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November 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Maldives, Hawaii, Indonesia . . .

some dive operators who need to change their rules

from the November, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

This is our last regular issue for 2013. The next thing you'll receive is our 2014 Travelin' Divers Chapbook which can be downloaded, read online, printed out or even ordered as a book for $19.95 (go to www.undercurrent.org for more details). However, there are a few items from the lastest batch of reader reports about their dive trips that we wanted to draw your attention to.

MV Maldives Princess. This 147-footer is surely a luxury yacht, but David Bader (Norwood, NC), onboard in September, says she is not a dive boat. Keeping with traditional Maldivian diving, diving was conducted from a second 65-foot craft, but still all did not go well. "All dives were guided but I use that term loosely. We generally lost the guides within the first 10 minutes of the dive. One day, the dive guide told us it would be a 40-minute boat ride to the dive site, which defeats the purpose of a liveaboard. Once a site was located, the dive boat would circle two or three times to get in position for the drop. However, each time, we would be in the blue and 100 to 150 feet from the reef. On one wreck dive, the dive boat captain couldn't find the wreck, and we wasted a dive looking for it. Dive time was generally 45 minutes, including safety stop, and depth was limited to 100 feet. The elaborate dive briefings never seemed to match the dive site, so we requested that dive briefings be held after they checked the dive site and conditions. We wasted numerous dives in deep water looking for whale sharks, hammerheads, and mantas, but had only two encounters with mantas. We asked to stop wasting time looking for something that isn't there and to be taken to shallower reefs for corals and macro stuff. Due to the strong currents, the reefs below 30 feet are nothing but dead coral." The Maldives Princess's website ( www.arkroyalmaldives.com ) is offering "huge discounts" at $375 per, per person, with only six people required for departure, but that's still a long way to travel for such spotty diving.

This is our last regular issue for 2013. The next thing you'll receive is our 2014 Travelin' Divers Chapbook which can be downloaded, read online, printed out, or even ordered as a book for $19.95 (go to www.undercurrent.org for more details). However, there were a few items from the lastest batch of reader reports about their trips that we wanted to draw your attention to.

Little Cayman Beach "Party" Resort. A word to management: Sure, most everybody has a great time with the good staff and good diving, but that cloud of cigar smoke enveloping the bar grosses out a few of your customers. Then when they try catch a good night's sleep on Karaoke Night, instead of the 10 p.m. closing, the leftover bar party can go on past midnight . . . well, it gets to be a bit much, don't you think?

"I asked, 'What if I have an issue and have
to come up sooner?' The answer was, 'You
need to come up with the group, as it's too
dangerous for us to pick up one diver."

Kona Aggressor. Peggy Goldberg (Citra, FL), aboard in May, laments the changes in Hawaii diving and wonders what, if anything, can be done. To be fair, she had a good week overall. "The night manta dive was a hoot -- we saw dozens at once, zooming over and around us, with their mouths wide open, feeding. The other great dive was the night drift dive three miles offshore in 4,000 feet of water, hanging on a line at 40 feet, waiting for the night creatures to come up from the deep. Our lights shone on incredible things, many unseen before, some 15 feet long, and some larval critters." However, it's the new rules that raised serious doubts. "This was my third trip on this boat, the first ones being in 1993 and 1998. I was saddened by the terrible changes in the reef and lack of fish life -- instead of schools of many species, I would see a few of a few species. No bigger fish . . . I am a captain of my own charters, and when I explain how we do things, I expect people to understand and listen. So when a captain or crewmember tells me how they run things, I follow instructions -- doesn't mean I have to like it though. The captain decided to find new dive sites and do dives where you had to jump in as a group, follow the guide and come up as a group. The boat would be drifting. This could be fun and adventurous, but moving a few hundred yards from the old dive sites did not mean they were any different. I did ask, "What if I have an issue with my camera and had to come up sooner, or what if a diver has an issue?" The answer was, "You need to come up with the group, as the boat will find it too dangerous to pick up one diver." That did not sit well with me at all. I have over 3,000 dives, and take liveaboards because of their freedom to do my photography and to dive my own profiles. I am responsible for myself, and have redundant rescue systems on me. In the old days, we could dive whenever we wanted; the boats would stay over a dive site for at least two dives, and we just had to be back before they moved. Now even though the company line is you can dive on your own, they made it clear we had to dive at the time they said, so if I wanted to take a nap after lunch and do a mid-afternoon dive as opposed to one right after lunch, I couldn't. They would have two divemasters -- one guiding, the other running drag, watching stragglers. I ended up doing fewer dives, as I wanted to dive after resting, when the light was best. I could not sit in one place and photograph much, as the group would be out of sight in a few seconds, and I had to hustle to catch up. I had done a couple of Peter Hughes boats in the past and did not like its structured, hand-held diving, so I had been sticking with the Aggressors over the years because they used to have a lot more freedom. I guess things have changed in this day and age; with liability, we have all lost our own sense of responsibility."

Tambora, Indonesia. Ann McGrath (Alexandria, VA) was aboard the Tambora in October to dive the Lembeh Straits, and while she found the diving and crew exceptional, she raises enough questions about the liveaboard for serious divers to consider other crafts. While the cabins are large and comfortable with plenty of storage, and the bathrooms good sized, "there is a terrible mold smell in the cabins, so bring an air purifier. The bed linens had a bad smell, so I used a shirt over the pillow. Do not drink water from the faucets! It caused me to spend 24 hours in bed (and the bathroom), and lose two days of diving. Bring water purification drops. Also bring something for diarrhea; most people had that at various times throughout the cruise . . . Although there is a designated area in the back of the boat for smoking, the crew smokes everywhere. There are plastic bags hanging from the ceiling in the cabins, in case the boat leaks. (It's a wood boat, and you just never know when it will leak.) Some portholes leak, which means your bed will be wet . . . The divemasters want everyone to get in the water at the same time. This means that if the boat driver takes too long to get you your camera, the group will have started without you, especially in a current, and you may have to find them. If the boat owner is diving with you, he'll be the last person ready, so you'll be waiting for him. I found the owner's wife to be great at spotting things, better than the divemaster sometimes! Some divemasters terrorize the animals to show them to you, so ask them not to do that . . . The skiffs have no shade and they don't follow the divers' bubbles, meaning you may be waiting on the surface for a while. Stay with a divemaster, and bring a safety sausage. For some unknown reason, the ship sometimes dropped anchor far away from the dive sites, making for long skiff rides . . . There is no dive deck. The tanks are stored along the port aisle. There is a small room for gear storage and rinse tanks, which is at the opposite end of the boat from where wetsuits are hung to dry . . . The stairs are extremely steep and far apart, like a ladder, difficult to climb . . . The boat, a monohull, moves a lot with water movement, and the crossings can be ugly, with cabinet doors banging and the room chair sliding around. The boat was just out of dry dock on our trip, but it was loud. The boat manager/owner's rules are strict and arbitrary. When you first arrive, he will lecture for at least an hour. He does not want to deviate from the way he does things, because 'that's the way we do it.' We did get him to start earlier one day so that we could get the dive site we wanted and would have more time between dives. One 'rule' of the owner's is that dives are at 8, 11, 3 and 6:30. He claims everyone does that. (That was news to all of us.) . . . On several dives, the owner took us into a stiff current, and we needed to stay together, so we burned through our air quickly and for no reason. Take a reef hook, and wear gloves."

-- Ben Davison

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