Click on the camera above for an album showing a few of our favorite pictures from this trip,
or go to one of the photo pages to see lots of pictures.
Back in July in the midst of getting ready for the Indonesian trip I got an email from my pal Tim. Seems he and some of his buddies were signed up for the Nekton's new Puerto Rico/USVI itinerary and he was wondering if we might be interested in going as well. The easy Nekton diving, a new itinerary, good diving friends and the Rorqual with Capt. Nelson sounded good to us so we sent off our deposit for the week before Christmas. With the Indonesian trip and a week on the Rorqual we hoped we would make our 100 dives a year goal. Turns out we came up just a few dives short, ending 2007 with around 76 dives for the year. Not bad, we'll just have to do a few extra dives in 2008 to make up for our shortfall.
We flew straight from DFW to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The prearranged shuttle to Fajardo, where we would be boarding the Rorqual, was to pick us up in front of the airport post office. Other Nekton guests began arriving for the rendezvous with the shuttle and a funny thing happened, some of them looked familiar. First Brian and his daughter, Nicole walked up, Brian was with us on the Rorqual last September in the Cayman's. The same trip where we met Tim. Then Steve showed up, another alumni from the Cayman Islands trip. Brian let us know that his dive buddy from the Cayman trip, Tom, would also be on board with his daughter. WOW. Six of us from the September 2006 Cayman trip were on this boat, over a year later and without planning it. It was like a reunion of sorts and nice to get to know them a little better.
The van picked us up rather late and it was a 45 minute or so ride to the marina. We stopped for alcohol and snacks, (Nekton cruises do not provide alcohol or carbonated beverages), picked up a couple six packs of beer, made a quick stop at Burger King to grab some dinner and got to the marina just after 8pm. Guests that had arrived earlier had boarded and everyone mingled and talked with the crew for a while. After the safety briefing, Nelson informed us that due to weather we would be crossing to St. Croix right away rather than chancing the iffy weather patterns at Puerto Rico's Vieques Island. And a bit of a rough crossing it turned out to be. Not a lot of sleep for most and a few guests suffered some queasiness that night.
We were assigned cabin 14 again, the same cabin we have always had. It looked to have had a few updates but the bathroom door still won't shut all the way. Not a big deal, the room was comfortable and the engine provided the "white noise" for some great sleepy nights. Most of the crew were new to us. Of course Nelson and Denise were there and Austin was just re-joining the Nekton. Everyone else was new to us. We enjoyed new (to us) Dive Masters Jordan and John, always smiling and truly interested in our pictures and sighting after a dive. Charlie, who arrived with us this week also seemed like a great guy. The food was good, though could have used a bit more carbs for the lunch menu and some more variety in the afternoon snacks. The water was colder than summertime Caribbean diving and the carb load would have helped keep us warm on our afternoon dives. Check out the 'Above Water Photos' page for pictures of the crew, the ship and the guests as well as some shots around St. Croix and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Nitrox compressor was not working so we dove air for the week. Didn't notice any difference on tiredness, but we did keep an eye on depth to minimize the nitrogen load so we could comfortably do all five dives each day. With Nekton's steel 95 tanks we were commonly coming back to the boat after an hour dive with over 1000 psi still in the tank. We were generally in the water by 8:30am, do an hour dive, surface interval for an hour and back in the water by 10:45, dive about an hour and up for lunch. After lunch about the same schedule and after dinner a night dive. With 25 guests on this cruise we had plenty of room to roam around. The dive deck gets a bit crowded but we all worked around it and took turns strapping on our tanks when necessary.
We got a late start on Sunday due to the cross over to St. Croix and didn't get in the water until after lunch. Did five night dives on this trip, every night except Friday. We didn't take either camera on the last night dive, at Kings Cross so, of course, we had a fun encounter with a little Octopus that hung around for at least 10 minutes. Our longest dive was one hour and thirty-five minutes at North Star where we spent quite a bit of time in the shallows chasing Flounders for movies and I practiced fish pictures. The deepest dive was at the Butler Bay Deep wreck of the Rosa Maria. I went down to 102 feet looking for eels under the bow or anything interesting around the bottom of the boat. The best dive site would have to be the Fredricksted Pier where we saw a big Flying Gunard, lots of Octopus, a Southern Ray and a couple of Seahorses amongst other things.
It was often windy but quite warm and we only had a sprinkling of rain on one night dive. The water temperatures ranged from 75 on night dives to around 80 on the daytime dives. We wore our 3 mil wetsuits for the first day and then switched to the 5/4/3 Mares suits for the remainder of the trip. I wore my 3 mil beanie on night dives and Bill wore his all the time. Even with the thicker suits we both dove with no extra weights and I still had to use the air in my BCD to offset the tank weight. There were virtually no currents but we did encounter quite a bit of surge on some dives. The visibility varied but was generally good and exceptional on some sites.
We noticed a lot of dead coral and sand covered areas on some of the dive sites. The week before, strong tropical storms hit the island and left their mark. The fish life in St. Croix, while plentiful seemed to be primarily smaller varieties. Didn't see the swirling schools of Jacks or large Tarpon or big Barracuda. There were lots and lots of Soldierfish, Trunkfish, Trumpetfish and Moray Eels and Arrow Crabs in abundance. We saw some large barrel sponges and some big outcroppings of Elkhorn coral at Vertigo on the north side of the island (not shown on the dive site map above). The listing of what site we dove when and what we saw complete with photos can be found on the Dive Photos page, just click the tab on the top of this page. I had a new camera for this trip and really enjoyed the macro subjects of Blennys, Yellow Headed Jawfish and Cleaner Shrimp. I even managed to come in second in the weekly photo contest with my macro shot of a Flamingo Tongue on a Black Sea Rod. Bill is now in the market for a new camera for himself......
The winner, Ed's picture of the Arrow Crab (below) was a fantastic shot. Bill got a great shot of a pair of Sand Diver Lizardfish that also drew ooohs and aaahhhs from the guests. This group really had some great pictures this week and it was fun to see everyone's favorites. Check out the Dive Photos page to see all our underwater shots and the Favorite Photos page for a selection of Seahorses, Balloonfish Close ups and some more great Flamingo Tongues.
Click on Ed's winning Arrow Crab, my Flamingo Tongue or Bill's Lizardfish to see them larger.
We ended the week diving only around St. Croix. Weather patterns just didn't favor us diving Vieques Island off Puerto Rico. The diving was easy, with lots of small stuff to photograph and no currents and the visibility was reasonable, particularly in the shallows. I can say though, the protected marine locals that we have dived in the past seem to have a bit more to offer in the way of larger fish and nicer corals. Fish traps were evident at more than one site and trolling fishermen came by very close to us on one dive.
As always it was a great, relaxing week of easy diving. The crew on the Rorqual is great, plentiful food, sunshine, friends and diving. We are already looking at several new ideas for our 2008 trips. In the meantime, take a look at the photo pages from the tabs at the top of this page and check out some of the great shots we got underwater this trip as well as the above ground shots from Fredricksted, St. Croix and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Click on the Flounder below to watch one trying to get away from me.