THE BOAT DEPARTED soon afterwards, and we caught just a few scenic glimpses of the island as we sailed away from dock. From what we could see from the surface, the local reefs did not appear to be that prolific.
The crew backed up this thought, because we didn’t dive there, sailing instead straight to our first diving destination, Saba.
When we asked why we didn’t fly straight to Saba, we were told that it has the world’s smallest airport. As we approached, we understood. This volcanic island is a steep-sided pyramid that bursts aggressively from the sea. An ancient eruption has left sharp cliff-faces that are almost vertical at points.
The dramatic landscape is interspersed with rainforest-clad surfaces, and despite the extreme geography there are several small villages that cling to hills and nestle in valleys. There is also a delightful lack of mainstream tourist development, with a relaxed atmosphere that feels rather like a Mediterranean island.
Beneath the sea, Saba also differs. Rocky shores replace the sandy beaches typical of the Caribbean, while the sheer cliffs extend beneath the water to meet tall, submerged pinnacles and massive boulders. The waters around the island are a National Marine Park, so the dives are inside a protected zone and this shows in the quantity and calibre of reef life.
River Taw wreck in St Kitts.
Dives are conducted all round the island, and our first was at Big Rock Market, a long, loaf-shaped reef that dropped on either side to rocky outcrops.
We entered near a mini-pinnacle, then swam across to the main reef where, on cue, a Caribbean reef shark swam in, assessed the divers and swam off again.
Along the reef were plenty of encrusting corals and some algae patches protecting lettuce-leaf slugs, small shrimp, coral-banded shrimp, coral trout and lots of butterflyfish.
This gentle dive was followed by Dave’s Drop-off, which lies on the windy, rougher side of the island and right up under the cliff-wall. A large bed of boulders tumbles down to about 24m in a wide swathe that covers the area.
The topography was impressive, much of it covered in sponges and soft coral plumes. It was more colourful than we had expected, especially up in the shallow areas right under the wall, a surge zone.
There was none while we were there, but we saw some substantial elkhorn corals that shone a mustard colour and were surrounded by lots of small yellow and white fans and yellow sponges.
Under the wall, two inlets were home to turtles, flutemouths and lizardfish.