Pirate
Pirates Lady picks up passengers at Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama.
JAMES BOND HAS A LOT TO ANSWER FOR. No, not the author of The Guide To Caribbean Birds; I mean the series of movies that give the impression that the Bahamas are only for the rich and beautiful.
The latest version of Casino Royale does nothing to dispel the myth. When you tell people in the UK that you're off to the Bahamas, they give you a slightly jealous eye and a sage-like nod of the head. They think you're off to spend time in a casino, flanked by obsequious flunkies who will run and get you another piña colada should yours have become too warm.
They expect you to be packing a tuxedo, and that your lady will be bedecked with jewellery that glistens only slightly less than the beads of perspiration on your forehead.
I suspect that such imagery puts off a lot of divers from experiencing some rather good diving, possibly the best in the Caribbean area. I should mention that, contrary to common belief, the islands are not in the Caribbean but the sub-tropical Atlantic.
Grand Bahama Island caters for the American cruise-liner market and so is a lot less expensive than Nassau. Blackbeards Cruises, an American-owned operation based on Grand Bahama, provides what is probably the least expensive liveaboard diving experience almost anywhere in the world (not counting the cost of getting there) with its fleet of three 20m sloops.
It is the antithesis of unadulterated luxury. Think of it as camping at sea.
More than 20 plus guests and six crew live in the close proximity provided by the space available in a sailing vessel, sharing both anecdotes and pathogens.
My bunk was inches from the galley, the saloon table and the head. I learned to sleep while others queued to use the solitary shower (30 seconds allowed).
I preferred to use the condensate supply from the air conditioning, which provided an adequate and untimed, if freezing cold, shower on the aft deck.
I reflected that Christopher Columbus had more than 80 people on a vessel not much larger - but then, a lot of them died during the voyage!
I found meals on board the sloop, Pirates Lady, to be surprisingly better than adequate, although at times I became alarmed at the vast quantities taken in by some of the other passengers. My concern was for the inadequate capacity of the manually flushed marine toilet.
All the crew were both personable and charming and did their jobs in the somewhat difficult and over-crowded conditions with surprisingly good humour.
Stephanie Tester, the dive guide, had lived in England for 10 years and had obviously passed on a certain taste for ironic humour to the rest of the US crew, which is something they needed to get them through their day. It is claimed that she speaks both French and Spanish, though I can confirm that she broke out in proper English on one or two occasions.
Captain Ron did his best to play the part of the irascible old sea dog, but I was having none of that. Mate Ryan said little that was not with pithy humour, while Canadian chef Mike Nelson (those of you who remember Sea Hunt will know he just had to get a job in diving!) got malign pleasure from clattering about in the galley preparing mountains of food at 6.30 in the morning, just to make sure those of us determined to sleep on were always ready for the first dive.
Deckhand Nathan was new, and I suspect the ladies among the passengers could not keep their eyes off his iron jaw and six-pack. Engineer Ken kept everything functioning well, apart from his own teeth, which were woefully in need of maintenance.
He even managed to start the engine every time it was needed, though he had the jump leads out a few times.
Pirates Lady is a powered sailing boat and the sails are rigged to give her stability while travelling. This does mean that she lays over at a jaunty angle that can make staying in your bunk during passage slightly tiresome at times.
The biggest problem seemed to be finding a little private space. You couldnt retreat to the head; not without someone soon rattling on the door. The number of patently bad sailors who sign up for this type of diving holiday never ceases to amaze me.
It seemed prudent to limit conversations to safe subjects, and never politics or religion. An argument on board could soon make things untenable. The upside was that with everyone so much in your face, there was no chance of anyone being left behind at a dive site. The extra space available would be very obvious.
The passengers, while I was on board, were mainly drawn from that population of US divers for whom price is of consequence.
Few of them had serious underwater camera rigs. It might have been a problem if there had been, as the only facility provided was a barrel of fresh water as a camera rinse, plus whatever space you could find on your bunk for your wet camera when it came to recharging batteries or downloading pictures.
Often, someone standing by the saloon table might stumble accidentally into my bunk when the vessel rolled awkwardly, and I was always fearful
for my fragile computer and camera equipment.
When it came to cleaning and replacing O-rings, a good torch in the cavern that my curtained-off bunk had become proved essential. That said, the crew were ever mindful of the special needs of those of us with cameras.

