Bahamas SCUBA Blog
Thursday, Day 6 | Excursionsby NCCS Students Catherine Williams and Blake Konchak
The pastor notified us that the work he’d planned for us to do had been cut short due to a malfunction of a pressure washer. So, the boys and girls split and went in two different directions for the day.
Here is the girls’ story….we rearranged some things and went to the shark lab to learn about what they do and why they do it. Some interesting things we learned was that The Bahamas is the only national shark sanctuary and the most northwestern part of Bahamas is covered in mangroves. The shark lab was founded in 1990 by Dr. Samuel Gruber. There are over 1,000 international volunteers that have come to the site and help. They also offer internships and biology classes for various universities. This gives them a firsthand experience in shark science at the research station. The Bimini Shark Lab has even had footage of sharks on National Geographic and BBC. After the lecture on sharks and the research they have, the station manager allowed us to walk out back and stand in the water to observe lemon sharks. After standing for about 10 minutes, we were able to see two lemon sharks who would not get close to us at all. Once we left the shark lab, we went back to the house to get ready for dinner and devotion.
After hearing the news, a group of boys took no time to get Uncle Billy’s boat loaded to head south on a fishing excursion. Our trip began with 1 to 3 foot swells and an easy 22 mile run south past Cat Cay. Our first stop would include lobstering and diving whilst searching the rocks and ledges within 4 to 20 feet of water. We had managed to reach our spot during slack tide which meant the current would be nonexistent. Once we dove in we were surrounded by beautiful coral rock and reef lines, under each rock laid a lobster waiting to be snatched. Our lobster adventure would end with 26 lobsters, well within the 10 tail per person limit. Concluding this stop, we ran about 2 miles west to a drop off in about 250 feet of water. This stop would include deep jigging which is a fishing practice commonly found in the Caribbean to harvest game fish effectively. This stop would be short and sweet as the swells grew larger to 5 to 8 feet. During our run back to the Conch Shack, the boys would go through cells of thunderstorms and choppy seas. As we looked back on our saltwater adventure, it was easy to see God’s power and order in place in His creation. From His beautiful coral reefs and creatures to His mighty seas and storms, it is easy to say how great our God is.
Tonight’s dinner was baked chicken and rice, potato salad, coleslaw and white bread. It was good as always and shortly thereafter, we started devotion. We immediately realized something was different because Mrs. Konchak had her very important blue binder. She shared with us that our family wrote us letters of support for this journey, and tonight would be the night to pass them out and read them. So many people had happy tears as they realized how blessed they were to have such amazing people love them. This experience has allowed us to hang out with people from school they we normally don’t and really see the wide wonders of God’s beauty.
Wednesday, Day 5 | Sharks
Written by NCCS Junior Julia Haralson
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
We started the day in anticipation because we knew today was the day. The dive everyone had been waiting for. The Hammerhead Dive. The day started a little bit hectic in both houses because everyone wanted to make sure they had everything for a day on the water. The night before consisted of a much needed snack run and spending way too much money. However, the snacks were much needed and almost gone by the end of the day.
Around 8:30 a.m. the boys headed to the dock at Neal Watson Scuba Center and started setting up. Once the girls got there and everyone was set up on the dive boat, we headed to our first adventure: Honeymoon Harbor. We spent about an hour snorkeling, petting and feeding stingrays. Ms. Jones even got in the water with us. While we were snorkeling, some of the dive crew found fresh conch and cut it up for a few of us right on the beach. After snorkeling, we got back on the dive boat and headed to the hammerhead dive.
Because there are many different sharks and uncontrolled variables, we have to wait to get in the water until a hammerhead shark decides to stick around. This can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours. After three hours of snorkeling, free diving, and sun tanning we found a hammerhead, named Enzo. She decided to stick around, which meant it was time to get in the water. Nothing quite compares to the feeling you get when you’re 30 feet underwater with animals three times the size of you, watching the dive crew feed them right in front of your face. Everyone sat on the bottom with a piece of PVC pipe that was around 3 feet long that was to be used if a shark got too close. There was potential for four different species of shark to be in the water: tiger, hammerhead, nurse, and bull sharks were all possibilities. If any of them got too close, we were instructed to use our PVC pipe to gently push them in another direction.
