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June 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 30, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Little Cayman, Cocos, Palau, PNG . . .

great liveaboard picks, and a sailfish slaughter in Guam

from the June, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

If the summer-vacation bug is starting to bite you, here are a few suggestions for places to consider for your next dive trips, based on other Undercurrent readers' reports.

Condos on Little Cayman. While my favorite resort in Little Cayman has forever been Pirates Point (it's celebrating its 30th anniversary this year), many divers prefer condos, so I'll call your attention to the privacy of the oceanfront Paradise Villas, where you can gaze at the ocean, cook in, or eat next door at the Hungry Iguana restaurant (or walk to Pirates Point). Michael T. Hynan (Graftin, WI) says, "My wife and I made our 11th trip to Little Cayman in April, staying at Paradise Villas. Conch Club Divers owner Bill runs a solid operation. I turned 68 and told Bill, who just turned 70, that I appreciated diving with an older captain/ divemaster, as I knew I would not get discriminated against for my age. Paradise Villas was topnotch as always, with Marc and Sabine doing their best for all customers. Units have new air-conditioning systems, beds had new frames with headboards, and new large dressers were a plus. Food and service at the Hungry Iguana restaurant continue to be very good." A week with six days of diving runs in the neighborhood of $1,500 per person, double occupancy. ( www.paradisevillas.com ; www.conchclubdivers.com )

Another Little Cayman condo option is the Conch Club. Stephen Anania (Hopewell Junction, NY), there last November, says, "Accommodations were spacious in the two-bedroom, two-bath condos. The living room, kitchen, dining area and two bathroom are downstairs, and the two bedrooms upstairs. [Note from Ben: hmm, maybe a nighttime problem for aging bladders.] There is only one grocery store on the island, about a 20-minute walk." ( www.conchclubcondos.com )

Sea Hunter, Cocos Island. When we reported on a special deal for Costa Rica's Sea Hunter (20 percent off), Ed Leibowitz (Jersey City, NJ) jumped on it for an April trip to Cocos Island. "Jenny Collister of the travel agency Reef and Rainforest did an excellent job putting this trip together. The Sea Hunter is a luxurious boat. Although I've been diving for 34 years, I do not consider myself that good a diver. I usually take one dive vacation per year. However, all worked out well. I'm 72 years old and was the oldest diver. Gloves are necessary to hold onto the rocks in strong currents. I saw many white-tip sharks (particularly on the two night dives) and two large hammerheads. I saw eagle and marbled rays on most dives, and an occasional turtle and blackjacks. Most dives were deep, and it is easy to get into deco mode even with nitrox at 32 percent -- you have to watch your computer. It was a great trip." Ten-day trips run about $5,500. ( www.underseahunter.com )

"If a dive crew prefers to slaughter a sailfish rather than take divers down to admire its beauty, there's something seriously wrong with this operator's mentality."

Sailfish Slaughter in Guam. Gopal Krishnan (Mumbai, India) reports that on the way to dive Chuuk in March, his group got stuck in Guam because of Typhoon Masak and never made it to Chuuk (but trip insurance covered nearly all his cost). To kill time in Guam, he dived with MDA. "Their boat is small and cramped, and they charged $125 for two dives. The crew caught a sailfish that was reeled in near the dive jump-off area at the rear, then they battered it with lead weights and killed it brutally! We were speechless at this barbaric act, and when we voiced our disgust, it was too late to save the fish. They made a lame apology. The blood and gore was hosed off. If the dive crew prefers to slaughter a sailfish rather than take divers down to admire its beauty, then there is something seriously wrong with this operator's mentality. I stopped diving with them, although I still had a few days in Guam. PADI needs to pull up such operators as it goes against the basic principles of diving which all of us so passionately love."

