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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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October 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Managing Dive Trip Expectations

more readers report and tell it like it is

from the October, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Commercial dive magazines are often full of hyperbole, resolutely promoting diving destinations, many of which happen to be advertisers. We're different -- of course, we don't take advertising -- and Undercurrent subscribers tell us -- and we publish -- the downside of their diving trips, too. It doesn't necessarily mean a trip is a disaster. Successful travel often involves managing expectations.

For example, the Riding Rock Inn of San Salvador in the Bahamas was looking a little tired before the hurricane hit it in October 2015, but this gave the operators a chance to rebuild. That said, it is still not a five-star luxury destination by any means. Tripp Jones (Columbia, SC) visited this August and reported, "The hotel is basic, and this is a diver's resort. Water is a problem here and ice is limited, but we thoroughly enjoyed the food, which was superb. The hotel staff is excellent, with great attitudes, really wanting to make our stay enjoyable. The rooms are clean and certainly adequate. The Guanahani dive operation is superb. The viz was 125 feet, plus with sharks seen on 16 of 17 dives. The overall fish life was really good, although there was some bleached coral."

The Maldives are a long way to go for such gross disappointment.

There's a risk a change in management does not always bring improvements. Pirates Point Resort on Little Cayman has been the Cayman's storybook dive resort since Gladys Howard opened it three decades ago. It sure has been my favorite. When Gladys passed in December after a long illness, we expected that it would not miss a beat, and Andrew Bernat (Arlington, VA), there in May, reports, "Despite the change in management (Gladys Howard's daughter, Susan, has taken over), things continue to roll along with the same combination of relaxation, good eating, and quality diving. Unfortunately, my dive buddy/spouse was suffering a sinus infection and could only dive the last day. We had purchased the all-inclusive dive package. It was pointed out that she could move to the relaxation package, pay only for the dives she did, and we'd save some money. At least that way you aren't being hit twice. Kudos!"

To the southeast in the Caribbean, Dale Lachman (Libertyville, IL) had an equally successful stay on Saba in August. Still a colony of the Netherlands and subject to the European Union social safety net, there is no overt poverty. Dale dived with Sea Saba. "The rainforest hikes are wonderful; you just can't go to the top of Mount Scenery at 3200 feet on the day of the dive without risking DCS. Reef sharks, nurse sharks and turtles seen on most dives," and the concentration of fish raised a smile. "We stayed in a cottage at Juliana's that didn't have air conditioning. The first night was rough, we borrowed another fan, but as the week wore on, I acclimated, and it wasn't bad."

Warm nights can be uncomfortable but it's often said that worse things happen at sea. Elizabeth Russell (West Mifflin, PA) experienced a catalog of disasters aboard a liveaboard this August in the Maldives. "We spent the week on the MV Maldives Aggressor, and it did not live up to our expectations. The boat had many issues, which made the trip very uncomfortable. One of the generators quit working, and the crew switched to the alternate generator, which also broke down, leaving the boat with emergency battery power only. One of the winches that bring up the anchor was broken, and the other was unable to work without the generator. The boat was dead in the water, unable to move because it was anchored. Most of the passengers were out on a night dive when the generator failed, and all the flashlights were on the dhoni. The crew lit candles, which we felt was a safety hazard. My buddy and I, who skipped the night dive, rounded up flashlights and provided them to the crew, who were using their phones to light the engine room and diagnose the problem. No power meant no air conditioning, no water-making capabilities, no tank-filling ability, and no way to move the boat in case of an emergency.

"The crew moved the bedding onto the deck for passengers who wanted to sleep outside, since the rooms were terribly hot. Since they couldn't cook, the next day we were provided with lunch at a local resort. We got one dive that day, as the crew was able to fill tanks by asking another operator to help out. The next day, the part arrived to fix one of the generators. Several hours later, the generator was repaired, meaning that it was limping along. We got very low on water since the boat was not able to make water while the generator was out. We should have been instructed to try to ration water, but the crew was very bad at communicating." It's a long way to go for such gross disappointment.

Some might think of the Caribbean as our primary warm water diving destination, but we should not overlook Florida. Jim Garren (Boyton Beach, FL) went with Loggerhead Dive Charters in June to dive the east coast of South Florida. He told Undercurrent subscribers, "There are three offshore parallel reefs at approximately 30-, 60- and 90-foot depths, and many ships deliberately sunk as artificial reefs. DM Nancy will ask which depth you prefer before your drop. All local diving, except some wrecks, is drift diving. Once in the water, divers simply allow the current to take them on a tour of the incredible ledges and reefs."

He goes on to describe the satisfyingly large gamut of tropical marine life including nurse, hammerhead, and Caribbean reef sharks. "There are plenty of spiny lobsters year-round. Bring some back in season if you have your Florida permit. Spearfishing not encouraged, but permitted by those with the skills to do so responsibly."

