Sunday, 20 January 2008
Diver Magazine has just published my feature article on Ghost Diving in Grenada. Similiar to the story I wrote for the Toronto Sun -- they are both about the same underwater incident -- but this story is aimed at the certified diver. The Toronto Sun is very much a working man's paper and most of the readers probably do not dive, so every effort was made to make it a fun travel piece that was light on dive technical terms.
The Diver story was edited by Peter Golding. Most of the pictures used in the article weren't taken by me and only have fleeting reference to the story - don't know the photographer at all, I gather Peter Golding bought them from a freelancer. If anyone would like a copy of the printed article, let me know, I will mail it to you. My address is on the splash page.
Here is my original version of the Diver Magazine story.
Live aboard stories from the Wind Dancer
A ghost of a chance for unusual underwater sightings in warm Grenadian waters
By Stephen Weir
Underwater ghost sightings are hard to come by, especially when you are diving shallow and don’t have the assistance of nitrogen narcosis. On land, specters rattle chains, throw pottery and hide car keys (gee, mine do), But underwater? Well, at least in Grenadian waters the poltergeists wear scuba tanks.
The venerable Peter Hughes live-aboard dive boat, The Wind Dancer, has recently begun offering six-night scuba trips that take divers from Grenada to the island of Bequia and back again. Many of the dive sites that are explored by the ship’s paying customers have never been visited by anyone – at least living – before.
Diving off the beaten track has an appeal for adventurous souls. Even though not all of the sites are world-class, there aren’t many places left in the Caribbean where you can readily dive on a lush coral reef without seeing the disastrous hand of man (and his anchors, garbage and pollution).
In a part of the world where water temperatures are rising, coral reefs are rapidly dying and fish stocks have all but disappeared, Grenada and sister-island Carriacou stand out for their vibrant underwater life. Undamaged coral reefs, forests of sponges and millions and millions of colourful fish make for the real spice of life in Grenada.
Grenada – the Spice Island – is not on most traveler’s radar screen. For some reason – be it the wonky air links, being on the US “shit list” since its invasion and liberation in 1983 or having an island government that hasn’t embraced the concept of massive construction of beach crowding hotel towers –this idyllic nation has managed to protect its underwater habitat.
Live aboard boats are found worldwide – they sail wherever there are healthy coral reefs and dramatic underwater vistas. Small in size but big on personal service, they take limited numbers of well-heeled divers to hard-to-reach dive sites sometimes kilometres from shore.
This 40 metre long live aboard, stays at sea for six nights at a stretch and moors nightly near the best dive sites available. Most days, passengers make five trips underwater. So obsessed are the guests, that many of them never change out of their bathing suits and ship-supplied bathrobes once on board the steel hulled craft.
The Wind Dancer’s recent arrival in Grenada - a modern island nation in the southeastern Caribbean Sea, north of Trinidad and Tobago, and south of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines - has been an instant hit. The all inclusive boat is attracting experienced divers who enjoy non-stop diving at a variety of scuba sites including deep dives, shipwrecks, coral reefs, walls, underwater volcano vents and, yes, haunted sites.
It was at the beginning of the Wind Diver’s first month in Grenadian waters when Diver Magazine signed on board. The ship was carrying 11 passengers (maximum is 18) and 10-crew members and had set a course from Grenada, to Carriacou to the St Vincent island of Bequia and back. The route was so new that each dive was an adventure for crew and paying customers alike.
The former British colony has a modern dive industry with several dive shops using well-equipped day dive boats. There are good buoyed sites close to shore so the existing land based shops have had no reason to explore out amongst the uninhabited islands that are strung out between Grenada and St Vincent. The Wind Dancer – a member of the island’s dive industry association -- sails every Sunday morning out of the True Blue Bay Dive Resort on Grand Anse Beach minutes from the recently rebuilt international airport.
The Wind Dancer has been around … and around and around again. She started life as the Truk Aggressor in the Pacific Ocean before being picked up by the Hughes organization, retrofitted and moved east. Over the years she has serviced a number of Caribbean dive locations, the latest being Tobago. As of September 2006 she now spends spring, summer and fall in Grenada and offers winter trips from her homeport of Scarborough, Tobago.
