Archive for the ‘Featured Liveaboard’ Category

Diving Papua New Guinea from the M/V Chertan Liveaboard

Monday, November 16th, 2015

All Creatures Great and Small

I drift downward through a kaleidoscope of dancing sun rays on a sight known as Deacon’s, in the very heart of Milne Bay. Their convergence pulls me past a dramatic cavernlike overhang in the wall to a riot of color on the reef below. Omnipresent anthias surge and twitch in an electric tangerine current that flows around huge sea fans in hues of honey, lychee and mangosteen. This is truly a tropical marine cornucopia, I think as I spot fire gobies, butterflyfish, angelfish and an almost invisible crocodilefish. Juvenile emperor angels dazzle, rotund frogfish amuse, lionfish bewitch. Every moment is an opportunity to discover something amazing, and I am determined to indulge myself to the point of photographic gluttony.

As if on cue, our dive guide, Junior, proudly directs my camera toward some invisible wonder. I look through my viewfinder and see … nothing. Junior grins and urges a second attempt. Then I spot it. Junior has found what is quite possibly the tiniest Severn’s pygmy seahorse on the planet. It doesn’t seem real. Two quick shots and I lose it again, but my gauges tell me it’s time to go. Just another dive in one of the most remarkable regions on Earth.

I am an Indo-Pacific-dive addict. I will have my bags packed faster than you can say Coral Triangle for almost any opportunity to travel to the region. You can count on great diving and interesting marine creatures there — that’s
a given. But for that true feeling of adventure, it’s hard to beat the exotic wonders of Papua New Guinea.

Where it all Began

Milne Bay is situated on the eastern edge of PNG, between a confluence of nutrient-rich currents from the Coral and Solomon seas. For most divers, the adventure begins in Alotau. Here I was met by Rob Van der Loos, owner of M/V Chertan, who is one of the pioneers of Milne Bay diving and has lived more adventures than most of us have seen at the movies. A chance to hang out with him while we gather provisions in the backstreets and markets of Alotau is a perfect way to shift into a local pace, and perhaps bargain for crafts.

Although off the radar of many travelers, the Milne Bay region is legendary among divers, marine naturalists and photographers. “There is everything here for everyone,” says Roger Steene, an accomplished photographer and author of multiple fish ID books who makes frequent trips on Chertan.

This purpose-built liveaboard began operations out of Alotau more than 16 years ago. The vessel is manned by a full complement of qualified crew (usually five), which includes some of the best critter spotters available in the business. With a max of 10 divers, guests feel like the privileged few they are — every site is a private dive.

Most divers don’t realize that muck diving originated in PNG. Over the years, Van der Loos and his team have become muck aficionados, finding numerous rare, new nudibranch species to add to the wild, weird and wonderful creatures already discovered in New Guinea.

Knowing we are chomping at the bit, Van der Loos wastes no time backing up Chertan nearly to shore, tying the stern to the trees. “This little pocket of paradise is known as Lauadi,” he says. “There’s an incredible muck dive directly under the boat called Dinah’s Beach. The pool is open.”

Dinah’s is a classic black-sand muck dive, meaning you immediately find yourself on a very dark bottom in 25 feet of water looking at an apparent wasteland. But patience is rewarded, especially if you stick like glue to your guide as I did. It would take a few dives to develop my own muck vision, but Dinah’s Beach is an excellent training ground. Highlights on a single dive: finding a juvenile warty frogfish, emperor shrimp on a sea cucumber, peacock mantis shrimp, flabellina nudibranchs and jewel-like bobtail squid. The top prize has to be finding the rare and elusive Milne Bay epaulette shark on a night dive on the same site. These small, elegantly marked carpet sharks are rarely seen by day.

Back on board we are regularly plied with tea and cookies. The obsessive photographers in the group, myself included, sip the tea and grease O-rings on the large table on the upper deck. The view of verdant, jungle-covered shorelines while downloading SD cards only adds to the wonderment.

