Trying to get home

To our Juliet Family;

We are all well-aware of the global situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. As of right now, we have no plans to cancel any upcoming charters but things are changing daily and we fully expect to reevaluate that plan when the boat returns to Miami after the Repositioning trip.

Juliet and crew are currently on their way back from Puerto Rico to Miami. They will be traveling through the Bahamas to return to Miami by April 3. By then we will have an idea of how the Bahamas is handling the pandemic in terms of international vessel travel, and how the US and Miami are handling US-flagged vessel entries and where the world stands on the pandemic. It also give 2 weeks’ time for things to change, and by now we all know a lot can happen in two weeks – some of us we went from “Things are mostly fine!” to “Don’t leave your house, your entire state is in lock down” in a matter of 8 days. While we would like to hope things will look much better by then, we realize that’s an optimistic and possibly unrealistic expectation.

We completely understand that some of you may be considered At-Risk, you have loved ones at home you are trying to keep safe, you are trying to keep your community safe, and/or you physically cannot get on board due to travel restrictions. If you have plans to travel with us between now and April 20, please contact me and we will do what we can to turn the situation around and get you rescheduled. We are working with folks on a case-by-case basic starting with our first three Bahamas trips in April. If you have plans to travel with us in beyond those dates, we know the uncertainty is painful but we ask you to please be patient while we handle the trips that come before yours.

Thank you for your support, patience, and understanding in these crazy-feeling and uncertain times. Support your neighbors and your local businesses as much as you can while we all wait for the dust to settle, and don’t forget to revisit pictures from your previous diving trips to get out of your own head for a bit and get your mind underwater. We’ll be posting lots of links to virtual aquarium tours and other fun distractions on social media in the coming days to try to help.

Please stay safe, healthy, and sane,
Everyone at Juliet Sailing and Diving

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A September to Remember

September did not start out on a great foot for the diving industry – both locally and nationally. Between Hurricane Dorian decimating the most northern islands of the Bahamas and a fellow liveaboard boat burning to the waterline, it feels like we’ve been in mourning since before Labor Day and not sure how best to go about life as usual when it’s everything but.

The California boat fire had everyone in the community devastated, feeling lost and vulnerable, not the least of which were operators like ourselves. Collectively we spent days wondering could it happen to us? and reassuring ourselves that we have all safety protocols in place. But also we spent the following days reassessing and reevaluating. Yes, we meet USCG safety standards here but we could exceed then an increase safety by doing this, or that. We designed evacuation layouts for all the cabins, are assessing where we can put fire extinguishers inside all of the cabins in case they are needed to escape in an emergency, we are reevaluating the pre-departure safety briefing to make sure we are covering absolutely everything that needs to be covered without being completely overwhelming to those who are new to liveaboards. It’s a balancing act and we’re doing our best to find our way in the dark so you never have to.

Hurricane Dorian hit close to home, both literally and figuratively. Only a few miles to the south and our friends and family in Bimini could have met the same fate as Grand Bahama and Abaco so in that sense we count ourselves lucky, but remembering that there are hundreds of thousands of Bahamians who cannot. We are doing our best to turn our fortune into opportunities to help those who lost everything by sending thoughts and prayers and money and generators and water purification tablets and toiletries and more money.

The sun sets on another day where we can count ourselves lucky but keep in mind what we can do for those who cannot

Hurricane season seems to get busier and scarier every year. Today there is a massive Climate change strike happening all over the world because people are seeing these changes and recognizing that they are causing life-altering destruction and that these changes will soon be irreversible. We see it every day under water and above as we run from storms, notice even small changes in weather patterns or fish stocks and behavior.

For now the world is still here and intact, and we’re going to enjoy it, as well as educate as many people as we can how they can help preserve it. And we hope you’ll make a pledge to do the same. Take time to talk to people about good choices, carbon footprints, plastic consumption, make donations to help those in need (see below). Do whatever small things you can that add up to one large movement against burning it all down.

