Eat, Sleep, Dive: A live-aboard dive trip in the Turks and Caicos

November, 2022
Turks and Caicos Islands

Pam LeBlanc hangs just below the Turks and Caicos Explorer II dive boat. Chris LeBlanc photo

Almost immediately after jumping into the ocean after dark, I begin to regret my decision. 

But here I am, bobbing at the surface of the sea, just off the Turks and Caicos Islands, fully aware that sharks are feeding below.  

Still, it feels peaceful. Stars twinkle in the sky and water laps against my shoulders. A blinking red light dangles from the tank of air strapped to my back, and I’m holding a flashlight.  Besides, I know that sharks are more interested in eating bite-sized critters than full-grown humans.  

When the dive master gives the signal to descend, our group of four drops into the darkness. My heart rate slows a little, and I start to peer into the gloom.  

Sharks in the Turks and Caicos Islands 

At first, I see the usual cast of characters of any night dive –– jacks the size of dinner plates and schools of palm-sized fish.  

Then I look straight down. The beam of my flashlight cuts through the inky blackness, illuminating more than a dozen apex predators, some of them approaching 9 feet long. 

nurse shark

A large nurse shark rests on the ocean floor during the day. At night, the sharks hunt for food by flipping over rocks in search of crustaceans. Chris LeBlanc photo

I’m an experienced scuba diver, I remind myself, with about 500 dives in my logbook. Yet the scene unfolding beneath me during this night dive has my full attention. 

Normally docile nurse sharks, which look like giant catfish and nap on the sandy bottom during the day, swirl along the ocean floor, shoving their heads under rocks in search of tasty crustaceans.  

Related: Diving into French Polynesia’s dreamy Manihi 

One of the nurse sharks is lying upside down, immobile in the sand. It’s in a state called tonic immobility that sometimes occurs when a shark gets flipped on its back. The other nurse sharks ignore it in their search for lobsters, bony fish and urchins. 

I take my beam off the nurse sharks for a moment and pan the blackness around me with my light. A merry-go-round of Caribbean reef sharks, sleek and muscular, zoom in and out of my peripheral vision. They’re hunting for small fish, octopus and squid. Some are longer than me.  

Sharks are an important part of the ecosystem. A healthy shark population is a good thing. 

I watch, mesmerized, then signal to the others. It’s time to leave the sharks to their dinner party. We make our way back to the Turks & Caicos Explorer II, the live-aboard dive boat where I’m spending the week. 

Trying a live-aboard dive trip 

Turks and Caicos Islands

Dive master Jo Swannel, right, talks to two divers aboard the Turks and Caicos Explorer II. Pam LeBlanc photo

I learned to scuba dive about 25 years ago. At first, I’d stay in a hotel on shore and book a dive or two at a time from the local dive shop wherever I traveled. I’ve done this in Mexico, Honduras and the Cayman Islands.  

Then someone suggested a live-aboard dive vacation, where passengers spend an entire week aboard a small boat, doing nothing but diving, eating and sleeping.  

I wondered if I’d go stir crazy.  

I didn’t; diving is so tiring that all I wanted to do was nap or read between dives. 

Live-aboard dive trips aren’t for everyone. But if you’re happy making four or five dives a day like I am, I’d recommend trying one.  

Related: A fall paddle down the Devils River 

For me, it’s the pinnacle of relaxation. I don’t have to make any decisions other than whether I’m having a glass of wine with dinner or doing the night dive. (Once you have a sip of alcohol, you’re done diving for the day.)  

The Turks & Caicos Explorer II 

squirrel fish

A squirrel fish hides in a sponge on the reef off the Turks and Caicos Islands. Pam LeBlanc photo

Schedules vary by boat, but days aboard the Turks and Caicos Explorer II begin with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and the first dive of the day at 8:15 a.m.  

Most days, we make two dives before lunch and two dives after lunch, with hour-long breaks in between. After dinner, there’s always a night dive option for those who skip the booze. 

Every dive boat has a chef. Ours serves up an array of soups, salads and entrees like steaks, curries and fish dishes. She even delivers a special dessert on our anniversary. 

Rooms are no-frills and snug; you’re staying on a boat, after all. There’s a bed (sometimes two bunks), a teeny marine bathroom with a toilet, shower and sink, and a couple of drawers to stash your clothes. Luckily, other than your own dive gear, you don’t need much on a dive trip.  

Our trip in the Turks and Caicos Islands 

octopus

An octopus blends into the reef during a dive in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Chris LeBlanc photo

After arriving in Providenciales, we took a taxi to the marina, where we boarded our boat on a Saturday afternoon. We removed our shoes and dropped them in a basket; we wouldn’t need them for an entire week. Our trip had just five passengers, although the boat can hold 20. 

