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July 2000 Vol. 15, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Publisher's Picks & Pans

hot spots and new spots

from the July, 2000 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Reader:

Were already at work on the next Chapbook, and hundreds of loyal readers have provided their comments and analyses of destinations. Weve discovered several developments that we should report to bring you up-to-date in time for your next trip.

THE MICRONESIAN ISLAND OF CHUUK (TRUK) got a good hotel at last, making it a far more attractive destination for people who want to be land-based while they dive the Japanese WW II wrecks in the Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon Dive Shop (800-843-8956 or 800-527-5228 (CA) or 691-330-2796), long a good operation owned by an ex-Peace Corps volunteer, took over the run down Continental Hotel and turned it into a pleasant hostel on lush grounds. As reader Charles Menbeck (Chicago IL) says of his February trip, resort was renovated with lots of new equipment, and it showed! Best oceanview Ive ever had in a room. Brand new digital AC units. Staff attentive and helpful. This resort has the islands only beaches. Resort beautifully landscaped with lots of palm trees on green grassy areas. Best layout island view of a resort Ive ever seen. Dave was our local dive guide, a real professional and laid back. Treated us as the experienced divers we were. Were always anchored directly above the wrecks and simply followed the line down. Lots of soft corals. Prolific growth on the wrecks. Did penetrations and saw artillery, tanks, planes, china, gas masks, bombs, books, clocks and other things. Typical profile is the mast at 40 feet with the deck at 80-90 feet. Nice to see a dive boat drop a 15 ft. safety stop line, an extra tank regulator setup at 15 ft., and an extra tank regulator setup at 90 feet. But keep in mind what others say, such as Julie and Dan McFadyen (Falls Church VA), there in March. Not as many fish as I had hoped, though the puffers, clown fish, angels, etc. were pretty. The surface intervals at Etan Island were nice, with interesting snorkeling on a Zero fighter. Saw cuttlefish, squid, and a big, blue sea star. If I were a serious wreck diver or WWII history buff, Id go to Chuuk again, but elsewhere in Micronesia is better for coral and marine life. Another downside here is the food; fresh fruits and vegetables are at a premium -- if theyre available at all.

IF YOURE TRAVELING TO PAPUA NEW GUINEA, be forewarned that Port Moresby is rife with crime and robbery directed at tourists. Thats why savvy divers arrange their pre- or post-destination layover at the nearby safe and secure Loloata Island Resort (675-325-8590; fax 675-325-8933; website www.Loloata.com), where there is good diving as well. Theyll pick you up at the airport and youll be checked in and stretched out in less than an hour.

An up-and-coming PNG destination is TUFI DIVE RESORT (675-641-1438; phone/fax 675-325-8886), says Barry Lipman, there in March. The shore diving is in the fjord below the resort. From the resort the fjord looks like a mountain lake -- very picturesque! Lots of very delicate Acropera and Porites corals, lots of crabs and shrimp, quite a few mantis shrimp, and under the jetty is a large population of Mandarin fish. When the little day boat was up to the task, we made a couple of trips to the outer reefs. Here the coral is among the healthiest Ive ever seen. Nudibranchs were everywhere. Many rare giant clams, and tons of medium sized reef fish, but the hammerheads and reef sharks never showed. The manager actually apologized for serving so much freshly caught lobster almost every other day! The resort is being upgraded by new owners, so were looking forward to further reports as it gets completed.

While fortunate East Coast divers can spend long weekends in the Caribbean, West Coast divers have the SEA OF CORTEZ AND BAJA MEXICO. Summer through fall the water warms (though its hurricane season), and more divers are discovering the unique pleasures of these waters. At La Paz, the RIO RITA (800-843-6967 or 858- 581-3311; fax 858-581-6542) makes long day trips -- 1.5 to 3.5 hrs. to dives, 2- 3 dives per day, back at between 4:00 PM and 5:30 PM, notes Uwe Haensch (Alamogordo NM). We saw schooling hammerheads, lots of other fish and morays all over the place. One can fly directly to La Paz from several U.S. airports, avoiding the increasing schlock at Cabo San Lucas.

