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April 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Baja California, Fiji, Montserrat

pesky politics and squirrely harbormasters

from the April, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Those Blasted Mexican Military Drills. Seasoned divers have learned that no matter how much you want to dive certain sites, some days it's just not going to happen. While weather and other factors come into play (more about that next time), government rules (also known as "politics," which, heaven forbid, might even mean corruption) get in the way at times. The Nautilus Explorer, a Canadian-flagged vessel, has had its share of problems in Mexico, most recently at the Revillagigedo Islands, as Michael J. Millet (Dublin, CA) reports of his January trip. "This was my seventh trip to the Socorro Islands aboard the Nautilus Explorer. Due to exercises by the Mexican Navy (perhaps a few chin-ups), we were unable to dive at Socorro Island. A disappointment because Cabo Pearce is a very nice dive site. Nevertheless, we had five good days of diving, with two days at San Benedicto and three days at Roca Partida." ( www.nautilusexplorer.com ). However, the Nautilus should not be singled out, because the Mexican-flagged Solmar V couldn't make it either in January. David Machese (Hummelstown, PA) writes, "Socorro was off limits due to Mexican military drills, so we spent three days at San Benedicto and two at Roco Partida." ( www.solmarv.com )

The Sea Escape. Military exercises at Socorro aren't continuous. The month before, Jennifer Widom (Stanford, CA) dived both sides of the island while aboard the Sea Escape, which she says is "a well-run, well-priced liveaboard. It isn't especially luxurious, but it's clean, comfortable and the crew did a good job. Our trip had only 11; the boat might feel a bit crowded with its full complement of 18. The cabins vary in size, configuration and location. The food was interesting and tasty enough . . . There is a pleasant indoor lounge adjacent to the dining tables, and the upper deck has a large shaded outside area with comfortable chairs. My family did the PADI Nitrox course on the crossing (Nitrox is critical for the dive profiles) . . . Roca Partida is the high-energy site, with tons of fish and sharks. The Boiler is the magical site, where eight giant mantas circled us closely. Socorro Island was probably the least interesting, though we did see dolphins underwater, a couple of mantas and a hammerhead or two. We dove four times most days, with no night diving permitted ( www.seaescapeliveaboard.com ). I used Ksenia Makeeva at Dive and Cruise Worldwide to book the trip." ( www.dive-and-cruise.com )

A New Baja Liveaboard. By the way, another boat has entered the market in Baja, diving both the Revillagigedos and the Sea of Cortez. It's the Valentina, owned and operated by Fun Azul Fleet. She accommodates 20 guests, departs from La Paz and offers five-night trips with three- to four-tank dive days in the Sea of Cortez (with a complimentary open bar, which will probably keep a few passengers out of the water) and longer trips to the Socorro Islands. We know nothing about the Valentina, so if you take a trip, please send us a reader report ( www.fun-azulfleet.net/lapaz )

Back to Those Political Delays. Vickie Sterne and Chrisanda Button (Wesley, AR) were on Grand Komodo's TemuKira in September and report that two German divers whose checked bags failed to reach Indonesia were told they would have to wait two days in Manokwari while their luggage caught up with them. Wilson, the cruise director and dive guide, told them the TemuKira could not wait for them. "So those two gentlemen flew to Sarong after their bags arrived, and Grand Komodo took them to its Raja Ampat Dive Lodge on Mansur Island. Meanwhile, back on the boat, the harbormaster of Manokwari would not clear the TemuKira to sail at the scheduled time. We lost at least half a day's diving while Wilson bargained with the officials. Two divers were visibly and sometimes volubly unhappy. Grand Komodo offered each diver a million rupiah credit or rebate to apologize. That's US$100, but the million did make an impressive stack of bills when Wilson handed the money to us. We did not get to dive in Cendrawasih National Park as long as we had expected. We suspect the itinerary was reshaped so we could pick up the divers we had left behind in Manokwari."

More Squirrely Harbormasters. Frederick R. Turoff (Philadelphia, PA) boarded the Amira in Ambon last May and "when we were to depart, the harbormaster wouldn't give us permission to leave, so we did two dives in Ambon Harbor and got underway the next day . . . Sadly, two of our group got decompression sickness, so we had to scrap our last two dives and head overnight to Maumere for medical assistance at Diver Alert Network's direction. We were offered a final muck dive in Maumere Harbor. The DCS divers departed the day after we arrived in Maumere, with symptoms diminished but not gone completely. One of the victims was American and had DAN insurance, so he was flown by DAN Travel Assist to Singapore, where he had recompression treatments, which resolved his symptoms."

Now, I can't speak about those two harbormasters, but in Papua New Guinea a while back, I saw my captain hand a wad of Kinas to a so-called harbormaster, and other dive boat captains have told me they had to grease the palm of Third World harbormasters. So that's one reason why you pay through the nose these days to dive in exotic waters.

A "New" Easy-Diving Destination in the Caribbean. Well, not so new, since I dived it 18 years ago, a month before the island's volcano erupted and covered everything in deep ash. Montserrat has taken a long time to recover -- only 4,000 people remain today. However, "except for algae, diving compares favorably with Dominica for the variety and health of the coral and fish," says Mark A. Magers (Oakland, CA.) "We spent five days diving with Emmy and Andrew of Scuba Montserrat. Many healthy soft corals, gorgonians, barrel sponges and sponges of all kinds. Lots of juvenile fish. I saw thousands of scad about five inches long on a shore dive; they were being hunted so the action was incredible. We took surface intervals at isolated Rendezvous Beach. I never saw another soul there, but I did see large turtle nests, and often there were fresh tracks from the previous night . . . Scuba Montserrat shares a small open boat with local fishermen, sufficient for four divers. It was fine by our standards, given the untouched reefs we saw. Above water, there is plenty to do if you like hiking, kayaking and exploring." While Montserrat isn't adventurous diving, it is a chance to visit a unique island with a storied history, just a quick flight from Antigua. ( www.scubamontserrat.com )

A Quick Note from Fiji. Wayne Joseph (San Mateo, CA) writes that the dive managers of Fiji's dive-oriented Wananavu Resort have been terminated, after the arrival of a new resort manager. "Chris and Vicky had done a great job of expanding the services, scouting more dive sites, including the muck dives in front of the resort. I can only speculate that perhaps this manager wants to focus more on weddings, meetings, etc., than on the diving, especially if the boats aren't full." ( www.wananavu.com )

-- Ben Davison

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