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August 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 27, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Fiji, Truk. . .

plus unexpected cold water, and a liveaboard to avoid

from the August, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Don't Be Afraid of Truk. If you're concerned about diving deep, don't avoid this exciting destination for WWII Japanese wrecks. Longtime subscriber Ed Liebowitz (Jersey City, NJ) was apprehensive at first, but after a week with Odyssey Adventures in April, he was ready for more. "I was fearful that the divers and the Odyssey's dive guides would be excellent divers who would want nothing to do with a once-a-year recreational diver, but they were all very helpful. The April 2012 issue of Undercurrent mentioned a discount of $1,000 through Reef & Rainforest, and because I'm retired, I was able to take advantage of the discount. J.J., who ran operations on the boat, told me that they get a fair share of bends cases due to the depths; I was ready to ask him to be transported to the mainland, but my first dive was to 70 feet. When I told the staff that I was a bit fearful, they gave me a private guide. Being that I was the oldest diver, I had a private guide for the entire week. Sam, Madison and Kimberly proved to be excellent guides. At first, I only wanted to view the wrecks. However, later in the week, I was penetrating the wrecks with my guides. At 165 feet, Madison and I spent five minutes going from bow to stern of the San Francisco. I did 19 dives and did not have to decompress on any dive. Nitrox allowed more bottom time to view the wrecks. Incidentally, nobody got bent. Odyssey Adventures also offers a technical wreck week a couple of times a year for certified wreck divers." ( www.trukodyssey.com )

The Red Sea Is Cool. One surprise I've never liked is arriving at a tropical dive site only to find myself in surprisingly cold water. I learned my lesson years ago, when I found out too late that the Bahamas' winter water temperature can drop to 70 degrees, very chilly if you're unprepared. Mel McCombie (New Haven, CT) went with Emperor Divers in the southern Red Sea, where the water averaged 71 to 74 degrees in April. "Despite wearing 7-mm wetsuits and hooded vests, neoprene socks and gloves, I was freezing on every dive. As a result of the cold waters, we did only 13 of 21 possible dives, which was bitterly disappointing. After diving the Red Sea for a year, my advice is to remember that it is surprisingly cold; the warmest dive months are August and September. This southern itinerary involved a lot of boat travel, and the best diving was in the Saint John's reef area near the Sudanese border. Because it takes many hours to steam there, the boat can only stay for two days, which is a shame because the reefs are pristine and the water clear; it's truly scenic. I saw mantas and sharks, as well as a number of pelagic piscavores like tuna. The more northerly sites nearer Marsa Alam are more dived, and the water can be less clear." While the boat is ship-shape and comfortable, and the divemasters good, Mel says the food didn't match. "Bland and as overcooked as possible, and this in a country where the local food is tasty and full of flavor! About half the divers were from Eastern Europe and Russia, and the language difference meant that nearly all of the eastern Europeans kept to themselves at the table and during diving. It diminished the sense of camaraderie that 'makes' a liveaboard. It was only the second time I finished a dive trip wishing I had not bothered to go (after thousands of dives), disproving the bumper sticker that says 'A bad day diving is better than a good day at work.' I'd rather have been at work, and that's just a shame."

Cancun's "Independent" Dive Operators. Rick Tavan (Saratoga, CA) was in Cancun in May, and offers this cautionary note. "We spent an afternoon driving around looking for dive shops we had found online. It appears that a 'dive operator' in Cancun may be an individual with a cell phone and English skills who fronts a collection of independent drivers, boats, instructors and divemasters. We settled on Scorpio Divers after interviewing someone in an un-labeled office in Sunset Marina and then, unsure which operator we had been talking to, again on the phone. They had their own van but, when busy, hired others (one broke down and we ended up taking a cab that Scorpio apologetically paid for). Boat dives were from simple pangas, no photo facilities. Scorpio's claim to fame is maximum flexibility at an unpublished price that seemed a bit higher than others. Jorge seems to be available any time by cell phone and email. I would use Scorpio Divers on a future trip to Cancun." ( www.scorpiodivers.com )

