Scuba diving is one of those things that must be practiced, not only for the purposes of keeping up one’s skills but also, legally, in order to limit the liability of dive operators. Most waiver forms ask if you have been diving in the past year. If you haven’t, dive companies typically require you to do a short practice dive so they can evaluate your skills and make sure you aren’t going to make a deadly mistake on their watch.
It’s also a great excuse for guaranteeing one dive trip every year, minimum.
Since Angela and I schedule an annual dive trip with our friends, we are already covered. But our boys, Zack and Ben, are also PADI certified and need to breathe under water at least once a year as well.
Since Zack is currently stationed in Hawaii with the U.S. Army, it was just going to be Ben and me on the 2017 guys’ dive trip. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the persuasive powers of the Internet convinced me to take a miserable ferry trip to a wonderful dive destination: Grand Bahama.
Hurricane Joaquin and Hurricane Matthew left the island somewhat depleted of resort accommodations. Several large hotels and restaurants remain shells of their former selves, with boarded up windows and sea grass growing in the beachfront swim-up bars. The cruise ships are still waiting for the tourist industry to bounce back, so many of them currently avoid Grand Bahama as a port of call. And, believing that the reef system was also damaged in the recent storms, divers are looking to other Caribbean islands for their trips.
All of which makes Grand Bahama the perfect dive destination right now.
First of all, the reef system is as healthy as any I have ever seen. Plenty of fish, hard and soft corals, turtles, uncommon species, and sharks, sharks, sharks! We saw at least two sharks on every dive and as many as twenty when diving the Shark Junction site. A hammerhead even graced us with a rare appearance. And the sharks get curiously close, which provides a thrill like few other things in this world can.
Second, although many of the resorts remain closed after the hurricanes, there are several that have been quick to recover and are providing superior accommodations. Ben and I stayed at the Pelican Bay Resort, a luxurious facility that includes three swimming pools, a poolside bar and restaurant, and water taxi services. Our room wasn’t quite ready when we arrived before noon, visibly exhausted from our ferry trip. So, instead of having us wait for a couple of hours, the reception staff upgraded us to a poolside room and moved us in immediately. It was clean, comfortable, and already cooled to a blissful 68 degrees.
After quick showers and long naps, Ben and I walked the short distance to the Port Lucaya Marketplace, an open-air shopping destination that features several bars and restaurants, including a wonderful little Greek place called Zorba’s. Because nothing says “Bahamas” like Greek food.
I was skeptical at first but knew we were in good hands when I spotted the faded picture of proprietor and chef, “Mr. Gus” Konstantinos, prominently displayed over the cash register. Then, when the man himself appeared briefly in the kitchen window to deliver an order of kebabs, I lost all reservations. Greek food is Ben’s favorite, and he nodded approvingly while diving into his lamb gyro. There would be time enough to sample the local cuisine. At that moment, we needed comfort food, and Zorba’s didn’t disappoint.
We slept well that first night, full of Greek food and the promise of diving the next morning. And a most excellent dive experience it was!
If you choose to dive Grand Bahama, I can’t make any higher recommendation than Sunn Odyssey Divers. Owned and operated by Nick and Karen Rolle, the husband-wife team provided a top notch experience from start to finish. Karen stayed in close communication with me from my first email contact. Either Karen or Nick picked us up from the resort every morning and dropped us off every afternoon. They let us keep our equipment in their shop and provided storage for spare gear so we wouldn’t have to lug it back and forth every day. And they are both great storytellers.
Nick is a reef whisperer, able to divine the weather, predict the water conditions, and commune with the underwater denizens. He even does this hand-flash thing that drives the schooling fish crazy.
And Nick is not only the owner; he also serves as boat captain, divemaster, equipment repair guy, and mentor to several young men who work for Sunn Odyssey in various capacities. Moreover, he cares passionately for the reef ecology, often demonstrating that love by cleaning up stray fishing line, picking up garbage and other debris, and carefully replacing broken coral so it may reattach to the larger reef system and flourish. By diving with him, I became a better diver myself.
In all my years with this sport, I have never experienced such consistent quality of service and delivery on epic dives as I did with Sunn Odyssey Divers. They aren’t flashy, but they provide an adventure that stands above all others.
I will return to dive Grand Bahama again someday. And my first phone call will be to Karen, making sure Nick has a place for me on his boat.
Expat Evaluation: +5 for the best diving experience of my life; +1 for authentic Greek food on a Caribbean island; +1 for unexpected hotel upgrades; -1 for heat and humidity; -1 for a not-yet-recovered infrastructure