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September 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Dive Deals in the U.S. and South Pacific

more dive trip bargains, plus a good Caribbean flight tip

from the September, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The high cost of travel might be keeping a few divers home, so in the August issue, we described bargain destinations in the Caribbean and Asia Pacific. Here are a few additions to the list. Traveling divers often overlook Floridas tropical waters because the Keys, which are deteriorating, get all the press. So, for better diving look north of Miami.

Boynton, Pompano and West Palm Beaches, Florida. North of Fort Lauderdale is Floridas best-kept diving secret, says Allison Scheflow (Hollywood, FL). I dive in Pompano Beach, Boynton Beach and Lantana and love the beautiful reefs and the ease of drift diving. There are wrecks too, usually full of fish. Dives range from 40 to 120 feet on a few wrecks, and viz can average 70 feet. Monty Chandler (Charlotte, NC), who dived with Splashdown Divers (www.splashdowndivers.com) in Boynton Beach in May, had to remind himself he was not in the Caribbean. The reef was healthy with brilliant sponges and sea plumes, healthy coral formations, and abundant macrolife from slender filefish to cleaner shrimp. It doesnt have the sexy cachet of some exotic spots but I really enjoy West Palm Beach, says Ronald Ross (Frostburg, MD). Great places for post-dive refreshments are close by; Scheflows favorite is Two Georges, next door to Splashdown Divers. Other dive shops she recommends are Parrot Island Scuba Adventures in Pompano Beach (www.parrotislandscuba.com) and the Starfish Enterprise in Lantana (www.idivestarfish.com). Ross recommends The Scuba Club in West Palm Beach (www.thescubaclub.com). For bargain lodging, there are plenty of motels along the coast.

Channel Islands California. My favorite dive bargain is to the northern Channel Islands with Truth Aquatics boat out of Santa Barbara, says Neal Langerman (San Diego, CA). Superb diving, great food and people, and no need to deal with airport security hassles. It costs around $500 for a threeday trip and I typically do 12 dives. Yes, it is cold and can be rough, but those are easy to handle when youre doing some of the best diving in the world. Also, visibility can be iffy. Truth Aquatics runs one- to three-day trips to the Channel Islands, with occasional veers south to San Clemente and Catalina Island. Dive shops frequently host trips but non-affiliated divers can check the monthly calendar on the Web site, then call for details and reservations. A $500 three-day trip includes cabin, meals, snacks and air fills. (www.truthaquatics.com)

Larry Clinton (Sausalito, CA) has been aboard Peace, one of theTruth Fleet, several times, and of his trip in August, he said that, The only thing more repetitive than the menu was the selection of dive sites. Other than the first night banquet of overgrilled tri-tip and fresh yellowtail, we were served chicken and penne pasta for most lunches and dinners. Breakfasts were always scrambled eggs with ham or sausage, plus a buffet featuring tepid oatmeal or a selection of cold cereals. We revisited a number of sites we had dived on previous trips: Sun Point near San Clemente, plus Ship Rock and Italian Gardens off Catalina, to name a few. At San Clemente, visibility ranged from 10 to 25 feet, contrary to some of the splendid days when kelp beds glisten in clear water. So, while you can get inexpensive accomodations (dorm-style sleeping, with privacy curtains for the bunk beds, diving conditions vary. At least the hot tub warms things up. (www.peaceboat.com)

North Carolina. Wrecks are the highlights here but readers say the marine life is equally stunning, making North Carolina an unfairly overlooked dive destination. Where else can you see German subs and sand tiger shark up to eight feet long? says Martin Kelly, who dived with Discovery Diving in Beaufort. On the wrecks, we saw swarms of baitfish. One time, I couldnt see the other divers, there were so many fish! The boat ride out, 26 miles offshore and three hours long, can get tedious. But book in advance because the submarine trips book up fast. (www.discoverydiving.com)

Tim McCabe (Sandy Spring, MD) and his son dived with Aquatic Safaris in Wilmington in August. We went 25 miles off the coast to dive the John Gill wreck, torpedoed by a German U-boat in WWII, at 95 feet. No current on the bottom and very good visibility - - for North Carolina. Lots of local reef fish and a couple of large groupers. The Hyde wreck had a ripping twoknot current, with lots of sand tiger sharks and large barracudas all around, especially on the boat. To get out of the current, we were able to go down into the open hold. Andre Nei, our divemaster, was knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The 30-foot dive boat was their smallest, as the 48-footer was down for maintenance, but it was well-run, clean and comfortable. There are plenty of inexpensive hotels and restaurants in Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach. (www.aquaticsafaris.com)

More Bargain Picks on the Philippines. Weve said a few times that this country is the South Pacifics best dive bargain, especially since you can find airfares from LA for around $1000. And every month, our readers keep suggesting more great dive spots. One of the latest is the Mantangale Alibuag Dive Resort, on the northern coast of Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines. Its the best overall value Ive found in 20 years of diving, says John Crossley (Fresno, CA). There are cheap, easy connections though Manila on Cebu Air Pacific, and van transportation from the Cagayan airport takes two hours and costs $115 round trip. For $45 a night, two divers get a clean room with two beds, A/C, cable TV, plus breakfast. There are many good choices on the restaurant menu and prices are very reasonable. The diving is $56 for a two-tank dive that includes lunch and free Nitrox. In three trips to Mantangale, Ive never had more than three other divers on the boat. Dive guides, especially resort manager Dodong Uy, are highly skilled at picking good dive sites and finding critters. Paradiso, with 100-foot visibility, had some of the best soft corals Ive seen in the Pacific. It also had tiny yellow pygmy seahorses, so I needed to come back with my macro lens. Overall, my non-diving wife and I paid about $720 for five nights, all food, airport transfers, and 10 Nitrox dives. To make a longer vacation, you can combine Mantangale with nearby diving at Camiguan Island or go by plane or ferry to Cebu, Bohol, Dumaguette, and Puerto Galera. (www.mantangale.com)

Mike Anderson (Irvine, CA) has also made multiple visits to the Philippines and his newest pick is Marine Village Dive House in Cebu. If you like walls and fast drift dives, go here. These guys were not afraid to take me on a wild drift dive, even at night, but they were always nearby to make sure I was okay. The resort gets a lot of Japanese divers and I was the only American there - - but all nationalities are welcome at this efficient, professional operation. Dive staff has been in place for years and knows the area very well. Boat dives are $20, and rental gear is $5 a day. Fly to Mactan International Airport and get a van to drive you south to the resort, which can set that up for you. This place is a better value than the nearby resorts in Dumeguete. (www.marinevillage.net)

An alternative route to Bonaire. Nonstop flights to Bonaire are rare and if you are on American Eagle through Puerto Rico your bags may not be with you. A better option is to take bigger jets to Curacao Aruba (many airlines fly planes from many cities) and grab the quick commuter flight to Bonaire. Tom Kelly (Chapin, SC) says Once in Aruba, fly Tiara Air. Youll have to pick up your luggage and re-check on Tiara Air, but this is easily done and the flights are not expensive. (Currently about US$82.) Flights each way are twice daily on Friday and Sunday, and once on Monday and Wednesday. That means you can spend an extra day on Bonaire and not have to worry about missing your only flight off the island. (www.tiara-air.com, but because the Web site is rustic, consider calling the airlines instead at 011-207-58-TIARA.)

- - Ben Davison

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