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September 1997 Vol. 12, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Editorial Notebook

Cozumel, Brazil, Cayman, and Bad Air

from the September, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Cozumel isn't like other dive destinations, where you have a choice of dive resorts, it's more like Grand Cayman, where you pick a place to stay and then have a choice of independent operators. By dive resort, I mean a dedicated dive resort, where the main purpose is diving, where you stay, eat, dive, and then sit around and talk to other divers about diving. Grand Cayman does have a few choices -- Sunset House, Cayman Dive Lodge, and Coconut Harbor -- but Cozumel has only one such place, the Galapago Inn, which is no longer the Galapago. Under new management, it's now known by several names, Scuba Club Cozumel, Scuba Club Galapago, or just plain Scuba Club Dive Resort.

The old Galapago Inn was a decent place to stay and dive. It was comfortable and clean, had cozy diver ambiance, and ran decent dive boats at good price. If subscribers ever complained, it was because the diving was a little too controlled and they couldn't dive their own profiles.

And the new Scuba Club Cozumel? Undercurrent subscriber W. H. Stacy (Valparaiso, Indiana) reports from his July visit: "It appears that nothing but the name has changed. Hotel is clean, quaint, and convenient. Dive boats are fast, efficient, comfortable, and dive operation is well run. Night dives and twilight dive are frequently available. Maximum depths on most dives are 90 feet on the first dive and 50 feet on the second. Bottom times are limited to 30 to 50 minutes. Would have liked more freedom to dive my own profile and do more exploring, but it's strictly a diver's hotel and one of the best values in the Caribbean." (800- 847-5708; listed as "Scuba Club Galapago" in our last issue; advertised in Skin Diver as "Scuba Club Dive Resort," but listed in their advertiser's index as "Scuba Club Galapago.")

Under the Volcano

This month's Off the Beaten Track is Fernando de Noronha, a volcanic island in the Atlantic off Brazil's east coast, just three degrees below the equator. Diving here is not for the corals (very few), nor for spectacular walls. It's for the abundance of fish and pelagics.

Three big dogtoothed
tuna swam towards me --
the largest one five feet
long, chunky and
square-looking, with big
canine teeth.

Undercurrent subscriber Luiz T. Salazar Queiroz (S. Jose dos Campos, Brazil) reports on his trip to Noronha last July. "I dove with Atlantis divers, run by a Frenchman: they provide transportation hotel-dock-hotel and their boats are fast, with shaded area, good stern ladder, and platform, but if full it's a cattle boat. Little space for photography gear and no rinse tanks for cameras. Short rides to main dive sites (average 15 minutes); friendly crew, but poor briefing (if any). Best sites are on the outside of the reef in the open sea area called Mar de Fora ('Outside Sea') with an extraordinary abundance of colorful fish -- but with strong currents and choppy seas. Inside the reef, the area is called Mar de Dentro ('Inside Sea'), which is not as spectacular but still has some marvelous sites like the wreck of the Ipiranga, a 150-foot Brazilian navy small destroyer with the bow gun at 210 feet, completely intact, l00-foot vis, abundant fish life, and stingrays galore. A breathtaking dive, but only for experienced divers, with long deco stops. Other sites include a pinnacle covered by chromis (130-foot depth, vis 100 feet), and more with general shark encounters, occasional huge groupers, green morays, lots of lobsters, eagle rays, and lots of tropicals. Unfortunately, it's forbidden to dive at Bay of Dolphins, where there's a large spinner dolphin population, but several times spinners did follow the dive boat -- a very graceful show. Water temperatures averaged 80F. Usually two dives per day; first one is usually good to world class, but second could be boring. Incredibly beautiful sightseeing. I stayed at Pousada Monsieur Rocha, where accommodations were extremely Spartan by American standards (no air conditioning, hot water, nor TV), but everything was clean, the food was good and employees polite. Night life is limited to lectures on dolphins, turtles, and wild birds (given by Brazilian Environment Institute) or local music and dance at Bar do Cachorro (The Dog's Bar). Local sightseeings is incredibly beautiful."

The season for diving the outside of the reef is short -- December to March. English is rarely spoken; bring hard cash (Brazilian money, not U.S. dollars). Call a dive travel specialist or dial direct, 011-55-81619-1371.

Cruising the Outer Atolls

The Thorfinn, normally stationed in Truk Lagoon, is testing diver interest in the outer Micronesian and Marshall Islands in a series of discovery trips. (Previous Undercurrent issues reported a ruckus over the Thorfinn not being welcome on an advertised Bikini Island segment.) Reader Alan D. Hutchison (Reno, Nevada) reports on one of the first trips: "I've just returned from the first leg of the Thorfinn's Micronesian cruise: Truk to Pohnpei with stops at East Fayo Island, Murillo Atoll, Oroluk Atoll, Patkin Atoll, and Ant Atoll. Virtually all of the diving was outside the reefs (ocean side) on walls averaging 110 feet to 10 feet in coral gardens. Except for Ant Atoll (which is within easy reach of Pohnpei), these are all atolls that are hardly, if ever, dived. The Thorfinn was last at these atolls five years ago. Consequently, some of the diving was exploratory, but we generally dived the 'corners' with outstanding results.

