This week would be our second dive trip on a Nekton liveaboard. Our first was the Pilot to Cay Sal Bank 2 years ago. We had such a great time that we had to do it all again, but this time we would be on the Rorqual, checking out the brand-new itinerary, Medio Reef. The website, www.nektoncruises.com described the site as the pristine reefs yet to be discovered off the SW coast of Bahamas Bank, south of Bimini and east of Cay Sal. Along with a few good friends, Ann and Gordy, we booked the trip, expecting to see a few sharks and some turtles and lush reefs. Little did we know what was to come!
We all arrived at FLL around 5pm from Albuquerque and took the shuttle to Las Olas for a quick dinner before the mandatory "adult beverage" stop on the way to meet the boat. Once onboard, we were greeted by a full crew, actually MORE than a full crew. Although there were only 17 guests booked for the week of diving, we had a crew of 15! The trip was to be a training session for 5 newbies who would be moving over to the Pilot when it arrived for the summer's Bahamas itineraries. Capt Tucker and his crew helped us all get settled in after a quick "muster drill" and before we knew it the boat headed out of the harbor for our mooring off Cat Cay in the early morning.
General Information for Nekton Rorqual:
Diving: The boat is equipped with steel 95s for tanks which are filled to 2400psi minimum. We never had less than that, and usually closer to 2800psi. They also have both soft weights and hard weights. The Dive Schedule each day was basically Breakfast at 7am, Dive Briefing at 8am, dive deck open until 11:45am, Lunch at noon, Dive Briefing at 1pm, dive deck open until 5:45pm, Dinner at 6pm, night presentation at 7pm, night dive at 7:30pm. There were occasional variations but this is the basic schedule all week. Two crew members were on the dive deck any time it was open to assist divers in and out of the water. Either one or two crew members were assigned as "buddy" for anyone needing them each dive site. Another crew member was on the top deck as bubblewatcher. It was also common for other crew members to dive on their own if given a break (Kimberly, the chef was diving any time she had free as was Capt Tucker). It was very nice to see the teamwork and comraderie of the crew. The two crew members working the dive deck were always given a break during their shift by another crew member so they could get in and do a short dive. This was great as it gave the crew a chance to visit each of the dives sites and check out the fishlife.
Air vs Nitox: The nitrox compressor had been down awaiting parts for several months and was supposed to be up and running by the time of our trip. However, one hard to find part was keeping this from happening so a NEW nitrox compressor was purchased. With the boat only in port at Ft. Lauderdale for approx. 8 hours each Saturday, it had only been partially installed and was not up and running yet. Oh well, everyone would be diving on air for the week.
Food: Kimberly is a real chef, not just a cook. Food ranged from good to outstanding and not just the typical dive boat menu. Breakfast was always eggs of some sort, bacon or sausage, and pancakes or french toast or biscuits and gravy. Cereal, toast, and bagels were always provided for those not wanting a hot breakfast. We had coconut curry meatballs with rice and grilled shrimp and salad for lunch one day. Other days we had things like "build your own sub sandwich" or "McRorqual" which consisted of burgers, fries, onion rings, etc. Dinners ranged from Prime Rib to salmon and always included salads and vegies and luscious desserts. Snacks between dives were always hot cookies or wontons or eggrolls. Yummmmm. Needless to say, no one went hungry all week.
The boat: Okay, there has always been lots of discussion about the condition of the Nekton boats. Yes, they are big metal boxes that look ugly. There is some rust, some doors that don't close all the time, and carpet on the top deck is worn in spots. BUT, the Nekton boats are functional dive boats and after a day of enjoying the convenience of them, it is very easy to overlook the superficial. The Sun Deck is huge and roomy, as is the salon area. We never felt the least bit crowded or uncomfortable. And the boat is very stable with only a slight motion in calm waters. When the wind blows the boat does slightly rock but nothing like a mono-hull boat! For us, there is nothing like the comfort and roominess of the Nekton!
