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September 2000 Vol. 26, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When Your Guide Is Asleep At The Wheel

bum trips from our reader's logs

from the September, 2000 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Be aware of scams, hustles, and just bad dive management when you head off to dive. Here are experiences from several readers, with examples that, in my mind, give me plenty of reason to avoid the operations mentioned.

When you're thousands of dollars from home and a dive operation refuses to take you out, it’s damn maddening. Jim Parkhill (McAllen, TX) stayed at the Belize Yacht Club in December, with reservations with the Journeys’ Inn to ring in 2000 with a midnight dive, the main reason Parkhill went to Belize. “They canceled without notice and left our group waiting at the Yacht Club Dock at midnight while the rest of the world celebrated the New Year.” Man, that’s classless.

Pat Wikstrom (Warne, NC) faced a variety of this hustle in Cozumel in June at Dive Palancar. “I went down to sign up for both the 1:00 and 3:30 trips. They were booked solid. I agreed to sign up for both trips the next morning. The sullen manager passed the reservation book across the desk while holding on to the uppermost corner and I signed up. Later when my family made it down to sign up for those dives they were told that I wasn’t signed up. The manager had held his hand over the date on the upper corner of his book and led me to believe I was signing up for Sunday when we were really signing for Monday. The Sunday morning dives had already been packed full. That’s when I called Dive with Martin.”

When you’re in Cozumel, keep in mind those cruise ships, warns Frank Stile (Canyon Lake, TX). While diving with Aqua Safari near the L-head cruise ship terminal in June, the current reversed and the water clouded. The divemaster clanged his tank and signaled up. "I noticed a huge black object that turned out to be Carnival’s Impulse. Two in our group surfaced within 50 feet of the ship. Another diver went under the pier and ship and was picked up by another dive boat that also lost their divers under either the ship or pier. This was a dangerous situation where the divemaster lost control. Mexican police consider divers nearby a terrorist threat.”

Problems with Dive Paradise, we hear. Richard Lehach (Larchmont, NY) says, “Worst operator I have experienced in the last 5 years (over 450 dives). Wasted 8 hours on the dock waiting for late boats, 7 hours wasted on slow boats in 5 days. Diving severely limited by depth and time, averaged on board with 1,300 psi, leave your computer at home. Worst boat fleet I have ever experienced -- slowww, bad exit, entry. Once, they could not stop the engine so the propeller turned at 60-100 rpm while picking up divers. The prop hit one diver when the captain turned the stern of the boat into the diver. Only a minor cut." . . . John Flick (Thornton, CO.) says, "The divemaster informed us that if we went below or in front of him, we would not receive help if we ran into trouble. Dive Paradise abandoned three of us in strong currents. Their divemaster remarked after the dive that he 'didn’t know' who was in his group so he left. Dive Paradise left 14 divers underwater at a dive site while their boat dropped off a girlfriend of their staff at a hotel. For 10 minutes we had no surface support.”

While having someone on board the boat to aid divers is important, sometimes they’re useless. At Belize’s Ramon’s Village last October, Ken Hopkins (Star Idaho) tooled off with the divemaster, eventually surfacing far from the boat. Trouble was “the guy left on the boat went to sleep and we couldn’t wake him so we had a very long surface swim back to the boat.”

If you’re a Club Med fan, you need to be wary of the “dedicated dive resort” malarkey. Robert Wund (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA) says of Tahiti’s Club Med Moorea, “NOT! Follow the dive guide and stay real close like a bunch of chicks following a hen. Cluck, Cluck, Cluck. Many French guides get real anal if you aren’t right next to them in 70 to 100 ft vis! The cattle boat was packed with 35 divers. Forget about help with gear such as cameras when getting back on the boat. The driver is busy reading a book. Must not be part of his job! Don’t worry about being neutral for a safety stop. You must hold on to the safety bar and only go to the ladder when the guide says so. It’s the rule.” Despite the rules, diving was good to great. Tons of black tip and gray reef sharks.

