Diving the Caribbean Island of St Lucia
by Jim Reilly
Driving Round St Lucia
Our Us Airways flight touched down on time and clearing the airport was quick and easy. Outside we saw a driver holding the TI Kaye sign and were quickly on our way. And on our way, and on our way, and on our way… St Lucia is a country of steep, high volcanic mountains and narrow valleys. The engineers which designed and built the nation's road system deserve some sort of international recognition for completing this road network of hair pin corners, switch-backs and short, steeply inclined segments. Our driver was either downshifting to slowly ascending the slopes or braking during descent. My guess is our van averaged a forward speed of about 25 MPH. It took almost 2 hours to travel (non-stop) what appeared to be an as-the-bird-flies distance of about 10 miles. During the drive, for the first hour, we marveled at the wondrous scenery. Rainforest plants lining the road. Magnificent views of the coastline. Colorful small villages. But the swaying of the van side to side as we navigated the roadway began to wear us down. During the last hour the trip began to feel as if it were a mild punishment. We arrived at the resort worn out and wondering if we could even walk in a straight line.
We were ushered into the resort, welcomed, and offered a drink. Our seats at the bar faced the open wall of the dining facility and we stared at a breathtaking view of the ocean bordered by the flowering plants edging the resort. Slowly we regained our stability and our strength.
Ti Kaye is at Anse Cochon on St Lucia's west coast. It has 33 wooden cabins notched into the rain forested and landscaped hillside. About half share a common wall with a neighbor and the rest are stand-alone buildings. The architecture patterned housing we saw in villages, single story wooden cabins with a peaked roof and a front porch, was patterned in the resort cabins. Inside was a large single room, equipped with a fridge and a mosquito-netted poster king bed; a room to store our clothes; and room equipped with modern sink and toilet and a doorway leading to a beautifully landscaped outdoor shower fenced for privacy. Our shaded porch facing the ocean and was furnished with a hammock, two rocking chairs and a table. The cabin was beautiful. Our only complaint was, in the late afternoon when we closed the louvered windows, the air conditioning might have been a bit more powerful. But at night, with the AC and the ceiling fan running, the room was comfortable. We loved the outdoor shower, especially evenings showering under thousands of stars.
Breakfasts and dinners are served in the very graceful open sided dining/bar facility, which also housed the small hotel office, a gift shop and rest rooms. Gentlemen were asked to wear pants to dinner (so as to not offend the English guests, I was told by management) and we were asked to make dinner reservations each morning. Evenings we preferred to dine outside on the patio and enjoy the stars. Mornings we ate in the dining facility and were pestered by small birds which appeared to become increasingly bold as the week passed. The meals were ample, well prepared and the selection adequate. Drinks, which were not part of our meal plan, were very reasonably priced.
The resort existed at two levels. The cabins and dining facilities were located on a slope, which ended in a cliff about 150 feet above a cove with a nice volcanic sand beach. At the beach, a restaurant and dive facility were built close to the cliff. The dock for use by the dive shop was partially built and looked abandoned. Connecting these levels was a set of stairs and interim landings, where we frequently enjoyed the landscape and caught our breath. We were told it was 164 steps top to bottom. As the week went on, it felt as if there were more and more steps.
Prior to our trip, I emailed the resort's dive shop and learned that dive reservations were required 24 hours in advance. So Saturday, after unpacking, we raced down to the dive shop, signed the release forms and asked for reservations for a Sunday dive. We were told the boat "had problems". So, I asked for a shore dive. This was confirmed. But Sunday, when our gear was brought down to the shop, I was told there were no dive masters available. I was not happy and eventually a phone call was made and we were told to be ready for an 11:30 AM shore dive. And so, at the appointed hour, we met Terri (not his real name), the manager of the dive shop. Terri told us he was not happy. He had set the day aside to play with his son. But he would take us on a 45 minute shore dive, because business was business.
