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June 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 32, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Belize, Utila, Palau, Komodo, Bonaire

Caribbean whalesharks, missing hammerheads

from the June, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The Aggressor Fleet markets a wide range of liveaboards, with one operating at almost every conceivable diving destination in the world. Perhaps the most favored destination is Belize, which has calm waters and is easy to reach -- it's only a two hour flight from Houston. It's a great destination for first-time liveaboard divers, and gets plenty of repeat business as well.

Take, for example, Lynda Durfee (Alexandria, VA) and her experience with the MV Belize Aggressor IV. She gave it five stars in most departments including value-for-money, since she took advantage of a one-third reduction in the normal price for certain May dates. In fact, she wrote she couldn't say anything bad about the boat except that there were some AC problems leading to a cabin warmer than wanted.

She loved the 'fin-to-fin' service, meaning she never even had to put her own fins on or take them off. It was done for her. She said "the food was terrific" and her only real complaint seemed to be that a single dive guide escorting 19 guests was a little overambitious, although that would have suited a lot of divers who were free to go off alone in their buddy pairs.

It was a pity that the diving did not live up to her expectations. http://www.aggressor.com/belize-iv.php

We like hearing about improvements. George Borton (Venice, FL) was on MV Aqua Cat in The Bahamas in March and told that things had been improved since our August 2016 Undercurrent review. He wrote, "Apparently the ship was maintained during offseason, as I did not find it in the condition reported [in August.] We had good towels, no rust in the bathroom and the carpeting seemed to be in good shape. The crew was excellent, and the food was very good -- especially for a liveaboard," but added he was very disappointed in the diving itself, because, "The reefs were in poor condition and covered with algae and a lot of sand." www.allstarliveaboards.com/aquacat

Long Haul Liveaboards

It was a similar story with Phil Johnston (Bayswater, Western Australia), who was also (surprisingly) disappointed with the diving, when he otherwise enjoyed a May trip on the MV Okeanos Aggressor II to Costa Rica's Cocos Island. He gave the boat four and five stars in every category, saying he couldn't fault the boat or crew. Stan Waterman was ever fond of saying that "Cocos always delivers," but Phil reports that the diving on his trip it failed to "live up to its stellar reputation." He failed to see any schooling hammerheads. Consolation prizes came in the less-than-frequent sightings of a large tiger shark, Galapagos sharks and a large manta that turned up at Alcyone. The inshore dive sites were "frankly boring and difficult, due to a strong surge and marginal visibility."

Well, that's nature for you! www.aggressor.com/cocos-ii.php

As far as marine life goes, we have to enjoy what is there. Frederick R. Turoff (Philadelphia, PA) went to the volcanic Revillagigedos archipelago south of Baja California in March aboard the MV Rocio del Mar. His previous trip 16 years before had rewarded him with humpback whales, so his expectations were high, but he saw none this time. However, "that didn't spoil the trip, as we had numerous encounters with mantas and sharks. Large mantas enjoyed us divers enough to stay with us for most of the dives, which lasted around 45 minutes . . . The Rocio del Mar is a fine boat, and the crew takes care of passenger needs. The only downer happened only to my cabin -- a pipe sprung a leak in the cabin wall on day three, so the carpet was wet for most of the trip." The trip to the Revillagigedos Islands from Los Cabos San Lucas takes about 28 hours each way, "so those who are prone to seasickness should medicate before departure." www.rociodelmarliveaboard.com

The Fiji liveaboard Nai'a has an enviable reputation with Undercurrent readers. As usual, it got five stars all around for the April visit by Larry Schnabel (Templeton, CA). Larry has been to most of the top dive spots in the world, so he knows what he's talking about when he says, "Nai'a is superbly run, very good food, and exceptional service. Best of the many dive boats I have been on. It's truly the Rolls Royce of dive boats."

