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Tobago

Discussion in 'Lesser Antilles' started by Laine, Jul 29, 2001.

  1. Laine

    Laine Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Fremont, Michigan
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    Hi All!

    Headed to Tobago in March. My first trip there. I picked Tobago for somemore current diving to get ready for my Galapagos trip in November 2002 aboard the new Peter Hughes vessel. I am considering booking with Blue Waters Inn/Aquamarine in Speyside and Crown Point/R&Sea Divers in Crown Point. All helpful hints and info would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Laine
     
  2. amoeba

    amoeba Nassau Grouper

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    Laine,

    I take it March is March 2002? If that's the case - I'm off to Tobago in September 2001 and I'll drop you a line when I get back and let you know how it was. I'm not booked with any particular company as I thought I'd check them all out when I get there.

    Cheers,

    Gayle
     
  3. Laine

    Laine Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Fremont, Michigan
    138
    1
    16
    Amoeba,
    Thank you for your reply. Yes, March is March 2002. It would be great for you to send me info after your trip. I will keep a watch for it. All suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

    Keep Blowing Bubbles,

    Laine
     
  4. egg007

    egg007 Angel Fish

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    Both of these Dive operators are recognised, I would advise you to check the web as most operators in Tobago have web pages. Unfortunately a few of the operators have lost divers. (use http://www.google - keyword Tobago diver missing) to check out which ones.

    Tobago is easy or advanced diving

    Easy-Warm water, experienced staff, very clear water visibility can extend 120 feet. Very few iso therms. Small island easy boat diving. Island also has a hyperbaric chamber.Nice reef at 20 feet (Store bay)

    Advanced- Advanced drift dives, world famous dive sites, Japenese gardens, Mount Irvine wall (reef wall 40-70 feet). Worlds biggest brain coral. (Divers thirst, if you dive at the wrong time there is a down current that will carry you to 200+ feet in seconds.)Also safety stops are done hanging out under the boat at 15 feet so u need good bouyancy control.

    Yes I would agree excellent drift diving experience.
    Personally I did my PADI OW in Tobago with Mantadive (Formally Viking). They are perhaps the oldest dive center in Tobago, their facilities are more rudimentary than the others. However in terms of experienced Divers the owner used to be a commercial diver (great personality) and is CMAS certified, the Instructor is NAUI certified. I would guess that Manta dive has the most experienced dive staff and you get good training. Also most of the other dive centers sprang from ex Viking staff. Finally I find that its good to dive with other non PADI trained divers.

    Finally I would advise if u have the time and $$ a one day boat dive in Trinidad, cost $60US for 2 tank 6 hour trip and airfare from Tobago $50US or a total of $110. Diving in Trinidad is lower vis (20-60 feet) good drift diving, good currents, plenty of isotherms and on the boat you would normally buddy with at least an AOW if not PADI rescue diver. We dive with a PADI instructor, who during the trip is doing training dives in deep (120feet) and drift dives. Also some of the guys do spear fishing and lobster hunting.
     
  5. Laine

    Laine Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Fremont, Michigan
    138
    1
    16
    Egg007

    Thanks for your Tobago suggestions.

    Laine
     
  6. amoeba

    amoeba Nassau Grouper

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    Egg007,

    Thanks for the info! It's difficult to choose a dive center from their web sites so recommendations are always helpful.

    Laine,

    All I have to do now is remember to post the info when I get back. (All that sun, sea and beer will probably have toasted what's left of the brain cells. :wink: )I'll make a note in the diary though!

    Cheers,

    Gayle
     
  7. joewr

    joewr ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

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

    If you need a reminder, I will help! I really want to hear what you think and experience. Tobago is one the places we have not yet visited and it is creaping near the top of the list!

    Have fun--and keep good notes!

    And egg--hopefully, not on your face--I was impressed that you went there for your OW cert--I thought we we "adventurous" when we did ours in the USVI--then I noticed where you lived ("tough waters of Trinidad", indeed!). Any how, thanks for the words: they are helpful, too!

    Dive deep into life,

    Joewr
     
  8. DocVikingo

    DocVikingo Senior Member

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    Hi Laine,

    [NOTE: Due to its length, this wil be posted in two parts.]

    Part I.

