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May 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Key Largo, Maui, New Zealand . . .

maiden voyage kinks in Thailand, a rude photo pro in Bonaire

from the May, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Thailand Aggressor. I like to keep you abreast of developments at popular destinations and new opportunities, and of course, we have cautioned in the past about rushing to board that new liveaboard in a new location. Last summer, the maiden month of voyages on the Carib Dancer faced all sorts of problems, and had plenty of unhappy divers (read our story about that in the October 2012 issue). The Thailand Aggressor, which also just got underway, has its headaches, says Gale French and Shaya Zucker (Austin, TX) of their April tour. "We just returned from a seven-day voyage on the 'new' Thailand Aggressor in the North Andaman Sea. The first four days was diving around the Similan Islands. The 'yo-yo' divemasters searched to show the divers something. There were no schools of fish and very little sea life, just huge underwater rocks and boulders. The famous Richelieu Rock dive site had some sea life, mainly sea anemones on the rocks. There were nine liveaboards anchored there, and a traffic jam of divers underwater. During the entire trip, we did not see a shark or a manta ray. We saw just two turtles, few tropical fish, some small sea fans, and no whale sharks or coral reefs. What we did see were commercial fishing boats at night in the national park . . . We were all appalled with the conditions of the boat. The toilets and water stopped working for two days out at sea. After they started working again, the cabins and hallways smelled like sewage. The nitrox mixes were never consistent, so the additional fee charge for nitrox was dropped. The one person diving air found that nitrox had been mixed into her tank, so she had to analyze her tank each dive, but never had a reading of more than 21 percent air. The inflatable skiffs were small and unstable for entry to and exit from the water. After nearly sinking in the skiff, the entry into the water was changed to a grand stride. Divers were instructed to swim away from the boat "as fast as you can" to avoid the propellers. There was no ladder off the back of the boat, the rinse-off showers were scalding hot, and the dry-off towels were never washed. Gear was tossed and piled into the skiffs when exiting the dive sites. One couple canceled their second week on the boat due to the disastrous boat condition and lack of sea life . . . Upon returning home, we sent complaints to the Aggressor owners. Their response was they were sorry that our trip didn't give us the full 'Aggressor experience.' Their letter did not fully address our list of safety concerns. They sent vouchers for $1,000 off another Aggressor trip to be taken within the next 12 months."

Elizabeth Russell (West Miflin, PA), aboard on a subsequent trip, writes, "Just got back from the South Andaman Sea itinerary. Gale and Shaya hit the nail on the head about the condition of the boat. We booked cabin 1 and ended up in cabin 9, due to lack of air conditioning in the former. The sewer backed up several inches into our shower room. We had a sporadic water supply for two days. I'm just glad we didn't do their itinerary. At least we only had one other liveaboard at Richelieu Rock's mooring site.

Luxury Safari in the Maldives. The Maldives now boasts the largest "safari yacht/dive boat" on this planet. The Polish Company Scuba Spa has just launched a 167-by-37-foot craft. Its ad states, "Exclusively designed around your total well-being, Scubaspa combines scuba diving on board a luxury safari vessel, immersing you in one of the most beautiful and inspiring oceans in the world, while at the same time offering a comprehensive range of the finest treatments in a luxury spa. Every experience, delivered by a team of professionals, is created to give you deep relaxation, tranquility and joy." Rates begin at $2,000 for a week, and the maiden voyage is this month. But you know what we think about maiden voyages, or a month of maiden voyages, for that matter. And a "spa boat"? (www.scubaspa.com)

Buddy Dive Resort, Bonaire. It gets a lot of return business, thanks to its shore diving and its early innovations in providing rental vehicles to tourists and a drive-through air station, but one Undercurrent Key Largo, Maui, New Zealand . . . maiden voyage kinks in Thailand, a rude photo pro in Bonaire subscriber who stayed there four times says there may not be a fifth, thanks to the photography pro's attitude issues. He "seems bent on criticizing camera equipment that he doesn't provide, and photographers who don't seek his opinion. I have been insulted, reprimanded and shouted at over the past three trips, even when I have quietly rinsed my cameras at the docks with my 13-year-old son. I cannot seem to escape his unsolicited negative comments. Not much for repeat customer satisfaction or interpersonal skills! It is a shame to have a good resort tainted by a rude instructor." Buddy, are you listening?

(P.S.: We get reports of gear being swiped from balconies, which is not an uncommon problem on the island, so don't leave your stuff unattended at any Bonaire resort.)

