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November 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 26, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Australia, Grand Cayman, Philippines . . .

and when itís really the best time to dive in Raja Ampat

from the November, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Last month, we gave good marks to the Spoilsport and its trip to the Great Barrier Reef and beyond. A number of boats leave Cairns for the GBR and many are less expensive, but Michael Judd (Oregon City, OR) says: "The Kangaroo Explorer demonstrates the adage that you get what you pay for. Our three-day, two-night trip starts with a ride on another company's boat out to their 'day on the reef' barge, moored about 20 miles offshore. We transfer to the Kangaroo Explorer and head a couple of miles out to the first dive site. The operator supplies the equipment as part of the price. Many BCs were on their last legs. They also provided a 3mm shortie wetsuit with long sleeves - - medium and large ended up being hard to find - - and there was no way to keep the same suit, as there were different divers every day (think about that one). The consoles had computers but no instruction was provided and some of the multiple newbies had never used a computer before. No compass in the console, which was missed as most of the dives were unguided. Tanks were small. Briefings were brief, and on some dives, not given at all. There was usually, although not always, one guide in the water. On one dive, my buddy and I were caught in a current and ended up surfacing about 500 yards from the boat. Our waves for a pickup were ignored, although we did get a wave back and were signaled to swim to the boat. Why? Because the little outboard was being used by the captain to attempt to push on the Explorer to relieve tension on the mooring line that had wrapped around one of the propellers. After a long hard swim back to the ship, the only comment from the crew was to give me a bad time about using up the last of the air in my tank on the swim back! As a final gesture, the crew asked the departing guests to clean 'their' equipment after the last dive. At least one guest did not do so. The boat's schedule, returning to the barge to pick up or drop off divers twice a day, limits the Explorer's range, which means many of the same sites are used three or four times over the course of three days."

Grand Cayman. Serious divers give good marks to the Cobalt Coast Resort, its dive operator, Divetech, and the Sea Camp it offers in the summer, where kids can be attended to while parents dive. Scott George (Long Beach, CA) was there in July and said, "Cobalt Coast is a wonderful, small resort on Grand Cayman's northwest coast. The rooms were nice and spacious, and the food was excellent. The Divetech staff was very organized, had excellent facilities, was personable and knowledgeable, and promoted a strong sense of safety while allowing every diver to dive his own profile. I was surprised at how outstanding the condition of the reef was - - very large coral formations were everywhere, and fish life was abundant. Turtles were always around, and we did see a number or rays and several types of eel. Kids Sea Camp was well run. The activities were well organized and the supervision was excellent. The staff knows children well, and I was especially impressed at how well they were able to teach the young ones to be comfortable with a mask and snorkel while also being able to handle young teenagers." ( www.cobaltcoast.com )

As for Cayman diving, however, the West End has generally become a waste of time for serious divers. Says Patrick Flynn (Washington, D.C.), who stayed at the once venerable Sunset House in September, "The reefs are in decline, and everybody knows it, thanks to the multiple compounded threats of pollution, diver damage, warming, acidification and overfishing. One reef we dove, Eagle Ray Rock, showed it is holding on, even recovering, but it is like a ghost town in terms of mature fishes. No breeders, no brood, and it is only a matter of time. Of 'keystone species,' algae eaters are needed most. There are hardly any schools anywhere along the west coast. On a dive at Eden Rock, I asked our captain where the protected areas of Grand Cayman are, and he told me we were in one. The reef is virtually dead. I also went for a night dive off Sunset's house reef and saw one flamingo tongue and a barracuda. What was once a reef now looks like poured concrete. This is characteristic of much of the house reef above the wall. The rest of the 10 or so sites up and down the West End were not as well off as the two at the extreme north and south. All sites show chronic stress, more than 50 percent are dead coral covered with algae." On Cayman, go north and east, my friends.

