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Cave Diver


Arun Madisetti

It's mid November and I'm on a boat 6 miles off the coast on an "oil slick" calm sea. Behind us a jagged green island reaches for the sky like shards of a bottle, around us; the sea, lots of it cobalt blue and lapping lazily at the hull. I, my family, and a few of my friends have been waiting here with a few libations for about 40 minutes, why? Because the captain, Jerry, said we should. Jerry knows his business, with over 20 years of whale watching he is one of the best on the island.
Worldwide Dive and Sail
Wreck A few more minutes pass with a couple of "nice ere innit?", and "are we there yet?" thrown in to annoy, then from the bow our now teenage son calls out in his unhurried seen it before way "port, two o'clock", right on cue 40 minutes after she went down a female sperm whale empties her lungs about 50 metres from us, an amazing sight. She remains near us for the next 30 minutes relaxing and then leisurely swims away, we don't follow. There's no need to harass. Whale and dolphin watching is one of the ways we spend our weekends, and Jerry runs a good boat, 8 maximum, so no crowds, and for us all the libation one could hope for, it gets very hot out at sea. We have 17 different marine mammals in our waters. It's one of three places in the world with a resident population of Sperm whales.
Dolphins If your idea of a holiday destination is sitting under a palm tree on a tropical sandy beach then I would suggest read no further, we do have beaches but are not know for them. (Go to Barbados, or go there afterwards to relax after visiting here) If your idea of a destination is a kaleidoscope of neon lighting in duty free shopping malls then read no further. (Bahamas, St. Thomas, or elsewhere). If you want non stop partying and great nights out then come down during carnival or independence, but forget "sucking air out of a tin" the next day if you so much as whiff of alcohol, folks have tried it.

Now we've separated the holiday makers from the adventurers... One week here isn't enough...
Mast If you're looking for a place off the beaten path, yet still accessible, where it is possible to spend your mornings on some of the best reefs in the region and wander into the rainforest with the family (or buddies) in the afternoon, then this could be the place. We have hiking, kayaking (at sea and on a mountain lake), ATV-ing and horse riding in the forest, zip-lining, river tubing, mountain biking, bird watching, whale and dolphin safaris or just hanging out in a river. We also have some very secluded beaches, but are not known for them. It's more than enough for the diver and the non diving family. All of this is set on an Island cloaked in tropical rainforest and completely different to anywhere else you've ever been.
Dominica (pronounced Dom-in EE-ka, is not to be confused with the Spanish speaking place 600 miles to the north); it is the youngest island in the region and has garnered a list of eco-accolades to make any self respecting country blush. Dominica is equidistant between Martinique and Guadeloupe and has the distinction of being the site of the decisive, extremely bloody and hard won battle of Les Saintes, which ended in the Treaty of Versailles, something the Francophone world has never forgiven us for. Being a former Womble I have a fondness for Lord Nelson. Diving here is not like the other islands, there are three distinct types along the islands west (Caribbean) coast:
Mast In the north there are slopes and shelves which then drop vertiginously to the inky depths, there are also swim – throughs. It is less dived so there is less traffic on the reefs compared to peak season in the south. Only one well run dive operation travels the reefs in the north currently.

The central region boasts some of the only continental shelf around the island; reefs here are less dramatic but the outer ones drop abruptly. The abundance of shelf means it is easier to find the critters, Divemasters and Instructors pride themselves on their ability to find seahorses, frogfish, batfish and other less than easy to spot creatures, there are also ten species of shrimp to complete the critter hunting.
Mast The reefs teem with life and colour, several varieties of crinoid add splashes of colour amongst the sponges, and the fish are a never ending rainbow of hues.

Diving in the south is around the rim of an extinct volcanic crater and boasts narrow shelves, walls of amazing life, sea pinnacles and drop offs. The south is already protected and the plans are already on the table for a northern marine reserve. There are two dive shops currently offering trips to the reefs daily. Being a young island there is a dominance of sponges on the rocky substrate with secondary growth of corals; some of which have attained monstrous proportions; this means some of the rarer and harder to spot creatures are more easily found. Dives are leisurely affording a lot of time to "stop and smell the crinoids," divers are watched but encouraged to go explore for themselves.
Being volcanic also means there are areas both on land and underwater where the island vents itself, notably the hot springs in Watten Waven, and the world's second largest boiling lake, a stunning hike described as being "uphill both ways". There is also the snorkel/ dive site known as Champagne, a key note site for the region, where bubbles and hot vents pump out onto the reef.

The average day begins with a departure between 0830 and 0900 hrs, a short trip to the first site for an hours leisurely dip (or minimum returning air pressure), a surface interval of an hour, then a second site shallower for another hour. All dives are escorted / led, but no one will hound you like a reef Nazi, unless you can't follow direction. Every site has a full briefing prior to entry. Back to base by 12:30 or 1pm for lunch and then off into the "bush" for an afternoons adventure. You could be the only ones at a waterfall, or just go hang out in a river pool for the afternoon, unless you want something a little more strenuous like river tubing, hiking or zip-lining. There is as much offered on one afternoon here as there is on other islands in three days, especially if you have a non diving partner who has done the "lying about on the beach" in Bonaire or Cayman whilst you went out having fun. If you have kids then this is the whole family adventure package. Three dive operations offer unlimited shore diving on their house reefs for afternoon or night dives, these of course are not led. The amount of life on these reefs is amazing. On one dive in 5m I found seahorses, frogfish, three batfish, an octopus, and numerous other critters.
Mast Getting there:
British Airways or Virgin fly to Antigua, Barbados or St. Lucia. I prefer Virgin to Antigua as I can get home for dinner. It's a short flight from the gateways then LIAT to Melville Hall Dominica. There are a few travel agents selling Dominica but for a true experience it would be best to book directly through the hotel or dive shop then arrange flights.

Best time:
The Caribbean is infested with cruise ships and American tourists from November to April, the best time to really enjoy the island would be May –September, it also means the dive staff aren't as stressed. Plan on two weeks, book directly and travel about, I would suggest do some diving in the south and the hikes in the area, then move to the central area and do likewise, then finally the north as the airport is up there anyway.
Aquamarine Silver
Favourite restaurants included:
Roseau: Ancient Capital (Chinese), Cocorico (good lunches and sandwiches), O'Byrnes Irish Pub, Guyiave (local Creole cuisine).

Central: West Central, Sunset Bay

North: Balti (Indian, basic place but nice), Iguana Café (surprisingly good), Big Papas (on the beach a nice atmosphere).

Dive centres:
Dominica boasts the highest standards in diver code of conduct in the region. Over 95% of the staff is "homegrown". Where you dive and with whom depend upon you, if you have a group then there are only two or three places dependant upon size, if it is just yourself and buddy/ partner then smaller places may suffice. www.dominicawatersports.com www.dhta.org
Nearest recompression chamber:
For an island of 70,000 people we have our own recompression chamber! (Dr. Eden even came out and did a series of lectures), every dive shop has a member of staff trained as a hyperbaric technician to assist, some of us are technician trainers, and there is a diving physician on the island.
Princess Margaret Hospital Tel: (767) 448 2231

Further information
Blue O Two

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