Experienced divers are attracted to the Dancer. These are people who tend to bring their own gear and cameras with them and don’t blink at the $2,000+ a week tariff. If one were to lose luggage, or simply choose to travel light (see sidebar story on packing for a live aboard), the ship can outfit you with everything – suit, computer, regulator, masks, fins, nitrox, cameras, and maybe even a lucky charm to keep away the ghosts!
Befitting a haunted escapade, many of the dive sites visited by the Wind Dancer have spooky names –Face of the Devil, Cathedral, and Devil’s Table. Other sites simply have weird stuff to see – on one reef I photographed clusters of small hard tube sponges that, bunched together, looked like that distorted face in Edvard Munch’s Scream. There is a phantom air-filled cave that could only be reached by swimming through a right-angled underwater tunnel.
At another site, a deepwater wreck lies with its bow deep in the sand. A dozen oversized nurse sharks gather in a pinwheel around the hulk’s nose. As a diver approach the nurse sharks shake themselves awake, disperse and then magically return to the exact same spot in the same once the humans are out of sight.
Then there are the underwater smells of Satan! Even though the active volcano on Montserrat is far to the north, there are stretches of sand near the island of Carriacou where divers can swim through bubbles of hot air rising from the sea floor. When you put your head overtop of a venting vent, you can smell traces of the sulphur infused in the bubbles breaking on your mask.
It was the second dive of our second day on a rather run-of-the-mill spot where “it” happened. The Wind Dancer was anchored at the edge of the National Park of the Tobago Cays (southern end of the St Vincent and the Grenadines). We had already been deep on a wall near an unpopulated island and were going to do a simple shallow (20 metre) drop on the shallow side of the same rock outcrop.
The dives are made from two tenders that race out from the mother ship to the nearby sites. This day one of the pangas carried three Canadian doctors, a retired Hamilton pharmacist and a married couple from the US Midwest. There were five people on the second tender including myself.
Eleven divers, from two boats (separated by a hundred metres) back flipped into the warm soupy Caribbean waters. It was supposed to be yet another dive on another reef that had probably never been visited before.
When a dive ends the two boats would compare notes to see who saw what. Turtles. Mating Eels. Lobster, lobster on lobster on lobster. Interesting, but, quickly becoming standard fare in these waters.
“ Did any of you see the visitor? I saw another diver,” asked one of Canadians.” He was wearing a white T-shirt, and had on a weight belt, scuba tank and mask. He waved at me”
All of the divers were by now on the stern of the Wind Dancer taking turns rinsing off in the communal shower. All passengers were accounted for, none of whom were wearing T-shirts. There were no other boats in sight and the nearby island was devoid of life. No sign of the man or a white shirt was seen.
For the next three days the boat moved slowly southward back to Grenada. Blessed with good visibility, uninhabited islands to dive and calm seas, we saw almost everything there is to see in the lower Caribbean. Big and colourful fish. Squads of eagle rays. Loopy turtles. Fleeting glimpses of reef shark. Yet, on every dive everyone kept an eye out for the man in white. At night, dinner talk was not about politics but about the phantom.
The last night at sea had the Wind Dancer moored near Frigate Island (named after the isles only inhabitants) within sight of the high cloud capped mountains of Grenada. This was to be the final night dive for the group and a chance to lay the scuba spirit to rest.
The four ghost hunters rolled off their tender first. We could see their torches as they descended alongside the steep black rock wall. Our party jumped in, lights out, a few metres ahead. When the first group rounded a large boulder, we turned on our lights on one member of our group who had slipped on a white shirt. He waved and disappeared into the gloom.
It was a sub sea exorcism. The next morning the two groups split up. Those with tight departure times dove shallow or stayed on board and packed. I was one of two who had a late flight and was able to make one last haunted dive.
There was time to do a “right of scuba passage” on the ghost of the hard luck Bianca C. Twice sunk, the remains of the passenger ship are said to be the largest wreck in the Caribbean.
