Friday, 4 January 2008

Underwater Grenada Ghost Story




On the last Sunday of 2007, the Toronto Sun ran a feature that I wrote about diving aboard the Wind Dancer in the waters of Grenada. The story is about diving, but, it is about ghosts too. I have received a couple of emails about the cover photo that the Sun published. It shows asmall eel with tiny yellow cleaning fish perched on its head. Unfortunately, someone at the Sun thought the cleaning fish was actually the eel's mouth and as a result the photograph was run upside down. The Sun gets about a million readers on Sunday and so far only three people have noticed. I have reprinted the cover and the original photograph above.

A Scuba Vacation Aboard The Wind Dancer
A ghost of a chance for eerie underwater sightings in warm Grenadian waters

By Stephen Weir June 19, 2007

Not counting mermaid sightings, underwater ghost encounters are hard to come by. On land, specters rattle chains, throw pottery and hide car keys (at least mine do), But underwater? Well, at least in Grenadian waters, poltergeists wear scuba tanks.

The Wind Dancer, a popular live-aboard dive boat, has recently begun offering six-night scuba trips from Grenada to the island of Bequia and back. The small, exclusive 9-suite cruiser takes passengers to hard-to-reach coral reefs where they dive all day … and night time too. Many of the sites that are dove, have never been visited by anyone – at least living – before.

Live-aboard scuba tends to be an elitist adventure sport with a strong environmental bent. Divers pay thousands of dollars to stay at sea on boats that are comfortable, but spartan.

In a part of the world where water temperatures are rising, coral reefs are rapidly dying and fish stocks have all but disappeared, Grenada and sister-island Carriacou stand out for their vibrant underwater life. Undamaged coral reefs, forests of sponges and millions and millions of colourful fish make for the real spice of life in Grenada.

Grenada – the Spice Island – is not on most travelers’ radar screens. For some reason – be it the wonky air links, the negativity caused by the US invasion and liberation in 1983 or the lack of beach crowding hotels –this idyllic nation remains undiscovered.

The Wind Dancer’s recent arrival in the southeastern Caribbean Sea, has been an instant hit. This 40 metre long live aboard, stays at sea for five nights visiting the best dive sites available. The boat is attracting experienced Canadians who enjoy non-stop diving at a variety of scuba sites including deep dives, shipwrecks, coral reefs, walls, underwater volcano vents and, yes, haunted sites.

So what about the ghosts? It was at the beginning of the Wind Diver’s winter’s season. The ship was carrying 11 passengers (maximum is 20) and 10-crew members and had set a course from Grenada to the island of Bequia and back. These are people – most in their fifties -- who don’t blink at the $2,000+ for a six day cruise. The ship offers dive lessons, rents gear, and will even supply a lucky charm to keep away the ghosts!

Befitting a haunted escapade, many of the Wind Dancer sites have spooky names –Face of the Devil, Cathedral, and Devil’s Table. Other stops simply have weird stuff to see – on one reef a cluster of small hard tube sponges look like that distorted face in Edvard Munch’s Scream. There is a pirate’s air-filled cave that is only reached by swimming through an underwater tunnel.

At another site, a wreck lies with its bow deep in the sand. A dozen oversized nurse sharks gather in a pinwheel around the hulk’s nose. As a diver approaches the nurse sharks shake themselves awake, disperse and then magically return to the exact same spot once the humans are out of sight.

Then there are the underwater smells of Satan! Even though the active volcano on Montserrat is far to the north, there are stretches of sand near the island of Carriacou where divers can swim through stinky bubbles of hot air rising from lava vents under the sea floor.

It was on the second day when “it” happened. The Wind Dancer was anchored at the edge of the National Park of the Tobago Cays (southern end of the St Vincent and the Grenadines). Eleven divers back flipped off two tender boats into the warm soupy Caribbean waters and spent an hour underwater. Three of the divers were Canadian doctors, a fourth was a retired Hamilton pharmacist.

When a dive ended the passengers would compare notes to see who saw what. Turtles. Mating Eels. Skittish sharks. Lobster, lobster on lobster on lobster. Interesting, but, quickly becoming standard fare.

“ Did any of you see the visitor? I saw another diver,” asked one of the Canadians.” He was wearing a white T-shirt, and a scuba tank. He waved at me!”

The passengers were by now on the stern of the Wind Dancer taking turns rinsing off in the communal shower. Roll call was immediately taken. Everyone was accounted for, none of whom were wearing T-shirts. There were no other boats in sight and the nearby island was devoid of life. He literally had seen a ghost.

For the next three days the boat moved slowly southward through dead calm seas back to Grenada. Blessed with uninhabited islands to dive near, the passengers saw almost everything there is to see in the lower Caribbean. Big and colourful fish. Squads of eagle rays. Loopy turtles. Fleeting glimpses of reef shark. Yet, on every dive everyone kept an eye out for the mysterious man in white.

The last night at sea had the Wind Dancer moored near Frigate Island (named after the isles only inhabitants) within the shadows of Grenada’s cloud capped mountains. This was the final chance to lay the scuba spirit to rest. The Canadian contingent had been talking haunted seas ad nausea and the others figured it was time to Ghostbust the cruise.

The four including the man who made the original ghost sighting rolled off their tender first descended alongside a steep black rock wall. A large shark circled in their light. The rest stayed in the boat for a moment or so and instructed the driver to drop them in the water a few meters ahead of the first group.

Underwater, a diver quickly slipped on a white T-shirt and an indestructible Tilley hat. When the quartet came into view, they saw a shimmering site. All the other divers shone their lights on the diver in white who waved and disappeared into the gloom.

It was a sub sea exorcism. Although the mystery of the original ghostly diver was never solved, the appearance of the Tilley hatted ringer had everyone muttering the word “Hoax”.

The last day at sea there was time to visit the real ghost of Grenada, the hard luck Bianca C. Twice sunk, the remains of the passenger ship are the largest wreck in the Caribbean.

Construction of her began in France in 1944. Before she could be completed, the vessel was sunk by a German U-boat. Raised, the ship was then rebuilt. In 1961 the 200-metre long vessel, now an Italian cruise ship, steamed into Grenada’s St George’s harbour. An explosion killed two and injured eight. Eight hundred people made it to shore and then the burning Bianca C was towed out to sea.

She sank near the Grand Anse Beach, near the Wind Dancer mooring. The wreck lies on her side barely within sport diving limits. The obligatory swim through the ship’s still intact swimming pool is at a depth of 42 metres.

The diving now done, the Dancer heads to port. The purser arranges for afternoon ground tours, most of the guests head into St. George’s. Although the island was all but leveled by a hurricane three years ago, this historic fort city has been lovingly restored.

The final dinner is served on land, under the stars. With the gear and one white T-shirts still hung up to dry, the topic of ghosts is never raised. The only spirit that all the divers see is brought to the table by the unsuspecting waiter.

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