I HAD ARRIVED FROM DIVING ISLANDS further south in the Caribbean, and circling the volcanic underwater pinnacles of St Vincent felt like diving in an aquarium. After each dive there, my head was bursting, and I had to spend the next couple of hours leafing through ID guides trying to identify all the species I had seen – sometimes without luck.
As I soon found out, every year when surveys are carried out this magic island throws up more unnamed marine species – and that is a real treat for any fish-spotter.
On my first dive I must have spent 20 minutes just beneath the dive-boat at a mere 6m, because there was so much to look at and photograph. There were nudibranchs everywhere, clinging tightly to the enormous fan corals; spiny lobsters defending their patches; gaping spotted moray eels, not really hiding away in holes as you would expect, but out and about, hunting on the reef; huge shoals of purple creole wrasse; barracuda; reef squid; and the most wonderful, grotesque and bizarre shapes and contortions of bowl and barrel sponges you have ever seen.
It was like walking into a pottery class – fat pots, thin pots, tall pots, short pots – many with a fish or two poking out of the top for good measure.
A small common damsel was fiercely defending his “pot”, and as I came in a little too close, it started to attack my fins and then, as I tried to get closer to take its picture, it starting to nibble at my forehead and pull my hair.
I couldn’t work out if it was curiosity or aggression, and it was hard to pull myself away from this little character and carry on the dive.
St Vincent has a massive variety of underwater habitats, ranging from rocky outcrops to huge coral gardens, thick sea-grass meadows and protected bays bottomed with fine sediment and scattered algae patches, fondly known by divers as muck.
The waters are home to hundreds of species of Caribbean fish, but they also harbour a scattering of novel species that ride the currents north from Brazil.
I was there in the dry season, but some “dry” season! Four days of almost solid rainfall resulted in landslides, airport closures, roadblocks and houses being washed away. It was the wettest dry season in living memory, and a good time to be in the water, except near a river mouth, where the visibility was ruined.
One of the hotel guests remarked that it was just like being back home in England. I looked at the palm trees, the sun-bleached sand and the turquoise waters beyond, and disagreed. The rain was warm, and I was happy to get wet. When does that ever happen in the UK
I was staying north of the capital, Kingstown, in the spectacular palm-tree-lined resort of Buccament Bay, close to various Pirates of the Caribbean film locations. The locals were very proud that familiar landmarks had featured in certain scenes. But while others flocked to see the film-sets, I headed in the other direction, happy to be under water.
I like to dive where there are no other divers. I like to feel that the reef is mine and mine alone, and I certainly got that feeling here. The reefs are pristine – no sign of diver damage, no fishing line, no rubbish, just a lot of fish.
There are currently only two dive operators working in St Vincent, and there is an unwritten rule that if there is a dive boat in the bay, other boats move off – there are plenty of other sites.
As a result, I didn’t see another diver other than my buddies.
The diversity of diving was incredible, too, with relaxing swims over pretty reefs, exhilarating wall and drift dives, mysterious caves and stunning wrecks.
My favourite was the muck-diving, however – looking underneath, inside, behind and right down deep in the sediment for the little gems that justify this place calling itself the “Critter Capital of the Caribbean”.
A magnifying glass might have been useful sometimes, because some of the creatures were exceedingly tiny, but that just made the treasure-hunt more fun!
My guide was Kay Wilson from Indigo Divers – “in-dey-go” is what you shout from the boat as the divers hit the water in the Caribbean, as she pointed out.
Kay is a lady with a passion for the tiny, and she has X-ray eyes. She can see things in the sand, find stuff hiding away and spot the smallest of small creatures.

