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Sorry for the delay on this one!  Finally, here’s my trip report from the holiday I took with my fiance, Gerry, to Tobago, 13-27 November 2003.

I’m not going to go into immense detail about our journey out there, suffice to say that the extra baggage allowance was put to best measure by taking every possible bit of kit with us!

Originally, we were booked to stay at the Rex Turtle Beach hotel but just two weeks before our departure, Hayes & Jarvis advised us that the hotel was ‘closed’ and so we’d have to go elsewhere.  They tried to palm us off with a cheap dodgy-looking gaff but I was having none of it and so we found ourselves checking in to the glorious, but somewhat secluded, Blue Waters Inn in the Speyside region of the island.

The hotel is a haven for divers and bird watchers and, to be fair, there ain’t a lot else to do anyway so that’s just as well!  The dive facility was called Aquamarine Dive and is located in the hotel with its own jetty and two dive boats.  The DMs were a great bunch of guys who also looked after us après dive with trips to local haunts such as the Banana Boat on a Friday night (an experience which must be had by all!).

Before I describe the dive sites, I’d like to give you a little perspective on this holiday in case I seem a bit over-enthusiastic!  I had 46 dives under my belt before the trip, gained mainly in North Cyprus, the Red Sea, the English Channel and Stoney Cove.  I am no expert diver, I enjoy warm water diving for the thrill of undersea encounters and for Gerry to practice snapping away with his underwater digital camera.  Neither of us had previously encountered large pelagics and only had had one experience with a turtle.  I hope this will explain my excitement when talking about each dive site below!

Spiney Colony/Spiney Bay:
We visited this site twice. Firstly because we were told that was where we were going and the second time because I hungered to go back before the end of the holiday as it was the best site I’ve ever dived!  On the first dive, labelled in my logbook as “most amazing dive ever”, we descended to 20m and swam along with the shallow part of the reef to our left and the deep blue to our right.  Within about seven minutes, we found a really large hawksbill turtle resting on the reef as if waiting for us to come along and take some pictures!  It was around 6ft in length with a head the size of two footballs!  Absolutely gorgeous.  We then continued on our leisurely swim along the reef, then from behind us we heard “tap tap” of an excited tank-banger…. As I looked around behind me, the most magnificent thing I’ve ever seen in my life appeared – a MANTA RAY!!!!!!!  It was flying right towards us and was the most majestic undersea creature I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing.  At one point I was worried that it would just fly right into me as it was heading straight at us, but just as it came close enough, it tilted upwards and literally ‘presented’ itself to us in all its glory!  We got a full-on frontal view of its pure white underside and then it was gone, but not before Gerry got the photograph of his life!  It was around 9ft wide and 12ft long and it was the first manta the guys at the diving centre had encountered at sea in around three months (though one had been kind enough to spend an hour in shore at the hotel).

So for our last dive of the holiday, I suggested we go back there.  This was met with funny looks by the other divers on the boat who hadn’t been there and hadn’t heard about our experience nearly two weeks earlier, but I said I’d buy them all a Carib if they’d at least humour me.  So off we went again, me hoping and praying for a similar experience….  This time, we had a similar meeting with a smaller hawksbill which really made the rest of the group chuffed (and me a sigh of relief that we had found at least something!).  Then I literally nearly filled my wetsuit with physical excitement as I looked over my right shoulder into the deep blue and spotted a bloody great HAMMERHEAD SHARK!!!!!!!  I reached instinctively for my trusty BCD rattle and was trembling so much I could barely manage to tap it lightly.  Luckily, Gerry then saw it and signalled to the rest of the group who, like me, watched in awe as it swam straight past us into the distance.  I cannot begin to explain how exhilarating this was for me and I really was shaking like a leaf out of pure excitement for about ten minutes afterwards.  The shark itself was around 14ft in length and we were told it is unusual to see one around that area (normally you have to venture out to the Sisters Rocks – see below).  In addition, we later saw two small stingrays on the seabed though I spent much of the rest of the dive scanning the big blue to our right for any more surprises!

Coral Gardens (aka Kelleston Drain):
Coral gardens or Kelleston Drain is home to the world’s largest brain coral and we visited this site once at the start of the holiday.  It was our first dive and I always get a huge bout of nerves when diving new places and so had my signature coughing fit on the way down.  No real problems but it’s bloody uncomfortable.  The site is stunning with a variety of hard corals to look at as well as the brain which we encountered about half-way through our forty minute expedition.  There were large French Angelfish and giant spiney lobsters hidden under ledges.  We also saw a stingray camouflaging itself on a sandy patch.

Black Jack Hole:
We visited this site twice and on both occasions found lots of large moray eels poking out from the reef as well as a queen triggerfish attacking a rock on the sea bed.  The sea was quite rough on both occasions making it bloody difficult to get back on the boat – this was made even more difficult by the stinging plankton which were feasting on my shortie-clad legs!

Bookends:
As the name suggests, this is a dive site based around two rocks which looks like bookends and can be seen from some areas of the shore.  To avoid the choppy surface, we did negative entries both times that we visited this site.  The first dive there was described by our DM as ‘boring’ as we didn’t see anything amazing, but then it is easy to get complacent when diving in such nutrient rich waters that guarantee an abundance of sea-life every time!  Lots of spiney lobsters (honestly, they are massive and again I have some great pictures of them).  The second visit to this site was a little more interesting – another hawksbill, lots of blue-headed wrasse and squirrelfish and a couple of smooth trunkfish (yes, I did take an ID book with me!).  As we looked above us, we could see a school of tarpon which look scarily similar to small sharks – they hung in the water above our heads, just making sure we weren’t encroaching on their territory too much I guess…  I’d suggest to anyone visiting this site that they do it a couple of times as it did seem almost like two completely different sites when we were there.

