JANUARY 2011: My Surface Interval named one of the best scuba diving blogs

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Underwater photographs with an Epoque strobe

Well here it is, the first pic with an external strobe.

Okay, it's more than a little overexposed in places and the pipe fish probably had stars in its eyes for a few minutes. I had guessed what the power output needed to be and then tweaked a little more. Perhaps should have wound it in a bit - but everyone has to start somewhere.

I have moved on, or across from the Canon G9. It's a truly fantastic camera but it cost a fortune for the bulky Ikelite housing and without it there was no way of attaching external lenses to it.

The IXUS 980i offered variable shutter speed, a little control over aperture (ie choice of two settings) and manual focus, so it was like a hybrid camera in a compact body. But best of all, the housing had a round port so an INON wide angle lens fits perfectly. And with that I thought I might as well go for a slave strobe.

Having never used one before, I stuck to the KISS (keep it simply stupid) principle and opted for the Epoque ES-230DS. It has a couple of settings for different cameras but it is essentially an on-off button with a knob to increase or decrease the power of the flash.

Hence the 'little' bit of over-exposure of the first pic.

But with a little bit of trial and error, it was possible to get closer to the right level. There are some values on the knob which relate to exposures but I just thought I would twist and turn until it looked about right.

What it did allow was faster shutter speeds than the camera suggests making it possible to capture more of the colour and detail without any of the motion blur.

The image of the Batwing Coral Crab above has captured a lot of detail at 1/125 but without the handshake blur I normally get with slow shutter speeds the camera would go opt for when trying to shoot natural light.
I actually don't think my pics have ever had as much red as before.

I know the water looks green but, honestly, these were taken on the recent Grenada trip on the Veronica L wreck, a perfect photography spot because of the depth and variety of life.

With a little work the above sponge pic could be tidied up (backscatter caused by really poor viz) but it demonstrates how simply turning the strobe so the light is coming from the side of the subject helps cut out a lot of the mess. An earlier effort was a complete blur. Colour-wise, I like the contrast between the red of the sponge and green of the water behind.

The below image shows how dramatic shadows can be created. Again there is a lot of backscatter but at this point I was just experimenting. The diffuser also gives the same coverage as the lens so most of the frame should be illuminated.

The rest of the images, like the ones above, are nothing special by any stretch but have been included to show the depth of colour (particularly the reds) that the strobe allows to be captured.

I know there is still a long way to go until I starts producing great quality images but the strobe has taken things on a giant step forward. It has already reduced my reliance on trying to shoot natural light (the inbuilt flash was always rubbish).

Now all I need to do is practice!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Scuba Diving Grenada Part 3

“May I extend you a warm Grenadian welcome,” gushed ebullient guide Roger Augustine, as we trundled from the airport after arriving in the sun kissed Caribbean.

“If you’ve been to Grenada before, then you are returning because you know it is the best island in the Caribbean. “If this is your first visit, you’re about to discover the Caribbean’s best kept secret.”

Despite feeling a little like an undiscovered gem, the Spice Island may be a reasonably popular spot on the UK holidaymaker's tourist map but when it comes to diving trips, it doesn’t seem to rank that high on the must-see list. Yet is does have it’s fair share of underwater riches.

The Caribbean islands have an eclectic mix of individual diving experiences – sharks in the Bahamas for instance – and Grenada is no different.

This is the wreck capital of the region. While the thought of Caribbean wrecks inspires dreams of long-lost Spanish galleons loaded with treasures ready to be plucked from the deep, the top wreck is a little more modern.

Justifiably known as the ‘Titanic of the Caribbean’, the Bianca C has few rivals in the realms of warm water wreck diving and has been listed as one of the ‘top ten’ worldwide wreck sites. All we had to do was find it.

Now you wouldn’t think the enormous 180m (600ft) cruise liner sank that sits upright on her keel in 50m (165ft) of water would be that difficult to find.

But on the day we hit the water a plankton bloom or the Orinocho Flow (depending on who you choose to believe) had turned the normally tropical waters into something...well...resembling the British coastline. Yep, it was dark and green.

