News

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.

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpO6NB8779s” modestbranding=”1″ autohide=”1″]

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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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Do you hear what they hear?

As humans, we rely heavily on our five senses – hearing, touch, smell, taste, and above all sight. Ours is a primarily visual world; light, dark, colors, words, signals, faces… all of this input informs every moment of our day. Language is how we communicate but sight is how we remember each moment and experience our world.

How far can sound travel in the ocean?It’s very different underwater. One of my favorite things to do underwater is close my eyes and listen to the snaps, crackles, groans, and pops of all the creatures chattering back and forth. Underwater, hearing is like sight on the surface. Visibility though the water on a good day is 150 feet – for us and for the animals that live underwater. So although many underwater creatures have great eyesight, mainly they rely on sound. Sound is their sight, how they sense the world, how they communicate, how they get information about their environment. Water is a bafflingly efficient conductor of sound; some of these sound signals can even travel thousands of miles underwater, delivering important signals across vast oceans.

In the middle of the 20th century, sound levels in the ocean began to change. Major shipping of goods began to spur ship movement around the globe. Companies began exploring the ocean floor for resources and mapping. Ship traffic, seismic exploration, and sonar noises began to ramp up the volume in the world’s oceans.

Imagine you are going about your business all day with a persistent flashing light or large visual disturbance, and you have no way to get away from it. All this sound causes a cacophony of noise in the ocean, disturbing navigation patterns of social animals, and causing mass strandings and disrupting their natural behaviors, even going so far as to cause bleeding in the ears of marine mammals that rely on their hearing for coordination of movement with their pod to feed or migrate. This can lead to elevated stress level in animals which can affect no only their movements, but their reproductive patterns (who wants to breed when their stressed out?), and feeding behavior (stress can cause loss of appetite in most species). This is what it is to live in the ocean now, in the age of 60,000 container ships motoring across the water at any given moment, seismic explosions that reflect loud noises off the seafloor searching for oil and gas deposits, and naval vessels deploying sonar to detect targets even when no threat is imminent.

The good news is that noise pollution isn’t like other pollutions. Once the noise stops, it’s gone. There is no filtration that needs to happen, no lingering after-affects, no cleanups, no oil booms, nothing. And reduction in noise has already been shown to lower stress levels in certain species of whales. A long-term study of east coast Right Whale stress hormones revealed that in the days following the 9/11 attacks when many non-essential marine traffic was halted security measures, stress hormones in these whales dropped significantly. Why? Because the noise level dropped for a few days. Once the travel ban was lifted, stress levels returned to normal.

Great, another one of those massive problems that need fixing, what can I do? Lots, actually. Simple things like buying products made locally that don’t need to be shipped overseas. If you own a boat, keep the hull and propeller clean and your engine space well insulated, as well as travel at efficient speeds that will both limit fuel consumption and reduce propeller cavitation noise and turn off your depth sounder when you don’t need it. More broadly, encourage ship building companies to design quieter engines and hulls, as well as ask shipping companies to follow lower speed limits to reduce engine noise in less efficient vessels. Contact your congressperson to ask them to propose or support legislation to reduce off-shore drilling and exploration, and encourage more responsible actions from oil and gas companies. Encourage the use of passive sonar monitoring in place of active sonar testing and promote the development and use of potentially less disruptive marine vibroseis to replace seismic seafloor mapping and exploration where appropriate.

Most importantly, educate yourself and others about this problem that many are still unaware of. The most important thing you can do is spread the word. (Be sure to listen to the clips in each of the ocean noise examples to get a taste of what the underwater world can sound like every day to some animals). And remember, no one in the ocean is deaf or silent. Many marine species are blind by design, but not one entity cannot hear the symphony of sounds that we – as a species on this shared planet – create.

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See us in Undercurrent Magazine this Month!

We’re excited to see Juliet, Taino Divers, and Mona Island featured on the cover of March 2016’s Undercurrent Magazine. Thanks to Mike for traveling with us and such a honest and wonderful write up.

View the first page of the review! (Subscribers to Undercurrent can see the full review).

Quick note: We don’t take credit for calling Mona the Galapagos of the Caribbean, that’s all Puerto Rico’s doing! It probably has more to do with above water than under water.

We’ll be returning to Mona Island March 2017 if you’re interested in joining us then!

 

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The benefits of diving Nitrox

Liveaboard diving boat dive deck

Nitrox is quickly becoming an essential addition to your basic SCUBA certification. And its easy to see why. Diving with Enriched Air, or Nitrox as it is commonly referred to, allows you to stay underwater longer at depth – and that’s the whole reason we’re diving, right? To be underwater. Anything that allows us to safely stay below the surface for a few extra blissful minutes is well worth the investment.