Muck Diving in Indonesia. Shooting weird little critters is what photographers want to do these days, and Lyn Phillips (Fallbrook, CA) says there isn't a much better place to do that than Maluku Dive Resort in Ambon, Indonesia. There in May, she says, "You can find every critter on your list: wonderpus, blueringed octopus, frogfish, ghost pipefish, harlequin shrimp, bumblebee shrimp, lots of weird crabs and, of course, nudibranchs. We saw over 90 species. There are about 10 large rooms, mostly separate bungalows that look over the gardens and ocean from a covered porch. High ceilings, ceiling fan, AC, big bathroom, two large desk areas, coffee-making facilities and electrical outlets. Food is OK. The dive area has bins for gear and covered drying areas for wetsuits. The camera room is conveniently located and spacious. Three scheduled dives a day with optional night dives. Most dives were 80 to 90 minutes. Some of the dive sites are under big, docked fishing boats with a lot of garbage, but have many strange critters and swirling schools of small fish. Overall, this is an excellent resort." A week with 18 dives runs around $1,700 per person. ( www.muckdivingindonesia.com )

FeBrina, Papua New Guinea. I've found astonishing diving in the waters of Papua New Guinea, and the venerable FeBrina, run by the even more venerable Alan Raabe, continues to please divers. Gloria Freund (McLean, VA), who returned in May from her second trip there, says, "These reefs and the sole dive boat that troubles to ply them were as good as ever, and remain among the best of several liveaboards and diving hot spots I've experienced. FeBrina's five-dive-per-day schedule has you in the water at optimal times for ambient light and reef activity. We enjoyed daily the visual poetry of God's rays dancing across large shoals of barracuda and snappers above huge sea fans, thick stands of red whip corals, gargantuan barrel and elephant ear sponges and hard coral gardens. Shark attractant provided plenty of chances for close encounters. Bumpheads, tuna and plenty of spotted sweetlips cruising around . . . FeBrina is neither the largest, nor frankly, the most luxurious liveaboard, but it remains in excellent repair and lacked for nothing. Rooms, though small, provided for comfortable sleep, food was tasty and plentiful, dinner wine pours were generous, and diving off the main boat was very manageable. An entertaining, albeit sometimes salty raconteur, Alan Raabe knows these reefs like his own backyard. Judging by the abject dearth of other PNG liveaboards, few possess Alan's patience, persistence and dedication to making it work. If you want to see the pristine richness of this place, this is your option. Josie and Digger, two PNGers who have sailed with this boat for a long time, were master treasure-finders on every dive. With around 800 dives, I am moderately experienced, and I would have missed 90 percent of what they revealed." Ten-day trips run from $3,500 to $4,600. ( www.walindi.com )

Repositioning Cruises on the Mermaids. Twice a year, the Mermaid I and II make a 15-day biodiversity cruise, reports Harvey S. Cohen (Middletown, NJ), to reposition between Raja Ampat and Bali, and this 1,500-mile journey travels through the Spice Islands with about 45 dives. (True believers can continue from Maumere to Bali for another week.) "The dive sites include all the natural diversity of the Coral Triangle -- walls, bommies muck -- and offer a wealth of big pelagics, macro, hard and soft corals. No wrecks. The rooms, food, and service are resort-standard, and the dive operation is superbly run. The boat is a steel-hull twin-engine, which seems an excellent thing for remote waters. Because the cruise involves several open-water crossings (mostly at night), it can be a bit rough; at times the boat would roll hard for several hours while under way. Diving is from Zodiacs, with three or four guests to one guide. Divers could stick with the guide, a buddy, or go solo. The crew will do everything for you if you let them -- carry gear, rinse and hang wetsuits, etc. Almost all divers doff their tanks and fins in the water, and let the driver haul the gear into the Zodiac. Back at the boat, the crew takes all gear from the Zodiac and gets it ready for the next dive." The price is $4,300 to $5,400, depending upon cruise and accommodations. ( www.mermaid-liveaboards.com )

Siren's New Truk Liveaboard. Typhoon Masak raised hell on Chuuk, washing the Siren up on the reef, after which looters set fire to it. But the Siren's owner, Frank Van der Linde, didn't waste much time in getting a new liveaboard to take its place. He just announced the Truk Master, a steel yacht, will start sailing there in February. "She has been used for many years as a private luxury boat, and while Truk wasn't the original plan, we know she will be perfect there," Van der Linde stated in the press release. ( www.sirenfleet.com/diving/truk-lagoon.html )

That's it for this month. Coming up: Indonesia and Socorro Island liveaboards, resorts in the Grenadines (right by Petit Mustique, but this time for real) with easy and pleasant diving, and a few surprises.

- - Ben Davison

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