Picker:
First injury of the holiday!  Aquamarine’s boat entries are along the lines of “on the count of three, please all throw yourselves in” and this was pretty effective most of the time.  However, Gerry always let everyone else go first so that he could make sure he didn’t land on anyone and generally this too was pretty effective.  Until he didn’t see me beneath the surface until it was too late and I took the full force of his tank on my right thigh.  Gorgeous big black/purple/red/yellow bruise for the next three weeks but incredibly grateful it was my thigh and not my skull!  The site itself was a really good fast drift.  Most dive sites in Tobago are drifts but this really was a goodie where you could literally just go with the flow.  Yet another hawksbill, lots more French Angelfish and morays and again, seven or eight turbot above us, glinting in the sunlight.  Apparently, it is literally guaranteed that you will encounter sharks at this site, but we were unlucky this time.

The Alps:
Literally an underwater mountain range as the name suggests.  And this was where I saw my first shark (we dived this before the fab dive at Spiney Bay).  It was a sleeping nurse shark, wedged into a ledge in one of the rocks.  I was a bit nervy and so wouldn’t get too close, but I could see it breathing and the fact that it was around 12ft long.  Close enough for me!  Later on in the dive, we were circled and followed (and possibly befriended!) by a large barracuda.  It kept coming right up to us and having a good look at our faces before swimming away then circling back.  Slightly nerve-wracking but still a beautiful fish!  Oh yeah, and we saw ANOTHER hawksbill!

Angel Reef:
A beautiful dive site, very colourful and again teaming with sea-life.  I stayed relatively shallow on this dive and the previous nights après-dive bottles of Carib were reeking havoc with my equalisation skills so I can only really remember seeing lots of large French Angelfish and a huge stingray on the sea bed!  Gerry went right down to the stingray and has an amazing photograph of it from the front.

Cathedral:
This site is exactly how I’ve always imagined diving in an aquarium to be!  It was just full to brimming with so many different species of fish – parrotfish, French Angelfish (they really are everywhere in Tobago), a cute secretary blenny darting backwards into its hole as I approached, pufferfish and so much more.  There’s a good drift here too so you are carried over the reef which is just like a big garden of tube and brain coral.

Japanese Gardens:
The vis wasn’t great here but we had had a lot of rain so I expect this didn’t help.  However, it certainly wasn’t what I’m used to at Stoney!  There is a strong drift which takes you through a relatively narrow canyon full of trumpetfish and shrimps.  Very beautiful tube corals to see as well as pretty spectacular rock formations.

Sisters Rocks:
We, along with about eight other members of “the manta ray divers” as we became nicknamed after our visit to Spiney Bay, convinced Aquamarine to take us on the 30-minute boat ride out to the Sisters Rocks which are situated around the island from Speyside.  All the guide books suggest you’ll see schools of hammerheads here (but then again, they also say you’ll say mantas on 70% of Speyside dives which simply isn’t true!).  The Sisters is a collection of rocky pinnacles rising from the sea bed and can be seen from land.  We descended to around 30m to escape the strong currents and unfortunately did not encounter the hammerheads.  The coral isn’t as colourful nor the sealife as abundant as the Speyside sites, but it was still an enjoyable site to dive and I imagine it would be good to explore on four or five occasions rather than one.  There are some good drifts around here but the vis wasn’t so great at shallower depths.  For a change, we did swim alongside another hawksbill though!

St Giles Drift:
This too is a short boat ride away from the Blue Waters Inn so we dived it on the way back from the Sisters.  It’s also known as South St Guiles and is a collection of rocky boulders and coral tubes with a really colourful reef leading down to a sandy seabed.  We found a huge spiney lobster hiding under a rock ledge at the sea bed and it came right out to pose for a fab photo.  A gigantic moray eel completed the dive which was much like diving in a beautiful garden.

TD Special:
The rest of “the manta ray divers” had left us by this time and we were diving with some much less friendly people (shan’t name nationalities here but will avoid diving with them ever again!!).  Despite the fact that this was stunningly beautiful site and we encountered a black tipped reef shark (which I, as you’d expect, was very excited about!), one of the group emerged form the dive sarcastically stating “you call that special?”.  Pure ignorance if you ask me but hey ho, I didn’t let it ruin it for me!  Lots of pink squirrelfish and a French Angelfish being accompanied on her journey by a large trumpetfish.

Home Reef:
We did a couple of shore dives from the hotel but the currents were really strong and unpredictable and we ended up in ‘washing machines’ and in areas we were meant to steer clear of as we were simply getting swept away!  However, a beautiful reef can be found off the shore here and we found a family of around six or seven absolutely bloody huge colourful parrotfish who were demolishing rocks and coral with their massive teeth at every opportunity!  A real site to behold and very enjoyable despite the shallow depths and dangerous currents.

Overall, we had a great time – the diving was amazing and I’m sure you can tell that I have fond memories.  The hotel and dive school staff were all rally friendly and helpful and our only downside was that we really had underestimated just how secluded this hotel is!  That said, I wouldn’t change a thing!

As I said, Gerry managed to capture quite a lot of our memories on his digital camera and we’ll shortly be uploading them to our website so I’ll pass on the website name as soon as it’s ready.  If you would like to see them in the meantime, just email me!
 

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Hi Lesley. Thanks for sharing the highlights of your trip with us. Tobago is a lovely island and the diving is better than anywhere else in the Caribbean that I've been to. Speyside is a bit quiet but it's a lovely place and the Blue Waters Inn is very nice. I haven't stayed there but ate lunch there every day when I was in Tobago (10-12 years ago). I didn't see any hammerheads but did see several mantas. I really must go back.
 
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