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September 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 26, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Bonaire, Fiji, Galapagos, Roatan

great examples of customer service - - and one resort to avoid

from the September, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Thumbs up for Explorer Ventures. Hurricane Irene went right over the top of the Turks & Caicos Explorer II, but not before Audrey Swales Anderson (Colorado Springs, CO) got in five dives on Sunday, August 21. She says they "were then forced to return to the harbor on the high tide Sunday night, and Explorer decided it best to move us to a motel (we had to pay for this, and also meals) on Monday and Tuesday nights. Irene hit Tuesday night. We were allowed to go back to the boat late Wednesday. Part of the marina dock had broken loose, and was intertwined with the mooring lines from our boat. It took most of Thursday to untangle that mess. The boat went back out Thursday night, so we were able to get in a night dive Thursday, and then the normal dawn and morning dives the boat does on Friday mornings. It was rather like diving in milk for these last three dives until I got down to 70 feet." To her amazement, and without her even contacting the company, there was an e-mail waiting for Anderson on Tuesday morning, letting her know that Explorer was offering her another week on the boat at an 80 percent discount. "They figured we missed about 80 percent of our possible dives, so this is how they arrived at this discount. While my husband and I had decided not to purchase trip insurance, it is exceptionally wonderful that the company is offering us another trip at a discounted price. With this policy, Explorer Ventures has certainly earned a customer for life in me." ( www.explorerventures.com )

Galapagos Sky, Revisited. Last issue, we reported on a Galapagos Sky trip that fell short of the high expectations and high prices one pays for such a journey. Things have changed, according to a reader who was aboard the subsequent trip. Chet Moore (San Carlos, CA) writes, "In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Peter Hughes for many years, in both a professional and social context. Indeed, Mr. Shanis's charter did not warrant five stars . . . however, with a change of crew, including the captain, the following charter was more in line with what one would expect from the owner, Peter and DivEncounters

"Galapagos Sky is owned and operated by Ecoventura/Santiago Dunn. There are three other 'identical' boats in the fleet, but Galapagos Sky is the only one dedicated to diving. Maximum capacity is 16; we had 12 guests and 11 crew. DivEncounters markets the Galapagos Sky. The Ecuadorian government has imposed new conditions on dive operations in the zone - - no more than three dives a day. All dive locations are predetermined and prepermitted. Liveaboards are permitted to the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin. Day boats stay south. Land tours are limited to one - - to see tortoises. Wolf and Darwin have current and surge. Bounce to the bottom, grab a rock and wait. Most dives ended with moving away from the wall and into the water column, with hammerheads below, above and with you. Victor, the captain (they do rotate), was gracious, informative and always on the dive deck assisting his crew. The compressor and nitrox system were fully functioning. There had indeed been issues on the earlier charter, and the not-so-mini compressor was still on board. To that extent, one of the mains had received a questionable rebuild while in the shipyard, and was rebuilt during the change-over at the end of our charter. The ice machine was at full tilt. Although the naturalists (government employees) change from time to time, ours were great - - great knowledge, great personalities and great fun. Evasion and untruthfulness - - not! Yes, you will dive several times at the same sites on Wolf and Darwin. Why? Because that is where the hammerhead, Galapagos, and whale sharks are. We even had a tiger sighting, and a huge mola mola. In our 30 some years of liveaboard diving, we have had our share of busted nitrox systems, cranky compressors and yes, even a nonfunctioning ice machine. Dive boats coming out of a shipyard after a major refit, and especially in a Third World environment have issues more often than not; some major, some minor . . . and you just roll with it. Would I go back to the Galapagos Sky? In a heartbeat." ( www.galapagossky.com )

Good News at Habitat Bonaire. One of our travel reviewers stopped in during a June trip and loves the "dropdead gorgeous new ocean suites named for late co-manager Albert Romijn. In addition to the view of the sea and Klein Bonaire, they are equipped luxuriously with king beds, a sofa, small fridge, microwave, coffee maker, granite counters and gorgeous bath that includes a rarity on the island: a bathtub. Of course, it's the porch with chairs and table overlooking the sea that has me fantasizing about sipping a beer and watching the sunset. The previous dive manager, a woman who often polarized guests, has been replaced by the personable and helpful Roger Hauch. Morale is high and divers are smiling. The dive lockers still need some repairs, but the reef looks good despite all we hear about sea changes." ( www.habitatbonaire.com )

"I can understand don't drink the water,
but mold in the shower and on the walls?
Not responding to calls about broken door
locks? And towel shortages?"

