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April 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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St. Vincent, Maldives, Roatan, Belize

destinations for everyone

from the April, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In planning my dive trips, I think about them in modules that, summed up, can make or break the trip: the journey, the accommodations, the weather, the food, the facilities, the attitudes of the staff and even our fellow divers. And, most importantly, the diving. However, if any aspect is sufficiently bad, it can taint the experience.

The full trip, of course, is always full of compromises, and I'm accustomed to putting up with imperfections if the diving is good, though these days it is at times less than it was cracked up to be.

I want to report on experiences from some of our fellow subscribers, to highlight a few destinations you might keep in mind for your next trip, a few you may not, and, of course, problems we all face as we plan our compromises.

Gareth Richards (Loveland, OH) stayed at the Belize Ocean Club in Placentia in February and dived with Belize Underwater. He loved the resort, the pool and that there was a dive shop on site. Nevertheless, what caught my eye is that the dive operator has a problem at hand, and they're charging their customers to help solve it.

You see, Richards was surprised and disappointed at the infestation of lionfish. To help with the scourge, he and his pals asked to borrow spears and Hawaiian slings to hunt them, but were shocked that the shop had the temerity to charge then for the spears when it was clearly to their advantage to have their customers help eradicate the aliens. Still, Richards went for it, and a local restaurant prepared the fillets for them, but the spear gun charge left him with a bad taste. Belize Underwater needs to get a clue about encouraging their tourists to lend a hand to keep these nasty predators off the reefs.

And, destinations change, not always for the better. Gary and Robin Schiendelman (Limerick, PA) booked a trip to Itza Lodge on Belize's Long Caye in February, based on good reports in Undercurrent from two years earlier. However, once there, they were disappointed to discover that the 'rustic' resort effectively had no manager. While many of the staff were clearly helpful and knew their jobs, the owner soon headed back to the mainland.

The lack of communication became evident when one day they couldn't dive because the dive boat had left to pick up incoming guests. They had a sometimes unreliable engine on a small unshaded vessel with a marine radio with a signal inadequate to reach the resort. They were not surprised to discover later that the resort was for sale. Itza Lodge was a great find when we discovered it. No more.

On the other hand, things can be just as good as ever. John Brodnax (The Hills, TX) enthused about the diving out of Turneffe Island Resort in Belize in February, making it sound just as it was when I dived it 20 years before. In fact, I can just about say that "The Elbow" is perhaps the single best dive in the Caribbean. Brodnax dubbed it the Land of the Giants. "A Goliath grouper turned curiously to watch as I approached. Groups of large boxfish, midnight parrotfish, and black grouper. At one safety stop, I found perhaps a hundred large permit swimming nearby." It's a fishy dive, always with something new.

The staff can make all the difference to the way you feel about your trip. Brent Woods (Deep River, ON) felt let down by Buddy Dive Resort in Bonaire during a trip in February. Serious divers don't like to be talked down to, and he found the attitude of the staff less than endearing:

"The negative experience started with the lecture by the dive shop manager. This long-winded orientation alternated between threatening us with confiscation of gear and other legal penalties if we touch the coral or other marine life and pushing diving courses. We were not asked to show our certification cards or logbooks . . . The weight room was poorly stocked in sizes, and the staff were far from helpful. I heard the dive manager insult a client over the amount of weight he requested . . . A checkout shore dive was mandatory before being allowed to do a boat dive. After the intimidating briefing, you would have expected that there would have been divemasters in the water with us for the checkout dive, but this was not the case."

Now, I've not seen that attitude often, but I have reported on it. Typically, it's newer staff thinking because they have just been trained they know it all, but whatever the case at Buddy Dive, it's not an acceptable state of affairs for their clients, who are most typically professional people who don't tolerate similar attitudes in their working life.

Maybe the staff is too accustomed to inexperienced cruise ship divers. After all, Bonaire is an extremely popular stop-off for cruise liners around Christmas, but Teresa McCanlies (Houston, TX) was shocked in February at the number of mega vessels that docked smack in the middle of Bonaire's marine park. "What a joke! Why bother telling divers "no gloves, no touching" when mega vessels are cruising destructively through the park? They could lay offshore and deliver cruise passengers by tender. But I suspect the dockage fee per passenger would be less. So yes, by all means, let's just destroy the environment for a bit more money." She stayed at the Divi Flamingo.

Moreover, the onslaught of tourists shows up in other ways, as noted by Theodore C. Recupero (Kantosh, UT), who was in Roatan, Honduras, in December. He raved about his hotel, the Mayan Princess/Las Sirenas Resort, and its beautiful grounds that would put an English gardener to shame. He thought the pool a work of art and his room like a slice of heaven! That said, "the one real issue is that there are oodles of resorts along this beach, maybe 50 dive boats, mostly diesel, or so I could think based on the taste and smell of the water. On one site, the wreck, there were four boats tied up, and I really think we jumped into a slick."

But one Caribbean destination I've always loved, with quite good diving, has managed to keep off the beaten track: the "Critter Capital of the Caribbean," St. Vincent, as it was billed by the venerable Bill Tewes. He may not be there anymore, but fine diving is, as Lisa Jabusch and Steve Nieters (Mount Juliet, TN) can confirm. They dived with Bill Tewes' Dive St. Vincent in January and stayed at the Paradise Beach Hotel, found the hotel service just so-so, and noted that the more comfortable lounge chairs on the verandah were sold to day-trippers. That said, it was their first exposure to critter diving -- it is not so much in the muck as it is in the Lembeh straits -- and they say it won't be their last visit. Take a magnifying glass.

