A Trip to Remember
by Jerry Otte, PADI Master Instructor
SHARK! For some people hearing the cry “Shark!” is probably frightening. For those of us who dived the Aqua Cat this January, the cry of “Shark!” was a jubilant call to come to the deck to see what awaited us on the next dive.
As some of our friends out in Diving Land know, Aquatic Adventures has been diving with the crew of the Aqua Cat since its inaugural year 15 years ago. Our bi-annual trek to the Bahamas has, and always will be, my personal favorite dive trip. The Bahamas are not far away and the diving is spectacular. What more can you ask!
For those of you who have not had the opportunity to dive aboard the Aqua Cat, the Aqua Cat is a luxury, liveaboard yacht. Unlike many of its competitor liveaboards, the Aqua Cat has a large salon and two sun decks. Guests will find it easy to spread out and enjoy the spectacular scenery or get that perfect tan. In addition, the boat has 11 guest cabins that are equipped with their own shower and head, conveniences I have not had on other liveaboards.
The Aqua Cat also boasts over 900 square feet of sheltered dive deck. Set up your gear the first day and you don’t have to worry about your gear again. The crew will fill your tank between dives without you needing to break down your kit. Meanwhile, you won’t have to worry about the sun bleaching your gear, getting a sunburn while you are setting up, or being exposed to the wind or rain. Once you complete your dive, the dive deck has two warm, freshwater showers and a head to keep you comfortable.
The Aqua Cat tour departs from Nassau, which is a relatively easy flight from almost anywhere on the East Coast, Midwest or Southeast. For those of you in the Southwest or West, you may need to find a connecting flight and spend a night in Miami or Nassau because the boat departs early on Sunday morning. Guests can board the boat at 6 p.m. local time on Saturday, and the crew is very accommodating in allowing you to store your bags on board if you arrive earlier.
Once underway, the Aqua Cat sails south to the Exuma chain of islands located in the central part of the Bahamas. Favorite dive sites include the Lost Blue Hole, Periwinkle Reef, Amberjack Reef, Austin Smith Wreck, and Washing Machine. Washing Machine is a favorite as the strong current sends divers spinning and twirling through a shallow basin and then dumps them out on a reef where they drift past sea turtles and nurse sharks. Austin Smith Wreck is not a world-class shipwreck, but it has a famous resident named Finnegan, a six-foot reef shark that is missing its dorsal fin, who makes this a memorable dive.
My personal favorite wall dives are Dog Rocks and Up Jumped the Devil. These sites offer a maze of swim-throughs that you can spend hours exploring. When combined with the possibility of seeing large animals such as reef sharks, hammerheads, spotted eagle rays, barracudas and groupers, these walls offer as much excitement as the best dive sites in the Caribbean.
Once back on board after your dive, the crew will have lunch, dinner, or snacks waiting for you. The meals are prepared by top-notch chefs who are always quick to accommodate even the pickiest of eaters. Drinks, which include beer and wine as well as other spirits, are included in the price of the trip, though your first drink means you are done diving for the day.
For those who enjoy night diving, every cruise includes up to four night dives. My favorite is Plane Wreck, a small plane that has been sunk long enough for a plethora of sea creatures to have made the plane their home. Thursday night is the Captain’s Dinner, so that night there are no dives.
Other amenities include nitrox fills, shore excursions, four to five dives a day, and free airport transfers. All-in-all, the amenities offered aboard the Aqua Cat make the price well worth it.
Keep in mind that the basic price you will be quoted for an Aqua Cat trip will not include the Nassau port fees, fuel surcharges, or the tip you will be asked to leave the crew (typically 15%). Make sure to factor in these costs when planning your trip. As always, get travel insurance particularly during hurricane season, as I have had one trip canceled due to weather.
Aquatic Adventures will no doubt be booking a store trip back on the Aqua Cat soon. If you are interested in booking a trip before then, make sure to call us at 262-938-6827 or see our Aqua Cat travel page.