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Every dive magazine you pick up tells tales of liveaboards
that sound like so much hype and BS that there is no way they
can be true. They use ridiculous phrases like "effortless diving",
"carefree splendor", and "spoiled rotten."
Well guess what... so will I.
I didn't get paid to be there and I am not being paid
to write this, so I can guarantee you my BS comes right from
the (gratis) heart.
I cannot speak for all liveaboards, and it is doubtless there
must be some out there that make capsizing an attractive alternative
to remaining aboard but that is not the case with the Cat Ppalu which
sails out of Nassau in the Bahamas.
Converted from a racing sailing ship, it still has graceful
lines and tremendous stability afforded it by a twin hull design.
At only 60' in length, it is far from the largest liveaboard out
there, and it carries only 10 passengers and four crew, but don't
mistake those as drawbacks because they are definitely assets. There
is no crowding (especially at the all-important meal times!), you don't
trip over people's gear, and there is plenty of room to find your own
place and do your own thing - if that is your... thing.
We'll get to the details of liveaboard diving later, but let's get
right to the important stuff: the diving.
The Cat sails out through Eluthra and Exuma Keys, kinda the
southern tail of the Bahamas chain of islands. Yes, it will take
you farther away from the casinos (which might be a good thing in
itself) and gets into territory the day boats can't reach, which
means more pristine sites. What does that mean to you? Well, I am
glad you asked. It means there have been less anchors crashing into
and killing the coral, less divers trying to ride the turtles so they
are not as afraid of divers, and the fish (oh, the fish!) can be
observed doing their regular fish-things instead of immediately
swarming divers looking for a handout.
After a week-long visit it would take a week to tell you all the
different fish species that were encountered, but the big stuff
included reef and nurse sharks, stingrays, yellow rays, spotted moray
and green eels, octopus, lobsters, barracuda, grouper, jewfish, and my
personal favorite - spotted eagle rays.
Dives range from drifts, to coral heads, to walls, with depths from
several thousand feet (not recommended unless you are suitably armored)
to 30' where you get extra bottom time to more closely examine all the
great creatures found there and the light by which to do it.
There are wrecks to be had, but due to weather conditions and the
desire of the majority of the passengers to see sharks (it is a
democracy onboard), we did only a single wreck, but it was a good
one. The Austin Smith, a Coast Guard cutter sunk intentionally as a
dive site is fully in-tact in 60 feet of water and allows for limited
penetration and plenty of photo ops including the resident grouper
and monster lobster.
For groups that are into wrecks there are plenty... after all,
the Bahamas was a vital port of call for hundreds of years before
GPS, loran, satellites, charts and other modern navigational aids.
"But liveaboards are expensive," I hear you say. Well, they
are likely not as cheap as say... Cuba if you really want to save
your pennies, that is true. However, when you take everything into
account, no, I don't believe they are any more expensive. Consider
that a liveaboard includes all food (oh, the food!), beer (sometimes
rum, but not on this one), tanks, weights, air fills, transportation,
and hotel they come out about the same cost and way ahead on fun and
convenience. You don't need a taxi, you are never late to the dive
site, and you can sleep through the first dive of the day without
missing any of the others. Plus you never have to worry about getting
lost, island crime rates, or not being able to drink the water.
Imagine you crawl out of bed and in ten strides are at the
breakfast table where the food is ready. Ten strides from there
your gear is already assembled and waiting for you to put on. Then
the water is two strides from there. That is what liveaboard diving
is all about. Everything is not only within walking distance, it is
practically within falling distance. The convenience factor could not
be much higher, especially on this boat. There is no need of a huge
swim platform to be slowly raised and lowered, no small boat you have
to pile everyone into to get to the sites, and no gear to assemble.
The no-gear-assembly-thing is particularly sweet. You put your gear
together once at the beginning of the week, and that is it. It rests
vertically in a small holder, just waiting for you to sit in front of
it, slide your arms into your BC, slip on fins and mask and take two
strides (not even two strides) before giant striding off the back of
the boat. Upon exiting you climb the short ladder, take maybe three
steps to your designated cubby-hole, shrug off your BC, toss fins
and mask under your seat, and do what you want until the boat
reaches the next site. It just doesn't get any easier.
The cabins are not huge (this is a boat, after all) but they are
more than adequate. Each has a sink and air conditioning control,
and you have a choice of one double bed or two singles depending on
which berth you select and how much you like the person you are with.
And the food! Have I mentioned the food? This is not an economy
oriented liveaboard (it is marginally up-scale) and you need look no
further than the meals to see where the extra money went. If you were
thinking you would lose weight with all the extra exercise, forget it.
We never ate the same thing twice, and the variety included steak,
orange ruffy, roast beef, home-made soups and breads, and more deserts
than you could ever think about scarfing down.
Another feature of the trip is getting to spend the last night at
port and going over to the Atlantis casino where they have a
gorgeous walk-through aquarium with reef and nurse sharks, huge
tarpon, stingrays, barracuda and numerous other smaller species.
It is a must see... especially if you have a spouse that has always
wondered what you see "down there".
They can be found at www.blackbeard-cruises.com/catppalu.html
Tom Wilson is a PADI divemaster, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org