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Spring Hammerhead Dives

Image Credit Neal WatsonWe’re so excited to announce a new collaboration between us and Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center this April. We get a lot of inquiries about baited shark dives, cage diving with Tiger sharks, and doing Hammerhead feeds – probably because we operate 9 months out of the year in the Bahamas where the sharks are notoriously plentiful! We’ve always had a policy of no-feed shark dives, not to mention that we like to leave the expert diving to the experts. Bahamian operators have been diving with sharks in their native waters for decades and have worked hard to get it perfect. We typically recommend these operators to folks exclusively interested in these kinds of shark dives.

However, we didn’t want to miss out on all the fun! In April, we’re teaming up with Neal Watson’s team to bring you to the sharks on Juliet. Our trips will run as normal – departing from and returning to Miami, diving our usual sites around Cat Cay, Orange Cay, and Bimini. But for one afternoon after lunch, you’ll be transferred over to Bimini Scuba Center’s boats for an experience of a lifetime!

Starting at 1pm, you’ll be briefed on the details of the dive and send down to the site where the sharks will be primed and ready. From there, you’ll dive with Great Hammerhead sharks for as long as you like – until either air, bait, or light runs low. Afterwards, it’s back on Juliet for dinner and a night dive nearby if you’re not completely dove out already!

Contact us to get on board one of these incredible trips! Check our calendar for updated availability in April (trips including Hammerhead dives will be noted).

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Springtime creature sightings!

It’s officially Spring in the Bahamas! 

That means Juliet is back in town – and so are all the creatures. The image above was captured by Divemaster Liz. Captain Nate saw a strange ripple on the surface of the water, and crew and passengers saw a shadow below. Folks jumped in on snorkel gear to catch a glimpse of this very rare sight in Bimini – a “small” whaleshark (size estimates were around 12-14 feet)!

Nudibranch and sea slug are still around, including congregations of sea hares and headshield slugs. One black featureless creature had us stumped, but was identified as the Migaya Felis headshield slug, seen mating in the sand at Grouper on the Head along with the Swallow Tail Headshield slug. If you get bored of the sharks down around Bull Run, GOTH, and 777, stick your head in the sand, you won’t be disappointed! 

We’re also excited to report sighting 3 sets of turtle tracks on the beach of Cay Cay near Kitten Cove! Stay tuned for hatchling watch in about 50-60 days. Kat identified them as Loggerhead tracks based on the alternating “apostrophe” track through binoculars, but do they lead to and from nests or were they “False crawls”? Keep reading for more on Sea Turtles of the Bahamas.

Creatures Feature: Sea TurtlesLoggerhead sea turtle

Sea Turtles are some of our favorite creatures to spot, and spring time is a great time to get some close encounters, especially with Loggerhead turtles looking to find a mate. May is breeding season for this, and other species of turtles around the Bahamas, but these hard-shelled giants tend to get a little up close and personal to tell if that big thing off in the distance is a potential mate or a scuba diver – so be prepared to swim out of their way! 

In the fall of 2014, the Bahamas officially prohibited “the harvesting, possession, purchase, and sale of sea turtles, their parts, and their eggs,” and the difference can already be seen only 3 and a half years later. The population of Green Turtles in the area is booming, and anecdotally, Loggerhead nests in the Bahamas are on the rise as well. 

Did you know? Not all Turtle tracks on the beach lead to nests. Occassionally turtles will crawl up the beach but abandon nesting attempts because of nearby disturbances, ground cover issues and obstructions, or predators interrupting their nesting attempt. The crawl marks seen on the beach at Cat Cay could be 3 separate nests from 3 separate female Loggerhead turtles, or a series of crawls by a single female that may not have resulted in a nest at all. Maybe we’ll find out in 50-60 days – night dive / hatchling watch at Moxon Rocks the end of June anyone? 

Spotted drum Turtle RocksDive Site of the Month: Turtle Rocks

Many of our crew – and passengers – have been diving in the Bimini area for over 20 years, and recognize that while some dive sites are without argument better than others, there are many that are highly underrated and deserve a little more time and attention. Turtle Rocks – AKA Big Greenie and South Turtle – falls under this category, and in recent years has certainly been putting on a show! Conservation efforts and their successes in the Bahamas are evident here, as divemasters used to joke that you never see turtles at Turtle rocks, and that the name came from drunk Bahamians thinking the rocks looked like turtles from afar. No longer, though! Juvenile Green turtles are now seen here regularly, and attentive divers can be treated to all kinds of creatures large and small at this unassuming dive site. 