He did feature one complaint, though. On boarding day, with all the arriving passengers' luggage still on deck, they were told everyone should break out their dive gear and prepare for a check-out dive. You know how annoying it must be when you've packed your gear and clothes for travel so that fragile stuff is mixed up with a wetsuit and soft clothing for protection? This meant that the contents of everyone's bags were strewn around the dive deck, with resulting chaos. The dive guide stated that everyone should have been told to pack the dive gear separately (he's obviously got little experience of airport baggage handlers) so that "when the call comes with all haste to pull out our dive gear, the task would have been easier." So Nai'a -- close to perfection but "no cigar!" www.naia.com.fj

Caribbean 'Alarms and Excursions'

Michael Marmesh (Miami, FL) went to Utopia Village in Utila in April and hit a lucky streak with his diving experience.

After he and his partner had waited for 40 years to dive with whale sharks, they finally hit the mark four days in a row. On their third day of diving, they'd seen two sperm whales during a trip to the dive site (not close enough to snorkel with them), but ended up snorkeling with a pod of dolphins. Back at base, they got news of a whale shark in the vicinity, and their special trip out was rewarded with an 18-minute encounter with a young one they named 'Elvis' in honor of their boat driver. He liked the beautiful, healthy corals and numerous critters, and says, "So would I go back if I knew there would be no whale shark encounters? Absolutely!" www.utopiautila.com

We wrote about Aldora Diving in Cozumel in the last issue, but here are others to consider. Robert L. Short (Colorado Springs, CO) chose Dive-with-Cristina and her 42-foot dive boat Nina in Cozumel in April. He vetted many other dive operators and was looking for a larger, more comfortable vessel that wasn't a "cattle boat" because nowadays he's "built for comfort and not for speed ... Javier, the divemaster, went out of his way to make my diving better with education and tips on getting the most out of our dives." www.villaselencantocozumel.com and www.divewithcristina.com

Gregory Bruce (Camarillo, CA) and his wife were in Cozumel at the same time. He dived Blue XT Sea Diving and suggested it merited five stars for experienced divers, but less for beginners. An old hand at Cozumel diving, he liked that his every request was accommodated, and says it will not be his last visit with them. "Diving in Cozumel is always a blast. Diving with Blue XT Sea just makes it that much better." www.bluextseadiving.com

Dominica has long been a Caribbean favorite of Undercurrent divers who like the rainforest, the hiking, and the lush reefs. Desiree Bell (New Orleans, LA) dived with Nature Island Dive in March, staying at their apartments. "It's is a great operation. They generally have very small groups and cater to the client's needs and wants. I was there for a month and only dived the same site twice if I requested it . . . The sites are all just a short boat trip away. Sometimes, the boat would head back to shore for the surface interval. The dives consist of walls and pinnacles, for the most part, and the reefs are in excellent shape." Desiree saw virtually no bleaching and plenty of biodiversity, including several encounters with sea turtles -- and on one dive, she heard humpback whales singing the entire time she was underwater. www.natureislanddive.com

"It should've been better!" That's what Bruce J. Levine (Dunedin, FL) said about the Buddy Dive Resort in Bonaire. His group of 20 or so thought the resort was too crowded, to which a group of 20 certainly contributed. When he arrived in March, he was unimpressed with the tired-looking accommodation. The room was average, with everything worn, like the stained cushions and the patio doors with the handle missing. He wrote that there were unprotected electrical cables and connectors lying close to walkways and weeds growing through the deck of the pool area, with the pool itself never less than cloudy during his stay.

"The dive operation appeared chaotic. At least two people were injured and attended to by paramedics the first day. The resort accommodates groups [that aren't staying there], including those from cruise ships that anchor nearby. There is a briefing when you arrive and a checkout dive that no-one checks you out on . . . I did not expect a valet or concierge diving. I just expected safe, consistent and professional service. Sometimes I got it and sometimes I didn't." www.buddydive.com

Also in Bonaire, Ken (no surname given) from Toronto, Canada, stayed at the Divi Flamingo in March, and thought, despite the renovations, it was quite shabby in parts. "The new stuff is running downhill quickly. The new bathrooms were needed, but ours already had lots of dark mold stains in the shower. The rest of the suite appeared original and was a little shabby, with drawers that were falling apart. The house-cleaning service was questionable, as we were missed one day. Close inspection of the corners of the room revealed clumps of dust bunnies, and the closet below the air conditioner was dirty with mold." goo.gl/brgq4a

