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Dive Review of Nautilus Explorer in
The Continental USA/California Channel Islands

Nautilus Explorer, Jul, 2010,

by Mark Kimmey, NY, US (Sr. Reviewer Sr. Reviewer 10 reports with 2 Helpful votes). Report 6029.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 251-500 dives
Where else diving New York, Hawaii, Kwajalein, California, Florida Keys, Grenada, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Belize.
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather cloudy Seas surge
Water Temp 53 to 63 Fahrenheit Wetsuit Thickness 7
Water Visibility 2 to 50 Feet

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks 1 or 2 Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles None Whales None
Corals N/A Tropical Fish N/A
Small Critters 5 stars Large Fish N/A
Large Pelagics N/A

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 4 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 4 stars
Dive Operation 4 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 4 stars
Beginners 2 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments There's a lot to like about the Nautilus Explorer, but the hassles of diving in US waters may be too great a reason to avoid her.

Scheduling this trip to dive California's Channel Islands in July was remarkable for its difficulties, though I don't think the blame was the boat's. This is a Canadian-flagged vessel, and as such is restricted by the American "Jones Act" from picking up and discharging passengers at subsequent US ports. We signed up with our local dive shop - Pan Aqua in Manhattan - for a trip that was originally advertised as boarding in Santa Barbara. Sometime after making our deposit, we read on the Nautilus Explorer website that we would board in San Diego, being picked up at the airport at 2:00 PM on the day of departure. Sometime after that, we were reminded to bring our passports: when someone asked "Why?" we learned that we would now board in Ensenada, Mexico, and that pickup time was now 7:30 PM at a hotel near San Diego airport. That involved processing through immigration and customs at the Tijuana border crossing, which required everyone to leave the bus with all their luggage, and every bag was opened for a Mexican customs agent to run her gloved hands over the contents, not really looking for anything, just going through the motions. This can take a long time, after which we had to drag our gear back to the bus and restow it. We did not reach the Nautilus Explorer at her berth until 11:30 PM, at which time Mexican harbor authorities outprocessed us since we would be leaving their waters the next day. Coming from the east coast, it was a long, long day.

At the end of the week we disembarked in Ensenada again, cleared (Mexican) immigration and bused back to San Diego at noon. A traffic jam in Tijuana delayed us nearly three hours and had more than a few people nervously looking at their watches, worried that they would miss their flights home. At the border, we had to offload all our luggage again, this time to drag it nearly a block to the barrier and inspection by US immigration and customs agents. Once clear, another block was between us and where the (empty) bus had moved to pick us up: nothing like dragging lots of scuba gear two blocks on a sunny California day in July, and it was now rush hour in San Diego. It would have been nice to have avoided this type of jerk-around, but as far as I know, there are no US-flagged dive boats of the Nautilus Explorer's scale working the California coast.

The boat itself is nice, though with a few quirks. The first thing I noticed when boarding was that she lists a bit to starboard, but nobody seems to know why. She also normally works with a small boat (absent this trip) that is pulled up onto the ramp in the stern. This same ramp is used for diver stations. Unfortunately, the shelves for tanks and BCs are also on the ramp and slope accordingly: once bungee cords are released it is not unusual for a diver's rig to slide or fall over. A metal bin below the tank racks holds personal gear, but there are no plastic bins for small stuff: anything small can slide under the panels and be gone. One advantage, however, is that divers suit up standing: there are no benches for sitting so you don't have to stand up again once you are ready to go and collisions are surprisingly few. A full-size dryer is mounted on the dive deck and keeps divers well-supplied with warm towels between dives, which is especially nice. A hot water shower is available at the top of the rack, too. On the other hand, the camera table does not have an air gun, which seems an odd oversight. Drying space is awkward: one short rack on the dive deck and a long bar at the top of the ladder to the second deck, which means you are constantly ducking wet stuff. Even more problematic is that there is no head on the dive deck, which means you have to strip down and use your own between dives, which seems contrary to keeping wet gear out of the cabins. One of the divemasters claimed that the crew hosed down dive rigs with a freshwater hose every other night, but I wasn't convinced they did it more than once (this doesn't mean they didn't).

We started off the first dive day at the (Mexican) Coronado Islands at a couple of no-name dive sites. For July, the water was cold and motivated me to grab hood and gloves for the rest of the week. The crew told me that "La Nina" was pushing colder water north. Between dives a Federale boat approached and queried us, which made for an interesting moment. After three dives we motored north to San Diego to clear US immigration and then proceed to Catalina. On the second day we dove various sites there amid the kelp and giant black sea bass, and then moved overnight to San Miguel Island; four dives there and then another overnight motor, this time to Ventura to again process in-and-out of US waters (that damn Jones Act). We cleared there mid-morning and moved toward Anacapa Island. Diving there was poor due to surge and poor visibility. But from there we moved to the Eureka oil platform where the visibility was excellent and the encrusted understructure was just awesome. Back to Catalina for a few dives and a shore excursion for those who wanted it, and then overnight to San Clemente Island. The weather had been overcast most of the week, but cleared this last day to give us great light into the kelp forests. A harbor seal approached us near the end of our second dive, spending nearly fifteen minutes with us playing, and was the high point of the week.

We had one of three larger cabins on the second deck; most guest quarters are belowdecks. The trade-off is more light and ease of egress versus stability: Nautilus Explorer is a monohull and does roll a bit when underway. Linens are changed every three days; a good idea, but they really ought to tell you this when you board. There are insufficient hooks in bathrooms to hang up towels to dry, anyway. Cabin lights were insufficient, and bathroom lights did not adequately illuminate the shower, but you could make an argument that nobody really needs light in the shower since by the time you are old enough to dive you should know where everything is, anyway.

Ship power is 110v, American-style plugs in the cabins. Cycles seems an open question: the clock radio in our cabin kept inconsistent time.

Food was generally excellent, even vegetarian items prepared for my dive buddy. Warm breadstuffs and cookies were also shoved into us by the staff between dives. There is a bar on board and the boat follows the rule of "first drink means you just made your last dive of the day;" drinks are priced as you go.

The crew was terrific: generally well-qualified, helpful and pleasant. The only shortcoming here was that they needed a local divemaster on board: they obviously didn't know many of the sites we dove. Not surprising as this boat does most of its work much farther north. Overall, the boat is well cared-for and its crew is obviously very fond of her.
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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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