It's been a challenge over the past few weeks getting concrete information about the status of Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten (SXM), along with the various airlines' planned service there, for obvious reasons. Cleanup and relief efforts are ongoing in St. Maarten.
Although we have learned that several airlines are planning to begin serving SXM on at least a limited schedule as early as next week, we've decided to run all itineraries of Caribbean Explorer II up to and including our Nov. 18 departure from/to St. Kitts, where the hotels remain open and a full flight schedule remains available. We are eager to see St. Maarten return to its bustling, vibrant self and applaud the major progress already made, but it is possible that this schedule may be extended as more information becomes available.
Our diving itinerary will remain unchanged, with sites at both Saba and St. Kitts offered each week. We're boarding guests in 2 days, and are excited to get back to diving!
Now that the weather has calmed down in our Caribbean destinations, we have a chance to finally come up for air (no pun intended - really) and get back to our regularly-scheduled programming!
Caribbean Explorer II weathered the passage of Maria with no problem, and is back in St. Kitts, awaiting guests boarding this Saturday. We're happy to report that St. Kitts only experienced minor damage from either Irma or Maria. The airport is open, the streets are cleaned, the leaves are still on the trees and the hotels and other businesses are open. We don't have any information as yet on how our favorite dive sites in St. Kitts fared, but we don't anticipate a significant amount of damage. The Saba Conservation Foundation should be in the water this week in Saba, and we'll post more when we hear back.
Turks & Caicos Explorer II arrived back in Provo yesterday, after cutting our previous charter short and sheltering in a protected bay in Haiti during Maria's passage. Though the island experienced damage from Irma, Maria only had limited effect on Provo, unlike points east such as Grand Turk. The airport in Provo is open, businesses are open, and hotels will be opening again over the next couple of weeks. Capt. JF Chabot reported after Irma that there is obvious sedimentation to the reefs at French Cay as well as the expected damage to sea fans and barrel sponges, with sites at West Caicos and NW Point a bit better. Interestingly, old reef structure in the sand channels is termporarily visible, and we've seen some species uncommon in the area - large schools of ocean trigger fish and horse eye jacks, huge trunk fish, and goliath grouper. Based on past experience, we anticipate the sedimentation to decrease fairly quickly, with the reefs back to normal in 1-2 months. We'll be back on charter on October 7, after a previously-scheduled maintenance week.
As always, our thoughts are with all of our friends and many others in the Caribbean, US and Mexico that continue to deal with the natural disasters of the past few weeks. We hope that life returns to normal as quickly as it possibly can.
Update: 19SEP 17
For the crews of our Caribbean vessels, and our US-based staff, it’s been a very, very long two weeks, but nothing compared to what the people impacted by both Irma - and now Maria - have endured. As Hurricane Maria now takes aim at Puerto Rico, and thereafter the Turks & Caicos, our hearts go out not only to them but especially to the people of Dominica who, just a week ago, sent Caribbean Explorer II north to St. Maarten generously loaded with donated relief supplies, and then last night endured the full fury of a Category 5 hurricane themselves. We anxiously await word from our friends there, and elsewhere in the Caribbean, much as we have been since Irma passed 2 weeks ago. We’re thinking of you all.
Caribbean Explorer II anchored yesterday afternoon in Marigot Bay, St. Martin, and is now in the northern fringes of Maria, protected from the worst of the seas and winds. She and her crew are doing well; conditions should be improving very soon, and we currently plan to head south to St. Kitts when conditions allow.
Turks & Caicos Explorer II offloaded our guests this morning for flights back to Miami, took on fuel, and headed south once again – perhaps to a protected bay in Haiti, perhaps all the way again to Jamaica. Maria is forecast to pass some distance east of Provo, but the exact track is uncertain at this point. The precautionary departure may well turn out to be unnecessary, but the longer we wait, the fewer options we’d have. We’re planning on returning to Provo this weekend.
Please spare a moment – another moment, for most of you - to think of those people throughout the affected areas of the Caribbean and Florida who have lost everything they have, up to and including their lives.
