IT’S BEEN EIGHT YEARS, a direct hit from category 3 Hurricane Ivan and a near-miss from Hurricane Emily since I last dived in Grenada. Yet I have to work hard to discern any damage.
On an afternoon tour to Annandale Falls, Roger, our driver, points out trees with lower branches stripped away, and occasional derelict and overgrown buildings. But everywhere I have visited has its share of abandoned buildings and in the tropics they are soon overgrown.
At True Blue Bay Resort, owner Russ tells me about a sheet of roofing impaled into a bank that he has left in place as a souvenir of Ivan.
I had thought it was part of the quirky décor, which includes fish made of metal and stones, brightly stencilled signs and the deliberately skewed architecture of the Dodgy Dock bar.
The Dodgy Dock was opened quickly after Ivan, and the name stuck. When developing the bar into a more permanent structure, Russ’s wife Magdalena, an architect, concluded that as it seemed difficult to get builders to do anything level or vertical, they might as well make a feature of their shortcomings.
Russ tells me that a health & safety inspector from a tour company had objections, and requested that all
the railings be straightened up at a regulation height!
So how are things faring under water Let’s start with the bigger wrecks and those that are a little bit deeper – the ones we would normally do as a first five.

FIRST DIVES

Shakem
This cement-carrying motor ship was a fairly new wreck on my last visit, having sunk in May 2001 after a rough overnight journey from Trinidad both shifted and soaked the cargo.
The structure remains pretty much intact, and 11 years in a gentle current has encouraged a gorgeous covering of marine life to develop, particularly around the stern, with its forest of black corals and gorgonians. Gorgonians are also well established on the cargo-handling crane mounted amidships.
With the depth at 25-32m and a rectangular profile, Shakem is ideal for nitrox. Everyone on the Aquanauts dive-boat has chosen that option except me.
Dive-centre owner Peter had offered me the use of an AP Evolution+ rebreather, and I couldn’t resist.
With open-circuit nitrox available, I didn’t need it for the Shakem, but it would come in handy for other wrecks and the Shakem was a good shakedown.

Hildur
Last time I saw the mv Hildur, it was a floating derelict in the harbour. Now it’s an artificial reef, towed out and sunk in June 2007 to make way for a marina.
Like many ports, St Georges in Grenada had built a collection of ships abandoned by their owners and left to rot. As a diver, I view them as a resource. It’s nice to see such a resource being put to use.
At 35m to the propeller, the maximum depth is a little deeper than the Shakem. As a smaller ship, the shallowest point is still at about 30m.
Because it has been there only half the time that the Shakem has, marine life is barely established, but the Hildur stands in a slight current, and I suspect that one day soon it will suddenly blossom with a forest of gorgonians, whips and sponges.

Hema 1
In the open sea to the south of Grenada, the Hema 1 was an indirect casualty of Ivan. On 1 March, 2005, she was returning to Trinidad after delivering a cargo of cement needed for rebuilding when she sank with a bilge pump failure.
The coastguard rescued all the crew. Later that year Hurricane Emily broke the wreck into its current state, bow and stern intact and holds collapsed, the whole wreck rolled onto its port side.
Here one of the guides ties a rope in and we haul our way down to 30m against the 2-3-knot current. Together with a rocking and rolling boat on the surface, it’s a bit of challenging dive.
Hema 1 is similar in size to the Shakem, and busy with fish – grunts by the superstructure, barracuda off the forward mast and a nurse shark below.
I pause my sneaking up on a snoozing sting ray to watch an eagle ray glide above. Off the keel side of the stern Caribbean reef sharks circle in and out, looking agitated but never coming as close as I would like, even to a rebreather.
When we pop delayed SMBs to ascend I think that the dive is over, but halting the ascent for a deep stop at 20m I look below to watch the sharks continuing their agitated circling well down-current from the wreck.

