Andros Expedition, July 15-21st 2018
Expedition Leaders: Annie and Tristan Guttridge
Guests: Ayden, Corey, Gabby, Joe, Katie, and Vanessa
So we’re just back from a very successful expedition to Andros! We saw and swam with seven species of shark, from lemons in the sandy flats, blacktips in the mangrove fringed creeks, silkies in the depths of the tongue of the ocean, and a whole lot more! Our week breakdown is below, enjoy the adventure!
Our crew met with expedition guests at 9am to organize luggage, complete the required paperwork and exchange enthusiasm as we were all bursting at the seams to hit Bahamian turf! Whilst at the private charter airport guests were given their ecofriendly goodie bags, which consisted of: A reusable, sustainable bamboo covered flask from Made by Fressko, a reusable stainless steel straw with pouch from Splat Mats, a bamboo toothbrush from Mable, coral reef-safe sunscreen from Stream2Sea, an ocean friendly bracelet from 4Ocean, bamboo cutlery from ToGoWare, an awareness pin from Cape Clasp, custom made reusable bags from JD Vinylz, and of course, a limited edition t-shirt from us! After checking out our goodies, we departed Fort Lauderdale early in the morning, having the luxury of flying on a Tropic Ocean Airways chartered sea plane. Hiring our own plane allowed us to choose an early departure time, which would maximize our day in Andros by getting there as soon as possible. Further, upon approach, we were even given a custom, low-flying tour down the west coast of Andros, which had everyone absolutely losing their minds to explore the unknown! The remoteness was incredible to see from the air, with no housing, boats, or people in sight! There were, however, vast habitats of creeks, mangrove forests and endless amounts of natural fresh and salt water blue holes!
On arrival to our local lodge, the Andros Island Bonefish Club, we quickly settled in our rooms, then grabbed lunch whilst Tristan gave a safety briefing and trip run-down. Once this was completed, we immediately hit the water with Cole, our local boat captain! We drove out to a beautiful coral reef garden. With the current proving challenging we decided as a group to move on to a sheltered beach, in the hopes of finding some sharks, and we weren’t disappointed! As guests walked the shallow waters exploring sea stars, sea cucumbers, and crabs, Tristan attracted in about half a dozen lemons sharks with some bait. We all weighted up and stood in a line forming a wall, causing the sharks to come in close and pass in front of each of us, giving us all a close look at each beautiful juvenile shark, only a few feet in front of us! The afternoon fun flew by and after a quick scout for trash our guest Katie hit the jackpot with a transportable shower, which had been floating in the sea for some time! With a little love, we were able to get it back in working order. What a find!
A quick ride home followed by a shower (in our bathrooms, not Katie’s washed up treasure!) we feasted on an incredible meal of locally-caught grouper, or tofu for our vegetarian guests; mashed potatoes and vegetables, followed by a homemade apple pie! At 8pm we decided to do a little night baiting – in the rain! – to attract sharks in from our dock with the fish carcasses left over from our dinner preparation! A great start to the trip and an early night for us all, as we longed for sunrise and the next adventure.
Up at 7am to gorgeous weather and a freshly made breakfast of omelets and eggs to-order at no extra cost, cereals, toast, fresh fruit, yogurt, and more! Today was our planned tongue of the ocean excursion! We geared up and swapped out a few items: One of our guests, Corey, had brought extra Buffs for others to use, Annie lent Joe a KNEKT rig to try out on his GoPro, and Vanessa was queen of the electrolytes, generously donating them to the team!
We were on the water by 9am heading for the silky shark spot! Silky sharks are pelagic, blue water sharks, about four to eight feet in length. Within minutes we had silkies curiously circling the boat and our guests and buddies jumped in two at a time to experience the bottomless view with bold sharks just a few feet away! During this experience, we ushered pairs of divers into the water as Tristan supervised and Annie captured photographs of the moments beneath the waves. Any somewhat-nervous guests were encouraged to feel confident, knowing they had our full attention in the water, and the very small group numbers meant guests were able to take their time and enjoy every second, comforted by our presence and expertise. Of course, everyone enjoyed the hit of adrenaline with these pelagic sharks being so bold and fearless in the water. After a few hours of diving, group leaders Tristan and Annie decided to ‘catch’ a silky who was towing a large amount of monofilament fishing line, with the guests able to watch the process firsthand. Rather than the traditional way of capturing a shark with line and hook, Tristan maneuvered the shark by hand into tonic, which is a trance-like state that sharks go into when turned on their backs. Annie quickly cut the line as close to the hook as possible, and within a single minute, the shark was caught and released free of the eight feet of line that was trailing behind her. Everyone was excited to see this process, and we all felt good knowing the shark was no longer at risk of future entanglement due to the surplus line. We then headed back to land for a quick lunch before heading straight back out to our first blue hole, known as ‘The Coffin’!
