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June 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 25, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Little Cayman, Maui, Grenadines…

overlooked, misunderstood dive sites worth mentioning

from the June, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

For the traveling diver, there are always new developments, but there are also places that get overlooked, even misunderstood.

Little Cayman Island. While it is frequently touted as a getaway for divers who want some of the better Caribbean diving and no development, one Little Cayman alternative doesn’t get a lot of ink. Paradise Villas is little heralded but it is a well-regarded, small beachfront development just perfect for people who want nice digs and good diving. Michael Hynan (Grafton, WI) can’t stay away. “We made our ninth visit to Little Cayman, staying again at Paradise Villas. Our 2001 stay convinced us that vacationing with the resort operators, Marc and Sabine, was a guaranteed wonderful experience. We are in a wonderful nine-year rut. We enjoy cooking in occasionally and we make good use of the hot plates and grills Paradise Villas offers. The frozen meats from the local grocery store have been of consistent good quality. To minimize costs, we appreciated being able to order from the lunch menu when we eat our evening meals at the Hungry Iguana. We made eight two-tank trips with Conch Club Divers, a top-notch operation. A divemaster picked us up in a van for the trip to the pier at Little Cayman Beach Resort to get on the Conch Club’s boat Sea Esta. It is a 42-foot Newton with head, camera table, water, snacks, etc. We were always the first dive boat to leave in the morning, giving us the pick of the best spots. Bill, the owner, runs a well organized, fun operation that includes talented divemasters and excellent briefings. Tim and Ann seem to have been with Conch Club Divers forever. Tim gets a gleam in his eye when it is time to catch a lionfish, and Ann is the mistress of finding small creatures underwater.”

Another reader, John from Napa, CA, says “The Paradise Villas are right on the water, and are charming with ‘Caribbean rustic elegance.’ Marc, Sabine and Michelle took very good care of us. The service from Patrick and Emma at the Hungry Iguana restaurant was great and the food is not fancy but quite good. The curry lovers among us said that the curry served on “Curry Night” is among the best they have ever had.” (www.paradisevillas.com; www.conchclubdivers.com)

Maui. This is a sometimes misunderstood island because if you don’t understand the geography, you might book your accommodations an hour’s drive from your dive operator . . and they leave as early as 7 a.m.! R.C. Jennings (San Diego CA) writes, “Silly me staying up in Napili and driving all the way to Kihei.” Regardless, he thought Prodiver Maui was first rate and “the captain and Eric, the guide, had great attitudes. I saw a calf, its mother and two escort male whales on the way out to Molokini. Great drift dive. Lots of good talk and info during surface interval.” Maui boats run directly from Lahaina and the harbor near Kehei; the drive between the two is about half an hour, given the traffic there these days. (www.prodivermaui.com)

Also, the serious Maui diver needs to seek out serious dives. Virtually every operator does the standards like Molokini Crater, the Arches on Lanai, and Turtle Reef but there are less dived sites. Nick Phelps (Berkeley, CA) went out with Lahaina Divers in April and liked their big boats. “They dive Molokai, Molokini and Lanai, and offer increasing discounts the more you dive with them. Molokai (45-foot visibility and 73 degrees at depth) is definitely for advanced, experienced divers. There were 10-foot swells on the outbound leg, during the dives, and even higher seas on the return trip. Current wasn’t bad but it picked up in the channel between Molokai and Mokoho’oniki. Dive one was off Mokoho’oniki and included Fish Rain. I saw three individual hammerhead sharks and a thresher shark from a distance as we got to depth. Current wasn’t a problem. Max depth was 93 feet; bottom time was 48 minutes on 31 percent nitrox. Dive two was off Mokoho’oniki and I saw a school of 10 hammerheads cruise slowly by. The largest was probably nine feet long. Individual hammerheads were seen at other points in the dive. There was more current but it wasn’t a problem. I’m sure it’s why we saw more sharks on the second dive. Max depth was 98 feet; bottom time was 39 minutes on 31 percent nitrox. Molokini’s back side was without current so there were only a few of the larger deep water fish. Dive one was Reef’s End. Great creatures like a blue dragon nudibranch and a banded pillow crab. Max depth was 102 feet; bottom time was 49 minutes. Dive two was Flying Sea Cliffs. More great creatures, like a large sponge crab, eels, lobster and some decent-sized trevally. I stayed at Aston Maui Kaanapali Villas -- my only mistake of the trip -- which was 15 minutes north of Lahaina Divers’ shop. Nice location but a complete bush league operation. Its main lobby is sealed off and under noisy construction, and a lot of parking spaces were taken up by workers’ pickup trucks. They charge an additional $13-per-day facilities fee. Basics like the coffee maker and screen doors were broken. Cheap cabinets and dirty carpet were part of their premium service.” (www.lahainadivers.com)

