Abaco Islands, Bahamas

One of Our Favorite Places: Brendal's Dive Center

The diving's great, but that could be said about many places in the Bahamas. It's all the other things that make this out island outpost special. It's getting there by water taxi, and getting around by golf cart; walking on uncrowded beaches; feasting on fresh lobster washed down with a potent local libation; dancing barefoot in the sand, then falling asleep to sea breezes. And then there's Brendal James Stevens, but you can just call him Brendal. He's been the subject of magazine articles and television clips and honored as a Legend of Diving. But this personable Bahamian native never let this celebrity go to his head. Show up for a morning dive, and he'll be there to greet you and set the stage for one of the memorable aquatic adventures he's pioneered and presided over for nearly four decades. It could be a family-friendly stingray feed in the shallows, a shark encounter on the edge of the Atlantic, or anything in between.

The Place

Brendal's Dive Center
Brendal's Dive Center

Brendal's Dive Center sits on the shores of White Sound, which is a protected cove on the west side of Green Turtle Cay. If you’re looking for it on the map, start in the middle of Great Abaco island and zoom into a splash of green that's about three miles long and a half-mile wide. There's one town of maybe 500 locals and a couple of island-style hotels. Forget cars, you can walk everywhere or take a golf cart.

The dive center is well stocked and accredited with all the major agencies: PADI, SSI, NAUI, SDI and so forth. Brendal has done a lot of instructing over the years but also puts in a lot of personal time on the dive sites. The shop's fleet includes a 34-foot custom dive boat, a 29-foot boat for smaller groups and a dedicated snorkel and tour boat, all launching from the docks of the adjacent Green Turtle Club Resort & Marina. After exiting the bay and rounding the island, dive sites are just a short boat ride away.

Diving in the Abaco Islands, Bahamas

The Diving

Diving with Brendal's Dive Center
Diving with Brendal's Dive Center

Reef structures near Green Turtle Cay are technically known as high relief spur and groove formations. Divers are more likely to describe these sites as house-sized chunks of coral sitting on a sand bottom, with canyons and channels in between, and lots of caves and swim-throughs. This topography is typical of the eastern edge of the Abacos chain, where the ebb and flow of Atlantic waters nurture resilient hard coral formations, while also undercutting their fossilized underpinnings to create surge channels and hollow interior grottoes. It is a fascinating landscape to explore, as indicated by the names of sites such as Coral Caverns, the Catacombs, Craters, Pillars and Hole in the Wall. Dive profiles at many of these sites are in the 40 to 60-foot range, allowing for long bottom times.

In addition to coral grottoes and pinnacles, there are several historic and modern wrecks to explore, and deeper adventures with profiles that plunge to 90 or 100 feet to take in gorgonian gardens and thickets of colorful tube and barrel sponges. But what Brendal's dive operation is best known for are animal encounters. There's a shark dive with gray reefs, but that's just the start. At one site, Brendal hand feeds a school of tarpon. At another, he entices large grouper to emerge from caverns filled with swirling schools of silversides. Then there's the big moray eel that lives in the wreck of the SS San Jacinto, schools of jacks that gather on the wreck of the Violet Mitchell, and the island's namesake turtles, which can show up most anywhere. Non-divers can get in on the action as well, either on memorable wild dolphin encounters or by hand-feeding stingrays, groupers and small sharks during beach picnics near Elkhorn Reef.

Diving in the Abaco Islands, Bahamas
Diving in the Abaco Islands, Bahamas

Traveling and Staying

Abaco Islands, Bahamas

A trip to Brendal's Dive Center begins with either a flight to Treasure Cay Beach Marina & Golf Resort or a flight to Marsh Harbour and a 35-minute taxi ride to Treasure Cay. From there, it's a 15-minute ferry ride across Abaco Sound to Green Turtle Club Resort & Marina. Stay-and-dive packages are offered through several hotels. Right next door to Brendal's is the Green Turtle Club, which provides a selection of waterfront and water view rooms and suites overlooking White Sound, and is home to one of the islands best restaurants. Just across the harbor, the Bluff House occupies a 12-acre peninsula that takes in both White Sound and a spectacular private beach on the Sea of Abaco. Accommodations include both waterfront suites and three-bedroom cottages that are ideal for families and groups. Divers who want the additional amenities of a larger resort, and don't mind making the daily ferry ride, can choose from a variety of lodging options at the Treasure Cay Beach Marina & Golf Resort, which also includes the areas' only golf course.

Diving in the Abaco Islands, Bahamas