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January 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Random Thoughts on Dive Travel Glitches

avoiding cramped cabins, airport issues and nighttime noises

from the January, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Married Divers Matter, Too. "We had a divemaster who totally ignored the two of us and just focused on the female diver, who was the only other diver on both dives."

There was a day when this complaint was common, but not so much anymore at most popular dive centers and liveaboards. Still, there are testosterone- fueled divemasters out there, particularly in the Third World. Gail Morris (Piedmont, CA), whom we quoted above, was assigned that kind of guy at the Atmosphere Resort and Spa in the Philippines. "Since the visibility was about 10 feet, it was annoying and then dangerous when my husband was low on air. I wasn't low, but I had to keep swimming to the divemaster, who ignored my signals for 700 PSI, then 400 PSI, and then 200 PSI, when I finally had to grab his arm and make him take us up to the boat. There was boat traffic, so we were afraid to ascend without him." Thankfully these days, responsible dive operators don't tolerate dive guides who covet single women underwater.

A Divemaster You Don't Want to Stay Together With. If you're off the beaten path, it may be at a place where the divemasters play by rules you don't cotton to. C. Leroy Anderson (Salt Lake City), who has more than 1000 dives in his log book, traveled to the Indian Ocean in October to dive at Fifth Element Resort on the French island of Reunion, east of Madagascar. He says, "I was almost out of air at 60 feet, so I informed the guide, who said this was 'OK' and not to ascend. When I was down to 250 psi, he still wanted me to remain with him at 60 feet. I did not want to drown, so I initiated an ascent. When I got to 30 feet, I had 150 psi in my tank and was continuing a slow safe ascent when the guide suddenly and aggressively grabbed my jacket and pulled me back down to 60 feet with him. He signaled me to follow him. I could tell I only had a few breaths left in my tank. We arrived at the boat anchor, then did a very rapid ascent to the surface, where I arrive totally out of air. I asked him why on earth he behaved this way on the dive and he said, 'In France, divers must stay together.' Even if one has no air left."

Cramped Cabins. If you haven't been on a liveaboard before, be aware that cabins are not hotel rooms. If you have not carefully researched your cabin configuration before you paid up, especially if you're short, tall or wide, you might be disappointed. On older boats, particularly, you might find that two people can't be standing up at the same time. The beds might be short and narrow, so there is barely room to get into yours, or if you're on a top bunk, the ceiling may be so low you can't sit up.

A good example of a bad cabin configuration comes from Richard McGowan (Fairfield, CT), who was on the Roatan Aggressor in October and said, "We had the bow cabin #1, which is the only dedicated full-sized bed; others have a twin on top. The bathroom is against the hull, which curves inward, so when I sat (I'm six foot), I had to lift my right leg a few inches up the hull side wall; otherwise, it would have pushed my legs together. Not a big deal. Another couple thought they had booked cabin #1, but they had booked through and paid the extra money for the room, while we booked directly through Aggressor. Their reservation came through for another cabin, and they were not happy, but it was not Aggressor's fault. They will be booking directly from now on."

Gail King (Port Orange, FL) also noted how Roatan Aggressor's cabins were small. "Two of us shared one drawer and small cabinet. The top bunk was a small single and too close to the ceiling, just really uncomfortable, even for a small person. The cabin is really suited to one person only."

Ruth Lindner (New York, NY), aboard the Indo Aggressor in October, says, "The boat itself was not at all what I expect from a modern luxury dive boat. The rooms were tiny with bunk beds . . . We paid a lot for this trip, and the boat did not measure up to any of the modern ones I have been on. More like those from the 1980s."

Kelley Price (Kirkland, WA), aboard the Spirit of Freedom in the Coral Sea in August, says, "I wish the website would do a better job of explaining bed size. We're used to a king-sized bed at home, so when you put us in a double bed, we're not very comfortable."

