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Under the Bahamian sea

Dives for everyone


If you haven't yet witnessed the underwater beauty of the matchless Bahamian sea around Grand Bahama, prepare yourself for an experience you'll not soon forget - an environment described by diving pioneer Dr Joseph MacInnis as "a world of weightlessness and wonder."

Whether you are a novice, have your open water certificate or even if you are an advanced diver, you're sure to be enthralled by the clarity of the azure water, and the brilliant colours displayed by The Bahamas? tropical fish and corals.

What brings divers back to Grand Bahama time and again is the range of adventures available here, not only diving on the island's innumerable reefs and coral stands but also on shipwrecks, in blue holes, caves and caverns. You can witness Caribbean reef sharks being hand-fed and swim in the open sea with cavorting dolphins.

Mini-B makes it easy
"We have 35 different dive sites on the south shore here," says Don Churchill of UNEXSO, the oldest dive company in Grand Bahamas, having been launched 38 years ago in 1966.

This year UNEXSO launched a new product, the Mini-B diving apparatus, which helps get first timers into diving in record time. The Mini-B is a self-contained, one-size-fits-all underwater breathing system that is fairly light compared to regular scuba gear, says Churchill.

The unit comes with a 28-cu-ft aluminum cylinder, a regulator, alternate air source, depth and pressure gauge, all integrated within a backpack for easy and compact transport and stowage. The average user will be able to stay underwater for 20 to 30 minutes at 20 ft. To dive with the unit, the diver simply unzips the back panel, pulls out the hoses and re-zips the panel.

"You don't have all the gear, or at least it's not as complex. It's just very easy to use," says Churchill.

"We have three programmes. (The first is) the pool adventure, which everybody has to go through to become familiar with the equipment. We show you how to operate the system in the pool and then follow up the same morning with the second programme, called the reef adventure.

"In the reef adventure we take you out on a shallow-water dive, no deeper than 20 ft and we show you some of the interesting features of reef life. Here in Grand Bahama, you know, the best reefs are quite shallow."

On the reefs, divers will see many kinds of coral, including elkhorn and brain coral, along with purple sea fans and tons of fish.

"They are going to see all the fish: yellowtails, gray snappers, sergeant majors, grunts, and especially the spectacular parrot fish - all different colours. Corals come in bright reds and oranges, along with purple sea fans."

Churchill explains that UNEXSO also conducts single and two-tank dives every day. One of these is to the shipwreck Sea Star, which was sunk a couple of years ago in about 80 ft of water.

"Fish are starting to use this wreck and there is already a little coral growth on it," says Churchill.

Just offshore
Ben Cook, manager at Xanadu Undersea Adventures, says one of his favourite dives for beginners is Xanadu reef, about 500 yds offshore, directly in front of the Xanadu Resort.

It's only five minutes away from the dive shop but "there are big schools of porgy fish and grunts - a lot of snappers hang out there and occasionally you'll see yellow stingrays.

"There's a lot to see: pillar coral, star coral, brain coral and many gorgonians, all of which make it a great first dive."

For a more advanced diver, "I'd take him out to Theo's Wreck," says Cook.

This is a 230-ft-long cement freighter that was sunk in about 100 ft of water in 1982, so it now has more than 20 years of coral buildup.

"This is a great dive. You can penetrate into the cargo hold and also the engine room. Divers will see lots of sponges, corals, anemonies. There's a good chance of spotting large jacks and perhaps you might see a big turtle that hangs out there - a big loggerhead. Sometimes there's also a moray eel lurking in the cargo hold.

"There's black coral growing around the bow area which looks very impressive, but the main attraction is that the wreck is intact, lying on its port side, with lots of corals growing on it."

Shark feeding
Another dive that gets a lot of attention is the shark feeding dive at a site called Shark Alley.

"This dive is a lot of fun for advanced divers and beginners too. In fact, if you've done the resort course, we can take you there as a second dive."

Shark Alley is about a 30-minute boat ride from Xanadu, about 1,000 yds off the end of Bell Channel at Port Lucaya.

"About a dozen sharks show up at any given dive, up to six ft long," says Cook.

Divers kneel on the sandy bottom, about 40 ft down while the sharks circle in to take bait from the chain-mail-gloved hand of the shark feeder - a great dive for beginners as well as experts.

For more information on any of the dive companies in Grand Bahama, see the dive chart below.


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