Dear Fellow Diver:
On a visit to South Caicos several years ago, I was
one unhappy camper. Oh, the diving was especially good for
the Caribbean, among the best, but the only hotel on the
island, The Club Caribe, ran out of water. Then, it ran out
of food, except hotdogs. One of two boats was out of commission.
Its advertised recreational gear was nowhere to be
seen. And no one could have cared less.
I wasnít the only one who had troubles there. Three
years ago Toronto home health care executive and dive shop
owner Bob Musselwhite and his significant other, Diane
Corrich, a tool and die shop partner and nurse, organized a
trip to Club Caribe for 40 divers. Before they left home,
Club Caribe went up for sale, potentially leaving the group
out of a big deposit. Rather than disappoint their divers,
Musselwhite and Corrich got resourceful. They bought the
property and began running it themselves. The rest, the old
bromide goes, is history.
Six hundred miles southeast of Miami -- an hour plus
flight -- sits the Turks and Caicos tourist haven of
Providenciales. A 20-minute flight away -- really, a world
away -- lies the ďBig South,Ē hanging from the lip of East
Caicos like a backwards ď6.Ē Eight square miles, itís home
to 1,200 mellow ďbelongers.Ē And to the renamed ďSouth
Caicos Ocean Haven,Ē the only resort and dive-op on the
Less than a 10-minute walk from Cockburn Harbour, the
unkempt primary township that remains sleepy even at the
height of commercial activity and frenetic piglet crossings,
the resort has 22 rooms on two floors. The upper floor has
a large deck with patio furniture and a small covered area. Avoid the ďtown-view unitsĒ and reserve
an upper-ocean-front unit, which, in
the wee hours, will mercifully distance
you from the choir of barking dogs,
crowing roosters and partying
islanders. Nonetheless, all rooms were
clean with A/C and ceiling fans, and
no phones, TVs or radio. I had a comfortable
queen-size bed, though friends
-- I organized a group trip -- complained
of singles with hard mattresses.
Fortunately, there were few flying
insects, as my window was not sealed
around the A/C unit. The cheesy
Venetian blinds only afforded partial privacy. There was plenty of hot cistern-collected
rainwater, generating gratifying lathers after a long day of diving. The
building itself needs paint and occasional pieces of lumber need replacing.
You have to travel some to reach the nearest beach, an isolated and picturesque
stretch of fine white sand, but Ocean Haven does have a small saltwater pool
around which patio furniture invites guests to socialize. I engaged in most excellent
evening sky gazing from this spot, and was treated to the splendor of the Milky
Way and shooting stars. Over the azure bay is Dove Cay to the East and to the West,
Long Cay, which has recently become home to hundreds of iguanas transplanted from
Ambergris Cay, Belize where development
is destroying their habitat. Essentially, Ocean Haven is no romantic
venue. You come here to be
romanced by the sea.
Diving almost exclusively takes
place along the south shore, a protected
area where fishing is verboten.
There are about 20 sites within a 10-
minute boat trip, some with surface
moorings, some with subsurface moorings
and others where they drop
anchor. The obligatory check-out dive
takes place in 45-55 feet on the
scattered partial remains of a crashed
Convair. Inside the fuselage I found a
small aggregation of jacks, a few
schoolmasters and French grunt, and a
lovely lone gray angel. Our merry band
of 11 experienced divers, having
passed the muster, immediately began
to do our own thing, as we agreed
with management before we made our
booking. While we usually stayed in a
loose cluster, some went off by themselves.
I usually dropped down the
wall to 115 feet, then worked up
enjoying the overhangs, crevices and
spur and groove reef planted with
impressive plate coral and stovepipe
sponges. I cannot envision a more hospitable
environment for properly
trained divers wanting to go deep --warm water (76-78F in March)
-- good vis (80 feet, yet
still a bit disappointing),
easy navigation, and minimal
current with no surge below
40 feet. On the first dive
of the day, others and I
occasionally dropped well
below 130 feet, seduced by
the 7,000-foot wall of the
Turks Island Passage.