After about an hour long dive, we all headed back up to the boat ready for dinner. Before we got off the boat, we spent time helping the crew unload the gear. We were able to actually pray with them before walking over to Bimini Big Game Club for some smoothies. We then met up with Tones (the man providing most of our meals) and got our dinner.
After about an hour we ALL loaded into Uncle Bill’s fishing boat (meant for about 8 people) and headed back to the boys dock. The girls grabbed their food and jumped in the golf carts just in time for the rain to start. Julia lost a croc off the golf cart on the way home, and the girls had to stop so she could grab it. The rest of the night was filled with games, laughs, late night snacks and some very much needed sleep.
Tuesday, Day 4 | Flexibility
Yesterday’s burst of the water pipe meant that we couldn't do anything until a plumber was called. An interesting note about the pipe was that it was caused by a leaky pipe, pierced by a screw. This screw was used to install a bathroom vanity counter about 20 years ago, but it didn't burst until now, while we were here. This meant that our entire schedule was shuffled around. We were supposed to meet Pastor Rolle today, but it was moved to Thursday instead. The timing of this incident and the impact on our itinerary led some to believe that it happened for a reason. Perhaps it will mean we've been moved to God's itinerary in order to have a bigger impact on the people we meet.
Even though we started late, the day was by no means a light one. After the pipe was repaired, we set off in small groups across the island of South Bimini to do some service work. Our task was to clean up litter strewn across the isle. During this road and beach cleanup ,we gathered at least 100 pounds of trash! Unfortunately, there was still a considerable amount left. It's especially hard to get the hundreds of little pieces that plastic can often shatter into. All this plastic gets into the ocean. Not only is it a horrible sight (one need look no further than the Pacific garbage patch), but it also kills marine animals. And it harms humans, as well. Plastic in the environment gets into the food we eat and the water we drink. Chemical additives in plastic that give it desirable properties can cause a myriad of health issues. These include direct toxins like lead, cadmium, and mercury, as well as carcinogens, and hormone disruptors that damage the endocrine system. Many people have probably heard this so many times that they've grown desensitized to it, but pollution is a serious issue. Our students benefitted from the education and service!
After lunch, we hopped on Uncle Bill's boat to head over to North Bimini for our first open water dive of the trip. After getting our gear loaded, we took the boat out on the seas. Our first stop was the wreck of the Sapona. During World War I, the war effort meant that steel was in short supply, and so engineers developed alternative methods for building ships out of various materials. One of these was concrete ships. It sounds like it wouldn't work, but designed correctly, a ship made of concrete can float. Unfortunately, it was only used briefly before the war ended. After the war, it was purchased by a businessman named Carl Fisher –one of the pioneers of Miami's development– who turned it into a floating nightclub/casino during the prohibition era. It changed hands a few times, before eventually being sunk by a hurricane.
When we arrived at the wreck the boat crew helped get us set up and into the water. We were having the experience of diving a shipwreck full of ocean life, but the ship's crew was still a standout of the day. The opportunity to interact with them was a blessing; they were incredibly patient and helpful, making sure everyone stayed safe and got in the water alright. We had had training before, but for many this was a leap of faith into the water, diving into the ocean for the first time.
The diving experience itself was incredible. The marine life was beautiful, and we saw everything from tropical fish to turtles to stingrays. For our second dive, we were jumping straight into shark-infested waters. There were dozens of Reef Sharks in the ocean, and we dove right into the middle of them. As much faith as the first dive took, this one may have required more. But everyone in the group went for it without apprehension. Midway through the dive a few people started looking for (and found) shark teeth. And in another display of their character, the guides got down there with us, finding teeth and handing them out to the group as souvenirs.
After diving, we picked up dinner, hopped on Uncle Bill's boat, and headed home. After eating and doing a devotion, we went to bed, excited for the adventures to come tomorrow.
Swimming with sharks really gives one a new perspective on things. We were getting as close as three feet away, but no one got bitten. Sharks are commonly viewed as dangerous killing machines who will instantly maul a human if given a chance. But we were right there next to them and were completely unscathed. In a broader application, we often view nature in opposition to us. A chaos at odds with human existence that we must execute control over. But the experience of swimming in a pit of sharks unharmed can provide a different perspective. Nature may sometimes be chaotic, but it can also be orderly. The skillful design of God shows through in all creatures. In their natural state, sharks are relatively docile. You can be mere feet from them, and they won't attack. But when they leave this equilibrium they become dangerous.