The wreck itself is not buoyed and typically the dive guide descends onto stern reeling off a line to an SMB which the group follows downwards until the deck emerged in the aqua blue waters like a ghost from about 15 to 20 metres.

Yet in the gloom and dwindling viz, we couldn’t find it. And we must have been virtually on top of it.

Full marks go to our guide Ben from Devotion 2 Ocean. Rather than drag us around the blue, or green as it was, aimlessly looking for the wreck, after 15 minutes called the dive. It was a brilliant decision made by an experienced guide and instructor and highlighted that safety would not be compromised and one deserving of full praise.

Built in France 1939, Bianca C as she finally became known had a chequered history before ending up with an Italian firm taking tourists from Naples to Guaira, in Venezuela, via the Caribbean.

On October 12 1961 the Bianca C left Italy on her final voyage. Ten days later, whilst anchored off St Georges, the capital of Grenada, there was an explosion in her boiler room, killing a crew member and sparking a fire which spread rapidly through the stern of the ship. A flotilla of boats piloted by locals helped save the remaining 672 passengers and crew.

British Frigate the Londonderry was drafted in to remove her from the local shipping lanes but the Bianca C’s large rudders had become jammed by the extreme heat of the fire and she slipped the tow line sank to the ocean floor.

Luckily the wreck site is directly in front of the dive centre and after a decent surface interval we were back on the powerful boat making the five-minute ride hoping for a better shot.

And this time we found the wreck, hitting the twisted stern at about 36m. At first it was hard to fathom exactly what we were looking at until we came across what was once the swimming pool.

Where once, wealthy guests frolicked away the afternoon, fish are now the regular visitors to the retangular pool, the ornate tiles still visible. It seemed odd doing ‘lengths’ in full scuba gear, but we couldn’t not do it either.

As the minutes ticked down towards our no decompression limits we headed forward and slightly shallower over the top of the superstructure towards the funnel. Apparently you can still make out the 'C' but I'm no so sure.

Dives normally continue on to the bow for the 'King of the World' Titanic moment but our earlier dive had left us short on time so we made a short detour through the blue, err green, to Whibble Reef which runs parallel to the wreck.

This is one of the top reef dives for spotting pelagic fish on the Caribbean side of the Island. Spotted Eagle Rays, large Barracuda and Hawksbill Turtles are regularly seen. Unfortunately for us they were probably beyond our eight metre viz although we did have large schools of Horse Eyed Jacks darting amongst us as we meandered above the pristine corals and sponges.

Time on the wreck is obviously short because of its depth (unless of course you are a tech diver, then this would be a great wreck to explore fully) and there are a couple of occasions that require swimming in the blue with no reference point other than other divers. We were lucky with the current but it can sweep across the wreck.

After such a deep dive, one for advanced only, we slowly ascended hanging midwater as we off-gassed, the occasional fish approaching to see who the group of interlopers were. There is something magical about hanging there with nothing to distract you.

Mentally refreshed we headed back to the hotel for physical refreshment. Digs for the first part of the trip was the Flamboyant Hotel above Grand Anse Beach.

Now I'm always suspicious of resorts that try to suggest some grand design with their name. While it's not the most luxurious of places, it has its own unique Caribbean chic charm and the views over the famous beach cannot be beaten. The rooms were spacious and well equipped (ours even had a kitchen with cooker) and the bar was right on the beach.

But beware, anything offering great views from the cliff-top inevitably means steep climbs from beach to room. We hadn't banked on such a slog up and down but the views from the top and the beach at the bottom certainly made it worthwhile, and the grunting tortoises kept a smile on our faces as we huffed and puffed up the steps.

Next to the beach bar is Dive Grenada dive centre. Well equipped, with a fast boat (that could do with a bit more shade as my shoulders will testify) the centre Run by former Navy diver, Phil and his wife Helen.

He is a fascinating host who heads the island's scuba association so has the industry at his heart, whether it's planning to sink more wrecks or continue developing the sculpture park.

