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May 2009    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 24, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Florida, California, Bahamas, Philippines…

good U.S. diving, Cozumel’s best gear repairman, and more

from the May, 2009 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Horizon Divers, Florida Keys. If you’re like a lot of my fellow divers, you’ve postponed a trip abroad to go diving for a variety of reasons, but don’t forget you can find some decent diving in the good old USA. George T. Felt (Moultonborough, NH) reminds us there are still a few surprises in the Florida Keys, which he visited in February. “I stayed at the Marriott in Key Largo, and took a refresher course with one of their staff. The teaching and service there is excellent. I dived with Horizon Divers (I had dived with them before) and was reminded of their good location, solid boats, and excellent staff and pre-dive briefings. You are on your own (with your buddy), as they do not routinely put a divemaster in the water. You are required to hire a guide if you want to dive a wreck and do not have advanced diver training or have not been in the water in the last year. Roll calls were always well done.

“We saw Goliath grouper that were so big you couldn’t put your arms around their mid sections (not that you want to try) - - their approximate dimensions were six-plus feet long and 400 pounds. Scary big. Also saw a pair of really big Cobia that were mistaken for sharks at first glance. Generally healthy coral but some sites were in decline. This area is a good value and has surprisingly high-quality diving for an easy-access stateside vacation. Marriott is steep on price so for less-expensive accommodations, consider the Holiday Inn or the Ramada. They’re decent but undistinguished places to crash but not on the water, despite what they tell you - - a canal is not “the water” in my view.” (www.horizondivers.com)

Truth Aquatics, California. California has the ever popular Truth Aquatics, based in Santa Barbara. Bob DeFeo (Novato, CA) notes that, “They have three boats, Truth, Conception and Vision. I appreciate the value. They dive the northern and southern Channel Islands, San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Catalina, and San Clemente. They also offer snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking adventures on and around the same islands and Santa Barbara. I took the two-day dive cruise around Santa Cruz Island. You board the vessel Friday evening and leave port at 4 a.m. on Saturday. You can easily do four to five dives in one day, weather and conditions permitting. The boat departs for Santa Barbara between 1 and 2:30 p.m.to get back between 5 and 6 p.m. Superb dive briefings, and two to three deckhands assist with filling tanks and assisting divers. The safety swimmer/diver is suited up when divers are in the water and each boat, a rigid hull inflatable with outboard, has a pick-up or mooring tender that’s deployed alongside during diving and when moored. Depth-finder screen is positioned so all on the dive deck can see the depth below the keel. Exits are done via stern swim platform that sits about two feet below the water line with additional platform above, followed by the three-step ladder to the dive deck. Crew pulls fins and weights, if desired.

“The Truth has two showers below the deck in the stern, a drying room for hanging wet suits (bring your own hanger) and an electric dryer for drying towels and clothing. The Truth’s dive deck has one hot-water shower, while the Conception and Vision have two each. All boats have cleaning tables and water hoses for licensed fishermen or shellfish/ lobster gatherers to clean speared fish, shellfish and lobsters when in season. Tanks can be rented at the dive shop’s dock or bring your own. Compressor on board; they give great fills. Full or light breakfast fixings, full hot lunch, dinners, beverages hot and cold, wonderful desserts and plenty of munchies for snacking. No alcohol served so BYOB. Sleeping accommodations are below deck -- single or double berths/bunks with privacy curtain, reading light, pillows, blankets, foam Naugahyde-covered pads. Most divers bring sleeping bags.

“Dives are wonderful in the kelp forests along the numerous coves and dive spots up against the islands. Many seals and sea lions, lobsters, sunstars, urchins, sculpins, anemones, stonefish, kelp bass, occasional black bass...sometimes horn, leopard and swell sharks. Colorful dives and great diversity of aquatic life; a photographer’s dream scenario. Dives require 7mm suit, with many using dry suits. Weather can change quickly here, necessitating the changing of dive spots, but the experienced, service-oriented skippers and crew usually find another calmer spot right around the corner. You’re very pampered when you dive with Truth Aquatics. My two-day trip was $396; I did seven dives on the trip and some divers did as many as nine.” (www.truthaquatics.com)

Club Med, Bahamas. Last month we reported on the good diving at Riding Rock Inn on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. The only other hotel there is the Club Med so if you’re a serious diver, pay attention to this caution by reader Phil Meyer (Oakland, CA) who was there in January. “While I enjoyed staying at Club Med, I would have used an outside land-based dive provider or a liveaboard, had I known more about the dive operation. The dive sites visited were only the ones easiest for the boat captain. They revisited the same sites several times during the week. I dove this same operation in 2001 when they had two boats. It was a very different experience. Also, there has been a deterioration of the reef; fish life was not near the level of my last visit.”

Cozumel Gear Repair Tip. Steve Mason (Brimley, MI) says, “I recently found myself with a ‘broken’ Atomic SS1 and was referred to Javier Polanco at Cozumel Scuba Repair. When I arrived at his shop, he was working on piles of gear. He stopped what he was doing and immediately worked on my Atomic. He fixed it in seconds with a simple adjustment and told me it was no charge because it was so easy to fix. I gave him some cash and insisted he take it because he saved my diving vacation. He is on 1st Street South between Avenues 85 and 90.” (www.cozumelscubarepair.com)

Philippines May Raise Dive Package Prices. We’ve long reported that this is about the best bargain for the remarkable fish life of the South Pacific/Indian Ocean. However, things may change soon. The country’s tourism secretary, Ace Durano, says fees for the country’s eco-based offerings are undervalued so he is encouraging dive operators and travel agencies to increase prices of dives and tour packages to slow the rate of visiting divers. While, say, a US$2 marine fee to dive off Malapascua Island is a great rate for divers, Durano thinks the cheap rate will have bad long-term effects on the marine ecosystem. As an example, Durano said the cost of an up-close dive with whale sharks in Donsol Bay is only US$10 per diver. But the volume of tourists in Donsol has had an effect on the whales, which don’t stay around long in shallow waters anymore. “At US$75 per boat for a whole day interaction with the whales, that’s cheap,” he said. “Now it seems there are too many boats for a certain number of whale sharks.” Considering the number of foreign divers coming to the Philippines, he says an increase in fees could control the influx, and dive shops could afford the premium because there will still be divers who want the underwater biodiversity that’s not offered in many other places. Plus, setting higher prices means travel operators could have more resources to manage the sites they take tourists to.

- - Ben Davison

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