A ledge system that runs for about a half a mile, Turtle Rocks is a shallow site that might appear to just be a rubble pile and a few tiny coral heads to some. But bring a flashlight and curiosity, there’s much more to be found. Turtle Rocks is one of the few sites you can regularly find both juvenile and adult High Hats, a close uncommon cousin of the popular Spotted Drum (pictured above), as well as dozens of species of Cardinalfish, blennies, and eels beyond the usual green and spotted morays; Chain Morays and Golden Tail Morays are regularly seen in the shallows near the rocks. Attentive divers can also be treated to Spotted Eagle Ray squadron drive-bys, the occasional Reef Shark, or the small and curious Atlantic Sharpnose Shark that may come over from Triangle Rocks (where South Bimini’s Sharklab does regular research) to investigate. 

Take your time, breathe deep, and don’t forget the small stuff! 

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Hurricane Status

As many of you know, this hurricane season has been pretty brutal on the islands and Southeastern US. We’ve had a lot of messages asking us how we fared and what the winter will hold. In short, our status report is All is Well, and Staying the Course. Details below.

Hurricane Irma affected Miami and southern Florida pretty immensely, but we were very lucky that we were sheltered in a great area in Biscayne Bay  – you can actually watch a time-lapse video of the boat through the hurricane here. Since we have 2 generators on board, we were well supplied with power throughout, and no damage to report. The rest of Miami got power back within the week after the storm’s passing, and the Florida Keys is reopening to tourists this weekend. All great news for the local area. 

The Virgin Islands is another story. Reports coming out of St. Croix are all good – some damage to areas of the island, but their airport reopens today to normal activity and they are restoring power to additional parts of the island daily. We don’t expect any change in our plan to return there this Winter, and we are looking forward to reconnecting with our island friends! Puerto Rico is struggling, however, and while we are still tentatively planning on our December 9 trip to Mona we are watching the news reports from the island closely. The airport has had power restored as of this writing, but flights are not back to normal and the rest of the island is still without power. Many are still stranded inland and have much damage to their properties, the roads, and no easy access to power, water, or food. Some of you have asked for ways you can offer help, PBS has a great collection of legitimate venues you can donate money or supplies to here.  

The diving report from the Bahamas is good, and getting better every day. Fingers crossed that we are past the hump of hurricane season and can look forward to more settled weather from here on out. 

Fair winds and following seas.

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January Trip reports

January has been fantastic here in St. Croix. Our first week was filled withcritters, beautiful weather, gorgeous dives, and fantastic people. A few new faces and a lot of Juliet regulars came together and made for a near-perfect week. Dives at the pier, endless seahorses, turtles, critters galore. One diver found a gorgeous orange seahorse on King’s Reef. On our night dive on the Swirling Reef of Death we were treated to not one but three tiny baby octopus – somewhere nearby a clutch of eggs must have hatched!

Conditions in Butler Bay and Cane Bay were outstanding, with visibility approaching 100 feet. We took advantage of the good weather and dove our hearts out until Wednesday when we were forced to hang out on the West Side of the island due to strong winds.

The following week, a large and very uncommon ground swell kicked up, making conditions a little uncomfortable and reducing visibility in some areas. Luckily, the next group of passengers were super laid back and dedicated to ridding the world of lionfish so we spent a good amount of time hunting on drift dives on the sheltered west side – and also hunting for a calm place to sleep at night. Local Cruzans told us (thankfully!) that this crazy ground swell was a one-in-eight year event so while we’re happy to be a part of weather history, we were more excited when it was all over. We had a great time and got some pretty cool photos to prove it! You can see videos on our YouTube Channel.



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Live from St. Croix!

Hello from St. Croix! This Gem of an Island certainly hasn’t disappointed in the first 3 weeks we’ve been here. The Frederiksted Pier is of course a huge hit, and we’ve discovered some fun new sites south of the pier, and explored the wrecks and walls to the north. The sea life has been impressive to the point of just showing off! Seahorses, spotted snake eels, batfish, dolphins, and even multiple reports of amorous octopuses (video pending I’m told…). Passengers and crew spent the first few minutes of 2017 underwater enjoying a fabulous midnight night dive, and we’re all excited for what else 2017 has in store for us.

