The difference in a Caribbean cruise versus one in, say, Alaska, the Mediterranean or South America, is that the islands are so close together, you stop in port every day. At least, that was our experience with the Star Clipper’s Leeward Islands route: seven days, seven different islands. So the morning following our day of lounging at the Four Seasons Nevis found us getting our fins wet on Dominica.
Now, this was a tough decision for us. As much as we love diving, I’ve heard such spectacular things about Dominica (“the Nature Island”) and thus was torn between exploring it above the surface versus checking out what lingers below (not to mention, diving is a pretty pricey hobby, otherwise we’d do a whole lot more of it). In the end, below won. We were to be accompanied by a North Carolina couple on their honeymoon and a pair of German rescue divers. Diving seems to attract the coolest people, and we’ve rarely been disappointed by our dive companions. This time was no exception.
The trip to our dive site was just a five-minute boat ride from where we were docked, during which we suited up (to quote Barney Stinson). I do have to say that my least favorite part of the whole experience, without fail, is wiggling into the wetsuit. I don’t care how skinny you are, it’s never easy. Getting in and out of it on the second dive when the suit is already wet is far worse. And while you don’t need a long suit to dive the warm Caribbean waters, after my dreadful run-in with a triggerfish in Borneo, I will never again use just a shorty!
This was the one and only day that the company offered diving directly from the ship (for an additional fee); due to a broken air compressor that they were going to replace before the next voyage, we only got to do a brief afternoon of diving with the ship’s divemaster Chris. (In the other ports, the cruise directer Peter was kind enough to organize dive excursions for all of us fish fanatics with local tour operators.) In fact, this was only Chris’ first week on the Star Clipper, so he was new to the whole scene and hadn’t done a lot of traveling outside of his home country of Grenada so it was also his first time diving Dominica.
Dominica boasts an underwater national park, which is where we went. While it wasn’t the best diving I’ve ever done (not a whole lot of big stuff), it was quite enjoyable nonetheless: The reefs were awash in color and teeming with macro life, and trying to spot the tiniest of creatures is my favorite part of the hobby. It’s like playing Where’s Waldo—if Waldo were a camouflaged sea creature who hid among the rocks, that is.
In terms of marine life, it was all the usual Caribbean suspects: a moray eel or two, several little sea caterpillars, far too many unwanted lionfish, a ton of shrimp and some spiny lobsters.
We saw a puffer fish again, but I still have yet to see one while puffed up.
Shooting photographs underwater is really tricky and made only more complicated by the fact that we don’t own external lights or anything other than a little Canon G12 and its accompanying underwater housing. As much as I love photography, I’m just not willing to make the investment to getting the housing for my DSLRs—I’d rather use that money to (finally) upgrade to the Canon Mark II (which will happen this year!)—so for now, you’ll just have to envision these shots in a rainbow of neons (and a lot less blue). Your eyes pick up on a lot more colors underwater than your camera can!
In the end, our delays with the equipment earlier on in the day meant that we only had time for a one-tank dive before we sped back to the ship. So we headed into town for a quick grocery store run (bottled water and snacks), met some locals with whom we shared a few rum punches and then set sail for Iles des Saintes. It’s always good to dive a new place, and if our brief sampler platter of Dominica’s nature reserve was any indicator, I think I’m going to like returning there for a longer dive trip at some point.