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May 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 38, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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British Virgin Islands, Utila, Raja Ampat

serious inflator problems, credit card ripoffs

from the May, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Utila Aggressor. It's a much improved craft, we are told, and Elizabeth Idell (Montgomery, AL), who was onboard in January, found it comfortable, with a good crew and fine food. Her only complaint was that "I couldn't see anything but the top of my hair in the mirror, but then I'm short." Having made a lot of Caribbean dives, she said the diving was good. "A good shark dive, several turtles, and friendly groupers. None of these dives was difficult or technical; two young divers had no problem . . . The reef was relatively healthy, despite diminished young fish (maybe the lionfish issue). The Honduran government has issued Hawaiian slings to each boat. The divemasters prep the fish to feed to groupers and sharks. They tried to feed them to eels, with no success, although lobsters loved them. This might be a goo idea if it teaches the native grouper and shark to hunt lionfish -- only time will tell. Some groupers were insistent on being fed. One bit me even though I was not feeding, nor had I handled the lionfish. It wasn't a bad bite, though it didn't bleed enough to attract anything interesting."( )

Utopia Dive Village, Utila. There are a few dive resorts on this Honduran island, but Eric Weiss (Alexandria, VA), who visited in January, said this one is a great all-inclusive operation, with good food, a nice open-air bar, large air-conditioned rooms, pleasant grounds and a safe dive operation. Years back, I found Utila diving ho-hum, but Weiss, who has been around the block, says, "The reefs were healthy, with lots of little stuff, and I saw whale sharks, mackerel, turtles, eagle rays and two octopuses on a house reef night dive." After deplaning, the resort boats you to its dock. ( )

A warning about the airport at San Pedro Sula. "One diver did not realize that the Delta agent failed to return his credit card, which he used to pay for an overweight bag, "says Weiss. "The agent tracked him down 30 minutes later, but it turned out that $1,000 had been charged within minutes at several Wawa stores in Delaware." That's not an uncommon swindle for an unwary traveler. Years ago, I bought sandals in Bonaire and left with my card, but when I returned home, I found that $1,400 had been charged in Texas stores. Of course, MasterCard negated the charges, but it's not fun to be part of someone's fraud game.

Weiss also offers a diving caution: "On my first dive, my mask kept flooding, so Anke, my guide, insisted I trade with her. I haven't taken off my mask underwater in a hundred dives. Then my BC started power inflating. Back on the boat, Anke suggested removing the inflator hose and adding air orally. I took off my in-line horn and it never happened again." Gear maintenance issues? Read on.

TLC from Golden Rock Dive Center. St. Eustatius. Charlene Carlock (Beavercreek, OH) dived there in February, and reports, "My buddy had a problem with her BC on a prior dive trip, injuring her ears in an uncontrolled ascent, and was insecure about diving again, but the staff took special care with her. In another instance, Glenn, one of the owners, noticed me struggling with my BC, which was re-inflating on its own, and he disconnected my hose. That was a big wake-up call for me, to get my BC serviced regularly." Yes indeed. By the way, St. Eustatius is one of my favorite Caribbean getaways. Glen and his wife, Michelle, run a good operation at Dive Statia, and diving is easy and quite nice in a healthy marine park. ( )

"Three of the 16 divers disregarded any
admonitions to stop touching (and in
the case of the pre-teen diver, hitting
and harassing) coral and animals, and
they were allowed to keep diving."

Grand Komodo Tours, Raja Ampat. This Indonesian dive spot is the hot place these days, if you have plenty of time and money. Grand Komodo Tours gets raves from our readers, including Dan Purnell (Vancouver, WA), who was aboard the M/V Putri Papua for a Triton Bay trip in February. "Much of the journey to Triton Bay was over open waters, and the seas were stormy and rough. This was the first Grand Komodo boat to enter Triton Bay after nearly a year, when resistance from local villagers did not allow dive boats into the area. Our trip was kind of a trial run to see whether the conditions had changed. Along the way, Misool diving was amazing: black- and white-tip sharks, wobbegongs, hawksbill turtles, pygmy seahorses, schools of sweet lips, bumphead parrots, groupers of all sizes, unicorns, Napoleon wrasses, batfish and so many others. At some sites, my vision was impaired by clouds of anthias or surgeons and fusiliers. The Pisang Islands had amazing sites, featuring bommies draped with soft corals and sea fans. Clouds of glassfish hung over the corals. We finally entered Triton Bay, with tens of thousands of fruit bats flying overhead and exotic birds gracing the skies. Tropical rain forests, islands and sheer cliffs outline the bay. The waters run with current and ripple with fish. And then you begin to explore the coral reefs. I think this is where Mother Nature threw away the design plans and just went wild. Walls of soft corals provide a feast for the eyes. Forests of black coral provide refuge for groupers, hundreds of them, perhaps thousands. The diversity of coral and fish is off the charts -- big fish, little fish, macro and micro critters. Just outside the bay are a couple of pristine hard coral reefs that stretch as far as you can see. At times, they are completely obscured by thousands of fish, hunting the swarms of baitfish smothering the reefs. At times, there would be 25 big groupers resting on their pectoral fins, staring at me. We only got to dive a day and a half in the Iris Strait, the explored part of Triton Bay, before the locals demanded that we leave. Although the Indonesian government has made progress with the villagers, Triton Bay is not completely 'open' for tourism; it will take some time. We were able to do some exploratory diving on the other, 'less explored,' side of Triton Bay, discoveing two new amazing reef complexes, teeming with life and color. The explosion of life in these nutrient-rich waters more than compensates for the typical visibility of 40 feet. This was my seventh trip with Grand Komodo Tours. As always, the crew was helpful, friendly, enthusiastic and eager to please. The dive boat is relatively basic, clean and very nice. The food was delicious. Triton Bay is one of the most inconvenient places to visit on this planet, but despite all the bumps along the way, it is probably the best time to visit. Triton Bay will never be the same when the world really discovers it." ( )

