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Seeing as some of you have asked me to submit a dive report on my recent two week dive-fest in Tobago, here we go.............

The Manchester to Gatwick flights didn't tie up with our onward flight to Tobago, so we came down the night before and booked into a hotel. Next morning we were squared away early and at the airport in good time; checked-in and the holiday, as far as I was concerned, had begun.......where's the bar?

I remember sitting in the smoking section of the Business Lounge and musing on a BA in-flight mag I'd nicked on a flight the week before to Frankfurt (because it had an article about Tobago in it) and smiled when looking at a map of the island and seeing that its capital is named 'Scarborough' - if only they knew. I hadn't flown on a charter aircraft since a package holiday in the 80s (Majorca), so I didn't know what to expect on this Monarch Airlines Airbus A330 flight.

Luckily we'd booked Premium seats (daft no to when they only cost an extra £200 each return!) and when we checked in, we'd been given bulk-head seats with yards of leg room and a goodly seat pitch. Great start. Of course the other benefit of booking Premium is that you can, gratis, drink your own weight in whatever your choice of 'sherry' might be. Happy days.

So there we were, chilled out in our seats, waiting for the all clear and to take off, when the captain announces that there is a problem with the fuel pump in one of the wings - oh dear. This rather inglorious start was then compounded by a 3 hour delay whilst flight engineers worked feverishly to get us underway. Now I'm not one to complain - especially when about to embark on a well deserved holiday - but I'm seriously considering putting both a claim and a letter of complaint into my tour operator about this - NOT, as you might think, as a result of the delay - sh*t happens, right? - but the infernal three hours sitting in transit occasioned us to be sat next to probably the most boring couple in Christendom (questions to the nature of "Do you think they'll have proper toilets?"; five minutes with them and we'd lost the will to live; three hours should really see the wife and I up for a hardship posting medal of some descript.

Heigh-ho. Omwards. we re-embarked and the show was on the road.

I have to state here, that in all my years of flying to places in the far-flung, rarely have I come across air stewardesses who were more want to wait on you hand and foot! Indeed, they worked under the old Yorkshire adage of "Owt for nowt - take TWO!"; swap the 'take' for 'give', and you'll catch my drift.

So, pleasantly p*ssed and with a good meal inside me, I wandered off to sleep - feet up, seat back. I'd only been down about three hours when I awoke, only to be presentled by a rather good looking young lady asking "would you like a drink sir?" It's true: angels do exist.

We had to stop off in Grenada (another future dive destination) for a quick crew change and then were underway again for the 20 minute flight to Tobago. Landing, we went through the somewhat perfunctory customs check and out to get our ride to the Hilton. No half-measures: we'd booked a jacuzi suite. Sorry, but my days spent renting beach-front cabanas for thru'pence-ha'penny a night are long gone. Incedentally, for any of you golf-wallahs reading this, the Hilton has a gloriously pristine PGA 18-hole golf course in site. Alas, when it comes to Golf, I'm with Oscar Wilde: "it's a good walk ruined".

Straight to the room; room service; kip.

Jet-lag had taken over and we didn't know whether it was New York or New Year, meaning that we up at sparrow-fart the next morning and heading off to the on-site dive centre - World of Watersports.

1st things 1st (and without getting wet) - Complete the PADI Fill in the 'Even Though You Might Lose a Limb on this Gig, You Can't Touch Us' form Speciality. We'd brought all our own kit so we were off and running. All the locals thought we were mad as snakes for wanting to dive our first day in-country, but hey. I'd booked a mixture of two and three tank dives on Nitrox for the whole gig, but they'd forgotten and we spent the 1st day on air. Rikki, the dive centre manager cut me a deal for Nitrox of &#368 a tank, so a result straight off the bat.

