Monday, August 26, 2013

Summertime . . . and the living is easy at Small Hope, Andros, Bahamas

This is my FAVORITE time of year here at Small Hope Bay Lodge, Andros Island, Bahamas. The sun shines in the morning. The seas are like glass for the morning dives - so clear that from the boat, I can look down in to 30 feet of water and tell which corals and types of fish are down below. The afternoon brings incredible tropical showers then the day is beautiful and bright once more. And the glorious starry nights are made even more amazing by the lightning shows off on the horizon. The water is between 82 and 84 degrees, perfect for a swim, snorkel or dive, day or night. All in all - Perfect!
Photo by Petter Kaalstad

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My favorite dive ( . . . so far) at Small Hope, Bahamas

With the third largest barrier reef in the world just minutes away from the Small Hope Bay Lodge dock, and being virtually the only dive operation on that reef, there are literally dozens of really, really great dives at my fingertips. I have been enjoying my time underwater at Small Hope for a little over two years now and have gotten to experience some truly amazing dives. I've done mind-blowing wall dives - the drop from the reef into the "Tongue of the Ocean", basically a 6,000 foot drop straight down, with little to no current, making some really awesome wall cruises. I've done coral garden and shark dives - one of my favorite sites, Brad's Mountain combines the two, beautiful coral growth with cracks and crevices, all flourishing with tons of different fish, and pretty much guaranteed sharks every time. I've been diving in the Blue Hole of Andros - both ocean and inland blue holes, I have gotten to experience the full cave dive of the Guardian, as well as the Ocean Blue Hole, an incredibly beautiful cavern dive.

Well, the coolest, most jaw-dropping, kick butt dive so far? 2nd Level of the Blue Hole (into Backside of the Blue Hole). This is one of the custom specialty dives Small Hope offers. We went to the Ocean Blue Hole and timed the dive perfectly with the tides (very important). This is a "live" blue hole, meaning fresh water is sucked through underground caves as the tide goes out. 

2nd Level - This is a deeper circuit around the blue hole dive than the typical blue hole dive we take most of our guests on (usually done at 100'). 2nd Level goes down to about 140' and also passes through a smaller "room", creating a cave-like atmosphere for the first part of the dive. At the beginning of the dive you pass over the rim of the hole and start descending in to the surrounding crevice. Down below, you see a triangular entry. This is the first "restriction" and even though it looks really little divers have no problem getting through. This takes you to the "room" which is quite dark and about 5' high, 8' wide and maybe 6' deep in size. At the back of the room there is a passage down and to the left which takes you through a tunnel that continues to widen until you can see the upper levels of the blue hole. Now it starts to become so incredibly gorgeous. Big skylights letting the turquoise blue stream down through massive boulders strategically placed. Great rock formations, including one we call E.T.'s head (because from the right angle, its shape is just like E.T.'s). And great dark chasms below, where the light will never reach. It is the most awe inspiring dive I've been on.

Backside of the Blue Hole - The Backside dive usually goes to about 70 feet deep and goes over the top of the sinkhole and out the back where all the ancient streams and riverbeds lie. We time the dive so the tides have pushed tons of fresh water through and formed a halocline where the fresh water below is green and significantly cooler, and the salt water above is blue and warm. If you catch the tides just right, the line between fresh and salt water will be so distinct, you could cut it with a knife. In addition to all this, sediment that gets pushed with the fresh water forms what we call "whale snot" and drapes over the coral and looks like Halloween cobweb decor. It also floats around making this dive completely other-worldly as well as a one-of-a-kind experience.

