I have traveled the Caribbean extensively over the years, visiting most of the popular, and some of the less popular, dive destinations. My vacation time always falls in February, so I am limited to this time frame for my trips. For 2010, I decided to give the Grenada a try. I had heard that there was some good diving and some interesting wrecks to explore under the waters of this quite British island, so off to Grenada it was.
Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada with devastating force in 2004. It obliterated Grenada’s vital spice crop and wreaked havoc on the entire island. Until 2007, many of the hotels and much of the infrastructure remained in a state of disrepair. By 2009 things seemed to return to some semblance of normalcy, so 2010 looked like a pretty safe bet. I booked a ten day stay at the Rex Grenadian Hotel, a place well spoken of on Trip Advisor, from February 3rd through February 13th. Connections were straight forward, with a flight from Boston to Miami, then Miami directly to Grenada. Traveling with my wife and some friends, our luggage made it unscathed and the trip was totally without incident.
The Maurice Bishop International Airport is located just minutes from the Rex. I had contacted Mandoo Tours in advance of our arrival, and an air conditioned bus was waiting for us on our arrival. Our bags were loaded and in just a few minutes we were at the lobby of our hotel. Check in was handled easily and we were shown to our rooms. Our room was comfortable, with a good king size bed, a balcony, an air conditioner, TV, and a security box. Some of our friends didn’t fare as well, with two couples having been given rooms with non functioning air conditioners. One couple had their room changed the next morning, while the other couple agreed to a repair. Maintenance was never able to get that air conditioner working right, and they were finally given another room.
The resort is laid out over about 17 acres, with a small lake and lots of beach area. The dive shop is on the far end of the property, located on what they call the water sports beach. Devotion2Ocean, or D2O, is a decent small shop offering good rental gear and free 30% Nitrox. Although they advertise two boats, I only saw one 24 footer ever in use. Andrew, Ocean, and Ruth run the operation and do a pretty good job of it. Andrew is Ruth’s brother, and Ocean and Ruth are married. Ocean and Andrew typically served as boat driver and/or Dive Master, with one person always staying with the boat. Since the majority of dives were drift dives, this is the way it had to be done.
D2O handles all the gear, including setup and washing. They did ask if this was okay, and would not touch your gear if you didn’t want them to. Their boat is small and did feel crowded with more than 6 divers. Most of the time, there were fewer than that number on the boat. One time, when the ocean was very rough, they arranged for a bus to pick us up and drive us over to the calmer waters of Grand Anse Beach where their boat was waiting for us.
Diving in Grenada is a mixed bag. Some of the sites were just boring, while some actually had some decent reef remaining. Fish life varied from barren to prolific, with very few larger fish. Very few Angel fish were seen, but there were lots of French Grunts, Soldierfish, and Spotted Morays at some sites. I saw quite a few Trumpetfish, one Ray, and a couple of turtles. I did get to see a few Sea Horses, and lay in the sand face to face with a big, ugly Scorpionfish. I did see one or two Nurse Sharks, but there weren’t many of them around.
Grenada’s big draw may be in its wreck dives. The most famous of these is the ill fated luxury liner the Bianca C. A 600 foot long Italian passenger liner, this vessel caught fire off the coast of Grenada in 1961 and sunk in 140 feet of water with the loss of only one life. The entire island mobilized to save the occupants of the ship as it slowly sank and, in a heroic effort, they did manage t get everyone off before the Bianca C went down. The other popular wreck is a concrete carrier that was overloaded and went down in rough seas in 2001. The Shakem is in about 90 feet of water and was recommended to me as a nice, scenic wreck. Grenada’s other claim to fame is the Molinere Underwater Park, which hosts their underwater sculpture garden. The main part of this display has a group of full sized sculptures standing in a circle. Other areas have single pieces depicting desks, bicycles, figures laying in the sand, and still lifes. It’s really interesting and is located in an area that also boasts some very nice coal reefs in a shallow setting. The Park is also a very popular snorkeling site.
The Bianca C dive was a big disappointment for me. When we got there, the sea was rough, the currents were strong, and the visibility was very limited. The routine was to get in the water fast, drop down to the wreck’s deck at 90-100 feet, cruise the wreck, then slowly head up along a sloping reef. The boat would be watching for us and be waiting when we surfaced. I hit the water with everyone else and started my descent … well I tried to start my descent. I couldn’t get down for some reason. After lots of struggling, I finally got down to 20 feet where I achieved neutral buoyancy. I continued down to 60 feet. I looked around for my group and saw nothing. No bubbles, no divers, no bottom. I could feel the current pushing me along strongly and had only two choices. I could continue down and hope to find the wreck and my group, or I could abort the dive, surface and hope to find the boat. I opted to abort the dive and headed back up. As soon as I hit 15 feet I shot to the surface, unable to control my ascent.