    Tobago is reviewed in the April 2000 "Rodale's Scuba Diving" magazine, in my "Ask RSD" column. The piece was condensed from the following, vastly longer, trip report from my last visit there:

    I. Getting Started, Organized & There:

    Tobago is north of Trinidad and south of Grenada, in the far southeast of the Caribbean. About 27 miles long & 8 wide, it is a volcanic island which is very green & lush, with a splendid & mostly easily accessible rain forest which has the most magnificent stands of bamboo I've ever seen, & I've seen some. It is the sister island of Trinidad, and held in low esteem by it, for reasons that escape me entirely. When Tobagans visit there, they're called "Bago," an apparently quite derogatory term, perhaps somewhat akin to our "bumpkin." Anyway, Tobago looks much more like one of the Hawaiian Islands or Dominica than the Turks & Caicos, ABC's or Bahamas. It is a peaceful & safe island which seems to have avoided the drug activity which mars many Caribbean locations--Trinidad seems to siphon off much of this. Except down south around Crown Point, you rarely see any police presence. Where we stayed up north the police seemed to spend their time preparing & eating meals, and napping in between.

    Less than 100 miles off the NE shoulder of Venezuela, it gets rocked by the Guyana Current, which runs up from South America. On the way, it picks up effluvients from the mighty Orinoco River in VZ--I've seen this baby up close & it is one muddy mess, especially during the rainy season (June-October). In any event, it rips around both ends of the island, and, if you get it just right, you can do 5 knots or better.

    There are essentially two locations rich with dive sites, in the far NE out of Speyside and far SW out of the Crown Point area, although there are a few frequented sites off the NW & S. There is no argument that Speyside is the place for the serious diver. If you need luxury hotels, fancy restaurants, golf courses, casinos, shopping, etc., you must stay down Crown Point way. There is simply none of this around Speyside. It is about an hour, occasionally hair raising, cab ride between the two and not an inexpensive jaunt. It does, however, offer some breath taking vistas.

    The island people I dealt with were an altogether agreeable & pleasant bunch. English is the official language & spoken everywhere, although of course they have their own dialect, which they actually call "dialect," of which you'll understand basically nothing. They are patient, quiet, laid back and knowledgeable about the history, geography, & flora & fauna of their home. The most intense I saw them become was when they perceived degradation to the environment. Several of my drivers exhibited considerable upset about an old British plantation south of Speyside being developed for some luxury villas, a project which looked to be rather modest by US standards. I might also mention that, IMHO, the women are most attractive. I believe that last year's Miss Universe was from Trinidad, and the contest was held in Trinidad just a week after we left Tobago.

    Getting to Tobago can be a pain as they do not yet land full sized commercial carriers at the airport. This means an island hopper or American Eagle (www.aa.com; 800-433-7300) flight to get in & out. One flight a day on AE, leaving San Juan, PR around 5:30PM & getting in around 8:30PM. Outward bound, the AE flight leaves about 6:30AM, so if you're in Speyside, you can figure out when you have to rise & shine, and it's not pretty. As regards island hoppers, BWIA (www.bwee.com; 800-538-2942) flies into Trinidad from various other Caribbean islands, and a few US cities, and Air Caribbean (868-623-2500) takes things from there. As an aside, if you are thinking about including Trinidad on your itinerary, I was there some years ago & have little good to say about it. The diving I saw was crummy, and except for a splendid craft market & the off shore Asa Wright Nature Center, an outrageous bird sanctuary, it, IMHO, has scant to recommend it. If you're into ornithology, Tobago can keep you busy for a long while. I saw all manner of strange & colorful birds right outside my room, with many more sightings in the rain forest, including the handsome muk-muk, who nests in holes dug in dirt hillsides & I believe is the bird on the logo for the Blue Waters Inn.

    Places to stay in Speyside are quite limited, with the Blue Waters Inn (bwi@trinidad.net; 800-888-3483) & Manta Lodge (mantalodge@trinidad.net; 809-660-5268) being the major ones. Both have associated dive ops; for former it's Aquamarine Dive Ltd. (www.trinidad.net/bwi-tobago) & for the latter it's Tobago Dive Experience (www.trinidad.net/tobagodive). There is also the Speyside Inn, but I know little about it other than that it is almost assuredly more basic & cheaper than the other two.