Dive Sites: Tuna Alley and Victory Reef
Ron and I, both morning people, arose early and grabbed cups of coffee then headed up to the Sundeck to watch the sun rise. A gorgeous day was in store for us! Other divers slowly made their way up the stairs and soon enough the Dive Briefing began. Divers were instructed on the boat procedures for each day and each diver set up their gear on the dive deck for the week. Bins under each seat are big enough to hold all accessories like masks, fins, lights, defog, etc. Afterwards, we all met up on the Sundeck again for our first site briefing.
The current was ripping according to Jordan who attached the boat to the mooring. (Nekton boats do not have anchors. They have large U-bolt moorings in the reef and ropes are attached to the boat by a DM upon arrival at each dive site.) As we all moved to the back of the boat for a better look, we could all see the 15' hangbar only a few feet below the surface accompanied by the hanging tank. Yikes! A few brave divers decided to jump in and check it out (yes, Ron and Gordy were two of them). The rest of us watched at from the Sundeck and they struggled along the tagline for several minutes. Some of the divers gave up and came back saying it was too strong. Others pushed on and descended off the mooring line. All divers returned after fairly short dives saying the current was too strong to even let go of the line!
While enjoying our surface interval we noticed something floating at the surface just off the back of the boat - a huge loggerhead! No wait, it's two.... no it's three! Three large loggerheads mating and we all watched in amazement. The turtles didn't seem to mind the audience and continued their quest for 10-15 minutes.
Chef Kimberly served snacks, YUM, and we all kept watching the hangbar and tank for signs the current was decreasing. Sure enough, the current started to die down and everyone geared up for another attempt at Tuna Alley.
Underwater the current was still blowing but once down on the reef, we were able to duck into the many gulleys and swimthroughs. I really like this dive because of all the swimthroughs. It reminds me of other places like Cozumel, weaving in and out of holes with the sun twinkling through the cracks overhead. A large scorpionfish was perched under the boat, numerous groupers (including a huge goliath grouper) were seen on the dive.
During lunch the boat was moved south to Victory Reef and with smooth seas and little current, we jumped into the 77 degree water. Ahhhh. Another lovely site, lots of fish and swimthroughs again. And also, as we enjoyed another scrumptious snack from Kim, we watch another group of loggerheads mating. Wow, this is turning out to be an incredible trip!
After dinner, Capt Tucker announced that the weather report looked fantastic and he planned to skip a night dive and leave early heading straight for Medio Reef (instead of stopping for a day at the reefs along the way). No one complained so off the boat went - South to seek out and discover some new dive sites.
MONDAY, April 21th
Dive Sites: Nature Prevails and "Name the New Dive Site"
We awoke to flat seas and the excitement of the realization we had arrived at "Medio Reef". Our first dive, Nature Prevails, is the site which prompted the Nekton Staff to develop this itinerary. A few pins had been placed here a few years back as a day stopover for the Cay Lobos itinerary. The comments from divers were all positive and the suggestion of more days in the area were welcomed by the crew and Nekton office. And here we were, getting our first look at these sites. Woo Hoo!
There was absolutely no current as we all jumped in. Immediately we were stuck by the colors on the reef. Every color of sponges and coral were here. It was a like a rainbow. Fish were plentiful and we found all 3 stages of coneys - standard tan color, a yellow, and a bi-color! Barracuda and amberjacks circled the reef. A 5-6' long nurse shark swam through casually. Hamlets and damsels danced over the reef with the fairy basslets. Butterflyfish of every kind, queen angels and parrotfish darted in and out among the coral. Wow, what a lush reef! Our second dive here was equally exciting and after seeing a baby nurse shark and field of yellowheaded jawfish, we headed back to the boat exhilarated and hungry for lunch.
During lunch the boat moved to our new mooring, a NEW dive site which had yet to be named. In fact, we were all told to dive the site, then write our name suggestions on the board. After dinner we would be voting on a name!
Jordan, one of the DMs on crew, was working the dive deck and as we came down to gear up announced to everyone that she had just seen some baby sharks near the surface behind the boat. Baby reef sharks? Yes, she said, 4 babies about 18-24" long. Wow! As we descended beneath the boat we were first struck by the shear number of barracudas. Every direction you looked there was another one or two. This reef must have alot of fish and some good eating I thought. Yes, fish, and more fish... and another gorgeous colorful reef. A huge loggerhead covered with barnacles swam by us and we noticed he was missing part of his front right flipper. Sad. But then another large loggerhead made an appearance and he had all four. A huge school of 100+ horseye jacks swirled over one of the sand channels and many large groupers of all sorts were seen.
