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March 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 25, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Bonaire, Orlando, Mexico...

dive sites with wild conditions, big fish and Disney World tourists

from the March, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

An Orlando dive bargain at $175. Its the aquarium at Disneys Epcot Center, 203 feet in diameter, 25 feet deep and with eight-inch-thick Plexiglas windows for visitors to ogle you. In December, Dan Huthwaite (Great Falls, VA) called Epcot DiveQuest and booked a dive for the next day. All he needed was his mask. Staff members had us sign release forms, checked C-cards, took our shoe and wetsuit sizes, and gave us a behind-the-scenes-tour. You suit up in a nice locker room, then a divemaster provides the briefing before 40 minutes of swimming in 200-foot visibility with sand tigers, huge turtles, rays, schooling tarpon, and on and on. Awesome. Those with family members on the other side of the glass can ham it up for them. The dive is open to divers 10 and up. Youngsters need a diving parent to accompany them. They do several dives each weekend. Hot showers and towels were available post dive. (Get Epcot DiveQuest details at http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/tours-and-experiences)

Larrys Wildside Diving, Bonaire. Bear Johnston (Madera, CA) arrived in November, only to find that Larry has moved on and new owners have teamed with Buddy Dive Resort to promote diving on the islands east side. This is not a dive for beginners or anyone who might get seasick. The east side is very rough because of the trade winds. You board the boat in calm Lac Bay and suit up. I even put my mask on so I could see. Entering the ocean from the bay is an adventure and you need to hang on. There are a couple of moorings but for most dives, the boat follows the divers. I saw at least six eagle rays, eight turtles and friendly tarpon. I did the basic backroll but getting back on was easy. They deflate a section of the hull to put a ladder in, and you climb aboard, tanks and all. (www.larryswildsidediving.com)

Stuart Coves Dive Bahamas, New Providence. Theres nothing worse than having an operator cut your dives short, and we hear a number of reports that Stuart Coves operation isnt the place for an experienced diver to get much quality bottom time. Gabriel I. Peagarcano (Guaynabo, PR) was there in October and reports: On my previous trip six years ago, they were attentive to their clients and accommodating as to dive sites. I found now an assembly- line, cattle-car operation concerned only with funneling divers to the shark feed circus. Those of us who would rather make wall and reef dives to see the free-ranging sharks had to make do with the leftovers. We asked to be taken to a site named Ray of Hope and on three different days were told that they could not take us because there was a shark feed nearby, though we had been promised otherwise. The dive times were controlled, not by remaining air but by the time the boat had to be at the dock. Therefore, surface intervals were 30 minutes.

David Bader (Norwood, NC) says, I was one of the first picked up in the morning and had a one-hour bus trip to the dive shop. They ran two boats per day with 17 to 20 divers each. The crew and staff were friendly and professional but the dives were overly controlled. I returned to the boat on all dives with half a tank of air or more. First dives were either wall or wreck dives and had a maximum dive time of 35 minutes, including the mandatory safety stop of three minutes. I could have easily done an hour on all dives. I believe the reason for the short dive times is the lack of surface interval provided; the average interval was only 30 minutes. Any more would make the boats late for the afternoon dives. Thats not a good reason for me to cut short my dives.

But the short bottom times dont bother every diver. S. Singer (Panama City, Panama) is one. The dive boats were comfortable, with space for everyone. Almost every trip had at least one student and instructor on board but they did not inconvenience anyone. First dive was always deeper, generally 70 feet, 100 feet if you and your buddy had a computer. These were generally a combination of the wall that surrounds New Providence and a wreck that was around 50 feet. Second dive was almost always a reef, between 25 and 35 feet. First dive was limited to about 35 minutes or 500 psi, second dive was limited to 45 minutes or 500 psi. These limits felt quite comfortable to me; I never felt rushed. Remember the main industry on the island is tourism so they will try and upsell you, although theyre nice about it. (www.stuartcove.com)