This rather freaky-looking crevice/blue hole appeared to have no bottom as guests studied it from the surface, gazing down from the boat, and whilst exploring it with shallow free-dives. Surrounding The Coffin was an abundance of soft and hard corals, tropical fish, lobster, and more! Next we moved onto a deeper snorkeling spot, where we stumbled into a green turtle, a reef shark, and a very friendly jackfish that was using us divers as shelter! This cute little fish soon became a highlight as it bounced from guest to guest seeking refuge below us!
Coral Safe Sunscreen
Before our trips, we contact guests to discuss items to bring, answer any questions, and recommend products we believe in. As we spend a HUGE amount of time in both the sun and sea, we highly recommend Stream2Sea, a coral-safe sunscreen that protects your skin very effectively, but doesn’t damage reefs like so many other options out there! If you’d like to support this wonderful brand, use the discount code ‘sharksneedlove’ for 10% off at Stream2Sea.com!
Lastly, we ventured to one final shallow snorkeling spot where we saw multiple turtles from the surface! On entry, we encountered a gigantic hermit crab, mantis shrimp, a wealth of fish, and a random truck tire! Exhausted from multiple snorkeling locations, we headed back around 6pm, and after getting cleaned up for a 7pm dinner, followed by a presentation/lecture from Tristan on sharks of the Bahamas, we all settled down on the sofa to review the day’s pics and share our epic silky shark stories with family members and the social media world!
Up early for our usual 7.30am breakfast before we set out for lemon shark action in shallows! We anchored up on a deserted beach where we baited in a total of seventeen lemon sharks from, neonates of just ~60cm (2ft) to sub-adults around 170cm (6ft). Our guests had over two hours enjoying the sharks in a shallow, safe environment with crystal clear waters, which was the perfect setting for picture taking in addition to simply enjoying eye-to-eye time with a vast amount of friendly and bold sharks!
Fast-forward and it’s time for a pit stop for snacks and water! One thing we would like to mention here is that almost, if not all hotels and boat charters in Andros provide bottled water for their guests… but not us! We had something up our sleeves. As we had chartered our plane to the island, we were able to bring a five-gallon water jug with us, which we refilled and placed on the boat daily. Our guests were given reusable flasks in their goodie bags, which they simply topped up throughout the expedition! We not only saved on trash being piled into the Andros landfill dump, we united our guests as they took it in turns to fill each other’s water up, and what’s more, we inspired the lodge and boat captain to consider alternatives to those single use plastic bottles in the future.
Made By Fressko bamboo covered expedition flasks were a big hit with the team- They kept water cool, whilst the bamboo kept the outside touchable in the Bahamian sun!
Midday and we’re back to the lodge to grab some lunch and refuel before heading back out! Our afternoon trip was an adventurous trek through the shallows in search of the critically endangered sawfish! A twenty-minute car drive north to an untouched habitat and a very long walk in shallow waters unfortunately didn’t pay off, we didn’t find our prize! The small tooth sawfish is part of the most critically endangered group of marine fishes globally, and although finding one would be like finding a needle in a haystack, Andros is home to these beauties and we all hoped to get lucky! After all, we wouldn’t see one if we didn’t put the time in trying. We did, however, snorkel some picturesque mangroves where we saw an abundance of fish and life, oh, and of course a few sharks! On the way home we stopped off at a local beach spot to search for southern stingrays where we were greeted by a friendly, likely male, ray that circled our feet with nothing to attract it other than satisfying its own curiosity!
An exhausted team headed back to the lodge for another incredible meal. All meals are three courses and homemade with traditional, warm Bahamian Jonny bread, being a popular hit! As with all the evenings during our trip, they soon sunk away with the team exchanging imagery from the day, watching and critiquing shark shows on TV, drinking the odd Kalik beer, and heading to bed for an early night as we prepared our bodies for another adventurous and jam-packed day in some twelve hours!
