The Eastern Out Islands onboard the Caribbean Explorer
Our group of 18 divers from Pennsylvania, California, and Louisiana converged on George Town, Great Exuma Island for a week of diving on the liveaboard Caribbean Explorer I, part of the Explorer Ventures fleet. This boat did the St. Martin to St. Kitts run for many years, then spent a couple of years in the Turks & Caicos before settling in the Bahamas.
Our group arrived in George Town throughout the day and were promptly met by a taxi sent by Explorer Ventures for a fifteen minute ride to the Marine Services dock. Before introductions were even made, we were instructed by the Captain to set up our dive gear. Once that was done, they hauled our baggage to our rooms and we were allowed to explore the boat.
The boat is 100' long and efficiently laid out. The upper level has a couple tables under the shade and eight lounge chairs tied down out in the sun. The four cabins with private baths are on this level; two have double beds and two have double beds with upper bunk. The main level includes the dive deck, dining area, and galley. Down the steps in the dining area are the five cabins that share two showers and heads. Each cabin has a double bed, upper bunk, sink, and no window. All the cabins were small with not much standing room, but no one spent much time in them. Sharing the two bathrooms didn't elicit any complaints; there was also a toilet on the dive deck, along with two hot water showers.
The dive deck has the usual tank stations around the perimeter with cubby holes below. There is a 3-tiered camera table that quickly got crowded with more than half a dozen photographers and all their paraphernalia. There is a large camera rinse tank and another rinse tank for wet suits with an added disinfectant. Two wet suit hanging bars were in the center area, out of the way enough that they didn't slap you in the face or get in the way. With a group of friends, at least, it felt surprisingly roomy. Going down the steps at the stern was a good-sized entry area, and getting up the ladder was easy with the nice wide steps that were easy on the feet. The steps were closer together than normal so smaller steps were required.
Breakfast consisted of cereal, hot oatmeal, pancakes, eggs, bacon, and bagels. Lunch was anything from tacos to rigatoni, usually up on the sun deck. Supper ranged from steak to fish, served in the dining room. The food was very good and the chef tried to accommodate special dietary requests: unfortunately he was planning on leaving the boat for other opportunities. Soft drinks and crystal light were always available, as were cookies and fruit. Beer and wine were complimentary, and the common rule of no diving after you start drinking was enforced.
We started our trip with two easy dives about an hour away from George Town, at Stocking Island, then did a couple more on a sunken tugboat, including a night dive, while we waited for one suitcase to make its appearance. When it didn't show up, the boat headed for Long Island early the next morning. The farther east we went in the Bahamas, to Conception Island and Sal Salvador, the better the diving. On a night dive at Conception Island we watched a good-sized octopus fold itself over a fish which we could see trying to escape. We also saw turtles, schools of jacks, plenty of other fish and lots of cleaning stations, some with waiting lines. It was great to see so many decent sized Nassau and tiger groupers along with their smaller cousins. We also followed a dozen blue parrotfish and a lone hammerhead. At Wedge Point we wandered over to a coral ridge that evidently doesn't get much traffic from divers, as the fish were more curious than usual and easy to approach.
After spending a bumpy 3+ hours, we arrived at San Salvador with its deep walls, swim-troughs, expansive sandy slopes, and continual algae growth. We spent the next three days there and saw a dozen or more hammerhead sharks, huge porcupinefish, massive coral walls and barrel sponges, and lots of fish life. Oscar the grouper played with everyone and we didn't want to leave. We had requested diving at Rum Cay but were told they are rarely able to get there due to wind and sea conditions.
The last morning of diving, a 6am dive option was offered before the trek back toward George Town. The last dive was a very silty low-visibility dive off Conception Island-a rather disappointing as a last dive. Then it was back to George Town where the missing bag was waiting for its owner. We had dinner at a local restaurant and partied the night away. Saturday morning we were eventually kicked off the boat so they could get it ready for the next group; we wandered around checking out the town and eventually strolled back to the boat where the taxis were already loaded with our luggage, waiting to take us to the airport.
It had been over 20 years since we dove in the Bahamas; we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the diving and number of hammerhead sharks we saw. Being on a liveaboard was great because neither the heat nor mosquitoes were a problem, and we were able to dive up to five times a day. We liked just about everything about the boat and plan on trying another Explorer Ventures location in the future.