Grenadines. For well-traveled divers, there’s not a lot of new in the Caribbean but one unheralded area where I’ve had some fine dives has been the Grenadines, which is dotted with little islands and resorts. Few of our readers go there, thanks to inconvenient flights, plane changes and travel time, but you can be rewarded -- or disappointed -- as Craig Condron (Spokane, WA) found out at the pricey Petit St. Vincent Resort, where most of the bungalows are on the beach, and the food and staff get raves. “Grenadines Dive is on Union Island and had a 9:30 a.m. pickup at the resort for a two-tank morning dive. Most dives were drifts in a moderate current. The divemasters were always in a hurry, kicking with the current instead of drifting. My first dive was a reef west of Petit Martinique. Of 900-plus dives all over the Caribbean and Pacific, this is the deadest reef I have ever seen. A reddish-brown algae grew on 85 percent of the reef, the other 15 percent showed signs of disease. Just a few small fish. The gorgonians looked like dead stick bushes with the algae waving on their branches. However, two days later I went to Mayrere Garden, where most of the reef seemed healthy - - thousands of chromis and Creole wrasse followed by small hunting packs of horse-eye jacks, large schools of chubs and snappers, and an occasional nurse shark and southern stingray on the bottom. One of the “fishiest” dives I’ve had in the Caribbean. Clipper’s Point is one of the nicest reefs I have seen in the Caribbean. Vase, tube, barrel and rope sponges stood up tall from this shallow bottom. Encrusting sponge filled in the gaps. A moderate current gently moved us along through schools of fish. Many cleaning stations of yellowline arrow crabs and Pederson cleaning shrimp hiding in corkscrew anemones. At Glen’s Point there was so much to see, I simply watched Buddha-style just off the bottom. The current was doing the work and I did the sightseeing. If you dive with Grenadines Dive, request the west side of Union Island.” (www.psvresort.com; www.grenadinesdive.com)

Indonesia. If you’re looking for a new liveaboard, the Damai is it, say readers Phil and Patricia Tobin (Portland, OR). They asked our dear friends Beth and Shaun Tierney from London, England (authors of Diving the World and Diving Southeast Asia) to join them and three other couples in November to experience the brandnew liveaboard out of Sorong, Indonesia, on the northern edge of Irian Jaya. “The ship is a new Phinisi twomasted schooner and the brain child of Alberto Reija, who helped design this luxurious boutique liveaboard and also acts as the cruise director. This is a liveaboard most divers would find hard to imagine, let alone get a chance to spend 11 delightful nights on at the edge of West Papua. Every amenity one could imagine was there. Wine, pop, nitrox, diving lights, diving gear, fancy soaps and lotion were all included. The cruise is expensive but with all the extras and level of luxury, this is an outstanding value. Our room, #1, was downstairs. The dimensions were larger than our master bedroom at home. We had two king-size beds, a separate room with a bathtub and shower, two separate desks, a separate room for the toilet and meters of room to walk around, with plenty of large drawers to store clothes. The woodwork in our room was meticulously done, with plenty of natural light from four portholes and a multi-functional lighting system at night. The other rooms were much the same, just with different bed configurations. All the rooms had air-conditioning. When we landed in Sorong, two pieces of luggage were missing. We were told that Lion Air’s plane was too heavy so they were left behind. Before we had departed port aboard the Damai, the crew had purchased extra clothes for us and another diver. We were outfitted with brand-new dive gear. Once the luggage was located, it took an extra day to arrive; Alberto had it brought over to the Damai. Alberto had handpicked most of the 18 staff members from previous boats he had been involved with. Diving was some of the best in the world. The critters are plentiful, the soft and hard corals are outstanding, and with mild currents, the numbers of fish are beyond belief. We encountered mantas, wobbegonge sharks and Napoleon wrasse the size of VW bugs. At the other end of the spectrum, we found tiny critters, all the way down to pigmy seahorses.”