While the centre may not have been the plushest, I can imagine a group of blokes on a diving trip together would be happiest here in his company, sharing some underwater adventures some beers and good stories.

But back to the underwater world. Next up was the 25m wreck of the Veronica L. This fully intact coastal freighter was placed on Upper Boss Reef in 2003 after being moved from St Georges Harbour and was about a 15 to 20-minute boat ride away.

Phil at Dive Grenada said she probably had the largest diversity of marine life in such a small area of all the island's dive sites. On a normal day you could find patrolling barracuda, horse eyed jacks hunting amongst the brown chromis and creole wrasse patrolling around the bow towering from the seabed 16 metres down.

Some might look on the reduced viz as a problem, but for us it was a blessing because it meant we had to look a bit closer to find Arrow Head crabs nestled into small sponges, Christmas tree worms, small morays around the bow and on top of the crane. Looking closer also means you get to witness their behaviour.

We spent a good 35 minutes exploring the wreck, there is little to penetrate but we had a good poke around an at such a shallow depth, it is ideal for all levels of diver and a good spot for photographers (I used my strobe for the first time and got some interesting results, but more on that in an upcoming post).

Also about 15 minutes out from Grand Anse beach is 'Purple Rain', named so because of the large quantities of Creole Wrasse that descend upon you during your dive at this location.

This dive site is stunning with a fantastic diversity of both hard and soft corals, and barrel sponges. With a nice steady current carrying us effortlessly above the reef it felt like a marine animal version of the Generation Game: moray eel, crab, shrimp, moray, crab, crab, frog fish. In the end, I put the camera to one side and just watched the fish shoal around us.

After soaking in the amazing fish life beneath the waves, it kind of seemed criminal to head to Gouyave for Fish Friday. But there is a unique charm to this weekly local festival as the fishing families set up the frying pans under tarpaulin to cook the fresh catch for you. With music drifting through the air, a beer in hand and a plateful of snapper, plantains and vegetables the locals welcome you into their party company and it ended up feeling like a barbecue with friends.

After a short detour to Carriacou, we relocated to the True Blue Bay resort. This family-run Caribbean boutique hotel is set among tropical gardens sloping down to the sparkling blue waters of True Blue Bay where the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet.

For the more serious diver, the Atlantic side offers some pumping currents and chance to see pelagics. I had hoped to dive the San Juan two miles off shore after reading one of the guidebooks enthusing about the large collection of nurse sharks that have gathered there. One dive centre said the sharks had gone after the hurricane of a few years back had moved the wreck and most had made the Hema there home.

While the guide books can be dismissive of the inshore reefs, there was still plenty to see among the 30 or so popular sites, particularly at the Marine Park area at Moliniere Bay and Flamingo Bay.

Here you will find the Sculpture Park (see earlier post) and some fine reefs with a plethora of corals. This being the wreck capital of the Caribbean, there is obviously a sunken ship. The Buccaneer, an 18 metre sailing vessel, is laying on its side just off Moliniere Reef, its deck disappeared leaving the ribs of the boat to create an interesting ambiance with lots of schooling grunts and squirrelfish.

Heading back along the reef above the sea grass, look for the extensive eel garden and mesmerise at the Yellow head Jaw Fish protruding vertically from the burrows in amongst the flora .

Happy Valley is another National Marine Park site which lies between Flamingo Bay and Dragon Bay. This is an interesting dive of contrasts, giant lobsters hidden among the reef and tiny little shrimp squirreled away in the sponges.

There is a very old admiralty anchor which is slowly becoming part of the reef and some very good examples of Black and Whip corals. Manta Rays are seen here at certain times of the year and we were treated to a giant ray that glided over the sand beneath us.

It was here that we spotted this little critter. A near translucent shrimp with blue and white legs perched on the red coral. Despite scouring the identification books I have still not been able to come up with a name yet, So if anyone can help, I would be much obliged.

While the wrecks are an ever present, the big stuff in can be elusive underwater, mantas were spotted in the shallows just off the beach when we were there but remained out of sight beneath the waves, Grenada still has enough treasures of the deep to offer.

