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April 2007 Vol. 22, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Bonaire, California, Fiji, New Liveaboards

where to stay, what to avoid

from the April, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The dive industry is ever changing and divers are always looking for new information, good and bad, about their destinations. Dive travel isnt cheap. Here are important tips from our readers and other good sources that will help you spend your money wisely.

A Budget Pick in Bonaire: Bonaire is high on divers lists but its also high in costs. For budget-minded divers, Jerri Smith, an Undercurrent subscriber from Kerrville, TX, recommends the Golden Reef Inn. Upon arrival on the red-eye from Houston, we were greeted by a GRI employee and taken to the hotel for a few hours rest, thanks to an early check-in. Plenty of towels, the units were spotless, and management was helpful. Unfortunately, our A/C didnt work for most of the week, but we were accorded a partial refund. Golden Reef uses WannaDive as their main dive operator, and Larrys Wildside Diving for East Side sites. The Stay, Dive and Drive package for seven nights in a one-bedroom with full kitchen is $542 per person; with a daily one-tank boat dive, its $667. (Website: www.goldenreefinn.com)

Too-Short Dives in The Bahamas: Its becoming more common for resorts to do shorter dives, but subscriber Terry Garland (Naples, FL) feels he came up with too much air during his trips with Stuart Coves in Nassau. On the first day, total dive time including safety shop was 35 minutes. On the second day, both dives were bad and once again, 35 minutes for each. All dives are guided and held to less than decent dive times, says Garland. I had some dives that I was forced back on the boat with 1800 psi. I am an advanced open water instructor, and still I only had 35 minutes dive time in 40 feet of water. The shark dive on the third day made for good pictures of sharks feeding, but once again, it was, hurry up and get back on the boat, we got your money, so who cares? At $140 for a 2-tank shark dive, ouch. Another gripe: The lack of rinse bins for cameras. Not even a bucket for the shark feeding. They acted like the only camera that mattered was the staff photographers. They need to take some of their overpriced dive fees and buy some decent rinse bins. Stuart Coves recently sunk another wreck off the coast of Nassau to create its eighth artificial reef, but why bother if you only have 35 minutes to see it?

Cold Pizza in Curacao: Divers having a hell of a time finding their way to their hotel in the dark can take an example from Pat Sinclair, an Undercurrent subscriber from Tampa, Florida - - order a pizza for delivery. When asking directions from the airport rental-car agent to the Lions Dive and Beach Resort, Patricia and her husband were told to go over the big bridge. Well, it was dark, who could see if the bridge was the big one or not? says Patricia. After driving around in circles for three hours, they went to a Dominos Pizza for directions. The staff told them to turn left at the Burger King sign. One problem: The Burger King was closed and no longer had a sign on it. Then came time for drastic measures. We went back to Dominos, ordered a pizza to be delivered to Lions Den and then followed the driver to the resort. It was the only way!

California Divin: Travelers to San Francisco looking for a good scuba diving site need to go two hours south to Monterey, known for kelp forests, sea otters and cold-water marine life rivaling that on any tropical reef. Subscriber Jon Scott (Plainfield, NH) recommends the Monterey Bay Dive Center. He took a two-tank boat trip on its 40-foot Silver Prince for dives at Third Pinnacle in Carmel Bay, a 40-minute ride. I had to rent since the airline misplaced my gear, but the dive shop was easy to work with and had good quality equipment. Good dive and safety briefings, and good roll-call procedures. Nice breakfast (bagels, coffee) and snacks on board. Entry is off the side by giant stride, you return by stern ladder and staff assists with fin removal. All gear setups are divers responsibility.

