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Top Scuba Diving Spots in the US, Canada and the Bahamas

Explore Life Underwater

By
Bob
Arrington

One of the most adventurous activities you can do from your boat is to explore the wonderful world right beneath you via scuba diving. If you are not already certified in scuba, it's easy to learn, and even children as young as 10 can get a junior certification, so the whole family can enjoy diving together. As a life-long diver and a scuba instructor of nearly 30 years, I know firsthand the combined pleasures of boating and scuba diving. Whether from our own boat or with a local dive operator, diving has allowed my wife Dori and me to more fully explore the areas we visit aboard our boat.

Many dive sites are accessible from your own boat or dinghy, but caution must be exercised when securing your vessel at a site. Due to the damage anchors can cause to marine life or to historic shipwrecks, anchoring is prohibited in many dive areas. Special dive mooring balls are frequently placed to secure your boat while diving. Consult local regulations about the use of dive moorings and remember to always fly a Diver Down flag when diving below your boat or dinghy.

Another option besides diving from your own boat is to go out on a local dive shop's boat. Frequently, dive shops are located right in the marinas where you are staying, or they will come pick you up if they are nearby. And one of my favorite ways to dive is from shore. There are numerous dive sites you can enjoy just by walking in until the water is over your head. It's amazing what you can see just within a few hundred feet of shore. Here are several of our favorite spots for visiting by boat and enjoying some world-class diving while there.

Tobermory, Ontario

The Great Lakes have more registered boats than any other area in the U.S. or Canada, and it's no wonder, given the clear water and charming lakeside villages. That clear, fresh water we enjoy boating in has also created a divers' dreamland by preserving the ships that have had the misfortune of sinking into it. Tobermory is one of the best boating and diving destinations in the world. Known as the Scuba Diving Capitol of Canada, Tobermory is home to the Fathom Five National Marine Park. Designated as a National Marine Conservation Area, the park was created to protect the rich maritime history contained beneath its waters.

In Tobermory, you have three choices: diving from your own boat; diving with a local dive shop; or entering from shore. Regardless of how you do it, you will experience firsthand the rich maritime history beneath the surface. Boating and diving in Tobermory are summertime activities, but the clear water and perfectly preserved shipwrecks are worth the effort during the area's short season.

Dive Shops:

  • Diver's Den (519-596-2363, diversden.ca)
  • G&S Watersports (519-596-2200, gswatersports.net)

Dockage:

  • Big Tub Harbour Resort in Tobermory (519-596-2219)
  • Tobermory Municipal Marina in Tobermory (519-596-2731)

Cape Ann, Massachusetts

Making an entry into the water from shore is one of the easiest ways to dive, but most of the East Coast's shoreline is surf with little marine life, so entering from shore is usually not possible, nor is there much to see. Cape Ann is one of the exceptional areas in the region, where entries from shore are easy, the water is clear and marine life abundant. Cape Ann is a prominent point along the scenic coast of Massachusetts north of Boston. The nearby historic fishing village of Gloucester has numerous marinas and dive shops. You could dive for weeks, never stepping onto a boat or diving the same site twice. Like Tobermory, the water can be a little chilly, but a medium-thickness wetsuit will keep you comfortable in shallow water during the summer months. The sea bed near shore is very rocky, creating the perfect habitat for lobster, starfish and octopus.

Dive Shops:

  • Cape Ann Divers (978- 281-8082, capeanndivers.com)

Dockage:

  • Cape Ann Marina Resort in Gloucester (978-282-2116)
  • Rockport Harbor in Rockport (978-546-9589)

Beaufort, North Carolina

The North Carolina coast from Cape Hatteras to Cape Fear is referred to as one of the Graveyards of the Atlantic the other being off the coast of Nova Scotia and each due to the number of shipwrecks and lives lost in these waters.

The shipwrecks off the North Carolina coast provide today's recreational scuba diver a unique window into our nation's maritime past and have become artificial reefs abundant with marine life. North Carolina has also sunken properly prepared ships to act as artificial reefs. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream are very close to North Carolina's coast and with that come many of the tropical fish common in the Caribbean. Also, traveling from the north are the open-ocean pelagic species of fish, so on the same dive you can enjoy French angel fish, spotted moray eels and large schools of tuna, amberjack and Atlantic mackerel. I don't know of anywhere else in the world where all these species can be seen in the water at the same time and typically in 50 to 70 feet of visibility!

