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November 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 27, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Bikini Atoll, Hawaii, Raja Ampat…

and one reader’s Hurricane Sandy dive trip

from the November, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Hurricane Sandy Diving. Eleven years ago, the Wave Dancer sought refuge in Belize during a major hurricane; it capsized, and 20 souls were lost. Last month, Aqua Cat, which operates in the Bahamas out of Florida, was on a cruise with Sandy approaching. Terrence Taylor (Lutherville, MD) who has been on her before, reports that "the first three days of diving (15 dives) were very windy, so we spent most of the time in the lee of Eleuthera. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy intervened. We were able to get in two dives Wednesday morning, then hightailed it to Nassau and moored at a sheltered mooring at the Atlantis Marina. Captain Mark was upset about not being able to provide a great charter, but kept us informed with constant reports on the weather and the boat's situation. While the wind approached 100 m.p.h. for three days, with constant gales in the 60 m.p.h. range, the ship fared well, and we were allowed to stay onboard with plenty of water, food, power and drinks. (The Atlantis essentially shut down and confined guests to windowless areas.) While this was a stressful situation, the crew worked hard to make our confined stay as entertaining as possible, and also went to get lengths to change reservations for many guests several times, showing great patience." ( www.aquacatcruises.com )

Raja Ampat by Liveaboard. This is the hottest dive destination on the planet, and Rickie Sterne and Chrisanda Button (Wesley, AR) tells us they learned of these Indonesian islands "from a report published in Undercurrent in September 2003. The subtitle of that report was 'Is this the world's best diving?' For us, the answer is probably yes, if your idea of great diving is defined by beautiful reefs, with healthy hard corals brightened by stands of colorful dendronephyta, lush black coral, large schools and aggregations of mid-sized tropical fish, interesting individual fishes and invertebrates, mantas and dozens of white- tip and black-tip sharks cruising past in singles, duos and triples. Our Putri Papua cabin had a comfortable double bed, a single berth for storage and an ensuite bathroom. Jeffrey, the boat's new cook, has definitely improved the food. Dinners began with fresh, homemade soups; main courses included fish and chicken or beef, with plenty of fresh veggies and always rice. When we crossed the equator, Captain Robert called us to the bridge. He manipulated the boat until his electronic compass showed only zeroes -- we had stood on the equator! We made a dinghy tour of Fam Lagoon to admire the lovely mushroom islands, and strolled along an isolated beach. We were offered the opportunity to climb Mount Pindito. We saw three species of wild orchids blooming, and several beautiful birds. The crew was kind and attentive, and helped us gear up. The dinghy driver lifted our gear into the dinghy before we climbed back in. The dive guides conducted night dives daily, even when we were the only divers. Grand Komodo's boats are comfortable liveaboards, not 'floating hotels' with 1,000-square-foot cabins. However, the considerate service and the skill of their dive guides made us feel that we had enjoyed a luxury diving experience." ( www.komodoalordive.com )

And Raja Ampat by Land. A couple of issues ago, we wrote kindly about the land resort Raja Ampat Dive Lodge. Fredrick Turoff (Philadelphia, PA) tells us of Raja4Divers on Pef Island that "so impressed three of my party that they canceled their next week's plans to go to another area and extended their stay From Sarong, it's a three-hour boat ride through the Dampier Strait to the remote resort past Gam Island. Armin Keller and Sabine Kaufman are the able dive operators. With six spacious seaside bungalows a short walk from the restaurant and dive operation, this new resort has much going for it. Each bungalow has a king bed, desk and shelves, porch with lounge chairs, and an indoor-outdoor bathroom. The Papuan shower -- a large stone basin with hot and cold taps into which you dip a large ladle to pour the water over yourself -- was a new adventure. The spacious restaurant adjoined a lounging area and library. Meals were sumptuous. Fresh island smoothies were available. The photo room has six stations for photographers, each with several power supplies, towels, plastic trays with useful tools and supplies, and a computer with a large monitor. Night dives took place around the dive dock and the house reef. Nitrox was supplied at no extra charge, which pleased this 65-year-old diver. The amount of fish, critter and coral life will astound (this was my fifth trip to Raja Ampat). I had a new experience on my last night dive -- a Wobbegong shark grabbed a small black-tip shark just to my right and swam directly by me, pausing right in front of me for a short while. I managed to get a shot of the Wobbegong's head with the other shark in its mouth before it swam off slowly with us in pursuit. It headed under a coral outcrop, its body convulsed, and the small shark was gone. What an exciting end to the visit's diving." ( www.raja4divers.com )

