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August 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 25, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Thailand, Cocos, Hawaii, Maldives...

Thai tech dives, an easy wreck dive and El Nińo’s ups and downs

from the August, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Technical Diving in Thailand Aboard the MV Trident. Here’s an operation just for technical divers, as J.W. Hinson (Bay City, TX) reports from his April trip. “I began planning 18 months ago for the goal of diving several wrecks, including the USS Lagarto, the last U.S. submarine lost in WWII, and the Japanese Tottori Maru, a “hellship” that carried 2,000 American POWs from the Philippines to Japan. One of the POWs was my father, who was captured in April 1942. This was a technical dive trip with depths in the 250-foot range. The Trident is a basic, no-frills dive boat with an outstanding crew. Peter, Miko, Wilco, Sonia and Crystal went out of their way to provide the best tech diving possible. A typical day included two dives with 18/45 bottom mix and 40- and 100-percent deco gases. A deco bar is available with surface- supplied oxygen for final deco. Typical dive profiles were 15 to 25 minutes of bottom time. Rebreathers are also supported. A chase boat is available in case a diver loses the up line. A thermocline above the wrecks reduces the visibility to 25 feet. It’s a one-hour flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui, where we met the boat. If you’re a technical diver looking for new wreck sites, check into this.” (www.techthailand.com)

Cocos Island, Costa Rica and El Nińo. This is El Nińo season and historically divers have found that when warmer currents appear, the big fish go deep and sometimes disappear altogether for divers. But as two of our correspondents told us, it’s all in the luck of the draw. Max Weinmann (Wayland, MA) was aboard the Undersea Hunter in early June (with water temperatures from 77 to 82 degrees) and reports that aboard the boat, he was “regaled with stories of tiger sharks, schooling hammerheads and other tales of wonderment and big animal encounters. Sadly, it was not to happen for the entire trip. I realize one has no control over nature, but it just happened that the El Nińo was not in our favor. Isolated hammerheads and Galapagos sharks were witnessed but not the schooling masses we had so hoped for. Most of us understood and made the best of it with levity and humor. Currents were extremely strong, leaving many of us exhausted merely to reach a handhold on the reef below. We would be straining our eyes, only imagining shadows somewhere off in the distance, despite the divemaster’s insistence that there were hammers ‘just out of view’. Re-entering the boat was often a challenge amidst the chop and swells accompanying the cooler weather, but the single driver on board was skilled in helping us up and finding us despite our surfacing at a distance or in the rain. This site is clearly only for the very skilled and fit. Currents may shift and change and toss divers effortlessly about. The potential for injury is very real. In fact, one diver developed decompression sickness and was sucking down 100 percent oxygen once it was evident why he was not well. Despite advice to stop diving from the physician on board, he decided to continue after a short break. Even if a doctor is on board, facilities are very basic and inadequate for anything beyond scrapes and bruises. If there is a serious injury, the boat must turn around and head back to the mainland -- another 36 hours away . . . We were informed early on that the water filtration system might emit a sulfurous odor, so cabin doors should be kept open. Sure enough, the cabin area smelled like an unattended men’s room in summer, very unpleasant. . . . Upon our return, the crew quickly dissolved into the background once tips were given. No one from management appeared despite the DCS incident during the trip, which left us dismayed and curious. . . . Perhaps of equal concern was the fact that their subsequent dive blog seemed to remark on a different trip altogether. If more than one hammerhead was seen, then the blog described it as “... the largest schools of hammerheads were seen at . . .” There were other examples of exaggeration which would only serve to entice prospective divers, much as we had been enticed.”

A month later, long-term Undercurrent correspondent David Shem-Tov (London, U.K.) was aboard the Sea Hunter, sister vessel of the Undersea Hunter. “The 12-night charter was my fourth to Cocos. The decision to join this trip was made with some trepidation, given reports on El Nińo conditions affecting sightings of pelagics. Interestingly, our logbooks indicated similar water temperatures (77 to 81 degrees) as on other trips. Perhaps the thermoclines were lower this July. The hammerheads were there but a little deeper than I remembered. Most dives were outstanding. I spent at least 20 minutes in the company of dolphins harassing a school of jacks. We rescued a turtle caught in fishing lines, and a whale shark made a brief appearance. There were a couple of the signature ‘wallpaper’ sightings with the schools of hammerheads overhead. We saw eagle rays, Galapagos, graytips and a manta or two. We didn’t encounter the tiger sharks, though. . . . Boat facilities were excellent, as always. My companion thought the food was better this time. Unlike previous trips, fishing boats seeking shark fins were not visible. The rangers had two operating boats and were using them. It’s about time. Sadly, it appears they are too late for the silvertips. Divemasters told us they haven’t seen them for two years. . . . One concern is the number of dive boats now operating here. For many years, only three boats would come here and on many days, ours was the only boat around. Now with the Argo, Adventure, Wind Dancer and Yemaya, there are seven. Considering that everyone wants to always dive on Dirty Rock or Alcyone (with Punta Maria and Dos Amigos often inaccessible due to ocean conditions), the pressure on the best dive sites is going to be tremendous.” (www.underseahunter.com)

