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August 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Good, the Bad and the Uncomfortable!

Undercurrent subscribers telling it like it is

from the August, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The reports from Undercurrent readers tell it as it was when our subscribers visited, and as such, their reports can be telling in details never mentioned in other media.

For example, Eleuthera looks inviting on a map, but in fact, there are better diving destinations in the Bahamas. Mary K. Wicksten (Bryan, TX) stayed at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in June, primarily for a scientific project, but went diving as well. She wrote, “I got a map showing a big resort near the Institute, but it went bankrupt and was abandoned years ago. There is a small dive shop, but it was closed. I’m told that one can charter a boat from them, but I never saw anybody there. If you’re looking for a snorkeling ‘thrill dive’ in one of the passes, be aware that the channel at Cape Eleuthera is very shallow -- it’s easy to be scraped. Even worse, it empties into a boat basin where the fishermen clean their catch. Visibility is poor, and bull sharks jump for food. (No lie! I saw it!)

When I dived St. Eustatius in the Caribbean many years ago, I was delighted with the reefs and fish, which have a good chance to remain healthy since it is a small island, little human runoff, and a marine preserve. It was the choice of Kristin W. Weck Farrag (Dundee, IL) in April, who dived with Golden Rock Dive Center. “Loads of fish and turtles -- very few sharks. Lots of little stuff, too. Not too many lionfish; they keep good control over them. The divemasters who run Golden Rock, husband and wife duo, Gary and Lynn, were fantastic.”

She noted that the dives are all pretty deep, and she was “always pushing the ‘no-deco’ limits, but Lynn and Gary went out of their way to get us the three dives per day safely, so kudos to them! In retrospect, we should have gone with Nitrox to squeeze out some extra bottom time, but we made it work.” www.goldenrockdive.com

The Old Gin House [where she stayed] is just that: Old! “The grounds are nice, but the ‘garden’ rooms really need some work. Windows are surprisingly screened (a good thing). However, the windows are wood slats, so all the A/C goes right out the window. Very difficult to keep the room cool enough.” Our tip: get the larger, more expensive rooms, not in the historic building. www.oldginhouse.com

Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles has always been popular for the unlimited shore diving, as well as the easy boat diving it provides. Todd Lichtenstein (West Orange, NJ), who went underwater with Bonaire Dive and Adventure in February, says its reputation is intact. “I would say that the reefs around Bonaire are the healthiest I have seen in the Caribbean. Lionfish are now abundant throughout the Caribbean, but there are few in Bonaire. I only saw five the whole week. It could be that the lionfish eradication program they have in Bonaire works better than in other places.”www.bonairediveandadventure.com

“The donkeys used the rinse tank at Den Laman Condos as their watering hole. After we noticed that, we never rinsed our equipment there.”

However, things weren’t perfect on shore. He was more scathing when he reported, “There was a rinse tank in the parking lot for use, but there was a problem here. Bonaire seems to be overrun with wild donkeys. They are everywhere, including the parking lot at Den Laman Condos, and they used the rinse tank as their watering hole. After we noticed that, we never rinsed our equipment there. We had to lug our stuff from the parking lot down to the rinse tanks on the pier. There were no carts or wagons, so it became an ordeal to get our equipment from the truck to the pier. The tanks were not always well-maintained. At least half the tanks leaked, either from the shutoff valve or from the tank O-rings, which were cracked and split. We had to abort one shore dive because we discovered a bad leak in one of our tanks. Even when we tried to listen for leaks before the dive, it was not always possible to alleviate this problem.” www.denlaman.com

It could be worse. A memorable line from the Ben Stiller/Jennifer Aniston movie, Along Came Polly, was when Scuba Claude asks, “Are you guys for scuba?” Evidently not if you book with Octopus Diving on the Dutch side of St. Maarten. Robert Levine (Englishtown, NJ) booked with them the previous December before arriving by cruise ship in February. He was disappointed, to say the least, to arrive at the shop in the morning ready to go, only to find his booking had been canceled due to lack of other customers. We think that’s an appalling and inexcusable business practice and recommend no Undercurrent reader should trust booking with this outfit.

It was a very different story at the Southern Cross Club on Little Cayman Island. It gets thumbs-up from Lisa Jabusch and Steve Nieters (Mount Juliet, TN), who visited last January: “The resort had a very low census, but they still took us out for all our dives (probably because we were prepaid), even if we were the only two divers! There was no grumbling or shrugging us off, and all the guides were skilled at showing us the macro stuff we wouldn’t have found on our own. Ocean-front bungalows were very roomy, and having our own porch and outdoor and indoor showers were great after diving.”

