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May 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 30, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Fiji, Iceland, Maldives, Raja Ampat

trouble in Cozumel, a bad critter-handling policy in Kauai

from the May, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

A Raja Ampat Liveaboard Bargain. With luxury Raja Ampat liveaboards running as much as $7,000 for 10 days (outrageous in Indonesia, a place where American go to retire because it is dirt-cheap), and booked a year in advance, too many divers have been priced out. So the new and more than adequate Aussiemanaged, French-owned Calico Jack is a welcome addition -- how about 11 nights in Raja Ampat for $2,200 to $2,800, or five nights diving Komodo for $1,450? Joanne Pannell (Geraldton, WA) was aboard in January and says, "This is a budget boat, cold showers (though in Raja Ampat, this isn't a problem) but spacious cabins, ensuite bathrooms and one hot shower on deck. It has a lovely, knowledgeable French cruise director who speaks fluent English and an excellent, French-trained chef who cooks Indonesian and European cuisine . . . There is a maximum of 10 guests. The dive deck is well laid out and functional . . . Usually four dives a day, with good surface intervals . . . The itinerary runs from Misool in the south to Waigeo in the north. All the dive gear is new. No Nitrox and no dedicated photography table; if more than half the guests were photographers, lack of space could be an issue." Pannell saw everything one expects to see -- great schools of fish, sharks (wobbegongs and black-tip reef sharks), mantas, devil rays, pygmy seahorses, and nudibranchs. Non-diving activities include kayaking, bird watching, trekking and village visits. Calico Jack's fees are in Euros, so the prices will fluctuate accordingly. ( www.wallacea-divecruise.com )

Coiba, Panama. While the reviewer in our Panama travel story found fault with the dive leaders at Coiba Dive Center, Jennifer Widom (Stanford, CA) dived with Scuba Coiba in January and reports that she was happy with their operation. "Our family took the standard three-day, nine-dive trip to Coiba Island. While the diving doesn't match up to Socorro or Cocos, it was pretty darn good. While some dives had periods of little activity, and not every dive site has pretty reefs, we saw a great deal: ever-present white-tip sharks, two giant manta rays, stingrays, eagle rays, fleets of mobula rays, turtles, seahorses, frogfish, eels, schools of barracuda, and innumerable schooling fish. Apparently, everything is highly seasonal -- water temperature, visibility and underwater life. Our friendly guide, Nicholas, did a good job managing the expedition; he largely just showed the way and kept an eye out for the good stuff. Accommodations are in ranger-run bunkhouses with five to six beds and private bathrooms. The island has its own interesting wildlife and a few hiking trails." ( http://scubacoiba.com )

You Say You've Been Everywhere? Probably Not Iceland, I Bet. Kris Kraman (Red Bank, NJ) was there in February, diving in 40-degree water with 300-foot visibility in Silfra Spring. "A unique diving experience. No animal life, just incredible visibility. The better your tolerance for cold water diving and drysuit familiarity, the more enjoyable your experience. Typically, you take the dive as part of a general Iceland tour. The dive shop supplied all the gear. Brand-new drysuits were very comfortable." ( www.dive.is )

Matava Eco Resort, Fiji. Sean Bruner (Tucson, AZ) has done some serious diving in Fiji, so he has a good basis for comparison, but his trip to Matava Eco Resort, followed by Tuvalu in Kadavu, didn't start well. "The boat ride to the Matava resort was horrible -- one hour over rough seas in a panga with an outboard motor and no shade. I was badly sunburned because my sunscreen was packed away, and I got abrasions on my butt from bouncing on the hard wooden bench. Other guests were ferried on the dive boats in relative comfort . . . Our bure (bungalow) was high on the hill, an energetic climb, from which we had a commanding view of the ocean. Run on solar power, this is an "eco resort," which translates as "few amenities." There is no fan above the bed, so it can be uncomfortably hot in the afternoon. They have no generator, and the lights are a joke: one for the bedroom and one for the bathroom, very dim. Luckily, we brought headlamps. The food is basic but good and plentiful. The diving is conducted from two aluminum boats. Although the crew tries to be helpful and accommodating, they put our regulators on the tanks upside-down and took the top weights out of my integrated BC but didn't replace them, something I failed to discover until it was too late, so I had to scrub that dive. There is also this inexplicable hurry to get everyone suited up and off the boat, usually due to surface current, but it makes for unnecessary stress and could easily lead to mishaps with less experienced divers. The dive guides for the most part were attentive and the dives were all good, with a couple being exceptional. Kadavu Island is inside the Astrolabe reef and the coral, mainly hard, is in good shape, pristine in places, and staggering in abundance and variety. The fish action was somewhat disappointing. We made a long boat ride to see mantas, but visibility was poor because the water is cloudy with the krill and plankton. We saw a sea krait, two turtles, white-tip reef sharks which came in close on a night dive, a hammerhead, razorfish, titan triggerfish and a Picasso triggerfish, an eagle ray while snorkeling on the house reef, as well as tons of anthias, butterflyfish, grouper, lionfish, anemonefish, angelfish and moray eels. Its isolation, while a hassle, is also a blessing. No cars, tranquility and great diving among super-friendly people." ( www.matava.com )

