A Fish Watcher's Guide to the Caribbean
In all the clear warm waters that surround the islands illustrated on the previous pages half a swimmer's day seems to be spent face down with a mask, watching the strange, beautiful world beneath the sea. The mask, the snorkel and the flipper are mastered quickly and safely enough by anyone able to dog-paddle in the shallows. More advanced diving with tanks of compressed air that take a man below the surface into the fishes' realm is not so simple. Scuba diving, as it is called, for "self-contained underwater breathing apparatus," should never be attempted without instruction and never be done alone.
One of the best places to learn is BERMUDA. All guides and instructors are licensed by the government marine board. Park Breck (SI, Sept. 9 & 16, 1957), a former Philadelphia newspaperman, and his wife Jeanne are particularly good with beginners. They conduct supervised fish-watching, snorkeling swims in a shallow marine garden, providing snorkel, mask, flippers and a guide for $5 an hour. After indoctrination in a swimming pool, the Brecks take beginning scubamen on a dive of from eight to 10 feet to see a 19th-century ship's anchor, providing all gear and instruction for $8. Bermuda law prohibits the rental of regulators, the vital and sensitive breathing apparatus used with scuba tanks. This is one piece of equipment experienced divers take with them wherever they dive—they often rent the heavy tanks and harness on the spot. Breck takes more competent divers down 20 feet to the wreck of the 19th-century packet Sir George Somers, which he has stocked with replica pieces of eight for diving souvenirs. He also has a 20-foot underwater-photography dive for $10.
The Bermuda Divers Company has a 39-foot boat, the Shearwater, especially designed for scuba expeditions. Ten fully equipped divers and a few snorkelers who go along to watch from the surface are taken on day-long expeditions to the towering reefs in the morning and in the afternoon to one of the 200 to 300 wrecks that lie on the inner and outer reefs of Bermuda waters.
Bermuda Divers charges $11 for divers using their own equipment, $22, including two tanks, for those using the company's gear and $6 for snorkelers, who must be good swimmers. They will also arrange scuba lessons in the Bermudiana Hotel pool at $8 for 1� hours.
For experienced divers, T. J. Wadson and Son rent filled tanks and weight belts for $4.50 the first day, $4 the second, $3 the third. Tanks are refilled for $2. Park Breck rents masks, snorkels and flippers for $5 a week. From now till early spring, Bermuda's waters, so clear you can see 200 feet, are also a chill 62�, and a foam-rubber wet suit is advisable. You have to take your own suit. No spear guns are allowed in Bermuda, and the fish are so tame they will eat out of your hand. A warming thought: there's gold in those waters—Professional Diver Teddy Tucker has brought up $200,000 worth of treasure.
In the FLORIDA KEYS, from Key Largo to Key West, skin diving is such a popular sport that there is an Underwater Guides Association which has 16 member guides, all registered and licensed by the state. The group has established standard prices for instruction and rental of equipment throughout the Keys. All of them teach beginning snorkeling and all stages of scuba. They take customers to both the inner and outer reefs, to wrecks that date to pirate days and to the Pennekamp Coral Reef Preserve off Key Largo where grow the only living beds of coral off the shores of the continental U.S. Head of the group is Captain Hugh Brown of Islamo-rada, who will furnish the names and addresses of all the guides in the Keys. Captain Brown has a 44-foot, twin-diesel boat that sleeps six and a crew of two. He takes skin-diving charters to the Bahamas, the Dry Tortugas, Cay Sal and other offshore places for a minimum of $125 a day. Day trips in Florida waters cost a minimum of $50. In the Keys lessons are $10, complete gear rental $7 per day.
In THE BAHAMAS, where water temperatures rarely slip below 72�, where the coral formations are spectacular and the water is as clear as a dry Martini, the biggest skin-diving season ever is getting under way. No area is better equipped for the sport. The Gardner Youngs and Charles Badeau, who operate MM Underwater Tours, take two reef tours a day, seven days a week, to the lee sides of New Providence and Exuma. They start beginners in a hotel pool: MM has instructors at the Montagu Beach, the Pilot House, the Dolphin, the Nassau Beach and the Emerald Beach. Once indoctrinated and ready to go to sea, skin divers are picked up at 9 a.m. at their hotels in a Volkswagen bus and taken to the Nassau Yacht Haven, where a cabin cruiser, the Queen Anne's Revenge, licensed specifically for skin diving, sets out at 9:30 for one of 75 locations. The price is $20 for the half-day trip with scuba, $10 with snorkel. The cruiser sometimes takes "lookers" who pay $5 for the ride and gaze at the world below through a glass-bottomed bucket. One qualified staff member of the firm descends with every two divers. After two hours on the reef, the Queen Anne's Revenge returns to Yacht Haven, and swimmers are back at the hotels at 1 p.m. Another tour leaves at 1:30. Bahamas Water Sports owns the Mania, a 35-foot, twin-diesel cruiser berthed at the Nassau Harbour Club. The Howard Adamsons, who operate the Mania, take groups to a variety of spots, leaving at 9:30 in the morning, returning at 3. Price for a novice, with instruction and all gear, is $25; for experienced divers, $20; for snorkeling alone, $10. The Mania is well-equipped with life-saving gear, tank rack, fresh-water shower and a rear surface-level platform to facilitate diving. She draws only 2� feet of water and explores the reefs as far afield as Andros, Eleuthera and Exuma.
In the winter months, Bronson Hartley has an old-fashioned helmet-diving cruise leaving Yacht Haven each morning and afternoon. The cruise costs $9, including a reef trip. Each passenger spends 20 minutes underwater, walking 14 feet down on the ocean floor among schools of tame reef fish.
In addition to these, the following resort hotels on various of the outer islands specialize in skin-diving activities. Prices vary considerably with the area and the number of people in a group, but the Bahamas Development Board, 620 Fifth Avenue, New York 22, can furnish the particulars. The Grand Bahama Club, Grand Bahama Island, has all sorts of equipment to rent, boats, guides and scuba instruction in its pool. The Fishing Hole on Grand Bahama has a half-day trip, including an instructor and snorkeling gear, at $10 per person. The Staniel Cay Yacht Club on Exuma, in addition to all other facilities, has a two-man submarine. The Current Club on Eleuthera furnishes face masks and snorkels to guests, but has no scuba gear. The Elbow Cay Club on Abaco organizes underwater treasure hunts. Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros caters to experienced divers. It has 12 complete rigs to hire but suggests that guests bring fins, masks and regulators. The Avis Bimini Club's Forty Fathoms Shop takes up to 16 persons on a day's excursion for $20 per person with all equipment. Peter Lloyd's Game & Spearfishing Resort at Spanish Wells is among the best-equipped in the Bahamas. Snorkeling gear and a Boston Whaler come with each housekeeping cottage, which rents for $135 per week. And scuba equipment, guides, sea sleds, power submarine and glass-bottomed boats are all available for hire.