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.