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July 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Bahamas, Canada, Caymans, Indonesia

planning your next dive trip? Here are readers’ suggestions

from the July, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Boynton Beach, Florida. While most divers head to the Florida Keys’ reefs in droves, savvy ones prefer the reefs north of Miami, where diving is more adventurous and more interesting. Monty Chandler (Hundersville, NC) went off Boynton Beach with Splashdown Divers in May and calls it a smooth, professional operation. “It’s drift diving so you float a dive flag for each group of five to let the boat captain know where you are, and you keep the dive to an hour maximum. Depths were 50 to 60 feet. If you need to surface earlier than the rest of the group, no problem, just follow the line up to the flag. It’s mainly experienced divers who knew the boat’s routine, not the usual Caribbean ‘tourist diver.’ The reef was healthy with brilliantly colored sponges, healthy coral formations, schools of diverse fish life and abundant macrolife - - from jawfish and slender filefish to cleaner shrimp and tobacco fish. I saw a 300- pound loggerhead turtle taking a snooze and a 12-foot sawfish resting in the sand. What a sight!” (www.splashdowndivers.com)

Best Kept Secret in Yap, Micronesia. Charter subscriber Alan Dean Foster (Sausalito, CA) asks, “Remember the rollicking 1954 Technicolor film His Majesty O’Keefe starring Burt Lancaster? The real O’Keefe operated out of Yap, dealing in copra. Located on the main harbor in Colonia, his O’Keefe’s Waterfront Inn keeps that same spirit alive.” Done in 19th-century Pacific trader style, the Inn has only five rooms, each featuring either a king bed or two twins, private bath, a/c, hair dryer, telephone, writing desk, refrigerator, and coffee service. Opening the paneled artwork above the mantle reveals a hidden flat-screen TV with DVD player. “Every room has a private deck right on (almost in) the water, and includes a private dive locker, the highlight of which is an integrated heated fan for drying your stuff.” The Inn also boasts a well-stocked bar, a grassy sitting area by the water, and an Internet cafe in the same building complex. Across the street is the Inn-owned restaurant. “Far more intimate and quieter than the Trader’s Ridge and Manta Ray Bay resorts, the Inn is next to Manta Ray Bay Divers. It will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.” Rooms run $155 a night plus 10% tax. (www.okeefesyap.com). PS. Foster is a top-of-the-chart science-fiction writer; visit his website at www.alandeanfoster.com.

Bonaire House Rentals. Many divers traveling in groups rent houses in Bonaire rather than pay more money for impersonal hotels and condos. Some good Web sites for finding houses: Bonaire Partners (www.bonairepartners.com) and SunRentals (www.sunrentalsbonaire.com), and VacationRentals. com has listings on most Caribbean islands and in Mexico. (www.vacationrentals.com). Subscriber Erik Enger (Washington, DC) recommends Bonaire house renters book dive packages through BelMar Apartments. “By doing so, I could get tanks from both BelMar located down south, or Buddy Dive on the north end of Kralendijk, and this can really save time. If you book through Buddy, you can only get tanks from Buddy. BelMar only has dive boats going out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so this way I was also able to go on Buddy’s boats.” (www.belmar-bonaire.com)

Town Pier and South Pier Alert. Book these Bonaire dives in advance, before leaving home: Charlie Wallace (Simpsonville, KY), who stayed at Divi Flamingo Beach Resort, told us, “With more large cruise ships coming in, there is less time and fewer reservations opening up to dive the pier.” He couldn’t book a dive when he was there in February.

Bikini Atoll Divers Shutdown. Rising fuel prices, the plunging U.S. economy and a screwed-up airline have closed Bikini Atoll Divers after 13 years. Air Marshalls, the one-aircraft airline and the only way to get to the atoll, has been out of commission for seven months due to mechanical difficulties. Jack Niedenthal, tourism operations manager for Bikini Atoll, told Undercurrent that even though Air Marshalls may have a second plane by 2009, Bikini Atoll Divers will stay closed because of the skyrocketing cost of fuel to run the power plant on Bikini. “In 2004, it cost us $350,000 for fuel and operations. For 2009, estimated costs will be $960,000.” Niedenthal welcomes business proposals and suggestions on how Bikini Atoll Divers can be saved – e-mail him at bikini@ntamar.net.

Indigo Divers in Grand Cayman. While our Chapook and Web site lists several good small operations on Grand Cayman, let us also call attention to Indigo Divers, run by Chris and Kate Alpers. Rich Erickson (Marietta, GA), who dived with them in March, says they take you to better sites on the north and south shore, weather permitting, and only take up to six divers on their 35-foot Donzi cruiser. “It’s more like diving with friends who have a boat,” says Paul Lima (Christiana, TN), who visited in May. “Chris and Kate were attentive but let you dive your computer and were never in a rush to end the dive.” Eddie Allen (Bristol, VA) says, “Because of their diver limits and custom service, I’d recommend Indigo to both experienced divers and infrequent divers like me who need to know the operators are paying attention.” (www.indigodivers.com)

Grand Cayman Shore Diving. Subscriber James Heimer (Houston, TX) has decided that rather than paying up to $200 for a two-tank boat dive with his wife, they’ll pay $25 per tank per dive for both of them. This year, they used Sunset House and Eden Rock, just south of George Town and Sun Divers on the north end of West Bay, which they preferred. “Sun Divers has spruced up the small dive shop and constructed a covered area with benches and a table for gearing up. It’s also lit for night diving. The dive shop is located below the Cracked Conch restaurant and alongside the outdoor Macabuca Bar, through which one crosses to the ladder entry into a small inlet leading to the 60-foot mini-wall and Turtle Reef. Left takes you to the tarpon ‘cave,’ and right takes you along the wall to small coral outcroppings. The main wall is within swimming distance for the more adventurous (and athletically inclined). Aside from the tarpon, we have seen multiple scorpion fish, peacock flounder, white spotted filefish, large grazing schools of midnight parrotfish, turtles, lobster and the usual tropicals. Plenty of space to dry gear after showering down. DiveTech used to operate here, but they are building a resort about a mile away.” (Sun Divers’ e-mail: sundiver@candw.ky)

