Right after our DEMA visit we had planned a liveaboard with the Abernethy's. They are known for running very descent shark trips and their discovery of a place called tiger beach. At this place they almost guarantee the sighting of tiger sharks. If you are lucky you will also see lemon sharks and hammerhead sharks, too. The trip was organized from digideep.com. We knew some of the people who joined the trip already from either digideep.com or from previous trips. Unfortunately my underwater housing broke some times on the boat. Thats why I can only present a few underwater images.
After all had arrived safely on the boat and set up their gear the M/V Shear Water left the harbour of West Palm Beach in the evening of the 19th of october. Everybody was excited to get wet and dive with big animals. After the usual warm up with some snacks and drinks everybody went to bed to get a good sleep in order to be prepared for the coming adventures. The boat arrived the West End harbour in morning. Unfortunately the weather was not with us this morning. Dark clouds and rain gave us as a small glimps of the strength and power of the hurricans, which had passed through just some weeks before the journey. After the immigration, customs and some small problems had been resolved we departed for the blue of the little Bahamas Bank. As soon as we had left, the sky began to open and all of us were relieved to see the sun shining.
All in all we did 17 dives during 5 days and all were a great pleasure. Everybody on board seemed to be very happy about the photographic opportunities and the resulting images. You can find some of these shots underneath each participants picture.
20.10.2004 Shark Reef
Dolphins were just passing us as we were ready to jump. Some of us lucky lucky enough to swim with the dolphins in full gear. The reef itself is a shallow sandy area with some nice coral pinnacles. For most of us it was time to get comfortable with our gear and the conditions in the Bahamas. Those who were lucky to see the dolphins had their first great underwater shots and were eager to get more exciting stuff.
20.10.2004 Indian Key
We reached the Indian Key reef very late so that our last dive of the day became a dusk dive. On this site, which has a nice bottom structure, including pinnacles and small canyons, nurse sharks can be seen. We found one of them sleeping in a small canyon. The reef is abound with colourfull colonies of corals. Andi was playing with Anna's scooter and testing his ability to hold his breath.
21.10.2004 Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus is one place where we could get a bit deeper than the usual shallow dives of the Bahamas. The site is rockier than others. There are some nice walls and bigger canyons than we saw the night before at Indian Key. One area of Mount Olympus reaches out to the big blue, where hammerheads can be seen. This was verified by Anna and Doug, who had an extraordinary dive. Once we were back onboard Doug and Anna went out for the blue and came up screaming and laughing. Anna told us (obviously still in high spirit) about how intriguing and graceful these animals are.
Our first real shark encounter took place at this site. Nobody except the crew knew, that their was bait in the water, and had been for quite a while. Jim suddenly came into the saloon and asked us if we would like to see something outside. As we were on the bow he pointed down from the boat to the water surface. Sharks, lots of grey reef sharks everywhere. Everybody got excited and Jim started to explain the rules for diving with the reef shark. One of the rules for diving with sharks is to be dressed as dark as possible. White and yellow are absolutely no,no colours on suits or any other equipment items. This turned out to be a problem for some of us, especially for Bettina and Bill, with their fancy 80's suits ;) in bright yellow and pink colours (Bettina even brought her own tank, which was painted or airbrushed pink and yellow in a batik style). But they were well-prepared, because they had brought their spare suits as well :). As soon as we were in the water the sharks surrounded us. Jim swam with the bait crate and positioned it at various locations to make get the sharks in good positions for photographs. First we had the chance to take some pictures in a reef scenery, then after a while he took it to a deeper area with a sandy bottom, so some shots against really blue water could be taken. A big grouper joined the show later on; he was almost the size of the sharks and scared some of them, too.
21.10.2004 Sugar Wreck
The Sugar Wreck is a small wreck, lays in a sand patch in very shallow water. It is actually not a wreck anymore, because you have to imagine loads of missing parts already. The remaining parts of the wreck creating a perfect living room for thousands of fishes. It is so enjoyable to dive there. Large schools of every type of reef fish can be seen here. If you venture away from the wreck schools of baracuda and tuna can be found circling around or staying in the current. But the wreck and its inhabitants are just so colourful that you want to stay forever. As we arrived in the evening the sun was very low again, which made it another dusk dive. This gave us the possibility to see how the barracudas and the tunas hunt. The wreck itself is perfect for the small critters, which makes this dive site very interesting for macro photography.
22.10.2004 Tiger Beach
On the third day of our trip we stayed at Tiger Beach. Actually we anchored the night before. To attract the sharks bait crates had been placed into the water for the whole night. The crew even started betting on how long it would take until the first shark appeared. After two hours some thought they had seen a fin, but by then most of us had gone to bed to be prepared for the next day's adventure. The morning began with another very serious briefing about the rules for the dive with the tiger sharks. Anna and Doug then started to prepare some rope with a white float and some bait on it, to wrangle with the sharks. To do this they threw the float as far away as they could from the boat and waited until a shark came close. As soon as a shark ventured close to the float, they started to pull the rope to get the shark closer to the boat and give it the idea of a living fish. This procedure was repeated for an hour and we could see that there were three or four different sharks around. As the sharks came very close to the boat we were able to get a very good impression of what we would have to face underwater.
