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May 1999 Vol. 14, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Editor's Picks and Nixes

the good, the bad, and the ugly

from the May, 1999 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Subscriber,

Divemasters walk a thin line between being overprotective toward divers and not paying enough attention to them -- or between pointing out interesting marine life and banging on their tanks to show someone a common lobster.

One of my picks for good treatment on Curaao is Habitat Curaao. Dave Barnard (Menomonie WI) was pleased with his treatment there: Very diver friendly. Treat divers like they know what theyre doing. Recommended safe limits and times and left it to the diver to decide. Could follow the divemaster or do your own thing. Dive staff went above and beyond the call of duty on more than one occasion to make sure we were well taken care of. (800-327-6709 or 305- 428-4220, website: www.curacao-tourism/habitat)

The divemasters were on target when Bill Garner (Pittsburgh PA) made his trip to Papua New Guinea last November aboard the Paradise Sport. The diving was different than I expected. I had never done muck diving before. At first I was disappointed in it, but after the cruise director took me out with him, the initial gloom changed to thrill.

One of the main complaints I hear from divers concerns resort/live-aboard photo pros. These shooters have a passion for underwater photography, and Im sure theyd argue that their photo opportunities comprise a good portion of their compensation, but come on guys, dont hog the photo ops. Paying guests have traveled far and will not be around next week. Show some consideration.

Mel Butler (Claremont CA) found on his February trip aboard the Star Dancer that only Tim, the New Guinean divemaster, seemed happy to search for stuff with us. Several other crew members had cameras and would either dash from place to place or shoot a whole roll of film on one object, allowing no one else a chance. On one muck dive, there were three crew members in the water with their cameras. He does point out that in general he felt safe and accounted for, and that he was retrieved if he surfaced far from the boat. He also liked all the crew: Kiwi, the captain, had an eye on things all the time, Matt took the best underwater photos of me Ive ever had taken, and I felt that the cook and her assistants did wonders. However, I do know Peter Hughes reads Undercurrent carefully, and, hands-on owner that he is, my bet is that as soon as he reads this, his crew will be on notice to serve guests first.(800-932-6237 or 305-669- 9391, dancer@peterhughes.com)

Okie LoPresti (Mountain View CA) was disappointed on her trip to the Similan Islands of Thailand aboard the MV Scuba Cat. While she found the boat okay, the accommodations good, and the diving great, the divemasters blew it. The divemasters (Rich, an Aussie, and Richard, an American) told us during the briefing the dive guide is NOT your buddy, so dont try to buddy up with him for any reason. On our first dive, a newly-certified diver swam up to the dive guide because his buddy was nowhere to be seen. The dive guide (Rich) angrily implied to get away from him. On all of our dives Rich would basically swim in a straight line, never turning around to check on the rest of the group. I would show him my air gauge at 500, and he would acknowledge it and keep swimming. I finished most dives with about 100 psi, and one with about 50 psi. They basically didnt care how much air you got back on board with, as long as you got back on board, which may be okay for some. He would not point out anything and swam past some of the most beautiful coral reefs I have seen. (011-66-76-293-120, scuba.cat@phuket.com)

Though its more a management than staff problem, James McMeins (Carnation WA) became concerned during his February 99 trip about a problem that arose because his dives with Aqua-Trek Divers at Garden Island Resort in Fijis notoriously swift currents were not timed with the slack tide. Very little leeway was available on divesite times to adjust for tides (this was the week of full moon and large tidal variations) because the dive guides all live outside the resort and the last bus around the island leaves at 4 p.m. I call this a management problem because it seems like a feeble excuse for not being able to dive at slack tide; has management considered driving their staff home rather than making them take the bus? (011-679-880286, fax 011-679- 880288)

One operation that does an excellent example of pointing out critters -- and my choice for a dive operation on Kona in Hawaii -- is Dive Makai. Al Sharp (Littleton CO) agrees when he writes about his recent trip, as we all know, Dive Makai is the BEST!! Lisa and Kendra took us to where we asked to go and pointed out more critters than I had film along to shoot. We stayed with Rick and Amy Decker at their B&B, which is located about 1500 feet up the mountain. Rick is a principal with the Kona Underwater Photographers Society, so hes set up the B&B as a dream for UW photographers. Huge work table, multiple rinse tanks, special hangers for wetsuits, etc. If you want a wonderfully laid-back place to rest your head, paddle in the pool, or warm up in a hot tub, this is an ideal spot. Of course, you are a couple of miles from any beach, but that wasnt a negative factor for us. We came to dive. Swam with the pilot whales three times. I would recommend both Silver Oaks Ranch and Dive Makai without any qualifiers. (Dive Makai 808-329-2025)