Dive 2 at this site we explored the other direction from the boat and found huge schools of creole wrasse doing their mating dance. A large male and smaller female would begin swimming quickly and spiral upwards. Then the male would start the dance with another female. There were dozens of "dancers" and the ritual continued on as we swam by noticing something swimming near the surface - very iratically and looking like a remora. But OH MY! This isn't a remora, it has a fin up on its back. We found a baby shark! So cute! We watched him dart around within 20' of the surface swimming much more quickly than his adult version, in fact he looked very awkward and clumsy. We continue our dive on towards a sand channel to look for more yellowheaded jawfish and spot another baby shark, and oh my, there are several more! As we neared the channel vis dropped dramatically but we could make out a school of baby sharks. Ron attempted a few shots but gave up because of the vis and decided to count heads. Forty-two! Yes, there were at least 42 babies in the sand channel! We realized that it was time to return to the boat for dinner so we turned and headed back. Wow, these guys must be newborns as they all appeared to be 18-24" long. This reef must be a shark nursery!
Voting time! All names were submitted and during dinner everyone picked their favorite 4 names. After dinner everyone was allowed to vote once for one of the final four names. The chosen name: Enchanted Forest. The vote was very close between two choices so it was decided that we would consider that name for the other next new un-named site.
After dinner and a slideshow/chat session in the salon, we geared up for our first night dive of the trip. Basketstars were unfurled and urchins were out in force tonight. The biggest excitement of the dive however was when we woke up a huge loggerhead napping on the bottom. This guy was the size of a VW. He was huge and mad we woke him up! He circled around and for a second I thought he was going to attack us. Man, he was big and mad! He settled down on another sandy spot and we continued on with the dive. Other night divers saw another nurse shark and a few eels out hunting. Great dive once again!
Dive Sites: Deep Midori (drift dive) and Nature Prevails
After another fantastic breakfast, Capt Tucker gave us a briefing for our next site. This site was to be done as a drift dive as there was no pin yet. He wanted us to scout the site, let him know if we liked it and should they place a pin there. A few members of the crew had dove this reef on Monday and said it was a nice deep slopping wall from 50-90'. A few divers decided to skip the dive but everyone else was geared and standing on the deck when the Capt yelled "dive, dive, dive!" We all hopped in and descended as a group with DM Aaron leading the group pulling a dive flag and DM John following the group. The reef was covered with huge barrel sponges and hundreds of oceanic triggerfish. Although the dive was done as a drift, we found that there was very little current. Ron and I explored a bit deep as most of the other divers stayed in the 50-60' range. Several small mounds of coral were in the 50' range and on top of one of these mounds was a nice sized hawksbill turtle. As a group we all did the 15' safety stop and as Tucker backed the boat up closer to all of us at the surface, divers were instructed to swim to the boat in groups of 4. After the dive, the Capt approached each diver and asked for opinions. Ron and I both enjoyed it as a deep dive and thought it would a good place for a pin in the shallower areas giving divers a choice of doing the site deep or shallow. A few other divers didn't like it as they said it was too deep.
After discussing the dive with all the divers and those who didn't do the dive, Capt Tucker decided to move the boat back to Nature Prevails. He had several crew members out on one of the skiffs setting a pin on another new site. Woo HOO! Tomorrow another NEW dive site!
The remaining dives for Tuesday were at Nature Prevails. This was fine for everyone as the site was gorgeous! Weather had gotten a bit rough with winds making the boat rock slightly. Entries and exits from dives were a bit more challenging. Once again we discovered a nice sized nurse shark 7-8' long, a sand channel full of garden eels, tons of grouper and parrotfish including a rainbow parrotfish. An adult reef shark, maybe 6-7' long was spotted, too. Ron and I headed out looking at a new area we hadn't explored yet and spotted baby sharks again. Once again we found a sand channel with a school - this time only 24 counted. Wow, two different dives sites with baby sharks!
Ron did the night dive here with a few of the guys as almost everyone onboard was too pooped for another dive. While they were diving we watched DVDs of other's dive trips on the new flat screen tv set.