    Check out http://www.visittnt.com for more touristy type info.

    II. What to Expect.

    Weather: Typical southeastern Caribbean climate, meaning from the low 70s in winter to humid mid-90s in summer, although usually a little shy of the extremes. Rainy season is June-October, which has significant implications for viz. If you need rain during other months, stand in the Caribbean's oldest protected rain forest for a bit -- you'll see some. Check out http://www.intellicast.com for a TT weather report & forecast, and http://www.caribwx.com for storm info & predictions.

    Water temps: Temps around 75 plus/minus 2 degrees in winter & 80 plus/minus 2 degrees in summer. On average expect around 77. I noticed few thermoclines, although the one at London Bridge was the most dramatic I've experienced to date.

    Viz: Not up to many other Caribbean locations due to the aforementioned Orinoco River effluvia, and the plankton & other nutrient rich water. Expect 50-80 feet, although at some closer in sites in the rainy season it can go to 40 feet or a bit less, and at farther out sites in the dry season reach 100 feet or a bit more. On a previous trip to Tobago, I went to one dive site where there was near zero viz at the surface, although clearing to 40-50 feet below.

    Nearest chamber: Recently opened in government medical complex in Roxborough, a short ride south of Speyside. As an aside, they seemed to want to rev this city up some, but not much evidence it took.

    Getting in: You will need a valid passport & return plane ticket, and to fill out the customary tourist form. Customs is pretty casual as near as I can tell.

    Money: Official currency is the Trinidad & Tobago dollar, or TT. Exchange rate floats, and varies depending on with whom & what instrument you are using, e.g., cash, TCs, Visa vs American Express, etc. It's really seems more complicated than it needs to be, but more about this later. Rate was between about 5.5-6.2 to the US dollar when we were there in May. US money spends just fine everywhere & is warmly received, although don't expect to be able to use credit cards or change large denominations in small shops & restaurants, etc. Carry a wad of ones & fives.

    On the subject of money, don't let the exchange rate fool you -- this is not an inexpensive island. While not on par with the Cayman Islands or the Bahamas, expect to pay a multiple of what you would pay at home for food. Liquor, on the other hand, is a relative deal.

    Electricity: Apparently still some 220 about, but mostly 110/60. Ask if unsure. I do know that both Blue Waters and Manta Lodge pose no threat to hair dryers, battery chargers, etc.

    [CONTINUED]
     
  9. DocVikingo

    DocVikingo Senior Member

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    Tobago--Part II.

    III. Where to stay.

    As mentioned in the prior chapter, Blue Waters Inn, Manta Lodge & Speyside Inn are the biggies in Speyside. I know nothing of accommodations elsewhere in Tobago except for a new age/eco-friendly resort called Footprints down south which I toured on my last trip. It is kewl & vegetarian friendly, but most decidedly not a dedicated dive resort. Probably could use a practiced Tarot reader & reflexologist for those looking to change their life styles.

    Anyway, have stayed at both Manta Lodge & Blue Waters & like the latter better. It is right on the beach (with hammocks & beach chairs) & well off the road, on 46 lush acres, while the Manta Lodge is across the road, rather abruptly backs up to a foothill, and is off a public access bay. It does look like the Manta has done some exterior work since I was there, although guests I have spoken with who have recently stayed at both report that Blue Waters rooms are still nicer. But don't get me wrong -- both are fine.

    Blue Waters has standard rooms, self-catering efficiencies, and one & two bedroom bungalows -- the latter I found very appealing. The group mostly had standard rooms, although I was graced with one of the efficiencies, which had a king bed, full kitchen with all the accouterments, a big tile shower & lots of space. The standards & efficiencies were rather motelish and without any special warmth or charm, but did have all the niceties like A/C, ceiling fans, toiletries, bottled water, plentiful hot water, and prompt & regular chamber service. If you have lots of gear to schlepp, like camera equipment, get one of the rooms by the dive shop & pier. My efficiency was just a roll out of bed away from both.

