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July 1997 Vol. 12, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Editorial Notebook

Things weve learned since the last issue

from the July, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

A New Twist On Club Carib, Turks & Caicos

We reviewed Club Carib, South Caicos, in January; it was funky but fine. Since then reports like Tom Phee's and Carol Caron's -- who were double billed for their interisland air, had to chip in more money with other guests to buy enough food to eat, and were forced to repair the compressor themselves so they could dive -- have cast a shadow over the operation. In last month's issue I wrote that I could no longer recommend booking the Club Carib because of these reports and the refusal of the owner to return our calls concerning Nicholas Chickering, who had been overcharged and had not received his refund after several months.

Chickering's credit card has now been properly credited. The odd twist comes from a press release. Club Carib has a new onsite management team, Tom Phee and Carol Caron. I guess they didn't like the way they were treated as guests and decided they could do a better job. Can they? Well, we know that they fixed the compressor.

It's Getting Crowded in Thailand

George Tracy (Seaside Park, New Jersey) has been on an impressive list of live-aboards. When he sends me a report, I listen to what he has to say. This February he was on the Si Mai: "Food and personal service of the highest quality, except for the divemaster trying to enforce the 'buddy system' on experienced divers." George saw the mandatory whale shark, mantas, leopard sharks, and so forth, but his bottom line was "simply too many divers competing for too few sites in the area. Dive sites are under siege by live-aboards and daytrippers (out of the Similans and Phuket). It's not uncommon to wait in line to dive a site or bump into 20 other divers during a dive. The reefs are taking a beating."

Nicaraguan Corn Diving

In May's Flotsam and Jetsam item about a Maya Pass, which allows for air travel to several Central American cities, I wondered about the diving on Corn Island off Nicaragua. Rob Curran (Fort Lauderdale) sent me the answer. During August 1995, the Republic of Nicaragua hosted an eight-day "Discover Nicaragua." Rob, a freelance journalist, scuba diver, and public relations specialist, was on that trip.

Rob and others rated the reefs they dived on a 1-10 scale (reefs scoring 8 to 10 are those found in the Caymans, Bay Islands, or Cozumel; a score of 1 to 3 means the reef is not worth visiting). A one-day exploration of the Cayos Perla area turned up no reefs that divers would want to visit. All the shallow reefs appeared to have suffered severe damage from Hurricane Joan (1988).

Around Great and Little Corn Islands, Rob searched for good reefs with guides who knew nothing about the area from the sport diver's point of view. They found four shallow reefs that they rated between 4 and 6. Oddly, although Corn Island was the focus of Hurricane Joan's fury, these shallow reefs showed virtually no hurricane damage.

On the last day of diving exploration, after being joined by a guide who was a lobster diver and resident of Corn Island, they dived on three reefs, at depths of 50 to 80 feet, and scored them 6 to 8. Sounds like there could be some diving here some day, but for now the diving infrastructure is not in place.

"Going back to take a
look, all we saw were
big chunks of manta
floating in the water."

If You See the Manta with the Missing Chunk, Let Me Know

You've read nothing in these pages but praise from me and other readers about Dive Makai, our pick for a dive operation on Kona Hawaii, but Barbara Reid and Aaron Lowell (Redwood Valley, California) write that they had an ill-fated trip with Dive Makai last January. "The only manta we saw was from the boat. We were on the way back from diving and unfortunately saw it too late and ran over it with the boat. Going back to take a look, all we saw were big chunks of manta floating in the water."

Lisa Choquette of Dive Makai reflects on what happened. "We were returning from an all-day charter cruising close to shore and saw a manta on the surface where we've never seen one before. Slowed down and circled to go back and look at it, when another appeared suddenly directly in front of the bow! I frantically signaled Tom to stop, and he did, but the boat's momentum carried us right over the ray. We circled back again and saw the ray on the surface. The prop had sliced approximately 8" off its forward fin tip; it was wounded but it was definitely alive and functioning. There was nothing we could do so we left, saying a prayer to the manta gods to help this individual recover. I've seen many many animals that have had HUGE chunks taken out of them by a predator that have healed well and function perfectly.

"Is this a common occurrence? Absolutely not. It is the first for me in 21 years (23 years for Tom) of running dive charters in Hawaii. This was weird -- the animal made NO attempt to dive or evade in any fashion. We've had hundreds of encounters over the years, but never one like this. Mantas seem to have a well-developed sense of boats and where boats are in relation to them and will slip under at any close approach -- maybe not far, but far enough to avoid physical contact with a vessel.

"I certainly wish it hadn't happened, and we are ever on the watch for this individual, hoping he or she is OK. I love these animals with a passion, and I felt incredibly bad about what we had done, even though I honestly feel there was nothing we could have done to avoid it."

Ill-fated trip? On the same day, Barbara and Aaron reported, "because of the strong surge, most of our dives were long and shallow, like a snorkeling trip, but the real trouble began after a great dive over a lava canyon in the South area. On the second dive, Tom tried to take us into a cave. The surge was so bad and we were thrown around so much that at one point I thought I was going to go out the blowhole."

