Thumbs up for Explorer Ventures. Hurricane Irene went right over the top of the Turks & Caicos Explorer II,
but not before Audrey Swales Anderson (Colorado Springs, CO) got in five dives on Sunday, August 21. She says
they "were then forced to return to the harbor on the high tide Sunday night, and Explorer decided it best to move
us to a motel (we had to pay for this, and also meals) on Monday and Tuesday nights. Irene hit Tuesday night. We
were allowed to go back to the boat late Wednesday. Part of the marina dock had broken loose, and was intertwined
with the mooring lines from our boat. It took most of Thursday to untangle that mess. The boat went back out
Thursday night, so we were able to get in a night dive Thursday, and then the normal dawn and morning dives
the boat does on Friday mornings. It was rather like diving in milk for these last three dives until I got down to 70
feet." To her amazement, and without her even contacting the company, there was an e-mail waiting for Anderson
on Tuesday morning, letting her know that Explorer was offering her another week on the boat at an 80 percent discount.
"They figured we missed about 80 percent of our possible dives, so this is how they arrived at this discount.
While my husband and I had decided not to purchase trip insurance, it is exceptionally wonderful that the company
is offering us another trip at a discounted price. With this policy, Explorer Ventures has certainly earned a customer
for life in me." ( www.explorerventures.com )
Galapagos Sky, Revisited. Last issue, we reported on a Galapagos Sky trip that fell short of the high expectations
and high prices one pays for such a journey. Things have changed, according to a reader who was aboard the
subsequent trip. Chet Moore (San Carlos, CA) writes, "In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Peter Hughes
for many years, in both a professional and social context. Indeed, Mr. Shanis's charter did not warrant five stars . . .
however, with a change of crew, including the captain, the following charter was more in line with what one would
expect from the owner, Peter and DivEncounters
"Galapagos Sky is owned and operated by Ecoventura/Santiago Dunn. There are three other 'identical' boats
in the fleet, but Galapagos Sky is the only one dedicated to diving. Maximum capacity is 16; we had 12 guests and 11 crew. DivEncounters markets the Galapagos Sky. The Ecuadorian government has imposed new conditions
on dive operations in the zone - - no more than three dives a day. All dive locations are predetermined and prepermitted.
Liveaboards are permitted to the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin. Day boats stay south. Land
tours are limited to one - - to see tortoises. Wolf and Darwin have current and surge. Bounce to the bottom,
grab a rock and wait. Most dives ended with moving away from the wall and into the water column, with hammerheads
below, above and with you. Victor, the captain (they do rotate), was gracious, informative and always
on the dive deck assisting his crew. The compressor and nitrox system were fully functioning. There had indeed
been issues on the earlier charter, and the not-so-mini compressor was still on board. To that extent, one of the
mains had received a questionable rebuild while in the shipyard, and was rebuilt during the change-over at the
end of our charter. The ice machine was at full tilt. Although the naturalists (government employees) change
from time to time, ours were great - - great knowledge, great personalities and great fun. Evasion and untruthfulness
- - not! Yes, you will dive several times at the same sites on Wolf and Darwin. Why? Because that is where
the hammerhead, Galapagos, and whale sharks are. We even had a tiger sighting, and a huge mola mola. In our
30 some years of liveaboard diving, we have had our share of busted nitrox systems, cranky compressors and
yes, even a nonfunctioning ice machine. Dive boats coming out of a shipyard after a major refit, and especially
in a Third World environment have issues more often than not; some major, some minor . . . and you just roll
with it. Would I go back to the Galapagos Sky? In a heartbeat." ( www.galapagossky.com )
Good News at Habitat Bonaire. One of our travel reviewers stopped in during a June trip and loves the "dropdead
gorgeous new ocean suites named for late co-manager Albert Romijn. In addition to the view of the sea and
Klein Bonaire, they are equipped luxuriously with king beds, a sofa, small fridge, microwave, coffee maker, granite
counters and gorgeous bath that includes a rarity on the island: a bathtub. Of course, it's the porch with chairs and
table overlooking the sea that has me fantasizing about sipping a beer and watching the sunset. The previous dive manager, a woman who often polarized guests, has been replaced by the personable and helpful Roger Hauch.
Morale is high and divers are smiling. The dive lockers still need some repairs, but the reef looks good despite all we
hear about sea changes." ( www.habitatbonaire.com )
|"I can understand don't drink the water,
but mold in the shower and on the walls?
Not responding to calls about broken door
locks? And towel shortages?"
