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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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May 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Nicaragua, Lembeh, Thailand, Florida, Socorro

Unusual dives, cheap flights, a new resort

from the May, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As we frequently do, we turn to our reader reports and other sources to provide you with up-to-date information on new destinations and old friends, as well as pointing out hassles you might face and problems to avoid. Since we have no advertisers to please, we work only for you, our paid subscribers.

We often point out that it's unwise to join the first few trips of a new liveaboard since new boats inevitably have issues, not only regarding the craft, but also regarding the itinerary, the crew's knowledge of the diving, and so forth. Sometimes it's best not to be among the first at a new resort, but to let others sort out the teething troubles. However, it's always pleasant to receive a report of a new destination from readers who came home well-satisfied, as did Allan Jones of Anaheim, CA, who visited Indonesia's Dive into Lembeh.

The owners, Steve and Miranda Coverdale, recently worked in Indonesia's North Sulawesi at the Kungkungan Bay Resort. Before that, they worked as dive guides on liveaboards in Egypt and the Sudan and at a dive center in Port Sudan. He's British, and she's Dutch.

So Jones, with 2400 dives under his belt, and his wife came back in March with a glowing report after his eighth trip to Lembeh. We've written enough about the legendary diving, so let us convey his thoughts about the resort, which he calls the "best ever."

"Located in the northern area of the Straits on Kasawari Bay, all guest cabins have water views without the steep, challenging steps common to many resorts in the area. No plastic food containers or drinking glasses are used, and upon arrival, guests are given a biodegradable container for drinking water. There is a camera building, with 14 individual workstations, each having independent lighting and 220v power strips. The nine guests' bungalows have a refrigerator, flat screen TV with satellite feed, a water cooler/heater dispenser, a dresser/desk combo, a large closet, a bathroom and independent A/C. But the best is on the front porch. A Japanese hot water soaking tub! After a 3-4 dive day, you climb into the 104ºF (40°C) water with cold drink and gaze out over the Straits! The world is now at peace! Two of the boats are about 40ft (12m) and the third about 53ft (16m), the fastest boats in the Straits. Four guests are assigned a guide. Food exceptional: fresh fruit, home-baked bread, six entrees for lunch and dinner available. Deserts are fresh-baked pastries, fruit, ice cream desserts and a Pavlova once a week. A two-week rolling menu. And the price for eight nights, seven days, and 14 dives is only US$1,465!"

Back in the USA, Dorothy McDonald (Strongsville, OH), who went to Florida in April to dive beneath the Blue Heron Bridge -- a shallow dive that one must dive around slack high tide. Pura Vida Divers in Riviera Beach arranged "a great guide, Carol Woodward, for the two of us. We saw 5-foot-long (1.5m) barracuda, a spotted eagle ray, a school of 50 of Atlantic spadefish, juvenile high hats, a sharp tail eel -- we watched it hunt down several crabs -- batfish crawling along the bottom; a decorator crab that looked like seaweed floating across the sand; bumblebee shrimp hiding under a huge yellow starfish; colorful nudibranch; arrow crabs the size of dinner plates; a horse conch. Our dive lasted 94 minutes. A great experience, especially if you like seeing a variety of "critters." We wrote a full review of this diving in November 2012.

Caribbean Flight Bargains: While airfares have been on a rapid rise in the last few year, Jet Blue is entering the market and that competition can only drive prices down. It begins October 25, with daily flights between Fort Lauderdale and Grand Cayman, with initial deals as low as $59. Southwest already flies to Aruba, Belize, Cancun, Grand Cayman, Havana, Nassau, and the Turks and Caicos.

The twin hurricanes of 2017 did a lot of damage to the Caribbean's Leeward Islands, including the U.S. Virgin, and Jerome Hobart (Ransomville, NY) was concerned that they might have destroyed the good diving at St. Croix. He'd had fond memories from his previous visit a decade earlier and hoped to repeat that in March. Staying at the Arawak Bay: The Inn at Salt River, he dived with the Cane Bay Dive Shop, which keeps its boat nearby, and saw "reef and nurse sharks on multiple dives; along with turtles, southern stingrays, spotted and green moray eels, filefish, trunkfish, porcupine fish, cowfish, trumpetfish, spotted drumfish, and many others. The hurricane did not seem affect the quantity of fish, but there was obvious damage to the hard and soft coral. There still are plenty of fish under the Frederiksted pier, but the beautiful corals on the columns have been badly damaged. I am sure in the next couple of years they will come back. But, St. Croix is open for business. The diving is good." That said, it's the local people that help make trip successful, and he found plenty of friendly and helpful folks. and

Sometimes plans have to be changed at the last minute because of events beyond your control. Bali's volcano, Mount Agung, threatening to blow its top, was exactly that sort of incident, and last December, Hugh Aaron (Vero Beach, FL) had to abandon Bali dive plans when Denpasar Airport closed three days before his departure.

Searching for a last-minute alternative was tricky, but he decided to divert to Thailand and dive the Similan and Surin Islands with Wicked Diving's six day liveaboard, MV Mariner, out of Khao Lak, north of Phuket. Online, Wicked Diving said it accepted credit cards, but when he arrived, he learned they no longer did. Luckily, Hugh had several credit cards, so he was able to withdraw the required $2,000 (for two people) in local baht from a series of ATMs. How many of us could have done that trick?

