Golden Rock Dive Center

Dominated by a dormant volcano called The Quill, the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius so bustled with commerce in the days of sail that it was known as the Golden Rock. Today, shipments of gold and spices have been largely replaced by sun, sea and sand as this tiny island's principal stock in trade. And the undersea wonders of St. Eustatius are just now beginning to attract notice in the diving world.

At the apex of St. Eustatius' scuba renaissance are the Old Gin House Hotel and the Golden Rock Diving Center. With two boats — the EZ-Go'in, set up for up to 22 divers, and the Stumpy, available for individual guests — and world-class dive sites only 15-20 minutes away, guests can make their own schedules and spend surface intervals exploring ashore.

St. Eustatius is home to the world-renowned Charlie Brown, a recently sunk 327-foot cable-laying vessel and one of the largest and most

Images The Statia Golden Rock Schoool
1. A view of the Old Gin House 2. Golden Rock 3. Diving one of the dive sites that make up the national Statia Marine Park

intact wrecks in the Leeward Islands. But the real secret of St. Eustatius is the incredible diversity of the diving. With eight distinct undersea ecosystems, every dive is different. Your wall dive might be followed by a dive on patch reef, coral-encrusted lava flows, boulder slides, macro environments or shipwrecks — old or new. A national marine park guards all of these and ensures that every creature belonging there will be there — from apex predators down to the tiniest nudibranchs. Even the elusive flying gurnard can be found in St. Eustatius waters.

Staggering diversity, sunsets and tempting hammocks — for divers, this "Golden Rock" remains one of the richest islands in the Caribbean.

Accommodations: 14 garden rooms, additional waterfront balcony rooms available, hardwood furnishings, air conditioning, phone and a TV in all rooms Amenities: Gardens, freshwater pool, seaside bar and restaurant, a full-service PADI Gold Palm Resort, underwater photo equipment and two dive boats, including a 38-foot Catamaran Contact Information: Toll-free: 800-311-6658; website: goldenrock dive.com; e-mail: [email protected] rocknet.com

ST. LUCIA SKYLINE 1. The

Petit Piton and Gros Piton dominate the southwestern horizon. 2. Octocoral in an overhang. 3. Long-snout seahorse on Anse Chastanet Reef. 4. Sponges this size may be a century old.

You've probably seen St. Lucia, even if you don't know it. The island's skyline with the twin conical peaks of Petit Piton and Gros Piton is arguably the most famous in the Caribbean. The island has been garnering second looks for quite a while now —Christopher Columbus commented approvingly about it when he sailed past in 1502. And, indeed, much of St. Lucia remains as it was half a millennium ago; the island is home to a pristine 19,000-acre tropical rainforest that shelters such rarities as the jacquot, a nearly extinct St. Lucian parrot.

Underwater, St. Lucia may not be quite as world-renowned, but it deserves to be. Anse Chastanet Reef, reachable by a less-than-one-minute swim from shore, drops away as far as you're able to go on your recreational dive

DESTINATION PRIMER

AVERAGE WATER TEMP: 78°F WHAT TO WEAR: Three-quarter to full wetsuit, 1.5-3 mm thickness. AVERAGE VIZ: 50100 feet WHEN TO GO: Year-round; January-March are driest. WHAT TO EXPECT: Reefs dense with life and coral walls that drop for a quarter-mile, plus one of the Caribbean's most successful artificial reefs. LANGUAGE: English, Kweyol. TAXES: 8 percent tax on hotels and restaurant bills; service charge generally included. ELECTRICITY: 220 V; some hotels run 110. Ask before you go. Most U.S. appliances work here.TIME ZONE: Atlantic Standard Time (Eastern Standard Time plus one hour).

tables and is home to more than 150 different kinds of fish.

This is a place where walls and deep reefs undulate with gorgonians and sea whips, and dramatic vistas await at every turn, both underwater and topside. Such a place has no trouble attracting knowledgeable dive travelers, but St. Lucia has cinched the deal with the Lesleen M., an artificial-reef shipwreck that virtually drips with sea fans and sponges.

Surface intervals on St. Lucia can be passed shopping for straw hats and hot sauce in the market in Castries. Or, if it's Friday night, those who've been here before head over to the village of Gros Islet for the weekly "jump up," a combination street fair, dance and all-night party that is legendary throughout the Caribbean.

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