We were up early and left the dock by 8.30am! We headed south to a popular shark spot with the aim of capturing and tagging a large shark. After setting up the fishing rigs the team barely got a moment to rest before we had a shark on the line! It was a 235cm (~7ft) female nurse shark! The team were ecstatic to have a shark on the line, but it got better, the guests got to ‘work up’ the shark, and for some, fulfill a lifelong dream of tagging a shark. This beautiful shark was measured, DNA and stable isotope samples were taken, and she was then tagged and given a name: Mia! Tristan and Annie guided the team through the process and the shark was released quickly and efficiently. What an experience!
On release, the team noticed additional, curious sharks nearby, engaged by the action, so we took this opportunity to place our tagging on hold and switch our attention to bringing them closer! Within minutes we had a couple of nurse and reef sharks within a few feet of guests. The team welcomed the close encounter and watched on as the two species interacted and fed very differently. The nurse hunting the sea bed, and the reef shark hunting mid to top water column! What a morning!
That afternoon we had lunch on the boat, as we’d travelled too far south to return to the lodge for food, so we opted for sandwiches, a salad, chips, cookies, and some fresh cherries and strawberries!
Guests used bamboo cutlery from their goodie bags to avoid the plastic, single use alternatives.
After a quick break, we toured around the creek and jumped in to snorkel the mangroves in search of conch and in hopes of finding a seahorse! As we all found ourselves lost in the mangrove forests, just three feet in depth but very dense and wide, Tristan flew the drone overhead searching for sea life further away whilst capturing the crews moments in the water. We jumped back on the boat and searched topside, where we found some incredible life including gliding eagle rays and turtles. Then, we stopped off at another extraordinary blue hole!
Although expedition leaders have a plan for the day ahead (noting tides and weather conditions), we very much take guidance from our guests, to give them the experience they would like. If they want to move on we do, if they want to stay, we do, and if, as a group, we can’t decide, we vote! So with the vote on a blue hole snorkel we entered the water with a handful of southern stingrays hiding in the sand beneath the boat! We snorkeled with them for a little while, then explored the beautiful blue hole with a pumping current and resting nurse sharks below. Then, one of our guests spotted a batfish! What a find! This little guy was walking – yes, walking – the ocean floor in just ten feet of depth, so we were all able to dive down and see the grumpy little face up close! After an hour or so of enjoying the water, we collected some more floating trash, including a huge ghost net! The majority of guests had a snack on the boat, whilst the others watched Tristan bait in some larger sharks. All in view at once, we had a blacktip reef sharks, lemon sharks, and Caribbean reef sharks, which really topped off the most incredible day! These jam-packed days always left us tired, but we wouldn’t change it for the world, for we were being immersed in the ocean, and pushing each other to enjoy every second!
Back to the lodge late, we cleaned our gear, showered and sat down for a much needed meal at 7.30pm. The Andros Island Bonefish Club always provided wonderful, filling meals which our team appreciated and relished every night! Wow, a long day but we couldn’t resist reviewing photos of the big nurse before heading to sleep.
Another big adventure day! Our crew was once again up early as we set off heading west, to the even more remote side of the island! One of the most liberating feelings is heading out on the water in search of adventure, not knowing what you’ll find, and this morning we were all fueled with excitement for the unknown…
So we arrived to the west side around 10am, after an hour’s boat ride. We searched the creeks for action, and observed a huge loggerhead turtle, some tarpon rolls, green turtles grabbing the odd breath from the surface, and a few blacktip dorsal fins breaking the water’s surface, so we decided on a spot to set up. We quickly baited in three to four sharpnose sharks – it’s truly mind-blowing how sharky Andros is! – whilst some of our guest indulged in a natural mud/clay spa treatment sitting on mucky land!
After a few hours of fun with the fiery little sharks (and stingrays), we moved on to a more dominant position with a strong current, and bingo! We hit the blacktip lottery! We had six blacktips, two sharpnose, and an adult lemon shark (~220cm/7ft) within minutes of setting up, and they all grew in confidence during the time we held their attention. Our guests all experienced very (very!) close passes with the blacktips who showed real personality and boldness, which was incredible to see at such close range! After a quick lunch, some snacks and fresh fruit on the boat, we started our trip back to the lodge.