Eagle rays were a high point there in May for Rickie Sterne and Chris Button (Wesley, AR), who reported,

Southern Cross Club
“Late one morning at Grundy’s Gardens, we saw 13 eagle rays in one 66-minute dive. First, a small squadron of four swam over us. A few minutes later, two singles sailed past. Then came a squadron of five. As the two of us were completing our safety stop, one more pair of eagle rays swam majestically beneath us.” But it wasn’t all bigger animals. “When asked what I hoped to see during our dives, I said, “Nudibranchs!” In 16 years of Caribbean diving, I had seen only a single species of sea slug: Elysia crispata. We saw six species of opistobranchia other than lettuce leaf sea slugs. We also were shown three species of slender simnia snails, roughback shrimp, and nearly a dozen pipehorses. The walls are covered with hard corals and less algae than we have seen elsewhere.” The pair was equally happy with their accommodation, saying, “Southern Cross Club’s rooms, bungalows, and suites are all attractive and comfortable. Wherever you stay in the resort, you will be able to see the ocean from your porch.” There during the same month, Kevin Darnell (Wichita Falls, TX) adds: “The food was excellent. There were several choices for each meal, and the staff was each very attentive and friendly.” www.southerncrossclub.com

“The resort is located along a stretch of tattoo places, restaurants, beach massage parlors, and tacky souvenir shops.”

It’s different strokes for different folks, and Bob Huckabee (Broomfield, CO) obviously chose the wrong resort for his tastes with Pura Vida (Alona Beach), on Panglao in the Philippines. He wrote in March, “If partying and the beach scene is the focus of your vacation, then this is an OK choice, but if diving is your focus, I do not recommend the resort. It is located along a stretch of tattoo places, restaurants, beach massage parlors, and tacky souvenir shops. The resort plays loud music until about midnight, and the rooms are very close to all the action, so sleep is elusive. The newer rooms in the back are slightly less noisy, but still, the noise can be heard with the windows closed and air conditioner running.” www.alonavida.com

MandarinFish
Mandarinfish make an appearance
on Philippine reefs
Todd Lichtenstein stayed at the Aiyanar Dive Resort on Anilao in the Philippines during April, and found, “The bedroom area was very small, with virtually no storage space to put clothes. The small desk was barely large enough for my laptop computer. The mattresses were firm and comfortable, but both top and bottom sheets and the blankets were too small for the mattresses, so that when the beds were made up it was as if they had been short-sheeted. We had to remake the beds every night and turn the sheets and blankets lengthwise so that they would cover our bodies. The bottom sheets were so small that they could not be tucked under the mattress. We would wake up in the middle of the night with all the sheets balled up on the bare mattress. We told the hotel manager about this problem, but it was never fixed.” He attended a photo workshop given by Reef Photo. “At least for this workshop, there was one dive guide for every four people, and the guides were rotated among the divers throughout the week. Most of the guides were excellent and very skilled at finding critters. The workshop was great and very well run.” www.aiyanar.com

You can have just as much fun diving in Florida’s east coast waters, according to Gregory S. Bruce (Portland, OR), as anywhere in the Caribbean. He was at Boynton Beach, FL, in February, diving with Loggerhead Dive Charters, and reported: “All dives were nice, mellow drifts that you could easily turn into and fin lightly and stay in place to search for critters. Water was 74-76 degrees. 5mm is perfect. Jump in, drop down on the reef, head west to the ledge of the reef, which was about 5-10 feet high, and drift north. Reef life was abundant. We saw two huge loggerhead turtles, angel fish as big as hubcaps, loads of tropical fish, a couple of sharks, lobsters, crabs, etc." www.loggerheadcharters.com

“We actually saw scalloped hammerhead sharks on both dives. Pretty cool, considering how hard these buggers are to find around the world.”

Experienced diver Mark Etter (Lititz, PA) did not have high expectations diving off Maui, Hawaii, with Lahaina Divers last March. He was surprised with big sharks. “Twice a week, Lahaina Divers schedules trips to Eastern Molokai to a site called Fish Rain, where we actually saw scalloped hammerhead sharks on both dives. Pretty cool, considering how hard these buggers are to find around the world. The five sharks that we saw were more than eight feet long and at depths of 80-95 feet. They were shy, but did hang around for 5-10 minutes. Lahaina Divers organizes this trip for experienced divers. The conditions can be rough, but that’s always where the cool stuff is anyways. The drop off is a ‘live’ drop off close to the rocks, requiring all eight divers to jump in almost together.” www.lahainadivers.com

