And back home again
I returned this morning from the Bahamas trip announced in my previous blog of Feb 9. Picked up at Schiphol by Ite who was glad to see me back without any scratches, and later at home enthusiastically welcomed by dog Teun. Tired, but happy after the experience of visiting two famous Bahama shark sites in succession. As said, we again did a a two island trip, but now with Bimini as a starter and Tiger Beach as second. Tiger Beach is a large shallow plateau located at the edge of Little Bahama Bank around 20 miles north of West End Grand Bahamas. It takes a two hours trip by boat from Old Bahama Bay to get there.
One or two sites? Most land based shark trips have a five diving-days schedule. This means that when you loose one or two days because of bad weather, you will have enough diving days left for shooting your pictures. On the other hand, with good weather five diving days at the same location may just be a little too much, considering that most UW photographers shoot hundreds of pictures per day. A way to bring in more variation in your shots is two visit two different locations with different shark species. The only restriction is that your time of travel coincides with the moment when each species is likely to be present at its preferred habitat. The time window we tried last year was mid April. A bit late for Bimini where some of the G hammerheads had already started their migration, but ideal for meeting Oceanic sharks at Cat Island. This year it was end Februari: ideal for meeting G hammerheads at Bimini as well as Tiger sharks at Tiger Beach.
Accomodations The Bimini Big Game Club at Bimini was OK but the music around the pool and in the restaurant was often set a bit (understatement) too loud for my ears. The staff was friendly and ready to help when needed. I found the BGC a big improvement compared with the Bimini Sands resort, the former home base of Neal Watsons Scuba center. The Old Bahama Bay resort at West End was very pleasant, peaceful and comfortable and had a nice restaurant. It even had various singing birds (even a trush?) in its gardens. No loud music, God thanks. End Februari the resort was almost deserted, except for the divers and some boat people. Our diving trips at Bimini and West End also had non UW photographers on board, with the number of divers varying between 18 and 12 at Bimini to 10 and 5 at Tiger Beach. Total costs of our double trip - that I organised myself- was around 3500 USD including the resort (single room), boat, diving and the safari surplus. With a shared room it would cost around 2700 USD. Flamingo Air has a daily airline service between Bimini and Grand Bahamas for 100 USD single fare.
Pictures Most pictures were taken in suboptimal conditions: either with a low viz (Bimini) or a strong current (Tiger beach). My better shots were when the shark was not more than 1 meter away from the fish eye lens. I tried to mix two strong light sources: a bright sun on the background and the strobes at half power. Which in combination with the misty background created a special -somewhat mysterious- effect. Interestingly, the darkish G hammerhead that showed up on Tiger Beach is an old customer of Bimini that I could trace back on my earlier Bimini shots of 2015 and 2016. See: Bahama pictures 2017
Diving We logged a total of five diving days; three at Bimini and two at Tiger Beach with two tank dives per day. We used the same boat 'Bimini Blue' at both locations. Overall, the weather conditions were fine with not too strong winds and water temperature around 23/24 degrees Celsius which justified a 5 mm wetsuit. Divers tend to get cold after one hour at the bottom with very little movement.Visibility was moderate to low at both sites, with strong currents at Tiger Beach. So we needed lots of weight (20-30 pounds) to keep us stable on the 30 fts sandy floor and not to drift away. Our friendly Canadian dive master Sean Willams knew both sites well from his prior experience with Stuart Cove. Sean also excelled in detailed briefings before each dive. At Bimini we had lots of nurse sharks and a couple of hammerheads. Unfortunately, we missed the hammerheads on our second day probably because the current was to weak to to spread out the scent trail of the bait. At Tiger beach we had a mass of lemons and reef sharks, a couple of tiger sharks and even a darkish great hammerhead nicknamed Bite back, normally present at Bimini. Not so far from our boat we also spotted the boats Tresher of Vincent and Debra Cannabal and Shear water of Jim Abernethy. Our overall impression was: ''thumbs up'.