Dive
Dive St Kitts boat dock.


THERE ARE LOTS OF WRECKS you can dive in St Kitts. I was beginning to wonder if our aircraft might not end up joining them. The storm sitting over the runway hadnt moved for 45 minutes, and the pilot had already aborted one landing attempt.
Only a few hours earlier, we had made a return to Gatwick after a warning light illuminated on the cockpit flight deck, mid-Atlantic.
That had added a minor unsettling feeling for some passengers.
It wasnt a happy flight for the undercarriage suspension, either, and when the clapping finally subsided, I wondered what other treats we had in store for our week ahead.
I dont mean to sound ungrateful - after all, I was the guest of Laura Storm, who in turn had won the trip for being dubbed Buddy of the Year, courtesy of DIVER magazine. And a diving trip to the Caribbean is surely worth a bit of excitement in the getting there.
Bird Rock Beach Hotel was to be our base, and our room was just two minutes walk from Dive St Kitts - our diving host for the week.
Dive guides Kent and Mike were in charge - Kent above the waves and behind the wheel, Mike sub-surface.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Kent had drifted in from the States some years ago, became lost on the way to somewhere, and remained in St Kitts ever since. His drawling accent and slightly vacant stare allude to that, but appearances can be deceiving. He is
a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer who just happens to like skippering the boat.
The operation was laid-back, but with all the mod-cons that go with diving in this part of the world. Which basically means that if you dont like having your kit assembled for you, make sure you get in quick and do it yourself. Me I go with the flow, and with a buddy like Laura, it isnt likely that anything will get missed on the final check.
Dives were of the two-tank variety, both in the morning, which left the afternoon for exploring or hanging out with the dive guides at the beach bar.
The first dive tended to be an offshore reef dive, with the second a wreck dive closer to shore. Wrecks there are aplenty, although most are above 20m deep. The visibility closer to shore was akin to UK levels, whereas on the offshore reefs it was gin-clear.
Barrel sponges are fairly common-place in this part of the world, but undamaged ones arent always easy to find. Some divers think its fun to try to crawl inside them to have their photos taken. Thats not good for sponge health, and I dont suppose the odd hurricane helps either.
The Kittian barrel sponges were remarkably intact, and there were one or two whoppers there. This was probably testament to the lesser amount of dive traffic the reefs here seem to get.
Of course, theres some traffic you expect to see when diving, and once I had got over the amazement of the clear water offshore, I realised that there was something missing. Even in zero visibility its absence would have been apparent - the unmistakable crunching sound of parrotfish beaks scraping the rocks. They werent absent altogether, but they were definitely a rarity.
The same applied to grouper. We did see one large specimen lurking inside a wreck, but gained the distinct impression that he was using his home for protection.
Back at the hotel beach bar, there was talk of over-fishing. But then there was lots of talk at the bar, not all of it based on fact or science.
When a group of construction workers told us that they were laying down speed bumps on the airport runway, the alarm bells sounded.
Anyway, there were certainly fish around, and plenty of the other usual suspects. At macro level, I particularly liked the frequent gatherings around the corkscrew anemones - the arrow crabs, backed up by coral shrimp, and their diminutive cousins, the Pederson shrimps.
Those guys really are something. Not much of them, but plenty of character, especially when you get a bit closer and they try to make themselves known to you. They made my mask flood more than once from laughter.
Lets not overlook some of the bigger action, however. Nurse sharks were easy enough to locate under the ledges, and we were lucky enough to see a superb eagle ray on our last dive.
Larger crustacea were lurking around too - king crabs (which reminds me of that joke Whats the largest crustacean Kings Cross Station, but I deviate...) and spiny lobster.
There must have been a lot of conch around at one time as well, but the only evidence we saw of them were their dead shells, discarded by those who had caught them.
Diving in the sea comes with a generous pinch of salt, and so did a couple of our dives.
Our drift dive at the Nags Head site would have answered the prayer of every UK diver waiting for slack. You either finned or stayed put!
The geothermal vent near one of the wrecks we visited had about the same temperature, volume and velocity as something that might occur within your wetsuit after about 20 minutes of diving. I understand that there are larger vents around, but we had been taken to the wee one.
Morning boat dives aside, the dive shop is right next to the hotel marina, so shore-diving is easy. During our weeks stay, we were the only divers who indulged, and yet with free afternoons it seemed a waste to leave our equipment unused in the shop.
With the sporadic tropical rain, we knew to expect poor visibility from run-off, and that we had. But the shallow reef structures were in good condition, and provided a haven not only for the little critters, but large gatherings of spiny lobster as well. When you have a relaxed warm water dive with plenty to see and photograph, its a small sacrifice not having complete clarity.

SO, IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE TO SEE IN ST KITTS other than the marine life Just about all the local people to whom we spoke tried to persuade us to catch the ferry over to St Kitts sister island,
Nevis. Im not sure if they were all on a commission with the ferry operator, but with one short week packed fairly full of diving, that would have meant sacrificing seeing any more of St Kitts than our hotel.
Bird Rock Beach is no more than a 10-minute drive away from the islands capital, Basseterre. Its more of a town centre for purchases than for sightseeing, but its well worth hanging out for a while in one of the bars or restaurants overlooking the Circus.
This roundabout with large green clock in the middle (the Berkeley memorial clock) provides a focal point, and you can just watch the Kittian world go by if the clock loses its appeal.
You can also drive around the island in a hire car or taxi (it takes 90 minutes or so), find one of the quiet white-sand beaches on the south coast, go on a rainforest tour, take a volcano hike or visit the Brimstone Hill fortress.
No first-hand experience of any of these, Im afraid. When youre diving five days out of seven and building in chill time in the afternoons, usually its the evening thats set aside for exploring.
There are plenty of places to eat on the island, varying from expensive haute cuisine American-style to beach shacks pumping out Bob Marley with the cold beer and rice n peas. Most nights we came back with sand in our shoes.
St Kitts has an air of charm and some of the friendliest people you could wish to meet anywhere. It is being developed, however, and hillside condos are springing up in earnest.
If you like your diving not too high-octane but with plenty of wrecks, and dont mind the odd spot of tropical rain, pack your parachute now!


Divernet
Laura
Laura Storm
Pederson
Pederson cleaner shrimp - good for a laugh.
Large
Large grouper on one of the wrecks
On
On the wreck of the Corinthian.
Barrel
Barrel sponge
Hawksbill
Hawksbill turtle
The
The Berkeley memorial clock, at the heart of Basseterre

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE:American Airlines, Caribbean Star, Continental and Virgin Atlantic all fly to St Kitts capital, Basseterre, with stopovers en route.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Bird Rock Beach Hotel (www.birdrockbeach. com) has an onsite dive centre with several boats (Dive St Kitts, www.divestkitts.com). The hotel offers one-, two- and three-bedroom suites, with aircon, cable TV and ocean view.
WHEN TO GO: June to August are the low-season summer months, and December to February is the popular time to visit. November to May are the driest months.
MONEY:Eastern Caribbean dollars/US dollars.
PRICES: Rates at the Bird Rock Beach Hotel start from about £48 per person per night, or £82 all-inclusive. A package of six two-tank dives starts from around £195, and flights begin at around £490.
TOURIST INFORMATION: www.stkittstourism.kn, 0800 258 5581