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

Expedition Fleet/Stella Maris Explorer & Oceanic Exp, Mar, 2010,

by Robert Flatt, HI, US ( 1 report). Report 5410.

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

Weather sunny, windy, dry Seas calm, choppy, currents
Water Temp 77 to 79 Fahrenheit Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 50 to 150 Feet

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions 45 minute dives, every body in group comes up together.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas 1 or 2
Dolphins Schools Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 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 N/A Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments [None]

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

Accommodations 3 stars Food 3 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 4 stars
Dive Operation 3 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 4 stars
Beginners 1 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments 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 ordinary.

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 times.

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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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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