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March 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 34, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Scubaqua, St. Eustatius, Dutch Caribbean

dive sites rich with history -- and a dive shop with a full bar

from the March, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver:

On nearly every dive I did on the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius, I felt like I was finning back into the 18th century. On the way to Three Wrecks, I envisioned the site to be three rust buckets or abandoned barges. But after a backroll off the side of the Yellow Boat and descending 50 feet to a flat, volcanic, sandy bottom, I saw a continuous, 150-foot-long row of ballast stones from wooden sailing ships interspersed with long-shank anchors, cannons, barrel hoops and metal artifacts, all encrusted with coral. They had come from three wooden sailing ships that had sunk together there about 250 years ago. Just poking around would have been enough for me, but I saw green and speckled morays, and numerous blennies under the coral overhangs. Some divers saw octopuses; I got frame-worthy photos of a bright yellow, immature, long-snout seahorse. Looking up, I saw five Caribbean reef squid hovering above, watching me. They hung around for five minutes, but I got tired and ended our encounter. I gradually ascended in calm, 81-degree water with a big smile on my face.

Scubaqua's Dive ShopSt. Eustatius, "Statia" for short, is a Dutch Special Royal District, like Bonaire. The little island has fewer than 4,000 people, but it's rich with history. I heard, several times, that Statia had the world's busiest harbor in the early to mid 1700's. Now, just a few oil tankers used the harbor in the (only) town of Oranjestad, headed to the oil distribution facility on Statia's northern end, which is, thankfully, out of sight. While sitting around the oceanside bar at the Old Gin House at night, learning from the locals about Statia's past, I imagined a waterfront resembling something from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Many worn-out sailing vessels just sank; they're now piles of ballast stones and a few cannon in 50 feet of water, providing homes to schools of Creole wrasse, pygmy seahorses and hawksbill turtles. Statia's old harbor road runs two miles along its west coast. Of the 100 or so buildings along it that were warehouses and homes 300 years ago, only a dozen have been restored as restaurants, a museum, B&Bs and small hotels, like the Old Gin House, where I stayed.

One of those warehouses, possibly owned by the Dutch West India Company, is Scubaqua's dive shop. My 30-person group chose to dive in January with this eco-friendly and very laid-back (I'll tell you about the bar later) operation run by two European couples and staffed with a global mix of divemasters who each spoke at least two languages. Mike and Marieke, the Dutch owners, separated us into two groups, then subdivided us into groups of four or five per divemaster, who were always in the water with us. We partially suited up in our shorties and 2-mm wetsuits at the shop, then piled into the back of a pickup truck and drove a halfmile to the commercial pier. My group of experienced divers got in the smaller Yellow Boat, a 27-foot mono-hull boat with only a small Bimini top for shade. The rest of the divers boarded the Green Flash¸ a 36-foot fiberglass Sea Hawk that could fit up to 25....

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