Hooked on a Feeling

The week progresses in spite of my best efforts to stop the clocks. I am bedazzled by the bommielike reef on Tania’s that rises close enough that my safety stop encircles the shallows and almost requires the dive guides to drag me back to the boat. I swoon at the mantas that circle the bommie at Gona Bara Bara as they hover, nearly motionless, while wrasse eagerly go about cleaning them.

My time was almost over. I had long heard stories of orcas occasionally showing up at Wahoo Point. They have appeared twice — not exactly a pattern, but orcas are on my bucket list, and I have come close to seeing them in northern PNG before. Surely it was worth a try. Seeing eagle rays and a few sharks parade along the wall as we descend seems promising, and the topography is stunning. I focus on the blue and project my best orca vibe — whatever that is, but I try.

I also try not to be distracted by the big schools of fish and a brief pass by a manta, but the place is easy to get lost in. I’m on a mission. When another guide, Seba, tries to show me an elaborate scorpionfish, I shoo him away too quickly, as my computer makes clear a moment later. My safety stop allows me to turn slow 360s, and I let the dance of light and waves play tricks on my imagination. I take one last look over my shoulder before leaving the water, but there would be no orca that day. Instead, I got another spectacular dive experience in Milne Bay — and another reason to come back.

FIVE REASONS TO DIVE MILNE BAY ABOARD CHERTAN

1. Comfortable Cabins
Chertan has five comfortable double-bunk cabins, each with its own sink and storage space. All accommodations are air-conditioned.

2. Dive Guides Seba and Junior
Are you looking for particular critters? Odds are good these locals can find them for you.

3. Expert Advice
Owner Rob Van der Loos has been capturing images of marine life in the region for 35 years.

4. Sumptuous Home-Style Cooking
Fresh local fruits are just the beginning — you might need to loosen your BC!

5. Fewer Divers
Chertan can accommodate 10 guests, but it will run with six.

NEED TO KNOW

When To Go Year-round, with the exception of February, when dive sites might be off-limits because of strong westerlies.

Dive Conditions Water temperatures in summer months can be as high as 84 degrees, and in winter as low as 77 degrees. During the wet season, visibility increases substantially due to the prevailing currents. Even though the wet season lasts for only two to three months, the visibility generally remains high from June to October. November through May, though the visibility drops, seems to offer a different variety of macro subjects.

Operator M/V Chertan (chertan.com). There are five deluxe cabins — all with private bathrooms — for a maximum of 10 passengers.

Price Tag As we went to press, a 10-night charter to Milne Bay with up to four dives per day ran roughly $3,300 per person.

Scuba Diving in Egypt Aboard the Red Sea Aggressor Liveaboard

Friday, October 16th, 2015

I hammered away on my tank to attract the rest of the group’s attention, all the while marveling at the school of 19 hammerheads that was cruising in for a closer look at the invading bubble-blowers. My buddy, Brad, and I were the frontier party — hanging way out in the blue of Daedalus, looking for pelagics — while the others meandered along the sheer coral cliff. Our patience had paid off.

As I swam along, soaking up the magnificent view of these bizarre-looking sharks, with their distinctive meandering swimming motion, I was aware of a tank banger going of repeatedly near the reef. Turning to my right, I was astounded to see a 14-foot manta ray gliding toward me. I quickly snapped of a series of photographs as it breezed past me and turned, heading back out into the deep directly over my head. Watching the ray disappear, I caught Brad’s eye, and we celebrated with much fist-pumping. This is what everyone on board had come to the Red Sea for; this is what Daedalus is all about.

BACK IN THE RED

The Aggressor Fleet has returned to the Red Sea, utilizing the tried-and-tested Suzanna 1 as its liveaboard. Red Sea Aggressor — it is also named Suzanna 1 for a variety of reasons — is a modern, well-appointed yacht, initially launched in 2004. On the itinerary I joined, apart from a lone South African and a British couple, all the divers were from the U.S. or Canada. This is great news for Egypt in today’s climate — North Americans know and trust the Aggressor brand. My dive buddy, Brad Gehrt, had been on several Aggressor and Dancer Fleet vessels, and that helped with his decision to try out Red Sea Aggressor for a week.


