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Dive Review of Coiba Dive Center/Lost Coast Explorer in
Panama/Coiba

Coiba Dive Center/Lost Coast Explorer, Mar, 2008,

by Dana Fisher, TX, USA ( 1 report). Report 4013.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience Over 1000 dives
Where else diving Galapagos, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Soccoro, Palau, Truk, Belize, etc.
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, windy Seas surge, currents
Water Temp 77 to 81 Fahrenheit Wetsuit Thickness 5
Water Visibility 15 to 30 Feet

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions Generally one (1) hour max dive time or 750 psi.
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

Sharks 1 or 2 Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles 1 or 2 Whales None
Corals 2 stars Tropical Fish 3 stars
Small Critters 3 stars Large Fish 1 stars
Large Pelagics 1 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 1 stars Boat Facilities 1 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 1 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments There were a few "still" cameras on board even though the Coiba National Park bans all types of photo equipment both above and below the surface. There were no fresh water rinse tanks or any type of photo table onboard. Rechargeable batteries were handled in living quarters. Very happy that I did not take my video equipment as viz was so bad, there was little to photograph.

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 2 stars Food 3 stars
Service and Attitude 1 stars Environmental Sensitivity N/A
Dive Operation 1 stars Shore Diving 1 stars
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ N/A
Beginners 2 stars
Advanced 2 stars
Comments To begin with, the Boat operation and the Dive operation were run by totally separate companies. Therefore, they will be discussed separately.

The Lost Coast Explorer is an old Alaskan King Crab boat that has been converted for use as a "Live Aboard" boat for various excursions. They take on SCUBA divers once every four (4) to six (6) weeks. The remainder of the time they cater to fishermen or surfers. From the way things were handled, they were much more comfortable with surfers than any other group. The rooms were small, but adequate. The biggest drawback was that two (2) rooms shared a bathroom, so you were often left "locked out" so you would have to chase down the other party to have them return to their room and unlock the door. Additionally, there were no "common area" heads on board for passenger use. During the week long excursion, there was no room service. The beds were never made (unless we made them) and there were no fresh linens or towels for the entire week. The food was adequate, however, the cook was also the server so often times it was lukewarm at best. There was no Air Conditioning in the dining area and windows could not be opened. Many meals were served on the severely sloping back deck with no lighting. With the salon/dining area without A/C most time was spent in individual rooms as there was not any covered space on board to "get out of the sun" between dives and meals. The two (2) tenders that were to be used by the dive operation were nice boats but offered no cover on transit to and from dive sites. Many of the dive sites visited were up to 40 minutes transit time one way.

This leads to the Dive Operation, Coiba Dive Center, which was run by a husband and wife team. Along with themselves, they provided drivers for the tenders and a deck hand to help with gear. A stainless tube tank rack had been built for eight (8) tanks(although we had 9 or 10 divers on a boat) and placed in the front of the boat. Unfortunately, they also welded "lifting eyes" onto the top of two (2) corners creating a hazardous condition. The husband and wife (Glenn and Julie) served as the dive masters for the two (2) boats. Neither appeared to have great knowledge of the dive sites, therefore we became explorers of sorts (this was actually some of the limited fun of the trip) as new potential dive sites were visited. The boat drivers did an admirable job of maneuvering the boats near the mother ship and at dive sites. They were generally close at the end of dives as the divers appeared on the surface. The deck hand, on the other hand did not have a clue as to what he was doing with handling dive gear. The trip leader and others began "helping divers" with their gear so that all could get in the water reasonably close together. At one point, he placed a tank on the side of the boat behind a diver then turned around to go to the other side of the boat allowing the tank and BC to fall back into the boat and landing on the lifting eye of the tank rack. This split the BC (causing irreparable damage) and putting a "gouge" into the new tank such that it had to be removed from service.

On several of the dives there was a very wicked surge that was difficult for even very well trained technical divers. These were often in the "unknown" dive sites to which we were taken. There were also some very strong surface currents that made entries a challenge. Tag lines or float lines were not put out, instead they had the diver hold on to a rope then get "dragged" to the anchor line at the front of the boat. Sometimes the current would dissipate during the descent and other times not. On one dive this current stirred up the "mucky" bottom so much that the dive was immediately aborted. In general, the overall visibility never exceeded 30 feet and most dive were in open ocean rather than near the coastline. Many were underwater outcroppings of rock that afforded some small fish life but nothing spectacular. The "big stuff" was probably close, but due to poor visibility none was seen. The best dive of the trip was a 90 minute dive to a maximum depth of 14 feet. During this dive while watching an octopus move rocks from a hole two (2) Harlequin Shrimp were spotted. We watched the shrimp playing and the octopus moving rocks for about 20 minutes. putting a hand down in front of the octopus and he eventually came out and touched it. As he finally swam off to a new area we moved on as well. This was undoubtedly the high point of the trip.

All in all, it was an experience that is not high on the repeat list. Given time and more exposure to divers rather than fishermen or surfers, this could be come a much better destination. The Dive Operation (Coiba Dive Center) needs to do more research on the area and have a better understanding of the skill levels of the divers on board. This could he;p them provide a much nicer experience than we had. The Lost Coast Explorer needs to understand that divers have "wet" items more so than the other groups they are catering to, therefore be more attentive to towels and linens and emptying trash from the rooms. The two operations also need to learn to work more closely together, assisting each other with daily duties.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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