We suited up, entered the water and began a shallow dive following the reef along the cliff. Initially, we saw mostly tired coral and sand. Then the creatures started to appear, many unusual or new to us: burr worms, several types of eel swimming free in the daylight, more urchins than I've ever seen in my life, a cloud of small fish which enveloped up for minutes. On and on we swam following Terri who appeared to be engrossed in his own dive as he enjoying the sightseeing and took lots of photos - 30 minutes, 40 minutes, 50 minutes; finally Terri turned the dive. On the way back more good things to see, including our first frog fish. Surfacing in chest high water near the dive shop, Terri proclaimed "What a great dive", and it was. All 72 minutes of it and we all had plenty of air in reserve since the dive was shallow, 40 feet a the deepest and mostly in the 30 foot range. We looked forward to more diving Monday.
Monday I woke early and watched the local fisherman expertly harvesting the fish from the reefs in front of the resort. They arrived in smallish outboard motor-driven boats with rakish bows, called pirogues, 4 men to a boat. Once in the cove, three of men dove into the water equipped with masks and snorkels. They were the fish spotters. When a school was spotted, they shouted instructions to the boat which encircled the school with net. Every morning several boats fished in front of the resort. Not surprisingly, we saw few mature fish on our St Lucia dives and no sharks or rays at all.
Monday we were introduced to our dive boat, small boat resembling a life guard's boat but equipped with an outboard motor. We had to wade into the surf and try to step over the sides - OK for bigger folks, not so fine for normal sized folks like us. Quickly boarding methods were improvised. There was the lady-steps-into-a-gentleman's-cupped-hand method which boosted her into the boat. There was the leap-for-life method, where the diver tried to get most of their torso into the boat and then drag his legs over the side. And all the while, the boat was bobbing with the waves and surging into and back from the sandy beach. Eventually, a bit bruised, we got aboard and traveled to the dive site. During this trip we noted another interesting equipment issue. The boat had a canopy, but it only covered the tank racks and the boat captain - not the divers.
Finally, we arrive off shore at the base of the Pitons. Magnificent site. Back roll and under. We swam a reef with few fish and not very interesting coral. We saw a lobster, a small one. Not very exciting. Not at all like our wonderful shore dive yesterday. To get back into the boat we had to swim into a group, the boat approached with a rickety ladder hooked over the side. No rails extended over the gunwale, so when you climbed the ladder there was nothing to use to pull yourself up so you could conveniently step into the boat. Again, you had to flop into the boat. This boarding method resulted in a certain slowness in boarding, meanwhile since the Captain was also the boat crew, the boat drifted closer and closer to the rock lined shore. Over and over, the obat had to be repositioned closer to the divers and away from the rocks. Eventually we decided that St Lucian diving was an adventure. Sometimes a bit too much of an adventure.
By law, we were told, all non-residents must be escorted by a licensed dive master. The next day we learned why. We dove another site with OK coral and a few fish. For thirty minutes we cruised following the dive master. Then, all of a sudden, we were swept to sea by a stiff current. Calmly, Scuba Steve motioned for us to gather together, He pointed into the blue and we saw a thin rope. He signaled us to grab it, which we did - we were all experienced divers. Whipping like clothes in a storm, we endured our safety stop. Then he motioned for us to grasp the hand of the person next to us while maintaining gripe on rope. Finally, at his command, we released and rose to the surface together. On the way back to the resort, I asked Steve what he would have done if one of the divers had missed the rope. Would he have abandoned the group to recover the diver? Would he have abandoned the unfortunate diver? Scuba Steve wisely chose not to answer. (Note: Scuba Steve now has his own dive centre.)
That afternoon the divers staged a revolt. We insisted on a shore dive form the resort's beach. Reluctantly, the dive shop agreed and everyone had a wonderful dive. Eels everywhere, lobsters, good sponges and coral, lots of smaller fish. Easy, relaxing diving. As we walked the beach on our way back to the shop, we asked why we could not do shore dives like that - even the same dive - every day. After all, the critters one sees changes so why not dive the same location? Scuba Steve, who did not run the dive shop, acted mute.
After a day off and a wonderful personalized tour of Soufriere, the National Botanical Garden (world class as was our all-personality, but very informative guide, Alexander the Great), a volcano and finally to a relaxing soak in a hot spring - all arranged by Ti Kaye, we resumed diving.
We took a short boat ride and enjoyed a dive near the Pitons, although recovery after the dive was made interesting as we repeatedly had to swim away from a shallow reef, which the current was determined to ground us into. Then, a fun shore dive along the same course we dove two day ago. Again, lots of things to see and gentle waters to dive in. We had two decent dives and our sales resistance was down. When asked, we all signed up for the night dive, after all, Scuba Steve was gaining our respect.