    Food is not the crowning achievement of the Blue Waters, and we consequently ate elsewhere almost every evening. The service was often very slow, and it was a constant battle to get salt/pepper, utensils, ice water, etc. -- these just sort of poured out hodge podge. In fact, in a most odd twist the bill was sometimes presented for signing before the food arrived, and on several occasions mine had no indicated amount. Breakfast was probably the best meal overall, although there was the occasional flash of culinary scintillation at other meals, such as a chocolate cream cheese cake & specialty soups.

    Particular culinary nadirs at the Blue Waters included a flying fish sandwich that was so over-breaded and over-fried that it was virtually unidentifiable as fish save for the fins & bones. It would have been better suited as some type of high fat freeze dried trail food. Also of note was a steak which Juan Loco left mostly uneaten, and this Missouri cracker will eat almost anything without comment. Ask his drinking buddies. Try the club sandwich for lunch.

    We mostly had dinner off site, including a walk down to Jemma's Treehouse in Speyside proper. With an upstairs dining room in the trees & overlooking the bay, it serves more than the usual local choices of chicken, fish or shrimp (frozen variety) and offers steak & Caribbean lobster as well, along with the traditional family style bowls of salad (usually quite fresh ingredients), beans (often nicely spiced) & rice. Be aware in local eateries that if multiple diners order the same entree, it is all thrown on a single plate. The lobster proved to be a small & largely tasteless affair, and cost a whopping US$40. Settling the single bill for 7 people, even though all were quite flexible, took way too much time & much forbearance.

    Food next door at the smaller Redman's comes from a minuscule kitchen and is often limited to only two, often boiled, entrees. Much easier settling up, however.

    The group favorite seemed to be Sharon's, about 3 miles north over the hills. She is a great character, and would attempt to make what we wanted, including chocolate cake, if we gave her a day's notice.

    Look for an island delicacy, curry crab & dumpling, around midsummer. Also, if you can get to the right place by lunch time, get a fresh pita bread stuffed with potato & spiced meat. I tried a real local treat, souse, which is marinated, vinegary, slightly spicy cow skin, chicken's feet or pig's feet, or a combo, served in a cup & great with ice cold beer. This is not for everyone.

    The bar at the Blue Waters was tropically atmospheric and competently made the expected range of drinks. The resort hosts, Carol & David, are genuinely interested in the guests' well being & will do their best to accommodate requests. There is a manger's party once a week, with copious alcoholic libations and tasty hors d'oeuvres. Our bills at check out were exactly what we expected, but the exchange rate varied oddly & substantially among payment by American Express or TCs (lower) v cash or Visa/MC (higher).

    IV. Orientation to Diving.

    Some of the major dive sites, starting from Speyside and moving counterclockwise around the island, include: Spiny Colony, Bateaux Bay Drift, John Rock, Blackjack Hole, Bookends, Flying Manta, Washing Machine, Japanese Gardens, Picker, Cathedral, London Bridge, Marble Island, Landslide, The Sisters, [preceding sites accessible from Speyside; following sites from Crown Point area] Culloden Bay, Mt. Irvine Bay Reef & Wall, The Scarlet Ibis, Buccoo Reef, Flying Reef & Diver's Dream.

    These sites vary incredibly in degree of challenge, from very easy sites like Bateaux Bay, Spiny Colony & Buccoo Reef to what can be the very extreme Washing Machine, Heart Attack Alley & occasionally John Rock. You will not be taken to these latter sites unless you demonstrate the skills to handle them, and even then perhaps not. The Washing Machine, which took the life of long time Tobago diver & owner of Man Friday Diving some years back (body never found), was especially gnarly during our trip. It was plain scary looking just on the surface, with turbulent spots where several currents converged, punctuated by eerie looking calm spots. Even our most intrepid & skilled group member voted to pass on it at the advice of our DM, although I know he wanted it bad.

    Since we arranged to have our own boat & crew, make 3 rather than the usual 2 dives a day, and are all pretty insane, we did get to visit some challenging sites after the customary, and terminally boring, check out dives. Our DM, Kevin, a splendid chap & diver, pretty much cut us loose after it became clear that we would mutiny & leave no tips if he didn't. Initially, however, there was some of the all too common "let's go to the easiest & closest sites & save our time & energy for the soccer game & some flirting." mind set. But, as I said, we prevailed & had a riot. Kevin & his crew were very accommodating & skilled in the water & out. Dive briefings were well done, and when the group got all blasted to hell in 4-5 knot currents, they were not long in spotting you. Since a diver was lost for 27 hours & blown most of the way around the island a couple of years ago, good quality safety sausages are provided, & I would suggest you carry a sonic alert of some type, signaling mirror & strobe as well.

