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"Best of the Web: scuba tips no other
source dares to publish" -- Forbes
August 2005 Vol. 20, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Next “Best Destination in the World?”

and a few not worth visiting

from the August, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Best Red Sea Live-Aboard: Not many Americans travel to the Red Sea, but the Brits sure do. According to a poll conducted by the British magazine Diver, the best live-aboard in the Egyptian Red Sea is the MV Hurricane. "Hurricane's 108-ft. steel hull gives a ride that avoids the rock and roll that can be caused by the Red Sea's almost permanent short chop. . . .varied and well-cooked meals in the spacious dining room." In the 11 twin cabins with en-suite facilities, they say the air-conditioning and plumbing are reliable and there's a giant flat screen TV in the saloon, where shooters show their stuff. The boat even caters to closedcircuit- rebreather users. Dive guides Grant and Sonia "run a tight diving operation but in an unobtrusive way." "Hurricane deserves the gold medal for best boat in the Red Sea." The ship is part of the Tornado fleet (www.tornadomarinefleet.com or 0020 12 2171842 ).

Peter Island, British Virgins: If a true luxury resort with decent diving is on your agenda, Peter Island Resort, the only settlement on the island, rates right up there. Jeremy Ellis, a well-traveled subscriber who was there in May, told us that the "diving was excellent, however, several dive sites had fairly strong currents and surge. . . .a lot of turtles, some sharks and lots of schools of fish. They will run a dive with as few as one diver. Dive staff is first class. They encourage divers to use computers and have several and the latest Scubapro equipment for rent. The rooms are amazing -- large beds, closets, bathrooms. No TV in the room, but there is one on the island. There are both a formal and casual restaurant and a first-class spa. The resort has several beaches from a completely isolated White Bay to the popular, but not crowded, Deadman's Beach. (Blackberries still work on the island)." (284-495-2000).

Guam: A stop along South Pacific air routes, many divers en route wonder whether it's worth checking out. Jeanne and Bill Downey of Baden, PA., stopped off in February and dived with MDA. "We contacted MDA via email (info@mdaguam.com or call 671.472.6321) and they arranged everything, including our room at a good price. We spent five days driving around and did six dives. The two MDA dive boats were well run with adequate space. The crew seemed friendly and professional. Four dives were done with most of the passengers being Japanese; they brought their own divemasters. The underwater terrain is volcanic with not much coral. We dove their blue hole twice, saw the Atlantis submarine underwater, and did three easy drift dives. A beginning diver would have fun, as the diving is easy, and there's enough to see. An experienced diver would probably get bored. Guam doesn't have that 'exotic island' feel, but it makes a decent alternative to Hawaii for getting rid of jet lag. The water is warmer than Hawaii, but the diving is not as good. It's not as pricey as Hawaii. It's a lovely island with a lot of history."

Vieques, Puerto Rico: Now that the US Navy has left, tourists are showing up, but is it worthwhile as a dive destination? Ben Blair (Cherry Hill, NJ), who visited earlier this year after a six-year hiatus, says that Nan Sea Charters is the only operator, and proprietor Chipper runs two tank boat dives from the pier in Esperanza. "The visibility was excellent, the dives were leisurely, and the tropicals were plentiful. On our first dive, a hawksbill turtle greeted us. It isn't great diving, but good enough to make a brief trip to Vieques appealing."

Traders' Ridge, Yap: It was an oversight last month not to report on Yap's high-end hotel, overlooking Colonial Bay. Our reviewer says: "Traders' Ridge grounds are beautiful, the buildings have a colonial feel and a bright white paint job. The open-sided restaurant patio was a wonderful place to sit back in their comfortable chairs and sip a gin and tonic while enjoying an exotic Tuscan sandwich or a spectacular Greek salad with grilled chicken. I was surprised at the fresh salad makings, and the variety and prices were no more than at Manta Ray Bay Hotel. If I were to return to Yap with my wife, I'd stay at Traders' Ridge. One telling sign of the high-end nature of this resort -- there weren't any red gobs of betel nut spit to be found on their grounds, and I never saw any of their staff chewing, a rarity on this island." Previously contracting their dive serves from Beyond the Reef, Traders' Ridge now has several new comfortable dive boats and its own facility with a training room, gear lockers and rental gear. Pamela Turner (Oakland, CA) who did the Palau/Yap run in May, writes. "We chose the upscale Traders' Ridge and its Werner Lau Dive Center over Manta Ray Bay Hotel, which attracts the package tour crowd. Traders' Ridge is nicer, has a lot more atmosphere, and Werner Lau has a new facility a short walk from the hotel. We had a boat to ourselves (family of five) while the Manta Ray Bay divers were crowded shoulder-to-shoulder. Visibility at the manta cleaning stations was limited, but we saw two big mantas. Our second dive was better - through an underwater canyon with barracuda, baby whitetip sharks, big lobsters, and a huge barracuda." (http://www.tradersridge.com/index.php or 877-350-1300).

