Scuba Diving Photos
Deep Water Cay: Grand Bahama’s Virtually Private Diving
Signs of Paradise
A signpost near A.J.'s Tiki Bar at Deep Water Cay. (deepwatercay.com)
Deep Water Cay is a storied Grand Bahama bonefishing lodge that dates back to 1958. But there’s another story at this newly renovated and expanded resort that has to be one of the best-kept secrets of Bahamian diving. If you’re looking for a spot with easy, sunny, relaxing diving where you’ll be the only divers underwater for miles and miles, Deep Water Cay is for you.
There’s no schedule to sign up for your dives at Deep Water Cay — the schedule revolves around you. Excellent dive sites with gorgeous, healthy coral and a variety of reef life are 10 minutes from the dock, where A.J.’s Tiki Bar waits for when you return (savory snacks and salty stories commence daily at 4 p.m.). Sites here are so fresh that most still have no names, just coordinates to both the southeast and southwest of the resort, which lies on a northwest-to-southeast axis tucked up on the leeside of the half dozen small cays that make up Grand Bahama’s eastern tail. In many places there are no navigational markings of any kind; all the diving here feels exploratory — for vast stretches, there’s nobody out here. Welcome to the ends of the earth: Hard to believe you can find this kind of unspoiled tranquility and virtually private diving less than a two-hour flight from Atlanta, and less than an hour flight from Miami.
A site called Big Rock is typical — it was discovered when a returning dive team spotted an unknown formation breaking water on an unusually low tide. Needing to note it for navigation anyway, divers hopped in and, sure enough, a new site was born, something that happens at Deep Water Cay all the time. Big Rock should be called Big Rocks; its room-sized bommies full of Swiss cheese holes — fish swim-throughs — are fascinating places to watch countless fish tales play out, framed by coral formations so lovely they seem to have been sculpted, not grown. Sea fans, whips and sponges are also here in abundance.
At a site called Big Ben, more giant, room-size coral heads loom from white-sand bottoms, each one an island to explore — you could spend a whole dive examining just one. Every kind of reef fish darts about, with small patrols of bigger game fish passing regularly.
At Magical Mini Wall, fields of coral stretch too far to see their end. Peering through holes almost big enough to swim through, you can see white sand below and little mini canyons wide enough to for a diver or divers to sink down in. Then you pop up and soar over long, broad winding avenues of coral that spiral out like the Yellow Brick Road, accompanied by barracuda, triggerfish and curious spadefish, beautiful with the morning light flashing on their black-striped silver sides. The “road” seems to spiral into magical “fairy rings” of coral with white-sand centers, populated by schools of anthias and basslet. The formations are shallow enough — 25 to 50 feet or so — that dappled sunlight is also a near-constant feature.
The Bahamas is famed for its blue holes — Deep Water Cay provides access to three within shouting distance of the resort, and countless more nearby. Each one has its own ecosystem — this one has rays, that one has grouper — and each is fascinating to explore, as long as it’s not “sucking or blowing,” as locals say, part of the natural effect of tidal currents on these phenomenon that are often connected underground.
In fact you’ll likely pass over one on your way to the resort’s dock: Deep Water Cay’s Blue Hole sits in the middle of its “creek,” as the waterways separating cays are called. In this otherwise mostly featureless sandy hole you’ll find Cubera snapper, houndfish, grey snapper, parrotfish, conchs like crazy, hermit crab, juvenile yellow tail and stingrays.
At the crescent-shaped hole at nearby Thrift Harbor — where the creek offers an amazingly pretty snorkel drift in either direction, depending on tides — a big nurse shark darts out as we approach. Huge barracuda, a turtle, angelfish and a juvenile Nassau grouper hang out. Mangrove nurseries offer snorkeling with what seemed like millions of baitfish, like tiny living shards of glass, refracting colors from the ever-present sunlight.
The Bahamas is also known for its historic protection of sharks, but in five days of diving we had seen one, a nurse. We set out the last day for a site called Manta Hole, a blue hole on a tidal flat separated from the shoreline by a long stretch of sand submerged at high water. As we approached the temporary lagoon, we could see a wild amount of activity on the submerged flats. What were all those flippers? Dolphins?
