I learned to SCUBA dive at the age of 15 and next to sailing, it is still my favorite sport. One of the many great aspects of cruising is the ability to visit and dive in some of the world-class spots I’d always read about in the dive magazines, as well as discovering some new and remote spots along the way.
For cruisers planning to incorporate diving into their lifestyle, there are a few things you will need. Obviously, a full set of gear for every diver is a good starting point. If you are already a diver, you know all about that stuff. Here are my thoughts on some accessories that the average recreational diver might not consider when diving from your own yacht:
-A dive computer is nice, but not necessary, as we find we usually don’t dive more than once or twice in a day and usually less than 60 feet.
-I feel that a dive skin or wetsuit is an absolute must to protect oneself from coral scrapes (they can easily become severely infected in the tropics) as well as stinging things like jellyfish. I use a full 3 mm neoprene suit that keeps me well protected and warm in tropical winter water temperatures. If you tend to be “cold-blooded” add a separate hood to your dive wardrobe as a great deal of body heat is lost through the head.
-If you wear dive booties consider buying a pair with non-skid soles. These can double for cool weather deck shoes, and provide good foot protection for beach, reef or jungle walking.
-Dive lights are necessary for night diving. They also double as long lasting and durable general use flashlights for use on and around a boat. We find that the 3 to 4 battery size with halogen bulbs are all around easiest to handle while providing excellent light.
-A snare or a spear is helpful for catching lobster. Protective gloves are a must. A fighting lobster will make hamburger of your hand. Take a game bag if you plan to catch more than one. I prefer the type with nylon fabric around the opening as it won’t snag as easily on the lobster’s sharp spines.
-A good anchor for your dinghy is essential. Nobody wants to surface from a dive to see their dingy drifting off towards the Canary Islands, so make sure that the hook is properly set as soon as you drop down to the bottom. I use a small Fortress with a few feet of stainless chain at the bottom for protection against coral abrasion, but mushroom anchors or grappling hooks seem to work equally as well. We always “double buddy” with a second set of divers and their dinghy when we dive in remote waters, strong current, or outside of the protection of a barrier reef. This insures us against a lost dingy or mechanical breakdown. We also carry a few tools and spare spark plugs. It’s always a good idea to check your fuel before you go!
-A pocket digital depth sounder or lead line is handy to help find good dive spots and anchor your dinghy.
-I prefer shot bags as opposed to lead weights for my weight belts. They won’t mar the deck when dropped and make good paperweights for charts.
-A submersible strobe light or cyalume stick hung down in the water can help you easily find the dink or your boat’s stern ladder after a night dive.
-A “hooka” regulator with a hose that is approximately 2/3 the length or your boat is handy for getting underwater to quickly check on “things that went bump in the night,” make repairs, change zincs, un wind the dinghy painter from the prop or to clean the bottom. You can leave the tank on deck or on the dock and have better freedom of movement.
-An air nozzle attachment to allow you to use compressed air from your tank to clean parts or unblock small passages will invariably come in handy.
-Take lots of first stage “O” rings as well as other service parts such as high and low pressure hoses, regulator service kits and spare straps for masks and fins. Dive shops in the boonies, if there are any, are usually poorly stocked. We keep a spare “O” ring attached to the first stage regulator of each tank.
-Use some sort of “swimmers ear” prevention. We make our own from 2 parts isopropyl alcohol to one part glycerin and put it in with an eyedropper. A few drops in each ear after your day of diving will prevent infection and kill small crustaceans that may think of your ear canal as a cushy new home.
Now, if you really want to get away from the dived out spots and resort’s cattle boats, you may consider having your own dive compressor. This will enable you to dive when and where you want and not have to come into the local dive shop (if there even is one) to buy air. Some of the best diving we encountered in the South Pacific was just outside the pass at Beveridge Reef. The nearest dive shop was 200 miles away We spent five days anchored inside this reef protected, shallow spot in the ocean and got in at least 8 dives. Once the word is out that you have “air” you will also have plenty of diving friends crusing to your schedule and you will likely be bestowed with plenty of adult beverages for filling their tanks.
My dive compressor was probably one of the best additions I’ve made to Moonshadow.
I purchased a reconditioned second-hand Bauer portable unit from a dive shop called Brownie’s Third Lung when I was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1994. It is powered by a 110-volt motor and has been retrofitted with an automatic pressure cutoff and condensate release. It cost around US $2500 at the time, including a 90 day warranty. It is quite compact (approximately 30” wide, 17” high and 12” deep), weighs about 35 pounds, and can fill an 80 cu.ft. tank in about 25 minutes. We incorporate tank filling into the daily genset run. I’ve semi-permanently mounted mine on a shelf inside the lazarette, but they it could also be portable and brought up on deck for use. For those not using a genset they also make gas engine powered versions. A 10-15 foot extension for the fill hose is handy if you want to fill tanks while they are still in the dinghy.
