You know you're among family the minute Small Hope Bay Lodge's owner Jeff Birch begins talking.
"Dad got incredibly lucky when he found this place," Jeff tells us. "Small Hope Bay Lodge started in 1959 and the first guests arrived in 1960. It is a way of life, and 51 years later, we still are running it as a way of life." "Dad" is Dick Birch, who died in June 1996, but not before creating an incredible dive and fishing resort on Andros, which is a bit of paradise.
The Lodge has 21 rooms in beachfront cottages, just steps from beach hammocks and the water's edge. The cottages are comfortable and built for divers and fishermen—tiled floors, ceiling fans and small front patios with perfect views of the beach and blue and turquoise waters of the Caribbean. What I love is the old Caribbean feel of this well-loved place. It exudes from every aspect of the resort—its friendly staff, its cozy lounge and bar, even down to the hundreds of books stuffed on shelves in the lounge and game room. There's a delightful outside beach bar and eating area. All the bikes, kayaks, windsurfer and sailboat are available to guests as part of the all-inclusive packages the Lodge offers.
And then there's the reef. "It's one heckuva lot of reef," Jeff says. In fact, it's the second-largest barrier reef in the Atlantic (after Central America's Mesoamerican barrier reef) and the resort can put you on scores of incredible dive sites. Shallow coral gardens such as Elkhorn Park are terrific for new divers and snorkelers. Like nearby New Providence Island (Nassau), Andros abuts the Tongue of the Ocean, a 6,000-foot submarine canyon that offers sheer walls and oceanic blue holes. You can also explore caverns such as Alec's Caverns, which is in 90 feet of water, where you'll wend your way through tunnels and caverns and encounter scads of silverside minnows and glassy sweepers. And you definitely don't want to miss Shark Emporium. The divemaster fastens a block of frozen chum to a permanently installed anchor.
This afternoon: We're headed to The Guardian, a 140-foot-deep journey into a spectacular inland blue hole.