"One 'corner' on Oroluk Atoll was probably my most exciting dive in over 40 years of diving. It was like a time machine -- entering the oceans when they were teeming with marine life. At 100 feet, I stopped counting at 15 gray reef sharks patrolling the reef. Several oceanic whitetips cruised off in the blue. Three big dogtoothed tuna swam towards me -- the largest one five feet long, chunky and squarelooking, with big canine teeth. A school of bigeye trevally swam around me, and schools of yellowtail kingfish were overhead and in front of me. Pulled along in a two-knot current, I passed a school of chevron barracuda and then found myself in the middle of a spiraling school of yellowtail barracuda. Moving up the wall to the shallower water, I took in an emperor angelfish, a clown trigger, dozens of species of butterflyfish, Moorish idols, and schools of jacks and snappers.

"The crew [of the LCD II]
was replaced mid-
December, and we spent
$50,000 on replacement
parts alone in the first
six months of 1997."

"In addition, I visited a small Polynesian village on Oroluk and a Micronesian village on Patkin. On Oroluk we had a feast: roasted pig, lobster, coconut crab and coconuts, breadfruit, taro and all the trimmings, including tuba, a fermented coconut drink.

"Not a trip for divers who insist on four or more dives each and every day, it's a true Pacific expedition with wonderful dives and wonderful sights. Five stars all the way!" Contact a dive travel specialist or direct at: 011- 691-330-3040.

New Airline for

Christmas Christmas Island, or Kiribati, has had its share of keeping reliable air service. In the last fiasco, inbound divers were notified shortly before their trip that no planes would be flying for a month or more because there was no fuel. As of August 12, air service from Hawaii to Christmas will now be provided by Aloha Airlines. The weekly flights, every Tuesday, arrive by 9 a.m., allowing divers to get six days of diving by getting into the water on the first day. Dive packages that include air from Honolulu, meals, accommodations, and at least three dives a day are available for $2,400. Let's hope the new air service will be dependable. Contact 800- 245-1950 or 412-935-1577.

Little Cayman Diver II

Little Cayman is always a top contender for the best diving in the Caribbean, and the Little Cayman Diver II has been In Depth/ Undercurrent readers' choice for best live-aboard trip for several years. However, like me, maybe you've heard that the boat was in need of refurbishing. Last fall a series of reports from readers reflected a deterioration in the quality of the boat and the crew.

When I contacted manager Sharon Silveria, I received a professional response. She acknowledged that they had had some problems, both cosmetic -- due to a lax crew -- and mechanical, due to generator failures. "The crew was replaced mid- December, and we spent $50,000 on replacement parts alone in the first six months of 1997."

Shirley La Mear (Pacific, Missouri) backs up the new crew with a report from her February trip aboard the LCD II. "The boat still needs work, but the crew was excellent. Please don't call their food gourmet; that word is vastly overused and has lost its meaning. Food was plentiful, tasty, imaginative, served with a flourish -- great American chow! The diving was, of course, terrific."

Silveria says they have since rebuilt the compressor, added a backup compressor, rebuilt the watermaker, installed new A/C units and new pumps throughout, cleaned, painted, refinished teak, reupholstered the salon sofa, installed a new galley floor, and replaced linens.

I telephoned three divers returning from recent trips on the Little Cayman Diver II; all were pleased and gave both the boat and crew a thumbs up. But not everyone agrees, Robert Schrage (Rye NY) returned from his second trip aboard the Diver this May and reports: "Boat needs a complete overhaul if they're going to continue calling her a luxury live-aboard. It's still a comfortable ship, but like a dowager aunt, is beginning to show her age. Electrical service was erratic, CD player and TV were not working, and although the crew said it was on order, no chase boat was available." (800- 458-2722 or 813-932-1993.)

Lethal Air

An August issue of the St. Petersburg Times (Florida) reported the recall of air from scuba tanks filled by a Largo dive store. The recall was prompted by the death of a diver over the Fourth of July that was determined to have been caused by a tank contaminated with carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide poisoning causes headaches, tingling sensations, nausea, and eventually loss of consciousness. In this case, the cause of the diver's death was reported has drowning due to being incapacitated. The victim's gauges showed that he had been diving at 50 feet; his tank was half empty when he was found floating on the surface. A blood sample indicated a 32 percent level of monoxide in his blood stream, a near-fatal percentage even in the absence of other factors.

Tanks that were filled on or around the July 4 were being recalled and refilled by Scuba Quest, the dive store where the contaminated tank was rented. According to Scuba Quest's regional manager, they had no clue as to how it could have happened. None of the other divers suffered any ill effects from tanks that were filled from the same batch. He speculated that the tank could have been filled from another source and returned to them partially full, then topped off at Scuba Quest before it was rented to the victim.

I've never really considered buying the test kits that are available for divers to test the air in their tanks before diving. I thought the price tag was bit high and it seemed somewhat excessive, but maybe I should reconsider. Lawrence Factor, Inc., makes a couple of models, one with a yoke to fit onto a tank (retail $98) and another that fits onto a BC inflator hose ($60). Called C-O Cop, they use a replaceable detector capsule that changes color if carbon monoxide is present. Each capsule is supposed to last for 15 or 20 uses; replacement capsules cost around $5. Check your local dive store -- other kits that use test strips are available for around $50 retail -- or call 800-338-5493 or 305-557-7549 to find a local dealer for the C-O Cop.

J. Q.

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