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October 1998 Vol. 13, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Picks and Nixes of 98

a preview of the 1999 Chapbook

from the October, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The 1999 Chapbook has gone to bed--bigger and better than ever, of course. As a loyal subscriber, you deserve a head start on some of the information--and other tidbits--before hundreds of new subscribers get their volume.

The one "new" Caribbean resort that gets diving kudos from our readers is the Habitat in Curaao. It's got the good diving of Bonaire ... and it may be even better. Says David E. Reubush (Yorktown PA): "Thought the diving was better than Bonaire. The reef out front was great and starts fairly shallow. Flats full of macro and small golden morays, a zillion scorpion fish, a sea horse. Abundant spotted drums, a frog fish, one nurse shark at Mushroom Coral Forest--scorpion fish, and the golden morays." Evelyn D. Russell (Greensboro NC) says "You can dive 24 hours a day in front: saw a 6-foot green moray swimming, barracuda, large stonefish, flamingo tongues, peacock flounders, squid, scrawled file fish, puffers, barjacks, long lure frogfish." All this, and the dive operation gets good marks too!(Habitat 800-327-6709/305-438-4220)

The Habitat has junior suites and two bedroom cottages, balconies or patios, a/c, and a beautiful pool. One tip: do not get a meal package. Says Gary Dorman, "food is OK, but service was bad: very slow and inattentive. After a two-tank dive most folks could use an occasional refill on a glass of water, especially after waiting 45 minutes for a sandwich. Maid service rivals restaurant service. The words soap and toilet paper are not well recognized. We considered it a victory to finally get three sets of towels for our cottage." Chris Cozzi (Rohnert Park CA) says: "Service at the restaurant is bad enough not to return to this resort though everything else was top notch. Two hours to get through lunch or dinner." Options: rent a car and drive to restaurants (the resort is remote and none is nearby) or take the shuttle to town to buy breakfast food and sandwich makings (there's a fridge in the room).

The restaurant service at Ramon's Village in Belize also gets smoked by a longtime Beesville, Texas, subscriber who goes only by Russ and knows how to turn a phrase: "service was as slow as smoke off cow manure. Too many waiters, no follow-up service." Now that's a good example of real Texas crude....(Ramon's 601-649-1996)

Headed for Palau? Take a tip from Arlen and Steve Yaconelli (Gatt CA) who found that Chinese New Year is no time to go because crowds of Asian tourists take over the limited facilities. They say "Sam's had extra boats (total 8) because of the crowd. Had we known about this holiday ahead of time, we would have gone another week." Next Chinese New Year? The Year of the Rabbit is ushered in on February 16, 1999.

While the Asian economic crisis drives down the stock market, it also drives down airfares. Until December 15, Cathay Pacific is offering an "Asia Air Pass" for 30 days for $999 ($899 on their website). Fly LA to Bangkok, Singapore, Cebu, Jakarta, Penang, Surabaya, Colombo, Kuala Lumpur, Denpasar (Bali), Hong Kong or Manila. For a few more bucks, you can reach Phuket, Thailand, Cairns, Perth, Sydney, or even Johannesburg, South Africa. The whole enchilada is at http://www.cathay-usa.com or call your travel agent. Thanks to subscriber Jose Kirchner for the tip.

In our April issue, we reported on the best Cayman operators for experienced divers, one of which was Dive 'n Stuff. Subscribers Keith and Ellen Irwin write: "Thanks for the rundown on Cayman dive operators. We chose 'Dive 'n Stuff' and found them very much as you described: flexible, helpful, knowledgeable. It's nice to hear a dive operator start a conversation with 'What would you like to do?' and follow it with 'When would you like to do it?' We couldn't have been happier with their service." (Dive 'n Stuff 345-949-6033)

We tell you about these operators so that you may avoid operations that treat you like a resort diver. In fact, just about every hotel operation along Seven Mile Beach does, and Red Sail is one of them. Last year, reports Kelly Carlson (West Stansbury CT), "Red Sail provided a totally unsatisfactory experience, though we've been customers for the past 5 years. Divemaster inflated my wife's BC to speed up her ascent, despite her protests and the fact that her computer display showed her at the maximum rate of ascent. He then agreed with her that she was right! He also left a site without 2 divers; assistant spotted them in the water swimming toward the boat." This year, Blake Fry, who owns Salem (Oregon) Scuba & Travel says: "At Red Sail it didn't matter what your experience was, whether you had 1500 psi left and 17 minutes of deco time on your computer, how much you paid for the trip ($6,500 at the Westin) ... you're going up, period. Although I never violated my ascent rate, did a reverse profile, ran out of air, shot up to the surface, went past the 130' limit, touched the fragile coral, damaged their boat or gear, or used foul language, I was constantly treated like a child for violating their dive profiles. One violation? 'Going off by myself.' I was 50' from the mooring line making my safety stop more entertaining over the reef."