So, this is a good
venue for experienced -- and
inexperienced -- divers
alike, thanks to Bob and
Diane, both attractive individuals,
inside and out.
With an obviously deep
affection for each other,
they unfailingly sported warm
smiles and upbeat attitudes
despite long days of hard
work. Their positive attitude
makes the resort very flexible,
indeed. Want to do four
dives a day, skip a day,
return to the same site, go
to another site, night dive,
dive before vs. after breakfast
or vice-versa? Can do.
For tomorrowís breakfast do
you want bacon or sausage or
both, eggs or pancakes? Just
say it. Burgers at noon, but
if you want a lunch meat and
cheese sandwich with lettuce
and tomato, if itís there,
itís yours. Want a type of liquor not present at the modest honor-system bar? Ask
and when they have time theyíll see if itís on the island. Attack of the sweet
tooth? Letís see whatís left in the fridge.
And speaking of the fridge, the food was basic but well and freshly prepared,
rating well compared to similar small-dive resorts. Dinner entrees included lightly
blackened grouper, chicken wings in barbecue sauce, tuna casserole, and letís not
forget lobster night. One night, Diane made spaghetti and meatballs, and her garlic
bread is nothing short of celestial. A green salad accompanied most dinners.
Breakfast brought forth bread, bagels, assorted cereals and fruit besides the main
offering. For me, dessert was eagerly anticipated and included such delectables as
Snickerís Bar pie, Key Lime pie, strawberry cheesecake and homemade chocolate brownies. Used to losing a few pounds on a dive trip? Fugeddaboudit.
Ah, but I came to dive. Thirty yards from the resort is their concrete dock
housing two aging 24-foot Carolina skiffs in a protected cove. These comfortably
hold six divers and two crew, but can hold a couple more without real discomfort.
Itís an easy back-roll entry; exits were gear-doffed and hauled over side of boat,
with someone always present to assist, and a climb up the ladder. Though experience
has left me leery of dive boats with just a single engine (here a 75HP Yamaha), both boats typically traveled to sites just
minutes from shore. Fortunately, surface
conditions off the south side are usually
calm, as these skiffs -- which are
used on Grand Turk and Salt Cay as well
-- are intolerant of much wave activity.
A V-hull craft in the upper 20-30-foot
range would be a capital addition. The
boats are without cover, so I lathered
up with sunscreen and donned shades. On
board are DAN 02 kits and cell phones.
During my visit, Doug, an escapee from
the Chicago corporate culture served as
divemaster (his wife Cynthia cooked and
performed other tasks) but has now left
to run their fishing lodge in northern
Wisconsin. A British couple will replace
Among my favorite sites was The Grotto, a main flight path for spotted eagle
rays. At least one appeared on each of several visits here, and schools of as many
as 14 have been sighted. Caribbean reef sharks occasionally cruised the wall, and
once I observed a group of three. I was uncertain if they were hunting as a team,
but it was a distinct possibility. On most wall dives, reef sharks from 5-8 feet in
length cruised along and small aggregations of jacks circled.
Spanish Chain typifies many sites along this coast and neighboring Grand Turk,
22 miles due west. Drop to a sand and patch reef bottom at 40 feet, then explore
the area or fin out to the wall, which starts at 50-70 feet depending on the site.
And what a wall it is. At some points itís stepped, at others precipitous, nearly
always covered with plate, rope and wire coral, and massive tube sponges. I dropped
deep, then looked skyward -- great. As I worked my way back to the shallows, massive
southern stingrays rest in the sand. Moving slowly, I could reach out and stroke
them, which, if Iím not being too anthropomorphic, they generally seemed to enjoy.
The shallows corralled all the customary tropicals, and on one dive I observed a
large school of blue tang grazing as a pack. Dallying at a small coral head, I was
delighted to espy a corkscrew anemone harboring two minuscule Pederson cleaner
shrimp lounging while awaiting the next customer. Lower down crouched a pistol
shrimp that fired its shot-like bubble jet when too closely approached. What a magnificent
place the reef is -- the longer you look, the more you discover. When I
hear people say they didnít see much on a living reef dive, I am saddened they have
not learned to observe.
