Nekton Rorqual Liveaboard
We were ready.
With 68 dives so far this year, our Advanced and Nitrox Certifications complete and a couple of land based dive trips under our belt we were ready to venture out on our first liveaboard. We chose the Nekton Cruises for a couple of reasons. There is the fact that they were running a discounted special for the Cayman Itinerary and the nice size rooms with en-suite bathrooms. Traveling in the Caribbean in September means the possibility of hurricanes or at least high winds and rough seas. The Nekton's SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) design is suppose to mean greater stability and a smoother ride. Since feeling seasick would seem to put a wrench in a week long dive trip this stability factor was a plus. You can read all about the technology behind the design by clicking on this link: Nekton SWATH
Yeah, its a big square, funny looking ship and we had a pretty smooth week.
We left Dallas early Saturday morning on September 23rd. Flew through Houston on Continental, no problems, all luggage and dive gear arrived at the airport in Georgetown, Grand Cayman. We took a taxi to the Sunset House Resort where a Nekton associate would meet us later. We met some of the other guests that would be on our dive cruise and had a beer and some dinner at the bar restaurant looking out on the ocean. Started feeling like we were on vacation. Some time around 7PM, Red, one of the dive masters from the Rorqual rounded us up into two groups (25 divers on our cruise) to transfer to the ship with a stop at the grocery and liquor store for snacks and alcohol. Nekton actually provides LOTS of snacks but no carbonated beverages or alcohol. We picked up a 12 pack of beer and were good to go. The plan was a lot of diving and drinking...not so much. Some of the other guests were doing a fair amount of shopping so we didn't get to the ship until after 9pm. Our luggage was already in our rooms and in no time we were all assembled in the salon for a briefing about the ship. After meeting the crew, going over the ships layout and the safety drill we were off to bed as we would be setting up gear and diving first thing after breakfast.
The Itinerary is consistent week to week though flexible enough to allow for changes due to weather and or decisions of dawn dives vs. night dives vs. twilight dives. Captain Nelson would make suggestions and for the most part everyone seemed willing to go along. We did learn that Nekton has scrapped the trip to Stingray City as most people have either already done it or would rather do some 'real' diving. Though we hadn't been to Stingray City, neither Bill nor I was particularly looking forward to doing a shallow (12 feet) dive where you are molested by Stingrays wanting food.
There were 5 or 6 people diving with doubles and doing tech training on this trip. This was somewhat of an inconvenience to the other Nitrox divers due to the amount of room they needed for gear but since the ship was not full we managed. I do think the dive deck was pretty packed at most dives. There were a lot of Nitrox divers and we all wanted to dive 4 or 5 times a day. That puts everyone on pretty much the same schedule. We were really crammed in there. I would hesitate to book a trip that was going to be a full 34 divers. There was always plenty of room on the rest of the ship and the cabins had plenty of storage ~shelves, hooks everywhere and a hang bar. Also unexpected were the three children on the ship. Since this was during the school year I was surprised to see someone take their kids out of school for a dive trip as these kids were. And since the parents were among those doing the tech training with doubles there was not a lot of supervision going on. I have to commend the crew for trying to keep things under control, do their jobs and babysit all at the same time.
Dive Master Dan / Lots of Nitrox Tanks
There was plenty of food at every meal and quite a bit of variety. Fruit, trail mix and cookies were always available in the salon any time of day and fresh baked cookies every day at 10AM as well as extensive snacks in the afternoon, things like wings, eggrolls, chips etc...Plus lots of juice and water. And if you didn't find what you wanted all you had to do was ask.