Construction of the ship began in France in 1944. Before she could be completed, the passenger vessel was sunk by a German submarine. Raised, the hull was repaired and the ship was rebuilt. The vessel went through several name and flag changes. In 1961, under Italian ownership, the 200 metre long cruise ship steamed into the St George’s harbour in Grenada. An explosion and subsequent fire killed two and injured eight. Eight hundred people made it off the ship safely before the Bianca C was towed out to sea.
She sank near the Grand Anse Beach, near where the Wind Dancer moors. The wreck lies on its side and is just a hair’s breadth within sport diving limits. The obligatory swim through the ship’s still intact deck pool is at a depth of 42 metres.
The last dive is made on Friday morning, passengers have to be off the Dancer on Saturday. The ship’s purser arranges for transportation and afternoon ground tours, most of the guests head into St. George’s. Although the island was all but leveled by a hurricane three years ago, this historic fort city has been lovingly restored and is a fascinating place to explore. Others opt to see rain forests and mountain spice farms 800 meters above sea level.
The final dinner is served on land, under the stars, at the nearby hotel. With the gear put away and swimsuits hung up to dry, the topic of ghosts is never raised. The only spirit is brought to the table by our engaging waiter.
Wednesday, 16 January 2008
In December I was part of a six-person panel which looked at all the "new" products that were going to be shown at the 50th anniversary Toronto International Boat Show. At boat shows the word "new" is used loosely. In North America most marine companies debut products at the Miami Boat Show, so, for trade fairs being held after Miami (The Toronto show runs in January 08) new becomes new-to-Toronto, or, first-showing-Canada.
We choose the ten best products. I wrote a story and press release about our panel's picks. The story appeared in the showguide (cover at left) and I have seen it also in the January/February issue of Boating Business. I believe a coupla other magazines used varients of the story as well.
Since the content of the story is only germane to the show, which ends Sunday, I haven't bothered to post the story. If you want to see it (can't imagine while) drop me a note and I will forward it to you.
Sunday, 13 January 2008
Every year for the past five years I have written travel stories for the annual 2008 Marinas and Destination Guide - Boating Ontario. Late last year I updated last year's story for the annual guide. That small format magazine came out in January and made its debut at the annual Toronto International Boat Show.
HEAD: Lake Huron and Area
DECK: Catch the sun on a sandy beach. Cruise and fish the open water. Lake Huron is ready to thrill with every visit.
By Stephen Weir
What was once called La Mer Douce (the fresh water sea) by early French explorers and later, Lac des Hurons (The Lake of the Huron Indians), by the First Nations people, is a vast on-water playground where excitement is king. The second largest Great Lake with a surface area spanning 23, 010 square miles, approximately the size of West Virgina, Lake Huron is considered the third largest lake in world (if the saline Caspian Sea is included) and boasts a shoreline spanning 6,157 kilometers. While the west coast of the Bruce Peninsula is generally uninhabited, with dark, dense forests and a rugged shoreline, Huron’s Sun Coast stands true to its name. The sunsets are absolutely stunning and it’s a common sight to see the sky light up with deep hues of red and orange on a warm summer’s evening.
What’s even more impressive are the series of activities that can be enjoyed here. On any given day in the summer, when the temperatures are ideal for boating, waterskiing, anchoring, diving, and of course, fishing, are just a few of the activities thousands of visitors enjoy here every year.
Many communities dot the shoreline and offer the some of most excitement anywhere. Whether it’s a competitive beach volleyball tournament in Grand Bend, or the majestic charm of Bayfield, there’s always something fascinating along the waterfront. Anglers, too, will find excitement. At almost every drop of the line, a relentless fight is almost guaranteed by chinook salmon, bass, pike, or catfish. Additionally, if there’s time for further exploring, go off Huron’s beaten’ path and check out the numerous rivers that can be accessed by either canoe or kayak.
Starting a journey on Lake Huron is often a difficult decision since there are many active communities. Consider Grand Bend, situated just north of London, Ontario. “The sun surf fun capital of Ontario” is a boater-friendly destination that boasts modern marinas that can accommodate even the largest power boat, while campgrounds, resorts, motels and bed and breakfasts are never too far away.