During our week at sea, we had the option of 27 dives. We skipped three. Passengers who make every dive earn the Iron Diver Award. (Naps are sometimes more important than bragging rights, in my opinion). 

What we saw in the Turks and Caicos Islands 

The first dive set expectations high. 

A pair of dolphins zoomed past, and a curious reef shark cruised by to check us out. We saw eels poking their heads out of the coral formations growing along the wall, where the water depth dropped from about 50 feet to about 100 feet. Lobsters waved their tentacles at us; huge crabs retreated into their holes. 

The marine life was here, but the coral didn’t look as healthy as I remembered from my last visit to the Turks and Caicos 10 years ago. I remember thinking then that the reef here was among the healthiest looking that I’d seen.  

Since then, I’ve scuba dived around the globe, from Fiji to the Galapagos Islands, all over the Caribbean, and around Hawaii. Coral reefs everywhere are in decline, stressed by warming water and human-caused pollutants. Here in the Turks and Caicos Islands, some of the coral was damaged in Hurricane Irma in 2017, our crew noted. 

An array of creatures in the Turks and Caicos Islands 

Still, we saw abundant marine life. 

Tiny jawfish floated like ghosts above their holes in the sand, slender trumpetfish hid in coral branches, and a peacock flounder scooted across the bottom, purple spots appearing, then vanishing, on its flat, pancake-shaped body.  

Secretary blenny

A secretary blenny, about the size of a pinkie fingernail, peeks out of a hole on an underwater structure. Pam LeBlanc photo

One day, we explored the wreckage of an underwater dome, a prop used in an old French reality television program. I didn’t expect to like the site, but it ranked among the best of the trip. That metal structure, abandoned some 25 years ago, now provides shelter to a host of tiny organisms. We looked closely and found tiny secretary blennies, with fat lips and wide eyes. Colorful flamingo tongues, a type of marine snail, clung to the coral. An octopus scurried out of a hidey-hole and scooted away, changing color as it went. 

Turks and Caicos Islands

Coral is made up of individual polyps. Pam LeBlanc photo

On another dive, we found a squatty batfish, with a grumpy expression on its face. And on the last dive of the trip, a spotted eagle ray, a flying carpet of a creature decorated in purple spots, gracefully glided past. 

Back to those sharks 

In the end, I’m glad I did the night-time shark dive.  

Watching big carnivores in action in their natural environment –– not being fed –– reminds me that wild things still exist. Humans, I think, spend too much time sitting in front of computer screens and sitting on couches. 

We all need a few hungry predators in our lives. 

If You Go

Getting there:

Fly from Austin to Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos Islands, via American Airlines, Delta or United Airlines. You’ll have to connect through Atlanta, Houston, Dallas or Miami. 

Stay:

A week aboard the Turks & Caicos Explorer II costs about $3,000 per person, not including a fuel surcharge, which you’ll have to pay on board. Sometimes Explorer Ventures, which operates dive boats around the Caribbean and beyond, offers deals. We caught a buy one, get one half off special.  

Do:

Eat, sleep, dive. That’s it, and if you’re into diving, that’s all you want. 

Eat & Drink:

The cost includes all meals, and you won’t starve. There’s breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus snacks like fresh-baked cookies or meat and cheese between meals. Beer, wine and liquor are included, too. 

Pro Tip:

Don’t use sunscreen –– or at least use reef-safe sunscreen. Wear a rash guard or a wetsuit to cover exposed skin while you’re diving, and sunglasses and a hat to shield your face when you’re relaxing on the deck.  

Follow Austin Travels


Austin Travels is a women-owned, Austin-based travel magazine committed to highlighting destinations in Texas and beyond through the lenses of diverse and talented writers.

Subscribe

Three and a half cool days in historic Pensacola, Florida

Three and a half cool days in historic Pensacola, Florida

In Wydaho, stay in Idaho and ski at Grand Targhee in Wyoming

In Wydaho, stay in Idaho and ski at Grand Targhee in Wyoming

48 hours in New York City

48 hours in New York City

From scenery to bars, our picks for the best of North American ski resorts

From scenery to bars, our picks for the best of North American ski resorts

Where to eat — and how to bathe — when you’re in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Where to eat — and how to bathe — when you’re in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Eat, Sleep, Dive: A live-aboard dive trip in the Turks and Caicos