Red Sea Aggressor runs two itineraries back to back — north to Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone, beloved by Red Sea aficionados; and south to St. John’s/Fury Shoals — so several of the guests had been on the yacht the week before or were staying on after our trip. It’s a smart marketing idea that’s obviously working — if you’ve traveled this far to get here, why not stay for two weeks? Aggressor also does occasional 10-day specials that take in the best bits of both itineraries.

The 120-foot yacht has been outfitted to the highest standards and offers a comfortable base from which to explore the Red Sea. The salon is sumptuously furnished, and the sun decks have plenty of room for everyone, even on a full charter. Aggressor’s rigid inflatable boats are equipped with boarding ladders to make getting back in easier, and they’re larger than the average Red Sea Zodiacs, so even with 10 divers, it’s not too much of a squeeze.

THE BROTHERS

The Brother Islands — also known as El Akhawein — are two pinnacles that protrude from the Red Sea some 60 miles offshore. There’s nothing else around besides these two barren outcrops that lie about a mile apart, magnets for marine life of all shapes and sizes.

Big Brother — the larger of the two, as the name suggests — is roughly cigar-shaped and approximately 2,500 feet long. It is topped by a British lighthouse, built in 1883, that is manned by military personnel who will sell you an “I Dived the Brothers” T-shirt.

On the north point lies the wreck of the Numidia, one of the most stunning wreck dives in the world. This huge cargo ship ran aground in 1901 and sank down the reef, becoming stuck at an impossibly vertical angle on the sheer wall. The bow has been smashed by constant wave action — the top 32 to 40 feet is broken wreckage, but beyond that the ship is remarkably intact down to the props at 280 feet.

Swept by sometimes strong currents, the Numidia is absolutely smothered in soft-coral growth that drapes over the superstructure, railings and masts. Reef fish swarm over the wreck, and gray reef sharks can be seen circling in the blue, along with the odd barracuda, trevally and tuna. The immense size of the wreck, plus its bizarre orientation, make it a dive not to be missed.
Around the west side of Big Brother lies the wreck of the Aida. This Egyptian transport vessel was bringing supplies to the lighthouse in 1957 when it ran aground and broke in half — the bow was obliterated on the shallow reef; the stern sank into deeper water and lodged upright between 115 and 215 feet. You don’t get long on Aida because of the depth, but it’s covered in soft corals and makes for a dramatic view, disappearing into the deep.

Small Brother lies around a mile away, a circular island surrounded by sheer walls and deep plateaus. Currents sweep onto the north point, bringing nutrient-rich waters, which means the soft-coral growth is phenomenal. And you get sharks. Gray reefs are the most regular visitors, but hammerheads and threshers put in the odd appearance — we saw a couple of hammers, and the other RIB encountered a thresher and a manta ray. The sheer weight of life on Small Brother makes it a smorgasbord of rich, vibrant colors as all the reef fish flutter in and out of sponges, coral heads and reef outcroppings.

DAEDALUS

My past three trips to Daedalus — Abu Kizan in Arabic — had been damp squibs, delivering nothing more exciting than the odd barracuda or trevally. This time around, it totally overshadowed its Big and Small Brothers.

After hearing reports of multiple hammerhead sightings during the previous few weeks, I was quietly harboring hopes for this large, circular reef. I needn’t have worried. The first two dives delivered lone and buddy-team hammerheads doing the odd flyby. But it was on the third dive when it all kicked of: a frenetic 10 minutes of glorious shoaling scalloped hammerhead action, which was topped of by a manta ray’s acrobatic display.

Inevitably, the second day at Daedalus couldn’t hold a candle to our manic first experience. We found the odd hammer, and another manta ray in a brief encounter, but otherwise, everyone was happy to enjoy the bizarrely tranquil conditions and absorb the views along the dramatic sheer walls.

ELPHINSTONE

Moving north to Elphinstone, we were greeted by less than ideal weather conditions. We attempted to moor on the northern plateau, but waves soon snapped a line, and our captain wisely motored to the south plateau to join the other liveaboards already there.

