New Providence | Grand Bahama | Abaco | The Out Islands
WHAT-TO-DO - NASSAU, CABLE BEACH & PARADISE ISLAND - JAN 2003
Diving the Edge
Bahamas diving is unimagineable
Originally published WHAT-TO-DO - NASSAU, CABLE BEACH & PARADISE ISLAND -
JAN 2003 © Etienne Dupuch Jr Publications Ltd
" You ain't seen nothin' yet," says a Bachman-Turner Overdrive song from the 1970's. While the expression may be ungrammatical, it describes perfectly the ineffable experience of diving on a wall for the first time. You're in one of the best spots in the world to do just that.
Readers of Rodale's Scuba Diving magazine agree. They voted The Bahamas (specifically San Salvador) as one of the top five Caribbean/Atlantic wall diving destinations for three years straight, 1999 through 2001.
" I can't imagine a place that has walls like we do," says Frances Young, co-owner of Custom Aquatics, who has dived all over the world in the past 30 years.
What makes Bahamian walls so special are several deep - very deep - basins across the Bahama Platform. The one separating Eleuthera and South Abaco plunges three miles - almost triple the depth of Arizona's Grand Canyon. The Exuma Sound, bordered by Exuma, Cat Island and South Eleuthera, is just as deep.
Curving around New Providence is another famous wall - forming the eastern edge of the Tongue of the Ocean. This monstrous underwater canyon is more than a mile deep.
" It just takes your breath away that nature could make such a natural phenomenon? it goes straight down, with scalloping ledges, forever," says Young. She thinks the Tongue of the Ocean wall is the most varied one in the world, providing a 20-mile stretch of diving sites accessible from New Providence.
" In The Bahamas we [also] have the shallowest walls in the world," says Young. They begin anywhere from 30 to 60 ft below the surface. Sometimes they drop off to a prehistoric sandy beach at 100 ft or so. In other areas, "you're swimming along a coral reef quite normally, and in front of you see it's a little bluer on the horizon than normal and you literally swim right off a cliff," says Young.
It's like flying. The sensation is especially dramatic on a steep wall where there's no ground beneath you, she says. Because of the excellent visibility, "you can look down 300 ft, maybe more, and it's blue, not black."
George Benjamin, a professional photographer and the first blue hole explorer, did hundreds of wall dives from the Berry Islands to the southern tip of Andros in the 1950s and '60s. He is quoted in Rob Palmer's book, Deep into Blue Holes: "Going over the edge of the wall is like flying a small plane into the Grand Canyon - and the descent is like slowly falling down a huge mountain face? I feel an absolute, timeless silence, which I cannot easily describe and which is, for me, unique. I fully understand Cousteau's choice of title for The Silent World."
Life on the wall
Walls offer an opportunity for divers to experience much of the ocean's diversity in one place. At the top you'll find the kaleidoscope of corals and small fish that you would expect to see at any healthy reef - star, brain, elkhorn and staghorn corals, sea urchins, sponges, sea fans, parrotfish, trumpetfish, angelfish, queen triggerfish, sergeant majors, and more.
Descend further and the harder corals give way to forests of gorgonians and soft corals, which reach out in a silent rhythmic dance. Sponges appear in their most magnificent forms - all shapes and sizes. With less sun penetration, one by one, the colours disappear as you descend - first red, then orange, green, and so on until everything appears brown, says Alvin Duncanson, boat captain and dive master with Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas. Strobe lights and flashlights, however, bring those colours back.
Lurking inside crevices you may see moray eels, shrimp, spiny lobsters and even squid and baby octopuses, waiting for nightfall.
Then there are the big pelagics, fish normally found out in the open sea. "Anything could be cruising the wall," says Young, "which kind of adds to its mystique." In August 2001 at a wall dive off Lyford Cay, she saw a jewfish for the first time in 25 years. Resembling enormous groupers, these fish can weigh up to 700 lbs. Unfortunately, they've been largely fished out she says.
Out of the depths, come eagle and manta rays, marlins, tunas, kingfish, mackerel, mahi mahi and sharks of all types, including hammerhead, bull, tiger and Caribbean reef, to cruise the wall for their next meal. Antoine Dias, partner at Nassau Scuba Centre, says they've even spotted whale sharks, although they are a rare sight.
Advanced divers can try "wall flying," with an underwater vehicle, zipping in and out of small caves and crevices 60 ft below the surface. Technically you reach a top speed of only 2.4 mph, but it feels a lot faster.
The DPV (diver propulsion vehicle) allows divers to see more sites in less time and experience the fun of underwater travel. This Extreme Adventure?, offered by Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas, consists of two 30-minute dives - one over a shallow bottom to become familiar with the operation of the DPV and the second is a flat-out run along the wall.
There are a number of great wall dive sites around the north, west, and south sides of New Providence. These include Tunnel Wall off Lyford Cay, with swim-through crevices; Cessna Wall, where the plane used in the thriller Jaws IV is embedded in the wall; The Valley, a double wall where the first wall drops to 80 ft then climbs back up to 50 ft before dropping off vertically into the depths; and Wreck on the Wall, where a Haitian trawler sits precariously at the edge of the wall at 50 ft.
All dive companies in New Providence offer wall dives. So if you "ain't seen nothin' yet," suit up and jump in. You won't be disappointed.
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