Much further from home, the United Arab Emirates, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, represent an island of sanity in what could be thought of an unstable part of the world. Fujairah is on the coast of the Arabian Sea, squeezed between the main part of Oman and Oman's Musandam peninsula, and features some especially beautiful hotels. Eileen J Councill (Milton, FL) was there last May.

"We love diving in Fujairah, an easy 2-hour drive from Dubai to the coast. Al Boom is a great, safe and professional dive organization that employs very chill, kind, fun, experienced dive guides. The water clarity is not great, but the macro opportunities are endless. There is little current and the sites are easy to navigate. The boats are large and not over-packed with divers. There is a great ratio with the dive guides, usually 1:3 or 1:4 maximum. The guides always look for animal life and will specifically search for things that you specify. The dive shop facility is excellent, with lockers, changing rooms, showers, places to sit, places to store gear overnight, a well equipped store if you need anything, and great rental equipment." Although the coastal landscape is spectacular, visibility varies greatly, and at times the water can be very green.

The Philippines are always welcoming. Formerly the Truk Aggressor, the MV Atlantis Azores, under new ownership, travels to the remote Tubbataha Reef. It's an excellent vessel, with great sea-keeping qualities, twin engines and perfect for travel to such a remote location, with fabulous cuisine, too -- but the cabins can be rather cramped as Michael J Millet (Dublin, CA) discovered in May.

"Boarded the Azores liveaboard for a 7-night dive trip to the Tubbataha reef system from Puerto Princessa. My cabin was fine for one person, but would have been quite tight for two. There is no drawer storage space, so all clothes and other stuff went on the top bunk. The cabins have no windows or portholes, and the lighting is dim, so the rather dark environment is best suited for only sleeping.

"The diving at Tubbataha is best suited for wide-angle photography, with lots of sharks (mostly gray reef and white-tip), manta rays, large schools of jacks and barracudas, octopus, turtles and whale sharks. We had two whale shark encounters, each lasting about a minute or so, and a nice encounter with a few hammerhead sharks. We dived the entire reef system, both north and south atolls, along with Jessy Beazly Reef. There are several liveaboards that dive Tubbataha during the limited diving season, so some of the dive sites can get a bit congested, such as Black Rock, where the mantas hang out."

A vessel's crew can make all the difference. Two months earlier, in March, Raymond Haddad (Candiac, QC) had been at Tubbataha on the MV Philippine Siren. He was less than enthralled with the dive guides. "Our guides aboard Siren would just swim in one direction, and once in a while point out things like white tip reef sharks. We saw at least hundreds of them -- you don't need a guide for that, as they are all over. They would be obsessed with going out in the blue and waiting for 15 minutes just in case a different type of shark would appear. How boring! While they were doing that, I would be exploring the reef to find critters on my own. Was is worth it to travel so far, along with two 14-hour boat rides, to do 18 dives spread over four-and-a-half days at the cost of a little over $6,000?"

Alas, it's not only your own crew that can spoil things for you. It was almost perfect for Rose Mueller (Houston, TX) with Scuba Du in Mexico's Cozumel during July, except for an impertinent dive guide from another operation. "We've always hired a private boat with Scuba Du for our photography. Jose Luis has been our guide for many years. He has a great love for the marine environment. If I were to have one complaint, it would be about [another] divemaster who passed us with ten divers trailing behind. As I had a finger on a sponge to patiently wait for them to pass, the guide chastised me for touching it. I watched as his divers kicked the reef with their fins and grabbed on to whatever was available. No, there wasn't a guide at the end of the line to curtail their harmful activity. I am a firm advocate of reef preservation and using great care in not touching those things that can be harmed, but some guides in Cozumel are becoming too empowered without realizing they need to watch their own groups more carefully."

All vessels have breakdowns at some time or another, and, such is the nature of the animal, it always happens during a charter! Douglas Peterson (Naperville, IL) was impressed with the crew, the facilities and luxury of MV Dewi Nusantara in July, embarking from Bali for a trip around Komodo in Indonesia. He was less impressed the first day when they were held up due to a breakdown, and instead, dived unplanned locations around Gili Tranangan while they waited for parts. It meant muck diving, something he wasn't prepared for, and he became anxious they would not see the coral reefs he had paid to dive. The vessel soon made up time on the itinerary, and he later saw "a huge expanse of awesomely healthy flatland coral gardens filled with every color you can image and millions of small fish. Breathtaking!" He even came to appreciate the critters found while muck diving: "I was sceptical about muck diving when I started this trip, but the final two dives made me a convert." All's well that ends well.

Sometimes what you get is not quite what is presented by the publicity or what you expected. However, unless it's an unmitigated disaster, things can come right in the end. Don't let small imperfections ruin your trip because things weren't quite as you preconceived. Manage your expectations, and share your experiences with other Undercurrent subscribers, both good and bad. File a Reader's Report by clicking on the link below.

- Ben Davison

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