A liveaboard based in Grand Bahama gives you access to places such as Cay Sal Bank, Bimini, the Berry Islands and North Andros.
The Gingerbread Grounds are an area of reefs between them. Here you will find reefs that are pristine and untouched by fishing.
Masses of soft corals sway in the gentle surge, and the water in places is thick with thronging fish. Great schools of golden schoolmasters intermingle with equally impressive schools of yellow goatfish, yet both species seem to be outnumbered by even vaster numbers of yellow-striped grunts.
Pairs of grey, French and queen angelfish browse the vibrantly coloured red sponges, taking advantage of any opening made by a feeding hawksbill turtle. Nurse sharks skulk among the crevices in the reef.
Cornetfish attach themselves opportunistically to feeding parrotfish. Remoras, or shark-suckers, attempt to attach themselves to passing divers.
Great glittering shoals of horse-eye jacks take up station in mid water. Atlantic spadefish, attractive in stripes of silver and black and startled from their normal space by intruding divers, circle in a tight group, on the edge of panic and not knowing what to do with themselves.
Large and impressive-looking Almaco jacks come close to inspect you and your exhaled bubbles, which suggest that they might be small fish, and a large, solitary barracuda may shadow your every move during a dive, yet beat a hasty retreat should you turn to face it.
There are a few walls to dive, and this provides the opportunity to go deeper than you might otherwise choose.
The problem comes when its time to ascend. Thats when you realise that the shallowest part of the dive might be at least 15m deep.
At this time it becomes important to find the comfort of the ascent line, especially if you have incurred any decompression stops, which is more than likely if you take advantage of the four dives offered every day.
On the other hand, many of the reefs top sea-mounts, so form a crown of coral surrounded by a sandy plateau that presents a natural margin between the more interesting part of the dive and the depths. In this case, diving becomes relatively straightforward and safe and in the less-than-20m range.
There seem to be few currents that make for hard work. More often there seems to be only a gentle push but this can set you off course and, later, leave you hunting for where you left the boat.
You will want to find the main vessel. Blackbeards has some unusual pick-up boats that were obviously the result of some resourceful thinking at a time when conventional inflatables were not available.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Made from timber encased in glass fibre, they are now nothing more than waterlogged floating pontoons powered by small outboard motors.
They have a very low freeboard and weigh a ton, being full of water. They can carry very little load, and are used as a last resort to pick up wayward divers.
The waters of the Bahamas are famous for shark encounters. Sharks tend to be skittish and defer to the presence of noisy air-bubbling divers.
The exception to this is at sites where staged shark feeds are regularly held. Here you will find that impressive-looking Caribbean Reef sharks cruise by close enough for you to see their details.
They live in the hope that another feed is likely to be about to get underway. The crew of Pirates Lady stages one feed in Bimini during a typical weeks charter.
There are lots of wrecks around the Bahamas area, but most have been sunk intentionally for the benefit of divers. They tend to be small inter-island vessels that make inauspicious dive sites. However, they are worth diving because of the life they attract.
Theos Wreck is the hulk of a large freighter that lies on its side with its open holds forming large sea caverns.
Another is that of the Sea Star, with its ranks of fish. Thanks to the effects of several hurricanes over the 23 years since its been sunk, its a wreck that looks very much like the result of an authentic marine accident.

Despite
Despite living at close quarters, everyone seems to get by very well.
Relaxed
Relaxed divers - a turtle and a human.
Ascending
Ascending the mooring line from a wreck.
The
The remote Gingerbread Grounds teem with life.
Atlantic
Atlantic spadefish.
A
A chance to meet new friends in cosy conditions.
FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: BA and Bahamas Air fly from the UK to Grand Bahama and Nassau.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Pirates Lady, Blackbeards Cruises, blackbeard-cruises.com
WHEN TO GO: Late December to May. Avoid the August- October hurricane season. Water temperature is 22-27°C
MONEY: US and Bahamian Dollar (parity), major credit cards accepted.
HEALTH: Recompression chamber facilities, US Coastguard rescue. Be sure to have insurance adequate for US-type medical care.
PRICES: Bahamas Flavour (08700 669975, www.bahamasflavour.co.uk) can arrange a one-week trip on Blackbeards Cruises for +999 including return flights with BA from London and Bahamas Air and up to four dives a day, full board and meals. A US $40 port tax and $10 park fee are not included.
FURTHER INFORMATION: 01483 448900, bahamas.com and bahamasdiving.com

PRICE GUIDE - £s per day
(A) -£75 (B) £75-100 (C) £100-125 (D) £125-150 (E) £150-175 (F) £175+
WEST INDIES LIVEABOARDS
(Home ports in brackets)


BAHAMAS (Ft Lauderdale, FL)
Nekton Pilot (C ) www.nektoncruises.com
Nekton Rorqual (C-E) as above
BAHAMAS (Freeport)
Morning Star (B)
www.blackbeard-cruises.com
Pirates Lady (B) as above
Sea Explorer (B) as above
BAHAMAS (George Town)
Caribbean Explorer I (D)
www.explorerventures.com
BAHAMAS (Nassau)
Aqua Cat (D) www.aquacatcruises.com
Cat Ppalu (B) www.catppalu.com
BAHAMAS (Miami, Florida)
Avalon (B) www.lostislandvoyages.com
BELIZE (Belize City)
Belize Aggressor III (F) www.aggressor.com
Sun Dancer II (C) www.peterhughes.com
BRITISH VIRGIN IS (Tortola)
Cuan Law (E) www.divecuanlaw.com
CAYMAN IS (Ft Lauderdale, Florida)
Nekton Rorqual (C-E)
www.nektoncruises.com
CAYMAN ISLANDS (George Town)
Cayman Aggressor IV (F)
www.aggressor.com
DOMINICAN REP (Ft Lauderdale, Florida)
Nekton Rorqual (C-E)
www.nektoncruises.com
GRENADA (Scarborough)
Wind Dancer (C )
www.aggressor.com
HONDURAS (Utila)
Utila Aggressor (C )
www.aggressor.com
NE CARIBBEAN (St Kitts)
Caribbean Explorer II (F)
www.explorerventures.com
TOBAGO (Scarborough)
Wind Dancer (C )
www.aggressor.com
TURKS & CAICOS (Providenciales)
Turks & Caicos Aggressor II (C )
www.diveworldwide.com
Turks & Caicos Explorer II (F)
www.explorerventures.com
US VIRGIN IS (Ft Lauderdale, Florida)
Nekton Rorqual (C-E)
www.nektoncruises.com