Diving ‘Beautiful by Nature’ aboard a Floating Resort

TCI Aggressor at anchor
The Turks and Caicos Aggressor II lies at anchor at West Caicos.

The Best of Turks and Caicos aboard the Aggressor Liveaboard Yacht

For the past two years Covid 19 has reshaped travel as we knew it. Scuba enthusiasts have stayed dry, afraid to interact and to travel freely as they once did. However, as restrictions are beginning to loosen up, divers are once again eyeing opportunities of travel. A renewed appetite for excitement, to interact with marine life, and to have the opportunity to capture unusual photos and videos is encouraging certified divers to look for new adventures. 

The Turks and Caicos is a fabulous nearby destination in the western Caribbean that  offers visitors a lengthy checklist of enthralling underwater temptations. It is for good reason that this British protectorate entices visitors with the slogan “Beautiful by Nature.” The waters surrounding this island chain beckon with the promise of experiencing breathtaking vertical walls, frequent close encounters with sharks, opportunities to observe an incredible diversity of fascinating marine life, and the intrigue of visiting unique and unusual dive sites.

The best way to see the underwater world of the Turks and Caicos and to be pampered during the entirety of the trip is aboard a floating resort.  The Turks and Caicos Aggressor II Yacht is a combination luxury hotel and dive boat. Most scuba devotees, who are excited about travel, are still a bit leery of big crowds and nervous about restrictions on travel. The Aggressor employs up to date safety protocols, helps guests navigate the ever-changing travel requirements and concentrates on keeping guests safe and healthy. 

Diver on Dive deck Aggressor TCI
A diver prepares to begin the dive from the dive platform at the stern of the Aggressor.

The 120-foot-long Aggressor Yacht offers a variety of staterooms, all of which feature a flatscreen tv, media player, full shower and bathroom and central climate control air conditioning. Common areas include a roomy, air-conditioned salon and dining area, shaded sun deck complete with a hot tub, lounge chairs, deck chairs, and shaded cocktail deck.

As nice as the staterooms and salon may be, the heart of activity aboard the Aggressor is centered around the dive deck. Every diver has their gear locker, where their air tanks are kept and filled.  All diving is done easily from the large dive platform at the stern of the yacht. The overall layout affords a smooth flow, which allows for an easy and quick transition from bed, to meals, to gearing up and stepping into the water via an effortless “giant stride.” The itinerary accommodates as many as 27 exciting dives during the trip. The top deck and spacious salon area also provide plenty of room for kicking back and socializing between dives.

Avid underwater photographers and videographers will find the facilities and services of the Turks and Caicos Aggressor Yacht to be top shelf. On the dive deck there is a spacious, three-deck camera table; a dedicated charging room; and a bathtub-sized rinse tank reserved for cameras.

From early Spring through December, the Aggressor embarks from Turtle Cove on the north side of the island of Providenciales on a Saturday-to-Saturday itinerary. To begin the adventure, guests fly into the bustling international airport. Upon exiting customs, guests take the short taxi ride to board the yacht. Divers are welcomed on board, fed a delicious meal, and given an orientation. For the rest of the evening they are left to store their gear and meet the rest of the guests. Before the first dive on Sunday morning, the guests receive a general dive briefing and a summary of the dives to come.

Diving in Providenciales

Aggressor usually begins the Turks and Caicos dive adventure by visiting dive sites located within Providenciales’ Northwest Point Marine National Park at the west end of Provo. This area offers more than a dozen excellent dive sites scattered along a three mile stretch of undersea walls. These wall dives are well known for their magnificent formations of colorful tube sponges, bright orange elephant ear sponges, and massive barrel sponges. The sponges serve as an interesting backdrop for some of the local residents, including eagle rays, turtles, moray eels and reef sharks.

Even the sites selected for “checkout dives” provide plenty of excitement. Eel Garden is named for a large expanse of sand in the shallows at the top of the wall, that is home to large numbers of garden eels.  Divers like this area because they are able to closely observe the large southern rays and roughtail rays that are drawn to this area to feed on the garden eels. This site is also one of the better night dives along Northwest Point, where divers will regularly see octopuses and moray eels hunting in the open. Black jacks swim in and around the beams of the divers’ lights, using the illumination to help spot their prey. Divers also frequently encounter slipper lobsters, large channel clinging crabs, flounders and an incredible variety of macro subjects in the shallow areas.

One of the most unique dive sites at Northwest Point is called the “ThunderDome.” How often do you get to dive a site that got its name because it used to be part of the set for a television game show. The main feature of this site is the “Dome,” which was originally constructed as the focal point of a French television game show called “Le Tresor de Pago Pago” or The Treasure of Pago Pago. This show was filmed in the Turks and Caicos Islands in 1992 and was Broadcast on French TV in 1993 and 1994. On the TV show, contestants had to free dive (on a single breath of air) through a rectangular opening in the top of the dome and gather pearls that were “spit out” into the water by a man-made, metal stove pipe sponge that sat inside the dome. The base of the structure sat on a flat sandy bottom at a depth of  30 feet, and the top was at a depth of 15 feet. During the course of each contest segment, the contestants would grab as many pearls as possible on a single breath of air and would receive 250 Francs for each pearl. Fortunately, no-one died during the show, but the show was canceled after several contestants suffered air embolisms or similar “dive-related” medical issues and had to receive treatment at the local recompression chamber to recover.