Dive Sites: Shallow Remora (drift dive), "Name the Second New Dive Site", and Enchanted Forest
Once again we started the dive day with a drift dive but this time on a shallow site. This site had a pin somewhere but crew the day before couldn't find it to place a marker on it. The pin had been set years ago so we were guessing that it may be covered by growth and hard to find. Jordan was group leader this time with John again following. This site had little current (as did the other drift site) but was covered with lush reef of coral, sea fans, and sponges. An octopus was found sitting out in the open, several huge barracudas getting cleaned, gray and french angel pairs, and a very friendly coney captured my attention. At the end of the dive with all drifted out over a sand channel for the safety stop and directly below us a ray was hunting with a large jack over his shoulder. No pin was found but we all agreed that this is a site that needs one! Gorgeous virgin reef full of fish, wow!
The dive boat was moved to our second NEW pin site which we would be naming! From the decision made after the previous voting session, we would all dive this site and make suggestions or go with that second place name. After the day of diving here, the crew insisted that "H2Oasis" was the name. That was the second place name (and Ron's suggestion.) Woo Hoo! Ron got to name a dive site.
This dive site was a series of ridges starting at around 50' and rolling on to +70'. Ron and I went off over the hills to explore and immediately ran into a huge green moray. One of the crew members, Johnny, came swimming over and asked us to follow him. He led us to the biggest hawksbill turtle I have ever seen. This guy was almost as big as the loggerheads we had seen this week. He was sitting under a ledge with his head sticking out and let us stay for quite a while shooting stills and video before getting tired of us. He swam away but circled back around and landed just over the ridge from us. We found him again, this time perched upright like he was sitting on a bar stool with his whole body out in the open. We again took pictures and video then realized our dive time was running short and headed back for the boat.
After lunch Ron and I went back to the ridges while other divers stayed shallower by the boat. I was really amazed at how many cleaning stations we were seeing, many of them with big fish like barracudas getting cleaned. One station had a big barracuda with his mouth wide open! I've never seen that before. A huge school of horseye jacks was swirling around and I had to get in the middle of them. I just love doing that. A huge goliath grouper swam over a ridge and I followed him. As I came over the ridge I realized a gigantic nurse shark was sleeping on the sand there. This lady was at least 10-12' long! As soon as Ron came over the ridge, the nurse turned and swam away. Wow! What a huge shark!
Capt Tucker decided to move the boat back to Enchanted Forest for the last afternoon dive and night dive which was fine with us. H2Oasis was a great dive but a bit deep for that late in the day. Back at Enchanted Forest we again were greeted by barracuda, blue chromis, creole wrasse still dancing, and other colorful fish. The vis was dropping sharply, however, as the wind had picked up topside and the numerous sand channels were getting stirred up.
This would be the last night dive of the trip so several divers jumped in. Ron, Gordy, and Ann went off to check out the reef and were greeted by one of the baby sharks! This guy was very curious and fascinated with the dive lights. He crashed into everyone and Gordy and Ann spent part of the dive kicking at him to keep him away. He bumped into Ron's camera, too. Wow, very cool and very scary at the same time as this guy was 18" long and had a mouth full of teeth. He was just big enough to be dangerous. Yikes!
Dive Sites: Cay Sal Bank - Big Hole and Silversides
After the night dive, the boat left for the overnight run to Cay Sal Bank. We had done the Cay Sal Itinerary before and loved it so we were excited to see the big sharks and blue holes again.
After the briefing, Ron and I were the first ones in the water. Three Caribbean Reef Sharks met us under the boat and swam parallel to us all the way to the hole. We stopped for a few minutes and watched as the sharks began to circle around, checking us out. As soon as we arrived at the Big Hole we saw several large southern rays in the sand. As we turned our attention to them, Romeo, the resident loggerhead came lumbering up the sand slide towards us. By this time the rest of the divers had joined us and sharks (approx. a dozen) were circling around and through the group. I love this dive site! Above us, around us, sharks, nice sized sharks ranging from 4' long to one that was around 8' long and very pregnant. Ron and I had found a seahorse in the turtle grass under the boat last trip here so this time we were all searching as we worked our way back for our safety stop. The sharks continued to circle around as we stopped at each little coral head watching the tiny little blennies, filefish, and gobies. Our second dive here was more of the same - sharks, rays, and all the wonderful little critters. What a wonderful dive again!