Diving in North Carolina is done only from a boat. You can anchor over many of the wrecks and reefs in your own boat or choose to join a local dive shop aboard one of their boats.

Dive Shops:

  • Discovery Diving (252-728-2265, discoverydiving.com)
  • Olympus Dive Center (252-726-9432, olympusdiving.com)

Dockage:

  • Beaufort Docks in Beaufort (252-728-2503)
  • Morehead City Yacht Basin in Morehead City (252-726-6862)

Southeast Coast of Florida

The coast of Florida from Fort Lauderdale north to Lake Worth Inlet at Palm Beach is closer to the Gulf Stream than any other area of the state. This means that the  warmest, clearest water in all of Florida is along this stretch of shoreline. Centrally located Pompano Beach has become the hub of this active dive area, with numerous dive shops offering lessons, equipment and guided dives. Most dive boats in this area utilize Hillsboro Inlet to access the dive sites.Recreational and technical diving along Florida's east coast has developed into a serious business. Florida has sunk more ships as artificial reefs than any other state. Many are located in deep water for fishing enthusiasts and technical divers, but many are also in shallow water within easy reach of recreational divers. Dive sites can be accessed without problem from your personal boat, or you can dive with one of the local dive shops.

Dive Shops:

  • Pompano Dive Center (954-788-0208, pompanodive.com)
  • The Scuba Club (561-844-2466, thescubaclub.com)

Dockage:

  • Bahia Mar Beach Resort & Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale (954-764-2233)
  • Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six Marina in Fort Lauderdale (954-525-6666)
  • Old Port Cove Marina in North Palm Beach (561-626-1760)
  • Palm Harbor Marina in West Palm Beach (561-655-4757)

The Bahamas

The Bahamian islands are known to have some of the clearest, most beautiful water in this hemisphere. Due to its close proximity to the East Coast, the Bahamas have been a popular destination for boaters from the U.S. and Canada for many years. Diving from your boat or dinghy is very easy in the Bahamas, and dive shops are plentiful for renting equipment or refilling scuba tanks.With over 700 islands, the Bahamas offers a wide diversity of dive sites, from shallow reefs and deep blue holes to dramatic walls full of coral and plenty of shipwrecks. The Bahamas has something for every type of diver. The inexperienced novice will find comfort and excitement in shallow water, with good visibility and plentiful marine life. The technical diver will find challenges and enjoyment in the region's steep sloping walls and deep blue holes. The Abacos are best known for shallow, clear water. The southern shore of Grand Bahama has some amazing wrecks and some of the largest expanses of solid coral in the northern area. The Exumas are a little more remote, with pristine reefs. The Bahamas is working hard to keep its pristine quality by protecting its fragile coral reefs and marine life. At all dive sites, please observe local regulations to help preserve the underwater environment.

Dive Shops:

  • Froggies Out Island Adventures (242-366-0431, froggiesabaco.com)
  • Grand Bahama Scuba (242-373-6775, grandbahamascuba.com)
  • Staniel Cay Divers (242-225-9668)

Dockage:

  • Hope Town Inn & Marina on Elbow Cay in the Abacos (242-366-0003)
  • Romora Bay Resort and Marina on Harbour Island (242-333-2325)
  • Staniel Cay Yacht Club in the Exumas (242-355-2044)

The Florida Keys

The thin band of islands extending southwest from Miami is home to the only coral reefs in the continental United States. It is also the home of the 70-square-mile John Pennekamp State Park, located near Key Largo. This park is the first Undersea Park in the United States and is known for its iconic Christ of Abyss bronze statue.

Recreational divers discovered the Keys very early in the sport's history, as early as the 1960s, and divers have been enjoying the underwater treasures ever since. On Upper Matacumbe Key, in the village of Islamorada, is the History of Diving Museum, which tells the story of mankind's quest to explore the sea and has many cool artifacts and collections. Another major dive spot is General Hoyt S. Vandenberg wreck, located 7 miles south of Key West. This ex-military missile-tracking ship was sunk in May 2009 and is the second-largest vessel in the world to become an artificial reef. Diving is still an important part of life in the Keys. There is a dive shop on just about every key, and numerous dive guides have been published over the years describing all the best dive sites and rules for enjoying them safely.

