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August 2000 Vol. 15, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Live-Aboard Lowdown

readers report on new craft, small ops, and boats that save a buck

from the August, 2000 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

More and more live-aboards are being launched annually. Boats from the Peter Hughes and Aggressor fleet maintain generally high standards, while one might have an edge over the other at any given location. Nonetheless, most divers return satisfied. Still, there are other craft to consider, some of them superior. Here’s the latest from our readers.

In Australia, the Spoilsport gets good reviews (888-MIKE-BALL; e-mail: usa@mikeball.com, website www.mikeball.com). Bill Smythe (Scott’s Valley CA), on board last year, writes, “I am 70 years old and I had 30+ years on most of the divers. The crew was always there to help me, though I needed none. I don’t use a computer; no problem. I took extra time at the decom bar and knowing my limits, only dove twice a day. The Yongala was all that they said.”

Susan Carter (Oakland CA) says that on her exploratory trip into the Coral Sea, “I was so impressed with the diversity of south Pacific corals and sea life, especially fish. Sharks on every dive, but no rays, only a few turtles and beautiful lionfish.” However, there was a problem. “Weather turned nasty on the last night and the boat broke anchor and ran up on the reef, causing major damage to the reef and minor damage to the boat. The crew handled the situation well, however there were two divers in the water, and with no underwater recall system and their lights not visible from the boat, we spent 20 minutes anxiously trying to locate them before the Captain could get the boat off the reef (he didn’t want to move the boat with divers in the water). Result: further damage to the reef; anxious friends and crew. When they were located by their lights, the crew went to alert them to the problem and directed them to surface rather quickly, leading to anxious divers as well (they ended up on O2 for a few hours, but weren’t bent). Mike, get an Underwater Recall System! They didn’t have an informal recall procedure (e.g., revving of engines).”

Long time Undercurrent reader Harry Cure (Fort Worth TX), in Truk in February, suggests an alternative to the Aggressor: “The Odyssey is one of the nicest liveaboards I have had the pleasure to dive. The dive deck is perfect. The accommodations have separate baths and are large. The lounge has surround sound and big screen TV. Best set up for cameras on a live-aboard I have seen! The maximum number of divers is 16; we were full and there was plenty of room.” (Truk Odyssey, 800-757-5396 or 904-346- 3766; e-mail info@TrukOdyssey.com; website www.trukodyssey.com.)

When booking a live-aboard that moves to an area where other live-aboards also ply the waters, you might not get up-to-snuff dives if the crew is new to the area. That’s what Mimi Wong (St. Paul MN) reported: “While usually in PNG, Star Dancer spent part of Spring 2000 with the Sun Dancer in Palau. The crew was not as knowledgeable about various sites as we would have liked. The captain and cook were moving off to the Turks and Caicos operation, a new crew member was on his second week.” But a month later things improved, says Allen Tisch (Cornwall on Hudson NY). “For a PNG-based boat, divemasters knew sites quite well.” (Peter Hughes Diving, 800-932-6237 or 305-669- 9391; e-mail dancer@peterhughes.com; website www.peterhughes.com.) We received similar complaints last year when the Nekton Pilot first moved to Belize.

Of course, if you’re one of the adventurous signing up for an exploratory cruise, no one may be familiar with the site, and you “pays your money and takes your chance.” In Thailand, Fantasea Divers is launching a new 90-foot, 8-cabin, luxury live-aboard, the Ocean Rover, for trips to the Similan and Surin islands, Richelieu Rock and the remote waters of Myanmar (Burma). You can gamble $3,090 on their inaugural 15-day exploratory trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands next February. Contact your travel agent or Fantasea (phone: (011) 66 76 340088 or 295511; e-mail info@fantasea.net; website www.phuket-fantasea.net). Jim Chubb (Ketchum ID) was aboard the older Fantasea craft this spring and said, “great passing clouds of schooling fish blotted out the sunlight. Swam through a fish-packed tunnel, lingered with a banded sea snake as it hunted, saw a cuttlefish ménage à trois, a vortex of barracuda, vast rivers of glass fish, lightening-fast big jacks and snappers, and an enormous manta with a fishing net draped over its head, cut away by Rob, the divemaster. The unhampered giant came back and swam slowly right up to Rob, face-to-face. That’s just one dive at one site.”

As for the Caribbean, there’s not much new to report, but let me make a suggestion. If you go to Ambergris Caye in Belize and discover that the diving is not what you were led to believe (it’s quite mediocre unless you go to the outer cayes), follow the suggestion of Ken Paff (Detroit MI) and try “a down-home, inexpensive ‘camp-aboard’ with good diving. The 50' Offshore Express is operated by Coral Beach out of Ambergris Caye. Their mainstay is a two-day, fivedive trip to Turneffe and Lighthouse Reefs. You can sleep on the boat or camp (much better; they provide tents, mattresses, sheets) on Half Moon Caye, a park/sanctuary for boobies and other birds. $250 all inclusive. Diving at Lighthouse Reef is quite good by Caribbean standards and much better than the barrier reef in N. Belize. Fresh fish caught off the boat. Competent and fun dive crew. (Coral Beach Hotel and Dive Club, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize; telephone 0 11150126 2013; fax 011 501 26 2864; e-mail forman@btl.net: website www.belize.com/coralbeach.html.)

