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September 2005 Vol. 20, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Great Live-Aboard Living

and our day-boat choice on Ambergris Caye

from the September, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

There are always many dive destinations to catch up on, so here are some brief reviews to help you develop your travel plans. First, one of our longtime travel writers was aboard the Ocean Rover in June (anonymously, of course) and filed this report.

* * * * *

The Ocean Rover rotates its year long diving activities between Thailand and Indonesia to take advantage of the best weather. I had been on the Ocean Rover in Thailand in May 2002, so this year I booked a June trip to Northern Sulawesi. I spent my first six days at the Lembeh Resort, which Undercurrent covered adequately last year. I then transferred by water taxi to the Ocean Rover.

The Ocean Rover is among the most comfortable and best laid-out of the 25 live-aboards I've taken. It's friendly and helpful crew is unmatched. My nine days of diving from the Ocean Rover started with a dive in the Lembeh Straits, and then we steamed north to Bunaken Marine Park for 3-5 dives each day on great walls and reefs, with dramatic vistas of lushly covered, coraland- sponge-encrusted, vertical walls with great visibility, a few schools of fish, and dramatic and recent black lava flows. Underwater, I could occasionally hear the rumblings of the islands' active volcanoes. While lounging on the comfortable deck, I could see plumes of steam.

Water was consistently around 83 degrees, which required only minimal thermal protection, I kept covered to avoid the nasty stinging things that can be in the water. Visibility in the Lembeh Strait varied between 20 to 50 feet, but who could care when one is focused on the abundant and magnificent sci-fi-type critters. Visibility in Bunaken Marine Park and the outlying islands increased to 100 feet at times. Most of the dive sites would serve up a plethora of unique nudibranchs; their sightings had me rushing to the Rover's library of marine invertebrate ID books.

Stargazers buried into the "muck," up to their wary eyes. Some snake eels had tiny colorful shrimp dancing on their noses. There were pygmy sea horses, pregnant ornate ghost pipe fish, hairy frog fish patiently awaiting their prey, an out-of-place clown frog fish struggling along to a new lair, a volley ball-sized yellow frogfish perched within the embrace of an accommodating color-coordinated sponge and an almost translucent pygmy cuttlefish camouflaged just above a sandy bottom. A deadly blueringed octopus flitted just ahead of me as I flirted with sense of immediate danger. And there were delicate harlequin ghost pipe fish, blue cockatoo leaf scorpion fish, slim daggers of razor fish slashing through the sea, orangutan crabs "pumping up" with their hairy out stretched arms, large sea horses including yellow and brown-banded ones with their prehensile tails cleverly curled around a favorite perch while always looking shyly away from my disturbing curiosity. Oh, yes, I guess I did forget to mention the mimic octopus, that can shape himself to look like a flounder, a cuttlefish, virtually anything.

This is the critter itinerary, beyond heaven for serious photographers. The Ocean Rover's Thailand itinerary will get you through the Andaman Sea off the western coast of Thailand and Myanmar for whale sharks, mantas, schools of jacks, and other shark species, unaffected by the tsunami. Great boat, comfortable bunks, good food. A consistent performer at the top of its class.

Nancy McGee of Island Time Scuba, in Lancaster TX set up the Ocean Rover/Lembeh Resort package. Phone: (972) 227-6678. Email: nancy@islandtimescuba.com. www.IslandTimeScuba.com. Ocean Rover: www.ocean-rover.com.

* * * * *

On Belize's Ambergris Caye, many operations treat all divers equally-- not good for experienced divers, but Protech Dive Centre (www.ambergrisecaye.com/protech.com), gets consistently good reviews. Michael N. Hofman (San Francisco, CA), who's had more than 500 dives, says, "They provide Nitrox, specialize in smaller boats and will allow you to dive your computer and your air consumption. They even took just the two of us (my snorkeling mate and myself) out for the dive! By the way, if the management at your resort tries to steer you to another dive operation, resist-- they may be getting a commission from the bigger dive operations." Protech is at the Belize Yacht Club. I myself stayed there last fall and was unimpressed with room quality and maid service for a too-high price.

While our readers have long touted Galapagos diving with Mark Bernardi aboard the Reina Silvia (www.reinasilvia.com) there's a relative newcomer getting raves. John & Debra Barrett (San Patricio, Texas) aboard in June says they "have ridden all the luxury dive boats in the Galapagos, and none matches the stability of Deep Blue in a rough crossing to the northern islands. The yacht is longer, wider, and does not display the top-heavy appearance of some of the competition. The crew is well organized. Deep Blue charges for all alcoholic beverages while the competition does not, but for the price differential (of at least $50/day), you would have to drink one heck of a lot to make up the difference. Deep Blue is a world-class dive yacht. (800-626- 8272 or www.galapagosadventures. com/DeepBlueTrips.com)

Our February reviewer was critical of the conservative dive protocol on Mike Ball's Paradise Sport in Papua New Guinea. As we reported, Ball had just returned to the company he had sold years ago, and while our review surprised him, he said he was already getting it back to his high standards. Several readers have since reported that Ball is a man of his word. Larry Sandusky (Meridian, ID), aboard in May, told us that he had "embarked with some concerns based on negative Undercurrent review of an earlier trip on Paradise Sport. Any concerns were completely dismissed after a couple of dives and meals. Service was superior, the crew gracious and helpful, dives were excellent and our all-advanced diver/ Nitrox group was dazzled time and again. No concerns with dive profiles, nothing but positive support from dive crew." (www.mikeball.com)

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