That’s not the only complaint in Tahiti. G. Evan Weeth (Redwood City, CA), diving with MUST, said he had to abort the dive due to a free-flowing octopus. “I signaled to the divemaster that I was going up and he gave me an OK. I began a normal ascent when he grabbed the back of my BC and dragged me to the surface at 80 ft./ minute. He immediately went back down with the rest of the group, and for my only consolation, he proceeded to get bitten by a moray eel.” Yeah!

A marketing problem of many liveaboard trips, is highlighted by Mr. & Mrs. H. Kimberger, who live in Austria and journeyed to Palau and the Sun Dancer. “We should have been told that the diving would be only 8.5 days when we paid for a 10 day diving package.” In fact, the last two were shallow dives. Unfortunately, that is very standard in all live-aboard diving. On an “eleven days, ten night trips,” you generally board late in the day so there is no diving, and depart early the last day so there is no diving. That leaves 9 full days and typically on the ninth day the morning dives will be close in and simple so they can steam to port. So you get eight, maybe eight and a half days of diving. Since you won’t be able to do a thing about it, be forewarned and ask before you pay up.

Speaking of the Dancers, Jane and Bob Goble (Lexington, SC) report on a February Palau trip, where they dived with a land-based operation. “At Ulong Channel, as our group began to drop into the water, Peter Hughes’ live-aboard pulled up close to our boat. After our group hooked onto the coral ledge to watch the shark show, Hughes’ group, including Hughes himself, dropped on top and in front of us. Instead of approaching the site from behind or from the sides so as not to disturb the fish, they descended from all fronts and mingled with our small group creating chaos. Hughes must have been confused in the mayhem because when our group decided to leave and find a quiet place with critters, he joined our group and stayed with us for quite a while.” Ah, that’s not so bad Peter. I climbed aboard the wrong boat twice in my career. I felt pretty silly.

When you’re in major tourist locations where diving is just one of many activities, be prepared for scams. Denise Krol (Southhampton, PA) in Key West in June, dived with Captains Corners. She said the “dive shop has little booths around town where you sign up for the dive boats. The people manning these booths are not a good source of information. Told everyone that visibility was 100 to 125 ft. Got on the boat and the captain says vis. is about 60-65 ft.” A word to the wise: expect a hustle. Kiosks sell tourist activities for a commission and care little about repeat business, caring only to sucker you in the first time. Always sign up at the shop.

Here’s a Hawaiian hustle. April Cohen (Banrdon FL) was diving with Aaron’s Dive Shops on Oahu. “This outfit was taking us to the scheduled location despite conditions. Seems like they were putting on a dive show for a tourist submarine. The divemaster left us on a line and went to feed fish in view of the sub. I feel like we were set up.” April, I bet you were. We get many reports from readers who tell us the same thing about Oahu; they pay for a dive, the tourists on the sub pay for a look around, and they ogle each other. I wonder how much these dive shops get to stage their circus at your expense?

And, here’s another Hawaiian cautionary note from Martin Klein (NYC). "Be careful when touring the Big Island after diving. You will easily end up above 5,000 feet without even realizing it. On Maui, make that 10,000 feet at the summit of Haleakala." At these elevations, you might as well go flying after diving.

Dominican Republic anyone? Please, no. We have yet to hear of one good dive trip to the DR. Says Ann Underwood, (New Milford, CT) who went to Paradisus in Punta Cana in November 1999. "Vis: 25 to 35 feet. Water: 70 to 75 degrees, choppy. Dive your own profile: no. We were told this was an-up-and coming location. The hotel promised premium everything that was not so. Cable TV didn’t work most of the time. We had to repeatedly beg for extra pillows and an umbrella. My fiancé took the resort course; no classroom instruction and only 30 minutes in the 4-ft. pool. The staff told me my regulator was broken — obviously they haven’t seen the new and improved regs. You had to make reservations the day before you wanted to dive. But space was limited, so either you got up super early to make reservations or you didn’t dive. Hope to dive once per day. We wrote a letter to Apple Vacations stating our dissatisfaction with our $2,800 vacation — they refunded $500.”

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