The Philippines. There are scores of good diving resorts here at decent prices, so don't end up in an overpriced hole, says Carl Scott (Spring, TX), who went to the Crystal Blue Resort in September. "Overpriced everything. Not for the diver who just loves to cruise and enjoy the scenery, but truly great for macro. Staff was great, guides very capable but at an average of USD$53 per dive (with a nitrox premium of $10), it is anything but a bargain in this part of the world. Accommodations were Spartan; at USD $86 per night, it's truly a ripoff. Better accommodations with at least equivalent diving can be found in other areas and nearly half that price. Rooms are small, with a simple bed and small 'armoire,' what they might think is a small desk, and a small table with two chairs on the veranda. Bathrooms worked okay but have what must be years of soap scum accumulated on shower walls and plumbing fixtures. My guess is that the staff simply was never shown by its Californian owner how to clean a bathroom."

Not many Philippine diving resorts are built with American tastes in mind, but now there is Liquid Dumaguete. Greg Liebman (Round Lake Park, IL) visited in September. "Liquid is a brand-new dive operation built from scratch by owners Tim and Zoe Latimer, who managed dive operations at Exotic Resort on Malapascua, Philippines, and Dive Little Corn on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. The resort consists of eight ensuite cabanas, all with a sea view, clustered near the beach and the pool. Each cabana has a geothermal heated shower, a nice deck, excellent ceiling fan and very comfortable platform bed. There is a main lodge, set above the dive shop and classrooms, with beautiful views of the sea and mountains, a nice little bar, abundant electrical outlets, DVD and TV, a lending library and a comfy, lay-about lounge.WiFi is pretty fast and free, and prices for the cabanas and meals are very reasonable. I'm becoming a reluctant convert to muck diving, and Dumaguete is definitely a place to indulge. Whether shore diving or making a short trip by boat, the macro is exceptionally good. Ornate and robust ghost pipefish abound. Frogfish on nearly every dive, sea snakes, nudis of every imaginable description, and the highlight - - flamboyant cuttlefish! When you're ready for some color and fish, Apo Island and Siquijor are day trips run regularly from Liquid. Experienced divers are given more latitude to dive their own profile within limits, once they've demonstrated their abilities. Tim and Zoe are instructors committed to the dive experience." ( www.liquiddumaguete.com )

Mexican Yucatan. If you want to dive Mexico's Mayan Coast, Dressel Divers continues with its good reviews. Frank Nelson (North Huntingdon, PA), there in September, reports, "Very environmentally conscientious, good dive briefings, professional and watchful for newbies. There was no anchoring so everything was done as drift dives. They went out of their way to find and point out critters. The boat carried eight divers max, plus divemasters, who even carried some divers' gear onto and off the boat due to age and back issues. There was no dock, so you had to carry all your gear through the surf to the boat. Tanks were already on board. At times, I thought I had a valet because they wanted to rinse and store my gear. Cenote dives were very good. The only problem was the time it took. We had to leave Iberostar then go into Playa to pick up other divers, then go to Barcelo to get tanks and gear, then finally to the cenote. Cave instructors Julian and Matt gave a history lesson of the cenote system and really stressed neutral buoyancy. They checked everything on everyone before entering. What a sight! No matter how many times I do the cenotes and even repeat some, I never tire of them. Simply breathtaking." ( www.dresseldivers.com )

Raja Ampat Seasons. We reviewed Raja Ampat in March and got an email from Larry McKenna (Kingwood, TX), who said, "There are better and more land-based dive resorts there now. The newest is Raja Ampat Dive Lodge, just a few hundred meters from Max Ammer's, on a long white beach. Twenty cabins to hold 50 guests in class. Rates are well below the Euro charged by Max. And the dive season from November to May? Nope! This is a misconception pushed by travel agents. Except for access to Misool, all the Ampats and lots more can be better dove in our summer months, July and August being the preferred. I just returned from two months of doing just that. Seas were 'normal' for this season,with infrequent showers. John Bantin, the writer of our travel article, replies "I've checked my original copy. I'm afraid that a mistake has occurred. When to go: anytime. But liveaboards tend to operate in the area between November and May.' ( www.komodoalordive.com/RajaAmpatDiveLodge.htm )

- - Ben Davison

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