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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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November 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Fiji, Molokai, Little Corn Island, St. Eustatius

following the guide leads to skin bends

from the November, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When I read reports from our readers, I'm always interested in their dive trips to those operators that advertise little and remain undiscovered in the mainstream. So this month, I'll note a few, as well as a few problems you might like to avoid as you travel the world.

Fiji is one country with many lovely small dive resorts, and the beauty of the country and its people's charm make it a delightful diving destination. Oneta, on Fiji's remote Astrolabe Reef, is a new find for Dave White (Arcata CA), who has dived two other Fiji resorts. "The only resort on Ono Island, with a capacity around 25 or so. Single bedroom bures or villas (that get families). Their rental equipment is nearly new. Food was excellent: mostly Fijian with lots of mild curry dishes and fresh fish . . . Initially, I was disappointed with the soft corals, but at the Blue Wall, soft coral was everywhere. North end sites have the best hard corals and lots of macro critters. White tip or zebra sharks on most dives, occasionally turtles, dolphins on the surface, and a humpback whale breached next to the boat. Mantas, eagle rays, stingrays, and the usual tropical fish. They put beginner divers on a separate boat. Various 'Survivor' series are filmed in this area, and guys in boats sometimes kept us from certain dive sites. There is no town, no stores."

Off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, Little Corn Island attracts adventurous divers (see our review, January 2017). In July, Mark Ravitz (Brooklyn, NY), who's been diving for more than 40 years, stayed at the Yemaya Resort and went out with Dolphin Dive. "We wanted to visit Little Corn because it is off the beaten path. We saw spotless and healthy reefs with fish more abundant than in other parts of the Caribbean. No cars or motorcycles on the island, population 800 people. The divemaster carried a spear so he could kill lionfish; he has been efficient, as we only saw small lionfish. The lionfish were fed to nurse sharks, lobster, and moray eels. The topography underwater was varied, and the deepest we got was around 80 feet. Pictures of Little Corn underwater:

Cozumel Reef Shutown. Dave Dillehay, the owner of Aldora Divers, makes an important point about the value of divers to their reefs: "For several years the divemasters with Hawaiian slings have kept the lionfish under almost complete control in the National Park. When they reopen, there may be very few small fish to see... just a terrific lion fishery." Let us hope not, but the predator-free, human-introduced lionfish are prolific reproducers.

Over the years, we have warned our subscribers about joining the first few weeks of cruises on a new liveaboard, because invariably the boat has been rushed to completion and problems remain. Now comes a wise twist on our advice from Brian Morrow (Roswell, GA): don't take the last cruise of an itinerary, especially if it is the last cruise before dry-dock . . . Aboard the Seadoors liveaboard in the Phillippines, he learned that "The ship was in need of the drydock scheduled the week after our cruise. The ship was roach-infested, and guests had gnats in their rooms. The air-conditioning units dripped, requiring towels be laid on the floors. There was a leak above the camera table that soaked the table and dripped close to battery chargers. The marine toilets required three or four flushes to clear (no paper in them) . . . On one dive, my dive partner, a dive guide and I encountered heavy currents, and we aborted the dive and surfaced. Our signaling efforts did not get us noticed by the skiff or the mother ship. Fortunately, my wife saw us from the top deck of the ship and informed the captain, who then steered over to grab us. Why didn't the captain and first mate see us from the bridge? It may have been their propensity to play online basketball on their phones all the time."

"Why didn't the captain and first mate see us from the bridge? It may have been their propensity to play online basketball on their phones all the time."

Perhaps the best U.S. tropical diving for experienced divers is in the Gulf Stream, about a 15-minute boat ride from the venerable Scuba Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Gordon Hanebutt (Orlando, FL) dived it in August and said "a thrill-ride kind of dive, the current ripping at 3+ knots. We saw two wrecks, huge sections of bridge rubble, a huge loggerhead turtle, huge barracuda, Goliath Grouper, and reef sharks." There are more thrills a minute than in the tourist-packed Florida Keys.

One way to get off the beaten track in Hawaii is to visit Molokai, which hasn't got much of a tourist infrastructure, and dive with Molokai Fish and Dive, as did Mark Miller (San Antonio, TX) in September. "My choice of Molokai started with a review in Undercurrent that said that Molokai was "old" Hawaii and very laid back. The tallest structure is no taller than the palm trees, but there is a strong anti-tourist sentiment among some (most) of the locals. Those businesses that cater to the tourist trade are very friendly and do not have the 'tude. Molokai Fish and Dive operates out of the main town of Kaunakakai; it has two dive boats; a 31-foot power cat and a 38-foot delta, on which I dived with only four divers, so we had plenty of room. (But the boat sure needs to improve the boarding ladder. Even the young, very fit guys had a hard time getting up the ladder). Some dives had to be rescheduled or canceled because there were not any other divers. The boat leaves the dock at 6:45 A.M. to get two dives in before the wind/waves get up; the dive sites were similar, with lots of hard coral heads among white sand and a gradual slope to deeper water; our max depth was 78 feet. The coral appeared to be in good shape and home to a variety of eels. On one large area of coral we counted 8-10 of the 300+-pound turtles. The island is beautiful." . . . However, you don't have to stay on Molokai to dive it; Lahania Divers runs regular trips from Maui, and divers occasionally meet up with hammerheads.

