WE SURFACED in choppy water to find Lappy, the boat captain, waiting to pick us up, and moved into the lee of Little Tobago, just off the tiny beach and jetty used for bird-watching tours.
Our second dive was to be at Coral Gardens, famed for having the world’s largest brain coral. Located in the channel between Little Tobago and Goat Island, it was a little more protected than Bookends.
We descended to the coral-strewn bottom at 23m, a riot of yellow, green and red sponges, bright orange tubastraea cup coral and hard coral blocks, interspersed with wide sandy runways, quite different to the south.
The visibility was better at around 20m and the reef looked very healthy, with no signs of coral-bleaching. A yellow-fin tuna sped past us. We came across a sting ray resting in the sand, then Sean spotted an octopus sitting upright away from the reef on a sandy patch.
Shortly afterwards, Sean stopped and held out his arm. He was pointing at a coral block covered in brain coral, which dwarfed us as I attempted to get it all into my camera frame. It was impressive that something so large seemed to be thriving healthily.
The next day we were to dive with main dive-guide Tooley, who was full of fun, energy and the love of diving.
Sean was taking out a young couple on their first open-water dives. Andrea and Jaime were Colombian but lived in Florida. Jaime explained that he was a scientist on assignment in Trinidad and Andrea, a singer-songwriter, was over for a visit. She had been persuaded to visit Tobago to learn to dive with him and was pretty nervous, but Sean soon put her at ease with his funny stories.
Tooley at Japanese Gardens.
Many dive-sites in Speyside are suitable for both beginners and more experienced divers, but we headed to Japanese Gardens, in front of Goat Island, to see the black coral which, unusually for the Caribbean, grows there.
Black coral, pale in colour but named after its black skeleton, is usually found very deep in Caribbean waters, but in the north of Tobago it can be found just beyond 30m. We went to 35m.
This beautiful site was brimful of orange tubastraea coral, its colour vibrant against the green water. The site is named after its many sea-whips, thought to resemble Japanese bonsai trees.
We had even better visibility with the less-turbid water. The current picked up considerably as we came up the reef and around a bend in the rock cliff and through a small fissure called Kamikaze Cut, before it spat us out near some small overhangs where nurse sharks often sleep.
Later Tooley told us that the current usually runs high through the cut, always making for an exhilarating dive.
Back on the boat, we watched Sean surface with Andrea and Jaime. I could see a huge smile on Jaime’s face and Andrea, her eyes as wide as saucers, was almost in tears. “I have no words,” she kept saying – quite something for a songwriter to be rendered speechless.
She couldn’t wait for the next dive, and if Sean hadn’t reminded them of the need to de-gas I’m sure she and Jaime would have grabbed fresh tanks and dived straight back down.