Downey Duck Turks & Caicos '09

Nineteen divers and one vacationer traveled to Provodenciales in the Turks & Caicos Islands where we were met by a representative of the Turks & Caicos Explorer liveaboard boat. He organized our taxi ride and 20 minutes later we arrived at the boat, their newest.

After an extremely short briefing, we were led to our cabins where we unpacked, and then we wandered around the boat and set up our dive gear. Of course, longer briefings came later, but it was nice not being corralled for an hour before getting to explore the boat.

There are 3 levels of cabins. The two top-end cabins had double beds, closet, chest of drawers, desk, more under-bed drawers, TV, and DVD player. The three mid-level cabins each had two single bed (no bunk beds), some kind of drawer space, depending on where in the boat it was located, under-bed drawers, and a closet, some smaller than others. Three cabins were on the bottom level; these had bunk beds, small closet, and some drawer space. All cabins had private, decently sized bathrooms. The two mid-level cabins in the bow had extra windows and were very bright. Purser Sandy did a great job of keeping the cabins immaculate, as well as collecting our money at the end of the trip.

The salon had a small sitting area for relaxing and chatting, and several tables for dining. There was also a TV with a large DVD selection, and a lending library. The galley was small, but we've seen much smaller. There was a serving area for the buffet meals and another, smaller area for coffee, hot water, soft drinks, beer, and liquor. All drinks were included. Cookies were always available.

The dive deck was on the same level as the salon. It was set up quite nicely; wetsuits were hung bow to stern down the middle, out of the way, and tanks were then set up in 4 rows, two rows facing each other on each side of the wetsuits, also bow to stern. When the compressor was running, the air was vented up through the wetsuits, offering warm wetsuits for donning. There was one rinse tank for cameras and two smaller rinse tanks for everything else, with disinfectant. The camera table was at the rear, out in the open, where salt spray could be a problem; it was fine for our trip, but if everyone had a DSL or video camera, it would get extremely crowded. All the divers were using Nitrox, and the fills were done quickly. The ice machine was also located on the dive deck.

After gearing up, we walked down several steps to a large dive platform; there were two ladders and two areas for giant stride entries. It was also possible to giant stride from the dive deck. Two showers with adjustable temperatures, a wonderful concept, were always available; it truly was unending hot water. Some never bothered with showers in their cabins.

Up one level from the salon was the sundeck, with about a dozen lounges and a couple chairs, and up yet one more level was a shaded seating area with several cushioned benches, tables, and a second refrigerator with drinks. Both levels were very popular.

Because we were threatened by tropical storm Ana, Captain Ken took the boat the farthest distance first, about 3 hours, to French Cay, opposite the usual order. We worked our way back towards port, ready to make a run for it if needed.

Five dives were available each day, except the last day when 5 AM and 8 AM dives were scheduled. The boat can only dock during high tides, so arrivals and departures are scheduled around that. Either Dave, or Joe, dive instructors, or engineer Doug were in the water to lead those who were interested, otherwise we were on our own. We were asked to limit our dives to one hour and 500 psi; after 70 minutes they start hunting for what they assume is a missing diver. The first few dives this was a bit annoying, but then my computer time started running out before my tank was low on air.

The diving was decent Caribbean wall and reef diving and I was pleased to see reef and nurse sharks on many dives, along with several turtles and friendly groupers, particularly Loretta, who kissed my camera lens. The younger turtles could have cared less we were there, partly because the area is a marine sanctuary, and I got some great shots. We also saw several lionfish, some of them a couple feet across; I thought it interesting when I spotted a trumpetfish attempting to shadow one, although not too close!

All meals were served buffet-style. Cereal, oatmeal, toast, and yogurt were always available for breakfast, plus eggs or pancakes on alternating days. Lunches and dinners were full meals, ranging from lasagna to pork to chicken to hamburgers, with salad, homemade biscuits, vegetables, and scrumptious desserts after dinners. One night was Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. Of course there were snacks after every dive, including hot cocoa after the night dive. Chef Stan, a local, kept us well-fed and tried to meet dietary restrictions.

Night dives offered us a few octopus, feeding stingrays, hunting sharks, crabs of various kinds, lobsters, and shrimp. The black jacks are a pain-they've learned to hunt using divers' lights and they got in the way. When I shined my light on a lion fish, though, the black jack practically screeched to a halt!

The 5 AM dive the last morning was supposed to be a dawn dive, but it was too early and I didn't see much. Right before I got out, it started getting light and the action picked up, but we had a high tide deadline at the dock we had to beat.

We enjoyed the diving, the boat is comfortable, the crew top-notch, and it's pretty easy to get there. We would not hesitate to return.