A strong current was running from west to east, but a few of us punched through it and hung at 100 feet, scanning the blue for any “men in gray suits.” Just as we were about to give up, we caught sight of two large dolphins, and then another four or five swept overhead and around us. The mammals put on a bit of a show, effortlessly darting here and there on the current-ripped plateau before heading of into the blue.

We drifted with the current down the east wall, keeping an eye on the blue for any pelagics that might show up. Alas, it was not to be, and conditions on the surface had deteriorated, so the cruise director called it quits.

All in all, it’s great to see Aggressor back in the Red Sea, and judging by this trip, a rosy future is guaranteed for this high-end liveaboard. As for me, I can’t wait to dive the southern itinerary.

Pyramid in Egypt

Scott Johnson

Ancient History and Mystery

Egypt’s ancient allure is both topside and below the surface of the Red Sea.

FIVE REASONS TO CHOOSE RED SEA AGGRESSOR

01 Get Wrecked
I defy any diver not to be blown away by the vertical wrecks of Numidia and Aida.

02 Sharks and More Sharks
These offshore marine parks are famous for their shark encounters, including gray reef, hammerhead, oceanic whitetip, thresher, and even the occasional tiger and whale sharks.

03 Catch My Drift
Due to their location in the middle of the Red Sea, the Brothers and Daedalus can sometimes be swept by extremely strong currents — get ready to put on your best Superman pose as you fly along the sheer walls.

04 Remoteness
For most of the itinerary you will not have any cellphone signal; after all, you’re here to get away from life’s hustle and bustle. (Yes, there is a satellite phone available if you must.)

05 Culture Vulture
You can’t travel all the way to Egypt and not venture out to some of the ancient attractions. The Aggressor team can assist with visits to the Pyramids and Valley of the Kings, and cruises down the River Nile.

NEED TO KNOW

When To GoYear-round, but the better conditions tend to be in summer. Winter can deliver more shark action.

Dive Conditions Summer water temps average 84 degrees, so a
 3 mm shorty or wetsuit is sufficient. In winter, temps can drop to 73 degrees, so a 7 mm suit (or drysuit) is a better option. Entries and exits from the RIBs can be rough; being comfortable with back rolls and negative descents is a plus.

Logistics Red Sea Aggressor departs from Port Ghalib, near Marsa Alam. There are numerous fights into Hurghada, about a four-hour minibus transfer from the marina, or you can get on a scheduled fight into Marsa Alam International Airport.

Operator Red Sea Aggressor (aggressor.com) can take 20 passengers and 12 crew.

Price Tag Deluxe staterooms start from $1,899.

Scuba Diving in Egypt Aboard the Red Sea Aggressor Liveaboard

Friday, October 16th, 2015

I hammered away on my tank to attract the rest of the group’s attention, all the while marveling at the school of 19 hammerheads that was cruising in for a closer look at the invading bubble-blowers. My buddy, Brad, and I were the frontier party — hanging way out in the blue of Daedalus, looking for pelagics — while the others meandered along the sheer coral cliff. Our patience had paid off.

As I swam along, soaking up the magnificent view of these bizarre-looking sharks, with their distinctive meandering swimming motion, I was aware of a tank banger going of repeatedly near the reef. Turning to my right, I was astounded to see a 14-foot manta ray gliding toward me. I quickly snapped of a series of photographs as it breezed past me and turned, heading back out into the deep directly over my head. Watching the ray disappear, I caught Brad’s eye, and we celebrated with much fist-pumping. This is what everyone on board had come to the Red Sea for; this is what Daedalus is all about.

BACK IN THE RED

The Aggressor Fleet has returned to the Red Sea, utilizing the tried-and-tested Suzanna 1 as its liveaboard. Red Sea Aggressor — it is also named Suzanna 1 for a variety of reasons — is a modern, well-appointed yacht, initially launched in 2004. On the itinerary I joined, apart from a lone South African and a British couple, all the divers were from the U.S. or Canada. This is great news for Egypt in today’s climate — North Americans know and trust the Aggressor brand. My dive buddy, Brad Gehrt, had been on several Aggressor and Dancer Fleet vessels, and that helped with his decision to try out Red Sea Aggressor for a week.


