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August 1997 Vol. 12, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Editorial Notebook

You should have been here last week

from the August, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Undercurrent broke the news on Malpelo, an island off the coast of Colombia, in 1993. The boat then was the Tropical Surveyor, substandard for a dive live-aboard, but diving was Cocos Islands, Costa Rica, plus -- more sharks, more mantas, more everything. Our correspondent wrote:

"At the pinnacles, it was less than 75 feet across and 115 feet deep. The sharks appeared on cue, and for the next 20 minutes I was enthralled as they passed overhead in wave after wave. Most were 8-10 feet, but some of the big hammerheads hit 15 feet. As I swam towards the main school of hammerheads, a school of blacktip sharks (hundreds of them) entered the narrow passage. It didn't look like there was enough ocean for everyone when the two schools converged. Suspended in the current, with my air supply low, I had no choice but to continue my ascent into the convergence of the two species. I was nearly paralyzed with fear as I drifted up into hundreds of sharks, but they moved slightly to allow me a passageway with only inches to spare."

The boat now is the Izan Tiger, and longtime subscriber Herman Gross (Great Neck, New York) just returned from a trip aboard the Tiger this May. "Of 37 live-aboard trips around the world, this was the only total bust. The advertised hundreds of hammerheads and possible whale sharks were not there, and of course there was no macro and very few small fish. I usually shoot 60-70 rolls of film -- I shot five this trip. 'You should have been here last week.' Currents and surge were sometimes strong, but it was recommended that we stay in a group regardless of how difficult conditions were."

I don't believe it's because the area is fished out. I called Tropical Adventures, which picked up the booking on the boat after Sea & Sea's demise. They reported that returning divers have been consistently seeing big-creature action at Malpelo. However, when traveling to a location where the big stuff is the main attraction with little else to see if they're not there, the unpredictability of ocean life is something to consider.

Honduras, Utila

Utila is the last of the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras to join the tourism band wagon. Unlike Roatan, Guanaja, and Cayos Cochinos, Utila has developed a reputation on the cheap-travel trail. It has been cited as one of the cheapest places in the world to get certified as a diver. S. and D. Stofer (Overland Park, Kansas) report that "Eurotrash in Utila for cheap diving and $2-a-night rooms are not tolerated at Utila Lodge." During their September trip they found the island, with its "one mile of road and four cars, lots of small bars, small dive shops, and lots of bicycles for rent, a very primitive place. However, Utila Lodge was a wellrun, attractive dive resort with eight rooms in a two-story building. Each was identical, with French doors opening onto a large porch facing the sunset, a bar in the living room, all spacious with lots of shelves and pegs for dive gear. Diving was from a large boat with plenty of room and cover. We did have diving freedom but were asked to please be back on the boat in an hour. The corals and sponges were lush and the walls were nice, but not many fish except on the seamounts Black Hill and Bertha's Bank. Did not see the whale sharks that have been reported here. Two-tank dive leaves at 8:00, typically around to north-side dive site, then leisurely trip back around east end looking for whale sharks. It's a long boat ride, but enjoyable and often accompanied by schools of dolphins. Afternoon dives are closer in. Two night dives are included in the package. Shore diving allowed, but it's a 16-minute swim under water over sea grass to the reef."

Walter Brenner (Wayne, Pennsylvania) was on Utila at the new Laguna Beach Resort in November. He liked the trip except for the bugs. "The omnipresence of swarms of nosee- ums -- at all hours -- made life miserable. They were even on the dive boat! No chance for quiet relaxation on the beach or private dock. I had to cover up with jeans and a sweatshirt going to and from the dive boat and dining room, and they still got me. However, diving was excellent by Caribbean standards. Healthy reefs with unusual tube sponges and tunicates. Not many fish, though, the result of years of overfishing. To their credit, no fishing is allowed now and permanent moorings are used."

Burma Bound

Fantasea Divers of Phuket, Thailand, has announced that it has negotiated a licensing agreement with Myanmar and will be diving in the Mergui Archipelago in southwest Burma. During the rest of '97 and the '98 season, they are offering two live-aboards with different agendas.

The 16-passenger Fantasea will be running nine-day combination trips -- six days diving in Thailand and three days exploring the Mergui Archipelago. The six-passenger sailing yacht Colona II will remain in Burma offering weekly departures to the Mergui Archipelago. Passengers are transferred by minibus between Phuket and the vessel. The Fantasea is more dive-abunch oriented and the better boat for underwater photographers, while the Colona tours are slower paced with more time spent exploring the island's flora and fauna.

Unfortunately, this doesn't open up the previously visited Burma Banks, a series of seamounts about 130 miles west of Phuket that were a part of the Fantasea's old itinerary. The Banks don't offer much in the way of coral reefs but are one of the world's best shark dives, thanks to a thriving population of silvertip sharks.

In 1995 the Burmese authorities decided dive boats were no longer welcome because they were considered a commercial venture. Phuket-based operations have worked hard to regain permission to dive the Burma Banks. In May, the Myanmar Ministry of Tourism and Hotels granted permission to dive their Mergui Archipelago. Ironically, the Burma Banks are not a part of the Mergui Archipelago and are still off limits.

However, Fantasea is touting some exciting shark action (silvertip, grey reef, whitetip, and bull shark) in the new area, along with some goodies like ghost pipefish. Stay tuned for reports.

Looking for Something Different?

For the adventure diver looking to get off the beaten track, Günter Pilz (Nicaragua) writes: "There are actually two places worth diving on the Atlantic side of Nicaragua. Besides the Corn Islands in the south you discussed in the last issue, there's Cayos Miskitos in the North. The Atlantic region is poorly developed, so accommodation and transport standards are not high. Some 76 small islands and cays make up Cayos Miskitos, so there's not a lack of places to dive. To get there, take a one-hour plane ride from Managua (two daily) to Puerto Cabezos (Bilwi), then a two- to five-hour boat ride (depending on the boat) out to the Cayos. The Cayos are a National Park, so there's no staying overnight, but Bilwi offers good hotels, food, and entertainment." No one is booking this dive, meaning that you'll have to set it up yourself. Show up in Bilwi with everything you need to dive. Tanks and air fills are available.

Slow Honduras, Cheaper Belize

Due to low interest in diving Honduras from a live-aboard, the Bay Island Aggressor is moving to Belize from October through February. The old Bay Island price of $1,195 will be honored until January, when it will go up to $1,295. The original Belize Aggressor's trips are now $1,595 and will be going up to $1,695 at the first of the year.

Contact Information

Izan Tiger was a Sea & See boat. It's now being booked by Tropical Adventures, 800-247-3483 or 206- 441-3483.

Fantasea Divers: most dive travel specialists or 011-6676-340088, fax 011-6676-340309, or info@fantasea.net.

Cayos Miskitos, Nicaragua: Günter Pile says he can provide some information to help plan a trip. Write ApdoPostal 128, Managua, Nicaragua.

Aggressor Fleet: most dive travel specialists or 800-348-2628 or 504- 385-2628.

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