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October 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Seeking More Exotic Diving?

how about Russia, the Sardine Run, or an underwater cemetery?

from the October, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The Okeanos Aggressor. Our readers always report excellent trips on this craft, save the mal de mer that hits some divers during the long crossing from the mainland. That said, Andrew James Gregor (Lafayette, CA), there in August, reports divemaster behavior against which we have railed for years: being more interested in their own personal photography than observing their divers. And in the rougher waters off Cocos Island, where divers have disappeared with too much frequency, that's not the best behavior. As Gregor writes, "Captain Alberto and his crew were stellar. Warren, the other divemaster, is phenomenal. Having said that, these are difficult dives, even for experienced divers -- we had strong currents at times and it was a wild ride . . . It is hard not to like Alberto (or 'Beto' as he is known) and he runs a great operation, but he is generally more interested in taking photographs and video than watching his group. We were split up on more than one occasion, and it was clear he did not know where we were, which pissed off some people. He also does exactly what he and his crew said not to do: rush towards an animal, lights ablaze. Other than that, I highly recommend this boat and this crew -- they took fantastic care of us." ( www.aggressor.com )

Diving in Russia. If you're looking for the next great adventure, here's a possibility: Russia, Siberia and Lake Baikal. Trips there are being offered by 56th Parallel, a new adventure travel company based in both Australia and Moscow ( www.56thparallel.com/activity/scuba-diving ).

Neptune Society Memorial Reef. If you're a serious diver and ocean lover, then perhaps you have decided to spend eternity underwater, like our longtime subscribers Warren and Gilda Sprung (Houston, TX). They went diving to preview their eventual home, and Warren tells us, "Years ago, we decided to spend eternity at a underwater cemetery off Miami called Neptune Society Memorial Reef. ( www.nmreef.com ). When we checked with local dive shops, one dive shop offered to take the two of us out -- for just under $1,000 for two dives. Then we found Miami Bay Tours, owned and operated by Mike Smith, a fantastic man and a full-time Miami police officer. He took us in his immaculate, twin- 250hp, 28-foot covered boat, complete with rinse bucket and plenty of legal liquid refreshments." The Neptune Memorial Reef has large sculptures as gatekeepers, memorial columns, gates -- it's an unusual underwater park, for sure. Warren reports that though there is some storm damage, it's in "overall good shape, with lots of growth on pillars, and quite a bit of sea life. This is not a trip for a lot of diving, but the memorial was crawling with marine critters. Lobster, green moray, all sorts of reef fishes and critters, plus the cemetery itself is well worth the trip. There is also a small reef nearby; I saw a nurse shark and several large schools of reef fish. Definitely worth adding to your bucket list. Mike charged us $110 each for the two dives, and he refused to accept a large tip (he cut it in half!)." ( www.miamibaytours.com )

Club Ocellaris, Philippines. We've had good things to say about this Anilao resort, the diving, and the owner with the improbable name of Boy Venus in the past, but Jeanne Reeder (Columbia, MO) had a bit of a difficulty while there in August. "Not a 'Club Member'? Beware. I wanted to go to the Nudibranch Capital and indulge in locating and identifying these esoteric critters in their multicolor glories. Where to go was a no-brainer -- Club Ocellaris. Critter ID folks of the first order have all gone there and never left without identifying new species.

Not receiving any response from Club Ocellaris after my weeks of e-mailing foreshadowed my experience. Getting a reservation was like pulling teeth, and I finally had to ask my very patient agent, Katie at Reef & Rainforest, to intervene. Returnees get priority and 'virgins' often do not receive a response. Divemaster Perry explained that Boy does not want people there who aren't good divers and who kick up sand. Regardless, the welcome by manager Joy at Club O was gracious.

"Not receiving any response after
weeks of e-mailing the resort foreshadowed
my experience. Getting a
reservation was like pulling teeth."

There was no briefing about anything, even the basics such as a schedule for meals and dives . . . Expected state-of-the-art facilities for cameras, but extra electrical plugs in or around our rooms and a wooden table were just about it . . . 14 guests backrolling from three bancas, and exiting via a vertical ladder . . . There were no expectations to stay with the divemaster, dive with a buddy, limit dive time, depth, or amount of psi tank reserves . . . Sometimes the driver would pick us up, other times we swam back to the boat. Hoarding a sighting was the rule, so other divers were either patient or wandered off to get their own unique treasure recorded. As I studied the behavior of my macro subjects with my magnifying glass, I was unceremoniously nudged away by a photographer more than once, as well as waved off by the divemaster who gave priority to the diver with the camera . . . On most dives, I spotted at least a dozen nudibranch, often many more . . . I might have spotted more species if it weren't for the distraction of frequent pygmy seahorses, frogfish (giant frogfish, white phase and the yellow painted frogfish) and rhinopias. Return divers knew the routine and the dive sites very well. The granddaddy of 26 repeat visits complained that the macro diving was not what it used to be, and that divers should keep their fins off the silt. There was deference by both the staff and the returnees to the people with the most dives. My dive buddy and I were clearly outsiders but were warmly accepted after the first diving day; still, I felt we had to 'prove' ourselves undersea . . . On half of my 12 dives in three days in Anilao, I exited not having a clue where the other divers were. Not infrequently, strong currents and low visibility made the separation easy. Will I return to Anilao? You bet -- the sooner the better. But to Club 'O'? Nope."

