Trip Report Aqua Cat April 2022

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uncfnp

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We looked at the Aqua Cat LOB for many years but reading about the reefs in the Bahamas always gave me a pause. This past fall after LOBs in Socorro and Sea of Cortez we decided to book the Aqua Cat for April 2022.

Flight was into Nassau on New Providence island. I expected good prices on flights but higher then expected. I did find a Delta flight that worked so was able to use our miles, Greensboro to Nassau through Atlanta. We gambled on arrival same day as the Aqua Cat departure but since they board and leave dock late I hoped it wasn’t too much a risk.

Covid. Entry into the Bahamas required a negative covid test (antigen tests are accepted if vaccinated) within 3 days of travel plus a Bahamas Travel Health Visa. To get the Travel Visa an account is opened online then once you have the negative covid test you enter that and the trip information. Once approved they send the link to pay, 40 pp, and finally the visa is sent by email. You must have the negative test and the Visa to board the plane.


Trip down went smoothly but transit through customs was lengthly and the transport van (ISLAND ESCAPE TOURS) we had arranged ahead of time had already left with a group. So we had the next van to ourselves until we picked up a fellow passage along the way. He had flown in the day before. I didn’t clock it but it was about a 30 minute ride. Cost 36 pp round trip.


We arrived a short time before the 6 pm boarding and several other guests were already socializing on the dive deck with choice of water or rum punch. Aqua Cat makes both a digital photo album and a video so be prepared for lots of pictures starting at boarding.

We were given a brief orientation then we selected our tanks and spots. There were a few 100s and 63s as alternatives to the standard 80’s. All aluminum, no steel. We were next shown to our rooms to unpack. Empty luggage placed in hall to be removed for storage.


Cabin 11. We decided to go with cabin 11. This is the inside room with bunk beds. Let me tell you, it is tight. Beds are against the far wall. There is room for two people to stand shoulder to shoulder in front of the beds but that’s about it. To the right is a closet unit and a cabinet with shelves. Below the cabinet is a small fridge. There is a drawer below the bottom bunk and an outlet. To the left is the bathroom with a tiny shower, shampoo and conditioner provided. Mirrored cabinet over the sink. There is one hook in the bathroom and a double hook in the sleeping area. The skylight has a board you can lower for sleeping. The first night out there was a very loud vibration that made me question my choice of LOB but it improved after the captain anchored and I could sleep. And for whatever reason, that sound never recurred. When it was time to pack for our return, Eric and I had to alternate time in the room for packing, only room for one person to pack at a time.



Dive deck. Large area with two rows and camera table between. Each row had tanks on both sides to make 4 lines of tanks and typically an unused tank between divers so we had room to gear up. Drying line overhead, a ledge that holds the fill hoses below that but you could also place small items here. Tanks at seat level and crate for storage below that. Two rinse tanks. Bathroom and two roomy showers on deck. Shelf unit for charging station and another for towels, separate towels for divers and cameras. To splash you can go down steps on either side of the deck to the water level or giant stride drop from deck level. Nitrox or air provided. They had 3 analyzers so never a very long wait. I’d say our average was 31 percent.



Predive briefing. Dive briefings are given on the next level up, the Alfresco deck. The dive site is reviewed as well as some of the critters that can be seen there. Then the guide for that dive selects 1 “feature creature” for that dive. There is a list and a prize for the diver that spots the most featured animals by the end of the trip. After the briefing the guide would get a show of hands for the divers that plan to go with the guide.

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Diving. Diving started Sunday morning. While there is no set restriction to dive time they do ask you to keep under 60 minutes so they can make the planned 5 dives a day, 4 daytime dives and 1 night. On Thursday there isn’t a night dive with the Captain’s dinner and only 2 dives on Friday after which they return to port. That makes a total of 26 possible dives.

Not surprisingly the deepest dives of the day were the morning dives and often included a wall. Afternoon dives were shallower and the 4th dive was the same location as the night dive. The shark feeding dive was on Tuesday. Water temperature averaged 77 without a thermocline. I dove a 7 mm but others were in 5 to 3 to board shorts only. One fellow diver had a heated vest.