Back in August, we reported on changes for the better on Little Cayman Diver II (800-458-2722 or 813-932-1993). Although the boat has had its share of problems over the years, readers let us know that new management had it shipshape and that the food and staff were great. But recently we received a report from readers Steve and Padi who wrote to let us know that the former captain and cook had left and "it seems like the LCD is back into challenges with crew and repairs." It appears that the couple split the sheets recently, and there were apparently a couple rough weeks after their departure that left some passengers up in arms.

Now things seem to have settled down: the disgruntled divers say they've been compensated for their bad trips, new captain Ken, engineer Mike, and chef Lisa Dragu have been aboard for a few weeks, and owner Winston McDermot says the boat's physical problems have been corrected and that weekly passenger debriefings have all been positive. Jeff Farris, one of the dissatisfied customers who was offered a free return trip next summer, still feels that the LCD II's ads touting "luxurious accommodations and world-class service" are misleading and adds that while "the diving may well be worth the conditions on the boat (it must be, we're going back!), anyone should go forewarned that it is a Spartan lifestyle." In any event, it sounds like the beginning of another chapter for the LCD II, so if anyone has been aboard recently, we'd love to hear how your trip went.

Diving out of Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale is largely drift diving that's a little deeper than the Florida Keys. It provides the chance to see bigger fish and is generally liked better than the Keys. Gold Coast Charters (561-842-6356)has the largest constituency among our readers. Says Eric Rokicki (Millersville MD): "Accommodating with morning and afternoon charters. Comfortable boat and divers placed in two groups led by divemaster.... I was surprised how good the diving was. I've been reading Undercurrent for ten years, and they said we would be pleasantly surprised." Gary Chimko (Henderson NV) says "boat accommodated weekday groups of 6-8, weekend 14 with ease. All dives were drift and boat was always close. First-class operation."

Steve and Kathie Payne (Richland City IN) tipped us off to Scuba Referrals of South Florida, where Damian Gazdak takes care of everything and places you on charters (Scubatyme, Get Down, and Gold Coast Charters) depending upon what kind of diving you want to do. You show up at the dock and he takes your gear, puts it on the boat, sets it up, helps you into it, leads the dive, and points out the neat and the interesting. Back on the boat he breaks your gear down, stows it, and takes it off the boat, and all you do is drive away. The motto: "it's your vacation and no lugging." http://home.earthlink.net/-scubarerer/ or call 1-800-585-DIVE.

Over the years, Quiescence at Key Largo (305-451-2440) gets continually good reviews from our readers. As David Rosen (Chesterfield MI) puts it: "Quiescence is a great dive service. They run small boats that take no more than six divers with a driver and a divemaster. They let us set our own dive profiles; often in the water an hour per dive without any complaints."

And a word about Florida: wind and rain in the winter can make diving miserable. Many operations take you out in rough seas so they don't have to cancel and refund. Water temperatures can be in the low 70s, which means lots of rubber for most folks.

Fiji can be no more expensive than Honduras or Dominica if you hook up with Eco Divers and Sea Fiji. They dive the same reefs as Cousteau at a third their tariff: they offer you decent accommodations and two tanks a day for a week for as little as $1400 for two people! For a few more bucks stay at the nearby Daku Garden Resort, which is undergoing major upgrading. I liked the hotel as it was, so it's bound to be better. Contact Eco Divers at: seafijidive@is.com.fj

Speaking of Honduras, we note that the Inn of Last Resort (011-504-451838) continues to get raves. Say Chuck and Nancy Anson (Oceanside CA): "This has got to be the best bargain for a dive trip. Three great dives/day on spacious dive boats, three sit-down, served, gourmet meals a day, and a large, well-appointed room for less than $100/day/ person. We stayed two weeks, made 35 dives and were treated like family." Adds Ervin Ashford (Corpus Christi TX): "Good, outstanding dive operation. Boat operator stayed on board, divemaster in the water; oxygen and first aid and radio onboard. Recompression chamber close by. Food and service were five-star." But watch out for the December through February winter weather in Honduras, when both winds and rains can be horrible.

Reader Charlotte Tull (Huntsville TX) was one of the first to try Panama's new liveaboard, the Coiba Explorer II, a 114-foot cruiser with eight twin-bedded state rooms plying the waters around Coiba Island off Panama's Pacific Coast. The boat, the food, the virgin diving, and the dive program--offering four or five daily dives supervised by divemaster Torben Legaard--all garnered glowing reviews, and, although Tull warns of strong currents and changeable water temperatures that can go from 75 to 85 in a minute, she reports that "we saw sharks on every dive, so many eels they became almost commonplace (not really), huge turtles, several kinds of rays, enormous fish--and that's just the big stuff! The tiny delights of marine life are there in extraordinary abundance. And one afternoon we sighted three humpback whales which we were able to observe for half an hour." For more information see Coiba Explorer's website at www.coibaexplorer.com or call 1-800-733-4742.

Of course, this is just a sampling of all the reader tips that are coming your way soon. The complete 1999 issue of The Travelin' Diver's Chapbook, which serves as the November/December issue, will be sent to you in December.

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