TAKE A LOOK AROUND YOU – there are no men on this airplane!” whispered my friend Barbara.
We were flying from Nassau in the Bahamas to San Salvador, one of the outer islands to the south-east. I had been lucky enough to win the prize in an underwater photography competition sponsored by conservationists Bite-Back, tour operator Dive Worldwide, the Bahamas Tourist Board and the island’s Riding Rock Resort & Marina.
My sister Kathy, a non-diver, was my companion, as my husband was busy working, and Barbara, another non-diver, had decided to join us.
It would be diving for me, and relaxation for them.
Torrential rain greeted us at San Salvador, the fall-out from a hurricane off Honduras. We were driven the quarter-mile to the Riding Rock Inn, a small, comfortable divers’ hotel about a mile from the main town of Cockburn.
We were greeted in reception by Angela and Michelle, who had upgraded us all to individual luxury rooms. As it turned out, we were the only guests and had the run of the place!
“Do you know, there were no men on the plane we flew in on,” my sister told Angela, who laughed and shot back: “That’s because Club Med, which is the only other hotel on the island, has a week held back every October for 400 lesbians!” she told us.
Now, I’m the most non-homophobic person on the planet – my motto is “each to his or her own”. However, San Salvador isn’t the largest of islands – it’s home to some thousand people, all of whom seem to know each other.
It was, reputedly, the island on which Christopher Colombus first set foot when he discovered the New World. Four hundred lesbians plus us three as the only tourists on the island would be interesting.
Just out of hurricane season, and partially over half-term (Kathy is a teacher), we had decided that mid-October was the perfect time to visit.
And apart from the rain on arrival, and one other mid-week shower, the skies remained clear, with only a few fluffy clouds, and the sea was millpond-calm on most days.
The wonderful thing was that the water temperature had dropped a degree or two, from a balmy 28°C to a still-balmy 27 or 26°, bringing with it scalloped hammerhead season.
Lynne, from Washington, Tyne & Wear, was my dive guide. She met us at Riding Rock later that afternoon for a cocktail and conch fritters. It turned out that I was the only diver that week, so I had her and the dive-boat all to myself. I couldn’t believe my luck.
Lynne said she would show me a few dives sites to help me orientate myself, and then I could go wherever I wanted. For an underwater photographer, that sounded perfect.

THE NEXT MORNING AT 8 we had breakfast – you name it, they make it. The food at the resort was hearty and simple but delicious.
Half an hour later, I wandered along a path beside a talc-soft white beach to the dive centre to meet Lynne and boat captain Bruce. Being the only diver, I had my kit set up within 10 minutes and we were off.
The clear water ranged from a beautiful turquoise to deep blue over the wall, a five-minute boat-ride from the marina. We moored at Cable Beach, just on the edge of the wall, which drops to 40m, plateaus slightly and then plunges hundreds of feet to the seabed.
A giant stride entry and resurfacing had me sticking my head immediately back down under the water, hardly able to believe the visibility. I could almost make out the plateau from the surface.
We followed the mooring line to the edge of the wall and dropped over. There was no current, so Lynne signalled to ask which way I wanted to go.
I made for a seafan off to my left, and within five minutes we were being circled by four Caribbean reef sharks. They stayed with us for the whole dive.
Beautiful, colourful corals, huge grouper and snapper and clouds of smaller fish – my first dive here put me in mind of the copious marine life associated with Asia rather than the Caribbean.
One loud bang on Lynne’s tank had me looking up from photographing a friendly grouper to see two scalloped hammerhead sharks swimming lazily past.
Back at the surface, Lynne looked as excited as me. As hammerhead season had just begun, and she had seen only one before today, far off in the blue, she had been overjoyed to see two swimming together fairly close to us.
A very slow boat-ride during our hour-long surface interval took us 500m to Telephone Pole. Here we found more Caribbean reef sharks.
Some beautiful canyons and swim-throughs brought us up onto the white sandy bottom at 10m, where southern sting rays were shovelling their noses through the sand to feed, oceanic triggerfish were guarding perfectly round nests shallowly furrowed in the sand to protect their eggs, and giant barracuda hung just above the bottom, watching our every move.
Lynne also showed me the underwater memorial built for Christopher Colombus, on the seabed.
That afternoon I had opted to take close-up or macro photographs, which made Lynne happy. Divers normally wanted to see the shark action, she said, and rarely asked to see anything smaller.
She delighted in finding me small subjects to photograph, and I was amazed by how much there was to enjoy, including Peterson’s and squat anemone shrimps hiding in corkscrew anemones, nudibranchs, leech-head and lettuce sea slugs, juvenile boxer shrimps and tiny hermit crabs.
Over the week, we got into a pattern of two wide-angle and one macro dive a day. Most sites are no more than a 15-minute ride from the marina.
We saw three more hammerheads, and Caribbean reef sharks were present on every single dive, and usually they stayed with us the whole time.
At Grouper Gulley, Cathedrals and Telegraph Pole we found the most critters, but all the dive sites provided wide-angle shots, beautiful topography and larger fish. Water clarity stayed constant, and we had only a very slight current on one dive.
Kathy and Barbara spent the mornings beachcombing and exploring the very small town of Cockburn.
They discovered a memorial to Colombus, and a monument marking where the Olympic torch was lit on its journey from Greece to Mexico in 1968. In the afternoons, they would join me on the boat to snorkel.

WE HAD BEEN REGULARS in the charming bar at Riding Rock Inn every night, enjoying Peaches’ rum punch or pina colada. A few locals might come in, but usually it was quiet. On our penultimate night, however, we were joined by a very rowdy group from Club Med, including guests and divemasters.
One particular guest took a fancy to me, and wanted to see the photographs I had taken during the week.
It was my habit to download the images onto my computer each day while we were having a drink, then show them to Kathy and Barbara.
This Club Med guest started chatting about the week’s diving, and I was secretly pleased to find that her group had not seen one hammerhead, despite diving deep and long.
Kara, from Chicago, was a really nice, friendly girl, and proceeded to make quite a play for me, thinking I was special because the hammerheads had appeared for me and not for them.
Her group had already drunk copious amounts of alcohol, because they were not diving the following day – and it was only 6pm! Over the next hour, while we waited to go into dinner, I had to fend off my admirer.
As we were leaving she gave me her card, and told me that she had a very important job with a major airline and could get me first-class tickets anywhere!
Now, I dearly love Michael, my husband of 24 years, but, extra legroom, wider seats and at least 30kg extra baggage allowance for my dive gear – mmm!