Not dolphins. Sharks. I quickly count 13 within sight, and at least that many more just beyond. We can see dorsals all over, including what’s clearly a pretty big lemon just beyond the shore break; its yellowish tinge gleaming in the morning sun. We looked at one another and swallowed hard. Should we, or shouldn’t we?
Our divemaster screwed up her courage and snugged up her mask, preparing to snorkel the hole we were about to dive into, just to make sure there weren't 26 more sharks in there. But the tide was running out fast, and the sharks even faster. Only one lone small blacktip remained, and it was in such a hurry to get away it nearly bent itself in two making a U-turn away from us. The hole was almost featureless, and badly silted, so we quickly turned instead to examining the jillions of miniature “holes” around us, where cold, fresh water burbles up to the sea. As the basin drained, the flats around us turned into a spectacular beach. A snorkel drift down Thrift Harbor creek, picnic on another utterly private beach and manta and dolphin sightings on the way back to the resort rounded out what’s just a typical day at Deep Water Cay.
Out of the water, divers tend to be most interested in one thing about a resort: the food. At Deep Water Cay, Chef Charles Edden has you covered, from hearty hot-and-cold home-style breakfasts laid out in the sunny, knotty-pine-paneled clubhouse to an unforgettable lobster capellini with fresh tomatoes to an island-style cookout with long tables laden with gourmet sides set up beside the resort’s oceanside infinity pool.
“I taste everything that comes out of that kitchen,” Chef Edden says with a smile. Keeping it fresh and natural is important at Deep Water Cay. “Today’s guests are looking for healthy choices. That’s important to me,” says Edden. “I use an abundance of local ingredients, whatever is in the market.” Deep Water Cay has a small vegetable garden as well.
A native of Grand Bahama from its west side, Edden spent most of his nearly 40-year career in large establishments in places such as Italy and London. But he wanted to be somewhere where he could create something “that doesn’t come off a conveyor belt,” he says. “This is where I can be the most creative. I would rather be here than anywhere else.”
Deep Water Cay offers accommodations from simple cabin-style cottage rooms to gorgeous rental houses. Most fishermen and individual guests choose the cottages, one-bedroom units with private bath and two queen beds where tiny hermit crabs scoot across porches set with white Adirondack chairs, and cooing doves and curly-tail lizards are your most frequent companions.
But for families or groups, the houses strung along a coquina road that parallels the shoreline are the place to be, each one quite different from its not-too-close neighbor.
With spectacular views and fun, individualized decors, each house — from Royal Poinciana to Gumbo Limbo, Hibiscus to Sea Grape and more — is unique: eclectic, gorgeous and very “Bahamas.”
The privacy of the houses plus the easy diving — and paddle boarding and kayaking — makes Deep Water Cay a good choice for families and groups of mixed ages. Kids can have a blast here.
“Diving is more fun than fishing,” says 13-year-old Jane Koch, a guest from Haymarket, Virginia. She started out snorkeling and fishing but had recently been certified at Deep Water Cay and converted to diving. “You see more stuff,” she confides.
“I lost my fishing buddy, which I’m not happy about,” her dad Henry says with a laugh.
NEED TO KNOW
When to Go The best diving is October to December and April to July; fishing is heaviest February to June and October to December.
Diving Conditions Water temps average 75 degrees F in late winter and early spring, 86 degrees F summer through early fall. Tropical storms occur mostly between July and October. No exposure suit is needed in the warmer months.
Operator Deep Water Cay (deepwatercay.com) runs its diving from a 33-foot World Cat with two 225-horsepower Honda outboards. Snorkeling and light diving also is done from a swim-on, swim-off inflatable RIB that’s something like a high-tech doublesided banana boat with a D-Day-landing-craft-style front opening.
Fly In Deep Water Cay has a 4,200-foot runway and its own Customs House.
Price Tag Packages start at three nights/two days for $2,369, per person non-inclusive for the cottages with diving with airport transfer included. Room and meal packages start at $776 per guest for first night, double occupancy, $476 for each subsequent night, non-inclusive of diving but including breakfast, lunch, dinner and airport transfers. Two- to four-bedroom rental houses start at $1313 per night, non-inclusive of meals or activities.