Due to snowstorms, many flights were canceled and getting to the West Palm Beach was a real challenge. My flight was called off and rescheduled 5 times. Originally, according to my ticket, I would land me in Florida in the morning of January 3ed. Now JetBlue scheduled my flight to depart on the evening of 5th. That was out of questions, boat to Bimini was departing on the evening of 5th. So I decided to fly to Ft. Myers, where I would rent a car and drive across Florida, reaching West Palm Beach at 4 am. Conclusion – it is really important to have few days in reserve, especially if you travel to or from regions that may get affected by severe weather. Yet everyone finally made it, including Jonathan Bird who arrived at the very last minute, and Captain Steve set “Dolphin Dream” on its course to the Bahamas.
Dolphin Dream at West Point
Nightly cruise to West Point went smoother than expected. “Dolphin Dream” spent all day at the dock and around 2 am we set our course to Bimini. The second crossing, due to Captain Steve’s experience and seakeeping ability of the boat, despite high seas was also a fairly easy excursion.
Dolphin Dream on its way to Bimini
Next morning we anchored on the west side of the Bimini. But rain, dark clouds and strong wind kept us all day on the boat, so we had an ample time to prepare our photo and video gears.
Morning january 8th, PJ and Sunny mixed a “special” cocktail, designed to attract sharks to our boat. So right after the breakfast, some of us jumped to check if the box with chum brought desired results. No one expected such a swift effect, but by the end of the first dive, large nurse shark found its way to our offerings.
Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
And during the second dive we spotted the very first hammerhead. 8 feet long animal gracefully surfed the bottom, checking turbulent newcomers. I was told that hammerheads are very shy and can be easily scared away by a minute disturbance. Yet regardless of a constant presence of at least 6, 7 divers with flashing cameras, magnificent creature did not disappeared. On the contrary, it cruise around us for hours, giving each diver lots of photo and video opportunities.
Great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran)
As I saw my first hammerhead two contradictory emotions overwhelmed me – to keep the safe distance and to get as close as possible for a better look. Pieces of fish were scattered all over the bottom and shark was skimming sandy floor for yummy treats. I positioned myself over seagrass, hovering not too far from a large lump of fish, waiting for my moment. Hammerhead swam towards me … closer … and closer … even closer … then … flash … and, just like in a dream, it’s gone, leaving me with its smile imprinted in my memory for the rest of my life.
The shark made a wide turn and again it was gliding back towards me. The underwater current was constantly shifting divers to and fro and a second later I noticed that a chunk of fish was right under my right elbow. I pushed slightly away from it, just in case if hammerhead was aiming for that particular piece. It did and for a long moment I completely forgot about my camera. In upraised clouds of sand, I observed very close as rows of jagged teeth chewed and swallowed fairly sizeable portion in two quick bites. And during this short encounter it seemed that one of the hammerhead’s extended eye was praising me if I was a noteworthy contender for its trophy.
Even if I had the nerve to frame my shot, still whirls of sand rendered scenery impossible for a clean picture … or it’s just a complacent thought?
On a 9th, after few morning dives, Captain Steve decided to move the boat to the nearby location in hope to get a better actions. The first shark was spotted as soon as we anchored, and the bucket with fish was dumped into the water. PJ, snorkeling around, reported a sighting of two hammerheads and one bull shark. With great excitement, the “video group” quickly geared up and descended into the blue. But soon we’ve got a word that visibility went from ok to bad. Shifting tide brought clouds of fine sand, blanketing bottom with the milky-like veil. Sharks were still present, but to make good photo or video was out of questions. Plus diving with bull-shark searching in murky waters for the fragments of fish was somewhat unwise.
Few hours’ later visibility improved and we were rewarded with a presence of a beautiful female hammerhead. Again it meandered elegantly between divers in search for pieces of chopped treats, showing off her marvelous body. This time, I had a better idea with what I wanted to get and a lot more patience before I was depressing the shutter.
Isn’t she a beauty? Only those who choose not to see can demand that it is an ugly animal. Only illiterate and ignorant can insist that sharks are not essential for our survival. Many convinced that sharks are very hungry and extremely dangerous animals. But aren’t we, humans, has an exceedingly voracious appetite that no animal can match and always try to bite off more than we can chew? I am not a shark advocate. Yet it does not make ANY sense to kill a shark to harvest a few fins only to change the texture of a … chicken broth. Well, payback is a bitch and eventually we will find ourselves on the receiving end? Sad.
On board of “Dolphin Dream”
This was my second liveaboard, and I must admit that I really liked it. Cabins configurations on “Dolphin Dream” differ from Indonesian-based “Seahorse”, offering a bit tinier rooms and no private heads in each compartment, but each section has a wide, capacious table and shelves with lots of space for computers, wires, cables, extra batteries, charges, etc.
On board of the Dolphin Dream
Two bathrooms were in the corridor, between the engine room and wheelhouse. They were much roomier than on “Seahorse” with large sink and regular shower cabins, just like at home. The food was plentiful and delicious, we did not have the same menu twice. Heidi was always preparing something new and it tasted good. PJ and Sunny, deckhands, tried very hard and totally succeeded to please everyone. Both of ’em work their hardest underwater, alluring sharks to get closer.
During this trip, I’ve met Captain Scott … twice. First time as receptive, friendly host, when he welcomed me on his boat. The second time, when my eyes registered a title of a small book – “Dolphin Tales” by Captain Scott Smith and B.L.Bruigon. I opened it somewhere in the middle and began to read. Then, a few tales later, I flipped it to the first page and read the whole thing again. The book “reintroduced” Captain Scott to me and I saw him in a completely different light. I’ve got to get back to the “Dolphin Dream”, but now to fulfill my own dolphin fantasy.
Overall it was really a great experience. The only complaint – and it’s nobody’s fault – the weather, we could’ve dive an extra day. Special appreciation to Jonathan Bird for putting this trip together. Also, I’d like to express my gratitude to everyone who made our journey a memorable one. Thanks to all.
Note. A few weeks before this trip I updated my Canon Mark II to its successor, Mark III, and ordered corresponding Ikelite housing. Due to my own procrastination and New Year holiday, UPS was unable to deliver new housing on time for my departure to Florida. I called Ikelite and asked to ship me a loaner, directly to the hotel in Florida. I left at home Mark II and all its accessories, completely relying on a performance of the new, yet untested setup. Мy believes and hopes were not deceived, еverything came on time and worked like a clock. It is my second housing from Ikelite, and so far, knock on wood, I experienced nothing but solid, dependable performance.
p.s. PJ, we will miss you.
PJ on board of Dolphin Dream