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March 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Belize, Hawaii, Cozumel, Palau . . .

Caribbean winter warnings and more trouble with the Siren fleet

from the March, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Florida's Admiral's Club is Kaput. After we published a glowing piece in November about super critter diving under Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm Beach, using the Admiral's Club as a home base, reader Dawn Steedman (Coral Gables, FL) got excited about the possibilities, only to discover the hotel had just been sold and would become a drug rehab facility. So to meander under the bridge, visiting divers will need a car, and then park in nearby Phil Foster Park, which means a longer swim. Of course, locals have used the park as their base for diving under the bridge's east and west spans. The park is apparently closed after dark.

Winter in the Caribbean. Keep in mind that in the winter months, weather issues like wind and rain may affect your diving. For example, Carol D. Cox (Port St Joe, FL) told us of her planned trip aboard the Turks and Caicos Explorer, which travels to the southern Bahamas in November. "I arrived at Great Exuma a few days early to relax, and was surprised to learn from a taxi driver (they know everything happening on the island) that the boat is not based in George Town as the web site implies. It is an hour away at Emerald Bay Marina, part of the Sandals resort complex. Regardless, I was glad I had a chance to see George Town and beautiful Elizabeth Harbor before boarding the boat. As it turned out, we were stuck in the harbor for two days due to the high winds; it was too risky to maneuver the boat through the small channel. Although we were right next to Sandals, one had to pay $100 a day to use the facilities. A taxi into George Town was $80 each way. Passengers walked around the marina or watched satellite TV in the marina lounge. The boat was in a section of the marina by itself, so we were allowed to dive there. I did a two-hour dive in 10 feet of water and saw nudibranchs, yellow stingrays, an octopus, cleaning gobies, tons of upside-down jellyfish (which my buddy tried to rescue), juvenile fish and large spiny lobsters. At sunrise on the third morning, we finally headed out and crossed over to Conception Island. It was a bumpy ride, and a few passengers were too green to make the first dive. At this point, there could have been a lot of grumping, but it was a great group of experienced divers aboard who took the problems in stride. At the end of the cruise, they offered a 40 percent discount on a future trip -- a nice offer to make up for something that was beyond their control, but it turned out we would have to do another south Bahamas itinerary within one year. Even with the discount, this was not a trip I wanted to repeat." And keep in mind that winter water temperatures in the Bahamas can be in the low 70s into February. ( www.explorerventures.com )

Roatan can be windy and rainy between December and February, and because of that, Robert Barada's (Walnut Creek, CA) flight from Houston was diverted to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. After going through Customs and Immigration, passengers collected vouchers from United Airlines for taxis, meals and a night at the Hilton Princess. "At the hotel, they told us to stay inside the hotel, and they had armed guards patrolling the grounds. I heard gunshots around 11:00 p.m. I went back to the airport at 8:30 the next morning, but the weather didn't clear until 5:30 p.m., so I didn't arrive in Roatan until 6:30 p.m. I lost a whole day of diving at CoCoView, and it continued to rain every day -- I got to see 20 minutes of sun one day. Because of all the runoff, the visibility was negatively affected." For sure, there is plenty of good winter weather in the Caribbean, but be forewarned.

Chuck & Robbie's, Belize. Not everyone is happy with the diving choices on Ambergris Caye, but we've been hearing good things about this operation. Alan Pittman dived with them in December and says, "Chuck & Robbie's was the most popular dive shop, operating at the north edge of San Pedro, close to the bridge. Other shops did not appear to have enough customers for regularly scheduled trips. The boat dropped divers off at nearby resorts when they were finished diving. C & R have good rental equipment; the divemasters are attentive and professional without hovering. The boat captain followed our bubbles, and picked up divers as they ascended at various times, despite a little chop. The dives are all on the outside of the reef across spectacular spur and groove (canyon) reef formations. There are always nurse sharks and several groupers, because they occasionally do shark, grouper and eel feeding dives. The reefs don't have many large schools of fish, but it was good to see a large number of black, Nassau and tiger groupers, as well as mature dog, cubera and mutton snappers on many dives. We saw mantas on two dives, and seven bottlenose dolphins circled our group a couple of times. During surface intervals, the boat returns to the dive shop, where there are chairs and a picnic table to rest." ( http://ambergriscayediving.com )

Kona Aggressor II, Hawaii. For a good liveaboard trip not far from home, Randall Preissig (San Antonio, TX) says don't overlook this boat. "This was my fifth trip on the Kona Aggressor, and the manta dives alone are worth the trip. I saw 15 to 20 mantas on the famous manta night dive near the airport. We had several humpback whale encounters, and I got some good tail-slapping shots from the boat. I go in January or February just for the whales. I saw mantas on other dives, as well as turtles, a huge conger eel, a horn-helmet snail eating an urchin, nudibranchs, pregnant pipefish, an eagle ray, leaffish, a sleeping parrotfish in mucus, pregnant whitetip sharks in a cave, dragon and peacock razor wrasses, a triton shell, schools of barracuda and more. A highlight was the pelagic dive: You hang under the boat at 10 to 25 feet, miles from shore at night under lights, and see what goes by -- anything from jellyfish to oceanic sharks. I think the Kona Aggressor trip may be the most underrated trip I've ever been on." ( www.aggressor.com )

"In the current-prone and open waters we
dived in, the absence of a second Zodiac
was a definite safety risk."

