I hadn’t heard of St. Vincent until I saw a presentation about the island at Sea Rowers, presented by Andrew J. Martinez. Don’t know what my dive-buddy Matt Wills was thinking, but the picture of a Flying Gurnard immediately triggered my interest. Have you seen one? Later I found out that, as this fish cannot literally fly, some prefer to call it “Helmet Gurnard”. But for me, the image depicted the soaring flight of a garish dream. Jumping ahead I’ll tell you that I saw it with my own eyes, even took a few shots. This species, when pastures on the sandy bottom, actually walking on its pelvic fins. But when this fish spreads its pictorial fins, they magically transform into beautiful and very convincing wings.

Flying Gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans)

More about what we saw at St. Vincent a bit later. But during the lecture, Matt and I looked at each other, and silently, almost in unison, we decided that we definitely must visit the island Andrew Martinez called “The Critter Capital of the Caribbean”.

So after some deliberation, we asked Andrew Martinez and he kindly agreed to lead a small group of divers to St. Vincent. Why with Andrew M.?” The answer – going with the guy who visited and dove around the island at least 9 times, has many positive advantages.
For instance, besides the fact that he knows most of  the dive-sites like the back of his fins, we did not need to gamble where to stay, eat or which dive shop to use. Then, upon arrival, he helped to arranged large electric transformers in our rooms, so we wouldn’t need to seek additional outlets for our exhausting supply of rechargeable batteries.  Prior to our departure, we were reminded not to forget an extension cord, a headlamp to inspect O-rings, dry bags, a small amount of cash and so on. But what was more important for Matt and me, that Andrew, for a very modest honorarium, agreed to share his 30 years of knowledge and experience in underwater camerawork. In other words; it would be a hands-on, educational trip with the man who publishes his work in well-recognized and highly respected books and magazines.( Published work)

So we packed and went to St. Vincent with the highest expectations that we were about to see and to learn a lot.

The Flight

Well, to quote the famous line of many anecdotes, “what would you like to hear first ..?”  But before I tell you anything, I must confess that we booked our flight at the very last minute. Those who haven’t visited St. Vincent, but are familiar with the geographical location of the island, would be somewhat surprised that flying from Boston, may take quite a long time to reach the point of the destination. The plane left Boston around  5:35 am., and 18 hours later, around 11-11:30 pm, we landed in St. Vincent. Does it have to be such a long trip? Is there a shorter way to St. Vincent? Oh absolutely, and Jackie, the travel agent, informed us that such a long route was chosen due to very late inquiry and our great concern to get our hefty luggage simultaneously with our arrival. Andrew’s prior experience with small, prop driven aviation, left much to be desired. Jackie also said that next time we’d get there much faster, as she’s investigating a private charter from Barbados (SVG Air), which should shorten the flight time considerably. But in the end, everything went fine; we landed at St. Vincent together with our gear. Thank you, Jackie, you’ve done a great job.

Getting ready to depart

Trinidad & Asa Wright Nature Center

All right, now the very good news. Yes, it was very long flight, but as a proverb goes; everything is a double-edged sword. An eight-hour layover in Port-of-Spain, gave us an opportunity to explore Trinidad? A bit of research (according to Wikipedia), the island once was called, “Lëre”, which in the language of Arawak means, “Land of the Humming Bird”. So, while Andrew was stretching his back at the Airport, Matt, Mike and I shared a taxi  (US $80 round trip) and went to “Asa Wright Nature Center” located up in the mountains of Trinidad. It is a well-known bird sanctuary established in 1967 by the group of naturalists and bird-watchers. Since then, the center was visited by many enthusiasts and, in 2008, even by Prince Charles and his wife.

At Asa Wright Nature Center

We spent there 4 and a half joyful hours walking around, watching, photographing birds of all shapes and colors. A gentleman on the airplane mentioned that we also could visit the Mount St. Benedict, also located not too far from the Airport. So, as you see, such flight arraignment actually played in our favor.

At Asa Wright Nature Center

Hotel Mariner

Divers, and especially those who travels with bulky photography equipment, realize how important to find a “diver-friendly” hotel. I mean the room must be large enough for all your gear to be sporadically scattered all over the place, and yet small enough so you can quickly find what you are looking for. It is also should be located not too far from a dock, so the walk to a boat would be a breeze. Fresh water must be within an easy reach, (to soak equipment after a day of diving). And an access to the Internet would be somewhat appreciated.

Hotel Mariners. Picture is courtesy of Andrew Martinez

It was my first visit to the island and for a whole week, the “Mariner” was my temporary home. I can’t compare it with anything else on the island, but I can tell you this place exceeded all my expectations.

The food was not just good, but great. At breakfast, we had freshly squeezed juice, farm fresh eggs prepared to order and your choice of sausages or bacon. Andrew, who traveled much more than we did, swears that he’d come to St. Vincent again and again just to get another serving of homemade yogurt, a few varieties of which were available every morning. People at the hotel held themselves with genuine dignity, and yet you felt very welcome and well pampered. Only once we went to a nearby restaurant for their special Friday BBQ.

Being very impressed with accommodation I asked Andrew if the “Mariner” was his first choice of lodging during his initial visit to the island? He said that at first he stayed in different place. But due to favorable location of the hotel and people – the Mariner became his solid choice of lodging for many years he was visiting St Vincent.

Pinnacle Rock dive site

“Dive St. Vincent”

Due to Bill Tewes’s illness, I did not have the privilege to meet the owner of the shop. But Andrew, DJ, Calle, Ray and a few other guys I’ve met at the bar often talked very highly about the founder of the “Dive St. Vincent” (the father of the diving industry of the island.) Bill Tewes, described by many as a ”certified critter nut”, was the first who dove around the island. He is so important to St. Vincent that his image can be found on the local stamp! I am mentioning Bill Tewes not only to express to him my deep appreciation for discovering St. Vincent for us, but also to thank Bill for his disciples. Every morning, afternoon and night, DJ and Cally, two quiet, patient, knowledgeable and very accommodating dive guides, were assembling our gears, loading everything onto the boat, driving us to the sites and leading our dives. Following Andrew’s advice, after a few excursions, I learned to watch Cally, who, if spotted something worth being seen, would beckon you by just a slight movement of his hand. DJ, in contrast, was attracting our attention with H2YO noisemaker, (available from ReefNet.ca) a very efficient and extremely noticeable instrument.