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July 1998 Vol. 13, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Travelin' Diver's Update

You don't always get what you want

from the July, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Whether you spend a few hundred dollars for a holiday in the Florida Keys or a few thousand dollars for a live-aboard in the South Pacific, you count on getting the quality of diving you’d expected. But sometimes, through no fault of your own, it doesn’t happen that way.

Prepaying a dive package can put you at the mercy of the dive operator. Once they have your money, if they’re penny-pinchers or unscrupulous, you may not get the dives you planned for. That’s what happened to Angee Silliman (Hillsboro OR) in December at Fiji’s Sonaisali Island Resort. “Our greatest frustration came from the promise of certain good dive sites for the next day, but when the next day came, we would go somewhere else (usually because they sent us with the snorkelers). We bought a 10-dive package before we went, so they knew they could take us wherever they wanted because we wanted to use up our dives.” Then there was a further insult: when they signed up for additional dives, the operation tried to charge them a higher, single-tank price rather than extending the package price, but the Sillimans prevailed. Still they charged them more for a night dive, explaining that “they had to charge such a high price because they were still trying to get their dive operation going.” The Sillimans were the only certified divers at this resort; most people were snorkelers or resort coursers. Most serious dive operations wouldn’t pull a stunt like this ... or so we’d like to think.

Another way divers get screwed is when a resort is full and they’re low on the pecking order. Readers Mark and Kendra Walden (Garland TX) called and e-mailed Bill Beard’s Diving Safaris in Costa Rica to let them know they were coming to dive. Walden says, “they responded quickly, but neglected to say that a group had the two larger boats tied up all week except one day, which meant only local dives on a pontoon boat. So on the free day we could only go do either The Bat Islands OR Catalina, where the big fish are. They should advise people when they are that booked and limited so you can make other plans.” Amen. This sort of sin of omission is unconscionable when customers spend big money with the expectation that an operation will take them to its regular sites and it fails to deliver. Bill Beard’s now has new owners — the Waldens say they are “great and friendly people who seem interested in providing good service.” So we trust it was a rookie mistake. Nonetheless, should the Waldens deign to return, they ought to get recompense, don’t you think? (800-779-0055 or 011-506-670- 0012)

Yet another way of not getting what you paid for is when a liveaboard changes its itinerary. Bob and Gayle Bringas (Gaston OR) booked two weeks back-to-back on the Fiji Aggressor. “Week One was supposed to be out of Savusavu on a northern itinerary and Week Two was supposed to be out of Suva on a southern and eastern itinerary. Two weeks before departure, we were notified that both weeks would be out of Suva to facilitate repairs to the boat. Dive sites were supposed to be varied to give us different itineraries, but were not.” The Bringas liked the boat: “a beautiful boat, big, stable and fast; cabins are large, all have windows, individual climate control and the largest bathroom of any liveaboard we’ve been on.” Note to Wayne Hasson: as head man in the Aggressor fleet, don’t you think some consideration is due? (800- 348-2628 or 504-385-2628)

And, while we’re on the topic, let us mention the class system one finds on many live-aboards: professional photographers, ordinary shooters, and divers without a camera. While each pays the same freight, divers without cameras are often treated as steerage passengers. Al Madden, who was on Papua New Guinea’s Febrina in March, said that the crew “catered too much to the ‘serious photographers.’ This caused some bad feelings. One of the casual divers found a huge moray. He pointed it out to the group, then was shooed away by the captain and the divemaster so the serious guys could hog all the action. They should be aware that all of us paid $3000.” (800-932- 6237 or 305-669-9391)

I should first say that the Febrina constantly gets high marks from our readers. On the other hand, I don’t like an attitude that treats other divers as if they must clear the way for somebody with a camera. I’ve dived with and without a camera, and I’m all for people getting their shots — but not at the expense of equal enjoyment by all passengers.

When it comes to Caribbean diving, you’ll always get more than you pay for at one of the more underrated areas in the Caribbean — St. Vincent. Bill Tewes has been the best for divers for more than a decade, and, if you’ve subscribed awhile, you know how he delivers. Two of our well-traveled readers, Jean and Bob Kirkpatrick (Russellville KY) were there in February: “Diving far better than expected. Reefs are healthy and colorful, many bright-colored sponges and soft corals. Reef fish plentiful, huge schools of blackbar soldierfish swimming in open water provide moving color. Bill Tewes is an excellent dive leader and an expert at spotting frogfish, seahorses, reef scorpionfish, spotted snake eels, and many unusual critters, such as pea crabs, box crabs, moon snail egg cases, etc. Though Young Island Resort is beautiful, we’d return to a less expensive hotel on St. Vincent with a dive package through Dive St. Vincent.” (800-327-6709 or 809- 457-4298)

Once they have your
money, if they’re
penny-pinchers or
unscrupulous, you
may not get the dives
you planned for.