It is especially worth it on a liveaboard, where your dive profiles can be a little more complex than when diving off a day boat. On Juliet, we offer 4 dives per day – 3 day dives and one night dive. Our dive profiles can look something like this:

Dive Time on Air* Time on Nitrox* 32%
Dive 1, 8:30am: 100′ dive at Bimini Barge 20 min 30 min
Dive 2, 11:30am: 80′ dive at Tuna Alley 22 min 35min
Dive 3, 2:30pm: 50′ dive at Miami Rita 67 min 2 hrs +
Dive 4, 7:00pm: 50′ night dive at Miami Rita 63 min 2 hrs +

*using PADI Air and EAN32 tables

As you can see, especially after the second dive, the benefits of using nitrox are dramatic. Then take into account the money you’ve spent not only on your vacation, but your gear, your training so far… why wouldn’t you want to double your time underwater? That is why you got certified, after all!

Even if you aren’t interested in extending your bottom time, don’t forget about the extra margin of safety allotted by breathing a gas that has less nitrogen in it, nitrogen being the inert gas in air that is responsible for most decompression illness. To breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you’re protecting yourself that much more. And most divers report that they feel less tired after a dive on Nitrox versus a dive on air due to the added oxygen in the air you are breathing. After 3-4 dives on a liveaboard vacation, that extra energy is pretty nice.

If you’re not Nitrox certified but want to know more about it, you can try Nitrox diving for free – our experienced instructors will explain the benefits of Nitrox, walk you through the very simple steps of checking your tank’s contents and planning a dive with Nitrox. And when you see the value in it, we can certify you on board!

Unlimited Nitrox (EAN32) fills: $100 (7-day) $80 (5-day) $150 (10-day). Proper certification required
Nitrox certification course: $250 (includes unlimited Nitrox fills, add $50 for 10-day)

Juliet Sailing and Diving also offers rebreather support (oxygen available by request, O2 booster system). Please contact the office well before your trip to inform us of your needs.

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Timshel to Cuba and the Panama Canal

Greetings from the Virgin Islands! Juliet has been exploring the gorgeous US and British VIs over the past few weeks and taking advantage of some truly stellar weather to treat recent passengers to a preview of St. Croix where we’ll be based next winter. The feedback from guests and our reception at the island have been incredible and we can’t wait to spend our 2016-17 winter season exploring the water around this friendly and stunningly picturesque island. See our facebook page for some teaser photos!

Juliet heads back to the Bahamas at the end of the month (there is still room on the Repositioning trip if you’re interested!) and our Spring is filling up. See the bottom of this newsletter for updated availability this spring and summer.

We’re also excited to announce an update from John on his Timshel Sailing project and her transit through the Panama Canal as well as an exciting opportunity in Cuba this Spring!

I am pleased to announce two very exciting events! The dates for the Panama Canal transit on Timshel are set. Before that adventure though, we are going to Cuba! Timshel has made her first leg of the journey from Miami to Key West, and all systems checked out well. We have had to push back the timeline from our original plan but are scheduling the Panama Canal trip for May 1-7, 2016. There is more work to be done onboard to make Timshel more comfortable for the trip, but the critical mechanical systems are in place and tested.

Wait, did somebody say Cuba? I received a call from my friend  Joe Weatherby today.  Joe is the man principally responsible for the sinking of the Vandenberg artificial reef in Key West. He and his company are fully permitted to bring boats to Cuba in a cultural exchange program. He invited Timshel to participate in a regatta of schooners that will travel from Key West to Havana March 29-April 2. Check out their website at http://www.havanachallenge.com/  We will travel in a flotilla across the Gulfstream to Havana Harbor where we will take part in a boat parade. Then we will tie up at Hemmingway Marina and spend a few days exploring Havana, smoking cigars and drinking Mojitos! From Havana we will set sail for Isla Mujeres in Mexico. Join us for that trip and stay a few days to dive the Cenotes or possibly fly out of Cuba. I need to find out the exact itinerary and travel parameters that are allowed, but will pass that information on to anyone who is interested. I do know that everyone will be required to have a passport with at least 6 months remaining before its expiration and at least two blank pages. We will need to submit information for everyone about a month ahead of time.

The Panama Canal transit will be a 7-day event. The transit itself can be done in one or two days, but  it is impossible to schedule in advance.  We need to allow enough time to make sure that we can go through during the allotted time. Once the vessel is inspected and our paperwork is complete, we have to wait for the Transit Authority to notify us of our transit time. This can happen right away or can take a few days. The following will be our schedule:

Sunday May 1st: Board Timshel any time at Shelter Bay Marina on the Caribbean side of the Canal Zone. The website for the marina is
Book your flights in and out of Panama City (airport code PTY). From the airport in Panama City, you can take a taxi or shuttle to the marina. We will get everyone settled in and brief you on the boat and the schedule.
Monday May 2nd: Our paperwork will be submitted by this point with a request to transit as soon as possible starting the morning of the 3rd. Monday will be devoted to an educational tour to prepare you for the transit. The Panama Canal has an incredible history, and being familiar with that history will greatly enrich the experience. We will charter a van to take everyone into Casco Viejo, Panama City to visit the Panama Canal Museum. After our visit to the museum, we will visit the viewing station at Miraflores Locks. At this stop we will learn more about the canal history and get to watch a ship transiting the locks. From there we head back to Timshel.
Tuesday-Friday: At this point our schedule will need to be flexible. We will transit at some point but do not know exactly when. While we wait there are options for excursions and activities, or just hang out by the pool at the marina. Once we transit, we will tie up to a mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club in Panama City on the Pacific side. There is a free 24-hour water taxi service that can take us to and from the dock. Again there are activities and excursions that we can take advantage of here. If we make it through the canal in time, we may be able to take Timshel out to some of the nearby islands for some sightseeing.
Saturday May 7th: Disembark Timshel at your convenience and head to the airport.