“Before each dive, at least two of the dive guides would make a quick check of conditions below so that when Alberto gave his dive briefings, the information would be current. Four or five dives a day were normal. The dive deck was unique in that each station has its own rinsing tank between you and the next diver. The staff takes your readied gear and places it on the appropriate tenders, designed by Alberto. Your tank slips into a hole so they stand ready for you to slide your arms into the BCs. The communal area was small but adequate. The dining area is on one side of the room, chairs and chesterfields are on the other, with a widescreen TV in between. The camera room was big enough for six people maximum at a time but there were plenty of 110- and 220-volt outlets and drying towels and shelves for storing extras. At the rear of that deck were chaise lounges and chairs for evening chats. The food was tasty and plentiful. Each guest was given a couple of choices before each meal and if one did not like what was going to be served, the chef would whip act. up something else. Our wine glasses were never left half empty.” Trips in 2011 run $465 to $485 per person, per night. (www.dive-damai.com)

Truk. One of our long-time writers visited Truk last year and when he left, he felt enough moral outrage to e-mail me. “In June 1989, I dived Truk Lagoon, visiting the Japanese ships and planes that went to the bottom in 1944. The wrecks were littered with artifacts that looked as if they had not been disturbed other than to have been picked up and inspected by divers from time to time. Holds were full of belts of machine gun ammunition. Wheelhouses and bridges had binoculars and other navigational gear. Sailors’ cabins had shoes and clothing strewn around. Bottles and boxes were everywhere. The general impression was that these were fully equipped ships that just happened to be sitting on the bottom instead of floating on the surface. The pre-dive briefings every day included a warning not to remove anything from the wrecks, and to leave everything we saw in place. Although some obvious trophies such as brass portholes were already gone, our dive bags were inspected frequently by government authorities when our boat got back to the dock.

“In September 1999, I returned and never heard anyone told to leave the artifacts alone, probably because most small items that could be carried away already had been stolen. Nobody ever checked our dive bags on return to the dock, either. Large pieces such as bicycles and cannon rounds were still there but the little stuff that seemed so poignant on my first trip was thinning out. All of the rooms I swam through were nearly bare. A few samples had been assembled by the guides into sad, on deck show-and-tell displays (groups of lanterns, books, etc.), but these gave me none of the eerie feelings I had on the first trip, when a glance into a cabin showed that time had stopped when the bombs came down.

“In August 2009, I went back yet again and nearly all the artifacts that could possibly be jammed into a BC pocket or up a diveskin sleeve have vanished. There was no check at the dock after each day’s diving, though there was a cursory search of my luggage when I checked in at the airport for my flight home. The airport “inspection” would not have found anything below the top layer of clothes in my suitcase.”

Technical divers now flock to Truk for deep diving and wreck penetration. For the sport diver, it’s no longer about experiencing the inner life of the sunken vessels. Yes, the evidence of life aboard the wrecks once so evident has all but disappeared; now it’s about the beauty of the festooned wrecks. Kimiuo Aisek, founder of Blue Lagoon Dive Shop, worked hard and effectively to prevent looting but his influence and ability to police the lagoon, and especially prevent the locals from pillaging the wrecks, declined with his aging and eventual death in 2001. While no doubt recreational divers have taken home artifacts, the dirt-poor Trukese themselves have been the main harvesters. An excellent history of Truk diving can be found at the website www.truklagoon dive.com/history.htm

- - Ben Davison

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