Topside, the temptations are varied with a full blown rainforest to explore, exotic flowers brightening the green foliage and birds feeling the air with their squawks. There is also chance to swim beneath waterfalls. Grenada being the Spice Island, a visit to one of the processing Boucans will fill your senses with the wondrous smells of nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cocoa and ginger.

And this being the island of 150 proof rum, that is in such demand none of it ever makes it to export a trip to a distillery is worth it. And it will ensure you have something to keep you warm in the night as well.

See the guide for more details.

Scuba Diving Grenada: The Guide

View Grenada Scuba Diving in a larger map

Best time to go: Seasons in Grenada are split into two - dry and wet. Go any time between October/November and May. June is okay but depending on rainy weather elsewhere, viz could be impacted. Mid June saw viz down to between five and ten metres and green water. Some said it was down to the Orinoco Flow - water flooding up from Venezuela bringing with in all sorts of muck, others blamed an algae bloom. Go earlier to avoid.
Where to dive: Dived with Dive Grenada at the Flamboyant, Eco Dive at the Coyaba and Devotion 2 Ocean at the Grenadian and would happily recommend all three. My wife preferred Eco because of excellent guide Marvin Wolf and liked the set up at Devotion. I found Phil who runs Dive Grenada to be a knowledgeable and excellent host
Best Dive Sites:Bianca C for the amazing site of seeing an ocean liner resting on the ocean floor, the Underwater Sculpture Park because it is so unique and happy valley for it's amazing diversity of marine life. I didn't get chance to dive the Atlantic side but that offers some interesting experiences as well.
Biggest gripe:Can't really think of one. Walking up the steps to the Flamboyant but that is stretching it a bit
What suit to take: Sea was like jumping into bath water, routinely had 27/28C so a 3mm will do, particularly if you are planning to do the wrecks.
Where to Stay: We stayed at Flamboyant Hotel and True Blue Bay, both had dive centres on site. Flamboyant was perched on the side of a cliff overlooking Grand Anse Beach. With anything offering such fantastic views you know there is a steep walk up and down. Resort had that typically Caribbean chic with good sized rooms. Food in the restaurant was good but needed air con to take the humidity out when dining. Same can be said of the beach bar - although after a few cool beer quenchers you will soon forget. You do get a nice corner of a fantastic beach to yourselves though (probably because no one can be bothered to walk this far). True Blue Bay was tremendous with beautiful rooms. The Dodgy Dock bar and restaurant overlooking the bay was beautiful and a great place to relax. Only downsides, no beach and bar shut at 11pm when we were there.
Miscellaneous dive info: Three dive centres we used all launched from the beach so take a dry bag to keep stuff dry and be prepared for a walk through the sea with your kit. Aquanauts at True Blue Bay launches from a jetty
Guidebook: Couldn't find one. The Caribbean really needs a good guidebook.
Other info: Where to eat and what to do. I don't care what people say about Patrick's Homestyle Cooking, we had a fabulous meal there. Imagine Caribbean tapas and that is what it is like. Food was gorgeous. Gouyave Fish Friday is a great experience and interesting to try the freshest local catch with great music in the background. At the other end, eat at the Spice Island Resort, as fine dining goes, this was sumptuous and a meal to savour the taste buds for a long time. Get out around the island as well. Swimming the water falls was refreshing, savouring the smell of the River Antoine Rum Distillery (they do a 150 proof bottle that will burn your insides) was interesting, and listening to our host at the Boucan lovingly talk about spices with a knowledge gleaned over years was truly interesting.
Worth going: Absolutely

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Scuba Diving Grenada: Underwater Sculpture Park

The Last Correspondent is frozen in time, his fingers forever hovering anxiously over the typewriter on his desk as though he is struggling to find the words.

Slowly his motionless figure is being covering in a layer of growth, his featureless face and his anxious pose unable to shake off the ravages of time and the ocean.

If he wasn't sat in front of a modern typewriter, some old newspapers still visible on his desk, one could think he was a relic of an ancient civilisation...

