Life Under Foot
French angelfish and snapper swarm the shallows of St. Croix's Frederiksted Pier.
Cabrits Cruise Ship Pier, Dominica
The payoff in diving Dominica’s Cabrits Cruise Ship Pier comes almost immediately. Shortnose batfish favor the sand-rubble bottom, and divemasters routinely point out these 5-inch walking oddities with noses that rival Cyrano de Bergerac’s. With pectoral and pelvic fins that resemble hands and feet, batfish actually “walk,” and will move clumsily away from divers, fluttering slightly above the bottom as they try to find a new place to hide under the pier.
The wooden pier — named Pole to Pole by local operators — is located on the island’s northwestern coast in Prince Rupert Bay. The bay is sheltered on its northern side by the Cabrits headland, a rugged, volcanic outcropping that juts from the mainland. There are terrific sites north of the Cabrits peninsula, but unpredictable strong currents and swells from the north can sometimes cancel the diving at less-protected places. In contrast, the pier offers calm conditions and reliable visibility in just 48 feet of water, day or night.
The pier’s legs are plastered with sponges — a profusion of finger, encrusting and tube sponges vie for real estate — and longsnout seahorses are tucked in between the mass of life. Batfish and seahorses aren’t the only creatures making a living under the pier. Comical-looking balloonfish hide in crevices. Jawfish poke their heads out from the safety of hiding places among the piles of small boulders and debris. Get even closer to spot yellowline arrow crabs gingerly high-stepping out of cracks, shy secretary blennies peeking from their tiny burrows and spotted cleaner and coral banded shrimp clinging to bottles that have become part of the underwater landscape. This is a place of refuge for peacock flounders, frogfish and juveniles of many reef species like blue and brown chromis, sergeant majors, gobies and barred hamlets.
Divers can spend all their bottom time finning from one pole to the next, but there’s also plenty to explore adjacent to the pier: Creatures like urchins and lobsters hide in the rocky boulders jumbled atop one another, and sand eels and flying gurnards are found in the sand flats. Muck diving can sound unappealing — the best muck sites are in shallow water with a fair bit of debris like discarded tires, engine parts and bottles strewn about — but savvy divers know these sites deliver a rich habitat populated by bizarre and colorful creatures. More commonly associated with Pacific destinations like Indonesia’s Lembeh Strait and Papua New Guinea’s Milne Bay, outstanding muck experiences can also be found in the Caribbean, often underneath piers like Pole to Pole. All divers need is a camera equipped with a macro lens — and an appreciation for the weird and wonderful. — Patricia Wuest
Make It Happen
The Cabrits Cruise Ship Pier is only occasionally used as a berth by cruise ships (most dock in Roseau on the southwestern end of the island). Pole to Pole can be dived from either shore or boat, day or night. Water temperatures range from 78 degrees F in winter to 83 degrees F in summer, and visibility is a dependable 50 to 60 feet, though it can be as good as 100 feet. Cabrits Dive Centre (www.cabritsdive.com) in Portsmouth puts divers in the water at the pier in less than 10 minutes from where its boat is docked. Two-tank guided boat dives start from $87.50 and one-tank night dives from $65.50. One of the owners is British, so tea and biscuits are often served on board. Brilliant.