    As for the dive op, the shop is up an incline a short way from the base of the dock, has decent rental gear, several rinse tanks & showers, etc. Owned & operated by the cordial Keith & wife Alice, they were only occasionally seen. They have another shop down at the south end & seem to be spending time there. Paper work was kept track of by the ever pleasant Karen. After each return to the dock, she made sure you signed in from your dive(s) -- a sound idea. The boats were in good repair, had a small cover & were reasonably comfortable for 7 divers, but I wouldn't to push it beyond that number. Aside from some rather unseemly flimflam over billing, about which I may say more later, my main gripe about the op was hot fills long before departing to dive, which cooled to less than 3,000PSI, occasionally well less. This was of more than academic concern in the strenuous dives.

    Of course, probably the biggest draw of Tobago diving is the mantas, which are most frequently seen in the spring, but can be encountered anytime. However, don't plan a trip to Tobago if you will be crushed if you don't see a manta--there are no guarantees. As our DM Kevin was fond of saying, "I can only guarantee that you might see one." Same deal with sharks, which are around in some variety.

    Turned out our group saw its only manta, a small one, in the bay. It was in a playful mood, and we free dove & snorkeled with it. It invited touching, and I got in a few mutually enjoyable strokes behind the horns.

    Provided you are willing to accept whatever the Tobagan waters serve up during your stay, however, you won't be disappointed. The sites are loaded with fish, critters, corals & sponges. We saw the range from tiny Pederson Cleaner Shrimp to a pair of mammoth & spectacularly silvery Horse Eye Jack. One of the things which caught my attention was the schools of fish. For example, Creole Wrasse, Creolefish, Bigeye, Bogas & Bermuda Chubb passed in occasionally massive schools, mostly oblivious to us. There was even a school of Oceanic Triggerfish close to a shallow reef, fish which are usually solitary, deep & in open water. It seems very probable they were nesting. Also, some aggregations of Tarpon & Barracuda. We saw several Nurse Sharks, numerous Hawksbill Turtles and a trio of fascinating Reef Squid. The reefs showed some exceptional congregations of Social Feather Dusters, and both black & white Condominium Tunicates in greater density than I've observed anywhere else. New additions to my life list were a Yellowcheek Wrasse, Flameback Angelfish & Nimble Spray Crab, all of whom were either hiding in a Gray Vase Sponge or darting out from reef, and all splendidly colored. During safety stops, there were a variety of jellies & pelagic tunicates to be enjoyed.

    Since major pelagics were in short supply, we sated our adrenaline cravings with high voltage current dives, with Heart Attack Alley (which you won't get to without an approved group) being the most spectacular. Following the lead of the DM, we dropped to about 80' and worked our way across a current of perhaps 3 1/2-4 knots by going hand over hand over rock, doing our best to avoid the numerous Scorpionfish which made the area home. We then took refuge behind a reef and swam to the top, where a current of about 5 knots caused our cheeks to literally flap in the blow. Those who could make it crawled to the front lip, where we were splayed out like pennants in the wind, looking down perhaps another 60' feet. As I observed a mature Hawksbill Turtle losing ground to the current, I was delighted my snorkel was on the boat.

    In the fiasco, someone tried to pull themselves forward using one of my Mares Quattro fins, which responded by snapping open & following the current out to open ocean. Had I not been able to nab it, it is very likely would have ended up seeing mantas & sharks at some point before I perished.

    In any event, I had now burned nearly 2,000 pounds in 18 minutes & left the group of more efficient air users to struggle on. Surfacing solo, the boat spotted me almost immediately. After all were back on the boat, Kevin shook his head saying that it was nothing & he was disappointed with the group, leaving us all a little incredulous. Only later did the assistant DM tell us that he had done the dive several times before & this one sacred the s**t out of him, and Kevin eventually came clean.