B&Bs in Hawaii must be in this year: Pamela and Powell Arms (Narberth PA) were doing the B&B thing in March, but were not as pleased with their first stop. Diver Dans B&B is in Papa Bay where the Kona Aggressor hangs out. Based on his brochure and talking to him, it seemed as though we would have a short walk to a pier and into some great, pristine diving. Actually, we had to travel 25 minutes north to get our tanks from Meesha of Old Hawaiian Coffee Divers (328-2277); great guy, instructor with an organic coffee plantation --will take you out diving. To get to the pier which was supposedly close by, we had to drive back 25 minutes and then drive another 20 minutes down a one-lane road to a village to get to the nearby divesite. Diver Dans B&B is also quite a distance from any place to eat. Watch out for VOG (volcano smog): killer on the allergies -- bad south of Kona!

On Hilo we stayed at the Hilo Oceanfront B&B, wow! Great views, totally laidback host, Jay, who is a diver. Nautilus Dive Shop in downtown Hilo is a great shop and the owner gave us maps of shore dive sites. The B&B is awesome and has a hot tub, welcomes children, and was an exceptional value. The shore diving was very good; the site we did had you enter via a cold-water spring... Yikes, it was cold with a surface thermocline, which went away quickly. Its wild diving and looking at snow-topped Mauna Kea at the same time.

In summer dive operations on Kauai can reach several special sites that theyre unable to dive the rest of the year, such as the tiny island of Niihau, west of Kauai, or Mana Crack along Kauais western shore. My choice for a dive operation on Kauai is Bubbles Below (808-822-3483 or website: www.aloha.net/~kaimanu/index.html)

Undercurrent reader Ray Sullivan (Jackson MS) and his wife just returned from a March trip on the Spirit of the Solomons, the Bilikikis sister ship. After spending 10 years diving most of the worlds major sites, this is how they summed it all up: The Solomons rank at the top for the all-around best dive destination. Other places have things that make them unique: Palau has lots of sharks; PNG has great macro; Fiji has beautiful soft coral; Hawaii has lava formations; Thailand has whale sharks; the Red Sea has lots of colorful anthias; Cozumel and Little Cayman have great walls; Bonaire has good beach diving; the Bahamas are close by; and Belize, the Bay Islands, and much of the Caribbean are convenient and affordable -- but for the absolute best of all these things, you cant beat the Solomon Islands. (Phone 011-677-20412; fax 011-677-23897; e-mail bilikiki@welkam.solomon.com.sb)

Richard Lehach (Larchmont NY), who was on the Bilikiki last December, found the diving great and the cabins air-conditioned and roomy, but felt dining with a full array of tropical bugs, including mosquitoes, was unacceptable. It seems that all meals are served out on the deck because the salon, which is large enough to accommodate guests for meals, is not air-conditioned.

My pick for a live-aboard in the Solomons is still the Solomon Sea.(011-677- 25300 or website:www.SolomonSea.com) Yes, it has a/c in the salon, but what persuades me is the adventurous spirit of its owner, Fred Douglas. I also have to agree with Ray and Richard about diving in the Solomons. Its a long way there and you have to face malarial mosquitoes, but the spectacular diving makes it worthwhile. However, as Ray points out, the world has several underwater wonders, and if you havent seen them all yet, heres a case for moving quickly. One of our long-time writers just returned from Palau, Micronesia. The famous jellyfish of Jellyfish Lake have gone to join Bambis mother in Disney Heaven. Sorry divers, but the jellyfish were not there. Apparently last August/Septembers El Nio cooked the lake to a temp that cooked most of the famous little creatures. No more visits for now. There may be other lakes in the region where the once ocean-going jellyfish have become land-locked and forgotten how to sting, but at this point I havent heard of any operations that are providing other jellyfish opportunities. The sharks and the fish life on the reefs are still prolific, but as our correspondent also points out, there are really only a few dived spots on Palaus reefs, and unfortunately they are greatly overcrowded much of the time.

. . . discovered the latest and
greatest muck-diving heaven:
Secret Bay on Bali caters to the
serious critter aficionado.

