Dropping down the mooring line we could easily look down to the pinnacle plateau below. The divemaster was below us, directly on the plateau. He was wearing ugly plaid shorts and could make out every hideous detail even from 90 feet above. And he was heading toward a dark shadow in the distance that looked like a giant finger pointing to the sky nearly 100 feet above. The dark shadow was about 150 feet away. I could already tell this was going to be a great dive. This is Saba.
The finger of rock, about 25 feet in diameter, rose vertically from a bottom 200+ feet below. (You could see details and it was tempting to check it out below.) The pinnacle topped out at 95 feet and we chose to stay no deeper than 110. It was covered with brightly colored sponges and coral. One of the other divers saw a reef shark circling. (I must have been turned around or on the other side of the pinnacle at the time.) It was exciting to hang in the crystal blue and cruise around the pinnacle.
With just enough air left for some limited exploration of the plateau (know as 3rd Encounter), we spotted a huge barracuda, moray eels, and a juvenile spotted drum, all in about three minutes of our remaining bottom time.
Located in the Northeast Caribbean, Saba is a relatively unknown dive destination. It is surrounded by a number of other nearby islands, more populated by locals and tourists. Saba has only 2,000 residents mainly concentrated in two charming mountain villages. Saba is hard to get to (they are noted as having the shortest international commercial airline runway in the world) and resorts are few, none of which are on the water (as there are no beaches). Day dive boat charter operations run out of the island’s tiny marina, but for me, I was easily sold on the idea of diving this destination from a live-aboard dive boat. And the only live-aboard serving this area is the Caribbean Explorer II and even then only part of the year. Sign me up!
All the waters surrounding Saba are an underwater park, making the diving here special. Mooring lines dot the near shore areas, but the deep underwater pinnacles are further offshore. The permanent mooring pins on the bottom and tie off lines for use by the boats, rather than anchors, keep the coral and sponges from being torn up.
Underwater on the pinnacle, you can expect to see big barrel sponges, some of the largest I have ever seen. There are also lavender vase sponges, and tube sponges (lots of colorful sponges here!). Corals included brain and star. It was not just a place of thrills from its vertical nature but also from a perspective of color.
Other favorite dive sites included Customs House, a name that comes from the small building high on the bluff above. All the way up to the 1950s, this was the only way up the island, 1,998 steps in all with the Customs House on the way. Since the house had been in use through the earlier centuries, some 17th and 18th century (and perhaps earlier), anchors can be found on the bottom, wedged in and encrusted with coral on the reef.
Nearby is Ladder Reef with hot water volcanic vents (this island use to be a volcano), resident population of nurse sharks and big tarpon that lounge near the boat in the late afternoon.
I also loved Tent Reef, a relatively low-key fairly shallow dive with a large swim-though, lots of coral and a ton of fish. We saw dozens of rays, many peacock flounder, grunt, trigger, French angels, other angels, and so much more. And all of this was within one dive in a 50-yard area right under the boat. And most of the dive was in 40 feet or less.
But that was only half the fun. On Tuesday night we motored over to Saint Kitts, a nearby island with more population but also with mooring buoys to protect the coral. Our first dive was Paradise Reef where we visited a seahorse, multiple lobster, and big crabs, living among the many deep cracks and crevices of coral. The coral is also home to intricate feather duster and Christmas tree worms. And, as with Saba, lots of sponges.
And speaking of anchors, there is a half a dozen old anchors or more on the dive site at Saint Kitts known as Anchors Aweigh, also dating back one, two or even three centuries. They make for some great photos.
At first glance Monkey Shoal did not appear to be a particularly interesting dive site, but it was here we saw the most nurse sharks, moray eels, octopus and tiny shrimp of multiple varieties. And finally the two wrecks Corinthian and River Taw were most delightful with large schools of fish, several trumpet fish, often running in pairs, big barracuda, and big lobster.
The Caribbean Explorer II was an excellent platform in which to dive these islands. While not as huge or “luxurious” as some live-aboard dive vessels, the amenities and service on board are excellent. Two things stand out in our mind that were second to none on the Caribbean Explorer II: The camera table is huge and the crew was superb in all aspects of the service from food to accommodations, help with dive gear, and assistance for special needs and requests.
For more information on the Caribbean Explorer II, visit www.explorerventures.com.