We dove with the AquaCat liveaboard vessel from September 29 thru October 6, 2007. While the boat can accommodate 22 divers, there were 17 in our group, with five other divers on board. Of the 17 in our group, there were two who had been on the AquaCat previously, and Jean and I were the only others who had been on a liveaboard before.
We landed in Nassau late, but our prearranged transfer service (booked thru the AquaCat) was still waiting for us. There were three of our party who were missing bags from the Atlanta-Nassau connecting flight. When we arrived at the boat, the captain took it upon himself to make any necessary contacts to try to retrieve the missing bags. After we all retired for the evening, we heard some noises outside the cabin area around midnight….and the missing bags had arrived. What a relief for those missing luggage.
Anyway, on to the details:
The boat is a catamaran design, a little over 100 feet in length, and 35 feet wide. It is very stable in the water, and has some of the largest cabins in any liveaboard fleet. All cabins have their own facilities, and all but one have ocean views. There is one cabin (#11) that is the smallest, and has a skylight, rather than actual windows. Each cabin has it’s own temperature control as well. There are basically three decks on board. One is the main deck where the cabins are, along with the dive deck, then there is the “alfresco deck” with shaded/covered seating areas. This is where the dive briefings were given. Then there is the top sun deck, with partial shade and the bar area. All three decks were very clean, with no sign of poor maintenance. After we arrived, dinner was served, and then the captain had his mandatory safety briefing, and explained the general rules of the boat. He did this using a Powerpoint presentation, and he even went into the details about how to flush the toilets! Certainly very through! The next morning we had the general dive briefing, reminding us about dive safety procedures, how to enter and exit the water, what to do if lost, etc. We set up our dive gear when we arrived, and never took it apart for the entire week we were on board.
Let’s move on to the diving:
Passengers have the option of making up to five dives per day, at 9 and 11 am, 2 and 4pm, and then a night dive, usually after dinner at 8pm. Before each dive we were given a thorough briefing about the dive site, expected sightings, topography, and any possible hazards. We were reminded about depth limits, which was good for those using nitrox. Speaking of nitrox, it is available, and was a consistent 32-33% mix every time.
Everyone dives their own profiles, and the boat uses the DAN Tag system for checking in and out of the water. The ladder on the stern of the boat is “fin friendly”, meaning you can climb the ladder with your fins on. Once you exit the water, there is a crew member waiting to hand your camera up to another crew member who places it in the rinse tank for you. The first crew member then uses a hand held shower to give you a quick rinse over your head and face and regulator first stage. A nice touch.
The dive sites were varied, with walls, gently sloping reefs, and shallow reef formations making up the majority of dive sites. There was little to no current on any of the dives with the exception of the site named “Washing Machine”, truly a drift diver’s delight. The average depths ranged from 70-80 feet for the first dives of the day to 30-40 or less for the remainder of the daily dives. 60 minute plus bottom times were not uncommon. After each dive, passengers had the convenience of huge walk-in showers right on the dive deck, where you could walk in with all your gear on, or just your wetsuit, for a whole body rinsing. Once you got to your place on the dive deck, you simply removed your tank and took off the regulator first stage as a sign to the crew that your tank needed filling. After filling the crew replaced the tank valve cap, as a sign that your tank was full. Fills were consistently between 2800-3100 psi. Below each passenger’s dive station, there were large plastic tubs for other personal gear, like lights, extra masks, snorkels, etc.
Photographers will find the underwater landscape very interesting, with plenty of macro and wide angle subjects. It’s strange to see lionfish in the Caribbean, but they are making inroads into that part of the world now. The boat has two large rinse tanks for cameras, along with a large work table comlete with low pressure compressed air for drying camera gear. There is a dry recharging station right on the dive deck that has plenty of 110 volt outlets for all charging needs. In addition, there are plenty of towels on the dive deck, but most of us only needed one towel per day.And now about the food:
In a word; fabulous! Breakfast was served every morning starting at 8am, and consisted of fresh fruit, cereals, eggs, bacon or sausage, omlettes, different types of bread and bagels, juices, coffee, tea, and muffins. Lunch was served around 12:30 after the second dive, and was varied and delicious. Grilled items, sandwiches, tacos, pastas, salads, and seafood made up the different lunch menus each day. Dinner was served at 6:30pm, and was always something to which to look forward. Usually there was one type of meat, like chicken, beef or lamb, along with seafood choices like tilapia, grouper or shrimp dishes. Salads, rolls, varying potato or pasta dishes rounded out the menu. Both lunch and dinner were accompanied by dessert, usually fresh baked cookies for lunch and cake, pie, or other sweets for dinner. The salon area has both a soft drink dispenser and beer taps and wine was available as well. The cruise includes all meals and drinks; just help yourself. Thursday evening was the “Captain’s Dinner” where steak and lobster were served after a nice cocktail party on the sun deck. The crew all takes turns clearing tables at every meal. Dinner Friday evening was on shore, as it is not included in the cruise price. During the day, if one got a bit hungry, there were snacks of all types available in the salon.
Would I do this trip again?? In a heartbeat. The crew, food, diving, boat, and location make this a great introduction to liveaboard diving for anyone considering it. When you compare the cost per dive between liveaboards and land based operations, the choice is clear.