As Caribbean islands go, St Maarten isn’t usually at the top of the list for scuba diving. The half-Dutch, half-French island is a popular stopover for bare boat sailors and beach lovers who come for the diverse blend of cultures, languages and the lush mountainous terrain. It is also a popular anchorage for maxi-yachts that moor up offshore, saving the five-figure marina fees on nearby St Barth’s. But with numerous wrecks, a shallow reef and a heathy ecosystem, St Maarten is as enticing underwater as it is topside.
We found a small dive shop run by a chain-smoking Dutch expatriate who agreed to take us out for a few days to explore the sites that ring the southern coast. The discarded rubble of the old Simpson’s Bay drawbridge has become a man-made reef teeming with eels and lobsters that hide among the concrete, as jetskis and powerboats roar just meters above. Further out, the upright wreck of a scuttled cargo ship hosts an armada of steely barracuda that hang motionless above the deck, their watchful eyes following each diver’s every move. But on our second day out, the old Dutchman said, “if you want to see sharks, we need to go to Fish Bowl,” and angled the boat to the southern end of the island.