Dive St. Kitts. Serious divers cant always get away for four-tank-a-day diving; sometimes family vacations beckon. Henry and Carol Ziller (Conifer, CO) got wet with Dive St. Kitts in November and stayed at the Marriott Hotel and Casino in Frigate Bay. This is a very large hotel that also has timeshare condos, several restaurants and bars. The swim-up bar has the best happy hour but the restaurants are expensive. A cab to less costly restaurants downtown costs $12. The hotel has a nice beach, pools, spa, basketball court, tennis courts and a golf course across the street. We had a one-bedroom, two-bath unit with a Jacuzzi tub, separate shower, fridge, but no microwave. We made reservations for diving with Dive St. Kitts via e-mail. We dropped a couple of third dives, mostly because they were taking some people out for discover scuba dives, which would be short and close in. Dive St. Kitts is at the Bird Rock Beach Hotel, about seven minutes from the Marriott with complimentary pickup. There is storage in the dive shop for all your gear. Diving is from a covered 35-foot boat with two 250hp outboard motors. Entry is back roll and a ladder for climbing back on. Most sites are 5 to 15 minutes away, including the signature River Taw wreck dive, with lots of fish. An octopus is hidden in the front bumper of the van located between the wrecks two sections, and a large old turtle hangs out there too. Visibility was not too good. We did the dive one afternoon, then as our night dive with our granddaughter (her first). Green Point reef had lots of fish, but mostly small ones. Rays, one about four feet in diameter, spotted drums, lobsters and garden eels. (www.divestkitts.com)

Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico. You dont have to travel all the way to Costa Rica or Ecuador for big fish. Two boats out of Cabo San Lucas take divers to the big guys. Colin Earl (Barnaby, BC) went out with the Nautilus Explorer in December. Shes a fine craft with a first-rate captain, Mike Lever. Earl tells us, We had mantas, hammerheads and dolphins on just about all dives. There were plenty of occys, eels, lobsters, sting rays and other life to entertain and pose for photos. We also had plenty of white-tip, silver-tip and Galapagos sharks keeping us company. On two dives, others saw a whale shark but we missed it. We also had a tiger shark on one dive, and we were happy when it kept its distance. (www.nautilusexplorer.com)

The Solmar V also plies these waters. Longtime subscriber Don Acheson (Silver Spring, MD) was aboard last April and saw all the big guys, too. With 22 divers and crew, the Solmar V is a bit crowded. In the lounge, four tables seat 16, and the remaining six divers seat themselves on eight bar stools around four tiny tables. The cabins come with a small toilet, shower and up/down bunks, except for the most forward cabin, which had bunks on either side of the hull. On paper, it seems more spacious than the others but the hull seriously intruded; getting in and out of my bunk was a stretch for this old man. Meals were very good. But Acheson voices a real concern:The Solmar V practices whale-chasing with its pangas. While it must be exciting to see a whale underwater, I worry about the potential for injury to a whale, diver or snorkeler. Propellers are the obvious risk to the whale. To humans in the water with them, theyre huge animals, albeit without a reputation for violence, but accidents can happen. On one chase, which I observed from the deck, an adult whale elevated its tail and slapped the waters surface vigorously a few times -- perhaps in warning, perhaps not. In any case, a snorkeler underneath that tail most likely would have been seriously injured, and there were many snorkelers in the water near those whales at that time. (www.solmarv.com)

Revillagigedo liveaboards must change their itineraries for the time being, thanks to the Mexican Navy. When Reuben Watkins (Pikeville, TN) came aboard the Nautilus Explorer in January, crew announced they had just been alerted that the navy was running special operations until March 21, and dive boats were restricted from Soccorro Island. The boat now spends more time at its other two stops, San Benedicto and Roca Partida. Captain Mike Lever told Undercurrent this is a first in six years diving at Sorrocco, and all dive boats must check in at that islands navy base. The downside is that guests miss out on the night snorkel with silky sharks, but overall we have the same number of dives -- we dont lose the morning stop at the navy base.

- - Ben Davison

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