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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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September 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Deefer Diving, Carriacou, Grenada

a frozen-in-time Caribbean isle – including the diving

from the September, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver:

At Sharky's, our first dive of the day, we tied to the mooring ball, received a quick briefing and, with a giant stride, exited the boat. My first thought was about the visibility. It was crap. Worst I'd seen in the Caribbean. Wracked with despair, I believed my long-anticipated disaster of traveling to an under-the-radar island for diving I knew nothing about, had arrived. I looked around for my wife, expecting a through-the-mask glare of "great job planning my birthday dive trip." We exchanged OK hand signals, but she immediately returned to looking intently ahead at something I couldn't discern. That's when I realized: We were in a huge cloud of tiny fish. Innumerable eighth-of-an-inch-long fish of indeterminate species. Concentrating on some close to my mask, I saw they were swimming madly but going nowhere. The volume of life was a truly awesome sight.

Deefer Diving's MV PhoenixWhen we cleared the fish soup, visibility in the 81-degree water increased to 75 feet. I spotted a scorpionfish immediately. The usual Caribbean fish, aside from groupers, were abundant. A jumbo nurse shark and a pair of eagle rays flew by me at my maximum depth of 63 feet. Surfacing after just under an hour, my mood had done a 180degree turn.

This dive trip was based on parameters set by my wife: For her milestone birthday, she wanted an April dive trip somewhere "new" in the Caribbean. So, my trip research started with Undercurrent. A mention in "Flotsam and Jetsam" about Deefer Diving on the island of Carriacou, off the northwest coast of Grenada, piqued my curiosity; we had dived and enjoyed both Grenada and St. Vincent. Time constraints and lack of information about Carriacou required my immediate action on scheduling the entire trip. That meant making air, hotel and dive arrangements by telephone, something I hadn't done in a decade.

A call to Deefer Diving started things off. Gary Ward, the British co-proprietor, readily answered my questions. He was upbeat on Carriacou diving, but didn't give a sales pitch. He also provided hotel and restaurant recommendations, including one for Bogles Round House, a restaurant that sounded perfect for a birthday dinner.

Carriacou has at least six hotels. Consulting an island dive-site map and the satellite view on Google Maps, I picked Mermaid Beach Hotel for its beachfront location along Main Street through Hillsborough, Carriacou's capital and, well, its only town. A phone number with a New York City area code connected me to a friendly woman at Mermaid Beach's reservation desk. Confirmation came by email. A call to Bogles Round House quickly confirmed the birthday dinner.

The SVG Air puddle-jumper flight from Grenada to Carriacou required an actual phone conversation with an agent, although email confirmation did follow. Unease percolated -- booking a flight by phone was archaic, would the airplane and boarding procedures be, too? I started apologizing to my wife for travel headaches we were certain to encounter.

In Grenada, my sense of dread started when SVG Air issued handwritten boarding passes in a departure lounge with no PA system. The gate agent held his palm up and said only, "Not you" to me when he summoned others for the Carriacou flight. No further information was given to the group denied boarding, as our flight departed without us. The departure-lounge businesses began closing shop for the day, but a woman who worked for the Grenadine government assured us SVG Air would add a flight. Sure enough, an hour later, the aged, eight-seater, high-wing, twin-engine plane returned. My tension eased during the 20-minute flight.

Island of Carriacou - MapBeing more than an hour late, I was surprised to find the cab driver who Gary at Deefer Diving had arranged for us waiting patiently in the parking lot. But the fiveminute drive to Mermaid Beach Hotel ended at a locked and unanswered door. The notice taped to the window inaccurately stated lobby hours were until 10 p.m. But before dismay set in again, a waitress from the attached restaurant, Callaloo, appeared, produced a room key and said Mr. Simon, the hotel manager, went home early.

Disaster had not yet been fully averted. Our room, on the first floor off the interior courtyard, had no view. My fault: I had chosen the lowest end of room options over the phone. I could sense my wife's disappointment. Not good. I chased down the waitress, and Mr. Simon was quickly summoned. We were immediately relocated to a high-ceilinged room with queen bed on the top (second) floor, overlooking the beach with a sunset view. The clean, recently renovated rooms have tiled bathrooms with glass-enclosed showers and plenty of hot water, but little storage aside from a small hanging closet. I repurposed the small desk as the underwater camera table, and we kept fruits and beverages in the mini-refrigerator.