What to expect onboard:
Timshel is an unfinished boat. You will see a lot of painted steel and bare plywood! The mechanical systems are installed. We have two marine toilets, one shower with hot and cold water, a basic galley and most importantly air conditioning! We will have the bunks built out with mattresses and bedding, but it is rustic! Expect a twin sized mattress and not a lot of privacy. There are lights and 110 volt electrical receptacles spaced throughout the boat, so you can charge your cell phone. Some of the bunks will have individual lights but probably not all of them, so bringing a personal headlamp is not a bad idea.

Because the galley is small and unfinished, we will not be able to provide full meal service throughout your stay. We will provide a basic breakfast and lunch onboard but dinners will not be provided other than the evening of our canal transit. The marinas have restaurants, or you can head into town for dinner. Snacks and drinks will be available onboard.

These two excursions will be our first major fundraisers to help cover the cost of getting Timshel to the San Francisco Bay Area. We are asking for a suggested $2000 tax deductable donation to Timshel Sailing Expeditions to reserve a spot on either of these fun and informal bucket list experiences! We can accommodate 12 passengers on each of these trips. Our website is www.sailtimshel.org if you would like more information on this 501.c.3 non-profit corporation. We look forward to having you aboard!

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New roles, new, boats, but the same faces!

Dear Friends of Juliet,

We have some exciting news for all of you. After thirteen wonderful years owning and operating Juliet Sailing and Diving, I will be stepping away from the helm. Many of you have gotten to know Liza Hash over the past few years. At the end of 2015 she will be taking over as the owner of Juliet. Liza has been onboard for over three years and has always treated Juliet as if she were her own. She has the skill sets and work ethic to run Juliet successfully and loves being onboard. As many of you know, I have been gradually stepping away from the day to day operations and have been allowing others to step into that role. Juliet and you, the Juliet family, deserve an owner that will be onboard the majority of the time as I was in the past. There is no substitute in this business for an owner that is onboard the vessel, and I truly believe that Liza is the right person to carry on that torch. The business was never put up for sale. The decision to make this transition is based purely upon Liza earning this opportunity. I hope that you share my excitement for Liza and support her as I will.

I take great pride in having restored Juliet from a neglected state 13 years ago and giving her new life as a charter boat. I take greater pride in contributing to the creation of a community as positive and caring as the one we now share. I cannot express how grateful I am for your support and encouragement over the years. Juliet is more than a boat to me. She is an entity that has touched many lives in special ways. She represents principles such as family, community and home (even if for just one week a year). I look forward to remaining a part of the Juliet family albeit in a different role. I will still come out to run trips now and then and will be supporting Liza in any way possible behind the scenes.

One of the more fulfilling aspects of running Juliet has been the ability to share my love for the water and the marine environment. One of my goals is to be able to share that passion with people who cannot afford or could never dream of being on a sailboat out on the ocean. Along those lines, some associates and I have formed a California non-profit to take underprivileged and at risk youth sailing in the San Francisco Bay. We will be teaching them how to sail and hopefully inspiring them with the beauty and majesty of the ocean. We have an 85’ sailboat in Miami called Timshel that we are rebuilding for this purpose. We hope to have Timshel ready to travel soon and will be sailing her out to California where we will complete her restoration. Our 501.c.3 status has been approved by the IRS to receive tax deductible contributions and we have launched a website www.sailtimshel.org.

Our first fundraising event will be a memorable one. We will be offering spaces onboard Timshel for the Panama Canal transit in early 2016! The exact timing and details are yet to be determined. We will post those details on our website and send another email out to everyone soon if you are interested in joining us on this adventure. Thank you again for your support, and we hope to see you soon out on the water!

Fair Winds and Following Seas,
Captain John Beltramo

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Creatures galore in September!

Rumor has it passengers were treated to sightings of Sperm Whales, hammerheads, and loads of turtles last week. I haven’t received any pictures yet to share with you but as soon as I do I’ll let you know!

The water was flat flat flat! All week. So much so that they got down to not only Do It Again, but as far as OMG. That means, in short, it was an awesome week. 4 Dives at Long Bow, two drifts at Lost Medallion – just hitting the cream of the crop and it sounded amazing. Not to mention a wonderful group of divers on board to appreciate all the beauty Mother Nature has to offer in those untouched areas of the Bahamas that Juliet frequents.

Pictures and more updates soon!

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