Liveaboard Experiences : Southern
By guest author Keeley Collins / Part 2 of 3 articles
In my 2nd article I share my experiences aboard our Shark Week liveaboard (Sea Dragon) in the southern Exumas of the Bahamas, and hopefully this will inspire your own sweet dreams of a future trip.
8am. Awaken to the sound of water gently lapping, roll out of bed & follow the smell of fresh coffee & pancakes. Eat while motoring to the first site. Dive twice before lunch. Relax & snooze while motoring to the next site. Dive again before dinner. Eat & grab torches for a night dive. Dry off. Sleep. Repeat. No dishes. No cooking. No slogging your wet gear around. Sound good? This is liveaboard life.
Diving is available in the Bahamas nearly year-round and features stunning turquoise waters with uninhabited beaches of soft white sand. There’s something for everyone – wrecks, deep walls, shallow reefs, large pelagics (sharks!) and macro life. The southern Exumas, only fairly recent on the tourist scene, are sleepy little islands with a few small air strips,. They’re the home of the famous swimming pigs!
We dove mostly around uninhabited Conception Island, a national park since 1964 & a designated marine park since about 2016. A fun shore excursion was boating up the estuary with miles of mangroves – and hundreds of baby sea turtles (I kid you not). We floated out as the tide changed and witnessed a mass spawning congregation of 65+ puffers. The flat seas & little wind just after Hurricane Isaias afforded us a rare opportunity to dive the north walls & wrecks. (More in that in my next article.)
While the accommodations are basic, the food & the experience is not….the folks aboard Sea Dragon made us feel like family visiting on vacation, a welcome change during COVID. The food was plentiful & delicious home-style cookin’ (turkey with fixings, roast beef, lasagna, burger night, grilled salmon, waffles, french toast, soup+sandwiches).
R/V Sea Dragon is a custom designed 65-foot fiberglass liveaboard (built in 1980). Based out of Ft. Lauderdale, it runs 7-14+ day trips of either north Exumas (from Nassau – fall/spring) or south Exumas (from George Town – summer). The boat has accommodations for 8 guests, offering 4 bunk-bed style cabins with 1 shared full bathroom & 1 toilet. Two outrigger stabilizers provided us with a smooth ride. With this small size boat, they’re free to offer customized itineraries.
The crew has 30+ years experience in the Bahamas and that showed. The boat is not fancy, but if you’re a serious diver you’ll happily trade creature comforts for unforgettable experiences. The dive deck is well equipped with cubbies for each diver, and the safety briefings are comprehensive.
They have 3 friendly dogs (Australian Shepherds) which have a very special relationship with a local dolphin named Calypso – amazing to watch them swim & play together! Calypso followed us from
site to site, quickly checking on us, and then swimming on to find her friends to play with. I could write a whole article just on this special friendship alone…
Sunsets are spectacular to view from the top deck, featuring conch-shell corals and drenched yellows with a green flash. Just writing this makes me wish I could go back!
I always meet new life-long friends on liveaboards (work & play). You will too – I hope you start planning today!
- Destination Considerations: How to get there? Small plane? What’s your weight limit? What is the best time of year to visit? What animals will you see?
- Are conditions right for your level of training? Training/Courses available? Dive guides available?
- Health & Safety: Check to make sure your liveaboard is equipped with smoke detectors, 24-hour watchman, satellite phone, O2/Defibrillator, COVID-19 cleaning/sanitization and social distancing protocols. Also, you want to check to know where the nearest chamber is.
- Stability & Seasickness: Research which season has the calmest seas, ask your doctor for non-drowsy seasickness medications just in case, and find out what type of stabilization the boat uses.
- Accommodations: Size of cabins (with or without en suite bathrooms) – bunks vs. flat beds – roommate vs. single.
- Gear: Rentals available? Nitrox?
- Do They Provide or Should You Pack Your Own?: Reef safe products (hair, sunscreen, soap) Quick plug here from Liz – I know exactly where you can get some marvelous reef-safe products – right here: https://stream2sea.com/?ref=delightfuldepartures (Use the coupon code delightfuldepartures45 to save 10%)
- Costs: Perks, added fees, and tips. Expect to tip 10-15% on top of trip costs. (average)
- Pricing Tip: Break down your cost per full diving day (not including travel & partial days, aka embarkation & disembarkation). Compare full costs apples to apples, if possible, to help find the liveaboard right for you.
Keeley Collins is an avid traveler & award winning marine photographer based in North Carolina. A DAN Ambassador, she dedicates her time to supporting non-profits that promote reef conservation, diver education and the NC scuba community. See her work at KelpandCoral.zenfolio.com.