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Dive Review of Peter Hughes Diving/Star Dancer in
Papua New Guinea/Kimbe, New Britain

Peter Hughes Diving/Star Dancer, Jun, 2008,

by Sherwood & Judith Smith, WA, USA (Sr. Reviewer Sr. Reviewer 7 reports). Report 4374.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience Over 1000 dives
Where else diving Much of the Indo-Pacific, a lot of the Caribbean, Mozambique, Alaska, British Columbia, Puget Sound
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, windy, rainy, dry Seas calm, choppy
Water Temp 82 to 86 Fahrenheit Wetsuit Thickness 1
Water Visibility 30 to 80 Feet

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions controlled only by our computers
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas None
Dolphins Schools Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 4 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters 5 stars Large Fish 2 stars
Large Pelagics 2 stars

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

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities 5 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 5 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments Large camera table on the dive deck. Good facilities for recharging both in cabins, salon, and on dive deck. Dive guides well aware of what photographers want to see, and showed us many "special" things, mostly macro critters, that we would otherwise have missed.

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

Accommodations 5 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 4 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 4 stars
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments After the 2008 SPUMS meeting, we were among a group of 9 passengers who embarked on a 9-day cruise on the Star Dancer, on which we had spent several days day tripping during the meeting. The boat has a capacity of 16 divers, and had a crew of approx. 10.

We had booked this boat, in preference to another, based on our previous experience with, and the reputation of, Peter Hughes Diving. What we found was a tired, aging boat, sincerely in need of a refit, both mechanical and decorative. As experienced sailors, and having enjoyed numerous liveaboard experiences, we were extremely concerned with the alarming condition of the boat, and the problems which were encountered over the week. Although the following is an incomplete list of problems, the major health and safety issues included:

· Lack of a functioning depth sounder on the ship, in this reef-strewn environment.
· Malfunctioning of the ships radar.
· One of two generator sets out of service.
· One of two water-makers out of service.
· Malfunctioning of the Nitrox membrane such that the pO2 of the Nitrox varied from 25 33 over the trip, and the O2 analyzer itself was intermittent.
· Explosion of a high pressure air line near the deck manifold, with several people on deck nearby.
· Failure of the wire rope which elevated the dive stairs, narrowly avoiding injury to two crew members
· A leak/blockage in the sewage system producing unpleasant aromas on the passenger cabin level, until finally managed by the crew over a two-day period.
· Pump failures, and a broken pipe in the water supply which caused failure of the toilets to function, and ultimately loss of the ships entire water supply, necessitating our return to Walindi for repairs, water, spare parts, and an engineer, in order to complete the voyage.

Fortunately, the captain and crew proved resourceful in dealing with these issues, so that we missed a three or four dives only, over the course of the trip.

Food was quite good, and varied, including light breakfast before the first dive, then a full cooked breakfast of your choice, a mid-morning dive, a full cooked lunch, an afternoon dive, and then a late afternoon, or dusk/night dive, followed by dinner. Soft drinks, beer, and wine were all included for the price of the cruise. Snacks, and freshly baked goods were readily available. Dining service, and cabin service was beyond reproach, as was whatever assistance was required on the dive deck, by crew who were enthusiastic, capable, friendly, and eager to accommodate the preferences of each diver. This was a crew equal to any we have experienced.

Diving began on the outer reaches of Kimbe Bay, with a shark dive at Inglis Shoal (see my report of our land-based week). After several dives in this region, we sailed for the Witu Islands, and ultimately to the reefs in the Fathers group, off the west coast of New Britain, about half way between Hoskins and Rabaul.

Most dives were on seamounts, though in the Witus, we did several drift dives along the coral-encrusted rock walls of islands. We had the opportunity to visit two villages, always a rewarding experience. Quite a number of the seamounts were covered with venomous corallimorphs, which encouraged us to be meticulous with our no-touch diving technique.

The dive sites in the Witu group were quite lush with soft corals, fans, and attendant macro critters including, ghostfish, hawkfish, pipefish, pygmy seahorses, and dozens of species of shrimp and nudibranchs. At Crater we anchored in an old caldera, and did a muck dive to rival the best of Mabul, with crab eye gobies, jawfish, octopus, and several types of mantis shrimp.

The Fathers group was disappointing, in that the lushness seen in Kimbe Bay was absent. The seamounts are more isolated, with bare, current-swept tops, save for the ubiquitous corallimorphs. We did, however, see bigger schools of jacks and barracuda in this area, and one morning, three of us tore across the bay in the dinghy, toward a collection of fins, and were rewarded with the opportunity of snorkeling with a pod of dolphins. My personal highlight was the chance of swimming with three silvertip sharks on a night dive, and to pass some time sitting on the hang tank while being buzzed by these giants, who passed close enough to touch!

Overall, my suggestion to prospective divers would be to do Kimbe Bay as a land-based trip via Dive Walindi, as the overall richness of the dive sites is just as rewarding, at a significant cost saving.

As an aside, on our return we reported our boat experience in detail to Peter Hughes Diving. Peter and his staff initially responded with skepticism, telling us that Howard Hall had been on the boat just a few weeks before, and that everything had been perfect. One of his staff members followed with an email strongly implying that we were making this all up, and containing not-so-veiled threats, were we to publicize our findings. All we can do is to report our experiences.

However, Peter Hughes himself subsequently visited the boat in August 2008, and has recently emailed back to us, as he had promised to do, assuring us that almost all repairs have been completed, and that the boat will be in dry-dock for a further refit in the near future. It would appear, then, that our observations and criticisms have been validated.

Nonetheless, I would recommend that inquiries be made directly to Peter Hughes, as to the state of repair of the boat, before booking this charter.
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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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