First dive was called Mount Irvine Extension (a dive we would return to a couple of times on the tour) on the Caribbean side of the island, with a max depth of about 22 metres. Virtually all diving in Tobago is drift diving, and this proved the rule here with a goodly amount of surge to boot. Descending to about 15 metres we were met by two turtles romping round the coral heads and heading for the crevices at the base of a drop-off. Good start. Following the little beggars to the sand at the base of the crevices I was brought up short by the site of a spider crab......a very big spider crab......this dude was carry a flick-knife, wearing a bandana and had tattoes........and riding a Harley (OK, so I lied about the last bit). The shell alone was over (I sh*t you not!) two feet wide and the pincers were as thick as my arm. The legs were each about 1.5 metres long and folded under the beast. Got to admit to an initial 'Tanner, Half-a-Crown, Dustbin-lid' on 1st site - I'd never seen any crabs this shape before - and so hovered above it examining it. Deep in my reverie, I'd completely missed a second one directly underneath it, which was only slightly smaller. I could just picture what the crabs were thinking: "Oh great! We've come here for a bunk-up and all we get is goggle-eyed divers".

Next dive was Mount Irvine Wall. Shallower at 15-17 metres to the sand but with great walls to dive around. They contained deep crevices, swims-through and some shallow caves to wander around in. I have to say that where ever El Nino (El Nina?) was in 1998, it wasn't in Tobago - the hard corals were huge and plentiful. Tube corals were big and in clumps and, with the exception of South Africa, I've never seen so many different types, colours and sizes of spunges.

The DMs on the boat, Andre (Tobago's national champion kick-boxer) and Soloman (Solly) were a right pair of wags and helped the boat's company enjoy the whole morning's diving. These two would be with us for the whole tour and were superb company.

That night, not unreasonably I thought, we went out with a gorgeous couple of girls who'd been on the boat with us - got trashed and partied the night away.

Next day, a small breakfast and a Resolve later (and THANK GOD FOR NITROX!!), we did the 1st of the tour's three dives on the wreck of the 'MV Maverick', formerly the MV Scarlet Ibis. This is a 390 ft (106m) long former Roll-On-Roll-Off (RoRo) ferry which used to ply the waters between Trinidad and Tobago; she lies at 34 metres to the sand. Down the shot to the stern car deck and into the cavernous car hold deck. We shined our torches in and were met with three massive shoals of Jacks, Sweetlips and bait-fish. There were also some patrolling single grouper and snapper in residence also. The whole deck is covered in large clams that close in synchronised ballet as you run your torch beam over them, only to open again once you've passed.

The car deck has purposely cut 2 metre square holes cut in it for deeper penetration (you're at between 24 and 27 metres just on the car deck). My wife is not comfortable doing - how should I say this? - 'deep penetration', so I left that until another dive. We ambled around the open holds and went up on to the fore-decks and had a shufty in through the wheelhouse hatches before making gits of oursleves re-enacting the couple from 'Titanic' and the "King-of-the-World" arse at the bow. Long drop then straight down from the prow to the sand - an eeriely long free-fall as you exhail and then stop by inhailing just before you hit the seabed. Given that it was only put down since 1997, the coral has taken well and it now has some permanent features and a cart-load of fish. I was very much looking forward to coming back twice to do the full sump penetration on her in the days to come.

Next dive was Dutchman's Reef - a very long reef which was well enjoyed at about 3 knots!! And that was by no means the fastest current we had whilst there. Plenty going on and a ruck of Nurse Sharks and Sting Rays.

Next day, round to the Atlantic side of the island for Flying Reef and Sting Ray Alley. Flying Reef did not disappoint - we were cooking up five knots at one stage (if you wanted to stop to see anything - forget it). So, in head-down-feet-up, legs crossed and arms folded trim, we raced along at a screaming rate.

So on to The Sisters up near and just off Castara Bay, again on the Carabbean side - an outcrop of five large pinnacles coming from a depth of over 50 metres. The currents in and out of these puppies can whip up quick, so we all decended to 30 metres and re-grouped. Excellent gullies, crevices, plateaux and coral heads. It was here that I 1st saw an eel that I've seen nowhere else and what I think was sea snake. Going in close we managed to ruffle the feathers of both a free-swimming and 'cottaged' moray - big thick brown buggers to boot. All three dives here were different - even though they were in such close proximity to each other. There is a disproportionate amount of large Brain coral in Tobago, and a lot of it showed up here. Because of the angle of the rocks, bolders and chasms, the light here can vary wildly - one minute it's like someone switched on the light with viz of 25+ metres; the next it's like you're at Stoney, only in gloriously warm water, surge and drift. Lots of caves and overhangs to bimble around in here too. NEVER dull.

