St. Lucia diving is world renowned for its magnificent coral and sponge-encrusted wall diving. Large schools of small tropical fish are sprinkled amongst giant man-size sponges and complex coral formations. With a current constantly flowing you drift along effortlessly and admire the kaleidoscope of colors and intricate detail while the boat trails your bubbles on a normally liquid calm surface. All this in the shadow of the two Pitons, two pointed mountain peaks that rise vertically several thousand meters out of the water. St. Lucia’s distinctive mountainous landmarks are the remains of an ancient volcanic rim of a long ago collapsed volcano. There are over a dozen dive sites in the shadow of the Pitons located on the sheltered west side of the island bordering the Caribbean Sea, and numerous others further North. This is what St. Lucia is famous for. There is, however, one well-known wreck as well as 3 impressive lesser-known wrecks to dive.
To begin with, the ‘Lesleen M’ wreck, which was sunk in a shallow sandy bay, north of the Pitons in 1985, to create an artificial reef is a popular and well-known wreck and ideal for novice wreck divers. Sitting evenly on her keel, 165 feet long and at a maximum depth of 60 feet with the Pilothouse accessible at 40 feet, she has a wide-open accessible cargo hold which leads into the engine room. From here a ladder stairwell heads up onto the main deck cabins that are inter-connected and situated below the Pilothouse. Marine life has taken over the wreck and it is encrusted with thousands of colorful anemones and provides a home to turtles, lobsters, eels, octopus, neon-blue clawed spider crabs, nudibranchs, coral-banded shrimp and schools of small tropicals. Don’t touch anything because a carpet of feathery fire coral polyps adorns the entire wreck and can give you an unpleasant itchy burning sting. Visibility can range depending on conditions from an unusual 20 feet to a common 100 feet. Additionally, unexpected currents can pick up in the bay so using the mooring lines for ascents and descents and safety stops is essential just in case.
The other lesser-known wrecks are far more challenging. They are much bigger and deeper with persistent strong currents prevailing. These wrecks are for very experienced divers and only when the conditions are good, which is rare. Each is a unique dive experience and seldom do dive operators visit them.
On the southern tip of St. Lucia’s Atlantic side lies the Wawinet ‘Atlantic’ wreck. She is a 400 feet long freighter, lying on her starboard side at a depth of 105 feet. Sunk in 1980, also to create an artificial reef for marine life but not necessarily for diving, she is fully loaded with all her original equipment still in place. Surface conditions are choppy and currents are so strong here that you get dropped in the water, one half to one quarter mile up current, with no air in your BC and power down as fast as is safe. If you can’t clear your ears quickly you’ll miss the wreck. Everyone has there own safety sausage as well as back-up lights and reels. The goal is to get into the lee of the wreck where the massive superstructure lies. The wreck is fully accessible. Areas of particular interest are the giant walk-in fridge freezer, the walls covered in multi-colored inch size tiles; a row of toilets in the bathrooms; a cavernous engine room, entangled with hundreds of feet of piping and oversized panels of gauges; the four story superstructure at the stern, housing the crew quarters, kitchens, mess and Pilothouse; wide open deep cargo holds; the port side corridor where portholes make a straight line across the ceiling, when the sun shines at midday, 10 beams of light shine down the corridor; its like your in the transporter room on the Starship Enterprise, "Beam me up Scotty". Since no one normally dives here there are also monster-size lobsters lurking while sharks are seen occasionally patrolling and anemones smother the entire wreck. The most fun part of the dive is to drop over to the stern hull to check out the impressive props, you’ll then be taken for wild ride in the current down the length of the hull amongst thick schools of extra-large-pizza-sized Jacks that fly along with you. As you approach the bow you have to reach out and grab a rail to pull your self back in to the wrecks’ lee, if you miss the handhold the current has you and you’ll have to abort your dive. It takes several dives to fully explore the wreck, which is surprisingly still solidly intact. Most commonly the dive involves staged decompression stops since internal penetration increases your time and distance to the surface significantly. Nevertheless, it is an awesome dive and a treat if you have the right conditions, right operator and appropriate experience – seldom do all 3 exist at the same time.
In the early 1990’s a major dredging project was conducted at the southern end of the island town of Vieux Fort, to expand the international banana port. Two old 350 ft+ Japanese dredgers were purchased and spent some 2-3 years dredging the harbor to allow larger freighters access. Once the project was complete and with little else use for them, the St. Lucia government decided to sink the dredgers to create further reefs. They are more accessible since they are on the Caribbean side of the island but are still challenging dives for experienced divers only.
The Daini Koyomaru wreck is located a mile further off shore from the Lesleen M wreck location. During her sinking in1996, a trapped air pocket caused the wreck to shift, turning her upside down on the way down. This is how she rests today at a maximum depth of 100 feet. Her crumbled superstructure props her up, exposing her upturned decks and allowing easy access through numerous access holes. Her decks were, to some extent, compressed together as the wreck collapsed in upon itself with the hull remaining intact at 55 feet. This makes the internal penetration of the wreck a little confusing with everything topsy-turvy and in a tangled mass. Japanese inscriptions are everywhere labeling equipment, panels, and gauges. Its possible to navigate the full length of the wreck, internally along open deck levels and broad corridors from stern to bow. Light penetration is not great and powerful lights and back-ups are standard gear. If full penetration is part of the dive plan, which is what this wreck is all about, staged decompression stops should be planned for. There is a little coral and sponge growth beginning to take place slowly and there are large schools of jacks acting as its guardians that constantly circle the wreckage. Several turtles have made their home here and are regularly encountered.
Visibility and currents can be unpredictable, despite mild surface conditions.
Finally, the wreckage of the other dredger, the least known and named simply, The Dredger, can be found near the entrance of the Port of Vieux Fort at the south of the island, where she spent all those years dredging, ironically digging her own final resting place. Sunk in 1996-1997, she lies evenly on her keel from 45 ft to 85 ft in depth. Another big girl at over 350 ft long she sits in majestic silence in clear water and is easily accessible. Similar to her sister ship the Koyomaru, there are dozens of corridors and cabins to explore. Lost in the wonder of exploration and discovery, its easy to forget to keep a close eye on your dive plan and dive time. The greatest thing about this dive is once you surface and board the dive boat the first thing you want to do is grab another tank and go back in.