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April 2001 Vol. 16, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Marine Parks, Arrogant Management, Seven-Mile Beach

Important updates in land-based operations

from the April, 2001 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Changes are ever occurring at diving destinations worldwide. Since we completed the 2001 Chapbook weve learned about a few new diving possibilities and changes in operations that might affect your plans. Heres the latest:

The Yap of Luxury

On Yap, located in Micronesia, the new hotel Traders Ridge is getting great reviews. Te ryl and Keith McLane, there in October said, Traders Ridge was a million times nicer than Palau Pacific. We were absolutely spoiled and it cost less than Palaus PPR. Our dive buddies got booked into the Manta Ray Bay Hotel and were depressed after they saw where we were staying. Every one was incredibly nice. When you get back to your room at night not only has your brand new, king-sized bed been turned down, but there are fresh flowers scattered over the bedspread. Kirk Faryniasz, Yigo, Guam, says Traders Ridge is marvelous and the food fantastic. Wonderful chef. Beyond the Reef is a small operation but gets you to some of the best dive sites. Less than PPR, but still expensive at $175/room/ night an up. www.tradersridge.com.

“One night down the road ,
the festival boomed music
so loud that we felt the bass
in our beds until 2:40 a.m.”

Statia Marine Park

When we reviewed the Caribbeans St. Eustatius years ago, we found the diving mediocre, but reports of a rebound of fish, thanks to a protected marine park, ought to merit a revisit. Statia is a small Dutch island between Saba and St. Kitts a 30-minute flight from St. Martin. Terry and Karen Plaxton ( W. Bloomfield, MI) there in September stayed at The Old Gin House. Fourteen rooms, AC, very nice private pool, great dining room and bar, directly across the street from the waterfront. Lots of good healthy coral, fairly good tropicals, tons of lobster and rays. No sharks. Some turtles. Most diving is within the Marine Park so there are large filefish, queen and French angelfish goldentail and spotted morays, flying gurnards, spotted drums. Golden Rock Dive Center is very user friendly and a lot of fun. Dive the Blue Bead Hole if you find a blue bead its a real treasure and keepsake. www.oldginhouse.com

Bad Deal in Dominica

Two recent comments would surely make me avoid the Castaways Hotel in Dominica. Dave Kasper (Ann Arbor, MI.) took a group of 14 and although we loved Dominica and its diving and hiking, we felt ripped. When we booked our rooms in August, the one price for the package was $997, which included diving, double occupancy lodging in one of their 26 rooms and breakfast/dinner. Al Harris, the longtime owner, recently passed away and left the hotel to his three daughters. When we arrived, we got stuck in the cheap rooms, that hadnt seen maintenance for several months if not years. The Castaways website and their brochures have only one price listed for all 26 rooms and the pictured room is a dreamboat compared with what we got. The photo includes TV and telephone not for us poor folks in the cheap rooms. Working hot and cold water, not for some of us the sinks leaked so bad the our cold (and even the hot in the mens lounge bathroom) had to be turned on and off under the sink. Windows, if you were lucky to have a full complement, rarely could be opened or closed. Our rooms looked like someone had been selling the furniture because each room had a different assortment of furniture; for example ours was missing both night stands.

Rodales travel special mentioned Castaways had just completed a $1.5 million renovation and advertised the special dive package of $997 exclusively. When we complained about the drastic difference between what was advertised and what we received, they told us that the beautifully renovated rooms were $200 more; we had the $997 specials. That was the first news of any difference in pricing or rooms! Dinners were only occasionally edible. The tuna sandwich I had for lunch was better than any of the dinners. They gave me french fries that I had seen rejected by a customer (because he hadnt ordered them) over an hour earlier. One day, we were literally smoked out of our rooms by rubbish being burnt beneath our cheap rooms for about eight hours (could close the windows that we had). One night down the road, there was a festival that boomed music so loud that we felt the bass in our beds until 2:40 am, but we couldnt shut out the sound windows again.

John Bockis (Valley Cottage, NY) was there in February and said, The dive shop at Castaways did everything they could to make our diving pleasurable, but Castaways Hotel has a lot to be desired. If you ask to have hot water, and clean towels, the owner Miss Harris will ask you to leave and go to another hotel because youre never satisfied! The food was bad the first few days, until they got a different cook who really saved the vacation.

