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St. Thomas, Saba, (and Tortola)

Discussion in 'Lesser Antilles' started by joewr, Jul 2, 2001.

  1. joewr

    joewr ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives:
    Location: Northern California
    1,754
    35
    48
    Hi, Gang!

    We are back from a month in the Caribbean and we are buried with "catch-up". Hence, I need to make this report a little short...

    We spent our first week on St. Thomas diving with Chris Sawyer. This was a trip down Memory Lane since we were both cerified at his shop. Our digs were at the Point Pleasant Resort, a stone's throw from the dive shop/dock. While not a luxury resort, the Point is a nice set of condos and we found them more than satisfactory. If you like informal food, try the take out Texas Barbeque in Red Hook--great ribs!

    The diving was a little tame for us, but nice. Chris' dives are all led--max group size of 8-10--and done by the tables. That means when the DM returns to the boat, so do all the divers. Barbara and I are not heavy consumers of air and, so, we typically got back aboard the boat with 1600 lbs of air or more after a 30-40 minute dive! They also lead the dive with the DM towing a surface buoy--a nice safety precaution, but more indicative of the level of divers they expect: novice to intermediate.

    The dive sites were fine with a reasonable abundance of reef fish. However, we rarely saw pelagics... If you are doing your first dives after cert, this could be the place to start. Chris and his crew are very attentive, safety conscious, and helpful. If you are seasoned divers, you may be a little impatient.

    We then took off to Saba for a week--and liked it so much that we stayed a second week! Saba is a very small island: 5 sq mi, 2000 people, 4 small dive shops. There is very little night life, no beaches, no luxury hotels, a few restaurants, AND WONDERFUL DIVING! We loved it. We dove with Saba Deep and liked the crew a lot. The diving is mostly deep--a typical 1st dive is at 120-130 ft, 2nd dive at 80-100 ft, and 3rd dive at 50-70 ft. Pristine reefs, lots of fish--even pelagics, clear water that goes forever. On the negative side: be prepared for current; some sites become undiveable due to strong currents. Saba is probably not for novice divers...

    Now, if you do go there, let me recommend one restaurant in particular: YIIK (why-too-kay). The food there could make it in San Francisco! Carl and Rudolf run a great kitchen that serves fantastic food. If you are lucky, you will get a local vegetable called "cristeens" served with coconut milk and coconut shavings that is to die for. We stayed on Windwardside (which we recommend) and tried all the restaurants (there are not many) and YIIK captured our palates and business.

    We stayed a Juliana's Apts and that was a treat in itself. Juliana and here husband, Franklin, run a very pleasant "hotel" and make you feel like one of the family. Vanessa, in the "office", was also extremely pleasant and helpful. We have no reservations about recommending Juliana's, but these are very basic accommodations...

    After two weeks on Saba, we headed for Tortola. And that was a disappointment. Maybe it was because Saba was so nice... My impressions of Tortola: the east end is a rundown area, bordering on being a slum; the west end and Road Town are havens for boaters and those who love night life. We did not like Tortola for a lot of reasons and I will stop there. So, we pulled up stakes and headed back to St. Thomas.

    We stayed on the west end of St. Thomas this time and dived with Blue Island Divers. Their shop is in Crown Point Marina, a little hard to get to, but worth the effort! Jim, H, and Sean run a nice boat and Marion runs a nice shop. Their boat will take no more than eight divers and the dives are all guided, but they use the "loose" buddy system if your skill level warrants. The dive sites on the west end are more varied than those on the east end of St. Thomas. We saw lots and lots of fish--both reef and pelagics.

    ONE WARNING: STAY CLEAR OF UNDERWATER SAFARIS! That is a dive shop that caters to cruise ships and large hotels. Their boats go out with as many as 40 divers! And they have three such boats! They will even take all three to one dive site at the same time. And we saw one dive where they had two dive masters for 40 divers--in a long, long, long line! You have been warned!

    If you have read this and what I have written in the past, you will know what I prefer: small boats with few divers. If that is not your preference, what I write will not be of much value to you. I also tend to like living quarters that are a little "upscale": that is a preference, not a value judgement. That will also help you decide if what I write is helpful to you. Over the years I have found that dive magazines, etc., tend to paint very rosey pictures--and I have seen more than one over-dived, dead reef that was the subject of rave reviews. Thus, I have become suspect of percs that writers get, vested interests of travel agencies, etc. Sorry for the lecture, but I have become a member of the caveat lectur club (let the reader beware club) when it comes to dive site/destination recommendations and I wanted to be clear on what I value.

    Joewr
     
  2. Warhammer

    Warhammer Manta Ray

    1,053
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    Good report, Joe. Saba is on my must do list. Damn that if that list keeps growing then I'm gonna have to hit you up for a loan. 40 divers and 2 DMs. Did they have them on a loooong leash?
     
  3. BetterLateThannever

    BetterLateThannever Barracuda

    399
    1
    18
    Great trip report Joe and good information. Thanks for the warning, I'll log in my "Someday, maybe, one of these days" file. :)

    Jimbo
     
  4. Beachman

    Beachman Nassau Grouper

    146
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    .....who wouldn't? Of course, you were kind enough to give me a bit of a personal preview of your experiences a few days ago since we had corresponded prior to your departure. Thanks, and I can't wait for my Saba Spice to arrive!

    With respect to Tortolla, I happen to be in the category of folks that like it....particularly the northwest corner at Cane Garden Bay. I do, however, concur with your comments about Roadtown and East End.