And as much as this applies to sharks, it also applies to us as humans. We saw an example of this earlier today. Humans are given a biblical command to be masters of God's creation. But through pollution of the environment for convenience, we've caused irreparable damage. A big personal takeaway from this trip is the importance of taking responsibility as Christians towards our role of stewards of God’s wonders.
Monday, Day 3 | Bull SharksCarefully, we pull the sheets off our skin. Many of us have not heeded the warning of Mr. and Mrs. Konchak to lather up with plenty of sunscreen and are feeling the consequences this morning. Lesson learned -- on goes the sunscreen today!
Eventually, after two shuttles on Mr. Konchak’s boat, we made it to Neil Watson‘s dive shop. Once we checked in and provided all waivers and dive cards, our host Gigi walked us over to the Bimini Big Game Club. We sat and participated in an hour-long discussion on shark science. Everything from feeding habits, migration, patterns, and breathing cycles for sharks was discussed. Our speaker, Jillian did an excellent job framing our perspective about sharks.
Immediately following the shark presentation, we headed to the dock where we would break into three groups to take turns with the activities. One group would stay at the bull shark cage dive. One group would hang out by the pool at the Bimini Big Game club. One group would go to the Straw Market to become more acquainted with the local fare.
During the cage dive, students were able to use SNUBA apparatus to jump into the cage at the end of the dock in the turquoise blue waters of the Bahamas, where they would watch nurse sharks, tarpon, mangrove, snapper, and tilefish. A long tethered regulator, weight belt, and mask were all that was needed to observe these amazing creatures. Unfortunately, the first group would not experience a bull shark that day. Around 1 o’clock, we wrapped up the first group and headed over to Tones’ restaurant where we would be treated to a jerk chicken wrap -- spicy but delicious. Once we ate our food, we headed back to the scuba center. The students who already dove that morning went back to South Bimini for some community service with Uncle Bill, while the other half stayed to try their cage dive and pray that the bull shark would arrive.
It was almost 3 o’clock when the first pair of girls, Ella Carter and Brooke Bowen, donned their masks and weight belts and slipped into the shark cage. Mr. Konchak, Laney, Brett, Julian, and Brooke had to cut up several of the fish that would be used for the afternoon dive. It wasn’t long until a 10 foot female bull shark had arrived! There were two types of sharks on this dive: one was the nurse shark, and the other was incredibly different. As she entered the lagoon, everything just tried to get out of her way. There was such excitement from the kids when they realized the bull sharks had arrived. Every student in the afternoon group was able to see the bull sharks. Upon completion of the last pair of divers in the cage, we walked back to the Bimini Big Game dock where we waited for Uncle Bill to pick us up and take us back to the Conch Shack. While we waited, a group of kids went to the Big Game Club where they purchased $15 smoothies.
When Uncle Bill arrived, we jumped back on the boat and went back to the Conch Shack. Mr. Konchak offered students an opportunity to go snorkeling off the point of South Bimini. Only his two sons, Blake and Chase, were game to go. They took pole spears and Hawaiian slings, and were off on an adventure while everyone else fished off the dock and rested after a long day in the sun. It was a couple of hours before Mr. Konchak, Blake and Chase returned from their dive with lobster and hog fish in tow. One scary interaction occurred while Mr. Konchak was handing some of the team members his fish and lobster. The water was 4 feet deep, and Mr. Konchak just happened to turn around and scan the water he was standing in as a 6-foot bull shark approached. Mr. Konchak had to use his pole spear to fend off the shark, and was basically chased out of the water as the shark became aggressive. Apparently word had spread among the underwater creatures that our group really wanted to see a bull shark!
Everybody made it back safe to the house, and it was time for dinner. Appetites were at an all-time high as we waited for our lobster, garlic mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables. Half of the group sat with Uncle Bill and listened to him tell old stories about the Florida Keys and Bimini. On the other side of the house, as appetites were satisfied, many of the kids went down to the dock to continue their fishing adventure. The night before had ended in a shark catching experience, and everyone was hopeful it would be matched again this evening. Unfortunately, there were no sharks to be caught after all. We sat on the dock and stared up into the amazing Caribbean sky. We laughed and reminisced about the day.