Dive Shops:

  • Lost Reef Adventures (305-296-9737, lostreefadventures.com)
  • Quiescence Diving Services (305-451-2440, keylargodiving.com)

Dockage:

  • Conch Harbor Marina in Key West (305-294-2933)
  • Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club in Marathon (305-743-948)
  • Plantation Yacht Harbor Marina in Islamorada (305-852-2381)
  • Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina in Islamorada (305-664-2321)
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- Learn how to do a back dive, canon ball or jump off the back of the boat into the water.  Rope swings are also an invigorating option.

- Have a tiki party on a boat and serve your guests tropical blender drinks. Bonus points for Hawaiian shirts and grilled pineapple or savory Polynesian snacks.

- Pick a dozen crabs on your boat or at a waterfront dock bar, along with all the classic fixins’ of corn on the cob, hushpuppies, coleslaw and a cold brew.  If crabs aren’t your preference, a lobster, clam or crawfish boil will do just fine.

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FISHVERIFY

Available on Google Play, the Apple App Store and Galaxy Store

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SHELL MUSEUM: IDENTIFY SHELLS

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SPECIES GUIDEBOOKS

REEF FISH IDENTIFICATION — FLORIDA, CARIBBEAN, BAHAMAS

By Paul Humann and Ned Deloach

Whether you’re a southern angler or marine wildlife documenter, you’ll love combing through 1,000 photographs of more than 683 species in this book. Designed as a reference guide, this new 4th edition identifies fish and aquatic creatures throughout the waterways of Florida, the Caribbean and Bahamas. ($44.95) reef.org/products/reef-fish-identification-florida-caribbean-and-bahamas-4th-edition

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kaufmanfieldguides.com/birds.html

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What do a media mogul, movie maker and American President have in common? Taking part in yacht racing, one of our nation's oldest sports, and New England, the cradle of this sport in America. Ted Turner won the 1977 America's Cup in Newport. Roy Disney sailed from Newport to Bermuda with record-breaking speed in 2002. And in 1936, JFK earned a winner's cup racing Stars in the Hyannis Port Yacht Club race to Edgartown.

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Camden Classics Cup

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Boothbay Harbor Yacht Club Annual Regatta & Shipyard Cup Classics Challenge

July 23-24

A trend toward classic yacht racing and a nod to the area's deep sailing roots combined for the first time last year at the Shipyard Cup. This new addition to the nearly 50-year-old annual regatta put lots of eye-candy on the water. The 1926-built NY-40, Marilee and 1937-constructed 12-meter America's Cup contender, Gleam, plus classic Boothbay Harbor one-designs like the 21-foot, Geerd Hendel-designed, 1938-launched sloops, are expected back this year along with contemporary race yachts. We invited several America's Cup contenders to join Gleam this year on the start line, says co-chair Bob Scribner. Spectators can observe from Spruce Point, McKeown Point or Southport. A narrated parade of participants in the inner harbor starts at 10:00 a.m. on July 24.

MASSACHUSETTS

Marblehead Regatta - new england regattas - marinalife
NOOD Marblehead Regatta 2021 | Bruce

Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series - Marblehead

July 28-31

The 1889-founded Marblehead Race Week joined with National Offshore One-Design concept a few years back, and the result is close to 200 boats racing. We now have all our regular classes like J/70s, Rhodes 19s and Viper 640, plus there are usually one or two guest classes like RS21s, Skuds, 2.4's and J/24s, that hold regional championships as part of the week, says Leslie Rousseau, race committee chair for the host Boston Yacht Club. We expect to see the return of Jud Smith, two-time Rolex Yachtsman of the Year and local J-70 favorite. Spectators on land can get a bird's eye view of the racing from Chandler Hovey Park on Marblehead Neck. Those with a fast center console can watch the boats line up to start off Turkey Point in Middle River or set their chutes at the windward mark in Middle River.

Edgartown Race Weekend

June 23-25

Since 1938, celebrity-studded Martha's Vineyard is home to this week of combo coastal, offshore and round-the-island racing hosted by Edgartown Yacht Club. The history, charm and summer activity on Martha's Vineyard is a meaningful draw, in addition to fantastic wind and ideal sailing conditions, says Alex Nugent, one of the event's co-chairs. Plus, we typically host a big welcome party that's sponsored by Mount Gay Rum. New is the ‘Round-the-Sound series of races, which features 20-some nautical mile coastal sprints around Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound and replaces the around-the-buoy series. There's monohull and multihull, racing and cruising, double-handed and many-handed entrants including teams from state and federal service and maritime academies.

