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Diving with… Sarah and David Hellevang, Golden Rock Dive Center, St. Eustatius, Dutch Caribbean

Caribbean DTA Team

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In this ongoing series, we speak to the people who run dive centres, resorts and liveaboards from around the world about their businesses and the diving they have to offer…


What is your name?

Sarah and David Hellevang – husband and wife owners/operators.

What is the name of your business?

Golden Rock Dive Center

What is your role within the business?

Owners/operators: David does all of the maintenance and repairs and most of the captaining.  Sarah does marketing, finance, administration and dives or captains a few times per week.  We have two other full-time PADI Instructors/managers at the dive shop.

How long has the business operated for?

Originally established in 1994.  Sarah and David purchased in April, 2017.

How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?

We fell in love with diving in 2008 when we went to the Philippines as our first dive travel. We became PADI open water dive instructors and quickly decided we wanted to run our own dive center the way we had envisioned:  not under the confines of so many shops that overload their boats without good diver supervision or run a small operation without the safety and high quality equipment.

What is your favorite type of diving?

Slow, relaxed, looking for all of the little things.  I find a slow hovering dive allows me to see the natural marine activity and often the sea life comes to me! I could spend hours with my head under a rock playing with cleaner shrimp or looking for frogfish!

If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you what would it be?

Want to return to how diving used to be?  Small groups of experienced divers with quality service without being pretentious; authentic island get-away without the mass tourism; relaxed atmosphere where our divers feel like family, not just another diver on an over-crowded boat.

Diving on Statia is so eclectic!  With over 30 dives sites, most of which are with moorings, Statia boasts several new wrecks, old historic wreck diving with anchors, blue beads, and bottles from the 1700 and 1800’s, well preserved coral encrusted lava flows, and more… all under the protection of the St. Eustatius Marine Park and Reserve since 1996.

What is your favorite dive in your location and why?

So many good ones to choose from!  I really enjoy both Hangover and Double Wreck, where I can spend hours searching for the macro sightings as well as a turtle or two that will often swim directly up to divers.

What types of diving are available in your location?

Several distinct diving ecosystems: historic archaeological dives with old anchors and glass bottles from the late 1700, several new wreck dive sites including the prestigious Charles L. Brown, isolated rock outcroppings surrounded by huge Caribbean sand rays, deep wall dives, coral encrusted lava flows from the Quill eruption around 40,000 years ago, sandy bottom muck diving with flying gurnards, sailfin blennies, historic artefacts including the opportunity to find a Statia Blue Bead.  Statia has diving for all levels and interests.

What do you find most rewarding about your current role?

We are having fun renovating and updating the business since we purchased two years ago.   When my husband and I purchased Golden Rock Dive Center we had the vision of providing dive services that are safe and attentive, yet relaxed and authentic.  We have incredible staff that hold dear the same vision.

I love when our customers leave with smiles on their faces from an amazing day or week of diving and feel they were catered to on their special dive vacation. “Leave feeling like family, not just another diver on a boat.”

What is your favorite underwater creature?

Ohh!  I love them all.  Anytime I find a nudibranch I am happy and sea turtles will always be dear to me. But, my ultimate favorite is summer time when all of the juveniles bloom in the water and I get to find the juvenile trunkfish.  They make me smile the most!

Are there any exciting changes / developments coming up in the near future?

As new owners, we are constantly updating, especially after our rebuild from Irma.  We are back in our old location with new digs and loving it!  We are also in the process of some new program development… keep tabs on our Facebook and website in the coming months for more details.

Is your center involved in any environmental work?

Absolutely!  Beyond the daily protection of our Marine Reserve by educating divers to have good buoyancy and respect for the marine environment, we regularly organize or participate in land and underwater rubbish clean-up.  We offer Project Aware and REEF dive training and participation.  Statia has many local and visiting research divers on the island conducting multiple marine research programs.  These researchers are regularly on our boats and around our shop providing tourists the opportunity to dive with and learn from researchers.  These scientists provide educational talks and dives directly to our customers which is a fun way to learn about what is going on in our underwater world.

How do you see the SCUBA / Freediving / snorkeling industry overall? What changes would you make?

Mass tourism in general and mass dive tourism specifically with no oversight and no education is damaging our fragile marine and land environments. Though all-inclusive resort vacations are inexpensive and convenient, tourist, especially divers, miss out on any authentic and personalized experiences as they are hidden behind the walls of the resort and end up diving without any personalized touch.

What would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?

With over 1000 hectares of protected coral reef, we have almost more reef environment than Bonaire and Saba combined.  Combine this with the authentic and safe island experiences, coming to Statia is like stepping back into the Caribbean 30 years ago.

Only one dive boat is allowed per dive site, so divers get a truly personalized diving experience.  Our boats leave from the local fishing pier directly next to the dive center where divers can interact with the local fishermen and we regularly host local fish and lobster BBQ’s at our dive shop.

Where can our visitors find out more about your business?