If you’ve looked into coming down to St. Croix but haven’t quite figured out how to get there, here’s a trick. Look at airfare into St. Thomas (STT) or San Juan (SJU) first, then based on your arrival times, check with Seaborne Airlines or Cape Air to connect to St. Croix (STX). Both airlines have 3-5 flights per day out of both locations to St. Croix for under $200 giving you more options if you can’t find a major airline that flies into St. Croix (only American/US Air, and JetBlue fly into St. Croix). And don’t forget, you can board any time after noon on Friday! We don’t leave the pier until early Saturday morning so even late flights will get you to Juliet in time. And we promise you won’t miss out on anything – except lunch!

In case you’re not convinced yet, below is a taste of what we’ve been seeing in just the first 3 weeks. Contact Kat for more details and specials on upcoming weeks. Hope to see you there!

Happy New Year from all of us at Juliet Sailing and Diving.

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A Few Visits from Dolphins

As our season in the Bahamas winds down, we’re savoring every last drop out of the beauty of these islands. We made it south to Do It Again and Long Bow in late September with a fantastic group from Alaska, and the next week everyone was treated to a fantastic dolphin encounter at Riding Rocks – the dolphins just hung around the boat for 45 minutes! No one has shared video evidence with me for that one yet, but check out this video from the week before. 

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What the best time of year to go to the Bahamas?

Bahamas, turtles, loggerhead, dive with turtlesThis is a question we get a lot! And the answer is “Any time!”because the Bahamas are such an amazing group of islands. However, if you’re asking from a scuba liveaboard perspective, let me be a little more specific.

We run trips to the Bahamas from Miami April through November, and that’s very much by design. Winter weather in the Bahamas, while warmer than most places in the US, can be a bit unpredictable. That’s not a big deal if you’re flying over and staying on one of the Bahamas’ 300+ islands, but it is a big deal if you have to get there and back by boat. The spring, summer, and fall months allow for a more comfortable ride.

April is a wonderful sailing month and the spring diving is really interesting for the hard-core critter watcher! Florida sees shark migrations up and down their coast regularly in March and April – and the Bahamas is not much different. Our most diverse shark sightings happen this time of year. You’re most likely to see hammerhead sharks, Bull sharks out on the reefs, and once we even spotted a Sawfish! The water temps are cooler than you think (73-75) which is what the sharks like, so bring a 3mm wetsuit for sure.

May is a big month for fish and coral spawning as water temps start to rise. If you’re a dive geek like us, plan a trip around the full moon in May and you might catch a glimpse of sponge spawning during the day and if you’re really lucky maybe the corals will put on a show at night! Mutton snapper and other species of snapper get frisky this time of year as well, so expect some bigger fish on your dives in May.

flat seas, bahamas diving, gun cay, island explorationJune is when the weather starts to settle – and by settle we mean flat flat flat! The breeze turns to the Southeast, drops to about 5-10 knots from spring’s East 10-15 tradewinds and things warm up really quick! Water temps are hovering right below 80F, air temps are 80-85, and this is when we do our own weekly migration down to the good stuff. Orange Cay and farther south are only accessible in calm weather and June is the best time of year to reliably head south.

July is downright toasty, and the weather even more settled.  However, we are deep into hurricane season at this point so while the weather is gorgeous and calm and we take advantage of every minute we can of our glassy summer waters, there’s always a risk. All trips from June to October we strongly recommend the purchase of travel insurance; you never know when Mother Nature will spin up a storm!

August brings us similar conditions to July, but the night sky is where the excitement happens. The Perseid meteor shower happens for almost 2 full weeks in the middle of August and there is no better place to watch a meteor shower than from a boat, far from all the light pollution of land. Diving during the day, epic star gazing at night – sign me up!

September and October are probably our favorite months to be in the Bahamas. The weather is still calm but starting to cool off from the inferno of July and August and the water temps are no-wetsuit-required warm at 83-85F! The best part is there isn’t a boat to be seen. Its fall, the kids are back in school, and the tourists are gone – it feels like we have the whole ocean to ourselves.