THE INITIAL DIVES WERE within spitting distance of the resort. In my experience such “house reefs” tend to be over-dived, the places where the novices are thrown in to kick away at the coral, but not a bit of it.
I descended straight onto a garden full of enormous, waving fan corals, home to a number of nudibranchs. I could have stayed all day, working my way from one coral to the next and peering into the sponges for the treasures within.
What really blew me away was the variety of crustaceans. Kay found a tiny peppermint shrimp hiding inside a barrel sponge, impossible to get to with the camera but enchanting to look at.
She showed me tiny, transparent blue-spotted Pedersen’s cleaner shrimps, which are almost invisible unless they’re cleaning something, or waving their tentacles around.
Banded shrimps were nestled away in the iridescent blue sponges, next to the weird and wonderful yellow, triangular-faced arrow crabs. Kay told us later that these mate for life, so divers are told not to pick them up and move them or they’ll lose their partner. Not a thought that would have entered my mind!
We swam off the reef across the sea-grass, where I saw my first flying gurnard. Kay gently encouraged him towards me so that I could take his picture as he glided over, blue-spotted wings outstretched.
We moved onto the grey-looking sediment, dotted here and there with a piece of coral or a patch of sea-grass. It looked unpromising, but my faith in Kay was riding sky-high and I followed, eager to see what she would come up with next.
I wasn’t disappointed. Picking up a West Indian sea egg, she turned it over to reveal a tiny urchin shrimp nestled among its tentacles. It was so well camouflaged that I had to wait for it to twitch before I realised what Kay was looking at.
I could see another grassy area up ahead, but on approach I realised that what I thought was grass was actually a gaggle of garden eels, their long necks bent over and all facing the same way. Heads shot back into holes as we swam over, but the eels soon re-emerged, seemingly unbothered by us.
I noticed as we drifted along that Kay often put her hand in the sediment as we passed above it. I soon found out why, as she pulled something clear and handed me a strange almost egg-shaped creature.
I turned it over in my hands. At first I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then a carefully tucked-in claw emerged and I recognised it as an oscillated box crab, a funny little creature that hid its face behind its claws – an action that gives it the nickname “shame-faced crab”.
Placed back on the seabed, the crab started doing a little boogie dance with its front claws, to work its way back down into the safety of the sand.

THE DIVE WAS BEGINNING TO RANK as my all-time best critter-spotting experience when things got even better, thanks to the Caribbean mantis shrimps.
All you see at first is a neat round hole in the sand surrounded by a circular mound of debris. I could see a head poking out of the first such hole I saw, but it soon withdrew as I crept closer.
The trick is to get a piece of shell and drop it into the hole. The house-proud mantis shrimp doesn’t like rubbish in its hole, and will reject the shell fragment in disgust. That’s your chance to see the shrimp popping its head out along with the discarded rubbish.
Clever chaps, these Caribbean mantis shrimps – they always build a back door when constructing their home, in order to escape predators.
This dive was bettered the following afternoon, when I mentioned that I’d like to see a seahorse.
We moored up in another gem of a bay just around the corner from the resort and, with less than 100 bar left in our cylinders from the previous dive, we jumped in.
Barely five minutes of rooting around later, we came across our bounty. It was big and orange and just hanging there – not camouflaged like UK examples, but brightly on show for all to see.
Our handsome long-snout seahorse posed for as long as I wanted, though I was aware that seahorses have sensitive eyes, and avoided using the flash.
I had assumed that the seahorse would be the only star of this dive, but as we surfaced I saw a tiny pilotfish doing its best to hide in the transparent tentacles of a jellyfish.
After a week or two at some diving destinations, you feel you have exhausted all the best spots and are happy to leave. In St Vincent, I desperately didn’t want to go home.
I felt I hadn’t scratched the surface of its diving, that if I dived there every day,I would spot something new and perhaps undiscovered. I think Kay feels this, too.
Buccament Bay provided a fantastic base. We dived exclusively with Indigo Dive, located on the beach at the resort, so we had to walk only a few paces from our villa to get kitted up and out on the boat.
Most of the dive sites were just a few minutes boat ride away, so we really maximised our time in the water.
A diving holiday with kids in tow isnt enjoyable unless the little ones are well catered for, and here we made the best choice. There was a superb kids club, with a wide variety of activities to keep them both happy while we were off exploring life under water.
The very friendly staff would even come around the resort telling us when the next T-shirt-painting or cake-decorating event was going to happen. A real bonus was the offer of child-minding help on day trips and boat trips as well, so the kids could come with us and we could hop off and snorkel, knowing that they were being looked after.
I have never been anywhere where such a high level of service has been offered.
St Vincent will open up once the international airport currently being built is open. If you want to discover a little piece of paradise and share in St Vincent’s secrets, get there soon!

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Miranda flew from London Gatwick to Grenada with Monarch, with a 35-minute connecting flight to St Vincent with LIAT. UK visitors typically fly to Barbados, then take a regional flight with LIAT or Grenadine Airways.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Indigo Diving (www.indigodive.com) at the beachfront 5* Buccament Bay Resort, www.buccamentbay.com
WHEN TO GO: The islands enjoy a steady year-round tropical temperature, with highs around 32°C. The rainy season runs from July to November.
MONEY: EC (Eastern Caribbean) dollar.
PRICES: Tropical Sky offers seven nights all-inclusive in a junior suite at Buccament Bay Resort from £1519 per head, including all flights, transfers and taxes. A one-week dive package costs £399 (www.tropicalsky.co.uk, 0844 332 9369).
TOURIST INFORMATION: St Vincent & the Grenadines Tourism Authority, www.discoversvg.com