Main Menu
Join Undercurrent on Facebook

The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975 | |
For Divers since 1975
The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
Join Undercurrent on Facebook
"Best of the Web: scuba tips no other
source dares to publish" -- Forbes
March 1998 Vol. 13, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
What's this?

Blue Waters Inn, Manta Lodge, Tobago

Twenty seven hours across the sea

from the March, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver,

My companion and I had just finished a current drift with the Blue Waters folks, when she noticed an autograph - - Vivienne Slear -- on the tank she had used. "Who's this, a celebrity?" she asked the divemaster.

"Oh," he said with a laugh, "that lady spent twentyseven hours at sea." Turns out Ms. Slear, I was told, was drift diving here last March, when she decided to surface early. After a long safety stop that separated her from the group, she reached the surface, where she could see the boatman, but he couldn't see her.

I couldn't get a clear story about why they didn't quickly find her -- seems to me every boat on Tobago should have been looking -- but she was without a safety sausage and drifted from the Atlantic to the Caribbean, around the point, down the west coast, and past Bloody Bay. When she finally climbed out, she had all of her equipment except her mask, which she lost in the surf. So, I suppose, she is somewhat of a diving celebrity -- after all, she even wanted to dive the next day, but her legs were cramped.

Tobago's currents move right along, so unless you have logged enough dives to be comfortable, this is no place to come. In fact, at Book Ends, waves were four+ feet and the froth looked like steamed milk on a Starbuck's cappuccino. The divemaster said it would clear at six feet, but one experienced current diver balked at backrolling into zero visibility. "No thanks," he said, he would remain on board. So the dive guide agreeably moved to a less threatening site.

For the most part diving here isn't difficult, but it's regimented PADI/NAUI style, as the following article will explain. And today, everyone gets a safety sausage for the dives. Women are asked to sit in the back of the thirty-three foot boat, men in the front, for short trips to the sites. Tanks and BC's are piled on the deck. Gear up, with help of the crew, backroll together at the count of three. Descend quickly, follow the lead divemaster, slowly with the current, stay head of the trailing divemaster who drags a tethered basketball-sized float to mark the divers. After forty minutes surface together and wait for the boat.

Regimentation had a downside. In heavy swells, the divemaster insisted the dozen divers enter the water at once, so the gunwales were packed; the diver next to my buddy flipped back a second late and banged her tank so hard on my partner's head that she saw stars. The next time, she refused to roll with the group, and the divemaster had no complaint.

Angel Reef was a typical dive: a slow current, past beautiful soft corals. At times, fish were few, but then we'd move into great schools of gray chromis, Creole wrasse and black durgeons as we drifted past stacks of plate corals and a great field of colorful finger corals shimmering in the sunlight. I spotted a lobster, an eel, and a large porcupine fish with glittering eyes. Occasionally, black, French or queen angels would drift in for a gander. Visibility 60-70 feet; water 78 to 81 degrees, air 80 plus.

Blue Waters Inn, Manta Lodge, Tobago

Blue Water Inn – Rooms on the left; Dive Shop on the right.

At Chinese Garden, three foot swells made it difficult to don gear. It calmed underwater, where great numbers of wrasse, beautiful mahogany snappers, Caesar grunts, and swarms of chromis swam. Throughout the dive the current shifted, at times requiring me to kick up slope so as not to be pulled down, then face downward and kick, so as not to be pulled up - - all the while drifting along. Visibility dropped to 40 feet, occluded by wriggling fry. The sun appeared at the end of the dive, illuminating brilliant corals and grey and brown sea whips, and two large turtles.

While I can assure you that Tobago diving rates among the best in the Caribbean, so does the island itself. Reaching the Inn from the airport requires a beautiful winding drive on a narrow road, through little villages with friendly people. Ninety minutes later, smack on its own bay, surrounded by forest, is the Blue Waters Inn, a smart and lovely little hotel with a few suites and pleasant rooms in three two-story buildings. Furnished with cushioned wicker-like chairs, comfy queen-sized or twin beds, an open closet, built-in desk, tiled bathroom with a shower/tub, and a small deck, rooms are a stone's throw from the water. Beach-side rooms have a walkway in front, which requires keeping the drapes closed for privacy, so I prefer the second floor, though the ocean view is largely blocked by the branches of tall sea grape trees.

Because Trinidad and Tobago is a birder's paradise, guests were split between birders and divers. But in the open, beach side bar, divers held down most of the barstools and tables after 5pm. Carib beer ran $1.50, and $4 got you exotic tropical drinks. Blue Waters Inn, Manta Lodge, TobagoMeals are served in the adjacent dining room, but the lunch menu served in the bar -- flying fish sandwich or hamburger and french fries $4, chicken salads with nice veggies around $5 -- would often suffice for dinner. (tip: it's an accommodating kitchen; if you want something off-menu, ask for it). While I didn't think much of the American/ European style dining room dinners, island-style meals were fine: for example, black eyed pea soup with local spices, a nice salad, then either chicken curry or a local speciality, goat, accompanied by dasheen and spicy string beans, and concluded with sweet local ice cream was a winner. Have a glass of vin ordinaire or upgrade to a bottle of Ernest and Julio's Savignon Blanc. Service was pleasant and efficient.