King Mitch
Further out in the exposed south is the King Mitch, a wreck from 1981 that also sank following a bilge-pump failure.
Last time round I had studied the lines, looking for joins in this “cut-and-shut” job. The King Mitch started as a 45-knot fast patrol boat for the US Navy in WW2. She was converted to a freighter by cutting off the bow, inserting a couple of cargo holds and welding the upper part of a mobile crane to the deck between them.
So the King Mitch has the guts of a barge, top-and-tailed by the bow and stern of the original patrol boat.
I go straight beneath the curve of the stern to get close to a pair of nurse sharks. As I round the stern and swim past the superstructure, another nurse is looking agitated inside; then an eagle ray passes overhead.
The crane is now just decayed mechanism and a pile of debris, then off the bow there are seven or eight more nurse sharks in a row, though a bit too twitchy to allow a team photo.
Diving this 32m-deep wreck on open-circuit and air, the shorter dive times on such a rectangular profile hit home.
At this point I am diving with Native Spirit Scuba at the Grenada Grand Beach Resort. Good old compressed air is fine for the shallower wrecks and even the deeper dives where there is a reef to follow, but for this dive nitrox would have made a big difference, and a bubble-free rebreather would have been even better.

Car Pile
An earlier island clear-out was a 1970s spring cleaning of abandoned cars, their shells loaded onto a barge and dumped in 38m. They have fallen higgledy-piggledy, singly and in small groups and mostly upright.
With a gentle current sweeping across, the magnificent black gorgonians the cars support are all perfectly aligned.
After a few unidentifiable cars I find one that could be a Mk2 Ford Escort, or maybe one of the 1970s Datsuns or Toyotas that had a similar angular wedge shape and rear quarter lights.
The cleanly sliced back half of a hatchback is an obvious VW Golf, though I fail to find a GTi badge.
A more boxy shape is instantly recognisable as an early VW van with the swing-out double doors on the passenger side.
We have piles of old cars in quarries in the UK, but in Grenada the warm clear water and marine life makes the dive incomparable.
It’s a long swim to follow the reef back into the shallows and then out over the sand at 5m to what, at first, I think is the upturned hull of a ship’s lifeboat.
Closer inspection shows it to be too large and with no room for a propeller. Rectangular panels in the flat bottom of the hull suggest that it may have been a hopper barge, but no one I ask can enlighten me.

Rum Runner
The origin and name of this steel-hulled catamaran in 33m is unknown. “Rum Runner” was a nickname given by dive centres because of its similarity to party-boats that take tourists on alcohol-fuelled excursions.
Apart from the twin hulls and spars connecting them, the only points of interest to dedicated wreck-divers are the small engines and propellers in each hull, and the toilet in the starboard hull.
However, the Rum Runner makes a nice compact setting for photographers, with black corals and gorgonians on the spars and a covering of sponges.
Of the deeper wrecks, this is a good one on open-circuit air because a sloping reef can be followed up, as long as you leave the wreck with a few minutes of no-stop time left.

Bianca C
Of the “first dive” wrecks I have saved the biggest and best-known until last – the unmissable 183m Bianca C.
This cruise ship caught fire following an engine-room explosion on 22 October, 1961, burning for two days before the frigate HMS Londonderry towed her out of the harbour with plans to beach her. Bianca C had other ideas, broke her tow and sank on the way.
Driver Roger is the sort of man you want on your pub quiz team. He tells us that Bianca C was owned by the Italian Costa Line, the company that owned the Costa Concordia, which ran aground and sank off Italy last year. Bianca C was captained by Francisco Gravato, the Costa Concordia by Francesco Schettino.
Just as you should never go looking for whale sharks with anyone called John from DIVER, you may want to avoid travelling on an Italian cruise ship captained by anyone called Frank.
My buddy, Peter from Aquanauts, has probably dived Bianca C more than anyone else.
With the rebreathers we have time to follow the propeller-shafts under the stern and then the aft mast out over the seabed before winding our way to the bow, in and out of the wreck through hatchways and breaks in the hull.
With only one previous dive on the BIANCA C, and that on a single cylinder of air, I couldn’t comment on how the wreck has changed. Peter tells me that breaks in the hull have been widening and decks collapsing as it settles, particularly in the past few years.
The Bianca C is still the wreck that will inspire real wreckies.

SECOND DIVES

The remaining wrecks are small or shallow enough to count as second dives, but don’t let that detract from the quality of some of them. If you want to stay shallow, most provide plenty to see. A single cylinder of air would be plenty.