Still in Bonaire and full of praise for Bruce Bowker's Carib Inn Retail Store, Joel Horie (UT) on a trip in March, together with Blake Hottle (CA) who visited in May, were both very enthusiastic about the service and good advice given, even saying "Bruce is truly a national treasure!" www.caribinn.com

When Chip Wright (Hebron, KY), an airline pilot, got stranded with his crew in St. Maarten in April, due to their destination airport getting snowed in, he and his co-pilot decided to do some diving with Ocean Explorers Dive Center in Simpson Bay. "It doesn't cater to beginners. You're expected to have a degree of experience, competence, and confidence. You board the boats by wading into the water and climbing the ladder, and everyone is expected to help in getting everything on the boat. It's well organized, efficient, and it makes the best of not having a dock." He thought that the highlight of his two days' diving was the shark dive that needed no feeding to attract the sharks. www.stmaartendiving.com

Traveling Farther Afield

Everyone now heads for Indonesia, or so it seems. Ken New (Minneapolis, MN) went to the remote island of Komodo in April, famous for its dragons, and once again it was almost five stars all around. He and his partner stayed at the Italian-owned Komodo Resort and Diving Club and dived with the resort's Sebayur Diving Center. His only gripe was an ecological one. He was dismayed to see they allowed groups of five to eight snorkelers to stand on the coral at times. These people were not from the same resort, but the Indonesian staff members are too polite to take issue with people from the West. That said, he signed off his report with, "By the end of our week, we wished we could stay another one." Komodo Resort Management -- it's time to step in and speak up. www.komodoresort.com

Palau, in Micronesia, has had some bad diving press recently because of its recent overwhelming popularity with divers from Taiwan and the Chinese mainland -- who apparently are not as ecologically sensitive as other divers have learned to be. Rose Mueller (Houston, TX) made her 26th visit there this April, staying at the Palau Pacific Resort and diving with its Splash in-house dive operation.

She commented that the country has decided to limit cheap trips from China so that the resort was devoid of masses of tourists. She found herself in the company of Americans, Europeans, and Japanese. This apparent downturn in tourism, she thinks, has caused the resort to eliminate several key employees. Many rooms needed refurbishing. The resort appeared to focus more on the $1000-per-night bungalows aimed at the rich and famous.

That said, the dive operation was busier than ever (although they dived in small groups), and the water had better clarity than ever, but the sharks and Napoleon wrasses seemed fewer. It's still a diving operation worth five stars, and Rose thinks it value-for-money. www.palauppr.com

Closer to Home

You can have great diving closer to home in Florida, as Ed Vaillancourt (Albuquerque, NM) knows. He was in Key Largo on a business trip in March and managed to steal away for a day of diving the Spiegel Grove wreck with his wife and Quiescence Diving Services.

"Quiescence was a great choice, with guaranteed low diver count onboard (6 or less). The good ratings from other Undercurrent diver reports sealed the deal, and so we walked into their dive shop hoping for the best. Kate greeted us, and she was delightful, and it was the start of a great day. The rest of the staff were equally as friendly and helpful."

March isn't necessarily the best time in Florida, but they found themselves between two storm systems, and the weather was good. "Down on the deck of the wreck, we found the usual suspects: Great barracuda, large Nassau grouper (but no Goliath), yellowtail and black fin snapper, blue tangs, sharp nose puffer, damsel, and butterfly fish, bristle worms and more. There are over 150 species that hang out on and around the ship, and my dive buddy was very busy counting."

Over all, Ed ranked the Quiescence dive operation right up in the 5-star range for its laid-back friendliness, efficiency and full-scale operation. http://keylargodiving.com

So now, let us hear from you. To aid your fellow Undercurrent subscribers, please send us a report on any trips you've made in the last six months by filling out our online form. You can follow the link "File a Report" on the left side of our homepage at www.undercurrent.org or after logging in, follow the "Reader Report" link in the top navigation bar.

Now, go have a good dive!

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