    Other nice but less vigorous current dives included London Bridge up NW past St. Gile's, where you drop down to about 80', ride around a massive pinnacle until a split in the middle, and then ride through the gap at about 35'-40'. The far side is loaded with marine life. Also, there is Flying Manta, where you get into a lazy current which gradually picks up speed until you whizz through a rock formation & quickly head hard right unless you're planning on visiting the Washing Machine on a half tank of air. Finally, there is John Rock, with Tarpon, Jacks & Barracuda, and heavy surge & unpredictable current. It was here that I watched a diver swimming near me at about 35", rocket to about 80' without enough warning to even wave good-bye.

    Before moving on, I'd like to say a word to the dive op here: "Get out there and explore and plan dives that work with these underwater hurricanes rather than against them. You'll have the best drift diving in the world."

    As a final note, you should be aware of possible unseemly flimflam & nickel-and-diming on the part of the dive op, Aqua Marine, Ltd. In our experience, these included: (1) We paid a significant amount extra to have a dedicated boat & DM during our stay. This was fully arranged & clearly understood prior to our arrival. On one dive 2 extra divers, strangers to us, were added without discussion or alteration in rate for that dive, and crowded the boat; (2) It was agreed ahead of arrival that we could dive London Bridge over in the NW if weather permitted. No mention was made of an extra charge for this dive. On the day of the dive, we were told there would be a surcharge of $20 per diver, or $140 for the boat. When asked why, we were told for the extra fuel for the trip. Well, London Bridge is about another 10-15 minutes from the regularly dived sites such as Picker. This seemed a rather extreme, previously unannounced "fuel charge"; and (3) When we decided to do a night dive, we were informed there would be a surcharge of $15 per diver, which was okay with us. When we went to settle the bill, we had been charged $23 extra per diver. When I discussed this with the owner, Keith, he went through a litany of really implausible rationales, such as that since the travel agency who arranged the trip got a piece of the action he to compensate for that. When we wouldn't budge, he said okay to the originally quoted amount but only if we paid cash.

    While admittedly none of these situations were egregious, taken in the aggregate they were irksome, and not well timed on the heels of the exchange rate unhappiness which had just minutes before occurred for some while settling their hotel bills. If unanticipated dive expenses of $10 here, $20 there & $8 elsewhere over the course of a trip are something you would find bothersome, you should make all possible efforts to insure that all charges are clear & agreed upon upfront. You may even want to consider another op than Aqua Marine. In this regard, Anthony Thomas (tel/fax 639-8705) has a small op over by the new pier which is less costly & more suited to very experienced divers.

    V. Other things to do.

    The rain forest is a must do. It is a modest drive from Speyside along well paved roads & free of charge. You may rent rubber boots & a registered guide if you like. The forest trail as far as we went was of a low degree of difficulty and well marked. If you get there at the crack of dawn, you can see animals, such as agouti, and birds taking wing. Do bring binoculars if you are interested in such sightings. The hotel can arrange this, as can any cab driver (as a matter of fact, these guys can arrange just about anything). Ask for JuiceC, a very mellow & knowledgeable character who got his nickname as a result of his passion for a now discontinued fruit drink.

    Hike up Argyle Falls. There is a modest entry fee. Go past the only commercial enterprise on the property, a Rastifarian stand with what must be the world's most extensive assemblage of Bob Marley T-shirts that side of Kingston, as well what I can only, cough, assume must be some righteous herb. The falls goes up many levels, although most just stop & hang & swim at the first, which is quite cool & refreshing. We went up a number of levels more, and this gets to be strenuous work--take good shoes."

    This should get you started.

    DocVikingo
     
  10. amoeba

    amoeba Nassau Grouper

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    Hey Doc, thanks!
    That info is fantastic. I've done loads of research into the island but it helps to have an honest opinion as opposed to the information contained on various web sites.

    Laine & Joewr
    I've also purchased the Lonely Planet Dive Guide to Trinidad and Tobago and will let you know how it compares to the actual dives themselves. I'm due back on the 11th of October so start checking the board a couple of days after that for the info! (Just give me time to get over the jetlag! I'm based in the UK.)
    Let me know if there is any other info you'd like and I'll check it out while I'm there!

    Cheers,

    Gayle
     

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