If youre going to BONAIRE, be advised about the continuing complaints about the major airline serving it, ALM. Here are a few examples of what you can expect. John Chmelicek (Hattiesburg MS) reports that we got to Bonaire OK, but on our return trip our plane was canceled and after much confusion we were rerouted to Miami, then to Atlanta, a 5-hour delay. When we arrived in Miami, we found out ALM made a mistake and could not get us back to Atlanta for two DAYS. They repeatedly lied to us, paid for no expenses, just made lots of promises. We have sent 9 letters and e-mail to ALM and have yet to hear even an acknowledgment from them. Dale Musser (Oregon OH) writes ALM flights went when they wanted, no matter what was scheduled. They also lost one large bag with all diving gear for two people. Buddys loaned that couple all the gear they needed at no cost. The bag showed up 4 days later. Rolf and Doreen Sullivan (Bloomington MN) wrote trouble with 2 of our group who had e-tickets. Had to get paper tickets reissued in Aruba. R. Gorji, M.D., (Jamesville NY) said the worst thing about the whole trip was ALM. They were very disorganized and lacked either the will or desire to be organized. Will not go back to Bonaire unless can go with somebody beside ALM. Bill McGrath (Scottsdale AZ) had all kinds of problems getting to Bonaire. American Airlines got us to Miami late, causing us to miss the one daily flight to Bonaire. (They put us up, fed us, gave us each a $200 travel voucher.) We arrived in Bonaire 27 hours late. Some lost luggage -- not sure if AA or ALM is to blame. One woman in our group lost her luggage, never to be found. (See Travel Tip sidebar for information on which airline bears responsibility for lost luggage when fliers connect from one airline to another.) And one more note about Bonaire; the shore diving aint what it used to be. Hurricane Lenny raised hell with a lot of shallow reefs, and many returning divers are so disappointed they wont return.

ALM made a mistake and could not get us back to
Atlanta for two DAYS. They repeatedly lied to us, paid
for no expenses, just made lots of promises.

Are you sure you want to stay on the west side of GRAND CAYMAN? Hotel and food prices are high. The reefs off Seven Mile Beach arent much. Development is rampant. And that traffic! Says Joe Ruf (Vineland NJ), The growth is amazing. New Ritz Carlton (with another golf course) is coming. New deluxe condos going up all over ($1m +). Traffic during rush hours is something to see. I saw a 5-mile backup coming into Georgetown from the east, and between 7-8 AM the traffic is bumper to bumper from the west. Savvy divers are selecting EAST END diving over west, and OCEAN FRONTIERS (800-544-6576 or phone/fax 345-947-7500) is the operation of choice. Says Thomas Daly (Hudson NH), "The staff is top-notch with a can-do attitude and the authority to do what it takes to make your experience top-notch. They tried to accommodate dive site requests, weather and conditions permitting. We even got in a drift dive! The dive sites are pristine with lots of macro opportunities and there are even sites where you will see reef sharks on a regular basis, groupers and schools of tarpon...all without having to leave the east end. They recommend Northside Condos, 30 minutes from the dive shop. Tortuga Divers at MORRITTS TORTUGA CLUB (800-447-0309 or 345-947-7449) is another choice out here. But Roger and Pam Smith (Birmingham AL) offer their reason to dive the West End: Dive Tech (345-949-1700), located next to the turtle farm. There are two walls off their pier, a mini and deep. The mini is a short swim and the deep takes about 10 minutes. This is great shore diving and the cost, about 10 dollars for tanks and weights, is hard to beat. They also rent water scooters to help get you to the deep wall. DIVE TECH instructors are friendly and professional. They give you a complete briefing of the site on your first tank rental. The Smiths also dived with OCEAN FRONTIERS and saw reef sharks on most of the first deep dives.

Whale sharks are frequently spotted off UTILA, and now COCOVIEW on ROATN (800- 282-8932 or 504-45-1011) sends boats to Utila. Debbi Connelly (Knoxville TN) says day trip to Utila is so wonderful we took it both days it was offered. On that trip we swam with both manta rays and whale sharks. Weather, however, doesnt make the trip a sure thing.

In search of adventure? Darryl and Trish Boyer (Lincoln DE) and two other experienced divers hooked up with WEST COAST CHARTERS (787-823-4114) and Descheco Dive Shop (888-823-0390 or 787-823-0390; fax 787-823-0390) in PUERTO RICO to dive Mona and Monita, uninhabited islands 50 miles out (need to get permit well in advance from DNR). We saw turtles on every dive, many nurse sharks, and all the usual tropicals. Not as many pelagics as anticipated, but worth the trip to be the only divers in the vast area. All dives were drift dives due to frequently swift currents. We were picked up by Capt. Joe Swider on his 31-ft. Vessel Melitza, which is comfortable. Normally you camp on the island by permit, but the days we wanted were taken by boar and goat hunters, so we stayed on the boat and dived 5 tanks. Dives are limited by the number of tanks the dive boat can carry. Excellent for the adventurous willing to forgo luxuries and rough it.

