We have always wanted to try a liveaboard and finally took the plunge!
The Nekton is not a pretty boat but it sure is a functional dive boat. It looks alot like a floating oil rig. But if you want to dive, dive, dive there is no better way to do it. And as the captain says "its slow for a boat but fast for a condo!" Boarding in Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday and returning there the following weekend, it couldn't make it any easier. The staff even picks you up at the airport and takes you to the boat. The Nekton was our first liveaboard and it won't be our last.
Arriving at FLL, we were picked up and dropped off at Las Olas waterfront park for a short time while the driver took all our bags to the boat and placed them in our room. At 7pm sharp 3 vans arrived back at Las Olas to pick up all the divers for the week. A quick stop was made at a liquor store so that passengers could pick up sodas and/or adult beverages. We arrived at the boat and after being shown to our rooms, Captain Ephey and crew greeted us and gave us a briefing on the boat. A photo was taken of everyone and hung on a board in the salon so that the crew and all the divers could learn each others names. Our group of 26 divers total came from Calif, Ohio, NJ, Texas, the UK, and of course us from NM. After a quick life jacket drill we all settled in for the crossing.
After a hearty warm breakfast we all gathered on the Sun Deck for the dive briefing at 7am. The Sun Deck has a bookshelf where dry items can be stored such as dive logs, sun glasses, sunscreen, t-shirts, etc. Hangers are provided for wetsuits so you don't need to bring one which is very nice. So immediately after the dive brief you are able to grab your wetsuit and get dressed on the deck where there is plenty of space and then walk down to the dive deck. Two camera tables are next to the stairs on the middle deck. Almost every buddy team had a camera or camcorder or both but we never had any issues with space for this and with rinse tanks next to the camera tables and also on the dive deck there was never an issue of crowding.
The Daily routine -Hot breakfast, Dive brief at 7am, Two morning dives at the first site, then the boat moves during lunch to another site, dive brief at 1pm and 2 afternoon dives, dinner, an evening chat in the salon, then the night dive after which the boat moves to the first site for the next day's dives. This was true most of the week with only a few exceptions.
Dive sites - Tuna Alley and Victory Reefs
Tuna Alley was a great first site for the trip - lots of fish, nice mini-wall and lots of coral heads with some easy swim-throughs. Victory reef was a bit more challenging with some current but still great dives. The Nekton's working boat, the Cachalot, followed along with us for the first two days until the chase boat got running again. A few divers actually got to be picked up by it due to the sweeping current. It turned out that the Cachalot captain was a friend of one of the divers. Too funny! The Cachalot left us after day 2 and headed off to explore new dive sites and set the pins. Because of the current, only 6 divers went for the night dive. We decided to relax and skip this one - there would be plenty more chances to dive.
Dive sites - Last Chance and Playground
Last Chance reef was another nice reef but the current was strong and I was exhausted after the first dive so Ron decided to buddy with another group and go in again. Playground was another story entirely! While we were on the dive deck getting on our tanks, someone yells "dolphins!" and we all turn and look ---- sure enough, a pod of 12-15 spotted dolphins was coming right up to the back of the boat. In jump divers and DMs, and for about 10 minutes they hung around swirling and playing with us. Very cool! The reef, Playground is shallow but it was a bit surgy and some current on the first dive ducking around behind the small coral heads was necessary to swim and at times pulling along the sand was required. By mid-afternoon the current had died down a bit so our second dive here was much easier and we found it best not to venture too far from the boat fighting the current. On the night dive however, there was NO current at all and we couldn't believe what a great dive it was! I found a large octopus out hunting was didn't even mind the lights and he let us hang out and watch him for 5 minutes or more before we moved on. We also had a huge loggerhead buzz us while we watched him - the loggerhead looked like he had an encounter with a shark as he had a huge chunk missing from the back of his neck and also his front right flipper. Tons of lobsters were scurrying about, as were the eels - spotted, green, and goldentail. It was a dive we really hated to end!