Red Sea Resorts

We covered diving the Red Sea by boat earlier this year, noting that to get to the better diving go south. The same holds for diving from land. Long time Undercurrent correspondent Peter Louwerse (Gibelhof, Switzerland), has dived the Red Sea for 10 years and has this tip. With more than 130 hotels in Hurghada, diving has exploded to an extent that makes diving some previously unmatched reefs virtually impossible, due to the number of dive boats. Soma Bay, South of Hurghada and North of Safaga, opened last year. The Sheraton, one of two hotels in operation, is absolutely first class. Operations from Safaga also visited most sites, with sometimes six boats at one reef. Dive boats usually carry up to 20 divers, have no facilities for photographers and lack navigational equipment. Dive World is well organized. The dive instructors (one German, one Italian) competent. We had problems with an Egyptian divemaster who planned his dives according to his 24-year-old endurance and air consumption, which was considerably different from my 63-year-old values. We reneged on the guided dives and went our own way. The weather was excellent, as it usually is in October temp. in 90s, water temp. about 80o F. Some sites are close to shore and remarkable for the variety of fish life. Some are 1.5 hours by boat always East, and with prevailing winds from the North that can make for a lot of seasickness! These were excellent, with healthy corals, coral fish and several sharks (one hammerhead). We also dove the wreck of the Salem Express, a ferry from Mecca to Safaga that went down in 1991 with 700 passengers, of whom only 200 were saved. The wreck is at 100 ft., with little coral encrusting. Around the wreck lie suitcases and shoes and we believe it isnt really appropriate to dive such a recent wreck with so many casualties still in it. Next time well go even farther South in search of pristine reefs.

That might very well be Mangrove Bay, a two-hour drive south of Hurghada. Says Alex Thiermann, there in August, The resort is ideal for serious divers. No shopping, good food and excellent diving. Its in the middle of the desert, a self contained 40-room resort. Clean rooms with A/C; food, buffet style. The diving is from two excellent boats leaving as well as unlimited diving from the pier. Some of the best Red Sea diving is right out of your room. They have a Zodiac that will take you whenever and wherever you want. Due to its remoteness it has untouched coral, great fish, including shark, turtles, even the elusive and endangered Dugong (sea cow). The dive shop is managed by Germans. It is very professional as well as providing lots of freedom to advanced divers. The only limitation is a 100-ft. maximum depth limit. Rental equipment is also available. www.redsea.com/ducks/quseire.html.

Israel has a slice of land on the Red Sea, in the town of Eilat. Long time Undercurrent correspondent Mel McCombie (New Haven, CT) was there in November and says: I would not recommend it as a diving- only destination, but an enjoyable break in a larger cultural experience. The patchy reefs offshore have been loved nearly to death. On a day trip to the Egyptian Coral Island, we saw much healthier stony corals and more fish anthias, blue spotted rays, varieties of eels, great anemones, and bold varieties of lionfish hunting in broad daylight. Siam Divers is well located on the water in an unprepossessing ramshackle grouping of small buildings. The staff of young, athletic Israelis exudes confidence and casualness. We found the female staff members to be exceptionally cheerful and helpful, and the guys considerably less so.

Israeli regulations require that divers present their c-cards, logs, and proof of insurance (like DAN); one must purchase Israeli insurance if you dont have your own. We rented their equipment, and it was pretty shabby. Leaky second stages, cracked and mismatched fins, 5mm suits that had compressed to 2mm, lights with nearly dead batteries. I had brought my own 7mm suit and hooded vest and was fine in the 70- 72 degree water, but my husband and son were freezing in the rental gear. If you are in Eilat just to dive, stay on the side of town where the dive operations are located (near the Egyptian border). If you want more variety or have nondiving folks with you, the side near the Jordanian border is best. www.Siamdivers.com.

Seven-Mile Beach for Experienced Divers

Jean Kirkpatrick ( Russellville, KY), who has taken many of her 975 in the Cayman Islands, says she was determined to find a small dive operator who allowed me to dive my computer. Diven Stuff was the first operation I tried and the only one! The eight divers usually were experienced divers who had been with this operation for years. Newcomers (like me) became part of the family and were soon being kidded like everyone else. The atmosphere was totally relaxed, but they stressed safety and reef protection. The only restrictions were a three- minute safety stop and a return to the boat with 500 psi. Nitrox was also available a bonus! If you want a small dive operation with excellent service, and freedom balanced with safety this is it. I hate to tell my secret, as I dont want them to get too crowded! They are located in downtown Georgetown and serve the west side of the island, only. www.cayman.org/divenstuff.

Rural Roatan

The Reef House has always been one of Honduras best kept secrets. The family Blair (Oklahoma City) said it was their best dive trip ever to Roatan. On first dive we came back through a large school of spinner dolphins. Food, staff and accommodations were excellent. Only disappointment: I had the impression the resort was off by itself, but a town surrounds it. Location on offshore Cay still meant decent beach and town noise was not evident. Samuel B. Johnson ( Eureka, IL) says, Ive experienced five Bay Islands Beach Resorts and Fantasy Island Resorts, and without any doubt, Reef House is the one Id recommend most highly. Its rustic, small and simple, the opposite of luxurious, but its clearly committed to giving you a great vacation, and its small enough that they pay attention to every individual diver. David, the divemaster, is very sharp eyed. He found two seahorses, a well camouflaged scorpionfish, and a large eye toadfish. The shore diving can be a little awkward since its relatively shallow for a long distance from shore, and the coral shows significant hurricane damage. Seven-night dive packages, double occupancy, food included, $775/person. 1-800-328-8897 reefdiving@aol.com.

Next issue: Live-aboards

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