On our way home, we stopped off at a private island where we met some local iguanas and enjoyed a quick swim in the surrounding super calm waters from the beach. A moment of tranquility and peacefulness as we all sat in the shallows reflecting on our day. During the next segment of our journey home, we drove straight through a thunderstorm and stopped the boat as all enjoyed a fresh water shower in near silence! A simple downpour of freshwater rain was welcomed in the Bahamian heat, and the magical moment a fond memory for most of us
On arriving back to the lodge we all washed our equipment with fresh water, as we did every day, and sat down for dinner at 7pm. We had a special treat tonight: homemade red velvet cake! Yum! After our feast we all relaxed as a group and watched shark week shows whilst chatting and reviewing/editing pics! Those keen on a good Wi-Fi spot sat outside and saw native frogs, crabs, or even a humming bird (which turned out to be a moth!), whilst checking their social media before hitting the comfort of a bed and fresh sheets. The lodge swept through our rooms and made beds daily, which was lovely to come home to after a long day on the water.
The reality of leaving tomorrow was sinking in but we all powered through and stayed positive that we had one and a half days of fun left! We headed out at 8.30am in search of big sharks! After multiple locations, we finally agreed on a spot and started to bait the water, in the hopes of attracting something nearby. Within ten minutes, we had five blacknose sharks (our seventh species of the trip!), a handful of large Caribbean reef sharks, some huge mutton snapper, and one monster Cubera snapper (75 lbs)!!! Soon after, an enormous barracuda – who seemed to really like our Cuda Queen, Gabby – a giant mackerel, and a newly-born reef shark (at just ~70 cm) were all within a few feet of the action! We were all snorkeling, holding a line whilst looking down at corals some fifty feet below, with blacknose at the surface coming in hot, reef sharks staying towards the bottom, and fish moving up and down the water columns as if they were dancing! What a sight, and a real treat! Our crew started the week a little seasick and apprehensive of currents/swirl, but faced these slightly more intermediate conditions with no difficulty at all! We were so proud to see them all in the mixer and enjoying the sharks with confidence and contentment!
After another boat lunch, we ventured to a sawfish hotspot where many local Bahamians had reported seeing them earlier this year! On entering the water, the visibility was only one foot, and we reluctantly had to end this adventure before it had really begun. We all agreed the location ‘felt’ sawfishy, but with the wind kicking up the sands we couldn’t see anything. A few of us adrenaline junkies enjoyed swimming through the almost zero visibility not knowing what was coming, others were more sensible and sat tight on the boat!
So, instead of persevering in impractical conditions, we opted for another shallow water session and lucked out by attracting in newly born, sub-adult, and an adult lemon shark to just a few feet of water! The team were ecstatic with the lemons, especially the big guy, who came in close multiple times, and after a few hours of incredible fun, we combed the stranded beach for trash and headed back to shore for our last night.
All guests received a 4Ocean bracelet within their goodie bags. This visual cue was a daily reminder to reduce our plastic use, in addition to collecting disregarded trash, particulary in the ocean and on local beaches.
That evening we had a fabulous meal, reminiscing on the incredible week we’d shared together, and toasted each other as the first crew to start The Silent Hunter Andros adventures!
An early morning rise and calm seas tempted us back out one last time. We decided to venture back out to the tongue of the ocean, to see the silky sharks once more! Within minutes we were greeted by six silkies, some as big as eight feet in length! With our guests more confident in the water than their first trip, this was the perfect dive to end on, as we swam, dove and pushed ourselves that little bit harder. Curious sharks, confident divers, and a real buzz as we enjoyed the water and sharks together. We of course never wanted to leave the sharks, but reluctantly headed back to the lodge in almost silence reflecting on the unbelievable week we’d all shared and experienced together.
With last minute items packed and a light lunch eaten, we headed to the airport to meet our charter flight home. The short flight home saw most of our guests sleeping, which was a good sign that we’d pushed them hard and made memories that will last a lifetime! The view over Andros will likely be left on our guests minds for some time. We looked down on some of the spots we explored together, and simply took in the vast, beautiful and untouched land, and seascapes that presented so much life for us to experience first-hand.... What a week!
Andros July 2018 crew, here's to you!
We would like to take this opportunity to thank our wonderful guests for joining us, the incredible Andros Island Bonefish Club for their hospitality, the hardworking and ever professional Cole from PFO Charters for his top class boating and captaining skills, and everyone that help made this trip as awesome as it was: an entirely unforgettable July 2018.