Clubs Med: Singles, people with families, and many other folks love the Clubs because of the food, activities and social life. Most don't have decent diving, but now that the Columbus Isle Club on San Salvador, Bahamas, is up and running again, two-tank-a-day divers might find it worthy. Hal Shanis (Bryn Mawr, PA.) visited in May and enjoyed the diving. "For the first two days there were only ten divers on our large, doubledecker catamaran. When there were thirty divers on the last day, we still had plenty of room. The coral was beautiful and the fish were plentiful. Everyone who dove saw at least one hammerhead. The two boats took out different level divers. The divers on our boat were experienced and respected each other's space. We spotted stingrays, flounder, shrimps and hammerheads. We did enjoy the independence of 'drifting off' on our own. The walls were spectacular." While diving from the Tahiti Club Med last year, Ed Gross (Plano, TX) saw Tahiti's usual "large lemon sharks and good-sized black tip and gray reef sharks. Lots of mantas and a large school of eagle rays. Hard coral in great shape, not much soft coral." Bora Diving picked him up at the Club Med, and he says, "we didn't have to book every dive in advance and could change as needed. When four other divers did not show up, the crew took us two out for a private night dive." (http://www.clubmed.com/usa/ or 1-888-Web Club).

USS Spiegel Grove: It was quite a joke three years ago when, with all the effort to sink the 510- foot USS Spiegel Grove to create an artificial reef off Key Largo, Fl, the ship landed on its side on the 130 ft. bottom. After much finger pointing and hand-wringing, everyone finally decided just to live with it, and it's become the Key's most popular dive. Then came Hurricane Dennis last month, and the Spiegel Grove flipped upright as the core of the storm passed well more than 200 miles to the west. Waves at the wreck were as high as 20 feet and they, presumably, produced strong enough currents to upright the ship. Sanctuary officials have temporarily closed the wreck to sport divers to analyze its stability and replace lost mooring buoys. (http://www.fla-keys.com/spiegelgrove)

New Indonesia Destinations: While Raja Ampat has been the hot new destination for world traveling divers, they're always on the look out for the next undiscovered place. Our good friend (and past Undercurrent webmaster) Dave Van Rooy, an Austin, Texas expat living in Bali, visited the next undiscovered dive region in May. "Took an exploratory trip to Halmahera, the big island between Sulawesi and Papua. Graham Abbott of Diving 4 Images (www.diving4images.com or fax +62 361 286 972) chartered the Ciska and invited a local diving group. "Ninety percent of the reefs were pristine, with fish and coral extremely prolific. We had some dives with so many large schools of fish, we lost track. Sharks, usually black tips in the 4-6 foot length, were abundant, with some gray reef, white tips and epaulet sharks. Other highlights included schools of skip jack, tuna, unicorn fish, anthias (ten times more abundant than I've ever seen), fusiliers, long and short fin bannerfish, sweet lips, bumphead parrots, Napoleon wrasse, red-tooth trigger fish, blue-stripe barracuda, blackbanded angelfish and lots more. We dove several sea mounts, sometimes with strong currents and people got separated. Critters not as much as the Komodo area but still lots: ornate and robust ghost pipefish, blue ribbon eels, Saron shrimp, mantis shrimp, bobtail squid, a few pygmy sea horses, blue ring octopus, orangutan crabs, soft coral crabs. Lots of healthy corals, both hard and soft. The Ciska (http://www.marlindive.com/ciska.htm or email jansoon@indosat.net.id) is a 73-foot comfortable and seaworthy boat with a good crew, based in Makasar, Sulawesi. We were crowded with twelve divers. Each of us had a small bunk bed with little storage space in the four rooms available (one room with six single beds). No hot water. Food was good. They had one tender boat and a well-trained crewman who picked us up. We started from Ternate, the capital of Halmahera, a center of spice trading in the 15th and 16th centuries, and went south to the Goraichi islands, Patinti Straits and around Bacan. Many islands are sparsely inhabited and the mountainous landscape is covered with virgin rain forest, with a few scattered palm tree plantations. Lots of exotic birds flying about, including cockatoos, sea eagles, horn bills, many species of parrots. South of Ternate, I saw four volcanic islands, two perfectly conical (one is pictured on the 1,000 Rupiah note in Indonesia), while the other two had their tops blown off eons ago. Lots of live-aboard operators are interested in the diving here, as the location between Raja Ampat and Manado (Lembeh Straits and Bunaken) is both logistically viable and opens up new diving opportunities. So expect this to show up soon on some liveaboards' itineraries."

