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August 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 26, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Trials and Tribulations of Dive Travel

and a couple sweet Bonaire B&B’s

from the August, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Bonaire: If you're going to rent a car and shore dive, you don't have to stay in a big dive hotel to enjoy it. Richard Guay (Quebec City) prefers the Villa Safir, in a residential area, a few minutes from the town center. "Villa Safir is a three-room B&B with a pool and sundeck right at your doorstep. You can see the best sunset from the deck while sipping on a beer. You wake-up in the morning to the sound of nearby birds. Bianca and Peter are the hosts and they will do just about anything to make your diving vacation magical, from Bianca's wonderful breakfast to Peter's diving advice. Peter is a diving instructor and Bianca is a divemaster. They know what they are talking about. Going there is like going home with family." They offer a 7-night package that includes a truck and tank for $1770 for two people or a more expensive package with boat dives. (www.villasafir.com). . . . Deep Blue View is the choice of Steven Skiba (Rockaway, NJ) "The Deep Blue View is a five-room B&B with attached dive operation. They have their own air filling station (and Nitrox), a 36' Newton dive boat, rental gear if needed. All dive facilities and equipment are very well maintained. The B&B is clean and comfortable and a great place to relax at days end. Owner operators Menno and Esther are always available to provide advice on the best dive sites, dive conditions, places to eat... The resort is well run and relaxed and with full tanks always available you can dive anytime." Their shore dive package is $1660, but you rent your own vehicle (www.deepblueview.com).

Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia, a cautionary note. A couple decades ago, when one wanted to see whale sharks, this was the destination. Spotter planes would track them down. It's a long and expensive trip, but Angela Gostling (London, UK) gave it a go in June. "We undertook a lot of research in terms of timing and water conditions. We were travelling in the whale shark season and optimised the timing to enhance our chances of also seeing humpback whales, spinner dolphins and manta rays. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Exmouth the conditions were unusually windy and boats were not out whale watching. The dive team did everything they could to get us diving but weather conditions meant that we could not visit the best sites and spotter plans were unable to see the creatures. The windy conditions brought the surface temperature down significantly - from about 26 degrees Celsius to more like 21 degrees, with water temperatures at around 24 degrees. Despite wearing a skin and full 5mm wetsuit after 15 minutes in the water I was chilly and couldn't dive more than a couple of times each day. The windy conditions were whipping up the water, so the visibility wasn't great, but we expected this -- well it was whale shark and manta season, so we anticipated plankton anyway. We didn't get to see whale sharks or mantas but did see some humpbacks when on the surface. However, we did see the enormous turtles and some fascinating sea snakes -- as well as the usual suspects but not a lot of them."

Same problems can happen to people chasing whale sharks in Belize in the late spring. Best bet is late June/July/ early August, north of Cancun or southeast of Holbox.

No Refunds, Sorry. We don't understand why some dive operators just won't refund prepaid dives when a diver has a problem. Terry J. Stigall (Napa, CA) who has logged more than 1000 dives, was diving with Ocean Encounters in Curacao when on the first day, he reports, "my wife was injured when she fell on the boat in full gear. The boat was rocking in very choppy water. The boat captain assisted her at the ladder then let go of her before she reached another handhold. The boat rocked and she went down. Because of the conditions, the captain should have made sure she was secure before letting her go. The owners of Ocean Encounters did arrange for a doctor to examine her (we paid) and then arranged for one of their employees to take her to the hospital to be examined the next day (we paid). They refused to reduce the prepaid charge for a week of diving for her even though she was unable to dive the remainder of the week. Their response when asked: "'We took her to the hospital.'"

We're Not Going To Let You Dive and Here's Your Money Back: Yet other operators do their best to respond to a bad situation. For example, a long time subscriber went to Nakia Dive Resort to dive with Taveuni Ocean Sports in June. He reports: "I am 74 years old, a certified diver for 17 years with 699 dives. I was bent in April 2010 and treated at the San Pedro Belize hyperbaric chamber where the doctor released me to fly in three days and dive in six months. I went to Belize for one-week dive trips in December 2010 and May 2011 with no ill effects. I mentioned to Julie Kelly, Taveuni Ocean Sports owner, that I had been bent and she said that she would have to get a recommendation from DAN before she would take me diving. She called DAN Asia and got a recommendation of 60 feet maximum depth and 20 maximum time. I did not hear what she told DAN and I was unable to talk to DAN due to a bad telephone connection and my poor hearing. Robin told me they had to follow this recommendation or face losing their PADI license. Next morning I went to Garden Island Resort, explained the situation and the dive manager said he would take me diving. An hour after telling Robin that I would be diving with Garden Island, she told me that she had talked to the manager at Garden Island and that I would have to follow the 60-foot and 20-minute recommendation. I called DAN USA and explained the situation to Marty McCafferty, medical information specialist, and he recommended recreational diving limits for me. Robin too talked to Marty. Next Aaron calls DAN USA, talks to John and gets a recommendation of no diving without a letter from a doctor. (Marty told me later that the only reason they made the "letter from a doctor" recommendation was due to the reluctance of the dive operator to accept their original recommendation of diving within recreational limits.)We left Nakia and I had five good days of diving at another resort. To this day, I do not know why these people harassed me so much."

" Getting bent once - especially
for a septuagenarian - means
you must get a physical
examination after the incident
and get clearance to dive."

