DIVE PROVO'S

WILD WEST CAICOS & NORTHWEST POINT

 

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The Scuba Center is the retail and activities boutique near the pool, where divers sign up for the scheduled dives, book instruction or special services, or arrange for any of the extensive watersports offered, including beach cruises, sailboards, Hobie Cats, ocean kayaks or even fishing. Michael Rosati oversees the watersports program and is an expert windsurfing instructor.

 

Within an adjacent building is the photo/video center under the direction of Kevin Roby, the knowledgeable photo pro affectionately known as the Blue Whale. Kevin offers E-6 film processing, Nikonos rentals (Dive Provo has been designated an official Nikonos Photo Center by Nikon), custom video and still photo shoots, camera repairs and High 8 video rentals.

 

Yet as lovely and comfortable as the resort might be, as personable and professional as the dive operation might be and as safe and convenient as the boats might be, the quality of the Provo dive experience is powered by what's underwater. For Dive Provo that means a heavy emphasis on wild West Caicos and Northwest Point.

 

I knew we were on the right track the first time I dove West Caicos and found two live-aboards one-half to one mile away. A live-aboard has significantly more range of choices than a resort based dive boat and to find two such quality boats at West Caicos implied a consensual validation for this stretch of wall. (Note: From Northwest Point to West Caicos is an area six to seven miles long, almost all of which is high quality wall diving.)

 

An additional good omen came swimming by as soon as we hooked onto the mooring buoy. A pair of Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins had followed our stern wake for the past half mile and, surprisingly, they did not bolt as soon as we hit the water. Instead, they continued to play (unfortunately just beyond the range of effective underwater photography) for the next 1 0 minutes.

 

Pelagic encounters are not a predictable sort of thing but I was gratified to see both a Hawksbill Turtle and a pair of Spotted Eagle Rays on this same dive. The wall is exceptionally lavishly decorated, so the temptation is to race from one dramatic wide angle setup to the next. But, along West Caicos you must discipline yourself to keep an eye to the blue, for you never know what might come silently cruising past. Or, not so silently, as in the case of the Humpback Whale. Ted and Jane told me that during the winter Humpback Whales are commonly seen topside, frequently heard underwater and occasionally glimpsed close enough for a photo or video underwater. The whales travel to the Silver Bank just north of the Dominican Republic to mate and give birth and the Turks and Caicos lie directly along their northern migratory route. February and March are the best months for Humpbacks and the summer is usually good for Manta Rays.

There are 14 named dive sites visited by Dive Provo along West Caicos, including White Face, notable for an eight foot high Spanish galleon anchor (probably from the 1700s judging by the size, design and degree of coral growth) wedged into a coral crevice just at the lip of the wall. Elephant Canyon is home to the largest known sponge in the Turks and Caicos islands. Near the base of a sand chute leading to the vertical precipice, this gigantic circular Orange Elephant Ear measures 1 1 feet in diameter.

While each of the sites is unique, there are obviously similarities-spectacular similarities at that. All along West Caicos it is reasonable to expect water clarity in the 80 to 150 foot range, a vertical dropoff that begins in about 60 feet and colorful decoration that rivals that found anywhere in the Caribbean. Aside from the Orange Elephant Ear Sponges that are almost common along this wall, there are also abundant Black Corals, colonies of yellow and purple tube sponges and draping rope sponges in red, lavender, orange, brown and yellow. In terms of wide angle potential, this wall and the drop along Northwest Point rival Little Cayman or anywhere else that might be proposed as an example of the "ultimate" Caribbean drop-off.

Northwest Point is about a 45 minute boat ride from the Dive Provo dock, significantly farther than the spur and groove coral formations and mini-wall of Grace Bay but certainly worth the trip. The water is a stunning cobalt blue and the mooring buoys generally situate the dive boat near the edge of the wall where the first glimpse beneath the waves reveals a heavy cloak of hard corals and a few rising spires of Pillar Coral. The wall starts at about 50 feet here and, as at West Caicos, drops precipitously.

The marine life along the shallows includes Nassau Groupers, Barracuda, Atlantic Spadefish and the whole range of smaller reef tropicals such as squirrelfish, coneys and Trumpetfish. Eels are seen occasionally, as are solitary Hammerhead Sharks. Pelagic encounters are fairly common, especially squadrons of Eagle Rays, but the real star of the show along Northwest Point is the stunning beauty of the drop-off .

Along the mile and a half wall there are 1 1 named and moored sites. Someone must have seen a shark at Shark Hotel once, but I didn't. Instead, I did find a mini-wall dropping from 45 to 110 feet, rich with Black Coral and tube sponges. A narrow plateau caps the main wall and several swim-through archways are positively draped with rope sponges. Bring a light on this dive, because the vibrant colors are only revealed in artificial light.

Black Forest, as expected given the name, is rich with Black Coral but also decorated with tunicates, corals and sponges. Chimney, Hole in the Wall, Amphitheater, Stairways, Canyons, Plateau and The Crack are all named for distinctive features of the wall that differentiate them from the others but, it probably doesn't matter which of the 1 1 moored sites are chosen, all are awesome walls!

Dive Provo encourages the use of dive computers for its guests and, given the vertical nature of the dives at West Caicos and Northwest Point, safe, cautious multi-level computer assisted diving is probably prudent. But, not everything is wall diving and there is no reason it has to be deep. The shallow dives off Grace Bay can be stunning, particularly on an incoming tide when the water is crisp and clear, and these are only 30 to 50 feet with little or no current. The populations of reef tropicals are heavier here and, with the extended bottom time and good light penetration, fish watchers will be enthralled. Dive Provo also regularly visits nearby Pine Cay, which offers a slightly deeper spur and groove formation in 60 to 70 feet (the wall starts in 75 to 80) but this is prime pelagic range and several Whale Sharks have been sighted here.

The quality and diversity of the Provo dive portfolio makes this destination a must for any seasoned Caribbean traveler. As many of our favorite places become a little too familiar and predictable, it's good to know there is still marine wilderness left to experience.

(REPRINT FROM SKIN DIVER MAGAZINE , ARTICLE BY STEPHEN FRINK )

 

   

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