Don't take the meal plan; you don't save money and besides, the area has the Caribbean's best local food. Take a fifteen-minute walk to Jemma's, a small local restaurant, or drive ten minutes to Sharon's ten-table restaurant in picturesque Charlottesville. Sharon rattles off her local specialities: fish soup, a fresh green salad, fresh Creole shrimp or fish, local pork chops, bok choy, plantain, sweet potato, dasheen. Two full meals, two local rums, two beers: $21.

Aquamarine Dive is next to the hotel. When I arrived, I displayed my c-card, filled out a release, and explained my gear needs. For each dive -- 10:30 and 1:30 dives -- the staff puts out aluminum tanks, divers assemble their gear, and the staff carts it down the driveway to the dock; there's a dockside briefing, and after the dive, they return the tanks to the shop. While the local divemasters are a playful bunch with one another, they put on game face when talking to their customers, becoming all business; underwater, they're a skilled bunch, no doubt.

...When you come this far, you’d
like to get bottom time, but
that’s not going to happen....

Mantas are common in the spring, but I visited in mid-November, the cusp of the June-to-November rainy season. Sea squalls punctuated nearly every day, blowing in buckets of rain for up to half an hour, then clearing for a few hours till another squall showed. The rain did not affect the dives, or for that matter, us. Along a drift at Flying Manta, off nearby Little Tobago island, the dominant species of coral changed frequently. Ahead in the mist I spotted a Scottish hillside, dotted with boulders and bright green grass, but closer it became hundreds of barrel sponges tilted toward the current, with algae and bright green sponges giving verdant hues. Clouds of fish, an open file clam under a rock, and a king mackerel. And a yellowhead wrasse carried what seemed to be a thin stick of coral in its mouth; he batted it against a larger piece of coral to break it off, then consumed the smaller piece in his mouth. Then he picked up the broken piece, repeat the batting, consumed what was left in his mouth, and did it again. Smart fellow.

Blue Waters Inn, Manta Lodge, TobagoAt Pipeline, the depth limit was set at 55 feet, but I dropped to the sand bottom at nearly 100 ft. Moving up, the reef was filled with as many fish as I've seen on any Caribbean reef; great schools of blue chromis, Creole wrasse, hundreds of black durgeons, schools of snappers, cotton wicks, grunts, and a sting ray in the sand. When you come this far, you like to get bottom time, but that's not going to happen. Black Jack Hole is typical: drift at 50 feet for a 45 minute dive and surface with 1400 psi. Here I saw a sizeable school of what the locals call "salmon" -- rainbow runners -- and stroked the tail of a 5-foot nurse shark.

Tobago is a great place. While I prefer to rent a car for the week (about $250+), getting a cab from the airport ($40) may be just as easy, then walk or cab around Speyside, and rent a car for a couple days from the Hotel (best to reserve ahead). Hike the road behind the hotel past lagoons. Hire a boatman to 450 acre little Tobago to hike the hills and see tropic birds skimming the skies, booby nests, flycatchers, and other species. Drive to the Richmond Great House for lunch, where you can see loads of African art owned by an American who was once a professor of African History at Columbia. (PS: If you're a serious diver, don't even consider the large hotels on Tobago's southwestern side; there's poor diving and anyhow they cart people up here daily -- three hours round trip -- for the diving).

The serious diver might find the diving regimentation too stiff for such a long trip from home. So here's an option, written by an English diver who was in Speyside the same time I was. He, and his wife, who have run their own diving operations in the Mediterranean and Red Sea, are British Sub Aqua Club National Instructors with more than thirty years' diving experience. They expected more than I -- and got it.

Ben Davison

* * * * *

Because I hoped for more than American style tourist diving, I contacted the Trinidad & Tobago Tourist Organisation to locate someone to meet our level of experience. I received an impressive four page proposal from Sean Robinson of Tobago Diving Experience, at the Manta Hotel, stating they were the oldest and most professional diving organisation in Tobago and could offer advanced early morning diving. We duly booked for two weeks.

By the state of their equipment they certainly looked the oldest, but the only professional thing I discovered was their charges, about the highest on the island. Furthermore, they offered the usual PADI/NAUI American system of mixed ability, leading groups where the dive was conducted according to the least able diver -- often an outright beginner. We usually had to wait for one or two people brought up from the other end of the island -- a ninety-minute journey -- so the usual departure time was 10-10.30 a.m.

