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February 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Bahamas, French Polynesia, St. Vincent

and two great places for underwater photo classes

from the February, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Headed to Phuket? Looks like you will have to present a certificate from your doctor verifying that you are fit to dive; operators will lose their license if they don’t enforce the rule. It’s a new safety measure rolled out after the November death of a Chinese tourist diving with Phuket William Diving aboard the MV Peterpan. She got separated from her group and was found six hours later by divers from another boat; she was face down at 40 feet, her regulator was out of her mouth, and she had facial abrasions. The Peterpan had moved away from the dive site without her.

Bahamas Pros and Cons. The best thing about the Bahamas for a diver? It’s close, easy to get to, and while the sites have deteriorated over the years, good diving can be found, usually.

In the early ‘80s, we first reviewed Blackbeard’s Cruises, calling their liveaboards “camping at sea.” They’re still operating, and nothing has changed. Seems to be about the most inexpensive way for the young at heart, not just the young, to make a bunch of dives and have a good party. Aboard Blackbeard’s Morning Star last May, Gary Brown (Bloomberg, TX) said, “Everyone begins to bond after about a day at sea. Some divers put their photos and videos on the television at night, as everyone told their stories of intrigue about the day’s diving encounters. Tropical fish were plentiful as we moved from site to site, and the shark feed was a lot of fun. The Washing Machine was something you will not forget! Octopuses on every night dive! The camaraderie is a large part of the trip, especially at night when all gather on the top deck with cold draft beer and drinks to mix and mingle. A great trip for beginners and good for experienced too.” (http://blackbeard-cruises.com)

And just as long ago, we reviewed Freeport’s Sun Odyssey Divers, which did a fine job then and is still proving a great diving experience for visitors to Grand Bahama Island. After a January trip, Louis Sparks (Tulare, CA) wrote, “Nick and Karen were the best of proprietors and hosts. While winter conditions were a bit problematic at times, we had four wonderful days of diving. Wrecks, sharks, turtles and incredible coral were the highlights. Nick and Karen made it that much more enjoyable with their professional and personable care of us. Nick never risked our safety when conditions were questionable, and Karen was great for laughs and insights. Over 33 years in the area -- it sure shows.” (http://www.sunnodysseydivers.com)

Yes, those Bahamas winters are at times not even sub-tropical. After all, you’re diving the Atlantic, not the Caribbean. Terry H. Anderson (Bryan TX) was aboard the Bahamas Aggressor and writes, “I went in January and that was a mistake, for it was cool and windy. Belize, Costa Rica or even Cozumel that time of year is better for the weather. The diving was mediocre. In six days, we saw one or two turtles, three or four eels, and the fish populations were less than any of the destinations mentioned above. The best thing was the reef sharks -- lots, but only on three different sites, and not cruising most walls. Beautiful coral and few critters. Disappointing. One evening, we got in a squall with nine-foot swells and a 50 m.p.h. wind that broke the mooring. It was a night dive and could have been a disaster, but the captain and crew did a very professional job getting the divers on board safely.”

When You Don’t Get What You Pay For. Jill Levenson (Bellingham, WA) had a great trip aboard the Undersea Hunter to Cocos Island in December, but that was not the boat she had planned for a year in advance or had paid handsomely for. You see, a year in advance she had secured the master cabin on the Argo, companion craft to the Sea Hunter and Undersea Hunter. “We choose the Argo carefully, based upon other trip reports and pictures of the large beautiful master cabin and the expansive lounge, and we planned on going down on the Argo’s submersible. After it was too late to change our plans, we were told the Argo had been chartered by the National Geographic Society for a Galapagos trip, so we were now booked on the Undersea Hunter. We were disappointed the sub wasn’t going to happen for us, and the pictures of the master cabin on the Undersea Hunter were underwhelming, but we knew the diving would be great, and it was.

On the Undersea Hunter, we were escorted to our ‘master cabin,’ next to the Captain’s cabin off the wheelhouse. It was tiny and dark, with wood paneling from the 1970s -- the worst master cabin we have ever booked. During travel to the island, the wall on the interior side became very hot from the engine, I guess, and it made the room very warm. The air-conditioning worked pretty well, but it was disconcerting to feel the heat radiating off that wall. The master cabin isn’t worth the extra money, and we were inside it a lot -- 36 hours each way. The ‘salon’ was non-existent -- it was one couch off the small dining room. It wasn’t comfortable for guests to hang out together in the dining room, so when we weren’t diving or eating, we stayed mostly in our cabins or lounged on the small deck on top. There weren’t enough chairs and loungers for everyone, so some of us had to sit on the deck. We were fortunate that the crew and other guests were wonderful. It’s just an old, small boat.”

The Undersea Hunter is a well-regarded boat, and of course, the Argo is a couple of steps up. That said, when people plan a special trip and pay the big bucks required, they have some rights, we think. The folks at Undersea Hunter should have offered them the opportunity to refuse the switch and receive a full refund. (They probably would have reluctantly accepted the switch becaiuse there was no way they could have changed their vacation dates.) Second, Levenson should have been compensated for her loyalty and good cheer in accepting what she saw as a significant downgrade that she would have never signed up for on her own, without their having to ask. We hate to see our favorite liveaboards behave as our airlines do.