Eat, Sleep, Dive: A live-aboard dive trip in the Turks and Caicos

Dreaming of a trip Down Under? Plan an Australia adventure in 2023

Dreaming of a trip Down Under? Plan an Australia adventure in 2023

To Los Angeles, with love

To Los Angeles, with love

Three days in Monterey: Capturing California’s coastal charms

Three days in Monterey: Capturing California’s coastal charms

New terrain, new lifts and more: What’s new at ski resorts this season

New terrain, new lifts and more: What’s new at ski resorts this season

Surf Ireland: Catching waves on the Emerald Isle

Surf Ireland: Catching waves on the Emerald Isle

Discover the draws of Door County, Wisconsin

Discover the draws of Door County, Wisconsin

St. John: A Perfect Week in Paradise

St. John: A Perfect Week in Paradise

A beginner’s guide to Universal Orlando with kids

A beginner’s guide to Universal Orlando with kids

From rockets to caverns, 5 fun adventures in Huntsville, Alabama

From rockets to caverns, 5 fun adventures in Huntsville, Alabama 

Destin delights: How to spend a long weekend on the Florida Panhandle

Destin delights: How to spend a long weekend on the Florida Panhandle

Learning all things Louisiana at Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge

Learning all things Louisiana at Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge

New draws to Denver

New draws to Denver

Dreaming of Disney World? 10 takeaways for a less daunting, more magical trip

Dreaming of Disney World? 10 takeaways for a less daunting, more magical trip

A rare retreat to mountainside luxury at Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch

A rare retreat to mountainside luxury at Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch

Discovering magical mermaids, memories at Weeki Wachee Springs

Discovering magical mermaids, memories at Weeki Wachee Springs

36 hours of family fun in New Orleans

36 hours of family fun in New Orleans

Recapturing Zen at Kripalu

Recapturing Zen at Kripalu

Soaking in family fun in Seattle

Soaking in family fun in Seattle

Scalloping, saltwater springs and seashell strolls on Florida’s Sports Coast

Scalloping, saltwater springs and seashell strolls on Florida’s Sports Coast

Slowing down by the sea in Ambergris Caye, Belize

Slowing down by the sea in Ambergris Caye, Belize

Frolicking in Finland: Contemporary design and Nordic adventures await

Frolicking in Finland: Contemporary design and Nordic adventures await

At Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a ‘Festivarian’ is born

At Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a ‘Festivarian’ is born

Summer in South Haven, Michigan

Summer in South Haven, Michigan

The Green O: Mother Nature’s Posh Playground

The Green O: Mother Nature’s Posh Playground

Walking in Memphis: History, soul music and good trouble in Tennessee

Walking in Memphis: History, soul music and good trouble in Tennessee

Fishing, golf and more in the Santee region of South Carolina

Fishing, golf and more in the Santee region of South Carolina

Family friendly fun during a quick trip to New York City

Family friendly fun during a quick trip to New York City

A Mother’s Day getaway to charming Charleston

A Mother’s Day getaway to charming Charleston

Playing in Portland, Austin’s Unofficial Sister City

Playing in Portland, Austin’s Unofficial Sister City

Spring and summer stops in Southern Colorado

Spring and summer stops in Southern Colorado

Skiing, snowshoeing and biking in breathtaking Banff

Skiing, snowshoeing and biking in breathtaking Banff

Sweet spots for family fun in Santa Barbara, California

Sweet spots for family fun in Santa Barbara, California

8 Tips for Skiing with Kids

8 Tips for Skiing with Kids

Chilling Out at Beaver Creek Resort

Chilling Out at Beaver Creek Resort

7 magical things to do in Door County, Wisconsin

7 magical things to do in Door County, Wisconsin

Family fun: 5 can’t-miss attractions when visiting St. Louis

Family fun: 5 can’t-miss attractions when visiting St. Louis

Family travel: Calm and cool in Los Angeles

Family travel: Calm and cool in Los Angeles

Mother-daughter getaway: Finding MGK, music and magic in Cleveland

Mother-daughter getaway: Finding MGK, music and magic in Cleveland

COVID Testing and Traveling Abroad: Know Before You Go

COVID Testing and Traveling Abroad: Know Before You Go

A rare glimpse at pearl farming in Tahiti

A rare glimpse at pearl farming in Tahiti

Family travel: Meandering through Montreal

Family travel: Meandering through Montreal

Five reasons Colorado’s Winter Park Resort should be on your family’s ski trip list

Five reasons Colorado’s Winter Park Resort should be on your family’s ski trip list