Our punctual cab driver was again waiting in the driveway when we emerged with our gear bags. We had to lug our gear across Main Street to the beach, then wade to the boat, moored 25 yards offshore in chest-deep water, and hand up our gear to Andre and Bob, our divemaster and boat skipper who alternated duties (they did carry the aluminum-80 tanks and gear for women and senior divers from the shop). The MV Phoenix was a no-frills, flattop, 25-foot catamaran with twin outboards, accessed by an aluminum pipe ladder at the rear between the pull-start engines. No dive platform, head or freshwater rinse tank. Just a bench with tank holders on each side, a cooler and a stand-up forward center console under the sail-fabric roofed area. But it was in good condition with all required safety equipment. I later learned crew cleaned it every morning of nightly-deposited seagull dung.

Fish Soup at SharkysDeefer Diving ccupies a well-worn but welcoming open-air building across the street from the beach. When I had called from home and offered a credit card to reserve, Gary, a stocky, jolly guy in his 40s or 50s, said he would just "pencil us in the book." His English wife, Alex, greeted us by name, and it took just five minutes to hand in pre-completed paperwork and certification cards, and get weights. The only other divers that week were an older couple from England named Charles and Diana -- at least it would be easy to remember their names.

All our dives were about an hour long, and my deepest dive was 75 feet; going much deeper southwest of town would require a shovel. There's no shore diving, because Deefer is near Hillsborough's busy port, and reefs are far offshore. But reef conditions are good to very good for the Caribbean, with abundant soft coral and sea life. After a giant stride off the boat for a drift from White Sand Beach to Cistern Point, I spotted spiny lobsters everywhere, including a cluster of 10 youngsters staring back at me from under an overhang. A huge, three-inch-long banded coral shrimp swam figure-eights next to a juvenile spotted drumfish doing the same. Several species of morays poked their heads out all over the reef, looking like a giant game of Whac-a-Mole.

We quickly settled into a routine. Up with the sun, we descended the back stair to Callaloo's waterfront patio. I always opted for the Carriacou Breakfast: fresh juice from island fruits, coffee, two eggs, fried plantains and the "saltfish and bake" of salted cod and fresh breadcakes for approximately US$9. The pleasant staff served meals at a "relaxed" pace, a Caribbean constant that always makes the New Yorker in me crazy. We knew it was time to finish breakfast when we saw uniformed schoolchildren exit the ferry from Petite Martinique, the island next door, and scamper down the city dock. Our commute to the dive shop was a barefoot walk along the beach.

On a morning dive at Barracuda Point, besides seeing another big nurse shark and plentiful lobsters, I encountered a small school of squid. I'm always amused at how they hover and stare back at me like I'm an alien from another planet. On the second dive, at Whirlpool, I saw the "Carriacou Holy Trinity" -- a big nurse shark, turtle and eagle ray. Divemaster Bob, a British Army veteran who started at Deefer as an intern, was ecstatic. I was more excited by the small tugboat wreck with a lobster living in the bilge that would have easily fed six people. Volcanic bubbles percolated from the seabed in one spot along the lush reef. While Andre moored the boat, I saw eight to ten eagle rays patrolling the shallows, collecting a free meal from local fishermen gutting their catch.

Room with a View at Mermaid Beach HotelDeefer scheduled two morning dives, one afternoon dive by request, and two night dives per week. Our 8:30 a.m. start got us back to the shop by lunchtime, usually spent eating fresh fish and smoothies at the Kayak Kafe. Our one afternoon dive took us to Sandy Island Gardens. We were the only divers aboard, aside from divemaster Andre (who was so cold in Caribbean waters, he wore a vest under a full wetsuit), and we spent our dive at 68 feet, spotting multiple spiny lobsters and baby nurse sharks.