In addition to the endless activities, highlighted events this year include the annual Grand Bend Buffalo Burgerfest (June 21 & 22), Pinery Provincial Park’s Savanna Festival (July 19), and the 8th annual Mopar Canadian Nationals (July 18-20), the largest drag racing event in Canada. Local volleyball tournaments and several plays are also held throughout the summer. For nature lovers, Grand Bend is abundant with wildlife and its common to spot rare, exotic birds, free roaming deer and even world famous butterflies, all inhabiting the sand dunes of Pinery Provincial Park.
Another exciting and charming community, just to the north of Grand Bend, is the village of Bayfield. Named one of the 10 prettiest small towns in Canada, boaters will love Bayfield with its seven marine facilities within town limits and there are more slips (450) than there are people. The downtown district is just a short walk from the waterfront.
Just up the lake is Goderich with two marinas featuring transient docking and several marine services, and perhaps set a course north to Saugeen Shores, which includes the amalgamated communities of Port Elgin, Southampton and Saugeen Township. If you visit Port Elgin during the tourist season, the community operates a miniature steam train that can take you on a two-kilometer ride from the waterfront to the town site. The local marina offers countless slips as well as several services including laundry, transient docking, ice/water, gas/diesel and shorepower.
This area is also a terrific fishing district as Saugeen Shores is known for its Chinook, Coho and Pink Salmon, Trout, Walleye, and Whitefish. The Chantry Chinook Classic Salmon Derby, held the last week of July 26th to August 9th, is a high-profile contest with big cash prizes. This derby is run by the Lake Huron Fishing Club volunteers, who also operate the Chinook salmon hatchery in Port Elgin. Derby profits have paid for a state-of-the-art fish cleaning station at the Port Elgin Harbour.
As you travel toward Sauble Beach, the Lake Huron shoreline morphs from sandy beaches to the emergence of the Niagara Escarpment and the Bruce Peninsula, one of the most unique parts of Ontario. This enormous finger of limestone juts approximately 60 kilometers north from Sauble Beach to Tobermory.
One other interesting area on Lake Huron is the region north of Sauble Beach known as the Fishing Islands. This archipelago of rocky land and shoals is well named, as it offers both the best sightseeing topography and perhaps the best bass fishing in North America. Have you had your fill of salmon? The islands are boating friendly – stop for a picnic and a dip in the warm shallow blue water.
If your course takes you from the eco-rated marinas of Sauble Beach to Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, be aware there are no full-service marinas along the way. But docks, government operated lighthouses and gas pumps at fishing lodges from Stokes Bay to Cape Hurd are available.
SIDE BAR #1
SIX REASONS TO VISIT SARNIA
13th Annual Kids Funfest
Showcasing more than 80 activities for the kids!
For more information call (519) 332-0330 Ext. 20 or visit www.sarnia.ca or www.tourismsarnialambton.com
46th annual Sarnia-First Nation ”AAMJIWNAANG” Pow Wow
A insightful dance competition for ages 7 to 50+. For all dancers & drummers.
For more information call 519-336-8410
Sarnia’s Garden Tip Toe Tour
A self-guided tour of approximately 10 fabulous and groomed gardens.
For more information call 519-542-3435
Sarnia Kinsmen Ribfest
Vendors from as far away as Florida come to boast their secret rib recipes. A carnival and entertainment are other highlights.
19th Annual Hobbyfest
See a vast display and demonstration of various hobby and leisure activities.
For more information call (519) 332-0330 or visit www.city.sarnia.on.ca
A cultural celebration highlighting Greek food, music, dancing and more!
St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 1299 Murphy Rd., Sarnia, For more information call 519-542-1142
SIDE BAR #2
Three transient marinas await boaters in Bayfield. And once your lines are tied, it’s advisable to stay for a while. In addition the quaint hotels, and inns, Bayfield is known for its first-class shopping with its numerous boutiques, shops, and galleries. If it’s dining you’re after, there’s a several restaurants are never too far away. Bayfield is also known for its spectacular summer theatre scene with the acclaimed Stratford Festival, the Blyth Festival or the Huron Country Playhouse.