- Clay McCardell
After a long wait, Caribbean Explorer II arrived back in St. Maarten on Friday afternoon, loaded with relief supplies from both the Red Cross and the generous people of Dominica, destined for the people of St. Maarten/St. Martin. Thanks go to the people of Dominica for all of their contributions, notably Simon Walsh and Alexander Caris who coordinated the effort, Kathleen Pinard-Byrne (Director-General of the Dominica Red Cross), Nadjesca Gumbs of the St. Maarten Red Cross, Jerry Beaty of Dive Training Magazine who put us in touch with the right people, and of course Capt. Ernie Stanley and the rest of the crew of the Caribbean Explorer for their patience and hard work in loading, inventorying and then unloading the supplies.
Caribbean Explorer II’s next charter, boarding on Sept. 30 after several previously-scheduled down weeks, will depart from and return to Basseterre, St. Kitts – subsequent charters may need to do the same until the St. Maarten airport opens to commercial traffic, but we should know more next week about the time frame for that to happen. Stay tuned!
Thank you to all of our upcoming guests for your patience as we try to get information from our bases of operations on when we will be able to resume our normal charter schedule! We are still gathering information, but here’s what we know so far:
Caribbean Explorer II: as everyone knows, our main base of St. Maarten has been devastated by Irma. The airport remains closed, and access remains restricted. Cellular communications are back up but intermittent. Capt. Ernie Stanley and the crew are still in Dominica and are planning to leave tomorrow night to begin their trip north, with stops in both St. Kitts and Saba. Both of those islands only had relatively minor damage from the storm, and both are already open for business. The St. Kitts airport opened several days ago, and is receiving international flights. Our next charter is scheduled to depart from St. Maarten on Sept. 30, and we anticipate boarding as normal; if the airport is still not open or supplies hard to obtain, we will simply run our normal diving itinerary from and back to our St. Kitts base, where fuel, provisions and other logistical needs remain available. However, we understand that people are uncertain about traveling to the area, and for our guests traveling through the October 21 departure, we have offered the option of changing their departure to a later available date at no charge.
Turks & Caicos Explorer II’s base of operations in Providenciales sustained a heavy hit from Irma, but the airport is already open and we are hoping for a return to our normal charter schedule on Saturday, Sept. 16. We will be making a final call on that trip within the next 24 hours, and are keeping our guests updated directly. However, we don’t anticipate any issues running charters as normal after that point. Capt. Jean-Francois Chabot and the rest of the crew will start their transit back from Jamaica later this week.
As of this morning, we have canceled the Sept. 9 departure of Turks & Caicos Explorer II. Given expected sea conditions over the next 4-5 days in the wake of Hurricane Irma, we won’t be able to safely leave our safe haven in Port Antonio, Jamaica and return to the Turks in Caicos in a reasonable time, and we don’t at this point know when flights to Provo will resume.
Caribbean Explorer II is in Roseau, Dominica. We are attempting to work with officials in Dominica in the hopes that we can load relief supplies for St. Maarten, but Hurricane Jose’s forecast track has shifted somewhat west, and it seems now as if it may be 5-6 days before we can safely transit north. As much as we want to assist as quickly as we can, we do not want to put our crew in harm’s way. We will keep evaluating the possibilities and do whatever we can to help.
Thank you all for your thoughts and concerns about our amazing boat crews as Hurricane Irma batters her way through the Caribbean!
Thankfully all are safe; Caribbean Explorer II headed south to Dominica, out of harm’s way, and Turks & Caicos Explorer II is enroute to Jamaica to do the same. Caribbean Explorer II’s St. Maarten base has been devastated by the storm, and we have canceled our Sept. 9 departure as a result; we are still waiting for more news from St. Maarten. St. Kitts wasn’t nearly as badly damaged, and the crew and boat will head north again as soon as conditions allow.
Providenciales, Turks & Caicos is still awaiting the storm’s arrival, and it is too early to know exactly how this coming week’s charter will be affected. Boarding may be delayed, but it will depend in large part on when the airport reopens. We will keep you updated as we learn more.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all of our friends and family in Florida, as well as all of our friends, family and coworkers in the Caribbean that have been such a huge part of our operation over the past 30 years.