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Manta Divers, May, 2015 Caribbean Explorer trip report

 Greetings Divers!

 I am the first to admit that I was a little nervous about planning our first live aboard trip.  I mean, what if we get sea sick? Will we go stir crazy staying on a boat for a week? Will I want to keelhaul anyone at some time during the trip?  (For that matter, will someone want to keelhaul me?) ICaribbean Explorer II am happy to report that Team Manta’s adventure aboard the Caribbean Explorer II was a great success with everyone getting their fill of diving and no one being keelhauled.

Our itinerary called for us to meet up with the boat in St Maarten, cross over to Saba, dive there for a few days, cross over to St. Kitts, dive there a few days, and then catch a flight home from St. Kitts. So, in the early morning of April 4, 2015, we headed down to O’Hare to start our journey to St. Maarten. After a long day of travel through various airports, we arrived at the marina. Once given permission to board, we stepped on with our bags and met our crew.  There was Captain Bob Magilligan, DM’s Anouk Stroes, from the Netherlands, Josh Farmer from Virginia and Brett Lookhoff from Louisiana. Our chef, and e-book author, was Dave “Tuna” Tunnicliff from Liverpool and our engineer, who worked like a dog the whole week making certain everything was tip top, was Terrence Lavia.

Brett-Anouk-JoshAfter the introductions, and a tour of the boat, we quickly set to work assembling our dive kits.  It would be the last time we would assemble them for the week.  After each dive, we disconnected our first stages and the crew filled our tanks right in place from the whips that were above each spot. When it was time to dive again, we analyzed our nitrox, signed the log and reattached our first stages. Good to go!

Once my kit was assembled, I made my way to Mike’s and my room for the week, cabin number one. It had a queen sized bed, a small amount of storage (our bags fit under the bed)and a private bath. One thing you need to understand about live aboard diving is that you need to pack light.  A couple of swimsuits and a cover up to wear to meals are about all you need.  I also suggest bringing a light jacket, like a Chammyz (Check ‘em out at the shop.) to help you warm up in between dives, though you can do without even that, since fresh, clean towels are provided by CEII staff after each dive. The Caribbean Explorer supplies shower soap, conditioner and shampoo in each cabin, so you don’t need to pack that stuff either. We found that with such tight quarters it was better for one of us to get out of the room while the other was getting up or getting ready for bed. Travel on the boat was most turbulent when crossing from St Maarten to Saba and Saba to St. Kitts, so crossings were always at night.  Note! Be sure to be in bed during the crossing because you do not Relaxing between diveswant to have to navigate the stairs or hallways during this time. Except for the crossings, I thought the boat was very stable.  It really did not take long to get my legs and become confident walking around the boat. I loved sleeping on the boat.  Our bed was comfortable and, by the end of the week, I wondered if I was going to be able to sleep without the gentle to and fro I had become so accustomed to.

Another fact about liveaboard diving is that you must take your anti sea sickness medication about an hour before you get on the boat.  People do not die from sea sickness, but if you get it, you may wish that you would.  Don’t worry about feeling tired from the medicine, as when you need it most, during the crossings, it will be bedtime.  As the days pass, if you are taking oral medication, you can try cutting the dose to decrease the fatigue.

So we were there to dive, and dive we did! There are five dives scheduled daily. Our day was literally, Rise, eat, dive, snack, dive, lunch, dive, snack, dive, supper, dive, bed and repeat. Passengers, of course, choose to do as many or as few dives as they desire. Our group did opt for a land tour on Saba in lieu of one dive, but otherwise, kept to the schedule. The water surrounding both Saba and St Kitts was a consistent 80F.  I had been in the habit of taking a 5mm suit on dive trips because with the number of dives I usually do, I would get cold.  This trip I opted to use a 3mm jumpsuit with a sharkskin hooded vest.  I was very comfortable and the bonus was that packing a lighter suit helped me stay well within the airline’s 50lb. limit for my baggage.

  Our first days were spent diving around Saba, a huge monolith rising out of the ocean. If you are familiar with the classic King Kong movie, you may recognize this island.  On several of our dives, we spotted reef sharks, southern rays hidden beneath the dark volcanic sand and eagle rays cruising by.  Moments into our first night dive, a large nurse shark joined us, following us the entire time, using our lights to find his next snack.  We witnessed the demise of several lobsters and a hapless tang. The night dives were all fantastic, but one nice touch from the staff of the CEII made them even better. As we each returned from the dive and started to peel off our wetsuits, the staff was waiting with a warm dry towel fresh from the dryer, and an offer of hot coca or a hot toddy.  One of my favorite dives on Saba was her signature site, Third Encounter. This is a 110ft dive around an isolated pinnacle rising up out of the depths.    It was breathtaking to see large schools of creole wrasse raining down and around this colorful, coral covered pillar.

RemoraAfter fourteen great dives around Saba, it was time to make our way to St Kitts.  While Saba is a public body of the Netherlands, St. Kitts and Nevis is a two island federation which is a commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth as its head of state.  In contrast to Saba, St. Kitts is a lush, green island. My favorite dive was the River Taw wreck.  We dove this sight twice during the day and once as a night dive.  I loved watching the jaw fish rise out of their holes like genies from a lamp.  I was lucky to successfully spot the resident octopus on all the dives, and was awestruck by the size of the lobsters living inside the wreck. One guy was so big, I wondered if he could get out from the inside of it or if he had just grown too big and was now stuck.

Aside from the reef sharks, my favorite critter sightings were a flying gurnard, a yellow seahorse and a crazy remora that seemed to have a crush on one of our divers, Terese. The Caribbean Explorer II and her able staff really sold me on live aboard diving. It is so easy: No transferring gear from one tank to the next, no worries about finding a good restaurant, no worries about what to wear.  My fears about everyone getting along for the week were assuaged as well.  The Team Manta members were, of course, their usual fun selves, and even the couple who took up the last cabin was great, but on a live aboard, if someone is getting o your nerves, it is never a long wait until you can get away from them underwater!

 In Other News...........

There is still time to get in on the Rescue Diver course.  Just sign up for the PADI online course, associate yourself with Manta Divers and start working! The open water rescue skills development and scenarios are scheduled for July 11 & 12 at Haigh Quarry.  Call the shop for details

You just heard how great our last tropical adventure was, so don't you want to make sure you are not left out next year?  Drop off your deposit for Team Manta's trip to Grenada, Feb. 20-27, 2016.  See the tropical adventures page for details.

There are only a few spots left for the August 26 Lake Michigan charter to dive the Milwaukee Car Ferry. Payment must accompany reservations.

Manta Divers is proud to announce that Mike has successfully completed his training and is now a certified Scuba Pro regulator technician! We invite all of you proud owners of fine Scuba Pro regulators to bring your regs to Manta Divers for service!

Congratulations to Rosie Herrera and Yanaka Hoffman on their Advanced Open Water and Peak Performance Buoyancy certifications, Josh Parker on earning Night Diver and Deep Diver specialties and our overacheiver, Sue Bailey on earning Advanced Open Water, Night Diver, and Deep Diver specialty certifications.

Finally, Congratulations to Anouk Stroes and Josh Farmer for earning their Solo Diver certifications!

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