Trip Report Turks & Caicos Explorer II 8/21 - 8/28/21

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stuartv

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I got home Saturday night from a week on the TCEXII. It was a good trip.

The crew were all friendly and helpful - except for the cook who occasionally came across a bit curmudgeonly.

Everyone on the boat was slated for Nitrox. On the 2nd day (I think), the low pressure compressor for driving the membrane system that is used for making Nitrox died. We had no Nitrox for the next 2 or 3 days. Then, the crew figured out some way to use the compressor that was supplying the drying hoses on the camera table to push the air for the membrane system. We then had Nitrox again for the last 1 or 2 days. That was good, but it was also a little disappointing that the crew did not make a point of telling everyone that. There were divers who ended up diving with Nitrox but still thinking they were diving air - and with their computers set for air, of course. Fortunately, nobody unwittingly went deep and toxed. I only knew because I brought my own analyzer and I used it on every tank, even when we had been told there was no more air and even after I had verified several tanks in a row of air. One of my friends was teasing me at one point, when I was analyzing my tank. "It's air, Stuart!" 2 days later and he had nothing further to say on that subject...

My accommodations were in the belly of the boat. A friend and I shared a cabin with 2 bunk beds. All the cabins have their own bathrooms. Ours was small but serviceable. Everything was clean and in good repair. The shower itself was actually big enough for me (6' 1", 245#). Just barely - but it was. The crew popped into each cabin every morning and made the beds and (apparently) cleaned the bathrooms. And they went in and turned down the covers and left a little chocolate on the beds each evening. Not necessary, but a nice little touch. Oh, and each room had its own air conditioning controls. We kept ours set on the lowest (coldest) setting it would allow and we were comfortable.

The food was good, but was nevertheless one of the more disappointing parts of my stay. I went on a Blackbeard cruise 2 years ago and I enjoyed the meals and snacks on Blackbeard's more, by far. I never missed a meal on Blackbeard's. On TCEXII, there was one meal where nothing at all looked good to me and I ended up completely skipping the meal. Another meal, my friend that sat next to me at dinner had apparently checked the dinner menu ahead of time and requested something different. When we were all eating something else (I don't remember what), they served him 3 small chicken cutlets that looked broiled. It was good that they accommodated him. But, I don't remember a single meal on Blackbeard's where anyone skipped because there was nothing appetizing (to them) nor had to ask for a special meal.

Dive operations were good. 20 passengers. 4 benches with 5 seats each. Each bench had 2 fill whips on it. The crew generally had our tanks filled very shortly after finishing each dive. I had requested an AL100 with a DIN valve and they had it ready for me. And, to my surprise, I often got fills that were well over 3000 psi after they cooled down. That is nice because, unlike an AL80, an AL100 is not actually "full" until it is at 3300 psi.

Every dive, there was a guide in the water and we had the option to follow the guide or do our own thing. Regardless, we were told that daytime dives were limited to 1 hour and night dives to 45 minutes. However, I had a number of day dives that ran to 68 minutes and one that was 71 and nobody ever gave any indication of an issue. To be clear, I was pretty much always back under the boat by 60 minutes (to maybe 63 or 64 minutes), so they could see me. From there, it was generally just leisurely safety stops that took up the rest of the time.

The diving itself was nice, but nothing I regarded as exceptional - well, except for maybe 1 night dive that we did. Bottom temps were 83-84F on all the dives. I wore board shorts and a rash guard the first day. But, that night and the rest of the trip, I wore a full 1.5mm Bare Exowear suit. I didn't feel a need for that because of the temperatures. It was because it was a full moon and the dive briefing indicated there was a real possibility of Sea Wasps. I wore the suit for protection on the night dive and then, once it was wet anyway, I went ahead and wore it the rest of the time, for protection from cuts and stings. I was shooting photos the whole time and brushing up against fire coral or something while wedging myself upside down between 2 coral heads to shoot something under a ledge seemed like a realistic possibility.

Dive depths ranged from 41 to 103. But, the dives were pretty much always right next to a wall, so you could go as deep as you wanted (to beyond 130'/40m) on any dive you wanted. I mostly stayed near the top of the wall or on top of the reef, to ensure my gas lasted. I got in 27 dives. My average dive time was exactly 60 minutes.

Every day's procedure was the same for diving. 2 dives in the morning on one site, then move the boat, then 2 day dives and 1 night dive on another site. It worked reasonably well as each site you could get in and go one direction along the wall on the first dive, then go the opposite direction on the next dive. We never had any current to speak of. Visibility was not that great (for the Caribbean). Some dives, it was 60 feet or more, but some it was more like 40 - 50.

I was hoping to see lots of sharks and at least one Hammerhead. What I actually saw was an occasional reef shark - usually at least one per dive. Usually the same one swimming laps, so would see it 2 or 3 times during the dive. One site had a few nurse sharks laying around. Nobody saw a Hammerhead. I saw 1 smallish turtle and 1 or 2 other, bigger turtles through the course of the week. I saw 1 big green moray eel and a few smaller brown, spotted eels. I saw a few Porcupine fish. I saw at least 4 different octopi - a couple during night dives and a couple during the day. There were loads of Flamingo Tongues to be found, and at least a couple of different types of tiny sea slugs.

