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June 2001 Vol. 16, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Boiling Seas, Bleached Coral, and Butt Cut Short s

tips for the live-aboard lifestyle

from the June, 2001 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

One of the biggest complaints we get from divers who make their first live-aboard trip is that they pack too much. Jack and Linda Blake (Folsom, CA) were aboard Mike Ball’s Super sport last year and wrote, “I wish I’d known what to pack and how much space would be available in our rooms. Having never been on a live-aboard, we had no idea what to expect.”

Let us give you the basics for most boats plying tropical waters. First, while some cabins are larger than others and some boats have extra storage space, so what? You’ll still use next to nothing. On board for a week you’ll need three to four T-shirts and shorts and a couple bathing suits. (Since most cultures aren’t as crass as the American culture, when you go ashore wear shorts that are cut well below your butt.) Underwear is optional. Women often like to have some kind of cover-up. Assuming there is adequate fresh water, when clothes get salt stiff you can rinse and dry them.

“ With 8-foot swells in the Gulf Stream ,
12 of the 21 passengers were ill and
vomiting topside during the six-hour crossing . ”

While you’ll probably be barefoot the entire time, bring a pair of sandals because you might make village or restaurant trips. Take a sweatshirt; if nights aren’t cool, it’s conceivable the AC in your cabin may freeze you. Consider taking a light nylon windbreaker and bring sunglasses and a hat to keep the sun off your face. Besides toiletries, books, dive and camera gear, you don’t need much more.(Don’t expect to find hair dryers on board and don’t even bring them; after two days everyone looks like hell anyway, so why bother?)

Bring all your gear (except cameras) in soft-sided cases so you can roll and stow. Most dive boats store everything else you bring on shore during your trip, so pack your travel clothes and what you need for extended land travel in a separate case. Some bare bones boats don’t have towels. Some may not have blankets. So, find out ahead of time. You can end the trip lighter than you started by bringing items that you use up or discard: motel soaps, shampoos, toothbrushes, paperback books, even old T-shirts shorts/sandals that a Third World crew member might want for his family. And, before you bring a fish/critter/coral ID book, ask ahead if the boat carries them.

Replacements are usually impossible to come by on live-aboards. Bring a backup for everything: batteries (especially for your computer), straps, meds, film, cyalume sticks, or anything you can’t live without. Bring enough cash to tip the crew and to cover land expenses (airport transfers, taxes, etc.) that can’t be paid by credit card. If you’ve got some favorite videos or music, you could bring them. I’ve seen wine snobs bring a case of their own good stuff. Even on boats with full bars, selections are limited, so to be sure of getting a Stoli martini, bring your own Stoli --- and vermouth.

Mal de Mer

Divers who head to Cocos Island, the Galapagos, or other far reaching places, generally know the possibility of rough seas and prepare themselves. But even if you’re headed for normally calm Caribbean waters, keep in mind the possibility of seasickness. Aboard Black beard’s Pirate’s Lady in April, Dean Knudson (Golden Valley, MN) said, “I’ve made 12 Gulf Stream crossings on big and small boats, and the weather on this trip eastbound was the worst I’ve encountered. With 8-foot swells in the Gulf Stream, 12 of the 21 passengers were ill and vomiting topside during the six-hour crossing. Having said that, the rest of the trip was a blast, and most of the ill passengers later said they would go again!” In Belize, Doug and Laura Young (Waco, TX) had a rough crossing aboard a craft that claims to be about the most stable anywhere: the Nekton Pilot. They said the waves “popped you up and off the bed.” It was their second time on Nekton and the first time they got sick.

So, whenever you head out to sea, consider the advice you find in the adjacent sidebar.

And speaking of rough waters, keep in mind that reaching Little Cayman in the winter aboard the Cayman Aggressor, which boards at Grand Cayman, is never a guarantee. As Randy Preissig (San Antonio, Texas) reports of his February 2001 trip, “First of all, diving in the Caribbean in the winter is a crap shoot — you win some and you lose some. Second, the Aggressor crew would prefer NOT to go to Little Cayman, since it entails two allnighters for them — going and coming. However, we got together and told them we’d all brave the waves and they quickly accommodated us. The crew was outstanding.” Undercurrent tip: Get your group together and insist on going to Little Cayman if at all possible, and do this the first day. Keep in mind that if you’re staying on Cayman Brac, the weather can still shut you out of that short crossing to Little Cayman.

Palau Bleaching

If you’re thinking about diving Palau, keep your expectations about the coral in line. Vlad Pilar, ( Toronto), diving with Peter Hughes fleet in January says his was “‘high voltage’ diving — Blue Corner, Peleliu Express, Peleliu Cut — with 3-4 knot currents. Hook onto the reef and watch the parade. Sharks galore, schools of all types of fish, many turtles. In the German Channel on three dives I saw four mantas. The one sad part is that 75 percent of the hard coral died. There is plenty of soft coral that was not affected.” Jellyfish Lake was given up for dead after El Niño, but he reports that it is “ again swarming’ with two types of harmless jellies. ”

Don Lambrecht, (Rocklin, CA), aboard the Aggressor in March said: “Heavily advertised as the best reef in the world, it pales in comparison with such places as Little Cayman. Tremendous damage by El Niño to Wonder Channel presents a dive on coral rubble instead of vibrant coral, though Blue Corner, Blue Hole and Virgin Blue Hole are great dive sites.

Yet, Sean Bruner, (Tucson, AZ), missed the big fish. During two dives at Blue Corner, “neither time were there ripping currents so the ‘show’ wasn’t on. Current ripping at Peleliu Tip, but no critter show. What happened ? ”

Finally, in respect to the good advice above from Randy Preissig about getting passengers together to assure you dive where you want to, it doesn’t always work, as John Sommerer (Silver Spring, MD) found out. Aboard the Ocean Hunter in Palau earlier this year, he reports that, “An extremely demanding and wealthy guest only wanted to dive Blue Corner, over and over. We did other sites, but only made it to Peleliu for two dives, and never made it to Angaur. The captain mediated to some extent, but clearly was not able to ignore the potential impact on a gratuity that I probably couldn’t compensate him for the loss of. When I requested that we repeat a dive site that had really good hard coral in good light (we had done it in late afternoon), it produced a look of despair from the captain — and we didn’t do it again. I didn’t appreciate a later statement about how lucky I was to get to dive the site once, because the other guest was opposed. At the end of the cruise, one of the owners matter- of - factly told us that this guest had caused trouble on a previous trip. I wish that we had known from the beginning. With only six guests, it makes sense to try for a compatible group, and charter the whole boat. If you are going on your own, better to go on a bigger boat, where no one personality can so skew the dynamics.”

From where I sit, the Ocean Hunter made a big mistake catering to this guy, whether a big tip was at risk or the guy was just pushy. A dive operator is obliged to consider the welfare of all guests, not just big shots. A guest like this shouldn’t be welcomed back.

--- Ben Davison

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