While most divers enjoy the Cayman Aggressor IV, Gregg M. Gaylord (Sheboygan WI) reminds us that if you go in the winter months, rough weather may hinder you. “Due to ‘rough’ December weather, we couldn’t cross to Little Cayman for a few days (the previous 4 trips never made it to Little Cayman). Either I am getting jaded or ‘Cayman ain’t what it used to be.’ Many of us felt that the number of species was down compared to memories of a decade ago. Crew included an excellent camera pro and skipper, the chef was the best. The ideal “first” live-aboard for new divers willing to finally go the live-aboard route. (Aggressor fleet, 800-348-2628 or 504-385-2628; e-mail: info@aggressor.com; website www.aggressor.com.)

For something a little different, keep in mind the Turks and Caicos Aggressor, which in the winter months gets with migrating humpback whales. Says Dan Oliver, “had significant encounters with humpback whales that had migrated to the Silver Banks, 110 miles from Grand Turk. The combination of whale encounters for three days and diving 2.5 days on the Grand Turk wall is a great way to go.” (Aggressor fleet, 800-348-2628 or 504-385-2628; e-mail: info@aggressor.com; website www.aggressor.com.)

A few years back, the warm waters of El Niño in Central and South America chased all the big fish out of diver range. Divers aboard live-aboards in Cocos or Galapagos lamented the loss of both the fish and the big bucks they paid. Now they’re back here en masse, reports Bill Martin (Phoenix AZ). “In my 21 dives over seven days in Cocos, I saw approximately 1800 white tip reef sharks, 800 stingrays, a dozen turtles, 40 dolphins, 20 pilot whales, 6 manta rays, and 300 hammerhead sharks.” The big fellows should remain through the next season as well, but keep your eyes on El Niño forecasts.

On Cocos, the Okeanos Aggressor is descending in popularity, with the Hunter sisters ascending (Ocean Hunter/Undersea Hunter, e-mail dive@oceanet.net; website www.oceanet.net). Says William Reynolds (Houston TX) of the Sea Hunter in May: “The ship was quite comfortable, roomy cabins, spacious dive deck, smooth crossings. Food very tasty in surprising variety. The dive operation is efficient and well-designed. Nitrox without detaching your equipment, very detailed briefings, divemasters helpful and knowledgeable but didn’t crowd experienced divers.” As for the Undersea Hunter, Bill and Karen Cousins write, “An absolute peak diving experience. The Undersea Hunter is the real deal ... very comfortable although not exactly luxurious, but rich with diving history. The crew was attentive and knowledgeable, in particular our panga (skiff) driver, Pepe, and divemaster, Betty. We did 24 dives in 7 days and were astounded nearly every dive. ... schooling hammerheads coming right at us out of the murk! A 12-foot Indo-Pacific sailfish swimming with several hammers! Rivers of white tips flowing next to rivers of marble rays! Five mobula rays in a squadron! Lovely mantas, huge and graceful, to celebrate the occasion of my 100th dive! Five patrolling silvertip. A 20+ foot whale shark making repeated passes, silkies circling, wahoos, eagle rays, an oceanic blacktip, jacks by the hundreds, octopi, morays swimming freely. We rented and dove Draeger Dolphin rebreathers for two days and wished for more...

Walt Brenner (Wayne PA) says, “I have been on at least a dozen live-aboards but the Palau Aggressor is the finest -- large, roomy en-suite cabins with plenty of storage space and a full window, an efficient dive operation, a gourmet cook, plenty of space in the combined dining/lounge area, and half the top deck for sunning and relaxing. Reef hooks are used because of the strong currents to allow better observation of the sharks, Napoleon wrasse, turtles, jacks, tunas, wahoos, and even some manta rays.” (Aggressor fleet, 800-348-2628 or 504-385-2628; e-mail: info@aggressor.com; website www.aggressor.com.)

In the Red Sea, the Aggressor Fleet now operates the Excel. (Aggressor fleet, 800- 348-2628 or 504-385-2628; e-mail: info@aggressor.com; website www.aggressor.com.) Ed Heimiller (Streamwood IL), there in April, says, “Accommodations are great, twin beds or double beds, no bunks of any type. In each room there is plenty of storage, large windows, and a full bathroom with a good-size shower. The dining area is large with several tables and all meals are served buffet style and the food is great. On the second deck is the lounge with a bar, TV, VCR, and stereo system. The two Zodiacs get crowded with a full load of divers, guides, and boat crew, but the rides were no more than ten minutes, ending in a back-roll entry. The crew is always there to help you.”

That’s the latest on live-aboards. Next issue, we’re going to list a few problems we and our readers have encountered to help us avoid similar bloopers in the future.

-Ben Davison

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