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March 25, 2010 11:52 AM Pacific (GMT -8)

Walker's Cay: Sharks and Diving Fun in the Northern Bahamas
by Bill Harrigan

Like many divers, I'm jazzed when I see a shark. A little edgy and very respectful, of course, but mostly I'm excited by their purposeful beauty. A shark sighting goes in my logbook with all caps and an exclamation point, like this: SHARK! Two sharks merit another exclamation point: SHARKS!! After the Walker's Cay Shark Rodeo, I used up a whole line just putting in the exclamation points. There's nothing like swimming with more than a hundred sharks, all cruising around in an area about the size of an Olympic swimming pool, to put some excitement in your diving.

Developed by Gary Adkison and Barry Albury, manager and assistant manager, respectively, of Walker's Cay Undersea Adventures, the Shark Rodeo is a unique opportunity to view wild sharks in their natural habitat. Upwards of 100 Caribbean reef sharks, black-tipped reef sharks and nurse sharks show up for the event. The key to the Shark Rodeo is the "chumsicle," a frozen confection of discarded fish parts recycled from the catch of the sportfishing boats at Walker's Cay. The chumsicle is suspended in mid-water after the divers have assembled on the bottom. This method of feeding controls the pace of the rodeo by limiting the strength of the food stimulus and also avoids any association between the divers and the food. Divers must stay 15 to 20 feet from the "hot zone" around the chumsicle but are free to move around and even touch the sharks lightly on their backs or bellies.

Naturally, the Shark Rodeo is not the only diving attraction at Walker's Cay. Shark Canyon is typical of the deeper diving available. It starts on the edge of a plateau in 70 feet of water and drops quickly to the sand at 95 feet. A series of narrow cuts provide habitat for sleeping Caribbean reef sharks and loggerhead turtles. There are wreck dives too, including a pair of tugboats called the Dorothy H. and the Esther K., which were sunk in about 100 feet of water several years ago. Many shallow dives, like Magic Kingdom and White Hole, are also found in the waters surrounding Walker's Cay. The maximum depth at these sites is about 45 feet and the tall coral mounds reach up nearly to the surface, forming walls, mini-canyons and labyrinths that will challenge your sense of direction.

Walker's Cay Undersea Adventures is a full service operation, providing instruction from resort courses all the way through the PADI Instructor Development Course. Their dive boats include a Pro-42 jet-drive boat called Sea Vista, a Burpee 45 called Sea Below, and Sea View, a Maine Coaster 35. All three boats feature marine heads, camera rinse barrels, dry storage areas and big, solid ladders. Fresh clean towels are provided aboard and a complete line of rental equipment is available.

Located in the western end of the Abacos, the northernmost island group in The Bahamas, Walker's Cay is owned by the Alplanalp family and features an airstrip, a 62-room hotel, three villas, a guesthouse and a 75-slip marina on its 100 acres. The entire island can be walked from one end to the other in less than half an hour, but only if you don't linger on the long white ribbon of beach to enjoy the view. The hotel has two swimming pools, a whirlpool and two restaurants. Lunch is served in the Lobster Trap, a casual restaurant overlooking the marina, while breakfast and dinner are taken in the Conch Pearl Restaurant, an elegant dining room looking out across the reefs to the north.

Dress is island casual: shorts and T-shirt by day, shirt with collar and perhaps long trousers for dinner. All visitors must show proof of citizenship, but passports and visas are not required for citizens of the U.S. who stay less than eight months and citizens of the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth countries who stay three weeks or less. The Bahamian dollar is the official currency, but U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere. Electricity is the same as the U.S. standard (110V 60Hz), and English is the official language.

Transportation to Walker's Cay is provided by Pan Am Air Bridge, which operates a fleet of amphibian aircraft out of their own terminal at Ft. Lauderdale International Airport in nearby Florida. The service is excellent and their safety record is one of the best in the airline industry. Landing in the water on one of their twin turboprops makes Walker's Cay seem so much like a real life Fantasy Island that you almost expect to see the gentleman in the white suit and his diminutive companion when you step out of the seaplane.

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