Nantucket Race Week

August 13-21

Nine days of racing, parties and awards ceremonies take the concept of race week to the extreme. There's something afloat for everyone: kids in Optis and 420s, women in Rhodes 19s, kiteboarders, radio-controlled model boats and some of the country's top sailors competing in high-performance big boats and classic wooden yachts. This year we celebrate the 50th Opera House Cup Regatta, the grand dame of classic wooden boat regattas. The Cup, named after a legendary Nantucket restaurant, attracts some of the finest wooden boats on the East Coast and Europe. There is a big awards party on the beach after the race, says Diana Brown, chief executive of Nantucket Community Sailing. The Parade of Wooden Boats offers a brochure that describes each participating boat. The public can watch the parade from Brant Point Beach.

RHODE ISLAND

Annual Regatta

June 10-12

Hosted by the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) out of its facilities in Newport, this is North America's oldest continuously held sailing event going on its 168th year. The format features two days of buoy racing, prefaced by a race around Conanicut Island. The sight of 100-plus spinnakers running north in the West Passage of Narragansett Bay from Fort Adams, Castle Hill or Beavertail Light is breathtaking. Entries are invited to one-design classes, and boats more than 24 feet race under a variety of handicaps. The Annual Regatta is one of my perennial favorites, says Paul Zabetakis, NYYC commodore and a regular participant on his Swan 42, Impetuous. The race management is impeccable with multiple course configurations. Few other venues offer the perfect combination of offshore racing in Rhode Island Sound and inshore racing on Narragansett Bay. The Saturday night regatta party is one of the biggest occasions of the Newport regatta season with sailors converging on Harbour Court for cocktails and dinner.

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Newport to Bermuda Race

June 17

The lawn at Castle Hill Inn in Newport and Fort Wetherill in Jamestown are ringside seats to watch nearly 200 vessels start in the East Passage on a 635-mile passage south to Bermuda. Fort Adams State Park also provides close-up views of many of the boats as they depart from Newport Harbor. The fleet then sails past Brenton State Park as it clears Brenton Reef and turns to the southeast. Charter boats and private yachts assemble to watch the start from the water as well, says John Burnham. It's one of the oldest regularly scheduled ocean races, happening biennially since 1906. This year, three high-speed multihulls -- two MOD 70s, Argo and Snowflake, and the 78' trimaran Ultim'Emotion 2 -- are entered, and each has a good chance of breaking the elapsed time race record of 34h:42m:53s set in 2016 by the 100' maxi yacht, Comanche.

Ida Lewis Distance Race

August 18-20

The fleet goes where the wind blows. The Ida Lewis Distance Race is like no other in that the Race Committee chooses from among four different courses, based on the weather. Each course incorporates some of the most storied cruising grounds in New England and is just long enough for the fleet to be offshore overnight, yet not so long to prohibit inviting family and friends to join for a first-time adventure, says Anselm Richards, event chair. The goal: get about 60-some teams to compete on race boats 28-foot and longer in double-handed, youth, collegiate and different handicap classes back to the dock in under 24 hours. The start happens off Fort Adams and ends inside Newport Harbor, where each team is handed a congratulatory bottle of Prosecco.

CONNECTICUT

Block Island Race

May 27

Stamford is the start of this Memorial Day weekend regatta that for many sailors kicks New England's offshore racing season. The 186-nautical mile course down Long Island Sound and around Block Island and back also acts as a ‘warm up' for many teams that are racing some two weeks later in the Newport to Bermuda Race, says Kate Wilson Somers, who handles media for the event. The race marks its 75th anniversary this year and is organized by the Storm Trysail Club, based in Larchmont, NY.

Cedar Point One Design Regatta

June 4-5

A 20-year+ tradition on the first weekend in June, this one-design keelboat event hosted out of the Cedar Point Yacht Club in Westport, CT, can draw as many as 800 competitors on over 100 boats. The key is that all the boats in a class are the same; no handicap scoring is needed. This makes it easy to watch, as first over the finish line is the winner. Currently, the event is open to J70, J88, J105 and J109, and Beneteau 36.7 fleets, but other fleets are welcome if they meet the requirements, says Joyce Oberdorf, who handles the club's communications.

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