprits, what the islanders call a local baitfish. When the food is gone, a quick snorkel over adjacent grass beds and a slow warm-up in the flaming heat of a tropic sun complete the experience. For more information about staying on Grand Turk, click on the home page below. For more information about diving Grand Turk, click on the home page below. For more information about diving Gibbs Cay, click on the home page below. For general information about the Turks & Caicos Islands, click on the home page below.
by Christine Dummit
Join Sea Eye on some of its special adventures to feed stingrays or to dive the Grand Turk Wall.
Contact information for Sea Eye Diving on Grand Turk.
A list of hotels and dive operators on island.
While divers in the Turks & Caicos always stand a good chance of running into both large stingrays and eagle rays, moderate-sized reef sharks, sea turtles and curious groupers, they may also find themselves face to face with some of the ocean's larger residents.
The Grand Turk wall is legendary, as are the historic wrecks south of Salt Cay.
Information for planning a dive trip to Turks and Caicos.
Deep depths and steep vertical walls allow for large sponges, thriving corals and occasional shark encounters, while the 18th-century wreck HMS Endymion lies off of the shallow western shore of Salt Cay.
Sheer walls that drop off into the Columbus Passage that plunges past 7,000 feet.