Turks and Caicos Explorer II Liveaboard Oct 28 – Nov 4, 2023

We were due for our annual dive trip and have had Turks and Caicos on our bucket list for a while. Claudine found a sale on the Turks and Caicos Explorer II boat for this particular week, so we jumped on it. We’ve sailed with the Explorer Adventures company before and had a fabulous time. While the previous boat (Carribean Explorer) was older, we were told then that the one in the Turks was fantastic. Our experience on Aggressor in Belize was great but not awesome. The thing is, we really like liveaboards. But we love liveaboards that aren’t full, and this one was perfect. The boat itself can house 20 guests, but there were only 7 of us—Alex, Claudine, and I. Simon, Stan, who were both singles, and Curtis and Katie.

We needed to dive, and there’s no better way than a liveaboard. Wake up, roll out of bed, have breakfast, dive, snack, dive, lunch, dive, snack, dive, dinner, night dive, sleep, repeat. That’s literally the agenda every single day from Sunday to Thursday.

Friday, weather permitting, you get to squeeze in two dives (a dawn dive), then breakfast followed by the last dive. Diving stops about 10 am so that everyone can get in enough surface interval before flying home on Saturday.

While I participated in all 27 dives, you don’t have too. If you need a nap, take a nap and skip a dive. Don’t want to night dive? Then don’t. Stay up top and enjoy a beverage or 2.

We had a fabulous crew:
Captain JF
Jo, Tristan, Allison (Purser and Dive Masters)
Miguel – Fabulous Chef
Mark – Engineer
Vardo – Night Watch and diver in training

Our trip also covered Halloween, and we partied a bit. But don’t let that fool you. Jo always had an outfit that somehow highlighted or emphasized the critters we were looking for. She brought a lot of energy and fun to the entire trip.

In addition to the Halloween gig, we also had Tu-Tu Tuesday and Pirate Wednesday, and yes, we dove in those outfits, but there are no photos of me in a Tu-Tu.

There are 3 things that can make or break a liveaboard; The boat itself, the crew, and of course the weather.

Our weather was almost perfect. Calm seas for the most part. We had periods of rain, and it was a bit windy and choppy on the last day. The boat itself is larger than most and has stabilizers that take out some of the pitching. We’re fortunate, none of us get sea sick, and honestly we like a little more boat roll than the Explorer II provided. Sleeping on a boat is the best sleep there is in my book and we actually look forward to the motion of the ocean.

Even with the stabilizers, which everyone else wants more than we do, the boat itself is fantastic.

The boat is a little bit older, but it’s extremely well maintained.

The Explorer II was initially a transport delivery vessel for gulf oil rigs, but was purchased by the Explorer Ventures company and rebuilt from the ground up as a liveaboard. It is extremely well thought out. The rooms are large enough, and each has an ensuite bathroom and shower, as well as its own thermostat and air conditioning.  By contrast, the Carribean Explorer, while it had air conditioning all you could really control was the vent, no thermostat. 

The rooms were also larger, probably 20% larger than the Carribean explorer and larger with more accommodating bathrooms than the Belize Aggressor.  There was never a shortage of hot water, but the vacuum flush took some getting used to.  The entire system is one, and you might push the button to flush and your request would go in the queue. So it didn’t always flush immediately. Nothing wrong with it, just took some getting used to.

The dive deck is spacious and easy to get around on. Plenty of table space for cameras, and a huge soak tank for equipment. There were also two dunk tanks on either side of the boat filled with simple green solution to quickly rinse your gear.  Our first two liveaboards were during Covid times and there weren’t any ‘community’ dunk or soak tanks on any of the boats so that made things a bit interesting at times.

To get in the water you have two options:

Off the side which is a reasonable drop to the water as the dive deck is on an upper level.  Not ideal if you’re getting in with a camera.  But fear not, just swim to the dive platform and they’ll hand it to you. 

Your other option is to suit up (without fins) and exit from the rear dive platform. It’s 5 or 6 steps down, but the rear deck is literally 5 inches above the water. It’s a little more cumbersome to make that trek. The Belize Aggressor is similar, however they stored your fins on that lower deck and put them on you which was helpful.

Exiting is easy via two large spacious ladders. There are also two hang lines for safety stops if you need them.  And you often needed them as this boat ‘sailed’ a lot while on the mooring. Not just the normal swing you’d expect but it would sail across the mooring, turn around and sort of drift in a figure 8.  They cover this in the dive briefings and are very clear about you targeting the front of the boat or you’ll miss it if she swings.  Given the size of the boat this round trip could take 10-15 minutes which can be initially concerning as you navigate back to where the boat should be and it’s not there.  Fear not, just be patient and wait and she’ll come back to you. We only had one dive where the boat moved opposite of where we entered and stayed there.  Given the length of the boat, mooring line, etc, it could be 80 yards from where you expected it to be.

The Salon area is air conditioned and dry which is significantly better than the Carribean Explorer. It’s also the gateway to the rooms on the main and lower decks.  Being a dry area means you need to be ‘dry’ before you can come in.  We had the two VIP rooms on the top of the boat, which meant we could enter the upper hallway and get into our room while being a little wetter than others which was helpful.