On this particular dive, we timed it just right and at the end of our circuit around the 2nd Level of the Blue Hole we came up in to the Backside of the Blue Hole and finished the dive cruising in and out of green and turquoise waters, playing with the "snot", spotted a reef shark, a giant Nassau grouper, an Atlantic spadefish. All in all, the best of both worlds - unbelievable deep cavern dive, followed by eeire and awesome backside dive. SO GREAT! I love my life! Pin It Now!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

More from the Green Team on our Solar Project

My time on Andros have flown by. As I write my last blog entry for Small Hope from the packed Starbucks in Dupont Circle in the heart of Washington, DC it occurred to me that there is no greater juxtaposition to the environment I left behind on Andros. Smart Phones, watches and laptops line every table. Leaving is always bittersweet. Although I am glad to be within walking distance to a hundred restaurants, bars, and stores, I’m already missing the carefree atmosphere.

My last few weeks at Small Hope have been spent overseeing and laying the pipes for the solar hot water system, creating a solar hot water manual and designing a low cost solar hot water system for residential use. The solar hot water manual is meant to document the process that we went through to design and build the system so that other resorts or businesses can follow suit later. The manual includes tediously detailed sourcing information so replacement parts can be easily ordered. The manual also includes detailed schematics, diagrams, and maintenance information.

The rest of the Duke Green team have been busy wrapping up several other projects we have been working on, including an interactive user friendly energy monitoring program that allows users to graphically display information regarding Small Hope’s energy use and cost (total, per capita, etc) and sort according to different factors such as year, season, and end energy use. We also designed a separate solar hot water system for the hot tub. Outside of the project, we have all been proactive with our Andros Bucket List. I finally got to dive Over the Wall at 185 feet, Backside of the Blue Hole, checked out Morgan's Bluff and Mastic Pointe up north, and received my Advanced Diving Certification. 
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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Legends of the seas, Mote and Small Hope Bay Lodge

                                                       We recently were honored here at Small Hope Bay Lodge with the arrival of Dr. Eugenie
Genie and Small Hope Asst. Mgr Mike Hornby
Clark, of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. Genie Clark is an amazing person with a history of marine research that rivals just about anyone you can think of. She is often referred to as the "Shark Lady" because of her extensive research on many shark species. 

Genie Clark and the Mote group came to Small Hope to study the local species of garden eels here in the Bahamas. Surprisingly, not much information has been gathered on these garden eels and the MOTE group came over a period of 21 days to discover what they could about behavior, territories and mating. 

While the first group was here, Small Hope Divemasters and MOTE researchers developed a "blind", a circular structure made from canvas and PVC with window holes cut at various heights. Research divers would go into the blind to make observations so the eels would not be distracted or disturbed by the presence of the divers. They also set grids made of
Photo by Jann Rosen-Queralt
chopsticks and cotton string at three different dive sites with big sandy areas, known to be garden eel hot spots. Each member of the research team was assigned their own sector within the grid and would observe the eel activity in that area for the duration of the dive, noting any and all activity.

The second group arrived the day after the first group departed and the research and observations continued. Both groups also enjoyed their share of survey dives too, sans research. There were a couple shark dives, cavern dives, wrecks and walls. I got to accompany four divers from the first group on possibly the best dive I have been on since I arrived at Small Hope 2 years ago - 2nd Level of the Blue Hole!

Photo by Jann Rosen-Queralt
 As a member of the Small Hope staff, one of my favorite parts of the experience was listening to the various guests tell me how they first met and got involved with Genie's research. There was Tom and Patrice, two divers who Genie thought would suit each other very well and consequently set them up on a blind date. They stayed at Small Hope three extra days because they were celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary! Anne Doubilet, who has traveled with Genie to so many countries over so many years that she has lost count. Jann Rosen-Queralt, who, several years ago, was just learning to dive and wanted to see whale sharks, when she heard from a friend that Genie just so happened to be doing a trip to Mexico to check out the whale sharks. Mallori, a 15 year-old girl who, having done a couple of book reports on Genie's books, had developed a friendship with her and was subsequently invited on this trip. Everyone that I talked to was so enthralled with Eugenie Clark, enjoyed her presence and her research trips so much, and had learned so much from her, as much in diving as in life experiences. It was truly an honor to host this amazing woman. And to be a part of this important research trip.

Thank you Mote, and thanks Genie!!!!
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