Mike Severns Diving, Maui. Owner Pauline Severns keeps on performing at the highest level year after year. Wayne Joseph (San Mateo, CA), there in March, says, "Pauline, a marine biologist, and her crew give great dive briefings, describing what critters and marine life interactions we may see at each site. It had been about five years since I last dived with them, and Pauline still has as much interest and excitement with her dive briefings as she did 25 years. ago. I saw a flame wrasse, anthias, frogfish, Hawaiian lionfish, octopi, turtles, different nudibranchs, and one eel that just had octopus for breakfast and still had part of one tentacle around its head. I encountered whales and a pod of dolphins on our way to and from Molokini." (www.mikesevernsdiving.com)

The Molokai Crossing. I should also mention the unique diving around Molokai, where rough water means dive boats from Lahaina rarely reach it (in my scores of dives off Maui, I made it only once). Jeff Renner (Sammamish, WA) made it in April with Lahaina Divers, and says, "The crossing to a small pinnacle off the north end of Molokai was rough, with seven- to 10-foot swells, but Sean, the captain, handled it with aplomb. We were well briefed by our guides for what would be a demanding entry into choppy water with a significant current. The dives were amazing. The coral and fish alone are well worth the dive. But within a couple of minutes, we were heading away from the pinnacle into blue water and saw sharks -- hammerheads and Galapagos, certainly more than a dozen on the first dive, and at close range. One Galapagos probably approached me within 25 feet. Good photo op! On the second dive, there were probably a dozen. The dive guides could make more regular 'air checks.' A mix of enthusiasm, fatigue (I haven't been able to dive more than a half-dozen times in the last year) and perhaps old, slow fins caused me to use air faster on the Molokai dive. But I compete in triathlons, so I don't think my overall conditioning was an issue." (www.lahainadivers.com)

Conch Republic Divers, Key Largo. This Florida Keys town has become the most popular wreck diving site in the U.S., and Terence Taylor (Lutherville, MD) had great dives with Conch Republic Divers in February. "Specific nitrox percentages were available to accommodate each wreck -- the Spiegel Grove, Duane, Eagle and a few others. Typically, we dove a wreck first in the morning, and a shallow wreck or reef in the late morning or early afternoon. The first several dives were fairly difficult, with six-foot waves, strong current and low visibility -- not the place for a novice. We were fairly horizontal on the downline, and one diver lost her mask on the safety stop due to her snorkel. The crew was fabulous, laying out proper lines, making the dive as reasonable as possible (dives were canceled the day before I arrived and several days following my departure dives). On my third and fourth days, the seas calmed to four feet, and the visibility improved to 30 feet. The last morning the seas calmed, and we had 65-foot visibility on the Eagle. When it's calm, it would be excellent dives for all divers. Conch Republic worked with other dive ops that had only a diver or two in order to get enough for the boat go out. They called all of us several times, and developed a three-dive agenda that started at 10 a.m. to accommodate everyone's priorities. I brought my own equipment, including tanks, and they happily hauled my equipment around, and reasonably dropped the trip price. I did nine dives in four trips, and the price ran about $365, including six 28-percent nitrox fills. The 38-foot Republic Diver is not set up for photographers -- no photo table, but there was a photo rinse tub. Since the boats only had five to 11 divers, there was plenty of room on the front shelf for my dry items and camera. We were just at the fringe of the season, so a full complement of divers would be problematic." (www.conchrepublicdivers.com)

Dive Tutukaka, New Zealand. There's spectacular diving in New Zealand, and Paul Pruitt (Half Moon Bay, CA) was there in March (the equivalent of our late September), when the visibility ranges from 60 to 120 feet, and the water temperature from 62 to 67 degrees. "Dive Tutukaka is an outstanding operation that serves New Zealand's best dive site, the Poor Knight Islands, three hours north of Auckland. Excellent dive boats are matched to the divers' ability and desires. They stress the cold water, but to those of us from Northern California it was almost tropical; winter diving I am sure is much colder. We wore 5-mm suits but no hoods. Poor Knights is about an hour-long boat ride from the harbor in Tutukaka. They rent everything needed, or mix and match with your gear. The area is pristine, with every size of marine life. The biggest surprise was the three-foot stingray resting in the sand between walls of the reef. Meditation Rock is the living aquarium of the South Pacific, with corals, fans, sponges, nudibranchs, worms, and tropical fish. Diving in the cave is a special experience. Micro heaven, schools of tropicals that should not be here, but the East Australian Current (think Finding Nemo) is the water river that flows just off the islands and delivers tremendous variations of life to their protected bays and caves." (http://diving.co.nz)

Until next month, I wish you good diving.

--Ben Davison

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