I feel sorry for Dennis A. McCrea (Burien, WA), who went to Fantasy Island on Honduras’ Roatan in April, because he had not read our scathing review of it last summer. As it turns out, he experienced much of the problems our reviewer reported. “After three boat dives and wanting a warm afternoon shower, no hot/warm water. It was the morning of day 5 [before] we had hot water. Rooms were clean, but need some cosmetic repairs. Missing grout, cracked tiles, water pressure in the shower made the detachable shower head a necessity. Had to hold it next to your arms, legs, and on your head to get wet. There is a big turnover in staff -- it seems most people have only worked there for a week or two. The woman who runs the bar had a careless attitude and seemed inconvenienced when we asked for limes with our drinks because she had to slice them.” www.fantasyislandresort.com

Iceland can make a convenient stopover between North America and Europe, and it has one remarkable dive site at Silfra, where you can dive in the cold, freshwater crack where two continents collide. Harvey S. Cohen (Middletown, NJ) passed through in June and didn’t miss the opportunity to dive with Dive.IS. He reported, “I had only one drysuit dive logged when I arrived, but I was reasonably confident that I could handle the drysuit in these conditions. It was not a problem. They’ll coach a complete beginner through the dives, but they recommend taking their drysuit course first. All the equipment was high quality and well maintained.” Water runs from Iceland’s second-largest glacier, underground through many miles of lava rock over several decades, and emerges at Silfra to flow into the huge lake Thingvellir. It is filtered -- clear as air and delicious to drink. The dive follows a mild current. The max legal dive depth is 60 feet. Toward the end, there are parts that are extremely shallow. The views throughout the dive are awesome. There are two kinds of plants growing on the rocks -- scummy brown algae and phosphorescent green seaweed-like algae that’s quite pretty. Animal life is generally limited to a few dwarf arctic char, well camouflaged and shy, but our guide spotted a standard char and I saw a pink worm.”

We hasten to add that Iceland appears to have only one, if dramatic, dive site worth the effort. www.dive.is

Whalesharks in the Maldives
Snorkeling with a whaleshark
in the Maldives
Liveaboard life can be great when everything is perfect, but when it’s not, you don’t get an option to abandon ship. Eric A. Frick (Elmhurst, IL) enjoyed South Ari Atoll in the Maldives during May, although it seemed very crowded. He went snorkeling for a whale shark encounter while on a diving charter aboard MV Adora. It proved quite competitive, considering all the other boats doing the same. “When instructed to do so, we all jumped in. Picture several dozen tourists flailing through the water in snorkeling gear. We came upon one 12-footer and enjoyed looking at it, but we were a solid mat of humanity, floating on the surface. Actually, a shot of all those writhing visitors on the surface would have been better than the one I got of the shark. After that, I was happy to simply motor to a reef to do a dive, and wonder of wonders, a magnificent 18-foot whale shark appeared [during the dive].” www.liveaboard.com/adora-liveaboard

Donald Mease (Hagerstown, MD) joined the liveaboard catamaran Cat Ppalu with 11 friends, some of whom were not divers, to dive around Eleuthera in the Bahamas last March and wasn’t happy. They felt like they were an annoyance more than customers. “For whatever reason, the captain found it necessary to dive the same sites two, and in one case with a night dive, three times. It was very disappointing for being on a boat. Also, we were under the impression that there would be some beach time available for the nondivers. When we asked about going to where the swimming pigs were, the captain seemed visibly annoyed that he was going to have to sail there, though this stop is advertised on their website. One more incident involved a nondiver wanting to have an alcoholic beverage, and Captain Sam told her no because she might be getting in the water later. Overall, after planning this trip a year in advance, it was one of the most disappointing trips we have done.” www.catppalu.com

In Palau aboard the MV Palau Aggressor II in March, Brent Woods (Deep River, ON) wrote, “I was pleasantly surprised to see a review of the Palau Aggressor in the May issue of Undercurrent. I was also disappointed with my recent trip on this boat. The diving in Palau is so good that not even poor boat detracts from the memory of the trip.

The Palau Aggressor is about 20 years old and showing its age. The boat looks tired. All of the cabins have bunk beds without ladders. The AC in one cabin was stuck at its lowest setting for the whole trip. One of the main fridges in the galley broke down during the trip. I hate being photographed and looking at pictures of myself. I requested not to be photographed. I was the most photographed person on the trip. My tip was small.” www.aggressor.com

Keep your reports coming. Share your real experiences with other readers. It’s what makes Undercurrent unique.

– Ben Davison

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