The youthful dive crew, most of whom had come to Thailand to become instructors and then stuck around, were inexperienced and rigidly stuck to rules rather than being flexible. Typically, they misunderstood the relative experience of some divers - that's one of our pet peeves -- and resorted to giving unwanted diving lessons. Hugh preferred the attitude of an older dive guide, a 50-year-old ex-policeman from England, who was a lot more relaxed. Overall, he liked the diving and enjoyed the trip, saying it was incredibly good value, but he asserted it was very much like camping at sea.

Looking for an unusual Caribbean Dive? How about Blowing Rock, about nine miles off Nicaragua's little-explored Big Corn Island. Valerie Pinder (Stratford, ON) thought it worth braving rough seas to dive there in March (some dives were canceled because the Navy would not permit boats to leave the safety of the harbor). It's not for beginners and not being as young and agile as other accompanying divers, she was grateful for the help given by the friendly and enthusiastic crew in getting her back onto the panga. Blowing Rock is a volcanic rock, beautifully covered in healthy coral, rising above the whitewater surface from about 60 feet. The dive boat followed the divers around the site as the divemaster navigated through and around areas where surge might draw divers into the rocks. "We saw eagle rays, black-tipped sharks, fish that were twice the size of the same species in other parts of the Caribbean, and a couple of critters I had never seen before such as a mantis shrimp and African Pompano ( which I learned are not seen in Africa)."

We saw fish that were twice the size of the same species in other parts of the Caribbean.

Valerie dived with Dos Tiburones (Two Sharks) Dive Shop and stayed at the Paraiso Beach Resort, a pretty little oasis only a dollar taxi ride away. Although the island is generally impoverished, her rooms were neat and clean, the grounds well maintained and the food authentic. Undercurrent reviewed Little Corn in July 2006, and it doesn't sound like much has changed. and

Mexico's Socorro Island always delivers, which Nili Hudson (Los Angeles, CA) discovered on her second trip there this April. She found the crew and food aboard the MV Rocio del Mar. While she found the crew, the food and the diving wonderful, she had reservations about her cramped cabin, which you should keep in mind if you decided to book a trip. "The room, although tiny, was fine and the bed comfortable. Storage is a huge issue if you pack anything beyond two bathing suits, two pairs of shorts and two tops. There was ZERO storage (two small drawers and one is a step). I had the larger of the two single beds, so my suitcase sat on top of the bed, along with my carryon with toiletries, laptop, iPad, logbook, etc. I could not put the soft suitcase under the bed to use for storage because there wasn't enough height to accommodate the suitcase unless it was collapsed. There wasn't even a dry fixed cup in the bathroom to put a toothbrush and toothpaste, so it sat on the wet shelf!" She also noted that the camera table was overcrowded with photo equipment and too high for not-very-tall Nili, as was the battery-charging locker above it. She carried her camera and batteries and all up to the boat's saloon. And she made it work. "Overall, this was a great experience, great trip, and great boat."

Some underwater photographers like to get feedback from known professionals, and there is probably nobody better-known or for longer than Cathy Church, based at Sunset House Hotel on Grand Cayman. Patricia Sinclair (Metairie, LA) went last September during Cathy's annual Underwater Photofest.

Patricia wrote, "The photo pros would go down while you were gearing up and would tag things of interest to shoot. Lots of feedback on your images (in camera and underwater) were given, and the afternoon classes were excellent, with time for a photo pro to look at your images on a computer screen and go over what worked and what didn't."

While expensive, she thought the ability to make long dives at her own pace and shoot what she wanted without someone telling her she had to follow them was a great way to dive.

Sipadan: Divers almost loved this little island to death, until the Malaysian government said "enough is enough" and now it grants only 120 diving permits a day, with priority to divers who stay the longest at the diving resorts and who book the earliest. To cover the cost of protection, a permit will soon cost a diver $40 per day. But that's the cost of reef protection and a glimpse at what will someday happen the world over.

In our last issue, we reported on Gareth Richard's trip to Placencia, Belize, noting that because they charged him to use a spear gun to kill lionfish, we felt that the dive operator was being too greedy and should clearly assist diver who want to clean up the reefs for them. We thought they hand out guns for free. But we mischaracterized Richard's comments, and he properly called us to task: "I love Undercurrent for its neutral and objective reporting. Unfortunately, in the latest issue, you did not correctly represent my report about Belize Underwater. You characterize me as being 'shocked and disappointed' that they charged us for the use of a Hawaiian sling to kill lionfish. Not at all, and I made no such comment in my report. They were very accommodating of our request, and I did not complain about the fee, either in person or in the report. In fact, I rated their service and attitude a 5. I think they are owed an apology lest your readers think I came away with a poor impression, which I did not. I would recommend them to anyone."

And with that, I will scrub off the egg on my face.

Full reviews coming up in the next months: A Costa Rican liveaboard NOT going to Cocos Island, a new Bonaire resort, inexpensive resorts in the Philippines, a return to Grand Cayman, Indonesia by land and by sea, a great Red Sea Liveaboard, and much, much more.

- Ben Davison

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