Trip Report Turks & Caicos Aggressor II 4/21-4/28 Trip Report

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drrich2

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This is my main trip report. I’ll post a separate thread later, summarizing my research on this dive destination, with commentary based on my trip there, and links to online info. and regional discussions & reviews by others travelers and divers.

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I was blessed to enjoy a 7-day live-aboard trip on the Turks & Caicos Aggressor II from Sat. April 21 - Sat. April 28th, based out of Turtle Cove marina in Providenciales (Provo for short); we dove off the coast of Provo, then West Caicos, then hit Provo again. For weather report concerns I don’t know the specifics of, we never hit French Cay; our Captain indicated while still a fine night dive, French Cay had substantial damage from the 2017 hurricanes, including loss of some very old, large sponges.

Turks & Caicos has been held up as amongst the ‘best diving in the Caribbean’ (though I read that about Little Cayman much more), and it’s known for frequent reef shark sightings and stingrays. It’s wall diving with a reputation for the top of the wall starting deeper (~ 50 feet) than some alternative destinations. Provo has a rep. for being expensive, and long boat rides (I’ve read 45 minutes) out to the better diving sites if using a land-based op. Live-aboards offer an ‘all-inclusive’ and ‘turn key’ (very simple) trip plan, especially for a solo traveler.

I’ve done Aggressor trips to Belize and the Cayman Islands, and put in a request for one of the 100-cf tanks to offset anticipated higher gas needs due to deeper diving in T&C. Both the Turks & Caicos Aggressor II and Explorer II get strongly positive reviews; Aggressor Fleet offered a limited time 34% off sale in trips ending by May 2018, so saving ~ $950 made the choice for me. I booked through Diviac (now PADI Travel) and mentioned my Diviac log book; I got upgraded to lifetime premium logbook status (so I don’t have to pay anymore). Diviac included Dive Assure insurance; I already subscribe to DAN’s annual Preferred level plan.

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Southwest Airlines flies to Provo., so decent airfare with 2 free checked bags kept costs down. No need for car rental using a live-aboard. Chose the cheapest room category, a twin share – 2-person room, bunk beds, and share our bathroom with another twin share room on the other side. Said bathroom was ‘compact’ - but you could take a shower and vent yourself. I often used the single bathroom (a.k.a. ‘head’) at the dive deck, and the 2 showers at the back of it.
 

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drrich2

drrich2

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You walk onto the boat at the dive deck, occupying the rear section. To the front of that is the large, enclosed salon area (for hanging out and eating). The dive deck has individual stations; set your tank up once, and aside from disconnecting/reconnecting your reg. for tank fills, you’re done. Your seat is the lid of your storage compartment. There’s a large camera table (the smaller adjacent section is for crew gear; the Captain shot video, the Engineer stills). There are 2 nitrox analyzers; the diving is deep so the very few people who weren’t nitrox-cert.d took the course onboard, and we all dove it. The salon had a mini-fridge with drinks, yogurt, left-over deserts and the beloved jar of Oreos. Next was the kitchen, turning out lots of good food (3 meals & 2 rounds of snacks/day. Wine’s an option at supper, but drinking ends the diving that day).

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From the salon, take the stairs down to the hall with our rooms. Here’s my twin share. There’s a sink (tip: there’s extra toilet paper underneath) and window. The flat screen t.v. had a USB drive attachment; I never turned it on to explore entertainment options. Under the bottom bunk are 2 large drawers; there’s a small closet to share. There’s also a ‘non-drawer’ space under the bottom bunk, where you can stow soft-sided luggage, for example. Crew stowed my hard-sided case elsewhere. Each bunk had its own light (e.g.: for reading, etc...), and there was also a room light.

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drrich2

drrich2

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drrich2

drrich2

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From the dive deck, head up the stairs to padded benches, lounge chairs, a hot tub, and a ‘bar area’ with a sizeable fridge with lots of drinks (Diet Coke for me, but I saw beer, too). We were a full boat, but seemed everyone had plenty of room.

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Special Note: Engineer Robert Smith takes a separate, black light small group on a night dive each night (aside from the regular ‘white light’ night dive group with a different guide). There’s a sign-up sheet for Rob’s group; it’s no added charge and you can see some sea creatures fluoresce under UV light (using special masks to protect your eyes from the UV; that’s why his group and the regular night divers don’t mix). I didn’t opt for this, but others spoke well of it.

Based on my perceptions & assumptions from what I’d read, I went in anticipating fairly deep, flat sandy areas (with sting rays), then at 50 feet a lushly packed (e.g.: gorgonians, hard corals & sponges) wall sloping down, with a few reef sharks in view much of the time and crystal clear viz. in sight of beautiful beaches. And French Cay would be the best diving.

My actual experience, informed by all 27 offered dives, done off the coasts of Provo. and West Caicos (we didn’t make French Cay, I think due to weather though the weather where we were was good; the Captain indicated French Cay is still a fine night dive, but had substantial damage in the 2017 hurricanes, with loss of some very old, large sponges), differed.

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drrich2

drrich2

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1.) Boat tended to moor over sandy flats around 35 - 40 feet deep, often with patchy rocky outcrops with some growth on them. Southern stingrays were often seen, but not a bunch (e.g.: I saw 2 at once, no more). Schools of horse-eye jacks may come to the boat. So the ‘shallow’ area can be enjoyed.

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2.) The wall was an abrupt transition, mostly a steep, rocky wall (usually steeper than Bonaire’s west coast sites, and often vertical), did start around 50 feet, viz. was variable (50 - 100 feet), water temp.s warm (tending around 79 degree lows), usually minimal current (but could get some; tide can do that and change viz.). The walls weren’t consistently as lush as I’d anticipated; there was growth, but also plenty of exposed rocky surface. Even in vertical areas I could look down and see distance bottom; didn’t feel like diving over a bottomless abyss. Plenty deep to exceed the recommended 110 feet, though.

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drrich2

drrich2

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drrich2

drrich2

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For variety, a site called Thunderdome.

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3.) Reef sharks were commonly seen, but not every dive, not in high numbers (I don’t think I saw over 2 at a time, and usually 1), and you could get photos but they didn’t come in as close and persistently as I saw in St. Croix (so I imagine they haven’t been fed by people as much in the recent past). Nurse sharks were seen on some night dives; I neither saw nor heard of other divers seeing other shark species this trip.

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drrich2

drrich2

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4.) While we saw plenty of southern stingrays, I only saw 1 eagle ray (big, curious, swung around...and I was dealing with a situation and got no photo).

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5.) Common life I noticed - reef sharks, barracuda, horse-eye jacks, another species of jack, white-spotted filefish, queen & some gray angelfish (only saw 1 adult French angel), trumpet fish, Nassau grouper (small to medium, not so much the really big ones some of whom we could touch in Little Cayman), a few tiger grouper (mostly small) and I think I saw one yellow-fin (?) grouper swim by. Bar jacks. Hawksbill sea turtles (only turtles I saw). On night dives, big, purplish jacks hunted by our lights; I saw no tarpon all week. Flamingo tongue mollusks. Day (hidden) and night (out), I may have seen more channel cling crabs than all my other dives combined. Saw a few green and spotted morays; 2 golden-tail morays. 1 Scorpionfish. 2 Octopus. French and blue-striped grunts, blue tangs, blue chromis. More ceros than I’ve seen elsewhere. Some Ocean triggerfish passed me, and I saw a few queen triggerfish. I’ll include pics of the not-so-common, like the Fingerprint mollusks at one site.

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