With September the heart of hurricane season, one must exercise caution about heading into the Caribbean. One quirky thing about travel insurance is that just because a hurricane is approaching doesn't mean you can bail out of your trip and get an insurance reimbursement. If your plane flys and your hotel is open (even if it closes a day or two later), and you cancel based on what you "think" may happen, you're probably not covered. Travel insurance policies have significant restrictions. Your flights must be delayed significantly (usually a day or two), and your hotel must be closed for several days. Once a storm gets named, it's too late to buy coverage.
That said, there are plenty of good months to dive the Caribbean. Little Cayman Island has some of the best diving, and Little Cayman Beach Resort, a favorite of dive clubs and dive stores, is often packed, so to avoid the crowd and enjoy a higher-end hotel, consider the Southern Cross Club, where you dive the same sites. Kevin Darnell (Wichita Falls, TX) made his fifth trip there in July. "My favorite resort and diving out of everywhere we have been. Their motto, Barefoot Elegance, hits the nail on the head. Nice rooms, great food, and excellent diving." It's pricey, but it's worth it. A lovely location.
I often bicycled there for sundowners and snacks when I stayed at the now-defunct Pirate's Point. www.littlecayman.com
Most guests at small, comfortable Turneffe Flats, a 1.5-hour boat ride from Belize City, are there for the fishing, which means dive boats are often uncrowded. In early August, Rik Pavlescak (West Palm Beach, FL) made three dives a day and said they "pretty much let our group of experienced divers do their own thing. The dives were a mix of drift and anchored dives. We swam with nurse and reef sharks and grouper; they followed us throughout the dives, waiting for a lionfish, which were speared upon sight and quickly gobbled up. At the Elbow, schools of fish numbered in the hundreds, if not thousands. The reefs were in good condition, but there were signs of coral bleaching. The water was 86-88°F - even at depth. Perhaps the biggest drawback is mosquitos, horseflies, deer flies, and 'Doctor Flies' that draw blood when they bite and sting. They made it difficult to enjoy outdoor time." www.tflats.com
Mike Casey was hesitant to take his planned trip to Maui and Kihei, but when the government urged travelers to return to the island but stay away from Lahaina, he went the last week of August. "Only two brick-and-mortar dive shops remain active in the south due to a severe downturn in business. The government initially said, 'Stay away from Maui' and vacation later, and it backfired. Locals are losing their jobs at restaurants, dive shops, etc. South Maui was never really closed. Meanwhile, shore diving in the south is as usual, with tanks and gear rentable from Maui Dive or Maui Dreams. Island Style Diving is still going to Molokini Crater. It's nice pulling into the inner crater and diving with no other boats around. Lots of butterfly fish and baby sharks under ledges. Visibility is over 80 feet. Come whale season, the crowds will likely return slowly."
Not everyone dives Indonesia's Raja Ampat by liveaboard. Hugh E. Aaron (Tallahassee, FL), who has logged more than 1000 dives, took an extended trip, and while he dived Sorido Bay, Cove Eco Resort, more remote and less polished, proved better. "It is on Yeben Island, close to the Fam Islands, one of our favorite places to dive in Raja Ampat. The staff was delightful. Morning was a two-tank dive, typically a 30- to 45-minute fast boat ride in both directions. Most mornings, we went to the Fam Islands or the remote and pristine western part of Gam Island. Yeben is more deserted than the Sorido Bay area, with fewer liveaboards. The dives from Cove Eco had better visibility and less current than Kri, but diving from both resorts was world-class. Mid-March water ranged about 84°F. The house reef is quite good, especially for night dives or snorkeling. By most standards, Cove Eco is high-end, a notch below Sorido. The open-air, covered outdoor lounge and dining areas had white sand floors. The food and service were outstanding. We had a Superior cottage with an enclosed open-air shower. All cottages are on the water with ocean views, a spectacular setting. Unfortunately, a lot of plastic and trash washed up on the beach at high tide. However, the staff picked up as much trash as possible." www.coveecoresort.com
If you're trying to add to your list of rare animals spotted, the place for thresher sharks is the Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua, Philippines. In June, John Crossley (Panama City Beach, FL.) took his fourth trip there in 25 years and says, "I think it's better than ever. The threshers moved to Kemod Shoal and there were triple the number on the two days I went compared to previous trips when the sharks went to Monad Shoal. The downside was the behavior of divers from other boats; often, an idiot diver swam right at the sharks to get photos. Of course, the threshers took off, but they usually returned within five minutes. The soft corals and macro critters are well worth many dives. There were beautiful soft corals at Gato Island. Other sites had turtles, cuttlefish, octopus, sea snakes, seahorses (including pygmies), mantis shrimp, frogfish, porcelain crabs, red-tail banded pipe fish, coral crabs, scorpionfish, sea robins, nudibranchs, and several types of sharks including a rare bamboo shark. After 30 years of carrying BC and regulator around the world, I've switched to renting those. Rooms at the resort are clean and comfortable, with A/C. I walked to the center of the island several nights for dinner at small open-air restaurants. To fly there from the east coast, one may fly to Cebu on Qatar Airlines with a stop at Doha. Then, it's a several-hour ride to the tip of Cebu and a half-hour boat ride to Malapascua. www.malapascua.net
