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June 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 34, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Caribbean Explorer II, Saba, St. Kitts, St. Martin

reefs survived the hurricanes, but the boat is showing its age

from the June, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver:

The last time I had traveled aboard the Caribbean Explorer II (CExII) was before Hurricane Irma roared through the Caribbean in September 2017. When I got the chance to go again in April, I was eager to see how the reefs had fared, yet scared, too -- was it too soon, and was I expecting too much? Well, I've got good and bad news. The island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin remains a mess, its airport still marked by exposed ceilings, no Wi-Fi and few facilities. But astonishingly, the diving off Saint Kitts and Saba seems virtually untouched by hurricane damage -- the reefs looked great.

Caribbean Explorer II (photo by Walt Stearns)At Paradise Reef off Saint Kitts, I reveled in the dramatic spur-and-groove topography at 60 feet and cruised over the steep wall, enjoying the deep blue studded with craggy coral heads. That's where I saw the biggest Southern stingray I'd ever seen, sulkily lurking in the sand and easily eight feet across. Big barracuda floated above the reef, while rainbow runners streaked by. The topography's beauty came with a price -- it was a tad confusing to navigate -- so I suggested to my buddies near the end of the dive that we surface after a safety stop and get our bearings (hey, I don't mind asking for directions). Next dive on this site, I navigated it perfectly.

I wish I could say the CExII is doing great, too, but this grande dame is one of the older liveaboards around (it began its liveaboard life in 1986 as the Sea Dancer out of Providenciales) and is showing its age. Though it sleeps 18 guests and six crew, quarters are super-tight. Cabins (I can't call them staterooms, as they are neither stately nor roomy) are small by today's standards. My cabin, number 4, was so tiny there was no place at all to sit down. I was lucky not to have a roommate, because there were no shelves or drawers; at least I could use the top bunk for storage. Other cabins have a tad more room and some storage. My fellow divers noted how cold the AC was; indeed, the only way I could keep mine tolerable was by packing pillows in front of the bellowing vent. Engineer Brett told me the boat may be getting individual cabin thermostats, but "may" is the operative word. Explorer Ventures knows it's an older boat, so the trip cost is proportionate....

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