Diving St Martin: Humpback Whales trump my dive

07 Apr

I went out the other day and had the most amazing dives at Basse Espagnole. It was a private charter with the Johnson family of four from Texas. Mom and Sis were snorkeling and Dad and Brother where diving. It was an amazingly calm day so we went up to Tintamarre to dive the Tug boat and then one of my favorite dive sites, Basse Espagnole. Kirk (aka “Dad”) wasn’t diving because of a cold he caught while on vacation, so it was just Brother and me in the water together.

First we dived the Tugboat, which is a wreck that lies in about 50 feet of water. She stands upright and is super pretty. The water was really calm this day and you could see the wreck from the surface. Normally we don’t take snorkelers to the Tugboat, but as this was a private charter and they were keen to go, we went for it. You see, it can be a bit deep for snorkeling, but when it is really clear it is fine.

The dive was nice, nothing earth shattering, but pretty. Dan (aka “Brother) was a good diver, so it was really just like fun diving for me. Exactly the reason that I purchased a diving center, because sometimes it doesn’t feel like working at all.

Then we went over to Basse Espagnole. JT was the boat captain that day. I don’t think I have introduced JT yet. His real name is Justin, but apparently when he was in school there were about 4 Justins, so he just went by “JT” and it stuck. JT is from Oklahoma and calls everyone Ma’am and Sir. Including me, which sometimes I like (sign of respect) but sometimes it makes me feel old. I will put his staff page up after I publish this blog.

Anyway… we arrived at Basse Espagnole and it was a little wavy. I said to the family “what do you want to do? We can stay here and I can dive with Dan, or we can go somewhere it is a bit less choppy.” They asked me where the best dive for Dan would be. “Here.” I said.

Let me describe the site briefly. Basse Espagnole is composed of these big slabs of rock that seem to just jut out of the ocean floor in the middle of the channel between Tintamarre, St Martin and Anguilla. With all the nutrients going through the channel and all the marine life being attracted to all the little cracks and crevices, it is a really prolific site. It is about 45 feet surrounding the reef and then 15 feet at its shallowest. As these rocks cause it to become so shallow so quickly even on a really calm day the swell is squashed as it goes over the site so that waves are created (sometimes breaking). This means that no matter when you dive this site, there will always be surge and in fact, it isn’t possible to dive Basse Espagnole most of the time. Just ask Chris about when he had to save the divers from another boat (not us, different company) when they tried to dive Basse Espagnole and it was too rough. They lost the boat but not the divers (thanks to Chris responding to their May Day). That probably deserves it’s own blog, huh?

So, we jumped in right away so that the rest of the family weren’t just bobbing around on the surface for too long. Then commenced one of the best dives I have ever done. Really. And I have done thousands. I’m not sure exactly what it was about the dive… It was just so memorable. We started off the dive by dropping down to about 45 feet and all you could hear underwater were whales and dolphins. (HEAR not SEE, don’t get too excited). It gave the whole dive this ethereal feel about it. I showed Dan the awesome endangered species of Elkhorn coral which is prominent at this particular site and then it was just like the site really delivered. If you work in the diving industry you will know what I am talking about. We do our best to show our customers amazing things, but we can’t control what is at the dive sites. Sometimes there are a million fish, sometimes there aren’t. We need the dive site to help us out from time to time by drumming up some good stuff to see. Well, Basse Espagnole really delivered. It was just like BAM! BAM! BAM!

BAM… 12 squid in a row. I looked at Dan and stuck my hand on my forehead to make the squid sign. He had no idea what I was trying to convey.
We kept going and there were just blue tang everywhere making this carpet of bright blue cover the reef. Then we turn and go up and over the fields of fan coral, all different colors just swaying back and forth in the surge.

BAM….25 Barracuda including one that I got so close to I could see the parasites living around it’s disgusting mouth and all those scary sharp teeth. We continued around the edge of the field of sea fans and curved around to drop into to the channel which runs through the middle of the reef. This is probably the best part of the dive. If you look around you the walls of the channel are covered by red and orange sponges with glass fish hiding in all the crevices. Elk horn coral rises up from the edges of the top of the channel and if you look up there are tons of barracudas, horse eyed jacks and schools of fish. We swim slowly through the channel.

BAM… a HUGE GIANT lobster is there, just walking around. We go over to investigate and he gets a little antsy with us. His tentacles are really long and he is this red and purple tinge, more purple then red. Just a giant. We keep going and drop back into the center of the channel.

BAM… baby black tip reef shark. Just a little itty baby one. So cute. He (or she, didn’t get enough of a look to see if there were claspers or not) checked us out and then swam slowly away. We kept going.

BAM… big green turtle is just munching away. We look at her for awhile (again, I didn’t see it’s belly so don’t know if it was male or female) and then kept going. At the end of the channel there is this small cave that had about 20 lobsters in it and also a giant crab. Bam! Bam!

Then we came up out of the channel and hooked a right on top of the reef. All of a sudden… BAM! These huge, I mean huge, Horse eyed jacks came around us. The thing was that they came so close, as if they were the ones that were observing us, not the other way around. There were probably about 20 of them. We were only at about 15 feet so they were extremely clear and just mesmerizing. We kept going, I was feeling pretty good right about now. I saw an empty lobster shell so decided to be funny by putting it on my head. Dan cocked his head to the side and just looked at me. (I thought it was funny, anyway 🙂 )

Then we circled back through the big school of barracuda, saw the baby shark again and then weaved our way back to the boat. The whole time we are just hearing the bellowing of whales and the clicking and whistling of the dolphins. I keep thinking we will see them, but we don’t. Then just before our ascent at the bottom of the mooring line there is one of the weirdest things I have ever seen. It looks like a long tube of clear jelly in the water column. It isn’t really moving, but it is some kind of living creature, or perhaps eggs, I don’t know. It is tubular, about 4 feet in length and 4 inches in diameter. It doesn’t have a head or tail, looks the same through out and is neutrally buoyant. We look at it for a bit before ascending. Get to the surface and I am just buzzing from an amazing dive.

We relay to everyone our amazing experience and all the cool things we saw. JT tells me that we had a missed call from Chris and with wet hands I call him back, to no avail. He is on Octopussy with a bunch of two tank divers. Then we head back to land. Sister has fed the fish a couple of times due to the waves I was describing earlier. My head is in this wonderful space, picturing the sea fans, the horse eyed jacks and hearing the whales and dolphins. I can’t wait to tell everyone about what a great dive I had. “Basse Espagnole totally delivered today”, I will tell Chris.

We get back and I have to pull alongside Octopussy to get to the mooring. Chris is there and before I even have a chance to say anything he looks at me with this huge smile and says all nonchalantly “two humpback whales.”

Totally trumped my dive.

(Sally wrote this blog 🙂 )

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