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April 1, 2013
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Precious Island, Turks and Caicos: can you top this?  April 1, 2013

[When I went to DEMA in November, a few insiders in the industry -- I was among the lucky -- learned of a new resort in perhaps the last truly wild patch of the Caribbean. Since the resort was stlil under construction, we all had to pledge to keep it underwraps until the end of March, which I believe we all did. However, the public relations embargo has just been lifted so I want Undercurrent insiders to be among the first to know. See below to read my first hand report of Precious Island. -- Ben Davison ]

Dear Reader,

April May Precious is the most unique and exotic name I've run across, but then so is the woman who sports it. She pulled a yellowed copy of the 2002 World Almanac off the bookshelf in the main house of her extraordinary new and intimate diving retreat on Little Caicos in the Tortuga Banks, 42 miles south by southwest of Grand Cayman. "See, I wouldn't pull your leg, nice leg that it is," she said and pointed at page 779: "Miss America Contest, 1998. . . .April May Precious, 22, Mississippi, third runner up. "

Precious, of course, is just that. In the midst of a modeling career that had her commuting between New York, Paris and Stockholm, she was invited to Townsville, Australia, to shoot the 2002 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. While several overcast days were interfering with her shoot, she took a resort course and was so impressed that she tracked down Mike Ball Watersports to get certified. It changed her life forever. "At 26, I was already beginning to get too old to be an international cover girl," she said, brushing her soft brown sun-streaked hair away from her blue eyes. "My BA from Cornell was in business and I'd taken several graduate courses in financial management, so I had already been flirting with various business ideas. The minute I got certified, I knew this was it." She threw her head back and laughed. "So I called my daddy."

Regal M. Precious is just the right daddy to have. About ten lines short of Forbes' list of the 100 wealthiest men in America, Papa Precious has spent his spare time picking up quaint pieces of real estate. Precious is a large landowner in the Turks and Caicos Islands, with a big piece of Grace Bay beachfront he bought in 1987 (and now leases to three hotels), as well as about two-thirds of Middle Caicos. Years ago, he bought unsettled Little Caicos on the Tortuga Banks. It includes four cayes of an acre or less -- where Ridley Turtles spawn (now a preserve) -- and the 102-acre Little Caicos, which he has kept private and untouched (Clay McArdell – who owns the T&C Explorer -- has sought permission to dive here, which he refused.) Three years ago, he deeded Little Caicos to daddy's favorite daughter. Precious Island was born.

In April, Precious Island will open for business. Last November, right after the Las Vegas DEMA show, eight lucky journalists were given a week-long sneak preview (I paid my own way, as is Undercurrent policy, but you can be sure that the others didn't). April May, who just turned 37, had been living here with a small construction crew for 18 months, guiding the careful construction of her personal paradise ("I built that fireplace with my bare hands," she is quick to point out, "and laid every piece of wood in this floor"). Although her daddy gave her the island, she's building it out with the money she earned from her $2,500-a-day modeling assignments and subsequent investments. Nearly finished are 10 thatched-roof, two-bedroom cottages (which she calls "bures" after her Fiji experience), finished with the finest woods ("not one piece from the rainforests," she proudly claims) and decorated with colorful Haitian paintings and Cuna Indian molas. White wicker furniture and king-sized beds fill out the warm and wonderful rooms. And, oh, how I liked those rooms ... and the service. In the morning, a gentleman -- Henry Bodden -- in a starched white coat tapped lightly on my porch door, then left a pot of steaming coffee, fresh mango juice, and a copy of "The Precious Paper," her daily blog. It contained weather information ("A cold weather front is coming down from the states, so it may drop to 70 tonight; if it does, I'll light up the fireplace in the lodge this evening and bring out the pillows and brandy so we can cozily spin stories of our day's dives"), the day’s dive choices ("my recommendation for today is Precious Mounds, where at 120 feet you'll think you're in the South Pacific; if you want to stay below 100 feet, have your boatman take you to Grouper Gardens; you won't be able to count them all and you'll meet Herman, the Goliath Grouper that Bret Gilliam estimates is 600 pounds"); and the dinner menu ("Kingsley will fish for cobia today, and tonight we'll dust it in flour and nutmeg, add my secret spices, sauté it lightly and serve it with garlic mashed potatoes, fresh corn on the cob, and my special Jamaican breadfruit/dasheen puree. And for our new arrival today, Billy Joe -- say hello to him in Bure 7 -- I'll even have a little okra cooked up....").

Let's talk diving, though. That's why I came. When I disembarked from the silky-smooth, 60- minute hovercraft trip from Providenciales, I was introduced to Henry, who served as my personal valet for the duration of the stay (he could provide snacks and drinks, straighten the room, hang my clothes, even be my dive buddy if I needed one - and anything else, I was to learn). He smiled graciously and took my belongings to my bure and my dive bag to the dock. When I arrived the first morning at the dock, my BC was strapped to the tank, my gear laid out on a locker on the deck so I could check it all out, and once I did Henry took it aboard. No more than four divers are taken on any of their five Carolina Skiffs. I was joined by Sidd Finch, a writer from the British magazine Diver and his lovely consort, E.L. James. April May, who leads about half the dives, piloted our boat. She gave us a briefing and we were soon underway.