The boat driver saw me almost immediately and picked me up. Minutes later, the DM surfaced looking for me. I told him I had to abort the dive, but he offered to get me back down to the wreck. I got back in the water and was able to do a short dive on the Bianca C. Visibility was limited to less than 40 feet, with lots of particulate in the water. I didn’t see much of the wreck and never made it to the “must see” swimming pool on the deck. On the way back, I was able to hold my safety stop at 20 feet on the reef before popping to the surface at shallower depths.
As soon as I got back on the boat I started checking my weights. I split my weights between a belt and the trim weight pockets on my non-weight integrated BC. My belt was fine, but my trim weights were all gone. These are in zippered pockets, so they can’t accidentally fall out. I was upset and, when we got back, asked Ruth what happened to my trim weights. Neither Ruth nor anyone else could offer an explanation, but I have a pretty good idea of what happened. Weight pockets were removed from the weight integrated BC’s before they were washed, but the small weights I used in my trim pockets were never touched. For some reason, whoever washed my BC that one time chose to remove the weights … and then not replace them or even leave them with the BC. After several days of diving with D2O, I did not expect this to be done. Of course, this was probably the only time the whole week that I didn’t check my weights before the boat left, so I have to take at least some of the responsibility for this mishap. Anyway, I handled the situation as well as I could and got back in one piece.
The wreck of the Shakem is, in my opinion, a far more interesting wreck to explore. Most of the Shakem can be seen at no deeper than 80 feet, so you can spend some time on this wreck. The bags of concrete are all frozen in place, the pilot house is easily accessible, and there is lots of colorful growth cascading over most surfaces. Visibility was limited to less than 70 feet with particulates in the water. Surface currents were strong at this site, but decreased with depth.
At Molinere Underwater Park lies the wreck of a wooden fishing boat, the Buccaneer. It’s nothing too dramatic, but it is covered with coral and a nice little wreck to swim around. It even has a resident barracuda. It’s very close to the sculptures, so you can easily do both on one dive.
There were some fairly reasonable dive sites with average or better reefs. Flamingo Bay, Shark Reef, and Happy Valley were all good dives. Wasabi was desolate, and arguably one of the worst dive sites I’ve been to in the past few years. Grenada does not have moorings at most of their dive sites. Since most of the diving here is drift diving, this isn’t all that critical. But not all of the sites are drift dives, and the sheltered sites have all seen heavy damage from anchors. Fishing is also not restricted in the dive sites, and nets were often seen entangled in the coral. Even some of the sculptures at Molinere have been toppled from anchors and fishing nets. I discussed this situation with the folks at D2O, and they are very aware of the problem. Unfortunately, it’s been very difficult to get any legislation passed. Grenada is economically depressed and has no money to spend on enforcement, so nothing gets done. Preservation of their underwater environment is low on their list of priorities, so I can’t imagine the situation improving any time soon.
Devotion2Ocean are a good group of people and, in spite of that one disappearing weight issue, were attentive, courteous, and very accommodating. They let our group dive our computers and placed few, if any, restrictions on us. Except for the deep wreck dives, we ran 60-70 minutes on most dives. They did a good job of setting up our gear and were exceptionally thorough in washing everything. Upon request, they had a camera bucket for us on the boat and also put one out for us at the shop. Ruth runs a good operation, and Andrew and Ocean were a pleasure to dive with.
The Rex is a decent place to stay. The beaches are nice, the snorkeling off the beach is good, and the food was exceptional. I took the all-inclusive plan and it was worth every penny. Breakfast was the typical omelet, bacon, sausage, toast, etc. fare, but dinners were really, really good. Everything is buffet style, which worked just fine for me. Desserts were among the finest I’ve ever had anywhere. Unfortunately, the chef will be starting his own restaurant soon, so the quality of the food may not stay this good much longer. The Rex is still slowly recovering from hurricane Ivan, and you will see some debris in areas. Renovation is ongoing, and not everything has been brought back yet. Some of the rooms are rough, some are just fine. You will see chipped paint, missing light bulbs, and air conditioners around the resort that just don’t work. Still, the staff is generally very good and management is willing to work with you to sort out any complaints.
I should also note that the Hillside and Sea View rooms here require about 90 steep steps to reach. If you have any knee or leg issues, stay away from these. The beach front units are three floors and much easier to reach.
Grenada is a nice island with friendly people. The older resorts are still not fully recovered from the hurricane, but they do the best with what they have. Diving is probably average at best, but over fishing and the lack of moorings have taken a toll. If the government continues to ignore these issues, the reefs and fish life will continue to suffer. I enjoyed my stay at the Rex, and I liked Devotion2Ocean as the on site dive op. I certainly don’t regret going, but there was not much there that would tempt me to make a return trip to “The Spice Island.”