And there can be other cabin issues, as Donald Frazier (San Mateo, CA) reported about this same craft three months later. "My trip in November was sickening, literally. The cabin I was assigned to was not the one they had agreed to provide. It smelled like an outhouse -- the stench was so pervasive, sleep was near impossible. My sinuses were burning. Three god-awful days and nights later, they moved me into a cabin located next to a seawater pump that alternated on and off all day and night anytime someone flushed a toilet. Once again, sleep was near impossible, as the pump motor was so loud."

You can't do much when you don't get the cabin you signed up for, but you still must do your homework ahead of time. Read Undercurrent reports on the boat you select. Review the boat's website for cabin configuration. If you use a travel agent, work with a specialist like Reef and Rainforest, Island Dreams or Discover Diving, who knows the boat. (Online agencies do not.) Discuss the cabins with a staff person or contact the boat directly for information. Do your homework so you can be assigned to a cabin with some wiggle room. And if you're traveling on an Aggressor boat, look up the boat specs online -- their website offers good information on cabins and bunk size.

The Annoyances of Small Airports. If you're a seasoned traveler, you know to get to the airport a couple hours ahead of time, but some folks think that small airports in other countries might be quicker and painless. Au contraire. For example, several flights from the U.S. arrive and depart every Saturday at the little airport on Roatan Island, all within a window of a couple of hours, meaning great lines both ways and often utter confusion. Michael Patrick Guerin (Beaufort, NC) calls it "the perfect storm." It also might take you a couple hours to get through customs at many small airports, so don't be so certain you can make that same-day dive boat or hook up with an old friend an hour after your plane lands.

Timothy Barden (Waltham, MA) notes that the Grand Cayman airport is undergoing renovations and expansion, a potential problem if you're connecting to Little Cayman or Cayman Brac. "It's wallto- wall people, with many confusing signs directing you where to go. The signage isn't always right, and the employees aren't either. Build a considerable buffer into your travel itinerary. Two to three hours is a pain, but will be worth it if you get stuck in one of the endless lines at immigration or check-in."

A common practice when departing Little Cayman is sending your baggage off a day ahead of you. As S. Smith (Everett, WA) notes, "It was disconcerting having no idea of the security at Grand Cayman airport," but it's a decades-old practice, and if you want your luggage to get home when you do, better abide.

But we have good news on St. Vincent, which at last receives nonstop flights from the U.S., making it a much easier destination to visit and more likely that your diving gear will arrive with you. David J. Inman (Devon, PA) says Air Canada was the first major airline to fly direct to the new Argyle Airport, and American will soon offer flights through Miami. "Travel to the island is now much less stressful, and I had substantial confidence that my dive gear would arrive with me (which it did)."

The Beat Goes On. Many years ago, I stayed at the high-end Young Island Resort in St. Vincent, but I was kept awake until the wee hours by the music and drum notes pulsing across the water from a bar on the mainland. I vowed never again to travel without earplugs, and they should be part of every diver's kit. Rik Pavlescak (West Palm Beach, FL) is one guy who carries them. During his October stay at Dive into Lembeh, when music blared long and loud from a nearby house, he says, "I was told the house is usually vacant but was being rented for a party that night. The noise (essentially karaoke music) continued throughout the stay, and the story evolved into the house being rented out by an ex-military general with political connections. I had brought earplugs, so it did not bother me, and I gave some to other guests."

Dorothy McDonald (Strongsville, OH) dodged the noise at the Old Gin House in St. Eustatius, but others didn't. "We enjoyed the historic and cozy feel of [the place], but we are so glad that we upgraded to the ocean-view suite. Waves were the only thing we ever heard at night. In the main hotel, our fellow travelers complained of being woken up throughout the night every night because of roosters crowing and lots of street noise."

One solution, says Susan Bartley of Ripley, Ontario, is to bring a noise therapy machine. On her trip to Roatan's Media Luna Resort and Spa in December, she reports that the thumping of resort music in her cabana was "waaay too loud for those who want to go to sleep earlier. I brought a noise therapy machine and that helped quite a bit."

Me? I carry Bose noise-canceling headphones on all my flights, and many times I've donned them at night, in bed, to knock out noise. They're a little tough to sleep with, but they sure deaden the sound.

-- Ben Davison

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