Diving Both Sides of Hawaii. Most traveling divers skip the eastern side of the Big Island to dive the Kona area, and Skip Lynch (Duxbury, MA) tells us why. While diving with Nautilus Dive Center in September, he says the "owner/dive guide weighted himself heavily, wore gloves and crawled along the bottom, pawing the live coral mercilessly. I was led to believe I was being taken on a boat dive, but was charged $85 to make two shore dives a few miles down the road. I had my own equipment, by the way. (Another operator charged me $10 for a tank, plus one refill, so I could make the same shore dive myself.) Adding insult to injury, the second shore dive, about 10 minutes after the first, was at the same site! We proceeded at a snail's pace along the bottom (roughing up the coral), and I would receive frantic signals if I swam a short distance away, even while in plain sight. Though I didn't participate in the coral-mauling, I was chastised repeatedly for having 'stressed' a razorfish, which I admit I approached too closely, causing it to dive into the sand."

On the other side of the island, Ernest Lavagetto (Walnut Creek, CA) headed north of the ever-popular Kona in October to dive with Sea Adventures at the Mani Lai Resort on the Kohala coast. "Sea Adventures runs six-pack dive boats, handles all your gear and offers hot showers. They generally dive the reef off Puako, geologically interesting because of a large number of lava tubes and caves, and an abundance of turtles, fish and nudibranchs. Of particular interest is a manta ray cleaner station near the Sea Adventure dock. The visibility is great, and you can see if the mantas are there before you begin the dive. I would say the success rate is more than a third of the time. If no mantas are spotted, you move on to another dive spot. While Kona is famous for the night manta dives, photographers will enjoy the daylight photo opportunities in relatively shallow water. Sea Adventures is not widely known by the diving community but it really does offer a better dive environment than the larger group diving boats. Gary Simmons is probably the best underwater guide you'll ever have. If you don't stay at the resort, you'll need to call Sea Adventures to get access to its dock because it's in a gated community (you don't have to worry about someone breaking in to your rental car)." ( http://maunalaniseaadventures.com )

Bubbles Below , Kauai. This dive shop generally gets good reviews from our readers, but here's a little burp. Mark A. Magers (Oakland, CA), diving with them in October, said the competent crew showed him a variety of fish -- a frogfish, a purple leaf scorpionfish and a good-sized octopus. However, "we signed up for the three-tank 'adventure' dive, billed on the website as 'when you've seen Sheraton Caverns enough...' (their words, not mine). Yet the second dive was ... Sheraton Caverns. All dives were on the Poipu side of the island. It did not feel like an adventure at all. The cost for two of us for three dives each, with nitrox on two of them (not sure why we didn't get nitrox on the first dive), was $500, a ton of money for what we got in return."

Indies Trader, Bikini Atoll. Here's a bucket-list trip for trained and competent divers, says Stephen Pahl (Los Altos Hills, CA). "Very expensive and extreme diving. The captain and divemasters treat you like an adult -- plan your own dive and simply let them know. They provide advice and counsel if they want to modify your plan. Most dives are at least 150 feet for 20-plus minutes, resulting in deco stops for 20 to 40 minutes. If you want to see the largest, most diveable WWII warships and the U.S.S. Saratoga, you have to come here. Chris, the skipper, and divemasters Brian and Edward were wonderful. Accommodating to each diver's needs and desires, they lead dives deep inside the wrecks and provide history of the site. While the boat is clearly more 'Spartan' than most, it was reasonably comfortable to serious divers. This is not a trip for casual divers and the inexperienced -- you need to be very comfortable with extended decompression stops and diving in closed environments." ( www.indiestrader.com )

-- Ben Davison

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