Then, Mr. Konchak called us all back upstairs as we discussed the adventure for tomorrow. We were absolutely exhausted as we prepared for bed. The ladies traveled back to the Pineapple House, and the guys stayed in the Conch Shack. Shortly after the first shower, there was a loud noise in the hallway. As Mr. and Mrs. Konchak walked into the hall, they found themselves ankle deep in water. Apparently, a hot water pipe burst behind the wall downstairs. Students in the Conch Shack spent the next hour and a half trying to clean up the excess water and determine the origin.
Tomorrow will be our opportunity to serve Bimini Baptist Church ... and to find a plumber. Needless to say, so far the adventure has been amazing!
Thank you for your prayers as we continue to try and impact this Bahamian culture for Christ; perhaps we will even impact Uncle Bill. Looking forward to seeing what tomorrow holds!
Sunday, Day 2 | Karen The alarm came quickly on Sunday morning at 5 AM as we packed up all of our belongings and headed to the lobby for the shuttle that would take us to the Baleria terminal at the Fort Lauderdale cruise port. After a quick check through customs, we successfully navigated the cruise port with our premier passes, which are similar to first class on an airplane.
At the port, Mrs. Konchak could hear people yelling and asking for help. A woman, whose name was Karen, was having epileptic seizures. Mr. Konchak jumped into action and assisted in bringing Karen out of her chair and onto the floor where she was assisted by paramedic staff who arrived very shortly thereafter. An interesting way to begin the day!
It wasn’t long before we heard the first call to load the Baleria. No one in our group had ever been on a speed cruise ship before, and we were excited to see how fast this boat could move across the Gulf Stream, and to our destination, Bimini Bahamas. It was amazing to see such a ginormous ship move so fast across the Gulf Stream!
We filled out our customs cards, and we were ready to disembark and clear customs. A short ride on the tram off the dock, and we arrived with all of our luggage at the taxi station. Imagine 21 people trying to take all of their oversized luggage and fit it into one 10-passenger van. Well, it didn’t work! We quickly procured some additional help, and before you knew it, we were off. Mr. Konchak had to hang out the taxi door in order to have a place to ride as we move towards the water taxi that would take us to South Bimini.
A short five-minute ride across the turquoise waters of Bimini Bay, and we were on the island of South Bimini. Back on a shuttle, we were taken to our respective locations where we will remain for the duration of the week. The boys are staying in the Conch Shack house. The girls are in the Pineapple House. Both houses are on a beautiful saltwater canal.
After unloading all of our luggage, we were taken to our lunch location, the Thirsty Turtle. Immediately following a lunch of chicken wings and french fries, provided by Tones, we headed back to our respective homes. All of us were exhausted from the travel, so the girls headed to the beach, and the boys headed out on a snorkel adventure with Uncle Bill. Uncle Bill is Mr. Konchak’s uncle who has his home in Bimini, across the Gulf Stream. He came across to help host us.
The beach and snorkel adventures were amazing as we saw lots of fish, turtles and lobster. Eventually, we found ourselves back at Mr. Konchak’s‘s house, where we were treated to a Bahamian favorite: conch and coleslaw, provided by our local catering company, Tones Inc.
Our devotion before we headed to bed was entitled, "Where Did You See Jesus Today?" All the kids participated with enthusiasm as they started to highlight the adventures of the day. And then it was time for bed.
Saturday, Day 1 | Holiday ParkThe day started early. Getting on a bus at the crack of dawn was not the ideal opening event many of us had for this great adventure, but it was the one we were served, and I know we wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The first day was spent mostly traveling: from our school to the airport, the airport to Fort Lauderdale (a flight highlighted by the awe-inducing rumbling of jet engines and occasional monotone droning of the pilot, who sounded just as tired as we were and Fort Lauderdale), and then to various shuttles and bus rides.
Easily the highlight of our journey on day one was our tour of the Everglades, a place where you could eat gator meat and then watch a show about how important it was to have gators in your ecosystem. After an airboat ride, we enjoyed a meal at the world famous Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill. Amazing!!
Immediately following, we got on the Flanigan’s bus and watched FAU advance to the final four as we enjoyed a sing along led by Evan and Brayden. A quick stop at Bass Pro and Divers Direct to get last minute touristy items, and we were on our way to our hotel.
Day one ended with a brief team testimonial and then off to the comfortable beds of our hotel rooms situated in Fort Lauderdale adjacent to I-95 and the International Gamefish Museum -- a place of refuge and rest where we now prepare for the opportunity to serve the people of Bimini to the best of our God given ability.