Before anyone has the temerity to suggest he bears more than an passing resemblance to my work in the newspaper office, the figure is actually part of a unique Underwater Sculpture Park in Grenada.

And each has its own comment on the world, The Lost Correspondent highlights the rapid changes in communication between generations and is slowly becoming little more than a relic, a fossil in a lost world, never more apt as traditional forms of communication - newspapers where I work - struggle to find a place in the digital age.

Now, Mexico is currently seeking to develop its own underwater oddity, authorities there have sunk four sculptures off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico's eastern state of Quintana Roo.
But Grenada got their first. And its worth experiencing.

For the pH neutral concrete statues are starting to take on a life of their own. They have only been on the seabed since May 2006, but instead of bare concrete, the lifelike figures have become home to all sorts of marine flora and fauna. The coral colonisation gives the figures an otherworldly - some might say disfigured and grotesque - appearance as they slowly lose their human form.

But what it means is that coral has started to find new homes in a short space of time. And some of it is surprisingly developed, giving an interesting view on reef evolution.

"It all happens rather quickly - within two weeks, we will see green algae," says artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who is in charge of the new Mexican project and the Grenadan forerunner.

"Then within a few months, juvenile algae will appear and the project will progress from there."

The artist has gained international recognition for his unique work which explores the intricate relationships between modern art and the environment.

Moilinere Bay is now home to sixty-five sculptures, covering an area of 800sq metres and just a short 15-20 minute boat ride from the resorts on Grand Anse Beach.

It is located two miles north of the capital St Georges on the west coast of the island, within an area designated a National Marine Park. Found in about 10 metres of water, the artificial structures has provided a new base for marine life and have created a welcome diversion from other areas of coral reef.

Most, if not all, dive centres on the island run trips to the Sculpture Park. Having had a brief flight over it (at the end of a dive to the Buccaneer wreck at the foot of the reef 23m down) we hopped on a boat operated by Eco Divers and joined dive guide Marvin for a more in depth look.

Eco Divers is run by two marine biologists Christine Finney and Andre Miller, who have the sister centre Barbados Blue. Based at the Coyaba Beach Resort they have two good sized boats with lots of space and cover. The dive centre itself is a good size with a lot of kit for hire yet still keeps a firm grip on the key ingredient, customer service as typified by Marvin.

As a brief aside, the easy going Californian Marvin is a brilliant guide and a joy to dive with. He has been on the island probably more years than he cares to remember. As the cliche goes, what he doesn't know about the divers or dives on the island, probably isn't worth knowing. He was extremely safety conscious, while remaining completely focused on ensuring divers under his charge had a good time.

Marvin also had an eye for marine life. I felt pretty proud of myself when I pointed out to him the lobster tucked deep inside a crevice on the reef. And then he beckoned me over - he had spotted four in one hole.

On each dive we hit the reef first before making our way to the sculpture park towards the second half of the dive. The reef itself is not something to be sniffed out either.

Shoals of fish dart around, moral eels of all shapes and sizes can be found hiding away, and we came across a giant ray at about 12m. the area is also full of usual creatures as well. There are plenty of shrimp of different guises (one I'm still trying to identify) and we spotted a free-swimming snake eel.

But back to the sculptures. Vicissitudes is perhaps the most striking feature. The circle of figures, life-size casts taken from a group of children of diverse ethnic background, all linked through holding hands was installed to evoke ideas of unity while proposing growth, change, and natural transformation.

Allowing time to examine the features of each of the faces, it was amazing to see how the human element was giving way to something new. Eerily beautiful is the only way to describe the disfigured looks as coral sprouted in different directions.

It is near to this feature that you should look out for the seahorse. A thick wire runs close to the sculpture and through a coral canyon. Look closely as twice we saw the seahorse with its tail wrapped around the wire.

Marvin navigated a seemingly complicated course from sculpture to sculpture via compass headings, weaving us through coral canyons, above the reef and over sea grass beds. Just when you thought you had seen the last, another would emerge as a surprise from the blue tucked between the coral outcrops.

My wife loved Grace Reef, a series of sixteen figures each cast from the body of a Grenadian woman. Located across an expansive underwater area the work is designed to draw marine life to an area that has suffered substantial decimation through storm damage.