The dive operators confided that there had been no sightings the entire season.

When I dived St. Eustatius years back, I thought the diving was Caribbean-great, for both experienced and beginning divers, and I loved the small island vibes. Golden Rock Dive Center is still going strong, under relatively new leadership, reports Douglas Peterson (Naperville, IL). "Golden Rock is very safety conscious, with careful briefings and attentive dive guides, something I take seriously after having been lost at sea (temporarily, thank goodness) off the coast of Costa Rica. The boats had plenty of shade and were super comfy. I logged 21 dives. Best Dives: Chien Tong wreck at night! Massive fields of open orange cup corals with a huge number of big-ass sleeping turtles! Double Wreck for its architectural features -- a colorful coral plateau, seagrass fields, sculpted sand features, and an ancient anchor; along with garden eels, arrow, anemone and decorator crabs, cleaner shrimp, leopard eels, black and yellow-lined angels, juvenile rock beauties, schools of tiny reef fish, a creamy pink and a lime green frogfish, big lobsters, reef crabs, squid, a lone remora, big sponges and healthy hard and soft corals, porcupine and pufferfish, and big sand rays

Another out-of-the-way place: Cabañas at Clark's Cay, just off the Honduran island of Guanaja, Rob Pittman (Highland Village, TX) -- he's made more than 1000 dives -- says "The resort is small but well-appointed. There are a pool and a lazy river near the bar. Rooms were air-conditioned, with a wrap-around deck with Adirondack chairs. Dining is outstanding. The chef has 15 years' experience with Four Seasons. Two dives in the morning and one in the afternoon. I was expecting conditions similar to Roatan or Utila, but I found Guanaja's coral to be pristine, dense, and extremely healthy; marine life was plentiful and larger than these other dive venues. At the bow of the Jadoe Trader at 110 feet, I could see nearly to the end of the 210-foot wreck. Boat rides varied from 10 to 30 minutes."

Long before divers realized whale sharks swarmed in the summer off Holbox on the Yucatan, many ventured to southern Belize. Al Underbrink (Huntsville, AL) went out with Seahorse Diving in Placencia in April, with whale sharks his goal. "They follow schools of snapper and feed off their spawn around the full moon cycle (2-4 days) from February to June. The goal is to locate a school of snapper and wait for the whale sharks to feed. Dive depths are typically 60 to 80 feet, and the schools of snapper below are massive. However, in four dives, we did not see any whale sharks. Perhaps warming oceans have changed the habits of the snapper and whale sharks. After two days of kicking around following the snapper, the dive operators confided that there had been no sightings the entire season. We went reef diving for the remainder of the week." . . . Keep that in mind, if you're thinking about whale shark season in Belize. Maybe wait a few months and head to Holbox -- or travel out of Cancun.

And, a cautionary tale: Subscriber Dyan Lee's (Canyon TX) experience sets out a warning for us: If you're an aging diver, you need to put some limits on yourself. While diving with Ocean Frontiers on Grand Cayman in September, she says, "The divemaster briefed the dive by saying 'max depth is 100 feet -- and you don't have to go that deep.' If you chose to follow the DM, they inevitably went to the 100-foot limit -- or farther. I shouldn't have followed that profile, but I didn't want to miss anything. First deep dive was 91 feet; second swim-thru brought me out at 128 feet, third 102 feet and fourth 97 feet. I am a senior citizen, and even though I followed my computer's profile and safety stops, I still got the skin bends. I recognized the symptoms -- itchy skin on my thighs and abdomen, tender abdominal muscles and slight dizziness the evening before -- and called DAN, confirmed the diagnosis, and went to the hospital in Georgetown. I was lucky to have had only a mild case. The doctor administered oxygen for about 60 minutes and sent me on my way with advice: do not dive so deep, use nitrox whenever possible, and don't do a week's worth of two-tank dives without taking a day off in between."

And with that, we wish you the best of dives. Next month we provide our Annual Travelin' Diver's Chapbook, with hundreds of entertaining and informative reader reports. Our issues begin again in January.

-- Ben Davison

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