I’ve been quite pleased with the Bauer unit, but have spoken to other cruisers who have had other brands that do the job as well, if not better for the same or less money. As it is with any boat gear, it usually pays to do a bit of shopping around to find the best solution for your particular needs and budget.
If one mounts a compressor permanently, there must be adequate space for ventilation. Compressing air creates plenty of heat. You will also need a hose to bring in fresh air from outside when the unit is running. Be sure that the air intake hose is well away from any exhaust or other fumes, or else you will feel like you’ve got a major hangover after your dive. Be sure to carry spare air filter cartridges, v-belts and compressor oil, and try to run the unit at least once a month to keep all the seals and valves in good working order.
In our travels since late 1994, we’ve had the chance to dive on hundreds of sites in more than a dozen countries. Some sites we heard about from other cruisers, some from previous experience, some from dive guides, some from cruising guides and some from the locals. But there is nothing quite so rewarding as finding one all on your own, just by exploring with the dink and depth sounder, then putting on your mask and sticking your face in the water where you get a good vibe. No beer cans or broken coral. Just the ocean as God created it.
Here are our top ten spots to date in no specific order:
-Beveridge Reef, between the Cook Islands and Niue, South Pacific Ocean. The best spot was just outside the pass and turn left. Depths ranged from 10 to 60 feet with lots of coral canyons and sandy bottoms. Lots of sharks, an occasional whale, plenty of reef and pelagic fish, and lots of bugs in the caves along the coral canyons. Yum! Visibility was awesome. We discovered this one on our own.
-Isla Carmen and Isla Danzante, off the coast of Baja near Loreto, Sea of Cortez, Mexico. Lots of friendly fish and beautiful steep rock formations on the northern and southern tips of both islands. Visibility was incredible except in the odd event when it rained. Lots of yummy chocolata clams in the calm sandy shallows.
-San Blas Islands, Panama. Lots of king crab, lobster and conch in the deeper water where the locals can’t reach. Best Thanksgiving dinner ever! Great coral-world class diving. The local Kuna Indians are helpful in pointing you to the good dive spots.
-Palmerston Island, Cook Islands group. In the anchorage, right off the back of the boat, excellent 100+ foot wall, pristine coral gardens, lots of big fish, great vis and an occasional whale sighting or lobster for the pot. This was a great spot for a night dive as we didn’t have to use the dink and there wasn’t much current.
-Rainbow Reef, Viti Levu, Fiji, in the channel between Viani Bay and Taveuni. Great walls, beautiful and unique white soft corals, big fish, caves and swim through arches. Local guide Jack Fisher is the man to see if you have gear and want to dive. Don’t try it on your own as the current is strong, and the good spots like the White Wall and Fish Factory are difficult to find. Jack will mind your dinghy and show you where to go for a very reasonable price.
-Tuamotus, French Polynesia. Dive the passes in the more remote atolls. You can even hold on to your dinghy painter for a drift dive. Abundant fish, pristine coral. I think this is the best diving in French Poly by far.
-Great Astrolabe Reef, Kandavu, Fiji. We spent a month in this remote area diving every possible opportunity when the weather allowed. Best visibilities I’ve ever seen. Lots of pristine coral, big fish, sharks, massive walls and pinnacles, caves, arches, fan corals. There were huge coral trout and grouper in the passes. It’s very remote and some of the best diving on the planet. Provision well, as all that is available there are coconuts, papayas and fresh fish, if you can manage to spear them. The fish, that is. Great shelling on the beaches and an occasional Chambered Nautilus.
-Louganville, Espiritu Santo Island, Vanuatu. The wreck of the Coolidge and Million Dollar Point are must do’s if you are in Vanuatu. Great diving is also found along the reefs of the nearby islands. Plenty of big fish, WWII artifacts, clear water and lovely coral. We’re going back!
-The Bay of Islands, Honduras. Diving along this barrier reef, the second largest in the world is absolutely sublime. It’s everything you would expect from a world class dive destination. Get there before the liveaboard outfits dive it all out.
-Belize, the outer Cays. This is along the same barrier reef as the above mentioned and nearly as good. If you get there, check out the world famous Blue Hole inside Lighthouse Reef. Great stalactites on the old cave ceiling start at about 120 feet.
There are plenty of good reasons why one would not be able or want to SCUBA dive. No worries, as you can still enjoy a lot of the experience with a lot less investment and hassle. A good set of snorkel gear doesn’t cost much or require a lot of maintenance and is easy to stow on any boat. Snorkeling is great fun, good exercise and can be enjoyed by almost anyone. We do it all the time, particularly when looking for a meal with the trusty speargun. With all the beautiful things to see and enjoy below the waterline, the most important thing to just get in, get wet and see how the other two-thirds live.