Dives sites - Big Hole and Silversides
Wow, wow, wow! Big Hole was everything we had hoped for and more. Vis was only 50' or so and water was a bit green, but the sharks met us at the dive deck and were swirling at the surface waiting for us to jump in. What a rush! There were 4 of us who jumped in first (me, Ron, Steve, and Randy), and it was so exciting being in the water surrounded by sharks for at least 15 minutes before the others joined us. With the low vis, it was very eerie having sharks suddenly appear heading straight for you and then swim by within a few feet. The Hole itself is quite a fantastic dive alone and Ron and I searched the turtle grass and Bingo! A Seahorse! When we got back on the boat to tell everyone they couldn't believe we found a seahorse on a shark dive site! I think everyone else was so busy looking at the sharks they forgot to look for any hidden goodies..... After lunch to boat moved to another "blue hole", Silversides. This one was smaller and had a swimthough deep which was full of silverside fish, hence the name. This site was very surgy and lush with seafans and small coral heads around the opening. Most of the divers decided to skip the night dive (including me) but Ron went.
Dive sites - Lady's Secret, shark feed at the Big Hole, and Sistine Chapel
Captain Ephey briefed us before the morning dives that Lady's Secret had a few teenage sharks who might show up and being young don't quite know "diver etiquette" yet. We were warned to make sure if they get too close to look them in the eye and let them know we weren't backing down, keep cameras between us and them, and have a good dive. Sure enough, they came to check us out, swimming circles around us closer and closer...... but no problems! Vis at Lady's secret was at least 100' and even thought this hole was surrounded by sandy flats with only occasional coral heads, it was full of fish and critters. What a great dive site! Besides the sharks, we had a large loggerhead and huge schools of schoolmasters and barracuda.
After lunch we headed back to Big Hole again. The Shark feed was very well organized. Dms stayed behind us as we kneeled on the sand and watched the sharks rip the chumsickle apart. The most exciting part of the whole experience for me was to see how aggressive those same sharks that we swam around with for over an hour just the day before can be when food is introduced. Very chilling! Doing a safety stop at the rear of the boat and them trying to get back on the boat with a group of 15-20 very excited sharks was very unnerving also. I had to put the camcorder housing between me and a smaller shark once while I was near the surface waiting for my turn to go up the ladder. Another diver got bumped by a shark as he had his back turned handing up his fins. No one got hurt but I truly believe this is the only time there was any danger at all. Those sharks didn't want us getting back on the boat!
Sistine Chapel was our next stop and we enjoyed seeing another one of the Holes which had a completely different personality. This one was small but bellied out at around 80' deep making it cavern-like. It gets its name from the fact that white sponges hang upsidedown under the overhang. The reef surrounding the hole was very lush and I found one coralhead that was full of photo opportunities - a spotted eel getting cleaned, a baby drum, a soldierfish with an isopod, and tons of blennies. As we were heading back to the boat Bill signaled us, and we looked over to see 3 squid swimming by. How cool is that! Another great dive!
Dive sites - Elbow Cay and Water Cay
Drift diving off a large boat like the Nekton Pilot - yes, drift diving! The divers were broken into two groups, the divers were given the hot-drop signal "dive, dive, dive" by the captain over the speakers, and everyone jumped in all at once and decended. The reef top was at 80' with a wall extending down into darkness. Vis was at least 150' and as we did this high powered flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants dive rivaled by only a few sites in Cozumel, we all kept our eyes out for whalesharks and hammerheads (there have been sighting here in the past). No whalesharks were spotted but we did see a few other sharks as we flew over the reef. A DM lead the group with a drift-flag and another DM trailed us to make sure everyone stayed together. After the safety stop that big boat pulled right up and picked us up. The boat then circled back around for group 2 to do the same. After that, the boat went further south to another part of the same reef and repeated the process again. Two wild rides! After lunch we arrived at Water Cay, a shallow reef area around a small island which had a lagoon in its center. Some divers went over and swam through a tunnel arriving in the lagoon. Then they walked around on the island a bit before returning. Others just snorkeled over. A small airplane had crashed in the water here and we also explored that site. Ron found a baby flounder right under the boat here. There was no night dive since we had a 15 hour trip back up to Bimini - the boat left during dinner.