Interesting channels to swim through, and every hard surface was covered with colorful anemones, urchins and cup corals. The visibility and color were even more spectacular than expected. Thick clouds of fish everywhere and after a few minutes clinging to stalks of kelp, you become invisible to them and they swarm around. The dive staff made potentially challenging dives (cold water, unfamiliar conditions, surge, etc.) a blast and left me hungry for more. (Website: www. montereyscubadiving.com)

Management Changes in Costa Rica: Readers have given Rich Coast Diving positive reports in the past but new management is changing some opinions. Martin and Brenda van Gestel, who ran the Silent Immersion Dive Shop in Curacao, bought Rich Coast from Jessica Bradford in December 2005. Undercurrent subscriber Bob Sivak (Mission Viejo, CA) was less than pleased with their operations. On our first day diving to the Catalinas, they put us on the Salty Dog, an overflow charter boat that was a jokenauseating levels of diesel smoke and a speed so slow Im sure I could have swum faster. The head was closed to men. Sivak called Rich Coasts trimaran boat a laughable engine configuration of one small and one medium size outboard motor. As far as being a shop that caters to serious divers, well, I dont think so.

Slow Boat to the Galapagos: A word of advice from subscriber Mark Tarczynski in Los Angeles: Check the top speed of a liveaboard before you book. If youre taking a slow boat, you may be adding too much interval time to your tripand losing costly dive time. Tarczynski estimates his experience on the slow-asmolasses Mistral made him miss out on $500 worth of diving. One diver in our group stupidly got bent just before we arrived at Darwin Island. We had to steam back to Baltra to get him to a hyperbaric chamber. Because the boats top speed was seven knots, half that of similar boats, it took us 29 hours to arrive. We lost a day and a half of diving and never got to see Darwin Island. The rest of his trip consisted of limited diving around the southern Galapagos archipelago.

Other Mistral mishaps: An inexperienced divemaster who did not give dive briefings or hand out dive flags and alert horns, no Nitrox, and a setup area too cramped for 16 divers. The swim step is so crowded that gearing up and loading into the panga is an exercise in frustration. Half the number of divers would make this boat more pleasant, but it looks like this company is not about customer service.

Fiji Shark-Sighting: Divers who do their research about the best times to see certain marine wonders will often be rewarded, but even more so if their dive operation helps them out. Subscriber Paul deVegvar (Mount Vernon, WA) raves about his shark-watching trips last September with Beqa Adventure Divers in Pacific Harbor. Beqas shop manager, Andrew, answered all our e-mails prior to our trip to help us schedule the best timeframes to see all the different species of sharks that commonly visit their dive sites. There is no guarantee for wildlife encounters but Andrew gave us a tip about the best months to see which species. Thanks to his divesite statistics, we saw all seven species of sharks during our trip. Andrew also helped deVegvars group by fixing one of their regulators, lending his personal diving computer when one of theirs malfunctioned, and gave them even more tips to enjoy their shark dives. Beqas dive boat was well organized with a personal gear bin for each diver and experienced divemasters with more than 20 years service. Dive guide Russi not only shows you where and what to see, but also how to approach underwater creatures and structures. DeVegvar also recommends the Lagoon Resort at Pacific Harbor as an ideal place to stay, since the shark dive boat departs right from its doorstep. (Websites: www.fiji-sharks.com; www.lagoonresort.com)

New Liveaboard Destinations: The Tahiti Aggressor is moving to Fiji and will now be known as the Fiji Aggressor - - again (it was the original Fiji Aggressor before being moved to Tahiti five years ago). Aggressor said it pulled the plug because of the extremely high cost of operating a top-class liveaboard in French Polynesia, and the Tahiti Aggressor was finding it hard to fill its cabins. The 106-ft catamaran hauled out for annual maintenance and will resume liveaboard dive trips in Fiji starting May 12, 2007. The 10-passenger luxury yacht Fiji Aggressor II will stay course in Fiji, and is scheduled for a major overhaul this year. It also has the Maldives Aggressor currently under construction in Turkey, and that 20-passenger, all-steel yacht will start sailing next January. (Website: www.aggressor.com)

Peter Hughes is also adding to its fleet, with a new, upscale Dancer yacht to start sailing in Indonesia next February. It will be the companys largest boat at 141 feet, and built out of wood in the style of a three-masted schooner. The interior style will be that of a floating boutique resort, and an indoor lounge will feature an e-center for divers to work on their digital photography. The eight staterooms will be larger than the norm at 227 square feet. The Master & Commander Suite at the stern of the main deck will clock in at 420 square feet with a king size bed, separate sitting area with a sofa and table with chairs to give the idea of living in captains quarters. (Website: www.peterhughes.com)

-- Ben Davison

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