Website: www.goldenrockdive.com

Facebook: Golden Rock Dive Center

Instagram: Golden Rock Dive Center

Blogs

Lovin’ Saint Lucia: Two wreck dives and a wedding (part 3)

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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Whilst we have been lucky enough to dive in much of the Caribbean, Saint Lucia was still on our wish list. Until November when we got a chance to visit this beautiful island on a 6-night diving trip that would see us enjoy with incredible scenery both above and below the waves. We were able to sample three different hotels, dined at a host of local eateries, spoke to local school kids about the ocean and even took a tour into the rainforest canopy. Find out all about this trip over this series of three blogs on Caribbean Dive Adventures.


Our final day of diving saw us heading south again to the wreck of the Lesleen M. The wreck was sunk as an artificial reef in 1986. It sits upright in the water just off Anse Cochon in about 20m of water at its deepest point. AS it has been in the water for over 3 decades, it is now covered in marine life. Yellow and purple sponges rise up from the deck and off railings. Gorgonian corals created huge curtains across the walkways and on the bow and stern. The prop is covered in orange sponges and cup corals. Barracuda and porcupinefish cruise the middle section of the boat. Schools of reef fish live in the covered section of the stern. There is life everywhere you look. To make the most of this dive, bring a light, as the colours are incredible.

We were lucky to have been able to dive the wreck as a buddy pair, without any other groups. But we loved the dive so much we asked if we could join the group for another dive on the wreck as our final dive of the trip. However, the group we were going to dive with were a little bit special! Two of the group had got married the day before. Nine of the family (mum, dad, the happy couple, sisters, brothers, and their partners) who had come to Saint Lucia for the wedding were on our boat. We offered to take an underwater photo of them. Getting the shot was not as easy as we had first thought though! Getting them all still, in the same place, not blowing bubbles at inappropriate times turned out to be a challenge! It was, however, a joyous way to finish off our diving on Saint Lucia.

Our final day saw us heading to new heights, via a cable car experience into the rainforest canopy. Not only does this trip offer stunning views over the island, but our guide was so knowledgeable we also learned plenty about the local fauna and flora of the island. This is the perfect activity for the non-diving day at the end of a trip. A final cocktail in the beautiful setting of the Harbor Club as the sun set saw us reflect on a super trip. We barely scratched the surface of what Saint Lucia has to offer. Alas we never got to experience the diving in the north of the island, so we will have to return to rectify that. Hopefully sometime soon!


Nick and Caroline were hosted by:

Eastern Caribbean Diving

Bay Gardens Marina Haven & Bay Gardens Beach Resort and Spa

The Harbor Club

Travel Saint Lucia

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Blogs

Lovin’ Saint Lucia: Kids and Critters (Part 2)

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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Whilst we have been lucky enough to dive in much of the Caribbean, Saint Lucia was still on our wish list. Until November when we got a chance to visit this beautiful island on a 6-night diving trip that would see us enjoy with incredible scenery both above and below the waves. We were able to sample three different hotels, dined at a host of local eateries, spoke to local school kids about the ocean and even took a tour into the rainforest canopy. Find out all about this trip over this series of three blogs on Caribbean Dive Adventures.


After our first two days of diving in the south of the island, below the magnificent Piton mountains, it was time for a day off. Usually we would pack in a much diving as possible on a short trip like this, we had been invited to speak at a local school. Our hotel, Bay Gardens Beach Hotel and Spa, already support the school with a breakfast club to ensure the kids start the day with a good meal. They asked us if we might go and speak about the ocean, marine life, conservation and our work. As the school did not have a room big enough to hold all the kids, we setup in the local church. The kids filed in and sat in rows of pews and we chatted about the marine life that can be found both in the waters surrounding Saint Lucia and further afield. They knowledge of shark species was incredible! They even identified a Basking Shark correctly! We were stunned when they presented us with a huge box of local fruits they had picked from their gardens as a thank you. Our driver then took us for a drive around the north of the island to show us some of the plentiful beauty spots.

Back diving again, we still headed south, but to sample some different diving from our first two days. We were delighted to dive over a healthy seagrass bed that was home to a host of marine life. Snake eels skimmed along through the blades of grass, flounder lay camouflaged, and several species of crustacean could be found once you got your eye in. A huge Southern Stingray lay buried in the sand and our guide, Mervin, was delighted to find a seahorse (that did not want to be photographed). Dotted throughout the seagrass bed, coral bommies were a haven for small marine life critters. Eels and lobster hid in the crevices, while small juvenile fish darted through the coral and sponges.

Whilst we were on an all-inclusive basis at our hotels, we love to get out and about to try local establishments where we can. So each evening we would take a stroll to the waterfront to sample some excellent food and a local beer or cocktail, whilst watching the sun go down. The perfect way to finish off a great day of diving.


Nick and Caroline were hosted by:

Eastern Caribbean Diving

Bay Gardens Marina Haven & Bay Gardens Beach Resort and Spa

The Harbor Club

Travel Saint Lucia

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