We assembled at the shop at 7. Four experienced divers and three newer ones, we'd never dove with before. To my surprise the dive was to be lead by Terri, who we had not seen since Sunday. After everyone geared up, Terri told us the 'Plan'. After donning fins and mask in the surf, we were to swim to deeper water and assembled into a group. Once everyone was assembled, together we will all descent to the sand. After everyone checked their pressure and gear and signaled OK, we will go 20 minutes, then the dive will be turned. If anyone has a problem, there will be a sea kayak on the surface to assist. Just ascent and the rest of us will continue with the dive. Everyone will be at dinner by 8:30, no problem.
The dive was a cluster from the gitgo, to use American slang. Once everyone was in, Teri descended without warning or announcement. Folks followed once the noticed he was gone and others were descending. The same leaderless situation existed underwater. As I descended I saw part of the group following the dive master on the tour, while other checked their gear and read pressure gages. Eventually a gaggle was formed and we settled in to enjoy the dive. We saw large crabs we'd never seen in daylight and squid florescent and not scared of us. I actually got within a few feet of one and it finally swam away slowly. Eels, lobsters, a large spotted fish - interesting stuff. Further and further from the beach we moved, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes. Terri was having fun taking photos and sightseeing. We learned later that at 48 minutes into the dive one of the newer divers simply ran out of air, scampered to the dive master and together they ascended. Terri as he rose signaled everyone to ascend. Mystified, we got to the surface to discover no sea kayak, a current running against our return to the shore and very little semblance of a group. The new divers simply went to the surface, while the older, more experienced divers, did decompression stops. By the time we older divers got to the surface the younger, stronger divers were on their way swimming back to the beach. All of the older divers had plenty of air, so we asked to descend and swim underwater (where there was no current) back towards the beach. Terri denied our request. We asked to swim face down, breathing our air so we could out-swim the current. Permission denied. We were instructed to swim on our backs.
After 15 minutes one of the older divers was pooped. Terri yelled and signaled and eventually a sea kayak came out from the beach to tow the diver ashore. We learned later it was a hard go, the boat was never designed to tow a diver. That left two of us swimming to shore and Terri ahead of us, were we could not see him. After another 15 minutes my dive partner was tired. Terri shouted encouragement, phrases like "Well, Madam, if you had worn a snorkel, I would have had a Kayak tow you ashore." And other comments suggesting it was our fault that we were so far from shore. Eventually, he grabbed her tank stem and began to tow - but we learned the next day (from him) that he had injured his leg ligaments and did not have enough swimming power to overcome the current by more than a little. We could see the lights of the resort. We could also see that we were not making headway. I began to think of the movie "Open Water" although I was sure the good St Lucian fishermen had eaten all the sharks.
Eventually the Kayak returned. I gave them our camera with its bulky strobe. I decided to rely on my rescue training so I turned over, reg in mouth, and added my strength to my partner's tow. I also used my light to see the bottom, steering us from reefs and obstacles. We made it to shore. We were the last ashore. No one said anything. My partner and I stripped off our gear and stowed it in our lockers. Driven by anger about the dive we flew up the 164 steps, showered and changed and went to dinner. It was 10:30. Our swim back to the beach must have taken well over an hour.
Ti Kaye is a small resort, and word spreads fast. As the first divers drifted into to dinner word of the trouble must have spread. Normally the dining facility closes at 11. They held dinner for us. We loaded our plates, ordered drinks and joined the other divers at a table. Over the next hour, as we got a bit tipsy, we vented our anger, dissected the dive and finally decided not to talk about it again to other guests who had not been on the dive. At the end of this session, I told everyone that tomorrow, before we leave the shore, Terri would call us over, tell us what a bad dive it was, how we could all learn from it, and then blame it on us. We laughed, but my guess was correct.
We finished our diving with wonderful dives lead by Scuba Steve. One, a freighter sunk just outside our resort's cove and the other an interesting dive along the rocky shore. Both dives were full of life and close to the resort.