At lunch the boat was moved to another Blue Hole - Silversides. A swimthrough at approx. 100' depth is where this site gets its name. The tunnel is usually full of fish, this time however we didn't see a single one. The swimthrough is marked at each end with a bouy, so it is easy to find. As we exited the tunnel, I noticed a ledge right above it had a huge southern stingray covered in sand. This guy thought he was clever, but we saw him anyhow and got a few shots while he sat there motionless. As we ascended to the rim of the hole, I found some of the biggest lobsters I have seen anywhere other than Cozumel. These guys were the size of a golden retriever! Three of them were in one hole and another big fella was in a hole closeby. They all came out swinging their antenae but Ron scared them back with his camera with huge strobe arms extended. LOL
No night dive tonight as we had a long run back up to Bimini for the last dive day! The wind continued to blast the boat and the seas were very rough. Yikes. Most of the guests went to bed green.
Dive site: Hawksbill
As every other day, Ron and I were first ones up and headed for coffee in the salon. The boat was still moving and no land in site. Hmmmm. One of the crew members came out and said that we were a bit behind schedule. Okay, why? Soon breakfast was served and Capt Tucker appeared with the bad news. The boat had some steering issues during the night and the engine had to be shut off while it was being fixed, time was lost from fixing the problem as well as the fact the wind was blowing the whole time sending us off course a bit. We would not be arriving at Bimini until noon instead of 8am. Dang! Morning dives cancelled, everyone went back to bed for naps. At 11:30am we arrived off Bimini and moored up at Hawksbill. The afternoon shore excursion was also cancelled due to the wind and rough ride (anyone in the skiff would be soaked by water going and coming to shore).
We were anxious for one last dive on the trip and jumped in for another nice, hour-long dive. A huge scorpionfish was found on a coral head right out in the open, along with several southern rays, tons of parrotfish, grunts, snappers, soldierfish, and even some juvenile drums and trunkfish. Most divers got in for the first dive but only a few were able to do a second dive. We dragged all our gear up to the Sun Deck to dry after rinsing them in the large buckets provided. The wind was still whipping around all the wetsuits so everything dried pretty quickly. After dinner we packed all the dive bags.
No one wanted to night dive so everyone stayed in the salon and watched movies all evening, relaxing, and chatting about the fantastic week of diving. The crew even commented about their enjoyment of the new itinerary; they couldn't believe how great the diving was. All the crew members got to dive during the week, some of them each day, and they were all smiles about it. Capt Tucker got in a few dives and took some great photos. He even found a baby nurse shark at Silversides! The baby sharks were the highlight of the trip for me. I love the Nekton's diving style - dive your own profile or dive with one of the staff, your choice. It really suits me and Ron as we want to stop and take pictures and videos as we find subjects. Neither of us enjoy being herded along by a dive guide. I did 21 dives, Ron did 24 dives for the week. It would have been nice to get those two extra dives on Friday morning but sometimes things just don't work out that well. With the strong headwinds we may not have gotten into Bimini early enough to do more than one more dive anyhow. Regardless of that, the diving was PHENOMENAL and quality beats quantity anytime. The shear number of sharks, big and small, all the turtles underwater and mating at surface, and the pristine reefs make this one of the best Caribbean destinatons we have ever seen. This is definitely a great dive trip for beginner to advanced divers, and heaven for photographers and videographers.
|9||Enchanted Forest - night dive||62'||46min|
|14||Nature Prevails - night dive||54'||48min|
|19||Enchanted Forest-night dive||50'||39min|
Thanks to the wonderful Nekton Crew: Capt Tucker, Todd, Chris, Brandt, Christine, Austin, Aaron, John, Zohar, Jordan, Kimberly, Ben, Johnny, Eric and Nick.
just click here and watch: Best of Medio Reef on the Nekton Rorqual
other videos be found here: Robin's videos
or here: Robin's YouTube videos
Nekton Cruises website: Nekton liveaboard