    I'm a bit surprised that when you went back to St. Thomas you didn't opt for some time on St. John instead. I personally prefer St. John.

    Thanks for the report.

     
  5. joewr

    joewr ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives:
    Location: Northern California
    1,754
    35
    48
    Beachman,

    I wish I had Scotty right now so he could "Beam me down" to Saba! Maybe we just went to the wrong place in Tortola...asi es la vida in la plaza...

    We like St. Johns also (and St. Croix), but no accommodations were available on such short notice. Spice is nice and on the way!

    Joewr
     
  6. ScubaBurt

    ScubaBurt Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Danville, Virginia
    104
    2
    18
    Hey Joe,
    It's your Cozumel buddy Burt. I liked your description of Saba. Flo and I were in Bequia(Feb 2000) and the owner of Dive Bequia told us Saba was where he goes to dive. He was highly complementary of it. So it is good info to know from another source. Question for you, Flo and I are trying to decide on a trip for my birthday in December. We are thinking of a trip to the Bahamas and are looking at Stuart Coves and staying at the Clarion next door. Now you know what we like when we go to Cozumel, how does this compare? Any comments?
    Burt
     
  7. Beachman

    Beachman Nassau Grouper

    146
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    Joe and I have communicated a few times (but not yet met) and I kinda trust his opinions about stuff too.

    What say, Joe?
     
  8. joewr

    joewr ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives:
    Location: Northern California
    1,754
    35
    48
    Senor Burt (and the enigmatic Flo),

    I will risks all sorts of critcism here, but let me answer you in as direct a fashion as I can.

    (1) The Clarion is way out of town and you will need a car to get to Nassau and Paradise Island. And, I recommend that you visit both those places for restaurants, if naught else. It is, however, right next to Stuart Cove.

    (2) Stuart Cove is really concerned about cash flow, internal rate of return, capital investment, etc. and it somewhat affects the dive experience. For example, you get only water on the dive boat unless you bring along your own snacks and drink--and the water is in a 5 gal bottle that needs to be tipped to get the H2O out. Also the dives are timed--i.e., they tell you to be back in 40 min regardless of air consumption or N2 adsorption. For divers like Barbara and me who are fairly conservative in the consumption of air, this is a little constricting.

    (3) The dives are usually not guided and you are given a fairly perfunctory dive site description--for experienced divers like you guys this is not a real problem. We have never been in enough current around New Providence to do a drift dive--Cozumel can really spoil you!

    (4) The dive sites are mixed. For example, we would steer clear of the most of the James Bond stuff--not very interesting diving. Razorback Reef was very nice (compared favorably to Cozumel) as was the Will Laurie Wall. The Bouy and the Runway were also good because Caribbean Black Tips often showed up. In general, though, this diving is not up to the standards of Cozumel in terms of abundance of fish life and beauty of the reefs.

    HOWEVER,

    there is one thing not to miss: Stuart Cove's Shark Adventure. It is a great shark dive--if you are not offended by such "planned" dives. Barbara and I are expecting to go back to do that dive again next year.

    Also, if you have never tried an u/w "scooter", Cove has a "Wall Flying" dive with battery-powered scooters that is a lot of fun. Sort of like Disneyland for scuba divers...

    (5) New Providence/Paradise Island--if you want some excellent cuisine, it is there to be had: Greycliff (very atmospheric and very, very pricey) and Chez Willie (less pricey and better food, in my opinion--Willie used to be the Maitre'd at Greycliff); and the ice cream at Jimmy's on PI is fantastic after a salty day in the water. In downtown Nassau (Beware the wild cruise ship monsters!) there is a cafe called the Athena which makes world class gyros--not to be missed if you like gyros! But these places are a long way from Stuart Cove's. Barbara and I stay on PI and have to suffer the long haul to Stuart Cove in the am, but it gives us more convenient options in the pm.

    What does all this verbage mean? Carefully done, it could be an excellent trip. Would I recommend it? We liked it and will go back again.

    By the way, we have only been there in July and August--so I am not certain about the dive conditions in December.

    You have not mentioned whether you have been to Hawaii. If not, you might consider that. The water will be about 75 degrees, but the diving on Maui and Hawaii is wonderful. And very different than the Caribbean.

    Hope this helps--if not, let me know and I will try harder.

    Joewr
     
  9. ScubaBurt

    ScubaBurt Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Danville, Virginia
    104
    2
    18
    Thanks Joe,
    This is what We were looking for in a diver's website. I appreciate your up front honesty about the Bahamas. You are right that Cozumel has spoiled us. When you make a full comparison: ease of travel to island(no props, love those jets; even Flo can pack within those weight restrictions), the dive ops/sites/marine life, the island itself, hotel accomodations, safety(U/W and on land), $ value(food, shopping, etc.) and things to do other than diving(we do need the surface time you know); Cozumel is one of the tops.
    You sure do make Saba sound tempting. What kind of flight connections did you have to make? You recommend staying on the windward side? Any particular reason? You said that your 1st dive was 120-130, 2nd 80-100, and 3rd 50-70, did you do 3 dive each day? Flo and I are not typically big deep divers, was this the norm for all ops of just Saba Deep? Appreciate all the info.
    Burt
     
  10. scubadweeb

    scubadweeb Barracuda

    204
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    Am I the only one turning green with envy? Not only does it sound like GREAT diving, in addition you were gone a whole month?! ooh, I'm SOOOOOO jealous! No matter, it was great reading, thanks.
     

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