Kona Coast, Hawaii. I’ve always thought the Kona Coast got a bit of a bad rap by divers, because the unique colorful tropicals against the stark backdrop can be stunning. Dan Clemens (Everett, WA) says to find good diving, get away from Kailua. “Blue Wilderness is one of the best operators, especially if you are staying in the Waikoloa area. It is in Queen’s Marketplace and launches its boat a few miles north at Paniao. I found the coral, fish and invertebrates much better in this area than at the Kailua dive locations. At one point, I was diving lava tubes with whales ‘talking’ 100 yards away. The tubes amplified the sound and it was magical. I also was able to get a good shot of a devil scorpionfish. Turtle cleaning stations, lots to see, good operation. (www.divebluewilderness.com)

David A. Brom (Benicia, CA) went out with Mauna Lani Sea Adventures. “My wife and I have been all over the world and were surprised at the quality of diving. The water was cold and there is no soft coral but the hard coral makes up for it. There were lots of tropicals, many found only in Hawaii, and turtles everywhere. We had a manta on one dive at the 15th Hole. The Kohala coast (northwest side of Kona) is the place to dive. Dive sites are close, two to 15 minutes away. Depths are shallow, averaging 40 feet, so air consumption is not an issue. Gary, the divemaster, has been diving here for 30 years and knows his stuff. He is old school and touches pretty much everything. This bothered me but who am I to tell a guy who has been diving here 30 years to lay off the coral? He did point out stuff I would have never seen and if I missed it, he would bring it to me (octopus, pincushion sea star, etc.).” (www.hawaiiseaadventures.com)

The Maldives. The MV Orion, launched just last year, bills itself as pure luxury, but Joe Trapasso (San Francisco, CA) led a group of 23 in May and came away disappointed. Dysfunctional air conditioning meant, “Several divers slept on deck due to the oppressive heat in their rooms. Our dives were average, other than the middle dive on the last day. We understand we were coming at a different season but our impression was they just do not know the Maldives dive sites and waters, as many dives did not match the briefings. One reason we signed on was for divemaster Hassan’s local experience (15,000-plus dives in the Maldives) yet he was not on the boat. We didn’t go very far beyond Male. Lack of communication - - zero from the captain to the group, and no communication from the divemasters – they never even spoke to their groups.” While we don’t have other reports on the Orion, if you’re considering this new craft, do your research.

For example, consider the venerable Manthiri. Curt Andrus (Lewisville, TX), there in April, writes: “Icelandic volcano and air traffic groundings in Europe prevented two divers from joining, so we only had five divers on the charter. Good diving experience and personalized attention. Overall, good fish life and reefscapes. A manta cleaning station had a couple mantas circling for 30-plus minutes. Plenty of black-tip, white-tip and grey reef sharks on numerous dive sites. One whale shark sighting that allowed snorkeling for 20 minutes. Couple of pods of dolphins in transit but none that hung around the boat. Food was abundant - - chicken, fish, lamb and beef. The local Maldivian curry was very good (and hot) but not on the menu. Only after we saw the crew eating it and asking what it was did they make enough for the guests. Rooms were adequately sized and had good storage for clothes and luggage. Separate ensuite bathrooms were large and worked without issue. The A/C was good and controllable within the room. Divemasters and crew had a lot of tenure on the Manthiri, so they must have a good owner. Also plenty of repeat guests.” (www.manthiriliveaboard.com; it’s booked by Jenny Collister at www.reefandrainforest.com)

S.S. Yongala, Queensland, Australia. Perhaps the fishiest wreck in the world, it’s a favorite among divers. Many presume it’s only reachable by liveaboard. Not true, reports Mike Cavanaugh (Bellaire, TX). “Yongala Divers runs an operation about 90 minutes south of Townsville. The dive shop is friendly and accommodating. Nitrox is available. The drill is to load your gear on a Zodiac on a trailer, which is pulled by tractor to the beach. The run is 30 minutes to the wreck. The dive is a two-tank dive with maximum depth first (you can’t go past the bottom at 90 feet) and the second dive is across the top of the wreck at 60 feet. The Yongala is protected in a green zone, and I have never seen so many fish schooling in all my diving. We saw many sea snakes, turtles, giant groupers, cobia and typical reef fish. Coral growth on the wreck was impressive. No wreck penetration allowed. The first day, I dove with 12 divers (crowded on the Zodiac), the second day there was only six divers (just right for a Zodiac). Upon return, the dive shop provided a BBQ feed. This is a definite must-do dive.” (www.yongaladive.com.au)

- - Ben Davison

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