The Crew really made the trip. They were not only personable and fun to be around but truly acted like they enjoyed what they were doing and wanted everyone to have a good time. The Dive Masters on the deck (Red, Tucker, Dan, Austin) really worked to keep tanks filled and help guide us into the water and drag us out when necessary. There were a few "rescues" for some of the folks and the crew were right on it. When Denise wasn't acting as purser she was on the dive deck as Dive Master or diving in to save the top of my Ikelite when it decided to explode during the safety stop (rechargeable batteries and Ikelite PCA don't mix). Still have the light! Capt Nelson and his trusty assistant Cliff (who seemed to get towel folding duty all the time..) kept us on a smooth schedule that avoided anyone getting seasick or missing dives. Dallon was the cook for the week and he did a great job from breakfast, some starting at 5AM to some late deserts after dinner. Cameron engineered for the week and had a couple challenges when the AC just wasn't cold enough for a few people and one morning the dive deck decided not to lower just as we were trying to do a dawn dive. Just like MacGyver they got it working and we were in the water before breakfast if not before dawn.
The night dive on Tuesday at The Black Hole (off Little Cayman) was particularly noteworthy. We decided not to take the camera that night so of course we saw a lot of interesting and wonderful things. Right away we spotted a large Clinging Crab in the middle of a Purple Sea Fan. Then two Stingrays came right up next to us and we played around with them with our lights for awhile. Bill saw a green Octopus as he slithered into a sponge which was also occupied by a Ruby Brittle Star. There were several juvenile Drums on the reef and one nice Adult Spotted Drum.
We were so enthralled by the life on the reef I'm not sure when it started to get REAL dark but as the current picked up we noticed and decided to wrap up the dive, it had been almost an hour. We headed back toward the ship ascending as we went and realized we could no longer see the strobe or the lights on the hang bar. Hmmmm... Not too alarmed as we were confident in our compass heading we continued and as we ascended further the surge was getting intense and we realized a storm had moved in while we were under water. Locating the ship (right where we left it!) we held our safety stop while watching the hang bar swing wildly. Coming up to the surface to pelting rain, the waves were HUGE and we grabbed the tag line to pull ourselves in. Dive Master Dan was on the bottom step. I was slammed in and out of the waves and would lose sight of him completely occasionally while pulling myself in. I got to the ladder and with Dan's help came up backwards with fins on. When I reached the dive deck I couldn't help but holler WOOHOO. Dan went down to help Bill and they almost managed to lose one of his fins, Bill saved it by letting go of the tag line....uh not good in those conditions. Dan flipped it back to him and Bill dragged himself in. Dive Master Austin (wearing a rain coat over his bathing suit) was helping me to my seat as the ship rocked in the waves and all I could think about was that Discovery Channel show Deadliest Catch about the crab fishermen in Alaska. Ok, I guess you had to be there. I'm telling you it was exciting! Everyone made it in safely, thanks to the Dive Masters and we all had a story to tell.
On another night dive, this one at Atlantis and Radar Reef (off Cayman Brac) at least four of us got stung by Sea Wasps (box Jellyfish). I managed to get stung right on my lip and had a lovely fat lip for two days. Both Tom and Jackie got stung on the lips and Tim had one attach itself to his neck. Its some intense pain, followed by continued mild pain and slight swelling that lasted for several days. Got right back in the water the next morning once I determined the swelling didn't affect the seal on my mask. Heck, the mask didn't seal worth a crap anyway and I was here to dive. While in the water the pain seemed to dissipate.
Sea Wasp/Jellyfish Fat lip from sting
We managed 26 dives on this trip, including 5 night dives, 1 dawn dive and 1 slightly later than dawn dive. The visibility ranged from about 50 feet at Tarpon Alley (lots of particulate) to over 100 feet at several sites. Water temperatures were mostly mid 80's, registering 86 degrees on most dives. Very pleasant with a 1.5mm wetsuit. Thirteen of the dives were around Grand Cayman, ten around Little Cayman and three around Cayman Brac. Our longest dive was one hour and twenty-three minutes and our deepest was 103 feet. We spent about 24 hours of this trip under water.
A listing of the dive sites we dove with pictures (when we took the camera) can be found by clicking on the photo tab at the top of the page. The Nekton makes diving so easy and enjoyable that we will probably book the Belize Itinerary this December. After all we're just short of 100 dives for the year and that will put us over the top.