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October 1997 Vol. 12, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Travel Notes

Fighting for freedom in the Caymans

from the October, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

One of the down sides to diving on Grand Cayman has been that over the years, due to the large number of divers attracted to its walls, diving freedom has been curtailed. I eliminated Grand Cayman from of my dance card after a trip a few years ago when I was never allowed to burn more than half a tank — I came up from every dive with more than 1,500 psi. I had traveled too far and paid too much for half a dive. Lately, however, I’ve heard reports that Cayman is starting to loosen up a little and let experienced divers use their computers for something more than a bottom timer. Subscribers Jeff and Sherry Hotham (Phoenix) write that on their July trip, diving their computer profiles with Treasure Island Divers (near, but not associated with, Treasure Island Resort), the only stipulation was not to go into decompression. “It was pleasant to surface after 60 minutes and no one was upset with you. You could choose to follow a guide or go on your own. You could choose between a boat going to the West End or a boat going to the North Wall, or you could do four dives a day and sign up for both. All of these choices, and they are still one of the lowestpriced operations on the island.” (809-949-8133)

Not everything was perfect; Jeff and Sherry noted a couple of negatives. The second-string divemasters were not as interested in providing good service or going to requested dive spots, and the owner showed up one day and commandeered a boat for himself, causing everyone else to reshuffle.

On the other end of the spectrum, Undercurrent reader S. G. S. (Oakland, California) reports that on his March visit, Red Sail Sports on Grand Cayman had too many diving restrictions: “My girl friend (a newly certified diver) and I (over 2,500 logged dives) were on her first certified dive, and the rules were strict: ‘Hold the anchor line, descend in a group, stay at the same level, ascend together,’ etc. My shoulder six inches from the buoy line waiting for my girlfriend to enter the water, my first stage is yanked by the divemaster as he spins me 90 degrees and shoves me face-first into the line and yells, ‘Hold the rope!’ As I descend next to her, 18 inches from the line, he again grabs my first stage and my wrist and shoves my hand at the line. Then as I drifted down 10 feet to remind my buddy to return to ‘divemaster level’ at 70 feet, he once again yanks me by my BC and kicks me in the face as he passes to grab her first stage. But it wasn’t until he began to pull me to the surface by BC during our five-minute safety stop that there was a near-fatality, as I calmly unsheathed my knife until he let go and backed off. The smiles and thumbs-up I received from the other divers on the boat let me know I was not the only one subjected to his divenazi attitude.” (809-947-5965)

Meanwhile, on Cozumel, Aldora Divers remains in good favor with subscribers. Michael Silvestre (Spring, Texas) writes of his August trip: “Excellent operation. Although they charge $10 more than most operators, they do go to some southern reefs that some other operators charge an extra $10 for. Also, using high-pressure steel 120s, we had over an hour’s dive time on each and every dive — double the time I got with those using aluminum 80s and diving the tables. Unequaled safety procedures; the lengthy and thorough pre-dive briefing included a review of hand signals used by the divemaster. Long safety stops, though a bit boring, were welcome.” (713- 334-3003)

Stephen Paul (Los Altos Hills, California) agrees: “Cannot recommend another operation higher than Aldora. Well worth the extra price as we sped by the other dive boats.” However, on his May trip Stephen was less than pleased with the El Presidente Hotel, which in the past has been one of the better hotels on the island. “Hotel was terrible — no air conditioning on our side. Poor food, electricity inconsistent. When we complained, management made promises, then claimed the promises were never made. . . . Will never return.”

“It wasn’t until he began
to pull me to the surface
by BC during our fiveminute
safety stop that
there was a near-fatality,
as I calmly unsheathed
my knife until he let go
and backed off.”

Curaçao, like Bonaire, because it’s south of the hurricane belt, has reefs that start shallow. This suited Heidi and Daniel Spitzer while they were at the new Habitat on Curaçao in July. “It’s easy to spend over an hour underwater and still surface with 1,000 psi. Two hours underwater on the morning dives, an hour-plus shore dive in the afternoon, and an hour night dive adds up to a lot of bottom time. Frogfish, seahorses, scorpion fish, and other reef fish abound. Rooms are comfortable and clean, all with an ocean view. Food fairly good; even a vegetarian can survive.” David Kupersmith (East Northport, New York), who was also there during July, agrees: “Truly virgin diving. Reef in front of hotel for day or night dives was amazing. Marine life galore, although no pelagics.” (800-327-6709 or 305-438-4222)

Some people like Club Meds, for others it just doesn’t work, but most divers agree that they’re not serious dive resorts. Tim and Paula Pastushin (Newport Beach, California) were not sure before they booked their August trip to Club Med Sonora Bay in the Baja, so they called and asked specific questions first: Could they dive their own profiles? Any depth and time restrictions? Could they dive more than two dives a day? No problem, was the reply, this is a dedicated dive operation, we separate divers according to their experience, no limits other than no deco, and up to four dives a day. Tim and Paula now disagree: “Not quite the case — we waited in line for an hour to sign up for diving. We waited another hour to turn in our release forms. The next morning we waited another hour to check in for the dive. Then we found out that we could do only two dives a day and we would be on the boat with 40–50 other divers. Once on the boat, I set up on a tank three times just to find that they had less than 700 psi in them. On the fourth tank, I got 2,400 psi, which they told me was a good fill. Diving your own profile turned out to mean 50 for 30 minutes on the second dive. On the last day, we found an operation in San Carlos called Cortez Adventures and had a blast without all of the Club Med restrictions.”

The Aggressor Fleet has launched a new boat in Fiji. Reader Roger Roth (Cincinnati) just stepped off the boat (September trip) and gives it a thumbs up. “The boat is handicappedaccessible, with rooms, hallways, and an elevator all designed to accommodate wheelchairs. Sleeping cabins and dive deck are on the same level, making it convenient for everyone. Rooms have plenty of storage and their own head and shower. Photography tables and charging stations are well designed and spacious. The salon, on the middle level, is a comfortable dining and living area. Library is complete — books, CDs, and videos. The 27-inch TV monitor has patch cords left connected for videographers’ convenience. The rear deck has a hot tub, and the upper deck is partially covered for sun protection and is comfortable with lounge chairs and hammocks.

“I set up on a tank three
times just to find that
they had less than 700
psi in them. On the
fourth tank, I got 2,400
psi, which they told me
was a good fill.”

“Diving was a bit brisk, with 74°–77° water and air temperatures. A number of divers used hoods and gloves. Fijian crew were extremely helpful and friendly. Cook turned out culinary delights each and every meal.

“Iliesa Turagabeci, also known as Fiji Bear, with 11,500 logged dives, could find anything you asked for, from blueribbon eels, to leaf fish, to pipefish. Besides the plethora of colorful soft corals and sponges, this trip proved to be a macro heaven. Anyone who has had trouble finding nudibranchs or flatworms should dive here for a sense of gratification.” (800-348- 2628 or 504-385-2628)

Speaking of the Aggressors, Wayne Hasson, president of the Aggressor Fleet, would appreciate it if I clarified a point in our August issue. A letter from a reader who complained about being underpaid and untertipped while working on a boat going to the Cocos Islands appeared on the same page as Mr. Hasson’s letter describing the Aggressor’s tipping policy. The author of the complaint letter was not an Aggressor employee.

J. Q.

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