Always in search of new sites and destinations, long-time correspondent Peter Jennings (Tustin CA) writes that he has discovered the latest and greatest muck-diving heaven: Secret Bay on Bali is macro-UWP-oriented and caters to the serious critter photographer or aficionado. The guides have an amazing ability to find things for photographers. Sand and silt bottom with vis varying with tide (high tide is best). Maximum depth is only 30' so bottom time is limited only by film, hunger, and the chill. Dont expect to see any big fish; this is a place to look for the weird and wonderful: Pegasus fish, frogfish, mandarins, inimicus, bobbitt worms, ghost pipefish, and on and on, with new species being found daily (they put up a daily Menu of whats been found by divers). Its about a 3-hour drive from Sanur or Kuta Beach to the west end of Bali near the national park. Accommodations for 12 divers in air-conditioned rooms -- Spartan, clean and neat. Voltage is 220-240. Rinse tanks big and well-maintained. Home-cooked Indonesian food -- good and spicy. Visiting the West Bali National Park and diving at nearby Menjangan Island are well worth while if you can tear yourself away from the critters. (Tel: (62-361)288652, Fax:(62-361) 288892, divedive@indo.net.idMaldives)

Ive always credited Bob Halsted, who opened up Papua New Guinea to liveaboards years ago, with coining the term muck diving as early as 1980, when he introduced the Dinahs Beach dive site to the diving public (see sidebar below). Photographers later flocked to the muck in northern Sulawesi when Larry Smith took over the dive operation at Kungkungan Bay Resort around 1995. Larry has since left, although not before investing several years in sorting through the muck and finding the weirdest of the weird. Reader Leon Garden (Monterey CA) returned from KBR in December and reports fast comfortable boats with a boat Captain, boatman, three dive guides, and only four or five guests. Fast comfortable boats get you to sites which are 15 minutes away and always supply towels, hot chocolate, and fresh fruit after each dive. All this on what must be the world capital of small cryptic creatures -- more photogenic stuff on every dive than anywhere Ive been in 50 years of dive travel. (510-825-1921)

Another cryptic critter hangout was later discovered in the harbor of Ambon in the Banda Sea. Always hard to get to, recent political unrest has made travel to this part of Indonesia even more difficult, as Muslim and Christian gangs have been attacking each other with machetes, bows and arrows, and clubs. Perhaps when the smoke clears this may once again become a muck divers haven, especially since its also the gateway to the Banda Sea, which has some of the best reefs Ive had the pleasure to swim over.

However, the new and unusual is not always so distant. In fact, sometimes its right in front of us. Im shamefaced to say it, but Ive just discovered that I walked right past one such site for years and never even realized it until recently, when I heard from subscriber Mickey Fivenson (Traverse City MI). While on Cozumel, Fivenson discovered an interesting alternative to making a 34th trip to Santa Rosa Wall:

While jogging I discovered a 40' by 60' pond with an iguana floating legs-up and a bunch of trash around the edges. Returning to this pond on my last Cozumel trip, I found a van parked along the edge and saw air bubbles popping up from below the surface of the now cleaned-up pond.

I wrote my name and hotel phone number on a piece of paper and slipped it under the vans wiper. That afternoon I received a call from Raul, certified cave diver and divemaster for Yucatech Expeditions (987-25659, fax 987-21417, yucatech@cozumel.com). Yes, it was a cenot dive. Yes, Raul would take me tomorrow. Yes, the cost was $50.

Raul picked me up the next day at my hotel and took me on one of my top ten favorite dives of my 27-year sport diving experience. Parking on the ledge of the pond, you enter about 12' depth, and immediately swim through the 12' opening into the first of several rooms that you will explore during the 40 minute, 40' dive. (After extensive cave exploration, the end of the cave has still not been found.) Its an alternative dive that you can do even on the worst Cozumel weather day.

The dive led me to request more cenot diving from Yucatech, which I experienced the next day on the mainland. I must admit that these heavily-visited cenots were no match for the Cozumel cenot experience. They seemed too commercial and too accessible.

Not all new destinations are necessarily worth checking out, however. Recent advertisements in the slick dive pubs would have you believe that the Dominican Republic is the hot new dive destination. But I have not heard from anyone who has had a decent dive anywhere near the island. Reader Tom Kelly (Irmo SC) checked out R.E.D. Coral Divers at Bavaro Palace in Punta Cana last August and was greatly disappointed. None of the rental gear had depth gauges -- only the divemaster got a depth gauge. There were NO fish to see. The deep dive, which we had to go out 8 miles to get to, had a depth of 100 feet. It had no underwater marine life either. The Hotel Bavaro Palace is beautiful and the beach with its swaying palms has got to be one of the prettiest. But dont go for the scuba diving.

Not new, but with diving thats not that bad and a price that may be right, is this item I found on the internet: For a limited time, the Prospect Reef Resort, one of the largest resorts on Tortola in the British West Indies, is offering four days/three nights at the resort for $59. According to the website at www.caribbeantouristbureau.com the resort has just been sold, and the new owners are in the process of renovating and want feedback from focus groups made up of families (limited to approximately 500). Is there a catch?

John Q. Trigger

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