Dives are conducted from the Aqua Cat. Got to love this, no getting on and off skiffs. All but one of our dives were anchored. The Washing Machine was the only drift dive and the only dive they requested we to stick together. On deeper dives they provide a hang bar and an emergency regulator at same depth. Climbing back on board you get a spritz of fresh water for you and your gear (trying to keep sand off the deck). Assistance is given to the level needed by the diver. You need help, they are there. Independent, they let you do your own thing, both above and below the waves.

Each diver has a name tag and there are three boards at the end of the camera table: on Aqua cat, on Sea Dog or diving. Each diver is suppose to move their tag when going off boat, link with their buddy when appropriate and replace when back on the Cat.
Overall the diving was underwhelming as you might expect in the Bahamas. It actually started great in the Exumas but winds forced an early transition to Eleuthera where many of the dives had great topography, fair fish life but the coral was very sparse. So it was a mixed bag, some really good sites with some that were just down right depressing.

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Shark dive. This was a baited dive with a block of frozen fish, a fish popsicle! The boat ties onto the anchor and all divers are placed kneeling in a semicircle. The bait is brought down the line while the fish and shark swarm. It was interesting but not something I feel compelled to repeat.


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Excursions. 2 excursions were offered most days, a mix of fishing, beach time, snorkel boarding and once to feed the iguanas. No swimming pigs this trip. Only the iguana trip did not require missing a dive.



Food. Meals are served in the salon on the second level but many of us would take our food out to the alfresco deck. I would have to say the food on this trip was the best of any of my 3 LOBs so far. They struggled a bit with breakfast but lunch and dinner was either very good or outright delicious. Taco Tuesday was fantastic. Thanks to the fishermen we had mahi mahi ceviche one day and grilled the next. Yum! Muffins were often available throughout the morning and cookies afternoons. Fruit of course. If a group was watching movies in the lounge popcorn would appear. Hot water always available for a variety of teas, hot chocolate and instant oatmeal. Brewed coffee. Sodas and beer on tap. Gatorade and tea in pitchers. Selection of liquors (no tequila) at the bar on the sun deck. Wine at dinner. Except for the Captain’s dinner all meals were buffet style and usually included a salad, possibly a pasta, two entrees, veggie and bread. Dessert served individually.



The Crew. OMG the crew makes this boat. Laid back and fun loving they really seem to love their job, including the Captain. If I do get to dive this boat again I want the exact same crew! John Tucker as Captain and Alex as his first mate and captain trainee. Alex also captained the Sea Dog for the fishing and other excursions. Deck/guides Jono, Dale, Thor and Rachael. Chef Lauro and sous chef/baker Kim. House mouse Dahianna. And of course Serafin and Joel as engineers that ended up working constantly on a food freezer to keep it going all trip.



Never have I seen a crew (boat or resort) that was so fun loving, considerate, patient and truly seem to want to make us happy. Just standing to stretch my legs in the salon had someone there asking if I needed something. Another time a crew member heard me coveting Eric’s oatmeal cookie so off he went to find me one.



Thursday night after the Captain’s dinner awards are handed out and entries for the photo and video contest are screened and winners selected. Then the official Aqua Cat photos and trip video was shared (both available to purchase).



Trip home. Friday is the last day of diving with two dives and then return to port. Paperwork completed, bill and tips covered. Covid testing at port and arranged by Aqua Cat. Dinner that night on island but night spent on boat until departure the next morning and another van ride to the airport. It was a cold rainy day/evening in port so most of us just stayed onboard and the divers went in together to get pizza delivery. Customs is completed in the Bahamas so we avoided that huge hassle in Atlanta.



So yes, even though the diving was not the best in the Caribbean I would absolutely do this dive again. I loved the crew, the covered Alfresco deck, the excursions and the diving directly from the Aqua Cat!



BTW. If you are still reading this we had a whale shark swim up to the boat. Crew and divers scramble to snorkel including launching the Sea Dog and an inflatable. No luck. Of course I was in the bathroom at the time 🙄
 

living4experiences

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Congrats on your 1000th dive!!

I really like the Aqua Cat, and I'll be on her for my 5th trip next weekend. I agree....the diving isn't the greatest, but the crew, the boat, the food, the captain make it a really good trip. The side excursions give the trip some fun variety too.

