Last week some Add Helium members and customers had the pleasure of a weeklong live-aboard aboard the M/V Spree. The destination was the Cay Sal Bank to explore the deep blue holes and walls in this region. Cay Sal is the third largest of the Bahamas Banks, and geographically is just 31 miles northeast of Cuba.

For those who have never been aboard the M/V Spree, she is a comfortable boat ideal for technical and rebreather diving. The dive deck is spacious, and offers ample room for the numerous tanks and the gear associated with deep diving. She carries 3 compressors and membrane systems, onboard banks of various pre-mixed diluent and deco gasses, helium, and oxygen, all driven with a top of the line Masterline booster. The boat is clean and organized. Crewmembers aboard the Spree work here because they want to. They are energetic, helpful, funny, and passionate about diving. Many come with military service or advanced degrees in business, engineering and physics. But what really sets the Spree apart is the food. As Captain Frank Wasson says, it’s the difference between having a cook and a chef. Having studied professionally at the Culinary Institute of America, Spree Chef Bob Doyno doesn’t disappoint.

On this trip we found ourselves with 8 rebreather divers, 9 crewmembers, and 4 researchers from Duke University. We set out from Miami, making the overnight crossing to Bimini where we cleared customs. Once done, we headed south, in search of some shallow sites for a few shakedown dives. We anchored into our first site and found the current blowing quite hard, so we elected to keep looking.

We did find a great shallow site, with 100-foot visibility, and an array of reef life. After a quick and fun shakedown dive, we pulled anchor and steamed all night for Cay Sal, arriving at our first blue hole (Nacho hole) around 8 am. Some of the divers were on a mission for depth, and despite finding amazing visibility and warm blue water, we quickly discovered this hole bottomed out around 250 feet. The depth seekers were not satisfied, so despite the consensus of a great dive, we moved on.

From here we set out to Shark hole. Shark hole is a massive hole about 1000 yards across. The visibility was much less, but the edges of this hole more than made up for it with a wonderfully alive reef system, and lots of marine life. Almost every diver reported a wide range of animals, including a number of sharks (hence the name) and the occasional turtle. This hole still didn’t offer the depth we wanted, and despite a diligent search, divers reported no deeper than 250 again. Spirits were still high as Captain Frank reported he had numbers for 4 more blue holes nearby, so again we pulled anchor and motored off.

We next arrived at a site labeled on the charts as ‘Sistine Chapel.’ Despite the small opening and less visibility, this site looked promising for depth, and upon examination found the site we were looking for. One dive team organized a group of divers, and was able to set a personal depth record for one of the divers at 518 feet deep, along with a report that the bottom was nowhere in sight. The rest of us explored the rather cool features of the hole itself, which included incredible features and lots of pseudo-caves to explore. On the op of the wall again we found and marvelously alive reef system complete will a huge assortment of marine life. This time the sharks we found were a bit ‘friendlier,’ getting in closer for us to examine, while they determined if we’d make a tasty lunch.

Friday, we moved again to a new site, called Silversides. Again, we found depths of sub-330 and no bottom anywhere in sight. The sides of the wall were beautiful geological formations. One diver lamented it was like flying the walls of the Grand Canyon. Once again we found the top loaded with hard corals, and an amazing variety of reef fishes, and a healthy population of small moon jellies.

Our last day aboard the Spree, we motored up to the famous Cay Sal wall. A diver who had dove this site 10 years before recalled a very strong current, and the site lived up to her memory. The blistering current required us to hot-drop, or ‘live-boat’ as Captain Frank calls it. We lined up on the dive deck, and leaped into the water upon hearing “go divers go!”

The wall had the most beautiful blue water I’ve ever seen, and easily 200 foot of visibility. The top of the wall started around 80 feet, and dropped to the center of the Earth. Again we found amazing amounts of marine life, and lots of wary sharks, turtles, stingrays, groupers, and reef fishes of all shapes, sizes and colors.

Along with this nirvana of diving, came a current like I’ve never seen before. The boat measured the current at 3 knots, but surely that was measured with the engines in full reverse. To the divers it felt more like 12, and the beautiful sights we saw weren’t seen for long. It was akin to diving a reef while tethered to a speedboat. Strong currents in the nooks and crannies of the wall created downwellings, upwelling’s and some eddies that temporarily trapped a few divers. The boat reported we drifted over 5 dive sites.

For our entire trip, the water remained a lovely 86 degrees, and the seas were flat as glass for most of it. All divers had a wonderful trip, and many are looking to go back.