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May 1998 Vol. 13, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Travelin' Divers Update

What to watch for . . .and watch out for

from the May, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As we review our readers comments, talk with our writers, and conduct our own research, were taken by how much little things count in making a good dive trip. At home, for example, one can expect battles over the thermostat between kids and parents, but youd better watch out when it happens on a liveaboard.

Chuck and Janie Garrett (Warrenton VA), who joined the Bay Island Aggressor II for a December cruise in Belize, told us that the captain insisted on maintaining a 65-degree thermostat setting for all enclosed areas of the boat. Our direct complaints that we were freezing fell on deaf ears, as did the not-so-subtle picture of his passengers wearing double and triple T-shirts as well as anything else that we may have had in our belongings. His intransigence was, and is, unfathomable. (800-348-2628 or 504-385-2628)

Thats not all. Here comes that age-old live-aboard complaint, (which seems more common to Aggressors than other vessels): passengers not only resent the pressure for 15% tips, but are absolutely infuriated, after they have begrudgingly coughed up those tips, by the ships policy of making them unwelcome on the boat after 8 a.m. Saturday morning, as well as by the rude way that policy is enforced.

Also watch out for one of those other little things that show up down Honduras way: no-see-ums. Reader Bruce Gillespie, a well-traveled diver from Houston, writes that as I type this memo to you I am scratching all of the sand flea, mosquito, and no-see-um bites. Some people swear by Avons Skin So Soft, but bring along a DEET product.

While his multiple bites certainly got his attention, Gillespie was really writing to comment on Fantasy Island. We purchased an upgrade (deluxe room) package ($200 more), but it turned out that the standard rooms had essentially the same view: trees and shrubbery with the ocean barely visible. For a few square feet more, the value received for the cost incurred is minimal and the upgrade, therefore, is inadvisable.

While in Honduras, Kevin Frazer (LeClaire IA) tells us that he was glad he kissed off the Wind Dancers last nights meal at Anthonys Key. Go to new the restaurant, The Iguana, run by a recent Spanish migr: outstanding.

Big things are important for divers, too, and, as we reported in our feature article this month, they were missing along the Pacific Coast this winter. Aboard the Galapagos Aggressor in January, Lois Zarka (Brooklyn NY) says El Nio reigned. Very few big things in water. Sharks more than 150 ft. down. Regarding El Nio, the waters of Peru, which are used as a benchmark, were nine degrees warmer than usual this winter, but by early April the differential was only three degrees. Hopefully, the big fish will be returning soon.(800-348-2628 or 504-385-2628)

Of course, the big things are still in Palau, but watch out for that Continental cattle run (via Honolulu and Guam) that runs $1700 and requires a hotel layover. Check for better deals, says Jeff Davis, who purchased a discounted fare ($771) on Philippine Airlines nonstop SFO to Manila from Travelfast International in SFO and Air Micronesia from Manila to Palau ($450). We left SFO at 11:30 p.m. I slept the whole flight and arrived in Manila at 6 a.m. The flight from Manila to Koror left at 10 a.m. and took two hours, and I arrived fresh. Smart guy.

Last June, you may recall, we jumped all over the Cousteau Fiji Resort as overhyped, both because the food was lousy and because they failed to attend to details. Some of our readers thought we were off the mark, but Mike Steffenson (Davenport IA), who was there in November, said he learned that our description of the situation was accurate before Ben and Verena Burgoon arrived on the scene as the new managers to clean up the mess. . . The garden bures were spectacularly beautiful and serviced twice a day. The employees speak to you by name! The food was wonderful and the service and personal accommodations by the kitchen and service staff were first-class by any standard; I was surprised that only 20% of the resorts guests were divers and that the owners were focusing on eco-tourists rather than divers. Nevertheless, we were quite satisfied with the dive operation and had nothing but good experiences. (800-246-3454 or 415-788-0150)

A full-service dive shop in Cozumel? Thats what Sheila McIntyre of Innerspace Divers (Brunswick OH) calls Dive Paradise. One of my divemasters wanted to renew his marriage vows, and he wanted to find a gold angel pin for his wife and keep it a surprise! Renee Applegate mobilized her crew; they found a jeweler who made the pin and made arrangements with a local English-speaking priest to conduct the ceremony and kept it secret until the couple arrived at the church. My hat is off to Applegate and her caring staff. (011-52-987- 21007)

But, if youre visiting Cozumel, watch out for those ceiling-mounted vegomatics that pass for fans at the Scuba Club Galapago. Reader Paul Ramer said while the rooms are perfectly designed for accommodating piles of wet dive gear, those steel-bladed beasts are mounted low enough so that anyone over 5' 8 can easily touch the blades. I learned the hard way by getting a deep gash in my thumb while changing my shirt.

And how about that romantic Wave Dancer crew in Belize? At their standard Thursday night dinner of lobster, steak, and baked Alaska, the staff greeted Donna and Todd Teach (Columbus OH) with a big Happy Anniversary banner. The couple said that the crew all signed a lovely anniversary card (with terrific pointers for a happy marriage). When we arrived back in our cabin, there was a bottle of champagne waiting for us in an ice bucket romantically illuminated by two Cyalumne glow sticks. Aaaahhh. (800-932-6237 or 305-669-9391)

Watch out for too much growth on Grand Cayman, which is battling diver traffic jams by adding ten new moorings along the North Wall. It thought it was battling automobile traffic by creating a bypass to channel airport traffic heading from Seven Mile Beach, but reader Mel Murray (Concord NC) reported that southbound traffic backed up 2 miles during the day, making the trip from the west end an ordeal. Undaunted, Cayman officials have instituted free left turn on red if the road is clear.

Murray, who hasnt been diving at Cayman for seven years, said that what we saw on the reefs off the west end was terrible. A lot of algae growing all over the coral -- sort of a loose mesh of green-brown material about 1/2 inch thick. (Don Fosters Dive Shop pretty much blew me off when I questioned them about the algae.) Is it a temporary thing, or are the west end reefs beginning to die? Well, reef death is on the way, unless drastic measures against pollution the major cause of algae growth are taken. But development is rampant on Grand Cayman and Seven Mile Beach. The venerable Holiday Inn is getting the wrecking ball, soon to be replaced with a Ritz Carlton (and a new nine-hole golf course across the street). Tourism is over whelming the islands infrastructure, and everything from toothpaste water to toilet water feeds the algae. Quite simply, we divers came to see the beautiful reefs, then showed our gratitude by crapping all over them. We are not optimistic about the Cayman governments ability to save the West End Reefs.

Of course, Americas reefs off the Florida Keys are getting the same disrespect, so look for more adventurous diving at Palm Beach, a short distance north of Miami. Gold Coast Charters, says Eric Rokicki (Millersville MD), provides a comfortable boat and places divers in two groups led by divemaster. First dive Juno Ball Reef 70 ft. at top and 90 ft. at sand, vis: 40-60 ft., water: 72 degrees. Drift dive. Large eagle ray (at least 10 ft. wingspan), 3 nurse sharks, free swimming moray. I was surprised how good the diving was in mid-January, even though Undercurrent said we would be pleasantly surprised. (561-842-6356).

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