Red Sea Aggressor runs two itineraries back to back — north to Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone, beloved by Red Sea aficionados; and south to St. John’s/Fury Shoals — so several of the guests had been on the yacht the week before or were staying on after our trip. It’s a smart marketing idea that’s obviously working — if you’ve traveled this far to get here, why not stay for two weeks? Aggressor also does occasional 10-day specials that take in the best bits of both itineraries.

The 120-foot yacht has been outfitted to the highest standards and offers a comfortable base from which to explore the Red Sea. The salon is sumptuously furnished, and the sun decks have plenty of room for everyone, even on a full charter. Aggressor’s rigid inflatable boats are equipped with boarding ladders to make getting back in easier, and they’re larger than the average Red Sea Zodiacs, so even with 10 divers, it’s not too much of a squeeze.

THE BROTHERS

The Brother Islands — also known as El Akhawein — are two pinnacles that protrude from the Red Sea some 60 miles offshore. There’s nothing else around besides these two barren outcrops that lie about a mile apart, magnets for marine life of all shapes and sizes.

Big Brother — the larger of the two, as the name suggests — is roughly cigar-shaped and approximately 2,500 feet long. It is topped by a British lighthouse, built in 1883, that is manned by military personnel who will sell you an “I Dived the Brothers” T-shirt.

On the north point lies the wreck of the Numidia, one of the most stunning wreck dives in the world. This huge cargo ship ran aground in 1901 and sank down the reef, becoming stuck at an impossibly vertical angle on the sheer wall. The bow has been smashed by constant wave action — the top 32 to 40 feet is broken wreckage, but beyond that the ship is remarkably intact down to the props at 280 feet.

Swept by sometimes strong currents, the Numidia is absolutely smothered in soft-coral growth that drapes over the superstructure, railings and masts. Reef fish swarm over the wreck, and gray reef sharks can be seen circling in the blue, along with the odd barracuda, trevally and tuna. The immense size of the wreck, plus its bizarre orientation, make it a dive not to be missed.
Around the west side of Big Brother lies the wreck of the Aida. This Egyptian transport vessel was bringing supplies to the lighthouse in 1957 when it ran aground and broke in half — the bow was obliterated on the shallow reef; the stern sank into deeper water and lodged upright between 115 and 215 feet. You don’t get long on Aida because of the depth, but it’s covered in soft corals and makes for a dramatic view, disappearing into the deep.

Small Brother lies around a mile away, a circular island surrounded by sheer walls and deep plateaus. Currents sweep onto the north point, bringing nutrient-rich waters, which means the soft-coral growth is phenomenal. And you get sharks. Gray reefs are the most regular visitors, but hammerheads and threshers put in the odd appearance — we saw a couple of hammers, and the other RIB encountered a thresher and a manta ray. The sheer weight of life on Small Brother makes it a smorgasbord of rich, vibrant colors as all the reef fish flutter in and out of sponges, coral heads and reef outcroppings.

DAEDALUS

My past three trips to Daedalus — Abu Kizan in Arabic — had been damp squibs, delivering nothing more exciting than the odd barracuda or trevally. This time around, it totally overshadowed its Big and Small Brothers.

After hearing reports of multiple hammerhead sightings during the previous few weeks, I was quietly harboring hopes for this large, circular reef. I needn’t have worried. The first two dives delivered lone and buddy-team hammerheads doing the odd flyby. But it was on the third dive when it all kicked of: a frenetic 10 minutes of glorious shoaling scalloped hammerhead action, which was topped of by a manta ray’s acrobatic display.

Inevitably, the second day at Daedalus couldn’t hold a candle to our manic first experience. We found the odd hammer, and another manta ray in a brief encounter, but otherwise, everyone was happy to enjoy the bizarrely tranquil conditions and absorb the views along the dramatic sheer walls.

ELPHINSTONE

Moving north to Elphinstone, we were greeted by less than ideal weather conditions. We attempted to moor on the northern plateau, but waves soon snapped a line, and our captain wisely motored to the south plateau to join the other liveaboards already there.

