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July 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Bahamas, Hawaii, the Red Sea. . .

one Micronesia resort worth visiting, another that’s not

from the July, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Royal Evolution, Egypt. While European divers flock to the Red Sea, Americans continue to steer clear -- especially from boats that venture into more southern areas and the Sudan -- without good reason. So we find this report on the liveaboard Royal Evolution by subscriber Michael Joest (Kehl, Germany), very intriguing. "There are boats starting out of Port Sudan (like Andromeda and Don Questo), where you come in via Dubai on a not-too reliable airline, or the Royal Evolution, which starts out of Port Ghaleb, Egypt. I went from Frankfurt with Sun Express, one of the airlines where you have to pay for everything. The flight was 4.5 hours into Marsa Alam. You need two visas for Egypt and Sudan; the Egypt visa was only $29, but the Sudan visa plus the dive permit costs $547)! Two weeks on the Royal Evolution cost $3780), and with the flight and all these mentioned extras, one can easily reach $5200. This is steep compared to Egypt's liveaboards, where you might get the same for much less.

The big question is, will there be so much more in the Sudan compared to places like Brothers, Elphinstone, Daedalus, etc.? The boat is nice -- good cabins, large bath, good food. I even got glutenfree breakfast and pastries. We were a mixed group of four Egyptians, eight Swiss, four Germans and four British divers. With 24 divers, the dive deck sometimes got a bit crowded when all groups together geared up. A good idea would have been to start each group 10 minutes apart. Diving is from the dive platform of the mother boat or by Zodiac. They offer Nitrox at $180 for the two weeks. Water temperatures were 84 to 86 degrees. The thermoclines were deeper but not that bad, with temperatures only one degree cooler.

"The staff insists on buddy teams, one hour or 500 psi to the surface, and you can choose to follow the dive guide. I got a buddy who was not that fit. One dive guide told me not to pass him in the water because he always wanted to stay in front. This was a bit too kindergarten for me. Visibility most times was good, 130 feet or more. The reefs were beautiful, with a good variety and abundance of healthy soft and hard coral with plenty of colorful fish life around. We often had big schools of jacks, barracudas, humphead parrotfish, some tuna, groupers and fusiliers all around, which was a pleasure to watch. Some places had triggerfish nearly everywhere. I hate these guys; one took a bite on my fin. Twice when we swam along a reef, there was nearly nothing; the only fish life was on top of the reef. Often we found small schools of hammerheads at 130 feet; some came really close, and it was awesome to see these big guys. Silkies were circling above us, and once in a while some gray reef shark cruised by. We had dolphins in the water twice, and one group encountered a tiger shark near the top of the reef.

We dove two wrecks, the Umbria and Blue Belt, and visited the Cousteau underwater housing, which is not really worth a dive. Dive sites were chosen well. Only a few times would the outer reef on the windy side have been the better choice, as there was sunlight in the afternoon, but the dive guides felt these were too difficult to reach and dangerous to get in and out of. Once we swam with a strong current, but most dives were in calm waters. I would have liked a bit more challenging dives, a bit less control underwater and longer reins to dive my own ways. When going back into Egypt, it got rough and windy, and water temperatures dropped down to 80, which I noticed immediately." ( www.royalevolution.com )

Aqua Cat, Bahamas. Of course you don't have to travel to the Sudan for liveaboard diving with sharks. Doug Moore (Thornton, CO) was on the Aqua Cat in April. Our readers, both experienced and inexperienced, always report excellent trips aboard, and Doug is no exception. "This was my first liveaboard, and I find it hard to imagine that it could get much better. The food was good and plenty (mostly comfort food, which is what I like) and the price includes adult beverages. There was always something to do if you wanted. The Sea Dog took people to the shore excursions, most of them planned. One evening I asked First Mate Chris if he would take me fishing, which he did. We saw plenty of sharks, even without a shark dive. The reefs weren't as filled as some of the other places I have been, but there is still plenty to see. I found the dives to be within my abilities. I made Dive #100 on this trip, and I would suppose if you had thousands of dives, you might want something more, but for me it was safe, comfortable diving. We were allowed to dive our own plan or be led on a tour. After the tour, usually in the 25-minute range, the divemaster would surface and we could go about the rest of the time on our own. The dive deck is well set up, and I really grew to appreciate not having to haul gear around. Once you are set up, you are set up for the week. We did two drift dives, and it was amazing to me that they could use the Aqua Cat as a pickup for a live boat." ( www.aquacatcruises.com )

Diving Florida's Blue Heron Bridge. We did a fine review last November of the exceptional critter diving there, only to learn soon thereafter that the hotel we touted converted to another use. Paul Seldon (Portage, MI) writes to tell us that the lodging of choice is now the Hotel Paradise and Cottages on Singer Island, a two-minute drive to the entry point ( www.patioisland.com )

