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Dive Review of Expedition Fleet/Stella Maris Explorer & Oceanic Exp in

March, 2010, an Instant Reader Report by Robert Flatt, HI, US (1 report)
Report Number 5410
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Reporter and Travel
Dive Experience
501-1000 dives
Where else diving
Scotland, Caribbean, California, Socorro, Galapagos, Hawaii, Solomon
Islands, PNG, Australia, Indonesia.
Closest Airport
Getting There


Dive Conditions

sunny, windy, dry  
calm, choppy, currents  
Water Temp
77   to 79    Fahrenheit  
Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility
50   to 150    Feet  
Dive Policy
Dive own profile
Enforced diving restrictions  
45 minute dives, every body in group comes up together.  
Nitrox Available?
What I saw
1 or 2 
Whale Sharks
> 2 
Ratings 1 (worst)- 5 (best):
  4 stars
Tropical Fish
4 stars  
Small Critters
  2 stars
Large Fish
5 stars  
Large Pelagics
  3 stars
Underwater Photography  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
Subject Matter
Boat Facilities
Overall rating for UWP's  
Shore Facilities  
Ratings and Overall Comments  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
3 stars
3 stars
Service and Attitude
5 stars
Environmental Sensitivity  
4 stars
Dive Operation
3 stars  
Shore Diving  

Overall Rating

Value for $$
4 stars    
1 stars   
4 stars    
1) Stella Maris Explorer  Transition trip, Batangas to Puerto Princesa.

	The transition trip offers dives at Apo Reef, Cuyo Island, and four days
at Tubbataha Reef; however the Stella Maris was too slow to make the trip
to Tubbataha as well as stop for two days diving along the way  so we
missed Cuyo and I felt we had been misled. It could have been worse; the
Pacific Explorer had engine trouble and didn't leave port at all. The
Oceanic Explorer made the same trip and we saw her every day.

	Apo Reef is an atoll with healthy colorful coral, and nice diving; five
kinds of anemone fish, anthias, snappers, sweetlips, and the like.
Tubbataha in the middle of the Sulu Sea and consists of two atolls with
steep walls, it is a 'Nature Park' and open about 3 months of the year in
the spring. 

	When the current was running, about 1/3 of the dives on this trip, it was
a blast. Grey reef sharks, whitetips, big dogtooth tuna, great barracuda,
schools of yellowtail barracuda, schools of chevron barracuda, and schools
of bigeye jacks. On the east side of the atolls the face of the wall is
sometimes broken by slopes which disrupt the current flowing along the wall
and here is where the bigger fish gather for what can be electric action. I
really enjoyed the diving on this trip because of these drift dives.

	When the current is not running the diving is less interesting. Still we
saw skittish eagle rays, a couple of mantas (one wrapped in line and
dying), a nurse shark, sleeping whitetips, blue spotted rays, and marbled
rays. Plus the usual array of little guys, though nothing out of the

	Diving was from two tenders each with about ten divers and two dive
masters; too many divers on each really. The best I can say is it worked OK
but with so large a group there was not much opportunity to stop and look
at something for a while, and everybody came up together. The boat offers
45 minute dives usually 5 times a day, except on the last day when there is
no night dive and the two afternoon dives may be unavailable due to flight

Divers typically wore 3mm full suits; I was fine in my worn 2mm shorty
though the thermoclines were obvious. The Stella Maris was reasonably
spacious with 21 passengers but the dive deck is small, after a day we got
the rhythm and it was comfortable. Food was cafeteria style and people were
happy; as a vegetarian I had to pick what I could and did OK  I had
requested veggie meals when booking and also on arrival on the boat but
nothing special was provided.

	One accident occurred because an electric rotary fan was jury rigged in
the kitchen porthole; a passenger walking on the gangway outside the
kitchen had her hair caught and wrapped in the fan. A passenger on the
Oceanic Explorer during the same week had part of a finger crushed between
the boat and a tender. These were two reminders that boats on the open
ocean can be dangerous places. 
2) Hotel Moana, Puerto Princesa.

	I spent two days and one night in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. The hotel was
basic and clean, a 20 peso (about 50 cents) ride on motorbike/trishaw taxi
into town. The hotel has a small dive shop with rental gear; some of this
gear required adjustment when used by two divers on my next boat. Not
really a tourist town Puerto Princesa is clean and has a few restaurants,
banks, a café, and stores; half of the vehicles are
motorbike/trishaw combinations and crossing the road takes courage at
first. My debit card worked in one of the ATMs and dinner in a restaurant
named Kalui was excellent for both vegetarians and fish eaters.

3) Oceanic Explorer  Tubbataha Reef from Puerto Princesa.

	This trip is the same as the as the last part of the trip on the Stella
Maris  four days at Tubbataha Reef. The management of the boats is
essentially the same, the crew are always helpful and the dive masters very
competent. However the weather was different this week.

	A perhaps 15 to 20 knot north-east wind blew up creating two to four foot
swells that were too much for the fully loaded tenders. We were shut out of
the best sites where the current is found. During the one opportunity we
did have the two liveaboards dumped five tender loads of divers (about 50)
on the same site at the same time in a perhaps 2 knot current; a scheduling
and dive group management disaster. So the lee side of the atolls provided
the diving, but for me the walls sometimes going from 10 ft to blackness
got old after a while, I skipped some dives. Still it was all worth it for
the sighting of a Zebra Shark. 

	The Oceanic Explorer is smaller than the Stella Maris but carries more
passengers, on this trip twenty nine  several of which had transferred
from the still absent Pacific Explorer. The only chairs were on the dinning
deck area, between dives you end up sitting at the dinner tables. Dive
sites are the same as those visited by the Stella Maris Explorer, but from
three tenders all usually visiting the same dive site at the same time
(perhaps on this trip because of the weather). The Borneo Explorer and the
Atlantis Azores were also seen during this trip. Between the wind and the
number of divers this liveaboard carries I did not enjoy this week as much
as the previous one.
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