ON DAY TWO we’re back in Chatham Bay, which lies to the west of Union island, on a site called Bloody Wall. It sounds promisingly piratical and again it’s a nice dive, but it’s not unlike the previous day’s soft-coral forest. With only three diving days on PSV, I start to feel concerned about a possible lack of variety beneath the surface.
I am however pleased to see a school of several dozen palometa (Trachinotus goodei), a distinctive Caribbean jack I’ve never seen before. These fish go by many names, including pompano and old wife, and have a distinctive shape, all elongated fins, forktail and flat silvery body.
They can grow up to a metre long, though these are smaller. They seem to mob us for a moment, perhaps attracted by our bubbles, before moving on so fast that I’m unable to get a focused shot.
If I’m worried about sameness, the site Pinese reassures me. We’re on a wall that slopes off to reasonable depths, though we stay at around 16m. Still, I’m pleased that all our dives are lasting at least an hour.
There is plenty of coral and sponge life on the wall, and I note a rainbow parade of fish, pugnacious spiny lobsters, an unusually large lizardfish that obligingly flashes its teeth and a nurse shark, body exposed but head frustratingly hidden.
As I close in, it suddenly spins round as if to offer up a portrait view, but simply stirs up a cloud of sediment before settling in exactly the same position as before.
I shrug and move on.
I enjoy Pinese, but the ante is upped considerably on our last day, starting with a drift-dive at Mayreau Gardens.
Mayreau, north-east of Union and the Grenadines’ smallest inhabited island, is part of the Tobago Cays Marine Park, which reaches out east of the island.
Gilan at the top of Bloody Wall.
There are proposals to extend this reserve, which could bring it closer to PSV. Mayreau’s 300 inhabitants will take some persuading of the advantages, however, because their lives are largely dedicated to fishing.
Later that day I mention this to Sinbad, who comes from the island and helps British skipper Jeff Stevens sail PSV’s 15m sailing sloop Beauty.
Of course, it’s all very well for some fly-by-night visitor to go on about how fishers benefit from the overspill from rejuvenated populations of fish in a marine reserve, but such gains are long-term. In the here and now, his response is: “C’mon, mate, we have to eat!”
And as I’m sitting on a yacht happily tucking into freshly barbecued swordfish and lobster as well as tenderloin at the time, I decide not to pursue the topic.
The Mayreau Gardens drift begins with Dan, Alex and I missing the intended channel on our descent and, finding the current too strong to fight, having to go back up for a second shot.
Our re-entry is slightly delayed, because initially the captain is following the other group’s bubbles, and what follows is a clear demonstration of how poorly the sound of whistles carries at sea, however loud they might sound to the blower.
But we’re soon reunited with the others, and not long after that, Gilan decides to have a lie-down on the seabed.
I know why. I’ve been vainly trying to photograph the trickle of bubbles rising through a patch of darkened sand, and the spot where Gilan is lying offers a graphic impression of heat emanating from the bowels of the Earth.
Get as low as you can go at around 24m, and you can feel the warmth from the underwater volcano called Hot Springs.
The drift reveals more of that luxuriant soft coral and plenty of colour. There’s another shy nurse shark and more spiny lobsters, a little scrawled cowfish with its sharp horns, and everywhere thick clouds of bright blue juvenile Creole wrasse.