Lahaina Divers, Maui. After all these years (see the Reunion story later in this issue), this operation is still getting high marks, especially since they dive where others fear to tread. Steven M. Dunn (Orting, WA) choose them for an April trip "because of reports in Undercurrent and because they operate two Newton 46s. They have a well-run, safe operation. They are the only operator than goes clear around the backside of Lanai, and their large boats are better for the often rough run to Molokai. Molokai and the back wall of Molokini Crater had 200-foot visibility; the rest of the dives averaged about 100 feet. This area had much better fish life and hard corals than Kauai. The coral reefs are younger than those in the Caribbean and do not have the size or diversity, nor do they have the soft corals of Fiji. At least there was no fire coral. Reef fish were abundant and diversified. Based on an Undercurrent report, I went through www.HawaiiConnection.com and got a great rate on a studio with a full kitchen at Lahaina Shores. We were on the sixth floor and it was very quiet, with a great view of the mountains." [Note from Ben: Lahaina Shores has been my favorite choice for years, because I don't like the touristy beach hotels north and you can walk to town for meals] ( www.lahainadivers.com )

"There is no attitude here, no 'I'm
the divemaster, so I'm better than
you' going on."

Kona Diving Company, Hawaii. On the Big Island, Kona Diving Company has been getting good reviews from our readers. Liveaboard veteran Gina Sanfilippo (San Francisco, CA) visited in June and says, "From the moment I stepped into their shop to sign all the paperwork to the last day when I settled up the bill, everyone was polite, friendly and professional. Boat trips seem to be limited to 10 guests, plus guides, and split into two or three groups. All guides are instructors, so they are trained to work with inexperienced divers, but they are respectful of experienced divers. There is no attitude here, and no 'I'm the divemaster, so I'm better than you' going on. Other divers on the boat had anywhere from 20 to 2,000 dives. My dive guide would point out rare and interesting creatures, while keeping an eye on everyone without being intrusive. We were allowed to stay in the water after the heavy breathers got out. Eighty-minute dives were the norm for me. Afternoon winds mean that as a rule dive boats don't do afternoon dives, although Kona does run three-tank, long-range trips on occasion. Dive sites have lots of hard coral and often interesting topology with lava 'fingers' sticking out from land, and the occasional lava tube. The boat itself is a comfortable catamaran with an on-board head, hot-water shower and lots of padded seating, both in the sun and in the shade."

Jeff and Pat Maeda (San Ramon, CA) selected Kona Diving Company based on Undercurrent reviews. "Best diving operation we've experienced -- so well organized, special attention, great attitude. It was our first time to dive in Hawaii, so it was exciting to see so many new fish. On one dive we were able to hear a whale song. The highlight was the manta night dive." ( www.konadivingcompany.com )

Kosrae Nautilus Resort, Micronesia. Going to Palau or Truk requires lots of airplane time, so to get their money's worth, divers often select two distinct Micronesia destinations, the second often being Yap for the mantas. But Kosrae is a serious and delightful alternative. Holly Bent (Kaawa, HI) visited the Kosrae Nautilus Resort in March and says, "I have never dived anywhere else in the world where the reefs are in such great condition. Not much in terms of macro or large pelagics, though. I spent 10 days at the Nautilus resort and booked seven days of boat diving, and I had a fabulous variety on the dives. I did two per day, and each dive was an hour plus. The diving was mostly 50 feet or less, and there are enough sites where you won't be repeating any. A typical dive day is get up, enjoy breakfast, meet at the gear storage area by 8 a.m., load in the van and head to one of the two dive boats at different harbors. Do your two dives, eat lunch on board and head in. Getting back to the resort varied between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at the latest. I went with the intention that I would be able to work on my graduate school work at night, and I did -- there is no nightlife or shopping, TV is limited and Internet is painfully slow. I booked the two-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, and brought a few spices and canned goods from home, as grocery shopping here is severely limited. I usually ordered the green salad every night from the kitchen to complement our homecooked food, and the resort has a great selection of fruit and veggies from its own garden. On Sundays, everything shuts down, including the diving. I took the United island hopper -- Honolulu to Majuro, Kwaj, and Kosrae. This took eight hours, including the stops on the ground. Going home, I went through Guam, the other part of the island hopper, stopping in Pohnpei and Chuuk." ( www.kosraenautilus.com )

Majuro, Marshall Islands, Micronesia. If you're in that neck of the woods, you can skip Majuro, says Glen Kitchens (Cedar Crest NM), who has 1,000 dives under his belt. "My group of experienced divers selected Majuro for a May trip simply because it seemed off the beaten track. The only dive operator (Raycrew) is located at the Marshall Islands Resort (MIR). Sato, a young Japanese divemaster, was quite competent, cautious and helpful. Most dive sites within Majuro Atoll are less than 30 minutes from MIR, except the Arno Atoll, which is over open ocean and can be a very wet and rough ride. The boat is lowrailed with a canopy top but no seats, camera bucket or dry areas. Getting into the water is accomplished by struggling into your BC while sitting on the floor, then hoisting yourself to a boat rail for a backward flip. Not an easy feat for the older crowd. I was disappointed in the diving, since I expected to see soft coral and wrecks, but saw none. The diving is easy, with current at only a few sites. MIR is the best hotel on the atoll, but is average by international standards. The restaurant is OK, but they deal in 'island' time. The on-site bar is reasonably-priced, and that's a good thing, because there's not much else to do but dive and drink. The rooms had TV, but no signal was available while I was there."

-- Ben Davison

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