Squeezing in every snowy moment at Solitude Mountain Resort

Squeezing in every snowy moment at Solitude Mountain Resort

Here’s what’s new at resorts for the 2021-22 ski season

Here’s what’s new at resorts for the 2021-22 ski season

Big Easy delights: Food, fun and family in New Orleans

Big Easy delights: Food, fun and family in New Orleans

Uncovering the magic and mystery of Washington State

Uncovering the magic and mystery of Washington State

Red River is ripe with reasons to visit

Red River is ripe with reasons to visit

Must-Do’s in Denver

Must-Do’s in Denver

Falling for Cape Cod’s off-season charms

Falling for Cape Cod’s off-season charms

Heeding the call of Nashville’s siren song

Heeding the call of Nashville’s siren song

7 ideas for family fun in Panama City Beach, Florida

7 ideas for family fun in Panama City Beach, Florida

Reading Roxane Gay at the Mauna Lani in Hawaii

Reading Roxane Gay at the Mauna Lani in Hawaii

Keeping it cool in Grand Teton and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Keeping it cool in Grand Teton and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Summertime in Colorado: 4 spots ripe for family fun

Summertime in Colorado: 4 spots ripe for family fun

Conquering Austria’s Alpine Road

Conquering Austria’s Alpine Road

Fort Collins: Paddling, Hiking and Biking, Oh My

Fort Collins: Paddling, Hiking and Biking, Oh My

A new tour through the past at Oak Alley Plantation

A new tour through the past at Oak Alley Plantation

Explore the gravel roads around Fort Collins on the FoCo Fondo bike ride

Explore the gravel roads around Fort Collins on the FoCo Fondo bike ride

Fully vaccinated? Traveling to Puerto Rico just got breezier

Fully vaccinated? Traveling to Puerto Rico just got breezier

To date a matador: Seduced by Spain

To date a matador: Seduced by Spain

Cabin culture: Escape the crowds at these remote U.S. hideaways

Cabin culture: Escape the crowds at these remote U.S. hideaways

Essay: Can we really leave no trace when we travel?

Essay: Can we really leave no trace when we travel?

Mountain biking mecca Mesa Verde Country is a must-ride

Mountain biking mecca Mesa Verde Country is a must-ride

Bike to Bentonville for 150 miles of trails and much more

Bike to Bentonville for 150 miles of trails and much more

Colorado’s Calling –– Take a summer trip to this cool state now

Colorado’s Calling –– Take a summer trip to this cool state now

Set your sights on Steamboat Springs this summer

Set your sights on Steamboat Springs this summer

A foodie’s guide to eating (and foraging and making chocolate) in Costa Rica

A foodie’s guide to eating (and foraging and making chocolate) in Costa Rica

Discovering hints of home in Red River

Discovering hints of home in Red River

New Mexico road trip: 10 top experiences, from Albuquerque to White Sands

New Mexico road trip: 10 top experiences, from Albuquerque to White Sands

Diving into the history of falconry at The Broadmoor

Diving into the history of falconry at The Broadmoor

5 questions with influencer Jeff Jenkins, who helps ‘chubby people travel the world’

5 questions with influencer Jeff Jenkins, who helps ‘chubby people travel the world’

Finding a ranch to call home in Granby, Colorado

Finding a ranch to call home in Granby, Colorado

Oyster safaris and mystery solving along Sweden’s Bohuslan Coast

Oyster safaris and mystery solving along Sweden’s Bohuslan Coast

Escape to Los Angeles: 5 fun things to do in Southern California

Escape to Los Angeles: 5 fun things to do in Southern California

Adventures Await: Roaming the road in a campervan

Adventures Await: Roaming the road in a campervan

If you’re heading west, 5 reasons to visit the California gem of Terranea

If you’re heading west, 5 reasons to visit the California gem of Terranea

For every season: A house divided over Estes Park, Colorado

For every season: A house divided over Estes Park, Colorado

The soaking life: A baker’s dozen of the best historic spas across the world

The soaking life: A baker’s dozen of the best historic spas across the world

California escape: Peace, harmony and inspiration in Joshua Tree and Palm Springs

California escape: Peace, harmony and inspiration in Joshua Tree and Palm Springs

When the snow melts and winter crowds leave, these Colorado spots are the coolest

When the snow melts and winter crowds leave, these Colorado spots are the coolest

Dreaming of a Virgin Islands Vacation? Tips for traveling to St. John right now

Dreaming of a Virgin Islands Vacation? Tips for traveling to St. John right now

Dreaming of the RV life? Lessons learned from a 10-day national park road trip

Dreaming of the RV life? Lessons learned from a 10-day national park road trip

Colorado Ski Gems

Colorado Ski Gems

Escape crowds and capture memories in snowy Southwest Montana

Escape crowds and capture memories in snowy Southwest Montana

What to know before you book a ski trip during a pandemic

What to know before you book a ski trip during a pandemic