New and Improved at Wananavu. When divers' favorite Fijian resort had Ra Divers depart for another venue, there were concerns about whether a competent operation would replace them. Wayne Joseph (San Mateo, CA), there in July, says, "Wananavu has entered a contract with Reef Safaris, which has 11 other dive locations in Fiji, to provide the dive services. Managers Jeremy and Kristen had to start from the ground up. A new dive center was built closer to the boats, and there are benches with charging stations and areas to hang up equipment. They take your gear, rinse it and hang it to dry after every dive. They hired Jioji, who used to work for Kai Viti Divers, to help manage and train the crew. He was great when he led the dives, as he could find many interesting critters. Jim and Ken were also great at finding things. We saw a leopard shark and other reef sharks, turtles, dolphins, squid and various nudibranchs. They had only two small boats that could take six divers each. There was a first-aid kit, oxygen and life jackets, and snacks and water were provided. A diver accidently dropped her small video camera overboard during our surface interval. One of the guides put on his gear, jumped overboard, and found the camera after 15 minutes - - in water with 10-foot visibility. I was disappointed because they weren't able to take us to the Bligh Water, as the boats were too small and the water too rough, but they took us to dive sites with great soft corals. (Bring an underwater flashlight to be able to see their wonderful colors.) Two days before we left, Ra leased a larger boat that enabled us to go out to Ra Passage. I was told two larger boats that can take 12 to16 divers are in the process of being readied (but before you go, make sure those boats are in the water)" About Wananavu, Wayne adds, "The food is much improved. There was a specials menu that differs for lunch and dinner; it always had a choice of a meat, fresh fish or vegetarian dish, with soup and desserts. They had a special lovo night, an Indian night, a Mongolian barbeque night that let us pick our choices of meat (lamb, pork, beef and chicken), calamari, veggies and spices, then give it to the chef, who would grill it in front of us. The resort has been 'spruced up' with new paint, and the grounds are always immaculate."

Another thumbs up for Wananavu comes from Mike Millet (Dublin, CA). "In June, I was in Papua New Guinea, diving with the Star Dancer. The plan was to head back to San Francisco via Fiji and spend a week at the Wananavu Resort, which had been prepaid. However, while on the Star Dancer, I contracted a terrible eye infection that necessitated a quick return home for medical treatment. With the help of Debbie Messina from Dancer Fleet Travel, the Wananavu Resort has extended me full credit for the trip for one year, which I'll take in April." ( www.wananavu.com )

Star Dancer, PNG. Besides his eye infection, Millet's 10 days on the Star Dancer were problematic. "We ran out of fresh water twice and had to motor 10 to 12 hours back and forth to Alotau to replenish. This resulted in two rather choppy nights at sea with little sleep. The Star Dancer used a chase boat to pick up divers, but for a couple of dives, the motor wasn't working and it had no back-up motor. So, of course, during these two dives, my dive buddy and I had to deal with a strong current and a dive guide who took off without us. We were led away from the mooring by the dive guide, who then left us while apparently trying to find the boat. With less than 500psi, my buddy and I surfaced to find the chase boat inoperable, and the mother boat about 200 meters away from us in choppy water. In was an unpleasant fin back to the Star Dancer. The dive guides were both local divers and Americans. For the most part, they went too fast. It was normal for me to stop to take three or four pictures, to then find the dive guide some 10 meters ahead of me. Nonetheless, the crew was, for the most part, friendly and helpful. The dive conditions also added to the negative experience, with high seas, banging ladders, strong currents and marginal visibility. I have been on about 25 liveaboard dive trips, and I would have to rate this experience in the lower third."

A Resort to Avoid in Roatan. Henry Morgan was a pirate, which may be reason enough to avoid the Roatan resort that carries his name. While there in July, Celia Liner (Olive Branch, MS) says the diving and dive operator (TGI Diving) were just fine, but "divers dwindled as people started getting sick with some sort of grunge that was passed around. Besides the voracious no-see-ums that could eat thru DEET, the resort offered ho-hum food, a shortage of liquor and other adult beverages, and guest rooms with bathrooms that should be scrubbed with bleach daily and sprayed for bugs. You can't drink the water, can't flush paper in the toilets. Okay, I can live with that, but mold in the shower and on the walls? Not responding to maintenance calls about broken outside door locks? Towel shortages? Those are problems with the property, not the island environment. The front desk refused to take my credit card because they couldn't get a manual imprint from it. Not a resort I would visit again, but the diving was very good overall, and TGI Diving had terrific experienced divemasters." ( www.tgidiving.com )

- - Ben Davison

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