Cabin 11 is the smallest cabin on the boat. For your next trip, I would recommend cabins 3, 4, 5, or 6. They are much more spacious.

Glad you had a good time!
 

drrich2

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Thanks for a great trip report. Congrats.s to Eric on the 1,000th dive. Love the shot with the sharks and chum sickle. I don't see many Aquacat reports on SB and they tend to be very sporadic. Your's may draw a lot of attention when people research trips in the future. It's worth a close look.

We looked at the Aqua Cat LOB for many years but reading about the reefs in the Bahamas always gave me a pause.
Same here, and that's why I've never dove in the Bahamas to date. Near as I can tell from ScubaBoard, the Aquacat has one of the most consistent high-praise reputations of any live-aboard in the U.S./Caribbean region, with a focus on praising a great crew, but the 'general reef diving' (e.g.: not Tiger Beach shark or Bimini shark feeding dives) gets reports of being somewhat lackluster. An exception is the route the Juliet live-aboard takes, and it's a more budget trip (in terms of reported amenities per trip reports, north of Blackbeard's but south of the Aquacat).

Nice to know they've got some 100-cf AL tanks. You mentioned you had tight quarters; was that specific to your room, or were most like that. Surprised to hear there was a fridge in it.

Do they charge to buy a copy of the digital photo album and video? I've bought videos on my Aggressor trips; nice to have, and our kid loved watching them.

Sorry you missed the whale shark. I've never seen one in person.

Glad to hear the water was 77-degrees. In the past reading on Blackbeard's info. on water temp.s, I saw that the Bahamas' waters get cold part of the year (plus I was waist deep in water near Nassau years ago and it was cold!). Nice to know it was that warm for your trip.
 
OP
uncfnp

uncfnp

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@drrich2 There were some dives that were very good and others that I would not have mind missing for an excursion. In fact I did skip 2 dives to fish and another dive to catch a nap before the night dive.

As @living4experiences said, cabin 11 is the only small cabin. In fact, the Aqua Cat is know for spacious cabins, except 11. We knew ahead of time that it would be tight but it saved us almost a thousand dollars and you know how …frugal I am. That is another thousand we can use toward the next trip and in truth the weather was so good we quite literally were only in the room to sleep. Would we do it again? Under discussion :)

In my opinion the fridge is a waste of space. We never used it. With Aqua Cat supplying all our needs we didn’t need to chill anything. I could see though if you were into beer that you might want to bring and chill your own. Or some other speciality food or drink.

Photos and the video were extra, both provided on flash drives. I think photos were 45 and the video 65. We enjoyed the video, there was a lot of humor and it will help us remember the crew and our fellow divers. It was a good group, I would enjoy diving with them again too.
 

morecowbells

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Loved reading this trip report! Laughing about the missed whale shark encounter. It sounds like a LOB is the best way to dive the Bahamas. While sleeping and eating, did you feel much sway or rolling seas? Any pics of cabin 11?
 
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uncfnp

uncfnp

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Loved reading this trip report! Laughing about the missed whale shark encounter. It sounds like a LOB is the best way to dive the Bahamas. While sleeping and eating, did you feel much sway or rolling seas? Any pics of cabin 11?
Rolling and sway were sporadic and mostly while underway and especially during the crossings Exuma/Eleuthera but mostly this was minimal. Thursday night on the way back from Eleuthera was the only time it was really notable and even then it was just occasional, the Captain mentioned something about having to make a few turns. Absolutely no one on this trip had any issues with seasickness but several were wearing patches. At night there was just enough sway to lull me to sleep. But I am sure a lot of this is dependent on weather.

I didn’t take any pictures and I hope Eric will join in and share his experience and videos. The stock photo of the cabin is about as good a photo as one can get, especially without a wide angle lens.
 
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uncfnp

uncfnp

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Stock photos of 11. You can see the bathroom to the left and the closet to the right. The ladder to climb to the top bunk is useless. Just step on bottom bunk and swing your legs up. I forgot to mention that there is a reading light for each bed. This probably isn’t the cabin for most couples.
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uncfnp

uncfnp

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Stock pic of the alfresco deck plus the Aqua Cat and Sea Dog.
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Jcp2

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How are the excursions with the sea dog? Thinking of going with non diver for a trip to get away from it all.
 
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