Julie Kelly wrote to tell us her side. "As the owner of Taveuni Ocean Sports, safety is always our #1 priority. "Taveuni diving is considered intermediate to advanced with some of the strongest currents in the South Pacific and has no recompression chamber -- the closest is in Suva. This diver was in his mid-70's with a chronic injury to one of his legs. During my dive briefing on the morning of our first dive, I discovered he had been bent within the last year. Not only had he been bent but treatment in Belize had been delayed before he was put in the chamber -- an additional and significant risk factor. When asked whether he had written medical clearance or advice from a hyperbaric doctor to continue diving activities, he replied 'no'. When asked what type of decompression sickness he had suffered from--Type I, II, or III--all of which can have substantially different repercussions, he claimed not to know.

"Taveuni Ocean Sports follows PADI standards as well as standards and guidelines set forth by DAN. I informed the diver that, for his own safety, we would need to call DAN and speak with a hyperbaric doctor. The DAN doctor told me he was very surprised that this diver was planning to resume diving without getting a clearance or any recommendations. Based upon the diver's age and the strength of the currents on Taveuni (considered strenuous diving which can contribute to decompression sickness), the hyperbaric doctor recommended that he dive no deeper than 60 feet for 20 minutes with adequate hydration and thermal protection. Just to clarify, the restrictions imposed on this diver came from DAN, not Taveuni Ocean Sports. After receiving the advice from the hyperbaric doctor, the diver became extremely upset and said he wanted to leave immediately. I gave him a full refund for diving and, after spending three hours on the phone changing flights for him and his wife, we got them on the next available flight back to the U.S.. We gave the diver very clear choices: he could dive to 60 feet for 20 minutes, per DAN recommendations, or he could get a clearance letter from a hyperbaric doctor and resume unrestricted diving. He chose to do neither, but instead to leave. Nakia Resort & Dive informs prospective guests of our cancellation and refund policy in our first e-mail response. We don't offer cash refunds for on-the-spot cancellations. Instead, we will re-schedule the booking at no additional cost to the guest for one year. Despite this policy, we wanted to be more than fair in this instance, so we refunded all diving and meal costs. Unfortunately, I couldn't please this diver and I assumed he would write a bad review. But I would not change my response to this situation. Reviews are trivial compared to someone's life and safety."

While Undercurrent serves to represent individual divers, we must side with Julie on this one. Getting bent once - especially for a septuagenarian - means you must get a physical examination after the incident and get clearance to dive. One's own physical condition and physical conditioning can greatly increase the chances of a recurrence. Conceivably, if one has a heart condition called a PFO that will clearly increase the risk of DCS. Getting bent on a dive may put other divers in the water at risk if the bent diver must be attended to. Completing gentle dives in Belize after getting bent is not an indication one is good to go. I must say to my fellow diver, think not about yourself, but about your family and the people you dive with, then get a proper exam or stop diving.

Galapagos Sky: Last year, Peter Hughes walked from Peter Hughes Diving, which he had sold a few years previously to Wayne Brown, and got back into the business partnering with the Galapagos Sky. His move led Hal Shanis (Bryn Mawr, PA) and two buddies to cancel reservations with the old company and rebook with Galapagos Sky. That's where the headaches began. "We reserved almost a year in advance. With two weeks to go, we still had not heard about our promised hotel reservation, though we reminded them at least five times. We could not get in contact with anyone by email or telephone, despite leaving many messages. Since we had to make our own hotel reservations, we feared that they would not be able to contact us about our airline reservations (they were supposed to leave information about the local airline arrangement at our hotel, but the airlines had no record of us). We decided not to go, but two days before our departure date but then we heard from the saleswoman who assured us that everything was fine. So we decided to go, only to hear the next day that the boat would not be available; they would refund our money or give us an alternative week. The boat was in dry dock for routine maintenance and had been delayed. We went the following week. We received some financial compensation for the airline rescheduling, but we were not given the rooms that we had booked a year in advance. The boat felt like it was still in dry dock. Throughout the week, they painted the boat while we were on the deck. The refrigerator was turned on a day after we arrived. So it was a while before they could use it. I was stung by a wasp. There was no ice available to apply to the sting. The compressor did not work. They had to use the backup 'mini compressor.' They had promise free Nitrox, but they had none. They filled the tanks with the intake right next to the exhaust of the boat. We had to demand that they empty the tanks and fill them again. The divemasters did not talk to anyone, inform us of the safety procedures, let alone tell us about the wildlife. To me this is the worst offense on a dive trip, especially in the Galapagos. We repeated several of the same dive sites for no understandable reason. The good news was that we had a terrific international group of highly experienced, intelligent, considerate and interesting divers on the boat. They were very demanding, which had some effect on the captain. The food was actually pretty good."

Peter Hughes is essentially operating a booking service, Divencounters Alliance, which has been joined by the MV Orion in the Maldives, the Solmar V in Mexico's Pacific, and the Sea Hunter group in Costa Rica. Of course, he has far more influence over these craft than a typical travel agent, however, it's unlikely he can control when a boat sails from dry dock or whether there's ice onboard. However, Peter's name carries a lot of street cred and he represents top of the line boats with top of the line prices, so we divers have a right to expect near-perfection and our emails and calls returned. www.divencounters.com.

- Ben Davison

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