Speaking of DiveTech... We have written how DiveTech caters to advanced divers and offers good technical training courses, but we get occasional comments that it falls short for beginners. William Flanagan (Greenville, SC) says, “Our March trip was my son’s first ocean dive since certification, so I signed him up for a refresher course. He had anxiety and buoyancy issues on the first day, so I offered to pay for a private divemaster but DiveTech said no one was available and offered no alternatives. The divemasters on the first two days seemed disdainful of inexperienced divers. My son ended up having a great time, but DiveTech’s choices seemed to be either tough it out or dive elsewhere.”

Reef Conditions in Utila. When I dived Utila a few years back, I was disappointed in the condition of most reefs, and readers say the deterioration is continuing. Three subscribers who went there in March shared their disappointment. “Lots of macro critters but no fish schools to see,” says Vickie Silvia (Old Lyme, CT) who stayed at Laguna Beach. “It was obviously very overfished.” “I saw no whale sharks, even though I came during the season,” says Richard Sinnott (Boston, MA) who stayed at Utopia Village. “The diving was average at best. The best marine life I saw were a couple of seahorses and turtles.”

The reefs are also in trouble, says Laura Austin (Alexandria, VA), another Laguna Beach visitor. “At some sites, I saw up to 80 percent dead coral. I preferred rooting around in the sea beds to hovering over nearly empty reefs.” One Utila bar she visited had its toilet directly over the water. “Of course, all the sewage on the island goes directly into the water, so why be surprised? Fishermen have to feed their families, and the Honduran government may not have the money to spend on treatment plants, but because there’s no marine protection, Utila diving is on a downward spiral.”

Archipelago Adventurer II in the Banda Sea. This new 130-foot wood sailboat raises the standards for Indonesian liveaboards, says Scott Kraemer (Los Angeles, CA), who went aboard in January. “Though there were only four divers, we were given great service by the full 20-person crew. They offered first and second breakfasts, inside and outside dining depending on the weather, and buffet as well as waiter service. Food was restaurant-quality in preparation and presentation.” Crew rinsed wetsuits after every dive. Nitrox was no extra charge. Afternoon surface intervals were onshore – visits to a pearl farm and a local working village, and a hike to the top of a jungle island hilltop for a beautiful view. The drawback: only four dives daily, including night dives. “But sea life in the rarelyvisited waters of Banda’s Maluku province is in pristine shape, no coral bleaching and plenty of fish, big and small, making each dive a gem.” (www.archipelago-fleet.com)

Peter Hughes’ Paradise Dancer. It launched in Sulawesi in May, but we got mixed reviews from readers who went on the first few sailings. Peter Swan (Paradise Valley, AZ), aboard for its second sailing, says the boat is underhyped. “It’s a motor yacht with sails resembling the fast American schooners that traded across the Pacific. Cabins are 50 percent larger than Hughes’ other liveaboards, with bathrooms you want to spend time in. The boat was so silent that night cruises between dive locations lulled me instantly to sleep. Four dives a day were at either new or only lightly dived sites, many next to active volcano islands. One trip was a morning snorkel inside volcano-heated water, like a hot tub in the ocean.” But John Singer (Berkeley, CA) says his cabin leaked from above deck, and food and sanitation were terrible. “Most dinners featured overdone, tasteless meats. Several people became ill with abdominal pain, vomiting, the runs and fever. The captain and many crew were smokers and used the ocean as an ashtray.” Most disappointing was the diving. “It was below average -- sites with lots of trash, poor corals and a lacking fish population. If you’re looking for pristine diving, this is not the itinerary, and I believe this area was misrepresented to me.” (www.peterhughes.com)

Turks and Caicos Hotel Bargain. Provo’s Grace Bay hotel prices are through the roof, but there is real value at the Sibonne Beach Hotel, an “intimate” boutique hotel described by reader Larry Sensenig (Sioux City, IA) as “adequate, but not fancy.” Room amenities included cable TV, mini-fridge, hairdryer, air conditioning, coffeemaker, direct-dial telephone and an in-room safe. “The inner courtyard was a garden of mature plants and trees, and there’s a small pool. The Sibonne is right on Grace Bay Beach, which was one of the best beaches I’ve ever been on.” You can arrange a pickup here by most dive operators. (www.sibonne.com)

Cold Water Diving in Canada. Try 46 degrees and currents but abundant marine life, says Susan Simpson (Snohomish, WA) who went in April with Abyssal Dive Charters, based on British Columbia’s Quadra Island. “Earl the operator was good at judging currents so we could dive 50- to 80-foot depths with minimum effort. There are soft corals, nudibranchs, anemones, ling cod, various sculpins, all the usual characters in unusual quantities. In one crevice, I found five Puget Sound king crabs, the biggest almost a foot across.” Lodgings, two private rooms for couples and two barrack-style rooms, are in the lower floor of Earl’s home. “It’s comfortable, with a huge TV, cozy wood stove, and their hot tub feels really good after a hard day’s diving. You actually eat in their dining room but Earl and family are so gracious that you soon feel like you’re staying with friends.” (www.abyssal.com)

- -Ben Davison

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