Five hundred yards offshore, Henry grabbed the anchor and jumped overboard, dropping to 50 feet to place it gently in the sand. I rolled backward, dropped to 40 feet, gave the ok sign, and headed directly toward two large mounds covered with softly swaying gorgonia. As I slid between them, I saw a boulder move; it was Henrietta, another Goliath grouper, easily as long as a man and three times as thick; I approached her slowly and when I reached five feet she opened her enormous mouth; even at that distance I could feel the water pull me toward her. No thanks, sweetie, and I headed over the wall. And there, at 120 feet was a parade of pelagics. In 20 minutes, more than 30 sharks cruised by; they were mostly reef sharks but a couple of bulls joined them and two hammerheads cruised by in tandem, no more than 20 feet away. Several amberjacks streamed in from the distance as three eagle rays drifted by, followed by two mantas. April May Precious slipped out into the blue and slowly turned somersaults with them. They swooped around and over her for a few minutes, then disappeared. And, then, wow, my Caribbean first, as an enormous ocean sunfish, at least six feet in diameter, fluttered by.

Only in Indonesia have I seen diving like this. We made a couple dozen wall dives and the experience of the first repeated itself time and time again. Once, in fact, I was shocked when a 12-foot marlin streamed past, no more than 30 feet away. Another time, a school of tuna, 200 or more, came by the wall, with a score of dolphins above. Above the reefs there were plenty of queen angels and queen triggers. When we looked for smaller critters, April May pointed out seahorses and, on one dive alone, three frog fish! What was missing? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

On shore, I passed enjoyable hours strolling the isolated beach, snorkeling in Blue Lagoon (April said she "loved that old movie") or walking through the cool forest (there are parrots and monkeys in this ecological miracle, the only one like it north of St. Lucia! Quite a treat). Yes, it's all here, every dream imaginable. One night, after an exceptional dinner beginning with a sea cucumber soup (don't gag, it's a Far East staple and splendid), a salad made with greens from the hydroponic garden, poached trout (she raises them to reduce the pressure of fishing on the reef) in a white wine sauce and sprinkled with fresh urchin roe, and freshly baked coconut bread, I ambled out on the deck, which extends 20 feet over the lagoon. I could see the guests in the house, with their computers hooked up to the 46-inch Sony, watching their videos from the day, chatting and enjoying themselves, but I wanted a moment to be alone, to soak in what is the most remarkable place run by, arguably, the most incredible woman ever to don a dive skin and become a NAUI instructor. "What man wouldn't give his left ....," I began to think, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Mind if I join you?" April May asked. She had brought two 1963 Sandeman Ports and two coffees, so we sat and sipped for well over an hour.

Lesser men would melt in front of the brainy and beautiful April May Precious, but I kept my cool, being the objective writer that I am. "Man, am I lucky," she said. "My own island, my own diving lodge, my own bar and restaurant. And diving, diving, diving. I am sooo happy." Her perfectly natural face needed no makeup other than the moonlight to make her the most striking woman I've ever seen. She kicked her very long legs up on the deck railing and threw her head back. "And, most of all, I'm with people I love. Divers. I mean what better lot could there be. We love the sea. We talk about it all the time. Oh, I'm still going to Paris once a year. Go diving at Raja Ampat now and then. But this will always be home. Where in the Caribbean can you sit at 120 feet and see the parade we see every day? You know, the only thing missing for me here is the right man. But if I'm going to find that special guy, what better place? My dream has got to be a diver. And sooner or later every diver in the world will pass through here for the diving we've got. So I'll find him."

She looked my way and smiled. I stuttered a bit, but finally said, "Well, maybe he's here tonight the lodge, uh, right here maybe." She smiled again. "Gee, that would be wonderful, wouldn't it?" she said softly. She stood, silhouetted in the full moon, brushed her hair back and said, "See you tomorrow at 120 feet."

Diver's Compass: Precious Island opens April 1. Introductory rates for a single bure are a remarkably low $1,400/person  for eight days, seven nights; all meals and three tanks a day plus night dives every other night are included; . . .shore dives can be taken any time, but the depths don't exceed 50-60 feet, though the muck diving is great. American flies from Miami to Provo; flights are 90 minutes.

PS: As I was getting ready to leave, I stopped to chat with Don and Deborah Marshall of Seattle, who had arrived the day before with Deborah's sister, 44 year-old Janey, in tow. All three happened to be travel agents, hard core divers and world travelers. "This place is the best, isn't it?" Deborah said. "The diving is sensational and the luxury here is a real surprise." She leaned a little closer to speak in hushed tones. "And, I'll tell you, my sister is ready to move in. All these great divers come down here to ogle April May, and there are plenty left over for Janey. She said she'll take April May's rejects any old day," Deborah said with a laugh. "I guess this is the first legitimate diving resort for, well, mature, single, serious divers. Should have been here before I married this guy," she said, poking Don in the ribs. He only shrugged.

Yeah, I suppose that's all true. But this is no Club Med, this is serious diving. Maybe April May will meet her man, maybe guests will meet their mates. Me, I'll go back in a New York minute, you can be assured, but not to dream. I'll go back to watch the parade, both underwater and on land. But I got the message -- April May's special guy didn't happen to be there the night I was.

(Before you make your reservations, please read the first letter of every paragraph)

Ben Davison, editor/publisher
Contact Ben


Note: Undercurrent is a registered 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization donating funds to help preserve coral reefs. Our travel writers never announce their purpose, are unknown to the destination, and receive no complimentary services or compensation from the dive operators or resort.

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