It was on the 2nd dive here - whilst down at 21 metres after 58 minutes - that we Christened one American girl on the boat 'Suicide Sister'. Whilst at this depth I asked to look at her gauge after some of the chuggers had already ascended with one of the three DMs on the dive: she had less than 10 bar!!! I signalled to the nearest DM and he had a look. He asked to to do 3 at 5 (or nearest bet)and she went bailing to the surface with out stopping - you can see why the name stuck for the duration of the tour. True to form she got a mild hit that night and felt like she was still on the boat. She called our room and asked us (my wife's a nurse) would we please come down and look her over. I took my computer down with my depths, dive times, no-fly and de-sat periods on it and gave her a few neurological tests. She 'appeared' to be OK and judging from my computer, I gave her just over an hour before she should get worried if the symptoms hadn't either halved or gone away. She was good within the hour and out on the pop with us later that night. Luckily, after me asking her to, she sat the next day out.

Then back to the Maverick. This time full penetration and sumps - all points deep and inaccessible. A racing free-fall descent on to the wreck and we quickly found one of the penetration points on the cavernous inner car deck.

Now we've all been 'Thistlegorm-ed': 30 boats at the site and Christ knows how many divers (of varying degrees of capability, flappability and experience) all going large and making the dive a general malaise. Well this is the complete antithesis of that kind of gig. All the other divers were taken on a routine shufty around the exterior and upper decks of the ship. Just me and one DM went for the true interior. Torches on, we decended into the mirky darkness.

We went 1st into the midships pump room where you could still see some of the damage done when she was dynamited when they put her down - minimal damage and they must have used shape-charges. The ship had been surgically cleaned before going under, so there was only a minimal amount of struts, pipes, fittings, hanging wires and loose debris. I did notice, though, that you could descend a further couple of metres into the bilges should you want, but there was nothing but silt to see in the pitch black down there. By turns it was both reassuringly roomy and constricted - especially when we took the Engineers companionway up towards the smoke-stack. Not before we had done the Engine room, where there appeared to be many cubby holes, store rooms and ancillary spaces off both port and starbord sides of the hull. The inner bulkhead safety doors had also been removed offering us a glimpse into further stretches of the holds; these housed thousands of small fish which lit up with a sweep of your torch beam - an amazing site.

One of the divers on this dive used his air up in 14 minutes and came up with less than twenty bar (didn't listen to the dive briefing to signal at both 100 and 50)! Another lost his weight belt (one of the DMs!). We managed 50 mins with safety stop and well worth it.

Then upto Speyside, at the top (N,NE) side of the island. This is where you find the cross-currents (washing machine effect) that fly between the main island and Little Tobago and Goat Island, where Ian Fleming - the James Bond author - built his house 'Golden Eye'(nice gaff too), which the film was named after. If you're not careful here, you can find yourself in a down current which might take you into the Big Blue.

We started with Coral Garden (name says it all and a genuine delight) and the dive ended at a place called Kelliston Drain (the world's largest recorded out-crop of Brain Coral). The Brain coral is massive and has a resident Nurse shark chilling under its canopy.

I can not emphasise enough here that the currents (Speyside) are strong and not for the complete novice - approx 3 to 5 knots. As you know, trying to fin against anything above 3 knots (unless in extremis) is both task loading and tiring (apart from making you chug air). That said, they were still not the fastest currents and surge we encountered!

The next dive at Speyside was Japanese Gardens (with its Ninja Turtles) which culminated in 'Kamikazee Cut' - the name should have warned us. The dive opened with a superb drift at speed over some very highly coloured coral formations, 'honeycombs' and reef fish and carried on in the same vein. The dive ended with the DM frantically trying to attract everyone's attention to make a very sharp right hand fin-blast (across current) for two massive bolders. If you missed this turn or couldn't keep up - as one girl did and went tanking into the coral - then the dive might have been over. Luckily, the dive centre we dived with usually had 3 DMs on every dive: one taking point; one taking mid-drift and one on tail-end Cahrlie duty. She was retrieved and placed in to what felt like the Earth's gravitational pull between the two bolders - dragging you out of the current you were already in!. F*ck-me was it strong - again, head down, feet up, legs crossed and arms folded (keeping as much of you and any dangling kit away from the reef as possible) and just let it take you!! Dude, what a rush!