After all this intense wall action, my computer would always demand something
shallower. Once, Bob dropped us in the sand channel just east of Long Cay, from
where we could work our way around to the rear of the cay. Previously unnamed, Iím
campaigning to dub this dive ďDocís Drift.Ē (And, this article is part of my campaign!
After all, not many sites left in the Caribbean remain unnamed.) Proper navigation
leads to Admiralís Aquarium, a patch reef at 15 feet exploding with critters
ranging from shovel-nosed lobster to spotted moray. After passing the spotted eagle
rays and southern stingrays, I entered a long stretch of fine sand bottom with eel
grass and tiny, sparsely scattered coral heads. To enjoy this potentially tedious
stretch, I looked for fry and other marine life and got close views of yellowfin
mojarra, and a posing intermediate phase bucktooth parrotfish. Fry included bluehead,
yellowhead wrasse and slippery dick.
The most distant site is The Caves, about a 35-minute boat ride to the East
side. Once there, I swam down a long, comely trench with nothing but blue water ahead. Then I entered a cave perhaps 50 yards long that exited in a lovely coral
reef -- not for the claustrophobic. Along the way, I spied a budding Pillar Coral
that was a breathtaking dark blue in the body and robinís egg blue on the tips.
On the ride to one site, I spotted a pair of humpbacks and started yelling
and got the boat captain to drop us off as close as we could get, losing sight of
the wisdom of getting in where they seemed to be headed rather than where they had
been. We spent the next 35 minutes hanging in stark open water, watching each other
swim in circles, trying to keep our orientation and breaking out in spasms of wild
gesticulation upon sporadically hearing whale singing and pinging. We saw not a
thing other than the passing pelagic tunicate and thimble jellies. I left the water
feeling a bit of a fool, and I suspect so did some of the others.
I would say the dive operation has room for improvement. This would be an
excellent venue for Nitrox, but itís not offered. Somewhat vexing was the absence of
drinking water or other potables on the boat, and the photo buffs grumbled about the
lack of a rinse bucket. At first, aluminum-80s fills were 300 psi light, but
improved after mild complaining. While the dive shop is well laid out for storing/drying gear, and harbors a decent bench for quickie repairs, you carry any
parts you need. There is only a modest amount of rental gear, and very little for
sale. Bring all that you need, plus critical spares. But, Iím picking nits. After
all, one reason the diving is excellent is because itís not developed, not easy to
get to, and not fully fished out. Clearly, itís one of the top diving destinations
in the Caribbean.
Overall, I had an excellent trip. Itís definitely for one who needs no stimulation
beyond diving. The only tourist activities are a visit to the salinas to see
the flamingos or a bone-fishing jaunt on the new 24-foot airboat. My big nights out
were hashed lobster at Mama Loveís, a restaurant complete with Christmas-themed
place mats, Coke Classic and a couple of cold beers on one of the two bar stools at
the Eastern Light Inn Bar (aka ďchicken ranchĒ). South Caicos is the old, undeveloped
Caribbean, and with it goes outdated accommodations, few tourists, and pristine
When you hear older divers talk about the good old days, back in the Ď70s,
visit South Caicos and youíll see exactly what they mean.
-- Doc Vikingo
Diverís Compass: Fly into Provo on Delta from Atlanta, AA from Miami,
TWA from NYC. Rooms start at $749 p/p double, all meals for seven
nights and five days of two-tank morning dives. Website shows specials
and details (www.oceanhaven.tc). Bring along everything you
might need for personal comfort and diving. Peak humpback season is
Jan-Mar, although the resort makes no dedicated trips to observe
them. Soda $1; beer $2.50; mixed drinks $3.50. If you really want to
go on the cheap, Maeís B and B, in the Old Governorís House, has three non-A/C rooms
on the upper floor with commanding views and a shared bathroom. It looks every bit
of its reputed 106 years, but somehow exuded the same ineffable trashed and tatty
charm that characterizes much of South Caicos. Mae herself was preparing to host a
dignitary, and the kitchen was covered with picture perfect quiches. Give her table
a go ... Nearest chamber is on Provo.