We recently reported on dangerous Philippines liveaboards that dive Tubbataha Reef (one capsized in June, taking four people to a watery grave). You don't have to worry if you select the sea-worthy Philippines Aggressor for your trip, as did Terry Anderson (Bryan, TX) in June. "We have been on a dozen liveaboards, and the Philippines Aggressor was one of the best. Tubbataha is a World Heritage site: no fishing, and the sea life has expanded greatly. We saw many gray and whitetip sharks, lots of green and hawkbill turtles, many eels, eagle rays, even a whale shark, and schools of fusiliers, and snappers, triggerfish, grouper, all the little stuff - seahorses, nudis, pipefish, frogfish: beautiful sea fans, and little coral bleaching. We eventually made the transit to Visayas, Apo Island, and then Kimud Shoal, home of the thresher sharks - in two dives, we saw a dozen! Food was good and plentiful. The cabins were nice and comfortable." www.aggressor.com/destination/Philippines
Caverns and Oil Rigs
I don't recall ever getting a reader report about Sardinia, which is 115 miles off the coast of mainland Italy, so I was pleased when Shara Neidell (Philadelphia, PA) reported on cavern diving there in July. "I did two incredible dives. Utopia - deep dive (104 feet); you do three bumps to get down and head right into the cavern. Follow the line, and you're in an incredibly large opening. At the end of the line, head back out. It is amazing to descend to this depth and travel through such a large opening. Bel Torrente - a shallower dive (19 feet) into the cavern, a huge space; the vast number, size, and shape of the stalactites and stalagmites are breathtaking! Argonauta dive shop had rental gear - they dive 5-mil suits with hoods. Lorenzo spent a good portion of the ride out going over logistics - including that anyone can call the dive at any moment. I'm not cavern certified but have been diving the caverns in Mexico before - and Lorenzo ensured that I was comfortable and understood everything. www.argonauta.it/en
Divers from 49 states don't often think about Texas diving, but a three-day fling on the Fling out of Freeport, 60 miles south of Houston, always gets good reviews. But it's not easy to ensure your departure, says Mary Wicksten (Bryan, TX). At the Flower Banks in the northern Gulf of Mexico, there's no shelter from winds or storms, so the company waits to confirm the trip by noon on the day of departure and may return if it gets rough. "The reef top is about 62 feet. We saw some coral spawning, but not a major event. There were huge, healthy brain and star corals and lots of reef fish: jawfish, whopping big loggerhead turtles, and distant sharks. We dived an oil platform twice with marvelous visibility. The beams were coated with corals and oysters, a home to feisty damselfish, hawkfish, and other reef fishes. Big schools of jacks and chubs swirled nearby. The Fling is not a luxury vessel. Bunk spaces are small." www.texascaribbean.com
And a Few Tears ...
I'm sorry to end on a sad note but reports about many of The Bahamas' reefs keep getting grimmer. The July Aqua Cat trip from Nassau to Little San Salvador) had Ronald Johnson (Katy, TX) aboard the Aqua Cat with 20 others. Readers have always liked the Aqua Cat, which runs several itineraries from Nassau. Ron says the 22-year-old Aqua Cat is a fine liveaboard diving platform. "It had a crew of 11 professional, eager-to-please staff, and 4-star meals." But, having dived the Bahamas since 1988, he has grave concerns: "The reefs are in some of the poorest shape of any reefs I have seen. Many are nearly devoid of fish with a mere 40- to 50-foot visibility. As we approached Little San Salvador, the quality and condition of the reefs/visibility significantly improved, but it took seven hours to get there. Hey, at least the Aqua Cat is still sparkling after all these years at sea, and the 21 dives offered were more than welcomed!" Have a great day, Ron. https://tinyurl.com/59fb3hdm
Jeffrey Marselis ( Myrtle Beach, SC) went out with Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in July and said: The water temperature at a depth of 50 feet was 85-86°F. That's coral-killing water, and the evidence of coral death was everywhere on all the dives in New Providence." www.stuartcove.com
And how we divers will miss Jimmy Buffett. Nothing is more invigorating than speeding across a calm sea in a dive boat with the speakers belting out Son of a Son of a Sailor, or Changes in Latitude, or, of course, Margaritaville. What a high. Diving won't be the same knowing Jimmy won't have a new song for us. But he left a great songbook I'll play forever.