Image of the ThunderDome prior to it being broken up by a hurricane in 2004
This image of the Thunderdome was taken in 1999 prior to the structure being collapsed by hurricane Francis in 2004.

Although the dome collapsed during hurricane Francis in 2004, the large pieces of the dome scattered about the bottom provide shelter to an incredible variety of marine life. Divers will encounter schools of grunt, goatfish, schoolmasters and snapper that take refuge beneath the sections. There is a plethora of friendly angelfish, Nassau grouper, squirrelfish, moray eels, and other marine animals wandering in and out of the protected areas of the Dome, which seem unconcerned by the close proximity of the divers, thus allowing endless opportunities for photos and video.

Diving the walls of West Caicos

Diver swims with hawksbill turtle at West Caicos at the top of a wall
A hawksbill turtle swims along a wall at Northwest Point as a diver tags along.

West Caicos is an uninhabited island about 10 miles (16km) southwest of Providenciales. An underwater wall runs the entire 6 mile length of West Caicos, only 100 to 150 yards off the western shoreline. Twelve excellent dive sites are perched at intervals along the top of this wall. The diving conditions on the west side of the island are almost always calm because the prevailing winds come out of the east. The spectacular wall begins at depths between 35 and 55 feet, and the vertical drop-off plummets vertically to depths in excess of  6,000 feet. Huge barrel sponges, magnificent deep-water sea fans, large elephant ear sponges, black corals, and healthy hard corals decorate the face of the walls. West Caicos offers the opportunity to see large schools of jacks, beautiful reef fish, cleaning stations for jacks and grouper, and have multiple encounters with Caribbean reef sharks on almost every dive! Few destinations in the Caribbean can offer this enticement.

Caribbean Reef Shark
A beautiful Caribbean Reef Shark swims just off the wall at West Caicos.

Elephant Ear Canyon, a favorite with divers of all skill levels, offers an abundance of photographic opportunities. The main canyon begins at the top of the wall in about 60 feet of water and opens up to a wide, sloping sand chute.  In the shallow sandy areas near this sand chute, there are plenty of amazing small critters that can be found in the seas grass, including seahorses, large rays, green moray eels, nurse sharks and jawfish. Divers can get pretty close to these animals because they are often pre-occupied with dining, waiting in line at cleaning stations or baby sitting duties. The various kinds of jawfish are often seen aerating eggs in their mouths. A short distance from the beginning of the sand chute, divers will find an unusual, three-foot sponge that closely resembles a cartoon caricature of a huge frog and poses an interesting and fun challenge for photographers.

When divers swim down along the face of the wall, they will often find hawksbill turtles cruising along the reef or feeding on small sponges. The face of this wall is adorned with a kaleidoscopic tapestry of corals and sponges, to depths of 100 feet or more. 

Diver gets a close up look at rough tail ray feeding-TCI
A diver takes a close look at a roughtail ray on the back reef at West Caicos.

There are many other attractions seen at the various dive sites at West Caicos. At Spanish Anchor, divers frequently see eagle rays, turtles and sharks swimming along the drop-off. There is a large, encrusted anchor clearly visible against the northern side of the gully. Caribbean Reef Sharks can be seen at all of the sites, cruising alongside the face of the wall or gliding up into the shallow sandy areas to observe the divers.

Diving Remote French Cay

French Cay is usually the highlight reel of an Aggressor trip to the Turks and Caicos. The Cay itself is a small uninhabited sandy atoll, only a few hundred feet long, located on the southwest side of the Caicos Bank, about 18 miles from West Caicos and Northwest Point. The dive sites in this area, which are simply amazing, are remote and exposed, diveable only in good weather. If divers want close encounters with lots of big marine life, offering lots of opportunities for wide angle photography and video, these sites provide non-stop action.

At Double-D divers will find a lush, sloping reef that offers an abundance of large marine life. During a typical dive, it is common to encounter Atlantic Spadefish, horse-eye jacks, barracuda, turtles, eagle rays and several large reef sharks. There are also large elephant ear sponges on top of the reef. Green moray eels will frequently leave the protection of their dens and swim around the reef.

G-Spot has a large population of nurse sharks that divers will see snoozing or cruising about the shallow reef top. Caribbean reef sharks are always patrolling the wall and the shallows, and are not shy about coming within arm’s reach. This site always produces an amazing night dive. There is a resident nurse shark with a damaged dorsel fin, nicknamed “Fin,” who is always eager to introduce his family members. Reef sharks continually appear out of the darkness and occasionally bump into divers. The beams of the dive lights illuminate sleeping turtles, moray eels and octopus.

At Half Mile Reef the Caribbean Reef Sharks are very friendly, frequently joining buddy teams of divers. Stingrays, octopuses, large reef fish and an assortment of jacks and turtles are always present. There is a large elephant ear sponge near the mooring, that is great for wide-angle portraits.

If anyone is looking for a dive adventure in the Caribbean, the Turks and Caicos Islands is one of the top destinations for magnificent walls, friendly marine life and exciting interactions. As the brochure states, it is simply “Beautiful by Nature.”

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