For more information about Bayfield and its 2008 events and attractions visit www.villageofbayfield.com
SIDE BAR #3
Port Elgin is part of the district of Saugeen Shores, which consists of the amalgamated municipalities of Southhampton and Saugeen Township. The local marina has transient docking and is a gateway to many amenities. Dine or shop in its exciting downtown district, stroll a sandy beach or visit any one of the exciting festivals or events. Countless spectacles take place between Port Elgin and South Hampton all season including:
• The 14th Annual Cruisers Nights – every Thursday night from May 22 to September 11
• The Huron Fringe Birding Festival – May 23 to June 1
• The Burkes Feast On The Beach – June 29
Port Elgin Antique Show and Sale – July 18 to 19
• Port Elgin Flea Market – July 25 to August 27
• Chantry Chinook Classic Fishing Derby – July 26-August 9
• Southampton's 150th Anniversary Weekend – August 14 to 17
• Canadian Big Band Celebration – September 19 to September 21
For more information on the local and upcoming events visit www. www.saugeenshores.ca
SIDE BAR #4
DOUBLE YOUR SUMMER DELIGHTS
Why not try someplace new this summer? Here are two other communities that can perhaps make you stay a little longer than planned:
Goderich – Shop in its unique, Octagon-shaped town square, enjoy one of three of the sandy beaches or visit for the summer events and attractions. Be sure to check out the Festival of Arts and Crafts July 4 - 6, the Goderich Farmer’s Market (every Saturday, Victoria Day to Thanksgiving), or the annual Celtic Festival. For more information about Goderich and its events visit www.goderich.ca
Kincardine – While Kincardine is acclaimed for its sunsets, the town also offers three beaches, a vibrant downtown, plus many things to see including a wooden lighthouse built in 1881, the mysterious Madisons Haunted Inn plus the Flea and Market in Victoria Park. There are also many exciting events including the Kincardine Summer Music Festival August 3-16, Kincardine Scottish Festival July 4 – 6 and the Fish Kincardine Derby scheduled for May 2008. For more information visit www.kincardine.net
1, From the water or on the extensive chin of sand beaches, spectacular sunsets can be enjoyed all along Lake Huron in the summer.
2, Bayfield is a shopper’s delight with its series of boutiques and shops.
3, There’s always plenty of action in Grand Bend, including competitive beach volleyball throughout the season.
Boat Shows Turns 50 years of age - Boats and Motors uses my press release for 2-page feature in its January issue
In September I wrote a couple press releases for Holmes Communication to be used as long-lead stories in boating magazines. Boats and Places, a magazine started by Ted Rankine and now owned by Brian Minton, used my piece as the basis of a two-page article in their January 2008 issue. What follows is the original piece that I wrote.
2008 -- Golden Anniversary for Canada’s biggest boating event
Toronto International Boat Show launched 50 years ago
This January 11th the Toronto International Boat Show will be celebrating its 50th anniversary by doing what it does best -- opening the hatches on the Direct Energy Centre and inviting the public to come on board and see the fleet of 2008. The nine-day Toronto International Boat Show is turning fifty; it is a major exhibition milestone but more importantly, it is a time for celebration for the show, the boating industry and the Canadian economy.
The world’s biggest indoor harbour! Exciting wakeboard boats, rooftop aluminum fishing boats, majestic cruisers, yachts that can sail the world, peppy personal watercraft and new environmentally friendly engines are some of the stars at Canada’s biggest boat show.
Over eight miles of carpeting will be laid on the floor of the spacious Direct Energy Centre. Thousands and thousands of visitors will see more than 1,500 new boats and hundreds of state-of-the-art inboard and outboard motors. Within the show is Sailfest, a large area set aside for sailboats including the largest blue water yachts sold in Ontario.
The show begins the evening of January 11th with an exclusive Friday Night Boating for Children’s Charity Gala Preview. Guests wander past the glistening new boats sipping on fine wines, nibbling on gourmet hors d'oeuvers, bidding on fantastic silent auction items, and raising money for worthy children’s causes. The doors open for the general public at 9am on Saturday, January 12th. The show runs daily for the next week, closing at 6pm on Sunday January 20th.
