From time to time, we have commented about the Thorfinn, that rust bucket in Truk Lagoon, but we
haven't written an in-depth piece in many years, because our travel writers will not waste their time
aboard that boat. So last month's commentary on the Thorfinn brought several comments from our readers,
echoing the writer's complaints, including this from subscriber Jim Rogers (Silverdale, WA). 'Where
have you guys been for the last at least 10 years? Captain Lance has always treated his employees like
slaves. I don't understand why people stay on this floating hellhole. It stays anchored in one place, no
AC, food is atrocious, and the captain makes Bligh look like an angel. The Blue Lagoon has better food,
and the ride is maybe five minutes more.'
Gabriel Peñagarícano (San Juan, Puerto Rico) says, "About 12 years ago I was aboard the Thorfinn with
Lance Higgs. He was just as rude, uncouth and abrasive as described in the September issue. Fortunately,
he had to leave on some business engagement, and we were spared his boorishness for several days. During
that time, the operation was run by his wife, and it was quite a change. The two or three days during which
he was on board were the worst I have ever experienced on a liveaboard or anywhere else." Nuff said.
Another Warning About Bonaire. We seem to do this annually, sadly. Crime against tourists remains
unfettered. Kent O. Bonde (Miami Shores, FL) was there in September, and reports, "Petty crime appears
to be a healthy pastime on the island. The house we were renting was burglarized while we were out to
dinner, resulting in $3,000 worth of lost computers and electronics. It was rented through VRBO and was
supposedly located in a safer neighborhood on the island." Frank Hall (Floyds Knobs, IN) adds that while
he was there in September, "A friend got his car broken into twice. Nothing was taken or broken because he
didn't leave anything in the car and left it unlocked as instructed by the rental company."
Vilanculos, Mozambique. While our shark-cage diver had clumsy experience supplementing his
South African safari (see the previous article), Christine Mistler (Tucson, AZ) found a good tropical reef alternative in Mozambique in September after a two-week inland adventure. "Getting to Vilanculos
turned out to be not so easy, but I can't say I regret it. Obtaining a visa turned out to be a spendy, timeconsuming
affair (you have to get it in advance). The corals were as healthy and unspoiled as anything
I've seen in 25 years -- so many different colors, shapes and sizes; truly a divine forest. And lots of fish,
fields of swaying anemones (guarded fiercely by clownfish), and a manta ray. The group I was with
seemed more intent on focusing on the larger creatures, such as groups of devil rays and the mega-sized
honeycomb morays, which were common. Another creature, big and not shy, was the loggerhead turtle.
The diving is in the stunning and protected Bazaruto Archipelago -- a bit of a boat ride but well worth
it. The seemingly endless, silky stretches of white sand, plus a sparkling Indian Ocean, also make it a
worthwhile destination for beach aficionados. The town of Vilankulo is laid-back, and the people are
friendly and not into hustling the tourists. Odyssea Dive is basic, but well run and managed. I felt completely
safe and in competent hands. They provide all rental gear. The lodging at the attached Casa Babi
was excellent, managing to be both simple and elegant. I was treated to local dishes, music and culture
every day. Plus, they had six resident dogs, where I could get my dog fix -- a bonus for this lover of animals,
both aquatic and terrestrial." (www.odysseadive.com; www.casababi.com)
San Carlos, Mexico. How about driving from Phoenix or Tucson to dive with seals in the Sea of Cortez?
Dan Panzica (Scottsdale, AZ) had a great time in July at San Carlos, a quaint beachfront town on the eastern
side of the Sea of Cortez, and an easy 450-mile drive from Phoenix. "El Mar Diving Center in Mesa, AZ,
is one of the many local dive shops that offer weekend dive excursions. Traveling by bus was a great way
to go. We departed from the dive shop at 7:30 a.m. and arrived at El Mar Diving Center at 3:30 p.m., with
a couple of well-timed stops for lunch and breaks. The $599 cost of the trip included two days of two-tank
diving, transportation, and three nights in the Hacienda Tetakawi Hotel, which is clean, quiet and easy
walking distance to several restaurants, bars, convenience stores and shops. The high caliber and professionalism
of the El Mar dive staff made the trip flow efficiently, while keeping things fun for the guests.
Diving was from a 36-foot Norton cruiser designed specifically for diving. The morning dives were at Isla
San Pedro Nolasco, a 75-minute cruise from port. Most of the action at San Pedro was well within 60 feet
of the surface. Visibility was between 70 and 90 feet, water temperature was 83 to 85 degrees and currents
were minimal. Underwater sunbeams lit up schools of tropical fish, sergeant majors, hawkfish, triggerfish
and Moorish idols, but the stars were the sea lions. Their high-velocity athletic mobility was a sight to
behold, like a combination of a Yap manta dive and a visit to a dog park full of happy, bouncing Labrador
retrievers. If you tried to venture too close to shore, an elk-size male made it clear that you were not welcome;
he was the guardian of the nursery. The afternoon dives were conducted at smaller islands with 20
to 40 feet visibility, light current and significant surge. Both islands had a wide variety of sea life, including
octopus, seahorses, pipefish, moray eels and pufferfish. A great weekend without having to get on an airplane."
Atlantis Dive Resort, Puerto Galera, Philippines. Rose Mueller (Houston, TX) visited there in
September. Now, I agree with her when she found it "appalling that older men are allowed to bring young
girls for an 'overnight' at the resort." That ain't a dive resort, that's a dive. But being that it was her third
trip there (clearly she liked it well enough to spend the money to return), it's obvious that the old dive is not
what it used to be. "The manager, Steve, began his job eight months ago and said he never had a complaint.
We had the dubious honor of being his first! It began on a sour note with a 'checkout' dive on the sand
when we were ready to complete 1,400 dives while there. We complained to the divemaster, and he made
sure we were blackballed by the other guides. The groups weren't separated by expertise. The dives were 50
minutes, with little exception. With few guests and guides standing around, why were six photographers in
one group? With all of the rules, why weren't there ones imposed for taking five minutes on a single photo?
This operation is now a cattle car operation, so it's heaven for an inexperienced diver. We were with divers
whose air consumption was 30 minutes. We were with a diver who got lost and hooked himself to the
bottom, expecting us to return to him in an impossible current with five-foot visibility. We were chastised
for going back in the water to retrieve a $1,000 dive light for one of the divers." Dear readers, skip the oncepopular-
with-serious-divers Atlantis. There are plenty of better operations in the Philippines for your time
and money, as the readers' reports on our website prove.
-- Ben Davison