They scheduled the second dive after no more than a two-hour surface interval -- at least it was not back to back, but still a rather provocative pattern, as we European divers know. Then again, it is fairly safe when the first dive is no more than 21 metres (70 feet) and the second 15 metres (50 feet) -- a typical American PADI/NAUI influence. When we were told we were going on a deep dive, it meant all of 27 metres (90 feet)! Not the advanced diving we had expected.

However, while surviving two boat breakdowns, inadequate anchor, no spare fuel, tools or radio, and only one engine out of two working (jump started with a screwdriver) and overcoming loading the boat in chesthigh breaking waves (you wade out with your equipment) we were able to enjoy some diving. They eventually let us dive with our own surface marker and personal flags (which we had taken as part of our standard diving equipment), whilst following the main group at the sites they chose. More advanced dive sites were out of bounds.

Thankfully, we met a local fisherman, "Stretch" (Aldrich Alexander), who hooked us up with Anthony Thomas, who runs a modest operation: St. Anthony's (on entering Speyside, at the beachfront turn right on the beachside road past the new pier: Tel/Fax Tobago 639-8705). Anthony's approach was different: where would we like to dive, at what depth and when? He accompanied no more than four of us (but we controlled the profile) and outlasted us on air, even though he was pulling the surface marker. A very attentive chap, he knows the less frequented sites and was happy to dive the 30-50 metre range (100-165'). However, he had some disregard for time/depth, preferring not to use a computer as it kept "squeaking" at him.

The best wall dives are at the NE end of Black Rock (known locally as Sepia) and The Sisters off the NW coast. Diving on the Atlantic side is weather dependent and the constant NE 1-3 knot current is modified by tides. Most dives were interesting but not spectacular -- sloping coral and rock faces stepping down to a maximum of 25/30m (80-100') and continuing as sand. Between Goat Island and Little Tobago the sand slopes gently at 40m (130') and is covered in an array of barrel sponges growing 90 degrees the direction of the current, looking like ship's ventilators stuck in the sand, and often sheltering crawfish (spiny lobsters). There were many fish: angel fish, butterfly fish, trumpet fish (locally called horse fish) and box fish, triggers, large parrots, tarpon, turtles, southern sting ray, large green morays, a couple of nurse sharks, and ubiquitous barracuda. The best dives were Black Rock and the Sisters and though we didn't get there, the east side of Little Tobago and St.Giles may be well worth visiting.

Manta Lodge is a pleasant small hotel, just across a minor road from the beach edge, (although it's advertised as beach front) a ten-minute walk from Blue Waters. All rooms have a private balcony, ceiling fans (some have ac) and overlook the sea. Manta also boasts the only swimming pool in Speyside.

Wherever you eat, the menu is soup, chicken, fish or prawns/lobster -- different restaurants just cook it in different ways in larger or smaller portions. Local restaurants are Jemma's Treehouse on the beach, Redman's next door, and Esslan's (Paradise Restaurant), which looks more like a tiny shop than a restau-

Blue Waters Inn, Manta Lodge, Tobago

Blue Waters Inn, Manta Lodge, Tobago

Manta Lodge, advertised as beach-front

Divers Compass: Blue Waters: Rooms, for two, were $85 US... Some beach snorkeling, but the inshore water was murky; rainy season is June to November. . . .bring a shorty (they have a few loaners, rental BC's and regulators, but limited repair capacity). . . .Saturday night a fine steel band played; other nights were quiet. . . . Several car rental agencies at the airport: Thrifty 639 8507 or Rattans 639-8271 . . . there is some beach snorkeling, but the inshore water was murky; a boatman will take you snorkeling for a few dollars or to Little Tobago for a guided tour; the hotel can arrange. . . .the more you dive, the cheaper the average per tank; they add the total of two people; 11 dives were 29/per. . . .Caligo Tours represents both Blue Waters Inn and the Asa Wright Nature Center on Trinidad (see sidebar) 914 273-833; 800/4267781; fax 914/273- 6370; or call the Blue Waters 800/888-3483; 809-660-4341; fax 809/660-5195). . . .Manta: Tel/Fax Tobago 660-5268 and 660-5030. You should have no difficulty in negotiating a discount on their rack rates, which are higher than Blue Water. I got quoted a rate $20 less a day than my British friends were paying. . . .Fly

I want to get all the stories! Tell me how I can become an Undercurrent Online Member and get online access to all the articles of Undercurrent as well as thousands of first hand reports on dive operations world-wide



NEW! Find in  

| Home | Online Members Area | My Account |
| Travel Index | Dive Gear Index | Health/Safety Index | Environment & Misc. Index | Seasonal Planner | Forums | Blogs | Free Articles | Book Picks | News |
| Dive Resort & Liveaboard Reviews | Featured Reports | Recent Issues | Back Issues | Login | Join | Special Offers | RSS | FAQ | About Us | Contact Us | Links |


Copyright © 1996-2016 Undercurrent (www.undercurrent.org)
3020 Bridgeway, Ste 102, Sausalito, Ca 94965
All rights reserved.

cd