The Ricoh Coliseum is part of the Direct Energy Centre and play an integral part in the Toronto International Boat Show. The hockey rink will be turned into a 4ft deep lake, making it the world’s largest indoor harbour, albeit, for just nine days.
“ Our 2008 exhibition will be the most exciting show ever,” explained show manager Cynthia Hare. “The big news for 2008 is The Lake. We have had the lake for a number of years, but this year we are really opening it up! There will be a lot of open water so that you can see the boats in action. We will have power boats, personal watercraft, kayaks, and even sailboats out on our indoor lake!”
Visitors can sit in the stands around the Lake and watch the boats in action. And after that? It is on to the show floor to see what is new for next year’s boating season.
Since 1958 millions of Canadians have flocked to the Boat Show to buy boats, motors and accessories. There are so many different products showcased at the annual event that consumers are able to compare prices, take advantage of show sales and secure delivery in time for the Spring start of the boating season.
In a city where the vast majority of its residents don’t remember a time when there hasn’t been a Boat Show, January is the unofficial start of the boating season. Why does the Toronto International Boat Show (now the second biggest indoor show in North America) have staying power?
“It is because the industry is firmly committed to delivering a top-notch event that provides value to consumers. We are constantly making improvements to the 9-day event, but we never forget that it is all about boats and motors, ” explained show manager Cynthia Hare. “The show fosters competition amongst boat dealers and that means that buyers get the best prices before the ice is even off the lakes. And, for those that are there just to look, the Boat Show delivers good entertainment value.”
“ We are often asked what the biggest trend in high-end boating will be next year,” continued Ms. Hare. “We think that Toronto is about to enter the smart boat era. There has been a big leap forward in marine electronics, communications and computers. These highly accurate, lightweight systems are being integrated into larger yachts so not only do these cruisers look smart, they actually are!”
Show goers dazzled by these sleek new boats will be forgiven if they momentarily forget that it is the boat show’s Golden anniversary. To make sure those memory lapses don’t last long the Boat Show is offering a 15% birthday discount to anyone buying admission tickets on-line at www.torontoboatshow.com.
Friday, 4 January 2008
On the last Sunday of 2007, the Toronto Sun ran a feature that I wrote about diving aboard the Wind Dancer in the waters of Grenada. The story is about diving, but, it is about ghosts too. I have received a couple of emails about the cover photo that the Sun published. It shows asmall eel with tiny yellow cleaning fish perched on its head. Unfortunately, someone at the Sun thought the cleaning fish was actually the eel's mouth and as a result the photograph was run upside down. The Sun gets about a million readers on Sunday and so far only three people have noticed. I have reprinted the cover and the original photograph above.
A Scuba Vacation Aboard The Wind Dancer
A ghost of a chance for eerie underwater sightings in warm Grenadian waters
By Stephen Weir June 19, 2007
Not counting mermaid sightings, underwater ghost encounters are hard to come by. On land, specters rattle chains, throw pottery and hide car keys (at least mine do), But underwater? Well, at least in Grenadian waters, poltergeists wear scuba tanks.
The Wind Dancer, a popular live-aboard dive boat, has recently begun offering six-night scuba trips from Grenada to the island of Bequia and back. The small, exclusive 9-suite cruiser takes passengers to hard-to-reach coral reefs where they dive all day … and night time too. Many of the sites that are dove, have never been visited by anyone – at least living – before.
Live-aboard scuba tends to be an elitist adventure sport with a strong environmental bent. Divers pay thousands of dollars to stay at sea on boats that are comfortable, but spartan.
In a part of the world where water temperatures are rising, coral reefs are rapidly dying and fish stocks have all but disappeared, Grenada and sister-island Carriacou stand out for their vibrant underwater life. Undamaged coral reefs, forests of sponges and millions and millions of colourful fish make for the real spice of life in Grenada.
Grenada – the Spice Island – is not on most travelers’ radar screens. For some reason – be it the wonky air links, the negativity caused by the US invasion and liberation in 1983 or the lack of beach crowding hotels –this idyllic nation remains undiscovered.