Misool Eco Resort, Raja Ampat. There's land-based diving from this resort, which Hollie Lindauer (Portland, OR) visited in March. "Flights from Bali are routed through Makassar to Sorong, with an overnight required on the outbound. The outboard boats take about 4.5 hours between Sorong and Misool. The resort is gorgeous, entirely constructed of reclaimed wood and incorporating many ecological features -- desalinating water, septic gardens, water-saving devices and sustainable food sources only. The rooms are comfortable and elegant, with spacious decks and steps into the lagoon. The lagoon has beautiful clear water, and octopuses, morays, spotted stingrays, needlefish and baby sharks are often visible from the boardwalks. It's a great snorkel and swimming area, and part of the house reef. All the rooms' bathrooms and public spaces are open air, which is problematic due to mosquitoes. Food is plentiful. The dive guides consisted of four locals and one Brit. Four to five dives daily. Given the unusual, varied species and mild currents, it's ideal for photographers. They did have difficulty restraining photographers who had full lights on night critters and sharks, and who sat on corals while photographing. The soft corals are stunning, with huge sea fans and whips protruding from wall faces, which makes them difficult to protect from some divers. One manta and one leopard shark were sited. I would often see one or two large black- and white-tips per dive, a turtle, small schools of bream, jacks, mackerel, bumpheads, batfish and snapper. Larger schools of fusiliers, glassfish, angels, snappers, damsels, trigger, dart, clown and anemones. Unique nudibranchs, huge flat worms, mantis shrimp, pygmy seahorses, squat lobsters, scorpion and leaf fish, epaulette and wobbegong sharks. Sadly, there is plastic trash from the shipping lanes floating in the water and on the beaches. Diving is very similar to Wakatobi." ( )

Thoughtless Photographers. What's with the photographers who trash the corals for their pictures? Lisa Evans (Fort Collins, CO), aboard the MSY Seahorse in December, writes, "We were all required to sign a paper saying that if we touched the reef, we got one warning and then would be asked not to dive. Everyone understands accidental touching, or photographers balancing themselves with sticks or a finger on dead coral. But three of the 16 photographers had no ethics, and disregarded any admonitions to stop touching (and in the case of the pre-teen diver, hitting and harassing) coral and animals, and they were allowed to continue diving. It made the rest of us sick at heart -- and angry -- to see them in the water, dive after dive, fins hitting coral, the kid whacking at things with his stick." Regardless, she thought highly of the crew, and said the meals were good, occasionally great, and cabins were comfortable. "But twice we had fumes in our cabin, I think from the nitrox compressor. The AC didn't filter, so things stayed pretty damp in all cabins, which doesn't do much for fresh-smelling living quarters. No water pressure in the shower. We generally traveled to new dive sites in the morning instead of at night, which meant that the engine woke us up about 5 a.m. Several times, we arrived to find boats already there, and had to schedule our dives around their schedules. The diving was incredible. Huge diversity of species. I saw five mantas at one time, occasional sharks (lots of wobbegongs in certain places), nudibrachs galore, huge schools of jacks, trevallys and fusiliers. Large schools of bait fish. Lots of octopuses. Healthy coral and sea life, although some broken coral -- more careless divers, I think."

Caribbean Dream, B.V.I. One of my best dive trips resulted when two friends and I chartered a skippered sailboat and dived throughout the Caribbean where dive boats never traveled. Scott Hueston (Peterborough, ON) did the same aboard the S/V Caribbean Dream in February, and says, "It's a 47-foot catamaran based in the British Virgin Islands. The crew consists of Glenn, the captain and Angela, the chef. Both are divemasters, and they chose dive sites based on good snorkeling and quiet anchorages. After breakfast, we would either snorkel or dive, pull up anchor and sail to the next destination. After lunch, we would be diving or hiking and exploring the islands. Hors d'oeuvres were served at 5 p.m. with the day's special cocktail. Dinner is served at 7 p.m. with wine. Steamed mahi-mahi with green rice, rack of lamb on truffle mash, chipotle duck breast with sweet potato and plantain mash, New York strip with pepper stir fry. Desserts were spectacular -- lavender-infused ice cream, banana upside-down cake with walnut caramel, creme brulee, baked hot chocolate with Bailey's whipped cream. The diving in the BVIs is pleasant; nothing too deep, lots of coral and small stuff. Turtles, eagle rays and the odd shark. Our dives maxed out at 50 feet. There are several dive shops on the various islands where Glenn would get air fills once we had gone through the tanks on board. The week can be customized to whatever you want. More diving, less diving, wrecks, reefs, you decide. The boat has air conditioning, sleeps six guests in the three queen staterooms, each with a private head and shower. The locations were beautiful, the sailing is relaxing, the food exceeded all expectations, the diving and snorkeling were wonderful." With six guests, the price is roughly $5,000 a couple, and a gratuity of 15 to 20 percent is suggested. ( )

- - Ben Davison

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