December 29, 2009

Cat Ppalu, Northern Exumas, Bahamas

While I have spent many years in the Bahamas, it wasn't until Thanksgiving week last month I had the chance to explore the Northern Exumas. Accessible only by boat, the ideal way to do it is by an extended stay on a live-aboard vessel.

In this case, it was via the Cat Ppalu, a 65 foot catamaran, on assignment to do some promo images. Sleep, eat, dive and explore - a four man crew, ten guests, six days on the water, what could be better? Exploring the northern cays is a rare experience. Isolated and essentially uninhabited, visited only by the most dedicated travelers, they offer a taste of the Bahamas reflecting the essence of the true Bahamian island life.

The elements included the indigenous Bahamian Rock Iguanas on the Allen Cays and Leaf Cay, Schooling Horse-eye Jack along with toothy sharks and fearless Black Grouper on Danger and Amberjack Reefs, the protected areas of the Exumas Land and Sea Park, trails through the shallow hills and valleys of Warderick Wells, a former drug smuggling plane in just ten feet of water off Norman's Cay along with a true history of pirates, buccaneers and a full roster of other ne'er-do-wells.  Ahhh, the islands!  Even given a week packed with activities, I barely scraped the surface.

My hands-down favorite dive site was Jeep Reef off Hall's Pond Cay. Named for its signature WWII jeep (which has to have been sitting on the bottom for at least thirty years) - ridiculously overgrown with corals and sponges, but with frame and wheels still showing - the entire area is one of the healthiest reefs I have seen in years. Located on the southwest side of the cay with a max depth of 30 foot, subject to high current flow and diveable only at slack tide, the reef benefits from a great flow of nutrients and it shows! High profile healthy coral heads, a varied selection of large and colorful sponges, great fish life - this is an ideal shallow Bahamian reef.

Don't miss a stop at the Lost Ocean Blue Hole on the way back to Nassau. Surrounded by low profile coral heads, she is 150 feet across with that classic bell shape, 160 feet to the top of the debris pile and sloping down to caverns snaking off from the sides at 200 feet or so. A perfect open ocean blue hole!

One week was insufficient, I'm looking forward to my next trip.