The Wind Dancer’s recent arrival in the southeastern Caribbean Sea, has been an instant hit. This 40 metre long live aboard, stays at sea for five nights visiting the best dive sites available. The boat is attracting experienced Canadians who enjoy non-stop diving at a variety of scuba sites including deep dives, shipwrecks, coral reefs, walls, underwater volcano vents and, yes, haunted sites.
So what about the ghosts? It was at the beginning of the Wind Diver’s winter’s season. The ship was carrying 11 passengers (maximum is 20) and 10-crew members and had set a course from Grenada to the island of Bequia and back. These are people – most in their fifties -- who don’t blink at the $2,000+ for a six day cruise. The ship offers dive lessons, rents gear, and will even supply a lucky charm to keep away the ghosts!
Befitting a haunted escapade, many of the Wind Dancer sites have spooky names –Face of the Devil, Cathedral, and Devil’s Table. Other stops simply have weird stuff to see – on one reef a cluster of small hard tube sponges look like that distorted face in Edvard Munch’s Scream. There is a pirate’s air-filled cave that is only reached by swimming through an underwater tunnel.
At another site, a wreck lies with its bow deep in the sand. A dozen oversized nurse sharks gather in a pinwheel around the hulk’s nose. As a diver approaches the nurse sharks shake themselves awake, disperse and then magically return to the exact same spot once the humans are out of sight.
Then there are the underwater smells of Satan! Even though the active volcano on Montserrat is far to the north, there are stretches of sand near the island of Carriacou where divers can swim through stinky bubbles of hot air rising from lava vents under the sea floor.
It was on the second day when “it” happened. The Wind Dancer was anchored at the edge of the National Park of the Tobago Cays (southern end of the St Vincent and the Grenadines). Eleven divers back flipped off two tender boats into the warm soupy Caribbean waters and spent an hour underwater. Three of the divers were Canadian doctors, a fourth was a retired Hamilton pharmacist.
When a dive ended the passengers would compare notes to see who saw what. Turtles. Mating Eels. Skittish sharks. Lobster, lobster on lobster on lobster. Interesting, but, quickly becoming standard fare.
“ Did any of you see the visitor? I saw another diver,” asked one of the Canadians.” He was wearing a white T-shirt, and a scuba tank. He waved at me!”
The passengers were by now on the stern of the Wind Dancer taking turns rinsing off in the communal shower. Roll call was immediately taken. Everyone was accounted for, none of whom were wearing T-shirts. There were no other boats in sight and the nearby island was devoid of life. He literally had seen a ghost.
For the next three days the boat moved slowly southward through dead calm seas back to Grenada. Blessed with uninhabited islands to dive near, the passengers saw almost everything there is to see in the lower Caribbean. Big and colourful fish. Squads of eagle rays. Loopy turtles. Fleeting glimpses of reef shark. Yet, on every dive everyone kept an eye out for the mysterious man in white.
The last night at sea had the Wind Dancer moored near Frigate Island (named after the isles only inhabitants) within the shadows of Grenada’s cloud capped mountains. This was the final chance to lay the scuba spirit to rest. The Canadian contingent had been talking haunted seas ad nausea and the others figured it was time to Ghostbust the cruise.
The four including the man who made the original ghost sighting rolled off their tender first descended alongside a steep black rock wall. A large shark circled in their light. The rest stayed in the boat for a moment or so and instructed the driver to drop them in the water a few meters ahead of the first group.
Underwater, a diver quickly slipped on a white T-shirt and an indestructible Tilley hat. When the quartet came into view, they saw a shimmering site. All the other divers shone their lights on the diver in white who waved and disappeared into the gloom.
It was a sub sea exorcism. Although the mystery of the original ghostly diver was never solved, the appearance of the Tilley hatted ringer had everyone muttering the word “Hoax”.
The last day at sea there was time to visit the real ghost of Grenada, the hard luck Bianca C. Twice sunk, the remains of the passenger ship are the largest wreck in the Caribbean.