I mentioned earlier that there was one exceptional dive. I think it was on a site they called G-Spot. That is where there were a few nurse sharks. The night dive there was truly memorable. The crew told us during the dive briefing that the sharks had learned they could find food in the beams of our dive lights. We should stay a few feet off the bottom and expect the sharks to buzz through under and around us looking to catch food in the illuminated areas from our lights. They did not lie nor exaggerate. Those sleeping nurse sharks were totally different creatures at night. No sign whatsoever of aggression towards a diver, but they and a few reef sharks (generally 4-ish feet) were going to town following our light beams around on the bottom and going after food. It was exciting to watch. The nurse sharks, in particular, would just barge right into the smallest holes in various coral heads seeking food and we were hovering just above, watching them wriggle like a terrier that is trying to pull a rabbit out of a hole.

Good times, my friends. Good times.
 
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stuartv

stuartv

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Here's a small sampling from the 1500 photos I shot...

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deeper thoughts

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Very nice thnx for sharing
 

Lewis88

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I'm slated to be on this boat In Nov for the second time, and I'm disappointed to hear they are STILL having membrane issues 9 years later.

Last time we could only get 30%.
 
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stuartv

stuartv

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I'm slated to be on this boat In Nov for the second time, and I'm disappointed to hear they are STILL having membrane issues 9 years later.

Last time we could only get 30%.

The captain said he'd put a new compressor in 5 or 6 years ago. It fried a bearing. Apparently, that was quite unexpected for that unit and its relatively "new" condition. I don't know. That's just what he told us.

Thanks for the trip report! Where in the T&C did the itinerary take you? Any diving off of South Caicos?

I'm not sure. I think we were in West Caicos and French Cay. The dive sites were:

Amphitheater
Eel Garden
Stairway
Thunderdome
The Gully
Boat Cove
Elephant Ear Canyon
The Anchor
Rock 'n Roll
G Spot
Half Mile
 

drrich2

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Glad you made it! My Turks & Caicos live-board trip was on the Aggressor boat a few years back; our dives were off West Caicos and Provo. as we didn't make it to French Cay.

I recall the reef wall started deeper on average, and it seemed average dive depths were somewhat deeper, compared to other mainstream Caribbean destinations I've been to. Did it seem so to you?

That is nice because, unlike an AL80, an AL100 is not actually "full" until it is at 3300 psi.

Thanks for mentioning that, as I don't think it's as common knowledge as it should be. IIRC, at 3,000 PSI an AL100 has roughly 90-cf or so; still a meaningful addition, and good on dive trips averaging deeper, but worth noting.

Love the reef shark and 2nd octopus shot in particular.
 
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stuartv

stuartv

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Glad you made it! My Turks & Caicos live-board trip was on the Aggressor boat a few years back; our dives were off West Caicos and Provo. as we didn't make it to French Cay.

I recall the reef wall started deeper on average, and it seemed average dive depths were somewhat deeper, compared to other mainstream Caribbean destinations I've been to. Did it seem so to you?



Thanks for mentioning that, as I don't think it's as common knowledge as it should be. IIRC, at 3,000 PSI an AL100 has roughly 90-cf or so; still a meaningful addition, and good on dive trips averaging deeper, but worth noting.

Love the reef shark and 2nd octopus shot in particular.

Thank you!

I compare everything to diving in Cozumel. My average max depth in TCI, over 27 dives, was 72 feet. I went to Cozumel for a week at Christmas and my average depth there, over 15 dives, was ... 72 feet. LOL! Max in TCI was 103. Max in Cozumel was 121.

It felt like the Coz dives were generally deeper, but I guess not really?
 

drrich2

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Cozumel diving was different to me. In Turks & Caicos, since the main reef wall started deeper (around 40-50', IIRC), divers who tended to be worse on air didn't have the luxury to dive as shallowly above the rest of the group and still see much going along the wall. Max. depths weren't necessarily deeper, but average depths were.

In Cozumel, there was more variation between different sites (e.g.: the Palancar sites were distinct from others), and a person could dive more shallowly (though we often had flat bottom beneath us, unlike T&C, which was along a wall)...but current speed varies with depth, so an 'air hog' drift diving a good bit higher in the water column doesn't drift at the same rate as the guide and other divers deeper down.

I mention this because if someone has trouble with gas consumption cutting dives short, I'd suggest the Caymans (unlikely a live-aboard option going forward, from what I've read in another thread; hope I'm wrong about that) or one of the Belize Aggressors, since the option to stay shallower than the group is more practical.
 

scubadada

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Hey @stuartv

:)

My son and I did a land based trip from Providenciales in 2009. We saw Reef Sharks on nearly every dive, often several. My avatar is a picture of one of a pair that swam with us for about 15 minutes at the cut in the wall at Boat Cove. I saw far more Reef Sharks on that trip than I have seen on any other trip in the Caribbean. I wonder if there are less sharks now, or you just hit it during a slow period?
 
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