Okay, so we’ve talked about some of the fun things for the family… how about the diving?!
My first dive trip was an afternoon dive with Valentine’s Dive Center, a long-time PADI dive resort. Owners Laura and Chris Bartenfelder pride themselves on running a tight ship. In fact, they run two tight ships – a 2001 Seahawk custom-made 38-foot dive boat and a 2000 32-foot center-console Island Hopper. Laura and Chris took over this 25-year-old operation in 1999. Laura is originally from the U.K. and met Chris after living in Southeast Asia, South America, and finally settling in the Bahamas. Our crew for both trips with Valentine’s included native Bahamian Captain Devon Stewart (Nassau) and Divemaster/Instructor Scott Thompson (Ithaca, NY by way of Key Largo). Our first dive was at a site called Potatoes & Onions Shipwreck in a treacherous patch of barrier reef called Devil’s Backbone. This natural shipwreck was, oddly enough, carrying potatoes and onions when it sank decades ago. It’s a great starter dive and an easy snorkel even for beginners. The site includes swim-through opportunities at the ship’s turbines as well as a nice leisurely swim across the reef. Also during our trips, Scott swore us to secrecy and shared a fairly unknown cavern system that runs several hundred yards under a reef through winding turns, schools of silversides, and amazing structure with light shimmering through portholes in the reef above. Scott followed PADI Divemaster protocols and made sure that each diver was completely informed, safe, and comfortable throughout the dive. We saw mutton snapper, parrotfish, turtles, barracuda, stingrays, and even a nurse shark sleeping under a small ledge.
Our second dive trip with Valentine’s was at Miller’s Reef – just offshore in the Atlantic in 60-130 feet of water. This dive features incredible reef structure, plenty of fish life, and even a small one-way cave at the bottom. On this dive, we saw more turtles, grouper, and perhaps the largest midnight parrotfish I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, my buddy during this dive was a heavy-breather and I ended up sharing my octopus with him for our 3-minute safety stop. Our second tank was spent at the Sea Gardens, a shallow reef almost in the middle of the inlet. This site was teaming with yellowtail snapper, who are so used to divers that you have to actually push them out of your way from time to time. By hand, I nearly caught a small grouper that was following me during the first half of my hour-long dive. The elkhorn coral at this site was among the most healthy I’ve seen in a very long time and well worth the trip. By the way, divemasters at Valentine’s are also underwater videographers if you’d like to capture your adventures digitally.
Our last dive of the trip was withwith Dr. Andy Leggett, a British doctor of Philosophy who gave up teaching for life undersea. While you probably won’t be talking about Aristotelian Ethics during your dives, Andy certainly knows how to provide an adrenaline rush. Our trip to Current Cut was truly amazing. Superman had nothing on me as I was soaring at 5 knots along the sea bottom through a narrow high-flow channel on the far side of Eleuthera. We made 3 drops and each was more amazing than the last.
Our first drop down the center of the channel was essentially an effort to get the divers comfortable with the current and the speed at which marine life would be cruising past their field of view. The bottom is littered with debris from hurricanes, particularly Andrew and Floyd, and includes basins and eddies that divers can swoop into to regroup while checking out huge schools of horse-eye jacks, snapper, and parrotfish. Our West-side pass included deeper basins with huge hogfish, snapper, and even sharks. Our East-side pass included massive snapper, an outboard motor, a quick arch swim-through, and the hopes of spotted eagle rays, though a sighting of rays was not to happen during this trip. While you would expect a high-speed drift dive to be fairly difficult to plan, Andy had things down to a science – try to keep up… stay with your buddy… and surface after 12 minutes. Amazingly enough, the boat was always right there when we hit the surface.
Both dive operators run private charters as well as trips to a variety of incredible one-of-a-kind dive sites. Trips are relatively small (4-6 divers) and are altered based on the conditions and diver preferences. Night dives, wrecks, reefs, awesome wall dives, rental gear , and dive instruction are also available. Valentine’s is lucky enough to also have a resort and marina connected to their shop for added convenience.
Check here for a description of some of Eleuthera’s incredible dive sites:
We spent our third night on Harbour Island in a small resort called Tingum Village. We were lucky enough to get what appeared to be the honeymoon suite on the second floor, complete with jacuzzi tub, bamboo bed with wispy mosquito netting, a full kitchen, and balcony. Ma Ruby’s downstairs is a great little restaurant as well.
We finished up our stay on the bayside of Harbour Island with Romora Bay Club. Our bungalow suite was right on the water just steps from the dock and the pool. Rooms were well appointed with tile throughout and a definitive tropical flair. Romora Bay boasts a fantastic restaurant, Chez Dupont and Steaks, as well as a truly unique art collection. From Picasso to black and white photographs, the décor is truly a sight to behold. There is also a billiards table and the bartender made fantastic Goombay Smashes, high-powered libations you probably don’t want to have before diving.
Our trip ended with a half-day eco-tour of Eleuthera with Bahamas Out-Island Adventures with some exploring, birding, kayaking, and even turtle watching. In addition to being a fantastic guide and showing us a side of Eleuthera we might have missed, Neil even dropped us off at the dock at Romora Bay – talk about door-to-door service!
Eleuthera and Harbour Island provide a variety of opportunities for the whole family. This is one dive vacation you’re sure to be able to convince your non-diving family members (if you have any) is a great idea. While you’re there, be sure to check out Angela’s Starfish Restaurant, a no-frills local fare cantina, and Arthur’s Bakery, which is great for breakfast or lunch and includes internet access for those of you who can’t live without email.
If you’d prefer to stay on Eleuthera, check out The Cove Eleuthera Resort. If luxury resorts are more your style, try on Harbour Island. Their nouveau cuisine at dinner was an unexpected treat.
Websites and Contact Information:
Valentine’s Dive Center
Coral Sands Hotel
Romora Bay Club
Bahamas Out-Island Adventures
The Cove Eleuthera Resort
My Harbour Island Homepage (Arthur’s Bakery with a great handmade map of the island)