Back at the dive shop, we witnessed some pro-bono training that Deefer Diving was providing a local, who will become Carriacou's first female divemaster. The Wards are fully engaged with the island community on every level. Divemaster/skipper Andre Mckie is the youngest of three brothers trained to work there. We eschewed the Friday afternoon dive to give the dive team some time off and allow me some face time with local bartenders. More than once, I enjoyed sea breezes at La Playa Beach Bar, at the end of a dirt road on the north end of town. The Carib beers were cold, the rum punches powerful.

We often had the bars, dive boat and beach to ourselves, as our visit was very out-of-season. But Hillsborough is a town with no hustle or bustle. Many buildings along Main Street were abandoned or boarded up. Occupied buildings were sometimes dilapidated, and shopkeepers didn't attempt to lure tourist dollars. The town is quiet, except for the town pier area, which features an illegal (and shadylooking) casino inside a bar across from police headquarters. Indeed, this is the old Caribbean, where time stands still.

Carriacou, Grenada - RatingMy wife's birthday started with a rainbow over Sandy Island, and an eagle ray breaching five feet from the dive boat as we boarded. We were again the only divers, so we decided to take the PADI Caribbean Lionfish Containment course. After one hour of classroom work at a picnic table on Deefer's deck, we practiced hovering buoyancy (including inverted), obstacle course navigation and target shooting with Hawaiian slings. Spotting a lionfish, I tightened the rubber bands on my sling, put the trident tip close to its head and released. Andre carried the keeper tubes and cautiously stored my catch. Our three dives that day resulted in approximately 60 lionfish removed from the Caribbean, cleaned and donated by Alex to the local school for lunches.

We taxied to the spectacular Bogles Round House Restaurant, high on a bluff overlooking the sea, for my wife's birthday dinner. The offerings, served by manager and chef Roxanne Rock, were fantastic, even by our New Yorker standards. We oohed and aahed over the fresh mahi-mahi with local produce ($19.50) and lamb shank braised in red wine and served with creamed potatoes ($30); several good wines were available.

On our final morning, I watched from our room's balcony as an eagle ray, five feet from the water's edge, swam a search pattern looking for breakfast. Our final dive, took us back to Sharky's. I found myself under a sun-blocking school of two-inch silver-sides, marveling at the metallic sheet undulating with the surge, our bubbles and attacks by predators amongst volcanic boulders at the base of a cliff.

I loved Carriacou's easy, serene dives on reefs with an abundance of life and schools of fish. The only negative was seeing locals illegally and regularly spearfishing, which may explain the absence of groupers. While we visited in low season, Carriacou is relatively inexpensive year-round. Hillsborough needs a coat of paint and potholes filled, but that's the charm of this relaxing spot. I was proud of myself for booking this trip by mostly phone calls, but it took a while to shake the too-good-tobe-true travel anxiety. I've decided that using an experienced agent is less stressful, and I've already used my trusty agency's services for our two next dive vacations.

-- R.A.M.

Our Undercover Diver's Bio: "I was exposed to diving at a young age by my father and Jacques Cousteau, and got certified in 1977. Aside from drysuit diving in Silfra, Iceland, I gave up cold-water diving, preferring the Caribbean, Yucatan, Micronesia and the Philippines, and am always accompanied by my lovely wife-buddy. I only feel truly stress-free at work when I have two dive trips planned ahead."

Divers CompassDivers Compass: American Airlines from JFK to Grenada via Miami cost $610 per person in first class; the SVG Air puddle-jumper to Carriacou was $120 round-trip . . . Deefer Diving offered a 10-tank package deal for $470, the lionfish training was $160 and night dives were $75; nitrox was available but we didn't partake, and my guess is it's expensive, because oxygen must be shipped from Grenada . . . Mermaid Beach Hotel was $149 per night for a queen room with an ocean view; a standard twin is $107 . . . English is the official language . . . U.S. dollars are widely accepted, although a local banking rule means damaged bills aren't accepted; the exchange rate is US$1 = 2.67 Eastern Caribbean Dollars . . . a hyperbaric chamber was installed last year at St George's University on Grenada . . . Websites: Deefer Diving -; Mermaid Beach Hotel -

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