Chaos in Dive Paradise. Jacques Tanguay (Oshawa, ON) joined a group of 26 for a week in Cozumel, and while the diving was Cozumel-great and his guides were top-notch, the Dive Paradise infrastructure and organization wasn't up to snuff. His boat, the Aries, "broke down, and though repaired on the spot, the divers were suited up waiting to go. It gets hot sitting there. The boat spewed a lot of exhaust fumes for the next couple of days. The ladders were the worst -- bent in and you had to use a knotted rope to pull yourself up. The dive storage lockers are tiled, locked enclosures, with no drainage or ventilation. After a week of my gear sitting in a quarter-inch of water, opening the locker door in the morning was a shock to the nose. We had to report at the dive shop at 8 a.m. every morning, but the boats would show up in no order. If someone was late, the boat would back out and wait. Then the next boat would come in and load up. Don't know why they couldn't schedule them, and if you're late, it's your loss."

Michael J. Millet (Dublin, CA), also there in February, says, "This was my sixth time diving with Dive Paradise and the operation seemed to be overwhelmed by the large number of divers at the Hotel Cozumel Resort. It seemed like every morning and afternoon, there was confusion regarding what dive boat we were on and what time it was leaving. It was usually late. Twice I was switched from the dive boat I was already on with my gear to another dive boat so that the manager could max out the number of divers on the boat. On more than one dive, there were delays and extra stops due to snafus with rental gear. Our dive guides, Juan and Santos, did a great job of finding critters, and divers with varying degrees of diving experience were entertained and satisfied." ( www.diveparadise.com )

"Either the dhoni is not terribly maneuverable, or the crew just enjoyed watching us do long surface swims."

Maldives Aggressor. Mike Szathmary (Cincinnati, OH) spent good time and money traveling to the Maldives, but came back disappointed. "The boat is nice and the crew was excellent, with two exceptions. The trip leader and the assumed lead divemaster were aloof and did not seem at all sincere -- in a word, corporate. The trip leader put the hard sell on us to take nitrox for the week by misrepresenting the type of dives we would be doing for the week. The divemaster had a rock-star attitude. The dives in several cases did not match the briefing as to conditions. They did a horrible job of keeping the group together, and divers surfaced hundreds of yards from one another. On one dive, we surfaced a mile from the boat. Another boat told us they would go tell our boat where we were, but it took 18 minutes to get to us. We had to deploy our safety sausage on several dives because the dhoni was so far away, so we had quite a few long waits. Either the dhoni is not terribly maneuverable or the crew just enjoyed watching us do long surface swims. Once we surfaced at a shallow part of the reef, the dhoni crew instructed us to swim to the adjacent deep area, but after we did, but the dhoni made no effort to pick us up. So we faced a long, unnecessary surface swim -- even though I'm fit, that swim wiped me out and pissed me off. The diving: disappointing. If your idea of a great dive is hooking onto a reef in ripping currents to see a few sharks in lousy visibility, this destination is for you. Granted, there were some bright spots; a couple of reef dives and the manta dive were great. But the corals in general were dead or on life support, which was disappointing. Many of the dives look just like the one before it -- just not much diversity."

Leave the Critters Alone. Don Gensler (Umpqua, OR) went out with Seasport Divers on Kaui in March, and while it was generally a professional operation, what "got him hot" was a divemaster named Matt and his behavior with a free-swimming small octopus. "When the octopus jetted to a crevice, Matt repeatedly and deliberately fingered the crack until it inked. Topside, I challenged this practice but I was informed that it's legal in Hawaii, management knows about it, divers approve. I don't approve. I used to raise cattle. Every minute a cow is chased by dogs, ATVs, etc., is a minute that it isn't producing milk or gaining weight for the butcher. An octopus uses metabolic energy to produce ink. Each inking depletes some reserves that can limit its reproductive potential, necessary metabolic needs and ink production for predator defense. I'm not a PETA guy; I raised and butchered livestock for half my life. But these are not livestock. The shallow glory of an inking does nothing toward educating my fellow divers, and hardly rises to a signal event in our diving experience. It was worthless to us, and potentially debilitating to the octopus." Amen.

But, obviously, Seasport management does not give a hoot about mauling critters. Here's what we wrote in February 2008: "Subscriber Susan Goudge (Lake Zurich, IL) had an octopus experience while diving with Kauai's Seasport Divers on a trip to Niihau. "Our divemaster, Luke, took an octopus from its crevice and held his hand up so that each time the octopus tried to escape, it swam into Luke's palm. There was ink everywhere, and a great photo op of an octopus with tentacles extended, but it seemed more like a bullyin- the-playground situation. Seasport owner Marvin Otsuji told us he has heard that complaint often, but says he can't do much. He told me, 'I can't be there on a day-to-day basis. We don't have an official policy about touching, but I do tell the crew to be 100 percent professional.' He says divers can sometimes be the problem, as many are overeager and do similar grabs. 'We try to say don't touch as best we can, but we can't constantly tell people not to without making them upset,' Otsuji said. It's a cop-out for businesses to say they don't have a policy and can't control their employees. Having no policy about pulling critters from crevices means that it's ok to do it. And it's another cop-out to place blame on divers and make employees solely responsible when many are failing to set good examples of marine life interaction." And this is why our readers who visit Kauai prefer Bubbles Below. ( www.bubblesbelowkauai.com )

- - Ben Davison

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