A strong current was running from west to east, but a few of us punched through it and hung at 100 feet, scanning the blue for any “men in gray suits.” Just as we were about to give up, we caught sight of two large dolphins, and then another four or five swept overhead and around us. The mammals put on a bit of a show, effortlessly darting here and there on the current-ripped plateau before heading of into the blue.

We drifted with the current down the east wall, keeping an eye on the blue for any pelagics that might show up. Alas, it was not to be, and conditions on the surface had deteriorated, so the cruise director called it quits.

All in all, it’s great to see Aggressor back in the Red Sea, and judging by this trip, a rosy future is guaranteed for this high-end liveaboard. As for me, I can’t wait to dive the southern itinerary.

Pyramid in Egypt

Scott Johnson

Ancient History and Mystery

Egypt’s ancient allure is both topside and below the surface of the Red Sea.

FIVE REASONS TO CHOOSE RED SEA AGGRESSOR

01 Get Wrecked
I defy any diver not to be blown away by the vertical wrecks of Numidia and Aida.

02 Sharks and More Sharks
These offshore marine parks are famous for their shark encounters, including gray reef, hammerhead, oceanic whitetip, thresher, and even the occasional tiger and whale sharks.

03 Catch My Drift
Due to their location in the middle of the Red Sea, the Brothers and Daedalus can sometimes be swept by extremely strong currents — get ready to put on your best Superman pose as you fly along the sheer walls.

04 Remoteness
For most of the itinerary you will not have any cellphone signal; after all, you’re here to get away from life’s hustle and bustle. (Yes, there is a satellite phone available if you must.)

05 Culture Vulture
You can’t travel all the way to Egypt and not venture out to some of the ancient attractions. The Aggressor team can assist with visits to the Pyramids and Valley of the Kings, and cruises down the River Nile.

NEED TO KNOW

When To GoYear-round, but the better conditions tend to be in summer. Winter can deliver more shark action.

Dive Conditions Summer water temps average 84 degrees, so a
 3 mm shorty or wetsuit is sufficient. In winter, temps can drop to 73 degrees, so a 7 mm suit (or drysuit) is a better option. Entries and exits from the RIBs can be rough; being comfortable with back rolls and negative descents is a plus.

Logistics Red Sea Aggressor departs from Port Ghalib, near Marsa Alam. There are numerous fights into Hurghada, about a four-hour minibus transfer from the marina, or you can get on a scheduled fight into Marsa Alam International Airport.

Operator Red Sea Aggressor (aggressor.com) can take 20 passengers and 12 crew.

Price Tag Deluxe staterooms start from $1,899.

Party Like a Pirate aboard the Blackbeard’s Bahamas Sailboat

Friday, August 14th, 2015

Instructor Eitan Newman is perched behind Sea Explorer’s wheel, dressed in what looks like the top half of a Left Shark costume.

“In case you don’t see any other sharks,” he offers, before beginning his briefing on a highlight of Blackbeard’s Bahamas adventures: lunch with the sharks at a site of the foot of Eleuthera called Split Coral Head.

Newman need not have worried. Before we even splash in, one brand-new diver is nervously peering over the side, hollering, “There are sharks down there!”

Blackbeard Bahamas Shark Diving

Alex Bean

Caribbean reef sharks circle the “chumsicle”, as Blackbeard’s divers eagerly look on.

No kidding. By the time our entire complement of 21 divers is arrayed on the sand beneath our 65-foot sailboat, eight to 10 Caribbean reef sharks are circling. This ain’t their first rodeo — they know what’s coming. Like an underwater New Year’s ball-drop, a large chumsicle begins its stately descent down the line, guided by a now more appropriately outfitted Newman. The sharks are beautiful, gliding through clear water and long shafts of sunlight, a serene yet still awe-inspiring scene — that is until one hooks a tooth in the frozen chum, and all heck breaks loose. It’s only a momentary frenzy, but it gets everybody’s adrenaline up, sharks and humans, before the experience concludes with a free-for-all hunt for shark teeth, the only thing you’re allowed to take with you from this pristine underwater realm.