Dive sites - Hawksbill and The Strip
Morning dives at Hawksbill were easy and relaxing! The coral here wasn't pretty but the fishlife was amazing. Every kind of ray, eels, squirrelfish, sanddivers, puffers, grunts, school of barracudas again .... Lots to see and lots to photograph. Since many of us were flying out of Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday, the 24 hour rule meant only a few divers could go on dives at the Strip. I wish we could have gone since everyone who did, came back on the boat raving about it. Bill found a ledge with a nurse shark under it- with a green moray laying across it! He got a great photo to prove it. It was the favorite at the photo competition that night beating out Ron's seahorse by a nose. A night dive had been planned but engine trouble canceled it as we had to leave to return back port. We actually had a few parts air-dropped to us which was quite exciting however the captain didn't want to run the engine until it could be checked out for any damage so we limped back to port on one (tilted to the side so the one engine could be submerged far enough).
The Nekton's itenerary for Cay Sal Bank offered great diversity of diving from shallow reefs, to walls, to the Blue Holes. We both really enjoyed all the diving and will probably do this trip again for that reason. The vis ranged from 40' to 150' depending on site and water temps ranged from 81 to 84 degrees. We dove Nitrox, as did about half the boat and were pleased with our decision. We never felt like our dive times were cut short due to NDL. The crew filled tanks quickly and provided an analyzer and logbook right on the dive deck. The shark feed was very controlled with an extensive briefing before we entered the water plus DMs surrounding us with poke-sticks to keep the sharks away from us. I never felt uncomfortable during the whole process. Some of the sites had more current than we would have liked but that can't be controlled. All in all, it is a fabulous itenerary though I would not necessarily recommend it for a new diver due to the need for navigational skills as well as more challenging conditions such as deeper depths and heavy current at times.
Awesome, awesome, awesome! The rooms downstairs are bigger than upstairs, we had room under the bed and at the end of the bed for all our luggage and camera bags, etc. A closet with shelves in one corner held our clothes and personal items. We also had 3 large windows over the bed which always gave a great view. The private bathroom and the fact shower times are not being limited was very nice, also! Food was good to excellent - hot breakfasts everyday (eggs, pancakes, bacon, you name it, every day something great), lunch always had soup and sandwiches like BLTs or tacos or pasta, dinner each night was fantastic - prime rib, turkey, spicy shrimp or barbequed ribs. And dessert everynight - we had cheesecake, pumpkin pie, and ice cream sundaes! Hot cookies were out of the oven every day between dives, too. You never went hungry and if you did it was your own fault. Armenda, the cook, make special meals for everyone who requested them and snacks between meals if you wanted. Drinks were always available - iced and hot tea, coffee, juices and punches. Ice in an ice chest and coolers of water were out 24/7 too. Words can't even describe how awesome the the crew was with every function of the boat. Whether it was helping you get in the water with your camera gear, or showing them a picture and saying "what is that?" The crew did everything possible to make sure you were happy. Briefings of the dive sites were great and all questions were answered before you got into the water. Captain Ephey always had time to chat about the diving, the boat, or just shooting the breeze. We will not forget the crew and will return just to see them all again. Thank you: Captain Ephey, First Mate Chris, DMs Jeff, Matt, Helena, Tyler, and Daniel, Cook Arminda, and her staff Leslie and Marie, and boat mechanic Pete.
Thanks to all the fun divers from our trip, too. Bev and Bill, Judy and Jack, Bob from the UK, Tracey and Brad, Ruthanne and Russell, Steve and Randy, John, Cal and Lisa, Sam, Mark, Mike and Mikey, Bob and Jordan, Ron and Joyce, and Dave and Edie. It was a pleasure meeting you all, diving, chatting, and eating with you all week!
Bahamas Cay Sal Bank on the Nekton Pilot 27.4 MB
Be sure to right click on link and "save target as" to your computer and play it from there!
Cay Sal Bank, May 27-June 3, 2006 14MB
Rays of the Bahamas 6MB
Sharks of the Bahamas 5MB
Gettin' Crazy 5mb