Our summary feelings about St Lucia are mixed. It is certainly a beautiful place, populated by a friendly folks. The resort was very comfortable, very relaxing. Great place to go if you are happy reading and taking it easy - not so great if you want to be entertained. The tours arranged by the hotel were very special, world class, magical. The diving was fine, but there was a mysterious insistence to dive remote sites which were less interesting than sites very close to the resort itself. This was not only our opinion, the dive boats from other resorts daily dove our resort's cove and nearby dive sites. Clearly Terri needs a refresher course on diving leadership and courtesy, but Scuba Steve and the rest of the dive shop staff were professional. But as wonderful as the St Lucia experience was, it was also hard. Driving place to place was a chore. Going from the resort to the beach was a chore. Diving in that boat and with the unpredictable currents was a chore. But at the same time, St Lucia was an adventure. Perhaps, in balance, St Lucia is more suited to younger travelers than young-at-heart tourists.
by Jim Reilly
For replies to this article by Terrol (of Island Divers, Ti Kaye) and others - see below.
Tel: 758 456 8110
Fax: 758 456 8105
"I'd like to send our comments on Ti Kaye and Island Divers after reading the review above. We have now been there twice (2004 and 2005) and have had great experiences with the resort and especially with the Dive Operation - in fact we are going back again very soon. My husband is a very experienced diver, me less so but the welcome is the same regardless. The diving has been some of the best we have done and the dive masters always been reliable, flexible and safe. The recent dives in December 2005 ranged from close by (Lesleen M) to the Piton dives mentioned, the coral colours were fantastic and the sea life abundant and colourful. I would recommend Island Divers to anyone - its not a big dive concern like some of the others on St Lucia but in my book thats no bad thing....and I'm told they're getting a new boat soon too!
Ti Kaye is a wonderful place to chill out and relax - its not the place to go to if you want a 'lively' holiday! We travel from Scotland and intend to continue to do so, and feel that Island Divers and Ti Kaye are worth the journey. "
"I stayed at Ti kaye(2006) and found it very diffrent to the comments I saw on this site. Because of the comment made by Mr. Reilly (2004) I did not want to stay at this resort but the amount of divers on their small boat was 7 and I was sold. I found a wonderful crew and the reason the went to the other dive sites and did not dive the same site day to day (as Mr. Reilly wanted) which is boring is because most write-ups are about diveng in the south along with the fact that there are brighter reef colours. Yes, they is great diving to the front of the resort. The staff there take care of our gear after every dive. You don't touch your gear after a dive (but you can if you don't want them to wash it down for you) they call this the "set it and forget it" systerm. This meant every morning they took our gear out of the Locker room (yes they have lockers at no cost to you) and have it out for us to setup. They took it all to the small dive boat (nice for private diving) which will soon be the second dive boat for they are awaiting a custom built 42ft long 15ft beam dive vessel which is on the way.
I am an open person, so I ask about the "Mr. Reilly" case seeing that I got such great service. I learned after asking that even if the water is calm "alway dive with a snorkel and listen to dive brefings". The other thing was the dive shop does not do beach night dives and this was request by Mr Reilly and on that day the current changed round.
I will be back to dive with Island Divers St.Lucia some time soon. "
"I went diving with Island Divers at Ti Kaye Village and It was nothing near to what Mr. Jim Reilly said it was. Some of us like small boats and love the idea of having a guide which makes it all better. To compare the operation to the Move Open Water is not near the truth at all. I loverd the sites both near and far. All the sites you would read about are located in the south of the island and Ti kaye Resort. I loved the service and had lots of fun."
Dion, UK, 2006
"I am a keen resort diver having clocked up 12 dives. I have also stayed at Ti Kaye. I dived with divers from both Ti Kaye and Windjammer landing and had nothing but good experiences in recent years. I have also been with Scuba St Lucia so have had the best of both outfits. Small boats are not for everyone but I have never had a problem even though I am middle aged and slightly overweight. I dived the Lesleen in January and am really looking foward to going back later this year. I do not agree with the derogative comments made by the reviewer. This has not been my experience."
Babs Steel, 2006
"Always say what type of dives you would like to do and keep in mind Island Divers does not do shore night dives which was the request of Mr Jim Reilly. And we would like to thank the person who read Mr Reilly's comments and still came along on an Island Divers adventure and saw for themselves what we are about. Thanks again. To our new diving buddies, I will say seeing is believing and knowing are the facts. God's blessing to all.