We all then re-grouped on the other side (a distance of some 50 metres) and caught the next current and off we went!

I could go on (and I know some of you will be thinking 'please don't') about Arnos Vale and other sites, but I'll finish on the strongest current we got into - so bad the DMs binned the dive after 25 mins (and me still with 140 left in my tank :-(

'Cove' (back on the Atlantic side) was the dive that had the chuggers out of the water in quick sticks. Any DM trying to hold together a group of mixed experience divers on this gig was never gonna happen. Those that know how to dive current (to slow down and wait for the group, fin gently - not like you're trying to make headway against it, just hold station - across, or slightly into the current will act a 'brake' whilst the others regroup or come closer to you - assuming you're all in a moderate line) loved this dive. Alas, the majority of the troop were struggling and well spread out and we ran the risk of losing line of sight with them. So the DM called it. Still a massive hoot though.

The rest of the dives were revisits (none the worse for it though) and it allowed us to look at the smaller things I'd not seen before - anywhere. Fireworms, sea-snakes and, on the last dive (88 mins at 11 metres) I saw three octopi and two big Stone Fish just by going slowly and taking it easy 6 inches above the coral.

I won't relay the story of how one of the divers on the boat took a smoke of some the 'local' tobacco one night and ended up getting up to go to the loo at 04.30 hrs, mistook the hotel room door for the bathroom and, bollock naked, found himself in the corridor with no key to get back in the room!! A swift yomp to reception, covering his dignity, saw the thankfully male receptionist just give him a jaundiced look with the quip "you need a room key, right?"

For night life, check out the Diver's Den; for restaurants, check out Bonkers, The Water Wheel, the Fortuna Chinese (only one on the island) and any number of others - the Hilton also does very good food, both menu and self-service. The food is VERY fresh, VERY tastey, VERY cheap and the combination of spices and gawd-knows what does not give you the 'Ho Chi Mhin Two Step'. Make sure you have the Goat, Lamb and Chicken curries - they are to die for. I never found out what they cooked the Snapper and Dolphin Fish (Mahi Mahi) in - even after I'd told him that I knew where his kids whent to school! - but they were deelish!

World of Watersports (on-site at the Hilton) are a sh*t-hot outfit and also do Catamarans, Tri-marans, Hobby-cats, Toppers and jet-skis. Rikki, who runs it, is from the Channel Islands and has been out there over three years and is a mine of info on the dos and don'ts. We also got to go up country to the rain forests (outstanding amount of bird and other wild life). Two things that every Tobagan hamlet has - no matter how poor it might look - is a Church of one denomination or another, and its own brand of quality 'tobacco'. Not that I, erm, partake of such things. All I will say is that if you want to laugh for 4 hours straight, no matter how bad the jokes - get in amongst it! And don't be put off by the locals playing cricket at major road junctions - you're on holiday after all!

Don't be put off by what I've written about the currents; most dives are easy, chilled and relaxed and full of life and entertainment - you WILL enjoy it.

Farne Islands?? Whitby?? Mablethorpe?? Grimsby?? No. Next time it has to be Scarborough. Isn't that where we came in?

Right, I'm off to bed. Dive safe people.


PS: Like a twat, I didn't get any of the promised photies coz the centre could get hold of a camera and I don't yet possess an underwater unit. Bugger.

(Edited by Bren Tierney at 2:29 pm on July 9, 2002)

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[b said:
Quote[/b] ]Quote: from Dave Williamson on 7:47 am on July 9, 2002
£200 each for comfier seats!!!! kin ell Bren, I don't wanna pay much more than that for my whole holiday....

Top report mate
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True Yorkshireman eh Dave?? :lol:

#### Bren, you probably logged more time in two weeks than I've done in two months! Lucky swine you! Need a scuba lackie on the next one perchance?? ;)

C-in-C the Amphibious Contingent
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Em, you don't need a Frog on the next trip do you?  Hmm?  Please say yes...  :biggrin:
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