Construction of her began in France in 1944. Before she could be completed, the vessel was sunk by a German U-boat. Raised, the ship was then rebuilt. In 1961 the 200-metre long vessel, now an Italian cruise ship, steamed into Grenada’s St George’s harbour. An explosion killed two and injured eight. Eight hundred people made it to shore and then the burning Bianca C was towed out to sea.
She sank near the Grand Anse Beach, near the Wind Dancer mooring. The wreck lies on her side barely within sport diving limits. The obligatory swim through the ship’s still intact swimming pool is at a depth of 42 metres.
The diving now done, the Dancer heads to port. The purser arranges for afternoon ground tours, most of the guests head into St. George’s. Although the island was all but leveled by a hurricane three years ago, this historic fort city has been lovingly restored.
The final dinner is served on land, under the stars. With the gear and one white T-shirts still hung up to dry, the topic of ghosts is never raised. The only spirit that all the divers see is brought to the table by the unsuspecting waiter.
Grenada Sidebar: Useful Information
All Canadian citizens require a valid passport and return (or onward) ticket is required to enter any of the three islands of Grenada, (Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique). However, proof of citizenship bearing a photograph is acceptable from Canadian, British, and U.S. citizens, if accompanied with a copy of a birth certificate. Travellers are charged a $20 Cdn departure tax at its internatonal airport. The official currency of Grenada is Eastern Carribean Dollar
Air Canada, SkyService and Zoom Airlines have weekly flights to Grenada from Toronto and Montreal.
Caribean Airlines services Grenada from Toronto.
MS Wind Dancer
800-932-6237 Toll Free
439 University Ave. Suite 920
Toronto, Ontario M5G 1Y8
Tel: (416) 595-1339
Fax: (416) 595-8278
Grenada Scuba Diving Association
author Stephen Weir in his Tilley hat aboard the Wind Dancer
CANADIAN OUTFITTER STOP AIRPORTS FROM CHARGING WEIGHT SURCHARGE
By Stephen Weir
The new realities of international travel have made carrying scuba gear difficult and sometimes expensive. Luckily travel clothing manufacturers have helped take the weight off flying with scuba equipment.
Not only are airport authorities now red flagging dive equipment (dive regulators look “funny” on the X-ray screens) airlines are, seemingly in tandem, strictly enforcing weight restrictions.
Flying to Barbados I was restricted to two pieces of checked luggage. Transferring to a small regional airplane to reach Grenada I met more onerous rules - the two bags couldn’t have a combined weight of more than 23 kilos. Trouble is – my scuba and camera gear weighs in at 22 kilos. If I take clothes, shaving kit, books and IPod my bags set the airline cash register cha- chinging. Regional carriers tend to charge $5 a kilo for excessive weight, and they round up not down!
This trip Tilley came to the rescue. The famed maker of Give ‘em Hell travel clothing understands the meaning of traveling small and light. Their Men’s Zip Off Pants (unzip at the knees and Viola shorts), Outback Vest (so many pockets I lost stuff in ‘em for a week) and magic socks and underwear are lightweight and wrinkle proof.
I was able to roll up a week’s worth of clothing (4 shirts, 2 pairs of shorts, hat, socks, underwear, pants and vest) and pack them in a bag smaller than Jack Bauer’s man purse on 24. I was able to hand-carry my complete Wind Dancer wardrobe, sparing myself dunning overweight charges.
And, like most specialty travel clothes, when you unroll and hang-up your clothes they suddenly pop back into shape. I am a card-carrying slob so I was suspicious that first night on the compliments my clothing received. By week’s end I was giving fashion shows.
My underwear and socks were a source of endless entertainment for the crew. It is amazing, one simply washes them in the cabin sink and then takes them up on deck where you twirl them around your head. In three turns they are all but dry. The crew took much delight in watching me spin wet underwear over my head while standing at the bow of the boat yelling “I’m King of the World!
Downside? Everybody knows where Tilley’s are made. Put on a Tilley Hat and walk the Main Street of any town in the world. You won’t get five steps before strangers approach you with two questions -- Canadian Eh? The second query? “Can I see the passport that’s hidden in the secret passport pocket in your hat?” Fooled them, it was lost in the secret, inside velcro’d pocket of my vest!