Ambergris Caye doesn’t have the best diving in Belize, but if you’re going you might as well track down a good guide. Through an International Expeditions ecotour, Chat Watts (Tucson AZ) discovered Alberto Bradley, “a licensed guide who runs a 36-foot skiff powered by twin Evinrude 65s. His dad, Roberto, serves as crew. Alberto is an experienced and skillful waterman and a very good diver. He skillfully runs the breakers at the opening in the reef, gives good briefings, and dives with his customers. He keeps his flock together on group dives and points out things of interest. Roberto follows the bubbles in the boat, allowing more lengthy explorations. When I was the only customer, Alberto and I dove in Hol Chan Channel outside the reef.” (Alberto Bradley, phone: 011-501-26-2608)

If you want to go back in Belize time, look to Caye Caulker, which is like Ambergris was twenty years ago when it had untrammeled coral. Tim and Paula Pastushin (Newport Beach CA) say, “lots of untouched corals, much better than Ambergris and no diver pressure. Lots of big grouper, nurse sharks, 5-6 ft. gray reef shark. Lots of single barracuda. Belize Dive Service has new owners trying hard to please. Most dives drift because of lack of mooring buoys. Slow boat. Rainbow Hotel is Spartan but clean.”

With small airlines entering the Caribbean’s interisland market, you’d think that granddaddy LIAT would strive to improve its service. Apparently not, say Joe and Melisa Hancock (Manhattan KS). On the way to Dominica in March, LIAT left their gear somewhere between St. Martin and Dominica, so they missed the a.m. dives on their first day. But Castle Comfort proprietor Derrick Perryman “loaned us gear for shore dives, and when our gear arrived, he sent a boat out with just Melisa and me for afternoon diving.” There’s more. When the Hancocks departed, LIAT hit them with a $50 excess baggage charge (20 kg/person restriction) on the flight to St. Martin and, to add insult to injury, “they lost my dive gear again — I hope to see it again someday. Their incompetence was exceeded only by their apathy and indifference toward recovery of my gear.” ALM has a similar reputation, as travelers to Bonaire know. Take your essentials onboard with you. And, wherever you fly, be prepared for whopping excess baggage charges. In December, Thomas Harvey (Hillsdale NJ) got hit for $350 in excess baggage charges between Honiara in the Solomon Islands and Port Moresby.

You don’t have to go around the world for big fish action. Florida’s Gulf Stream Eagle frequently seems to get good comments. Bill Myers (Pittsburgh PA), who was aboard in April, says, “usually dive trips that exceed expectations have a cost with respect to time, travel, and money. My 4-day live-aboard trip aboard the Gulf Stream Eagle located in Palm Beach exceeded all expectations. Our destination was the reefs and sea mounts about 40 miles north of Grand Bahama Island. This area is close to the Gulf stream and is where big tiger, bull, and hammerheads are encountered. On my trip a 14-ft. tiger was spotted, lots of reef sharks, large amber jacks, huge schools of African pompanos, and other reef fish. The food is very good and service fantastic. They do Cay Sal in the summer, which is even better.” (1-800-488-DIVE)

And a tip for those who have trouble sleeping on live-aboards. Sidney Ptomaine (Austin TX), who had a good time on the Solmar V, noted that “the boat moves at night and the diesel engines roar, so, if you’re not accustomed to white noise, it’s hard to sleep the first couple of nights. Try sleeping several nights at home before you go with a fan running. That should help.”

If you’re planning for next year’s dive action, let us issue our annual warning about traveling to small resorts during the week of the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association Show, to be held January 13-16, 1999, in New Orleans. Key people from most resorts attend the DEMA show annually, giving an undisciplined staff the opportunity to slough off or requiring untrained guides to lead the dives — and if there aren’t moorings, they may not find the reef. Of course, top management can leave any time of the year, as Barry Grosser (Tacoma WA) found out last December when he visited Coco View in the Honduras. “The owners were away on holiday and the staff was relaxing in their absence. Our dive boat had a mechanical failure that limited its range. Rather than repair the boat and enable us to dive Coco View’s normal sites, we were taken repeatedly to the same site or two. Harsh words were required to resolve this issue. It was a great disappointment to receive this treatment, paying full fare, while Anthony’s Key Resort had a half price special and none of the same lassitude toward service during the same period. If the owners were present this would have been corrected so that the vacation would be as near to perfect as possible.”

We bought a 10-dive
package before
we went, so they
knew they could take
us wherever they
wanted . . .

And during the DEMA show — in fact, December to February — you can get some big storms blowing through Hawaii and Maui. When the weather’s good, you’ll get your best diving with two operators — Mike Severns or Ed Robinson. The latest report on Robinson, with whom I dived twenty years ago, comes from Carl Rutherford (Redmond WA), who did a three-tank “advanced” computer adventure: “At the apartments at 115 ft. saw a large spotted eagle ray, a few jacks, 4' white tip, black coral, reef scorpionfish. At Molikini near dusk we were the only boat. Four Mantas, white tips. I’ve been to Molikini 20 times but this was the best. ERDA makes a mediocre location an enjoyable dive experience.”

And another operation is getting some attention in Maui: Scuba Shack. Robert and Ellie Johnston (Ft. Worth TX) dived with them in January because they offer Nitrox. “Their dive boats are state of the art with a warm freshwater shower on board. Easy on and off, boat personnel helped us in the boat and set up our gear for the next dive. Boats limited to 12 divers. Divemasters explained the dive sites and the creatures we hoped to encounter. They went out of their way when a whale was spotted to get us as close as allowable. Turtle town was terrific experience. First class facility.” (800-879-DIVE)

Watch out for other operations on Maui, because most, like Lahaina Divers, cater to everyone. Rutherford joined Lahaina Divers for an hour trip to Lanai and “when we got there they turned around and motored all the way back to South Maui because it was too rough for the snorkelers. We weren’t told we were going to have them on board.”

— John Q. Trigger

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