For artist Jason, the work reflects the continuing evolution of the island and its people, revealing itself in dramatic and dynamic ways. With the shifting sands some of the 16 figures were covered, lost until the sea decides to reveal them again.

As we drifted over the seabed, searching for the sculptures, we had another treat. At first glance some people might not think sea grass offers that great a dive, but when we stopped and examined for a brief moment, we were treated to an amazing array of juvenile life, none more impressive than the yellow headed jaw fish.

We had come to a halt a metre from the bottom, everyone seemingly staring into the abyss. Then my eyes focused on a tiny movement, and it became clear. Three jaw fish had emerged from their holes in the sand between the blades of grass. Holding a vertical position, as if standing to attention, they looked around, possibly for food while gently bobbing up and down. Then, startled by a movement, they vanished back into their holes.

As we continued to meander over the reef, Sienna appeared. The metal structure is created to allow water currents to flow through the body of the sculpture making it an ideal habitat for filter feeding organisms, which are slowly giving the sculpture physical substance.

Un-Still Life mirrors the classical composition of traditional still life tableaux which has helped many artists of the years bring their talent to life. Now the structure is giving life to marine colonies.

There were more sculptures - if you every wondered where the mask from the Jim Carrey movie ended up, you only need to explore around here - than we could visit in one dive but thanks to its unusual nature the site makes for a truly compelling visit.

And like the best art, it's a good mind-bender as well, inspiring thoughts about our how we as the human race fit onto this Blue planet of ours.

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Octopus oracle predicts Spain win

Just in case you were wondering, an octopus credited with psychic powers has predicted that Spain will defeat the Netherlands in the World Cup final.

He also predicted a win for Germany against Uruguay in the third place match. He has so far correctly forecast every World Cup game involving the national team.

The tip for Spain was his first for a game not involving Germany.

The two-year-old cephalopod has become an international celebrity for predicting the match winners by choosing a mussel from one of two boxes bearing the flags of the competing nations.

He correctly predicted all of Germany's World Cup games, including the 4-1 thrashing of England, a shock defeat by Serbia in the group stages and the ousting by Spain on Wednesday.

After that defeat, there were calls inGermany for Paul to be roasted with lemon juice and olive oil or turned into a plate of paella.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Scuba diving Grenada and Carriacou Silver Diving

SCUBA MAX and Mrs Max stepped off the beaten track some 17 years ago.
Not that the tiny island of Carriacou is that far away from sophisticated civilisation, it is afterall just a short hop from the popular tourist destination of its sister island Grenada.
But this Caribbean paradise is a throwback to the time when life moved at a much slower pace. And I mean much slower.
Gazing down the main street of the island’s capital, Hillsborough the first thought that came into my head to describe it was ‘one horse town’.
And I mean that with the greatest respect
For that means the island has been able to retain all of its unspoilt Caribbean charm, a charm that has made people from the four corners of the world decide to sell up and settle here.

Unspoilt charm also equals unspoilt diving.

Visitors to Carriacou can’t help but feel that they are among a small band of explorers who have thrown off the shackles of the package break to sample its underwater delights.

It feels as close to virgin diving as it gets without the need to lug dive kit along mile after mile of overgrown muddy rainforest path or take three days of planes, trains, automobiles, bicycles, sampans and donkeys to finally arrive at the chosen dive destination.

There is nothing virgin about the diving at all and you can get here easily on many a package break. It’s just that the island has not sought to build brassy hotels to drag in tourists at the expense of its own ambience.

Yet only a small number of people venture to the island every year meaning those that do get to enjoy what travelling is all about – immersing oneself in the culture and making friends with the
Granted Max and his wife Claudia are originally from Germany, but they are as good as locals now.