In November we’re back to the easterly tradewinds, great sailing weather, but still warm water temps. We offer some of our longer trips this month to get some more sailing in, and allow for trips to not run into Thanksgiving without cutting anything short. Join us for a 10-day trip just before Thanksgiving, there’s no better way to prepare for the holidays.

Our Bahamas have something for everyone, so pick your month and come diving with us!

Fair winds and Following Seas, Friends

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Reef-Safe Suncreens: what does it mean?

For years we’ve been hearing about chemicals in sunscreens, be careful what you put on your skin, use only sunscreens that are biodegradable or for sensitive skin. But does a biodegradable sunscreen really mean its ok for the environment? Sure, it degrades biologically over time, but does any damage happen in the time between when it dissolves in the water and when it finally biodegrades? Turns out, biodegradable does not mean reef-safe, nor does mineral based mean good for your skin. Turns out it’s much more confusing than it seems.

dive bahamas wrasses reef and coralLet’s start with what we know. Folks have been tossing around the idea of sunscreens being toxic to corals for years, a few studies narrowing it down to possibly 4 ingredients that did something funny to dormant viruses in the algae that live inside of corals. But it was so non-specific that no one really paid attention. Until last fall when a study was published in Environmental Contamination and Toxicology titled “Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” That’s a lot to unpack! Basically, it found that exposure of larval corals to certain levels of oxybenzone caused excessive calcification to the point of entombing the coral in it’s own skeleton; transformed mobile larvae to deformed, sessile states; increased rates of coral bleaching; and caused damage to the corals DNA. And the levels the coral was exposed to was then proven to be similar levels as already exist in Hawaii and the Virgin Islands!

Look at your sunscreen. Right now. Go get it, I’ll wait. Now look at the active ingredients. Betcha a nickel one of them is oxybenzone.

Don’t start feeling guilty now, you didn’t know. Now walk over to the trash and throw it out. Even if you only use it on land, everything leads to the sea and eventually that chemical will make its way to the ocean and possibly a coral reef. And if it’s doing that kind of crazy stuff to corals, do you really want it on your skin? Toss it.

Ok, so no oxybenzone, got it. Except there are a few more ingredients that are common in sunscreens that can be harmful to you.

Fine, mineral sunscreens it is, right? Well, yes, but… There’s another debate going on about nano-particles and whether or not they are safe in topical applications. The thing about nano-particles is that chemists believe that a substance is below a certain size (100 nanometers and smaller) behaves differently and can be unpredictable, even cause damage. The concern as it applies to sunscreens is the fact that these particles are so small they can absorb into your skin – and in sunscreens the whole point is that the lotion stays on top of the skin to reflect harmful UV rays. So until we know more about nanoparticles, non-nano is the safe way to go.

But yes, the non-nano mineral sunscreens are kind of pasty and leave a white residue, but they’re truly safer for everyone. If white and pasty isn’t not your thing, wear a shirt and a hat. But please, do your part to not add more oxybenzone to the ocean and contribute to the 3rd Global Coral Bleaching event, the longest one yet.

We’ll make it easy for you. Here’s a list of reef-safe and you-safe sunscreens and where you can find them online. Full disclosure, we’re an ambassador for Stream2Sea because they’re Florida based and care a lot about the same things we do (and we have a coupon that we’re happy to share with you), but any of these sunscreens are safe as well.

Stream2Sea Sunscreen

Also full disclosure, Stream2Sea tests on live fish and corals – in a lab, because right now that’s the only way to tell if what they’re doing is actually working. From their website:

We realize that testing on fish and coral may turn some people away from our products. We completely understand and respect that position—there is nothing you can say that we haven’t said ourselves. Were there proven alternative testing methods that didn’t include live fish or coral, we would be using those instead. But our reefs that get 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen annually can’t wait for that sort of testing to be developed.  We are doing what we can, now, to help lessen our impact in the long run.

But don’t take our word for it – and don’t believe everything you read on the internet! Do your own research, find your own brand, do your own part. Most importantly, spread the word.

/end soapboxrant

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