Terroll, Island Divers, Ti Kaye, 2006
Tel: 758 456 8110 (Island Divers shop)
Fax: 758 456 8105 (Island Divers shop)
|Scuba Steve's Diving|
PADI Dive Centre offering Enriched Air Nitrox. Have licenced insured Boat Captains and a brand new boat and equipment. Owner operated.
Scuba Steve's Diving Ltd.
Rodney Bay Marina
Tel: 758 450 9433
Fax: 758 456 9433
|Scuba St Lucia|
Scuba St Lucia
Tel: 758 465 8242
"I am surprised by Jim Riley's review of St. Lucian diving. I guess it goes to show that, in the Caribbean, not all dive shops are created equal.
My husband and I stayed at Anse Chastanet resort that is also on the west coast of St. Lucia and just a few kilometres south of Ti Kaye (Anse Cochon). Our experience was very different than Mr. Riley's.
We dove with Scuba St Lucia. It is a dive operation right on the beach of Anse Chastanet. We had come to Anse Chastanet to do our Open Diver Certification and they made the experience wonderful. Our dive instructor was the fabulous Mr. Victor Antoine, a man who has completed a world record of 20,000 plus dives in his life time. He was patient and very safety conscious. Once we were officially certified, we signed up for 8 dives. We dove the following sites: Coral Gardens, Jalousie, Trou Diable, Grand Caille, Fairyland, Anse Chastanet Reef, Turtle Reef and the Lesleen "M".
Scuba St. Lucia had proper dive boats (unlike the "water taxi" apparent in Mr. Riley's photographs) with railings and ladders, a boat crew and very safety conscious dive leaders. We received briefings before going in the water about the maximum depth (60 feet) and length of the dive as well as instruction on how to communicate when running low on air and safety stops. Once in the water, the dive leader waited for all to enter, and we descended together as a group.
I agree with Mr. Riley that the underwater sights were truly spectacular. He should know that sharks have not been fished out by the St. Lucian fisherman but rather that they do not inhabit St. Lucian waters.
Once we signalled that we were low on air, the dive leader signalled that our dive was over and that we needed to complete a safety stop. When we finally surfaced, there was a boat waiting for us and the crew assisted us by taking our fins and helping us onto the boat.
There were dives with strong currents including Fairyland and the Lesleen M wreck sights. However, our dive leaders ensured that we always stayed together and were safe.
I would recommend Scuba St. Lucia. They were excellent to dive with and their years of experience showed.
Looking at the pictures included with Mr. Riley's review article, the first red flag for me as a diver is the "water taxi" dive boat. Although the west coast of St. Lucia has generally calm, gentle waters, it is still an ocean where currents can change without notice and can place divers in danger.
In addition, the Anse Chastanet resort was small and quiet with friendly staff and great Caribbean food. As it is located in a small quiet bay with calm waters, it was easy to just swim and relax in the water for hours. We can't wait to go back and do some more diving and drink a little more Camilla's Voodoo."
" I just returned from a week vacation in St. Lucia and also dove with Scuba St. Lucia, I can confirm that they are a world class dive operation and deserving of their PADI 5-Star National Geographic designation!
We had the pleasure of 4 dives with Victor, he's taken to wearing a diving hood with devil horns on it so it was easy to pick him out of the group. I had reg trouble - went through 2300 psi in 20 minutes and Ponti from Scuba St. Lucia was able to fix it up for me between dives at no charge! The Anse Chastanet Reef was phenomenal and very healthily alive, I don't anticipate ever diving in St. Lucia with any other shop, this one's the best!"
Sharon Siemer, April 2009.
" I have dived with Scuba St Lucia for the last 4 years and the other commentators are right - they are world class, as we say in England they "ticked all the boxes". Bearnd Rac - the Manager takes people's experience into account and that counts for a lot. Victor, Ponti, Monty, Keither, Errol, Bernetta etc are all excellent dive guides as well as being good fun out of the water.
I also went to Scuba Steve's on my first trip to St Lucia - I only went there once!!"
Terry Crocker, 2011.
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