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April 1997 Vol. 12, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Castle Comfort, Dominica

The largest dive operation, and it’s still small

from the April, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The 16-passenger Beechcraft (Cardinal Air from St. Maarten) broke hot and fast through the low-altitude turbulence, taking aim at a small, blue, tin-roofed house sitting halfway up the hillside in front of the airfield. Just as we got close enough to tell which TV program the inhabitants of this approach waypoint were watching, the pilot veered sharply right, dropped onto the runway, reversed prop angle, and hit the brakes, hard. We had arrived at Canefield with several feet of runway to spare.

It always amazes me how much adventure I can wring out of a routine eastern Caribbean commuter flight. If they only knew, they'd charge me more.

I was met by Ken, of Ken's Hinterland Adventure Tours, who loaded me into a air-conditioned touring bus and began the 15- minute trip through Roseau to Castle Comfort. This is the kind of dive resort I prefer: short on luxury, long on efficiency, attitude, and comfort. It has only ten units, but the rooms, while small, are clean and well ventilated and the beds comfortable. The throughthe- wall air-conditioning units are adequate when called upon to perform. Some of the rooms have better views than others, but those without views have a strange compensation: TVs.

It was service that made Castle Comfort special. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to have us there. Breakfast was served efficiently -- an "American" choice, mostly eggs and bacon, and a "Dominican" choice, usually fish. Rooms were cleaned while we were diving; lunch was set when we returned. Dinners opened with an excellent soup or appetizer, then a choice between "fish something" and "chicken or pork something" along with four or five vegetable/starch dishes that were definitely Dominican and excellent, topped off with desert and coffee. All this was served under candlelight on a second-floor balcony by a cordial and efficient staff. I never had the urge to roam to other eating establishments.

Several times during
dives close to shore
I looked up to see
spearfishermen
snorkeling above us.

Dive Dominica is Castle Comfort's dive operation, the largest on the island -- meaning only that it has more than one or two boats (three, apparently). Owner Derek Perryman runs a well-organized operation. The single Bauer K-15 compressor is isolated and insulated from the hotel areas (it didn't seem to run that much anyway); the water in the rinse tanks is changed often. The staff always seemed cheerful and industrious.

Every morning after breakfast I'd tote my bags the 30 or 40 feet from the storage locker to the boat, and we'd be on our way. A half-hour or so south would get us to Scott's Head, where we would moor up and hit the water. Three entry points and twin ladders made getting off and on the catamaran an easy task. Dive briefings were kept to a minimum. Computer use was fine; just limit your depth to 100 feet and be back in the boat with the ol' 500 psi minimum. Everyone received adequate help gearing up and down. The in-water divemaster was supported by a captain and a mate. They weren't oversolicitous; they just showed good, workman-like competence.

I saw absolutely no big fish during our dives. No mystery here; several times during dives close to shore I looked up to see spearfishermen snorkeling above us. However, there were plenty of anemones, lobsters, and morays, and lots and lots of small stuff. In fact, Dominica is a great and wonderful place for close-up and macro photography. Frogfish were just about everywhere and were great for posing, once you were able to figure out why your dive guide kept pointing at a piece of sponge. Banded coral shrimp, cleaner shrimp, arrow crabs, and blennies were everywhere. Our guides managed to locate a seahorse on nearly every dive. (And, to their credit, they constantly cautioned divers not to touch and not to "sunburn" -- strobe continuously -- the small creatures they located.)

One word here for photographers: Dive Dominica, like Dominica in general, does not offer much support for the serious underwater photographer. While the boats do have freshwater camera storage tanks (five-gallon buckets), there are no reliable dry areas other than small storage areas below deck. The island has no E-6 processing. Batteries and film, while available, are not easily found. Take what you need; hope for the best.

I dove numerous sites during the week, all near the southwest corner of the island, and saw two small dive boats from a couple of other operations. I suspect this is where most of the diving occurs. The guides talked about pinnacles located well offshore in the Atlantic beyond Scott's Head, and twice we went looking, but the prevailing seas kept us from mooring up to them. According to divemaster scuttlebutt, they're excellent but only occasionally diveable.

Dominica is unique among Caribbean dive destinations in that the scenery is more impressive topside than below. Some taxi rides are nearly as thrilling as landing at Canefield. And, for $25 to $40 per person, you can choose from an assortment of guideescorted treks. As recommended by Undercurrent, several people at the hotel toured with Ken's Hinterland Adventure Tours and reported excellent trips. I did one trip with Ken to Trafalgar Falls and thought it worth the money.

Knowing what I know now about Dominica/Castle Comfort/ Dive Dominica, would I be willing to pay the same dive vacation price tag to visit the same destination again? Absolutely. I'd even pay more for the plane ride . . .

G. D.

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