Snorkeling with turtles in Barbados

Rum, monkeys and beaches aside, the chance to have a close encounter with a turtle, snorkeling in Barbados has to be its biggest draw card. We landlubbers booked a berth aboard the incredibly 80s-monickered Stiletto for a day of snorkeling, cruising and drinking. Little were we to know how it would all turn out.

Starting at 9am, an unexpectedly punctual taxi full of boisterous Brits and Canucks picks us up and drives us to the capital, Bridgetown. Passing bright colored, ramshackle cottages and ancient municipal buildings, we stop just over the bridge where a claret-red catamaran is docked. After surrendering all footwear to the deckhand-cum-bartender, Sean, we are welcomed aboard to find a place on the surprisingly spacious deck.

Sean introduces himself, the skipper, Sheldon and his offsider Eric and apart from a short safety briefing, proceeds to ensure that no one is left empty-handed in terms of drinks – literally. If a drink drops below the halfway mark, they’re right there, squeezing another cup of rum punch, Malibu and pineapple or the local Deputy brand beer into passengers’ hands. Keep in mind that this behavior is happening at 10am and some are already three rounds down before the yacht has even cast off. This five-hour tour could end up with everyone wrecked.

Actually, it starts with everyone wrecked too. Our first snorkeling spot is over two wrecks. After exiting the river estuary, the Stiletto makes a smooth tack left into Carlisle Bay. Skating gently over the waves, it passes other cats and pleasure boats, heading in the direction of large groups of snorkelers. Slowing gradually, skipper Sheldon takes a moment to deliver a well-rehearsed dad joke. “Look! Seahorses!” he shouts. Sure enough, two dark stallions and equally dark and stallion-like locals are swimming in the shallows, exercising their steeds for the big race of the week at the nearby Garrison racecourse. Collective groan.

We are no strangers to snorkeling, but having lost the muscle memory to swim confidently after living in Manhattan for 3 years, we opt for a flotation vest. It makes it hard to duck dive, but offers a level of reassurance at the same time. Jumping off the side of the Stiletto, Jess manages to lose her mask and snorkel in the first four seconds. After a quick retrieval exercise, we make our way towards the rest of the group, their heads and snorkels all that are visible.

Following suit, we dive underwater and are greeted by a most wondrous sight. Dart are skimming and dodging at water level; schools of striped fish drifting together, making sharp, synchronized maneuvers. Deeper down parrot fish and porcupine fish limber along sedately, their textured scales and colors illuminated by the diffused sunlight stretching its golden fingers meters below the surface.

The Carlisle Bay Marine Park is a protected zone – well as protected as a place over-subscribed by first time snorkelers and selfie-stick wielding protagonists gets. The wrecks were originally sunk to bring more sea life into the area. The first wreck, the Berwyn, a French tugboat was sunk back in 1919. The other, the Bajan Queen is more modern. When quizzed about its demise, Sean tells us it was a popular party boat. Based on the fast flowing booze, it’s not hard to see how it could end up on the bottom.

Not 300 meters from the wrecks we experience our first turtle interaction. A large green turtle floats towards us, completely unperturbed by our presence. It is soon joined by a friend – and then another as the scent of shrimp and white bait being used to by the crew to attract them wafts through the waters. The ancient-looking creatures are graceful and gentle, only fleeing the area after tiring of snorkelers trying to touch them or resting their feet on the shells – jerks!

Back on deck, another breed of ancient-looking creatures are making some graceful moves of their own. Fueled by the ultimate yacht rock playlist and the 12 to 15 rounds of rum punch, the collective group of British retirees challenge the Canadian ex-pats to a dance off. With the hits of ’84 and Jive Bunny playing in quick succession, the moves on the trampoline-like surface are flowing thick and fast.

With full sail raised and etiquette standards considerably lowered, the Stiletto speeds along the peaks and troughs of the waves, passing the cruise ship terminal where one of the Norwegian liners stands like a sky scraper lain on its side. With decks of private balconies and opulent pools and viewing decks, it’s like a small city. Most days there are two to three cruises moored, bringing valuable tourist dollars to the area.

We continue past perfect sandy beaches, hillside shanties and multi-million dollar homes. It’s easy to see why Barbados has been a playground and tax haven for the rich and famous since the 1970s (and more recently Tiger Woods).

The Stiletto stops for lunch in a quiet cove. The crew serves up a fresh smorgasbord of flying fish, jerk chicken and delicious salad. Ignoring everything we were told as kids about swimming right after eating, we all dive into the turquoise waters to cool off. The high salt content makes it easy to float and thankfully hard to drown.

The merriment and heavy booze consumption fuels an ever-more-animated dance off the rest of the way back into port. As we switch to auxiliary motors and slowly edge along the inlet, the music is cranked loud and the whole yacht is screaming, singing and dancing, “Heeeeeeeeeeey Heeeeey Baby!! Ooooh – Aaaahhhh!” as we pass the pirate ship party boat. Its stone cold sober passengers, yet to have their first drink look on enviably. It’s a beautiful moment to see a bunch of 60 and 70-somethings throw down the gauntlet to the younger generation – now this is how you party in Barbados!


Imagine 5 hours on a yacht, perfect sun, the chance to have a close encounter with a sea turtle and an open bar. It’s hard not to have a good time.


The Stiletto leaves from a dock at The Wharf Road, just below Chamberlain Bridge.


The Stiletto is operated by Barbados Cruise Excursions. It’s $US80 for the full five hours and $60 for three hours not including the lunch.

Barbados Catamaran Snorkeling Excursion includes:

* Transfers from the Cruise Ship Terminal
* 2 Snorkel Stops
* Snorkeling with the Turtles
* Reef and Wrecks Snorkel
* Bajan Lunch Buffet – Full Day Tour only
* Open Bar featuring Rum Punch
* Snorkel Gear










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