We have refrained from classifying sites by star ratings because both personal preferences and conditions make such ratings equivocal. We can with confidence, however, describe this site as a world class dive, whatever criteria one chooses to apply.
Half-way across the channel between Guadeloupe and Iles des Saintes is a small area marked on nautical charts as being 40 feet deep. This nondescript mark on the chart known as Sec Pate marks the site of a row of underwater pinnacles that look like witches hats.
Note: Dive stores require divers to be CMAS level 2 or PADI Rescue diver or equivalent (they will take experienced divers who are PADI Advanced if you do a check out dive first).
Click on image for larger map
Fierce currents rush through the channel and it takes three attempts for the dive instructor to attach a line to the buoy, which is attached to one of the pinnacles and lies 20 feet below the surface. We are briefed that we will be dropped up current and must grab the surface buoy when we drift down on to it. It is then a hand over hand haul to pull ourselves down the line to the pinnacle.
When we reach the top of the pinnacle, we let go of the line and make a quick dash for the lee of the rock to get out of the current. Before we have chance to wonder why we were making such a difficult dive, the scene captivates us.
The pinnacles bristle with deepwater sea fans and black corals. Fat juicy sponges ooze from the wall as if the rocks core was oil paint that has been squeezed out by the pressure at 70 feet. Sprigs of white telesto give the whole edifice a frosty coating and we revel in the exceptional beauty of the site.
A narrow tunnel requiring a head down entry is a challenging experience that rewards us with a spectacular ride, and then launches us out into the all-consuming blue with no sign of the bottom below us. Not the moment to get vertigo.
We are grateful to a guide to follow, as this chambered terrain makes it easy to lose your sense of direction, and we are free to look out into the blue at the schools of sennets, rainbow runners, Creole wrasse, horse-eye and bar jacks. Individual ocean triggerfish and Queen angelfish seem to pop up around every corner, but as we are quite lost we have no idea if we are seeing the same one again and again.
The route funnels between the pinnacles. Brown sponges envelop jagged areas of rocks, softening their profile and giving a plump sumptuous feel to the terrain, as if we are passing along the aisles of a fabric store.
All too soon our time is up and we spend a long safety stop hanging on the line. The current is far too strong for it to be comfortable to spend any time on the surface (as it is we cannot look sideways without having our masks swept off) so we wait for the previous buddy pair to let go before we ascend. As soon as the instructor on the dive boat gives the signal, we let go of the buoy line and drift down to the dive boat, and grab the boarding ladders before we end up in Mexico.
And what better way to wallow in the experience than with a rum punch kindly offered by the boat captain.
(We dived Sec Pate again when there was much less current and, though thankfully a less challenging experience, we were equally enchanted by it.)
Thanks to Dominique of Les Heures Saines.