Downey Duck Caribbean Explorer II  

Caribbean Explorer II - June 2008 From St. Kitts to St. Maarten

The Caribbean Explorer II is a great way to experience a smorgasbord of Caribbean diving without the hassle of flying from island to island. The boat travels back and forth between St. Kitts and St. Maarten; our group of 17 started in St. Kitts. Most of us jetted in one or two days early, staying at the Palms Hotel, located in the heart of Basseterre and the "Circus".

Except for noisy nights from partiers' boom boxes (that's what earplugs are made for), the Palms Hotel was the perfect place to be. Each room is different; ours was large and roomy, with a refrigerator, bathroom, queen bed, sitting area, and a veranda perfect for watching the island go by. There's a cozy bar on the premises, plus an awesome ice cream stand. The Palms Hotel is central to shopping, groceries, restaurants, and the docks.

Our lucky timing enabled those who wanted, to experience a night at the St. Kitts music festival, a three-night event featuring multiple bands from all around. Basseterre was a happening place; our first morning we saw a "children's month" parade of parents and their children, dressed in darling costumes representing careers such as nurses, doctors, and police officers. We did a lot of walking, and enjoyed a van tour of the island, culminating with a hill-top view of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Everyone had arrived by Saturday afternoon; as we wandered to the dock, some of the passengers from the previous week were gathering their luggage and raving about their trip. We were welcomed aboard the Caribbean Explorer II by Captain Dave and the rest of the enthusiastic crew. They all went out of their way to make us feel welcome and keep us happy, and they seemed to get along well with each other. Bill the engineer did a remarkable job of keeping the boat running smoothly, and even communed with the passengers, not always done by engineers. Chef Zach conjured up many excellent meals and home made treats and did his best to satisfy individual requests. Steward and kitchen help Ryan was just completing his open water training. Anita, the purser, also acted as a divemaster. Darlene, another divemaster, unfortunately was dealing with some major upper respiratory issues and only managed to complete a couple dives during the week, but still kept busy and cheerful. Divemaster Dawn was a dynamo, leading most of the dives.

The Caribbean Explorer II is a comfortable boat that can accommodate up to 18 passengers in 9 cabins of various sizes and configurations, all with private baths. The dive deck is roomy for gearing up, and there's a handy head. A small skiff, available for rescuing divers that come up too far from the boat, was towed behind. The upper deck is where we spent most of our time, consisting of a sunbathing area with several lounges and an area enclosed in heavy duty plastic with zip-open windows, where we ate, played cards (a few of us had a pinnacle fetish going on), and relaxed.

Our week began with two days of diving at St. Kitts, including a wreck, a van, a tug, a barge, and a Mercedes; we saw numerous cleaning stations, a lancet dragonet, and a really cool decorator crab. We also saw the normal Caribbean fish, squid, and our first decorator sea cucumber. The visibility was not as the best, possibly due to a tropical wave the previous week, but the diving at was quite pleasant and relaxing. One day was spent at St. Eustatius, where all dives were accompanied by a park ranger who made sure no one damaged the reef. Besides the usual fish, we saw a nurse shark, a not commonly seen jackknife fish, a chain moray, flying gurnards, pike blenny, turtles, an octopus, and a tiny mantis shrimp, Then it was on to Saba, where we spent 2 days. The visibility was much better and the scenery around the pinnacles impressive. Some of the better sites do not have moorings adequate to hold boats the size of the Caribbean Explorer II, but we still saw plenty, such as nurse sharks, huge anchors embedded in the coral, turtles, mating (or fighting) crabs, lobsters, eels, sailfin blennies, peppermint bass, tarpon, even feeding sharks on a night dive. The last day included a 6am dawn dive, one of the better ones I've ever done. The last dive of the trip we saw at least a dozen turtles, a male lobster in pursuit of a female and lots of blennies.

We arrived in St. Maarten Friday afternoon and spent the rest of the day exploring, shopping, and hanging out. Dinner was at a nice restaurant within walking distance. We spent one last night on the boat with departure at 9am sharp Saturday morning, so cleaning could commence; luggage stayed aboard until it was time to depart for the airport. Some of us had more of an adventure getting home than others, but that seems to be the norm anymore.

This is a trip I would do again.