Max - his given name is Werner but when locals struggled to pronounce it they adopted his middle name instead - ended up on the 13 square mile blot of lush green amid a sea of blue almost by accident.
Offered a half-price spot on a dive trip at the last minute when another diver dropped out, he felt it rude not to accept and so began his love with the island. He and Claudia eventually quit the rat race and moved to the island in 1993.
The locals nicknamed him ScubaMax and Claudia soon earned the moniker Mrs Max which is still shouted to her in warm greeting when she is out shopping.
Now they have a beachfront PADI 5 Star Dive Resort Carricou Silver Diving in their own slice of Caribbean paradise – and it’s probably one of the region’s best kept secrets.

Using a small ‘cigarette’ piroque boat, Max likes to keep his dive groups small. There is no lemonade like conditions with crowds of divers underwater here.
While its larger neighbour of Grenada is pitching itself as the Caribbean’s premier wreck diving hotspot, Carriacou offers a natural wonder instead of a manmade one.
Max promised that the reefs around the south of the island housed 30 to 40 per cent more aquatic life than its larger neighbour.
Rather than assume such a bold statement makes Grenada a poor second by comparison, it actually makes Carriacou something even more special.
Pristine is the only way to describe the handful of dive sites I sampled.
Sharkie’s Hideaway, beneath Mabouya Island, a short ten minute boat ride away, was awash with colour and rich in splendour and diversity.
The reef topped out at eight metres and extended down a steep slope to a sandy plateau at about 25 metres, making it an ideal spot for all divers.
No sooner had we rolled backwards off the boat, than Max and I were surrounded by a shimmering blue shoal of fish that stuck with us, flashes of silver lighting up the water as their bodies reflected the sun bursting through the surface, as the gentle drift picked us up and carried us over the reef covered in soft and whip corals.
Unfortunately the sharks took the dive site name literally and stayed well hidden.
So we had to explore for our delights.
I had never been one for small critters – probably because I am not great at spotting them – but on this reef you couldn’t miss them, making it a perfect spot for macro photography.

Coral banded shrimp were everywhere, sharing the hideaways with small moray eels, colourful coral shrimps, crabs and lobsters.
Eventually the reef turned to a rock garden extending from about 12 metres. Snaking through the canyons, in and out of the current, we were treated to large schools of chub and glassy sweepers tucked under an overhang.

In the crevices, I spotted a sculptured slipper lobster, a small crustacean with a broad flat body and eyes on the carapace. Get too close and they will vanish in the blink of an eye such is the great bursts of speed they are capable of.

Unfortunately the sharks took the dive site name literally and stayed well hidden.
Such is Max’s love of the ocean and his desire to give his customers the best time, he put no time limit on the dive and only called it some 75 minutes later as we finally hit 50bar.
Getting back in the boat is similar to using a rib and it was back to the dive centre for a wash down and a chill.
The well-equipped centre itself sits nestled amongst its own tropical gardens on main road that runs in front of the sands of Hillsborough’s golden beach and its facilities have been well thought out.
I can always tell how good a dive centre is with what has become known as the XS Wife Test. Alison stands at a little over 5ft tall and needs an extra small BCD for comfort.
The better centres around the world can easily accommodate her, the not so good try to fit her in a small even though it means the cylinder rolls around on her back. Even though it is off the beaten track, Carriacou Silver Diving passed with flying colours.

Pushing the boat out a bit further the following day we headed to Sisters Rocks, two small guano covered pinnacles that dramatically break the surface, about 15 minutes from the island.
Here the current pumps a little bit more in places making a more energetic drift dive stretching down to 30metres at Barracuda Point and 40 metres at The Deep Blue.
The site itself is unique. On the north side where the current rips you along, the reef is covered in an underwater forest of giant black gorgonians, a variety unlike anything I have seen before.
Here you can expect to see eagle rays, but thanks to a day of poor viz, they remained elusively out of eyesight.
As you round Big Sister, the current drops and the reef changes shape into soft corals and sea fans.

It is here that the reef really comes to life with the velvet corals swaying softly in the gentle surge sweeping back and forth over the reef. And it was here the nurse sharks could be found, nestled amongst the reef itself.

Back on terra firma, our equipment washed down and packed away, we relaxed in the gardens of the dive centre with the couple’s dog Buster sat at our feet. As the sun went down and the bay gleamed brightly under the glimmering white moonlight ­­– giving you a hint of where the centre got its silver name from.