New and Improved at Wananavu. When divers'
favorite Fijian resort had Ra Divers depart for another
venue, there were concerns about whether a competent
operation would replace them. Wayne Joseph
(San Mateo, CA), there in July, says, "Wananavu has
entered a contract with Reef Safaris, which has 11
other dive locations in Fiji, to provide the dive services.
Managers Jeremy and Kristen had to start from the ground up. A new dive center was built closer to the boats,
and there are benches with charging stations and areas to hang up equipment. They take your gear, rinse it and
hang it to dry after every dive. They hired Jioji, who used to work for Kai Viti Divers, to help manage and train the
crew. He was great when he led the dives, as he could find many interesting critters. Jim and Ken were also great at
finding things. We saw a leopard shark and other reef sharks, turtles, dolphins, squid and various nudibranchs. They
had only two small boats that could take six divers each. There was a first-aid kit, oxygen and life jackets, and snacks
and water were provided. A diver accidently dropped her small video camera overboard during our surface interval.
One of the guides put on his gear, jumped overboard, and found the camera after 15 minutes - - in water with 10-foot
visibility. I was disappointed because they weren't able to take us to the Bligh Water, as the boats were too small and
the water too rough, but they took us to dive sites with great soft corals. (Bring an underwater flashlight to be able to
see their wonderful colors.) Two days before we left, Ra leased a larger boat that enabled us to go out to Ra Passage.
I was told two larger boats that can take 12 to16 divers are in the process of being readied (but before you go, make
sure those boats are in the water)" About Wananavu, Wayne adds, "The food is much improved. There was a specials
menu that differs for lunch and dinner; it always had a choice of a meat, fresh fish or vegetarian dish, with
soup and desserts. They had a special lovo night, an Indian night, a Mongolian barbeque night that let us pick our
choices of meat (lamb, pork, beef and chicken), calamari, veggies and spices, then give it to the chef, who would grill
it in front of us. The resort has been 'spruced up' with new paint, and the grounds are always immaculate."
Another thumbs up for Wananavu comes from Mike Millet (Dublin, CA). "In June, I was in Papua New
Guinea, diving with the Star Dancer. The plan was to head back to San Francisco via Fiji and spend a week at the
Wananavu Resort, which had been prepaid. However, while on the Star Dancer, I contracted a terrible eye infection
that necessitated a quick return home for medical treatment. With the help of Debbie Messina from Dancer
Fleet Travel, the Wananavu Resort has extended me full credit for the trip for one year, which I'll take in April."
( www.wananavu.com )
Star Dancer, PNG. Besides his eye infection, Millet's 10 days on the Star Dancer were problematic. "We ran out of
fresh water twice and had to motor 10 to 12 hours back and forth to Alotau to replenish. This resulted in two rather
choppy nights at sea with little sleep. The Star Dancer used a chase boat to pick up divers, but for a couple of dives,
the motor wasn't working and it had no back-up motor. So, of course, during these two dives, my dive buddy and
I had to deal with a strong current and a dive guide who took off without us. We were led away from the mooring
by the dive guide, who then left us while apparently trying to find the boat. With less than 500psi, my buddy and I
surfaced to find the chase boat inoperable, and the mother boat about 200 meters away from us in choppy water. In
was an unpleasant fin back to the Star Dancer. The dive guides were both local divers and Americans. For the most
part, they went too fast. It was normal for me to stop to take three or four pictures, to then find the dive guide some
10 meters ahead of me. Nonetheless, the crew was, for the most part, friendly and helpful. The dive conditions also
added to the negative experience, with high seas, banging ladders, strong currents and marginal visibility. I have
been on about 25 liveaboard dive trips, and I would have to rate this experience in the lower third."
A Resort to Avoid in Roatan. Henry Morgan was a pirate, which may be reason enough to avoid the
Roatan resort that carries his name. While there in July, Celia Liner (Olive Branch, MS) says the diving and dive operator (TGI Diving) were just fine, but "divers dwindled as people started getting sick with some sort
of grunge that was passed around. Besides the voracious no-see-ums that could eat thru DEET, the resort
offered ho-hum food, a shortage of liquor and other adult beverages, and guest rooms with bathrooms that
should be scrubbed with bleach daily and sprayed for bugs. You can't drink the water, can't flush paper in the
toilets. Okay, I can live with that, but mold in the shower and on the walls? Not responding to maintenance
calls about broken outside door locks? Towel shortages? Those are problems with the property, not the island
environment. The front desk refused to take my credit card because they couldn't get a manual imprint from
it. Not a resort I would visit again, but the diving was very good overall, and TGI Diving had terrific experienced
divemasters." ( www.tgidiving.com )
- - Ben Davison