I visited STATIA several years ago and stayed at the OLD GIN HOUSE (011-599-3- 182319; fax 011-599-3-182135; e-mail reservations@oldginhouse.com), which has recently reopened. I was not impressed due to the low profile reefs I was taken to and the lack of fish, but things may be different now as readers have reported better sites and more fish. Bob Kaufman (Beckley WV), a return visitor who dove this trip with DIVE STATIA (599-38-2435, fax 978- 246-5934), now reports, You can see the impact of the marine park established 2 years ago. All the species had larger than usual individuals. There were more members of big fish species than in earlier visits. Over 9 days of diving we saw at least one turtle on 6 days. The shark population seems to have increased with reef sharks added to the nurse sharks that were always present. Many sting rays and lobsters. The deep wall gorgonians were impressive. The advantage of Statia is the mix of diving -- from deep walls to modern wrecks to archeological wrecks teeming with tropical fish life. Three dives a day easily handled. KINGS WELL HOTEL (599-3-182538) is a small operation on the cliff above the dive shop. The rooms are large and in good condition, but more of a draw is the food. Statia, a small island, population about 2000, is a 20-minute flight on Winair from St. Maarten.

A post-dive roll call was conducted religiously after
each dive (possibly tightened procedures due to a couple
of divers recently being left overnight)?

For GRAND TURK visitors, a reminder from my first-hand review two years ago. Avoid the GUANAHANI HOTEL (800-725-2822 or 649-946-2135; fax 649-946-1460). Thomas Sharp (Kirtland OH), who stayed at the Guanahani in February, says No screens (and mosquitoes are a real problem). Ill-fitting doors, lots of bugs, trash strewn about, lousy menu selection, far away from anything. So we ended up moving to the OSPREY BEACH HOTEL which was much nicer, close to lots of restaurants, close to the dive operation, yet still quiet and lovely.

As I reported a couple of years ago, SALT CAY, five miles from Grand Turk, is a small, isolated island, a throwback in time, with diving comparable to Grand Turk but with less vertical walls. In the last couple of years new accommodation options, such as house rental, have opened at reasonable rates. Nearly everything is within a walk or a bike ride from the dive shop and the MT. PLEASANT GUEST HOUSE, the social center of this tiny island. Make your reservation through Debbie at Salt Cay Divers (888-332-3113 or 649-946-6906; fax 649-946-6906) and let her help you figure out where to stay.

As for the FLORIDA KEYS, we seldom hear from divers who enjoy day trips in Key West. One shop, SUB TROPIC (888-461-3483 or 305-296-9916; fax 305-296-9918), has garnered two reports, neither very good. Jeanette and Kathi Raver (Tijeras NM) said while the crew was nice and friendly, back on shore the shower was very cold, no refund on unused Nitrox tanks and we (two women) were locked out of the store in the dark while the staff bullshitted inside and we had to change into dry clothes in an alley. We wont bother them again. Mark Rosing (Rochelle NY) got buddied inappropriately with a diver without enough weight and spent the whole (shallow so couldnt overcome buoyancy for too long) dive pulling her down. Wasted dive, wasted money, no attempt by operation to compensate.

Up in Key Largo, AQUANUTS (800-226-0415 or 305-451-1622; fax 305-451-4623) have garnered a couple of good reports. Linda and Jim Hersey (Waldorf MD) said their 42-ft. dive boat was a spacious pleasure... no moos here...it was never more than 1/2 full. Captain Bob gave accurate site descriptions, current predictions and recommended compass bearings to get the most out of each dive. A post-dive roll call was conducted religiously after each dive (possibly tightened procedures due to a couple of divers recently being left overnight)? The crew ordered our choice for lunch by phone from the boat.

J.P. Davis said DIVERS CITY (800-649-4659 or 305-451-4554; fax 305-451-5251) at Mile Marker 104 in Key Largo is staffed by knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful folks. Their dive boat (wide-beam; capacity of 14 divers) has all necessary equipment in case of emergency, and the divers are briefed on what this equipment is and where to find it. They also provide Nitrox ($5 extra per tank). One divemaster plunges in to check out current, vis, surge. If conditions are not conducive to a pleasant dive, an alternate site is decided upon. We dove The Elbow (surge was VERY strong), Molasses Reef (two different sites here) and the Benwood Wreck, plus a drift dive on French Reef and a night dive on the Benwood Wreck.

Ben Davison

Next issue: Live-aboard boats and a few bad experiences our readers have had

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