In terms of room size though, they aren’t really that much bigger. The other advantages include not being underneath or across the hall from the kitchen.  There also isn’t any movable furniture in the deck above so for all intents it was quiet up there.

Let’s just say, of the 3 boats we’ve been on, this one was my favorite. Super comfortable all the way around.

As for the staff… Simply amazing.

While I think overall, it’s hard to get a bad crew, in all our liveaboard adventures the crew has been great. If I had to score them on a scale from 1-10; Caribbean Explorer Crew was a clear 10. They made that trip amazing, and they had a lot to overcome from a weather/Covid stand point.  The crew on the Belize Aggressor was more like an 8. They didn’t do anything wrong, they just weren’t as personable, but were clearly accommodating. They also had a full boat to deal with which means you get less time with the crew. On this trip it was once again a small boat, so we got to know the crew better than you will on your average trip. On a 10 scale this crew was certainly a 10.

The standouts included all three dive masters. Jo who’s been doing this for 20 plus years was outstanding! Extremely skilled and extremely knowledgeable. She went above and beyond to not only entertain but enlighten us.

While every dive includes a briefing about where you’re about to dive and what you might see. Jo was extremely animated and had specific ‘fun’ signs for the different types of wild life she’d see to point out on every dive she led.  Tristan was a little greener, but a very skilled diver. He’s still learning what’s available on each dive or reef but was outstanding at finding the big stuff.  Allison who was technically our purser was in the water about half the time and always willing to help.  She buddied up with our son which permitted Claudine and I to maximize our bottom time often eclipsing an hour which was fantastic.

The Chef…  Miguel, you are the man. Our son has some specific dietary needs. We contacted Explorer Ventures up front, confirming they could accommodate.  They were familiar and assured us there would be plenty of food for him, but advised we should bring plenty of snacks just in case.  It turned out none of that was needed. Miguel made sure there was something for Alex, and when a meal didn’t fit his needs, he proactively had options for him. We were thrilled. All of the meals were outstanding.

Kudos to the Captain too, who did the grilling for the steaks and burgers!

Captain JF was certainly fun to hang around with. He wasn’t super visible as he was struggling with a cold and didn’t want to pass it on to any of us. He still made sure to give us daily weather and trip updates. In fact, due to requests of passengers who’d been on the boat before we hit some of the rarer spots and headed to French Cay first to make sure we got there.

Mark was around but since nothing broke we didn’t see him much, and we only bumped into Vardo in the evenings or early mornings, and he was very helpful. He’s also a new diver and did dive with us several times.

As for the diving itself:  The Turks and Caicos Area is amazing.  Very similar to Grand Cayman in my mind. Beautiful reefs, but with greater chances of seeing larger wild life.  We literally had sharks on every dive, both caribbean reef sharks and nurse sharks. We also had multiple large turtle encounters and an eagle ray (both larger than I’ve experienced in Cayman) and dolphins!

Wonderfully warm water, I dove in shorts and/or a skin, but no wetsuit was needed from our perspective though some did dive in 2/3mm suits. Completely optional.

Great visibility, often around 100 feet.  No clouds of doom, or sediment issues.

For the most part current was non-existent. Often a little surge but rarely did we encounter any significant current.  We did do a number of live drops expected to be drift dives but did very little ‘drifting’.  I realize it’s not always like this but that was the week we were given and it was splendid.

Sharks on every dive.

The night dives were equally awesome. Because I have the extremely bright lights on my camera rig we somewhat spawned a shark frenzy on the first night. Sadly though, I have no footage of that so you’ll have to take my word for it. That’s the one downside to the sealife smart phone enclosure. If the app crashes during a dive you’re hosed and I was hosed.

The downside to Turk’s night diving is the Black Jacks were a pain. Very aggressive and all over the place. They also have blood worms that are attracted to the heat put out by the lights and every 30 seconds or so you need to kill your light and move away.  Other than that, I enjoyed every dive.

I can’t wait to go back, and I’d revisit this live aboard again without hesitation. 5-Stars all the way around.

All media captured on iPhone 13 Pro Max in and out of the Sealife Sport Diver underwater housing. This dive housing is amazing, and super easy to use once set up. Setup is a bit of a pain though. When I used a regular iPhone 12-Pro (non Max size) I could leave it in a slim case. The Pro-Max has to be removed. Setup on a wet dive boat can be challenging as everything must be DRY. I had multiple set-up failures where it would fail the leak test. I cleaned and lubed the O-Ring multiple times. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not terrible but you do need to plan well ahead of the dive. You need a good 15 minutes in case something goes wrong and you have to repeat the process.

The app is a little dated and can use a face lift. The cameras in the iPhone are simply amazing, the biggest issue can be the auto focus and getting it to focus on exactly what you want. While you can do ‘manual focus’ it’s not intuitive and requires a lot of practice ahead of time. I did find that the 13-Pro-Max in triple camera mode to be the best but it also struggled to focus if there was any back scatter or debris in the water which can sometimes be disappointing because you don’t realize things are out of focus until well after the fact.