Don't forget that in the summertime, Cancun is close to the annual whale shark migration. Lisa Jabusch and Steve Nieters (Mount Juliet, TN) were staying on Isla de Mujeres, but chose to go out with Rafael de la Parra), based on a report they read in Undercurrent. "We were extremely glad we did. He is affiliated with a research group working on identifying the separate sharks, and is a tireless promoter of maintaining the ecological zone to keep them protected. He has been interviewed by CNN, and appears to be one of the most knowledgeable captains out there. He charges $150 per person, and he only takes six people on his boat at one time. He goes out early and stays late, thus maximizing your time in the water. We were very impressed that he didn't cancel on us after the only other couple who had signed up to go cancelled. He went ahead and took just the two of us out. He is based in Cancun but picked us up at the dock on Isla Mujeres at 7:30 a.m. He provides drinks, fruit and sandwiches, and there is shade over half the boat. The whale shark season is June to September, but the peak months are definitely July and August. We went in mid-July, and Rafael estimated there were at least 150 animals in the water. Just two weeks before, he only saw six. At one point, there were five of these gorgeous animals swimming within touching distance of us!" ( E-mail Rafael at grampusr@hotmail.com )

Sunshine Dive and Charter, Cabo San Lucas. In the preamble to our July story, "CO Poisoning Risk Higher than You Think," we wrote about the March death of a diver, and erroneously reported that she had been diving with Sunshine and may have been overcome by carbon monoxide in her tank that her husband claimed Sunshine had filled. As it turned out, our sources got it wrong. Traun Lynch, who represents Sunshine Dive and Charter, tells us the divemaster who took Cross diving was not working for Sunshine Dive and Charter, nor did Sunshine fill his tanks. We apologize for the error; we cannot definitively tie down the source of the air, and the police are mum. Sunshine has generally received good marks from Undercurrent, and two of our California subscribers, Tom Webb and Mike Eberle, each wrote us to call attention to our error, and report that each had just been diving with Sunshine and had nothing but good experiences. So if you're headed to Cabo, put Sunshine on your list. ( www.divecabo.com )

A Better Mode of Travel in Fiji. After reading our July travel feature on Lalati and Matangi resorts, Craig Condron (Spokane, WA) says he gave up long ago on those three-hour van rides plus a boat ride to get to a Fijian resort. "You feel like roadkill. The past five trips to Fiji, I take off within minutes after customs with Pacific Island Air & Seaplanes. It is more money (for a small group, the price can be comparable), but within 45 minutes, they're pulling up to the resort's sandy beach. Also, when leaving Lalati, Pacific Island could pick you up, and an hour later, you could be in your bure at Matangi, maybe in time to catch a dive. Otherwise, it is a boat ride to the main island, van ride to Suva, plane ride to Taveuni, van to dock, boat ride to Matangi. One full day of vacation gone. And yes, Pacific Island flies back from Matangi to Nadi direct, without all the transfers. It's owned by a Canadian, and is very reliable." ( www.pacificislandair.com )

Abandon This Ship. Jamie Pollack (New York City) boarded the M/V Celebes Explorer in July with his cousin for a one-week trip. Three days later, he abandoned ship to stay at Mabul Water Bungalow. "The M/V Celebes is an old, creaky, depressing, smelly boat that should be retired. The food was very greasy, and most of it was fried. The dive schedule is four dives at Sipadan and one dive at Mabul Island. Then at 5:30 a.m., the boat would motor back to Sipadan. The ride was noisy and sometimes rough. The cabins are small (ours had bunk beds, typical of liveaboards), and the smell in there was awful. We were never introduced to the crew, so it was hard to know who to ask for things. They do not have a separate camera rinse tank, so the water got disgusting. Only 45 minutes per dive was allowed. I asked to do one-hour dives but was told that is not the policy, and rules can't be changed. I was supposed to be diving on Nitrox, but when I got to my gear, it was air. Then when I checked the air, it was barely full. It took them two more times to get my Nitrox tank correct. Just plain carelessness. Diving was OK, but it didn't knock our socks off. We saw white-tips sharks (I was expecting to see many more), a couple of reef sharks, turtles, large schools of jacks, barracuda and bumphead parrotfish. Coming from the East Coast, it is a long way, and I'm not sure I would recommend it, especially for that boat."

Thailand Aggressor. A new Aggressor destination is now taking bookings. ( www.aggressor.com )

- - Ben Davison

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