Maluku Divers, Indonesia. If you're looking for muck diving, then Mona Cousens (Santa Barbara, CA) says to consider this Ambon-based outfit, with all its warts. She was there in December and reports that the rooms aren't much -- no walkways to them, darkly lit, no privacy on the decks -- but the resort has a great camera room and world-class muck diving. "The boat goes out three times per day, and you are welcome to book an additional night dive or Mandarin fish dusk dive. Sites are within minutes. I saw many different species of frogfish, ghost pipefish, robust pipes, a hairy octopus, devilfish, stonefish, rhinopias, and tons of small shrimp and crab.You are kept very busy underwater . . . The resort is in an area where there are no other dive resorts. When you go out in your boat, you will be the only ones on that site . . . There is a massive amount of trash in the water, but the water is clean. While Lembeh has some serious bacterial problems with the water -- and every time I go there, I get skin rashes or staph infection -- here the water is clear. It is just filled with cups, bottles, bags, yogurt containers, sanitary napkins, diapers, you name it. The Bay of Ambon has a circular current, so the trash just goes round and round, never out to sea. It is a shame, because the diving is wonderful for muck lovers . . . Maluku is in drastic need of some TLC. It is a great place to spend three to five days before or after a liveaboard trip. It is only 10 minutes from the Ambon airport, so it's a good transition hotel." ( www.muckdivingindonesia.com )

Orca Diving Centre, Croatia. This country along the Adriatic Sea is on the map for European tourists, but if you go to see the sights, should you drag your gear along? David Schwab (Baumholder, Germany) visited the town of Pula in August and says.,"The Orca Diving Centre serves the resort area of Verudela and is at the five-star Park Plaza Histria. The dive shop is adequate -- plenty of rental equipment in good shape, although finding a wetsuit that fits properly might be a problem. The dive staff is well qualified and provides first-class service. Dive sites are on the house reef just outside the dive center, others are accessed by a small boat, and wrecks and other sites reached by a larger boat. Visibility was terrible at all three sites, though I was told this is not always the case . . . The house reef is full of rocks and cement blocks. The local site of Fraskeric was an interesting tour through some tunnels and thermoclines (60 to 82 degrees) with a bit better visibility, a couple of crabs, lobsters and small fish. The wreck RN Giuseppe Dezza was at 100 feet with six foot visibility -- a real challenge, especially for a one-tank, 30-minute dive that took three hours roundtrip. Diving here is for occasional divers, not for more serious divers." ( www.orcadiving.hr )

The Sardine Run. It's one of the more spectacular experiences for divers anywhere in the world, but you have to go a long way -- South Africa -- to see it. Garru and Robing Schiendeelman (Limericka, PA) did in July, and chose Seal Expeditions, using its Mbotyi River Lodge as their base. "Owner Nic has put together an outstanding group of people who love what they do, and it shows. Safety is the top priority, followed only by making sure every guest has a great experience. If you go with the attitude of knowing you have to take what Mother Nature gives you, you will enjoy the trip of a lifetime. This is not an easy trip. Most of the time in the water is by snorkel in choppy water, and you are on and off the inflatable (no ladders) multiple times per day. We were able to scuba just four or five times all week. We saw bait balls every day but one. Hundreds and hundreds of dolphins, gannets diving, sharks everywhere, humpbacks daily. Clive, our skipper, and divemaster Fabio were the best. The beach launch was a lot easier than expected and really exciting, as was the beach landing. Hotel and food are basic but adequate. But you are there for the wildlife and that was five stars!" ( www.sardinerun.com )

Jack's Diving Locker, Hawaii. Another unique dive is off the Kona Coast of the Big Island. Ernest Lavagetto (Walnut Creek, CA) gave it a go in August with Jack's Diving Locker. "The Pelagic Magic Night Dive is unique in the world. You are taken three miles off the Kona Coast, where the ocean is well over a mile deep. The late-night dive allows you to experience the daily upwelling of small pelagic creatures -- ancient life forms and small creatures that the larger, more evolved sea life eat -- that spend the daylight hours at great depths. While it is unnerving to jump into the deep, late-night ocean darkness, the display of small creatures is amazing (the largest life form I saw was squid moving by at about 20 miles an hour). I wish I had had more lights with me so I could see a larger area. You are tied to the boat on an individual 35-foot line. The ocean creatures come to you, and you quickly lose a sense of where you are and where you are going in the darkness. During the one-hour-plus dive, the boat had drifted almost four miles with no sense of the movement on my part. Bring a camera, still or video (you can also buy a video from Jack's), because there is no better way to report to your friends the strange creatures that you will see." ( www.jacksdivinglocker.com )

Bequia Dive Adventures. Bequia, one of my favorite Caribbean isles, is just a ferry boat ride away from St Vincent. Kristin Weck Farrag (Dundee, IL) made her eighth trip there in July, and though she had a remarkable time, it was also marred by tragedy. "Bequia Dive Adventures is a friendly and efficient operation, very safety- and environmentally-minded. Boats are small and groups are small -- usually not more than six divers. I saw tons of fish and critters -- schools and schools of Creole wrasse, grunts and cardinal and soldierfish, some highats and juvenile jacknife fish, and also a praying mantis shrimp out in the open! Loads of juvenile, intermediate and adult spotted drumfish and trunkfish, a frogfish, seahorses, shrimps, crabs, spotted and chain eels, white spotted filefish, trumpetfish, hamlets, peacock flounders. Loads of sponges in every color make this a unique destination in the Caribbean . . . While I was there, Laury Stowe, one of the partners in the dive shop and a fantastic divemaster, was tragically killed, electrocuted by the compressor. We were shocked and very saddened. We will sorely miss Laury, and our hearts go out to his family and dive shop partner, Ron Williams." ( www.bequiadiveadventures.com )

- - Ben Davison

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