YO HO, YO HO
Blackbeard’s sloops aren’t like most liveaboards. The 55-ton sailboats have berths for up to 22 divers and five crew. This is boat camping. Primitive boat camping — to say that quarters are close is to say that the Sistine Chapel has a pretty nice ceiling. But the food is fantastic, plentiful and delicious — it’s like Mom came camping too! — and the young crew, while professional and task-oriented, is friendly and fun- loving. The weeklong dive party is great for solo or younger divers, or the young at heart: Our trip included wannabe buccaneers from 12 to 70-something, from grizzled dive vets to families just getting certified.

Blackbeard’s slogan is “Twice the fun … half the cost,” and that’s literally true: Two luxury liveaboards ply the same sites you will, except those divers are paying more than twice as much to submerge at lovely spots like Monolith, of Eleuthera. Its namesake is a sweet little pinnacle at 80 feet or so, a perfect Cleopatra’s Needle perched at the edge of one of the Bahamas’ trademark plunging walls, easy to circle round and round until you’ve covered every inch. Zigzag back up toward an eel garden on the sand — stalking them is good pirate practice — or fin across a coral gulch and watch the wall recede beneath you.

Sunny, relaxing, easy-peasy — that pretty much describes the diving in Exuma Sound and of southern Eleuthera. Intriguing terrain beckons everywhere, from room-size coral heads like Tunnel Rock, pocked with swim-throughs wide enough for giant loggerhead turtles to join you, to lovely little bommies at Lobster No Lobster, southeast of Nassau, that unfold for your inspection like the petals of a flower. Reefs are cut through with sand channels that sometimes run right of the wall and into the abyss, as at Cut Through City, or lead to secret small caves, as at Madison Avenue.

THE YIN AND THE YANG
That’s the Blackbeard’s twist: low rent, big payoff. You’re diving the same sites as those luxe liveaboards, three to four times a day, but you’ll be berthed in dorm-style bunks, where you can neither sit up nor perhaps fully stretch out. The food’s great, but you’ll be balancing your plate on your knees, wherever you can find on deck to perch. (No one said the pirate life was easy.)

But it’s more than that. You might feel closer to the sea and sky — and stars — on a sailboat than you ever have, which makes for unforgettable moments, like when someone hollers, “Fish on!” and everybody rushes the stern in time to see a flash of aqua running along the port side.

It’s a mahi. Our jubilation is premature — after a brief struggle, the fish slips the line and gets away at the last second. Five minutes later some- body yells, “Pilot whales!” There’s a whole pod on our stern as we start to make the four-hour crossing from the Exumas to Eleuthera; they don’t stick around either. “We’re being teased,” says first mate Chris Lawrenson.

On another evening we’re gifted with the elusive green flash at sunset — just a tiny emerald nugget, but it was there. Forty-five minutes later a glowing orange moon rises over the bow, where divers cluster in small groups, laughing and talking softly, enjoying the rum punch that flows freely once the day’s dives are done. A beach bonfire near Cape Eleuthera on our only port night turns into the best party I’ve been to in years. And nobody wanted to go home after the final night’s bash with the crew at a Nassau bar with an unreal house band — “the best dive of the week,” said one graybeard.

A pirate’s life indeed.

NEED TO KNOW

WHEN TO GO
The Bahamas is a year-round dive destination; Blackbeard’s itineraries are weather-dependent, so you may dive any of dozens of sites off Nassau, the northern Exumas or southern Eleuthera.

DIVE CONDITIONS
Water temps range from 72 to 77°F in January, when a 5 mm might not be too heavy, to 81 to 85°F July to September, when a bathing suit will suffice.

OPERATOR
Blackbeard’s Cruises (blackbeard-cruises.com) operates two 65- foot sloops, Sea Explorer and Morning Star; each has 18 dorm-style bunks. Weeklong cruises include all meals and beverages (alcoholic and non) and up to 19 dives per week, fewer if weather permits extras like a run down to Staniel Cay to snorkel the beautiful Thunderball Grotto, featured in the James Bond movie of the same name, or to visit the famous swimming pigs of nearby Big Major Cay.

PRICE TAG
It’s $979 per week per person, not including port fees and crew tip.