Andreas, Jason and I were the first to go into the water with Doug. (All of us were grouped together in teams of three people and only one group was allowed to be in the water at one time. If the conditions were good more than one team could be in the water). Being the first group we had to wait for more then half an hour in very shallow water (2-3m) before even spotting one of the tiger sharks come close to the boat and the bait crate and this was only due to the wrangling which was done from the surface. It was impressive to see from underwater, what we had seen from the surface only an hour before. Watching the open mouth of a tiger shark biting at something is an outstanding experience, especially if you are only 2-3m away without a cage. After 1,5 hours we had to leave the water to make room for the other groups ;) As we went out of the water one of the tiger sharks decided to take a closer look of these strange creatures sitting on the bottom huddled around something very interesting for the shark; the bait crate. Later we found out that this shark was Baby Cakes, one of Doug's favourites. Baby Cakes is a very calm and curious tiger shark. She always started down current to get closer to the bait crate. As it came closer it "sniffed" on the sand looking for some small parts of the bait, which may have fallen from the crate. Calm people who made less bubble were rewarded with a closer look at Baby Cakes. The strobes and the cameras seemed to be very attractive for the shark, because of the electrical signals. To be that close (20-50cm) to a 3-4m big shark was definitely one of the best experiences I've had so far. On the first day on the boat Andi asked the people if they want to go to tiger beach. The group was devided; one group of people, who definitely wanted to go, another that didn't want to go and some who were undecided. At the end of the day everyone was diving with Baby Cakes and everybody was more than happy about that.
23.10.2004 Psychodelic Reef
After Tiger Beach it was hard to thrill the crowd with more adventures. Nobody expected more than what had happened the day before. This must have been a hard time for Anna and Jim to decide what to do next with their guests. On this morning we started with a rather shallow dive, which had a wall on one side and a plateau on the top. The reef was nice, but unfortunately the current started toto pick up and become troublesome, also causing the visibility to worsen.
23.10.2004 Jack's Jungle
On this dive we had another shark dive with grey reef sharks. This time most of the people felt comfortable from the beginning and could concentrate on taking pictures the whole dive. The dive site itself is a rockier site with small mountains and canyons, which makes nice coral walls. It makes nice scenery for shark shots. Derek was hiding behind the crate in a small whole in the reef. He could take very close pictures of the sharks close to crate.
23.10.2004 Sherwood Reef
The Sherwood Reef is a shallower dive with a nice structure on the bottom. It seems a bit like a maze with all its rocks and small canyons. We saw a turtle as some grey reef sharks patrolled in the distance.
24.10.2004 Theo Wreck
On our last day we started with this wreck, which lies on a sand bank close to a wall, which goes down very deep. Nobody of the crew was sure whether it would still be there after the hurricanes. After the descent we were greeted by a big ray, which was lying in the sand just beneath the propeller of the wreck on the edge of the wall. The wreck itself is huge and is lying on its side. There is a big room, which can be entered very easily. Around the wreck there are some barracudas patrolling and the wreck itself is the living room for loads of small stuff, like corals and nudibranches.
24.10.2004 Freeport Reef
The Freeport Reef is a very shallow dive with mainly sandy bottom and some rocks which provides the foundation for nice corals. Anna took the chance to practise her free diving skills. This was highly appreciated by the photographers. As soon as Anna started to free dive the reef was no longer of any importance. This reef is one of the reefs where you can just sit for hours watching what happens around. You can just swim around from a coral head to another and watching the behaviour of it's inhabitants.
24.10.2004 Blue Hole
At the end of our trip, Jim wanted us to see one of the blue holes of the Bahamas. The one we visited is actually the entrance for two holes. At the time we went into the water the current was flowing into the holes. The blue hole itself is about 7-10m in diameter and at a depth of 4m in the whole there are two more tunnels. The area around the hole is just a plane sea weed area. The most exciting event happened as suddenly some fish schooling, who were feeding on the sea weed, surged into the hole. As soon as we realized that, we looked around to see what could have caused this behaviour. And it was amazing. A group of 20 or more dolphins were just passing us. Jim told us to get out of the water. Anna was already waiting for us on the surface and ready to move the boat to follow the dolphins.
As soon as everybody was on the boat, we got rid of our dive gear and prepared ourselves for snorkling. Everybody was eager to get close to the dolphins. We were able to follow them and jump in. Unfortunately the group of dolphins had split and only a few were interested in playing with us. Anna had taken her scooter and played with them a lot. After half an hour the dolphins got more interested in a small fish, which was hiding behind a small coral on an otherwise sandy bottom. We could witness how the dolphins worked together to hunt these small fish. In the end we pitied this small guy. We spent almost an hour in the water and were totally exhausted afterwards. But it was worth every minute and every effort and every muscle ache. As we left the water and the boat started a group of dolphins followed us and played in the water around the bow. What could have been a more perfect ending to a wonderful trip?
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