French Polynesia. Longtime Undercurrent correspondent Mary Peachin (Tucson, AZ) cruised these islands aboard the luxurious M/S Paul Gauguin and did her diving with Top Dive. At Fakarava’s Garuae Pass, she mingled with “black-tips, gray-tips and white-tips swimming in every direction. I felt as if I were in the middle of a Hanoi street with countless vehicles speeding around me. Large schools of reef fish hung in the current -- jacks, soldierfish, surgeonfish, big-node unicorns, orange-line and pompano triggers, bluefin trevally and more . . . Top Dive has operations in the Society Islands of Papeete, Bora Bora and Moorea, and the Tuamotu atolls of Rangiroa and Fakarava. At each destination, they would pick me up at the dock and drive me to their dive shop or boat to head directly to the dive, then return me after one or two dives to catch the tender back to the Gauguin. They had clean and attractive shops at all locations. Their boats, of varying sizes, had excellent English-speaking divemasters and offered good complimentary equipment -- an Aqua Lung regulator and BCD, a three-inch shorty for the 82-degree water, nitrox and a Suunto dive computer (I left mine at home).

M/S Paul Gauguin“They were prompt and courteous. When I inadvertently left my magnifying glass in my vest in Papeete, they delivered it to me in Moorea. Their expertise was evident when it came to the speed and direction of currents in both Fakarava and Rangiroa. The width of these two passes creates strong currents flowing in every direction. The exact timing of the incoming tide is crucial, and divers have to deal with upwellings and side currents so as not get swept away. In Rangiroa, the divemaster had to hold onto a diver to keep her at depth. One day, however, they canceled my dive so they could take five divers from another cruise ship, leaving me to dive off the Gauguin, whose divemasters don’t use dive computers but do have depth gauges. Their diving was geared to the less experienced, and there were approximately 20 divers taking the certification or refresher, along with a few experienced divers. The Paul Gauguin is splendid, with fine accommodations, food and crew, and is expensive.” (Top Dive - www.topdive.com; Paul Gauguin Cruises - www.pgcruises.com)

Cozumel Underwater Photo Instruction. Reader Pec Indman (San Jose, CA) hooked up with the Liquid Motion Academy, a school of photography, film and underwater imaging on Cozumel Island. She says, “I think Undercurrent readers would love to know about them. Learning from award-winning cinematographers Anita and Guy Chaumette was a fantastic experience. I spent two wonderful days improving my skills. I have been taking underwater photos for years but had upgraded to a new, bigger camera. I loved the way Liquid Motion has learning modules, and that dives are one-on-one to best support learning. Anita and Guy were easily able to accommodate my schedule, and clarify what I was interested in and the skills that I wanted to work on. The night before my dive, Guy came to my hotel room to discuss the plan and the lesson on his iPad. The next day the dive boat picked me up, and Guy and I dove together, without having to worry about other divers. During the surface interval, we reviewed my photos and discussed the plan for the second dive. Guy is enthusiastic and a wealth of information -- he made me an eBook about the learning module (this time on underwater lighting), so I worked on that and included some of my photographs with comments. Anita and Guy offered my friends and me the opportunity to observe turtle hatching on the island, as they have been working on a documentary film about turtle conservation called City Under The Sea, which premiered in Washington DC -- see the trailer at www.liquidmotionfilm.com/ CityUnderTheSea%20Trailer.htm (www.liquidmotionacademy.com)

An Underwater Photo Class in Bali. Andrew Bernat (Arlington, VA) took his course with Underwater Tribe in Tulamben in November. He says, “What makes this workshop unique is that it is one-on-one and very instruction-oriented. There was an hour of explanation and presentation on some aspect of underwater photography, then we geared up and walked in. Luca would ask me to photograph a particular feature, look at my photograph, make suggestions about something I might consider, and then we’d iterate until he was satisfied. Communication was via a slate. The workshop focus was on composition, lighting, aperture and shutter speed primarily for wide angle. My equipment was not ideal for this, as strobe arms are not long. Nor was my experience, which has been almost entirely macro. But that’s why it was really useful for improving my skills.” (www.underwatertribe.com)

St. Vincent. Indigo Dive has always received good reports from our readers, but owner Kay Wilson decided to sell, and one never knows what new owners may bring. Robert A. Munno (New York, NY), there in November, says Dave and Luz Fery are doing a fine job. “Personalized full-service diving with the lovely couple now running Indigo Dive. Twelve fantastic dives on beautiful dive sites and wrecks. No cattle-car diving here, just laid-back dive service with the wife and me, the only divers most days. Very stress-free dive operation. The Blue Lagoon Hotel, where Indigo Dive is now headquartered, is clean and well maintained, with very nice all-water-front rooms with balconies, lovely grounds, new pool, marina, shops and two good restaurants. The only ‘bad’ was traveling through Barbados and dealing with the crappy airline LIAT.” (www.indigodive.com)

“After eight months, I quit this ship as the dive manager (gossip says it will be the next wreck of the Chuuk lagoon).”

Truk Lagoon’s Thorfinn, Revisited. This boat is a management disaster, which we wrote about in our September issue. Perhaps the only good element was Gerard, the dive manager, but he has resigned, informing many of his old customers by writing, “After almost eight months as the dive manager, I quit this ship (gossip says it will be the next wreck of the Chuuk lagoon). My predecessor served five months, and the divemaster before him seven months. My secret to stay longer than them? After three months of work, I took a six-week break (obviously an unpaid leave). I am going to dive in other seas, even if it won’t be on the self-proclaimed ‘safest liveaboard in the world’ by the Captain and his legendary generosity, his respect for the crew, his infinite patience, his stylish clothing and attitude, his refined and polite manners, his deep understanding of new technology, his respect for technical divers, his funny jokes about guests’ nationalities, and as you have discovered on board, many more qualities that make him a kind of superman, as he modestly confesses.”

Coming Up. We’ve got some excellent reviews in the works, including a liveaboard trip to Puerto Rico’s Mona Island, a new out-island resort in Belize, a never-advertised Caribbean island off of Colombia, a Bahamas liveaboard, the Andamans and more.

--Ben Davison

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