Problems Aboard the S/Y Maldives Siren. We continue to hear of problems with the Siren fleet, and we continue to report them, hoping they pay attention. Longtime correspondent Warren Sprung (Houston, TX) was aboard in January, and says "The two divemasters leading 14 divers divided into two groups were great. When a diver lost his negatively buoyed camera as he was entering the Zodiac, the panga driver dived in -- in his street clothes -- like a wingless cormorant down to retrieve the camera. Good work indeed! Regardless, this is a penny-pinching operation. The computer in our cabin was inoperable. Megan, a dive guide, apologized, saying it'd been that way for some time and a tech person would come repair it, but that never happened. Even a cabin light bulb that burned out was never replaced as promised. We were told to not put things under the A/C (on the third bed) because the unit leaked water; it dripped literally gallons of water over the 10-day trip. It also never quite cooled the room, and it was difficult to fall asleep while sweating in bed. The ice machine was either inoperable or had very limited ability to produce enough for 14 divers. We were told it would be repaired soon but never was. On the second day, one of the two Zodiacs was damaged -- the tubes in front were compromised. We were told it would be repaired the next day, then the next, and finally that it wouldn't be repaired at all. (I've got to commend Peter Hughes -- years ago in Palau, one of his chase boats was broken and he rented a local boat to cover the divers properly.) This meant that the first group was boated up to a mile from the Siren, dropped off and left on their own until the second group was dropped off. Had there been an emergency. . .well, I'm sure the readers can imagine. I had my new Nautilus Lifeline with me, and while I never had to use it, I thought I would a couple of times after waiting up to 20 minutes on the surface after some dives with no Zodiac in sight. Remember, I'm in the Indian Ocean, with strong currents! There was real potential danger to the divers with only one operating Zodiac in the open ocean. "

Aussie Phil Johnston adds, "I often surfaced to find no boat within sight, the one remaining Zodiac having collected the first group for return to the Siren. We were first advised that the deflated Zodiac would be repaired within 24 hours; however, it was found that the glue in the repair kit had gone dry and couldn't be used. We were then advised that replacement glue would need to be flown in from Singapore, but this never materialized. I found it difficult to believe that replacement glue, or a replacement Zodiac, couldn't be sourced in-country, given that boating, diving and fishing are basically the national pastimes. In the currentprone and often very open waters we dived in, the absence of a second Zodiac was a definite safety risk."

Safari Inn, Cozumel. After we reported a reader's problems at this hotel during a week on a REEFsponsored dive trip, Tom Schaefer (Seattle, WA), who has taken many REEF trips, wrote "Travelers accustomed to four- or five-star accommodations might indeed find the place disappointing. The rooms do not have telephones or TVs, most of them lack refrigerators, and what passes for a couch is very uncomfortable. However, the large air-conditioned rooms are kept clean and tidy, and I find the beds adequately comfortable. The showers are hot and usually have sufficient water pressure. The noise -- all from outside the hotel -- subsides enough during my sleeping hours that I am rarely awakened. And here's the punch line: My single room cost $47 per night, a rate that does not increase if the room is shared. REEF's price for this trip is less than half that of most of their trips. Because I do not require pampering and cannot afford to pay for it, Safari Inn works for me."

That said, REEF general manager Martha Klitzkie wrote us to say that, "Our annual Cozumel Field Survey trip has consistently been popular because of its low cost. But based on feedback we've received from members like your readers, REEF members now have the option to stay at Aqua Safari or Casa Mexicana, and will still be able to participate in all of the Field Survey dives and activities. You can find more information at www.reef.org/trips ."

Helicopters in Palau. Novot Bornovski, the owner of the Ocean Hunter boats and the dive shop Fish 'n Fins, tells me he has started a helicopter service in Palau that will be used for scenic tourist flights, but the better news is that it will also be used for search-and-rescue and Medevac efforts. That's bound to save a few lost divers. ( www.fishnfins.com )

Good Digs on Bonaire. Faith Evans (Bastrop, TX) says the real deal for lodging on Bonaire is the Djambo apartments. "I opt for upstairs, in one of five one-bedroom apartments so that I have an open front to the pool and common area, and a door to the bedroom that locks to the outside. They also have two nice two-bedroom, one-bath apartments for families or two couples. The owners live there and take excellent care of everything. I get a stay-drive-dive package with Djambo that includes the apartment, a truck with bottle rack and all air/nitrox for a single good price. The rinse tanks are clean, and the dive gear storage area is very secure and clean. No, it's not oceanfront, and there's no restaurant, but there is a nice, little, open bar each evening that's open till 8 p.m. so that you can gather and share the diving stories, then walk to town's many good restaurants." One-bedroom apartments start at $105 per night, two-bedroom apartments at $143 ( www.djambobonaire.com ).

- - Ben Davison

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