And then Max revealed another of the island’s surprises.
“I always wanted to be a chef,” he said as he promised us a feast later that night.
You see, Hurricane Ivan that hit the island a few years back actually did Max and Claudia a favour.
After the devastation, they managed to secure a plot of land right next door to their purpose built dive centre and finally realise a long held dream; they built their own restaurant, Lyme and Dine
Surrounded by beautiful gardens, the menu is European with a Caribbean twist and changes daily, depending on what Max wants to cook on the day.
And trust me, his food is as mouth-wateringly tasty as the island is stunning and the restaurant proved the perfect way to unwind after the day’s diving.
Sat on the porch, the crickets clicking in the background like some Hollywood cliché, we tucked into pork and fresh seafood washed down with a wonderful bottle of red
The couple wanted their little oasis to be a place to relax, enjoy some good diving, good company and great food with the same personal touch at the heart of their dining experience as their diving one.
While Carriacou may delightfully be a little bit off the beaten track, ScubaMax and Mrs Max proved it didn’t mean you had to go without a luxury or two.

See the guide for more details.

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Scuba Diving Grenada: Carriacou the guide

Quick overview of diving in Carriacou

View Carriacou Scuba Diving in a larger map

Best time to go: Seasons in Grenada are split into two - dry and wet. Go any time between October/November and May. June is okay but depending on rainy weather elsewhere, viz could be impacted. Mid June saw viz down to between five and ten metres and green water. Some said it was down to the Orinoco Flow - water flooding up from Venezuala bringing with in all sorts of muck, others blamed an algae bloom. Go earlier to avoid.


Where to dive: Dive with Carriacou Silver Divers and go anywhere ScubaMax suggests, he is not going to take you to a bad dive site
Best Dive Sites: The Sisters was great for life and drift diving potential but anywhere
What to see: Sharks of the nurse variety, and lots of little stuff. Poke around and look for coral banded shrimp, crabs. Better viz may have revealed something larger just beyond the reef. If you fancy something different, try snorkelling in the mangroves.

Biggest gripe: The 90 minute ferry ride from Grenada to the island, take the small plane instead. Not much more expensive but much quicker. Oh, and the mossies. Take plenty of insect repellent.
What suit to take: Sea was like jumping into bath water, routinely had 27/28C so a 3mm will do, particularly if you are planning to do the wrecks.

Where to Stay: If there is a group of you and you are not too fussy, Ade's Dream is a great central location. Right on Main Street and a few minutes walk from the Carriacou Silver diving. The owner Chris also owns a bar across the road which overlooks the beach and he opened up for us. Serves great rum with a great view. Not to be missed. Also the hotel has a great balcony area and group of us gathered there as the sun went down to shoot the breeze and drink rum. Guy down the street had Marley on the decks. Doesn't get any more Caribbean than that. If you fancy something a little more European in feel try the Laurena or the Grand View Inn. For something that has more boutique feel the Green Roof Inn is perfect. Last two are bit more of a walk away from the dive centre.
Miscellaneous dive info: It is a short walk across the road to beach to boat. Dive centre has two good boats, is well equipped, has showers, gear hangers and multiple rinse tanks. Nice garden to relax in between dives. Important thing for my wife, they have all sizes of BCD, including XS and children's sizes.
Guidebook: Couldn't find one. The Caribbean really needs a good guidebook.
Other info: Food at Hope's Inn is great. Also try the breakfast at Sandisland Café , Brian Whyte
lobster fritters are tasty as are his eggs mixed with vegetables. Unusual but tasty brekkie
Worth going: Absolutely

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

World Cup Octopus predicts another Germany win

Paul the Psychic World Cup Octopus is at it again and Germany are hoping he will make it five out of five.
Octopus Paul has correctly predicted Germany's results with uncanny accuracy by plucking mussels with certain national flags out of his tank.

He has correctly predicted the winner in all four of Germany's games so far - and has now picked them to beat Argentina on Saturday.