Kapsis
The yacht Kapsis was a direct casualty of Hurricane Ivan as it passed Grenada on 7 September 2004. The remains lie tucked in against the side of Grand Canyon reef, just south of the airport and swept by the current that runs between Grenada and Tobago, though usually out of the way of the larger waves.
Built of glass-reinforced plastics, the deck moulding has been split from the hull and is overturned alongside it, with the mast and rigging strewn up the reef.
This is a combined reef and wreck dive because Kapsis, while growing a good covering of sponges, is small, so even a single boatload of divers is forced to spread out along the reef.
Astern of the wreck, a knoll and sloping wall is favoured by lobsters. Then, a few metres from the bow, the wall is supported by a buttressed arch just large enough to swim through, as long as you’re careful, with soft corals tight against the inside.

Veronica L
This charmer was originally wrecked where the cruise-ship dock now stands. The wreck had to be cleared, so they picked it up and moved it, complete with the marine life it had accumulated.
Though smaller than the Shakem, Veronica L shares its layout, with a hold and crane welded to the deck to handle cargo. It has a very colourful covering of marine life, with orange cup corals beneath the stern and among the wheelhouse and crane, then small lacy fans on the upper surfaces.
Above the wreck, a cloud of grey chromis forms the first layer of fish, with fusiliers forming a second layer further out. I still have the wide-angle lens on my camera from the first dive, otherwise I could have made good use of a macro lens.

Buccaneer
The steel-hulled yacht BUCCANEER was sunk as an artificial reef way back in 1978, so now has a mature covering of marine life. The wreck has capsized to starboard and the wooden deck has rotted away to make the interior easily accessible, though there is only just enough room for me to squeeze in and photograph divers swimming by.
From the wreck the slope and then reef can be followed up to the sculpture park in Moliniere Bay, but I am already at the end of a long dive, having swum to the Buccaneer from the Hildur.

Fiona L and Barge
This pair of wrecks in 16m is another benefit of the harbour clearance, both of these being derelicts. Fiona L is a small motor vessel and the barge a little larger, but just a barge.
From the barge I had planned to go straight on to Fiona L to get ahead of other divers, but I am distracted by an octopus, and then a mantis shrimp.
I still make the crossing in time to see a lobster before the slightly silty hole in which it lives gets stirred up, then spend time just kneeling on the sand off the barge’s bow to watch a shoal of squid.

San Juan
The San Juan is a steel fishing-boat wrecked off the south in 1975, so it is exposed to the current and waves though, being closer in and shallower than the King Mitch or Hema 1, it is often used as a second dive after either of these deeper dives. Rumour has it that the San Juan may have been smuggling rum and cigarettes to Venezuela at the time of sinking, though no-one has seen any sign of such a cargo.
It used to be known as the “Shark Wreck” because of the numbers of nurse sharks that lay alongside it. However, that has now changed, as Ivan picked the wreck up and moved it 100m or so while flattening the middle part to leave just the bow and stern vaguely intact on their starboard side.
These flattened plates are now home to many spiny lobsters, but I do find a couple of nurse sharks inside the bow, along with a small shoal of spadefish.

Concrete fishing-boat
Before the American invasion following a coup within the communist government in 1983, one of the things Cuban support brought to Grenada was the construction of concrete-hulled boats. The remains of one form the focal point for what would otherwise be a reef dive in 22m, though as with many of the other small wrecks, no-one has exact details.

Falcon
Another reef dive with the bonus of a small wreck is the recent remains of a GRP fishing boat that caught fire and sank in 6m on Boss Reef.
The Falcon was just out of the boatyard and consequently was not fully fuelled, so the crew escaped unharmed.
The main structure of the wreck is the twin diesel engines and shafts, with a generator and a selection of tools and fittings strewn nearby.
The GRP hull is mostly shredded and panels waft in the gentle waves, so I suspect that it will soon give way and be scattered further afield.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Direct flights twice weekly with British Airways from Gatwick. Baggage allowance is 23kg plus carry-on, which is not weighed.
DIVING: Aquanauts, www.aquanautsgrenada.com. Native Spirit Scuba, www.nativespiritscuba.com
ACCOMMODATION: True Blue Bay Resort, www.truebluebay.com
MONEY: Eastern Caribbean Dollar, fixed at $2.70 EC to $1 US.
PRICES: Dive Worldwide offers seven nights’ B&B accommodation at True Blue Bay from £1575 including flights and 10 boat dives with Aquanauts, with nitrox if required. Aquanauts can provides two-tank dives from £78pp including gear. Native Spirit Scuba offers the same from £66pp but without nitrox.
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.grenadagrenadines.com