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October 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 26, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Turks & Caicos, Grand Cayman, Costa Rica

plus advice about Mabul diving and your passport pages

from the October, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Left Behind. Our feature story on Mike Ball's Spoilsport shows how well the Aussies count heads. They do so because two American divers were left behind on the Great Barrier Reef in 1998 and were never seen again (the subject of the film Open Water). Some American dive operations haven't caught on. On October 2, divers Paul Kline and Fernando Garcia Puerta were rescued by a private yacht when passengers spotted them clinging to a buoy off Key Biscayne. Seems as if they were on a dive with RJ Diving Ventures of Miami Beach, which had taken 30 people, including Kline and Garcia, out to dive. When Kline and Garcia surfaced, however, their dive boat was nowhere in sight. "We were in shock," Kline, 44, told the Miami Herald. "We could easily have died." The two said they clung to a fishing buoy for two hours until they were spotted around 6 p.m., as it was getting dark. "We could see two divers with all their equipment and an inflated red tube," the yacht's captain Elie Trichet told the Herald. "You could notice a strong feeling of relief." Kline said, "I wasn't gonna give up. We managed to find a buoy and we hung on so that if somebody came to look for us, we'd be in one spot, because I don't know which way the current is taking us. If it's taking us out to sea, that'll be a completely different story." The Coast Guard is investigating.

Your Passport. Many times, we have heard from readers who have not been admitted to a country - - usually Indonesia - - because they had too few empty passport pages, usually fewer than four. Jerry L. Tuttle (Phoenix, AZ) tells us that in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, "I was caught with too few empty pages in my passport and was close to being denied entry. After pleading, logic finally prevailed, only to be faced with a cancelled flight and an overnight in Port Moresby." If you are pages short (arbitrarilty, I think), you face having to fly to another country to get the U.S. Embassy to put more pages in your passport. So take care of business ahead of time. And while we are on the subject of PNG, recognize that the airlines are frequently behind schedule and often cancel flights. Give yourself an extra day or two on each end of your trip so you can connect with your flight home.

Whale Watching at Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos. Humpback whales journey through these waters from January through March. Sandy Falen (Topeka, KS) tells us what happened on a trip last February. "Salt Cay Divers runs whale watching trips, where you can enjoy viewing whales on the surface and possibly have an in-water encounter. The staff is dedicated to a soft encounter, and won't chase or harass the animals in any way. I was fortunate to see numerous whales breaching, tail slapping, 'waving' their pectoral fins, and approaching our boat with what appeared to be curiosity. A mother whale and calf swam right past our boat, and a lone whale literally swam right under us. I was able to enter the water, and snapped a couple of terrific shots as 'Moby Dick' cruised slowly by me and the other snorkelers. That short interlude made for a lifelong memory." Falen stayed in the "Twilight Zone" cottage: "A two-bedroom, one-bath house; simple but lovely, with comfortable beds, ample hot water, ceiling fans, a full kitchen and close proximity to Island Thyme restaurant." Salt Cay, one of my favorites, is a throwback in time, with few people, pretty reefs and good tropical fish life, but it's the winter when the thrills happen. (www.saltcaydivers.tc)

A Top Dive Shop in Grand Cayman. If you're in the market for a small, independent dive operation, our readers constantly recommend Indigo Divers. Samuel C. Knoch (Tarentum, PA) went diving with them in June and says, "An excellent dive operation. Owner/operators Chris and Kate Alpers strive to meet all customers' needs. Dive boats are sleek, fast to the site and comfortable. Six divers max, no cattle cars here. The service is personal and high level. Chris mans the still shots, and Kate provides underwater videography services. They are fun-loving people, but always looking out for you on the dives."(www.indigodivers.com)