Distant Islands? When you're in the hinterlands of South Pacific and Indonesian countries, you'll find that the kids will always appreciate pens and paper, a drawing compass, rulers, maybe a few toys like balloons, all of which are easy to pack. But, don't give them candy, gum or other useless items. And you may find folks who would be happy to own your worn pair of sandals, shorts, T-shirts, other clothing items, even toiletries, that will lighten your luggage. Occasionally a crew member or dive guide would appreciate a good diver's T-shirt, but leave it as a gift, and not in lieu of a tip.

Surround Yourself with Sharks. You can do so in the good ole USA -- North Carolina in fact. A preferred operator to take you to the wrecks and all those gnarly toothed sand tiger sharks is Olympus Dive Center in Morehead City. Guy Johnson dived with them in July and said their boat is "excellent, plenty of dry areas for dressing/cameras, a clean and functional head, plenty of deck space, and alum 80s or100s with airfills in the 3200-3500 range. We dove the wrecks of the Indra, Suloide, Papoose, Boxwreck and the German submarine, the U-352. Virtually walls of fish on every dive and plenty of eels, rays and of course the huge sand tiger sharks. The dive shop is well tended with Lauren Hermley running a smooth operation. George Purifoy was the perfect host/owner/ captain/storyteller. The boat rides were in the two-hour range, and most dives are over 110 ft; surface intervals were in the two-hour range." (www.olympusdiving.com; 1- 252.726.9432 . . . . Rick Tuss (Wilmington, DE) has gone to Hatteras eight years running and on the July 4th weekend went out with the Outer Banks crew. The only real problem was the water temp on Diamond Shoals . . . the bottom temp on the Australia was 57ş F! Great for a dry suit, but not nice in a 3mm wetsuit. A big draw is the abundance of sand tigers . . . beautiful, big and graceful. I have always had great dives on the Proteus - 10-foot sand tigers, loggerhead turtle, Goliath grouper, angels, triggers, black bass. Bottom temp on the other dives never dropped below 73ş F and were normally around 75ş F. Outer Banks diving crew on the Bayou Runner is a first-rate bunch of folks, including Johnny, the owner and captain, who did a fantastic job of captaining and customer service. (www.outerbanksdiving.com 1-252. 986.1056.)

Cozumel Extension: It's getting popular for Cozumel divers to ferry to the mainland for a day of fresh water cenote diving. Lori Brown and Justin Green (Bellevue, WA) did it the easy way in May, hiring Cozumel's Yucatech Expeditions to take care of everything, including ferry tickets, car rental, carrying equipment, lunch and drinking water. Owner German Yunez takes no more than four people and there were no other divers on their trip. "We met German at the ferry in the morning and headed to Playa del Carmen. Our equipment was spirited to the rental car by a bicycle carrier dude for a few dollars. The trip to Dos Ojos was 30 miles. There are several crude huts for clothing changing and a toilet. We set up our gear in the parking lot and carried our equipment down the stairs with German's help. The temperature was over 90 degrees F. and the humidity stifling. The water was in the mid 70s - really refreshing. We did two dives in the cenote, the deepest 27 feet. The water was so clear that visibility seems unlimited. There are beautiful stalactites, stalagmites, and columns and eerie reflections. We saw a solitary shrimp, about 3 inches long, and some divers with a stream of silvery fish following them. We surfaced into a "bat cave" although there were no bats apparent. The dives were well worth the trip to the mainland." http://yucatech.net (German also sponsors cave diving trips to Cuba.)

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