Looking for something different in the way of diving? It may be a lot colder than the Caribbean, but volcanic Iceland is unique both above and below the surface. At Silfra, you can dive in the incredibly clear but cold fresh water in the rift between two continents (you'll need to hire a warm drysuit) or you can visit the Stryton vertical geothermal chimney in the Eyiafjordur Fjord. It is the one of the few known diveable ones in the world, most being beyond diving depth on the ocean floor. It was discovered in the 1980s and is now a declared protected zone. Warm up later in the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.

Andrew Falconer (Bunbury, WA) did just that last August, when he stayed at the Strytan Dive Centre and the Hotel Akureyri. Iceland makes a convenient stopover during a trip to Europe or the Middle East.

Not many Americans consider visiting the Egyptian Red Sea, but it's the primary diving destination for Europeans, not the least because it's incredibly inexpensive. Harvey S. Cohen (Middletown, NJ) took the plunge and booked a trip on the MV.Emperor Superior in February. He said that the food on board was outstanding and the itinerary was a "screaming deal." A seven-day all-found trip can be as little as a thousand bucks (based on two sharing an ensuite cabin) or even less.

He reported being jumped on by two pods of dolphin at Sha'ab El Erg, dives with morays rang-ing in size "from mouse to moose," and repeated dives on the famous loaded WWII wreck of the SS Thistlegorm, as good as anything found in Truk Lagoon

Further afield, the sister ship of the Superior, the MV Emperor Serenity was home to Ted Beamis (Gunnison, CO) when he visited the Maldives in January. It's a season when the weather is most stable, but the currents are at their strongest -- but that's what brings in the bigger marine life. Ted reported, "Diving was great overall, with plenty of whitetip and grey reef sharks, oceanic mantas, numerous types of rays, ghost pipefish, stonefish, humphead wrasse and a few whale sharks, just to name a few of the highlights. One evening dive [at Alimatha] had us surrounded by a dozen or more of the largest puppy-dog nurse sharks I think you can find anywhere; tons of fun! Our manta encounters varied from brief sightings to almost using a whole tank watching them watching us."

It's different strokes for different folks, and Jim Willoughby (Bend, OR) was disappointed with the diving in the Maldives in March. He shared his time between the liveaboard MV Carpe Diem and the island resort of Dhigali.

He wrote, "The vis was bad to poor on all but about four dives. Most of the reefs were dead or in very poor shape. There was a significant amount of small to medium reef fish, but not a lot of large stuff, although we did have two very nice manta dives. The second manta dive was like going to Disneyland. There were so many dive boats on the site that it was crowded and uncomfortable. My biggest complaint about the Maldives is that with all of the islands and atolls to dive on, it seems that every dive op uses the same few dive sites, so there were frequently many other boats on the same site. On the one day that we looked for whale sharks, there were 22 boats at the same site!"

The marine park at the southern tip of Ari Atoll can be very popular with snorkeling boats since that's where the whalesharks are reliably found in springtime. The astute liveaboard captain needs to pick his moment and avoid the middle of the day.

The Maldivian islands cover a huge area so can give very different experiences. Some atolls are more frequented than others. The ocean currents in the early part of the year bring high-voltage diving with bigger marine life but can be a daunting experience for those who simply want to meander about a coral reef and in places those Maldivian reefs have really suffered from climatic change.

We might differ about what we want from the diving, but we can all agree when the accommodations aren't up to much. Robert L. Short (Colorado Springs, CO) told the sorry tale of his stay at Badladz Divers in Puerto Galera (the Philippines) during January.

"I usually do a lot of research before booking a place to stay, but this was a last-minute trip, and my options were limited -- my bad! The first room was small, and the a/c struggled. The toilet didn't work -- the bowl float was broken -- and I reported it but it was never fixed. The next day the electric water heater plug for the shower burned out, so no more hot water. Moved us to a different room after second night with better a/c, but the shower heater wouldn't turn on, and the shower didn't work at all -- cold bucket showers! We woke up the third morning with no water in the room at all -- told the desk, and they turned it back on -- same thing the next few days -- no water in the morning -- hard to flush toilets without it." Of course, one should always ask for another room if the one you're given has problems, but it looks like Badladz had nothing but problem rooms.

At least Gregg Backmeyer (Atlantis, FL) had a great time aboard the MV Palau Aggressor last December. He liked the way the stable twin-hulled boat was functional with an interesting hydraulic lift arrangement at the stern for lifting the dive boat onto the deck while the divers stayed on board. He didn't care for the bunk beds, however, nor that it was impossible to charge his equipment in his cabin. Most liveaboards disallow this, however, because of the risk of fire.

"We did most of our Palau diving in the Philippine Sea. The reefs are in great shape -- probably how many in the world were 40-plus years ago. The amount and different types of coral is incredible. The fish were thick, with many varieties. We witnessed the red snapper spawn, which was unbelievable -- this only happens two or three days a month, based upon the lunar cycle, so we were blessed. I can't begin to describe this. They gave us three night dives and 25 dives in total. More than a few required the use of reef hooks due to the current. This diving is not for the beginner."

And that's it for this month. Please keep sending your trip reports. Your fellow divers rely on them. And, thanks for being a subscriber. We can't exist without you.

- Ben Davison

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