Costa Rica's Pacific Coast. Divers looking for land-based diving in the Western Hemisphere often overlook Costa Rica's Pacific coast in favor of the Caribbean, but they're missing plenty of big fish opportunities. The water can be cooler and conditions tougher, but the rewards are bigger. Gail Thomas (Austin, TX) went with Aquacenter Diving, based in Playas del Coco, in May and says, "It was a good dive shop. The friendly owner picked me up every day, and on most days, dives started on time, with three to nine divers. One dive was called off after divers were caught at Dirty Rock in heavy current with limited, 30-foot visibility. We returned to that dive site two days later for the best dive of the trip. No memorable coral but amazing schools of tropicals and much larger fish. I often found myself in a school of fish. Lots of mantas, huge morays, white-tip reef sharks measuring four feet long, and turtles. May is the rainy season, but no rain on any of my dive days. However, the water was very choppy most days, rough on entry as we waited to descend, always current and surge once down, and rough getting back into the boat after the dive, but all was worth the effort. Water temperatures were 78 to 80 degrees." (www.aquacenterdiving.com)

Sandy Falen (Topeka, KS ) tried Deep Blue Diving in Puerta del Sol in September and says, "There is almost no coral, and the visibility is considered excellent at 60 feet. However, there is always a lot to see: huge schools of tropicals, eels everywhere, white- tip sharks daily, octopus, lobsters and a veritable pufferfish farm. The dive staff was fun, friendly and always helpful. The water was warm (about 80 degrees), not counting the bonechilling thermoclines you encounter from time to time. I wore a 3-mm vest under my polypropylene suit, and was very comfortable. Of course, this was the end of the summer; it's very different in the spring. Deep Blue arranged my diving and hotel package, and it's incredibly inexpensive compared to most Caribbean destinations. Hotel Puerta del Sol was perfect: simple but lovely, impeccably clean, with a roomy bathroom that had a large shower and plenty of hot water, a small fridge, coffeemaker, security safe, semi-private veranda, a lovely pool area and a pleasant breakfast daily. There are plenty of good restaurants in Playas del Coco, and pricing wasn't unreasonable. My friends and I spent our last day zip-lining and whitewater rafting, and it was terrific. Randall, owner of Shaman Tours, was our guide and escort. This was a return visit after 15 years, and Playas del Coco has gotten more touristy, with some areas bordering on tacky but overall, it's still a great little town and pretty laid back." (www.deepblue-diving.com ; www.shamantourscostarica.com)

Mabul, Malaysia. If Pulau Mabul, a diving area near Sipadan, is on your horizon, be forewarned that the government many soon limit the number of visitors to avoid overcrowding and preserve Sipadan's reef. A good travel agent should be able to plan your trip so you won't find yourself shut out when you arrive. As for the diving, Mike Cavanaugh (Bellaire, TX) reports from his trip last month, "We were expecting world- class diving at Sipadan Island but we did not experience that. The visibility was not good and the currents could be quite swift (a fast drift dive). We did see tons of sharks (white tips, black tips and grey reef sharks). We saw so many turtles that I quit shooting video of them. The schooling barracuda and bumpheads were impressive but hard to capture on video or camera due to the visibility. We have heard many opinions on the best time to dive Sipadan but I'm not sure who to believe, because they are all contradictory. Mabul Water Bungalows was a very wellorganized and managed resort. The rooms were nicely furnished and clean. The A/C worked great, and mosquitoes weren't too bad. The food was always good. We stayed at the resort during a slack period so we got to dive Sipadan three days. The other days, we were diving the house reefs at Mabul and Kapalai. Lots of macro things to see at the house reefs but not much natural coral. We saw the largest green turtles and moray eel ever at these two islands. Overall, the divemasters (not sure of their credentials) were all complaining of being overworked, and their lack of enthusiasm was apparent. While they were friendly and courteous, they only wanted to get in and out quickly. The resort has an analyzer for nitrox but no pressure gauge to check the tank. One of the tanks during the second or third day was only 1500 psi and the divemaster dove with the short fill." Well, Mike, aside from the visibility, sounds damn close to "world class."( www.mabulwaterbungalows.com )

- - Ben Davison

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