They were not as impressed with Dive Makai as Kathryn Loudin (Mundelein, Illinois), who was also there in January. "Dive Makai is a model dive operation. Don t go to Hawaii to dive (fair to lousy), but to dive with Dive Makai. I just wish they could franchise themselves." Or as pleased as John Crossley (Midvale, Utah), who writes that "Dive Makai staff gives the best dive briefings and the best underwater guiding I've ever encountered. They're masters at finding the rare and the small. On a three-tank dive down south of Kailua, we spotted several pods of pilot whales trailed by three oceanic whitetip sharks. On the night dive I was with six mantas, some with an 8- to 10- foot wing span. I also saw two eels successfully hunt and eat an octopus and a triggerfish."

Flaming Live-Aboard in the Red Sea

Before you settle in on a liveaboard, create a good plan for what you would do in case of a fire on board. It can happen. Recently a Red Sea live-aboard with 20 Dutch divers aboard went up in big flames from a fire that started in the wheelhouse. Fortunately, they had a dayboat tied alongside, and everyone was evacuated.

The Secret Site of St. Vincent

Bill Tewes will probably curse me for repeating Mickey Fivenson's (Traverse City, Michigan) story, but . . . "After three days of average Caribbean diving, shop owner Bill Tewes took over. Bill showed me more new critters and corals on my next dives than I had seen in all of my last several trips. Unfortunately, the largest was a trumpet. Too much fishing?

"As far as the people of
Bikini are concerned,
the Thorfinn will not be
going to Bikini Atoll this
season -- and possibly
never."

"I had already asked one of the guides if there were any truly unique sites. He pointed to a room-sized opening in the cliff and informed me that after three years of leading dives here, he would never dare enter 'bat cave.' That was enough of a temptation for me.

"I spent my remaining time convincing Bill to take me to Bat Cave. Bill hadn't been in the cave for five years. He said it was too short, too challenging, and a bit scary. By now you have figured out that Bat Cave was my favorite dive of the trip; in fact, I would rank it in my top five dives of 20 years of diving. The narrow tunnel entry, the thousands of bats inches above my head, and the gorgeous sunlit view as I exited the cave are experiences I'll pack with me forever."

State Department Lifts Its Advisory on Papua New Guinea

Due to local unrest, the U.S. State Department recently issued a travel advisory for New Guinea. This advisory has now been lifted. I received a fax from the Tourism Promotion Authority assuring me that it was business as usual and portraying the civil disturbances as confined to "a small part of that town" (Port Moresby) and that "other isolated incidents had no effect on tourism operation."

Local dive operations, as well as one Undercurrent subscriber recently returning from a trip, also report no problems. If I were traveling to PNG, I'd stay in touch with the State Department (*******) and plan to spend as little time in Port Moresby as possible.

Bikini Bound, Island Politics Abound, the Thorfinn's Not to Come Around

In April's Flotsam & Jetsam I mentioned that the 170-foot liveaboard Thorfinn, now based in Truk Lagoon, had announced a series of discovery tours through Micronesia and the Marshall islands in 1997, with one of the stops to be the wrecks at Bikini (In Depth/Undercurrent January '97). This stirred up some trouble, and my Internet address began to hum. Jack Niedenthal, Trust Liaison for the People of Bikini, informed me by e-mail that "the people of Bikini, along with Marshalls Dive Adventures, had held a brief discussion with the Thorfinn people several months ago, but at no time was there an agreement signed for the Thorfinn to go to Bikini. His announcement amounts to a combination of wishful thinking and an attempt on his part to use our name to sell his package. We would appreciate you telling your readers in the next issue of your magazine that as far as the people of Bikini are concerned, the Thorfinn will not be going to Bikini Atoll this season -- and possibly never after this sequence of unfortunate events."

Captain Lance Higgs of the Thorfinn responded: "It seems that one possible stop on our Pan Micronesian cruises has taken a rather bizarre turn. For close to a decade the Thorfinn has been based at Truk. By 1996, after extensive refitting of the ship, it was decided to explore the feasibility of running a series of cruises to the outer islands.

"The reefs of Enewetak and Bikini were of interest to some divers for viewing recoverability of these sites subsequent to nuclear testing. A route through northern Marshall Islands was designed to feature these locations with a terminus at Big Kwajalein Atoll, where many WWII wrecks are combined with excellent reefs.

"By mid-1996, contact with each island's administrators was made to seek their interest for our visit. Contact was made with the newly designated dive operator at Bikini, Robert Reimers Enterprises. They indicated interest but stated that Bikini Council leaders would be consulted.

"During a September 1996 visit to Majuro, this writer met with Robert Reimers, and he indicated a letter of conditions would follow. The letter outlined the parameters of a visit, and the fees to be paid by each diver to them for the diving services that they alone would perform.

"We answered with an acknowledgment of these conditions, informing them that we would design the cruises with Bikini offered as an option subject to their conditions and fees, and that advance notice would be given of requests to visit in time to make suitable arrangements.

"A brochure was produced outlining each voyage's route and interests, and Bikini was shown on two trips as a probable visit for 1-1/2 days on a guestoption basis. The Bikini operators had been contacted, and their conditions for a visit had been duly noted and accepted. At no time did we feel in violation of their customs, rights, or traditions.

"Now a sudden furor has been raised against a Micronesian vessel crewed by Micronesians, and a company operating mainly to the benefit of the Micronesian community. Any considerations of a Bikini visit have been dropped in favor of suitable alternatives."

The upshot of this uproar is, it looks like the Thorfinn will not be visiting the Bikini Atoll on this trip.

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