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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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November 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Roatan, the Brac, Sulawesi, Fiji …

and a lot of bad diving behavior

from the November, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

From time to time, we like to update our readers on good diving opportunities and operators to avoid, and to improve the decorum of our fellow divers. So, have a look:

Honduras is a dive destination undamaged by this year's hurricanes, with lots of living coral and tropicals, even whale sharks). On Utila, Eutopia Village is getting good marks from our readers. Frank Rudecoff (Carbondale, CO), there in April, says it's "a beautiful, well-managed resort. The valet diving service was excellent. The accommodations are clean, spacious and air-conditioned. The meals were normally in a beautiful dining room overlooking the water. A few times tables were set in the shallow end of the pool and we ate while seated in the water. The diving is recovering from overfishing, so fish were sparse at a few sites. We swam with whale sharks on many occasions ... Elizabeth Hilla, (Arlington VA), there is September, says "It's a small resort that caters to divers with a feel of a remote, rustic resort. Our divemaster, Chris, was amazing, and the dive staff takes care of everything. We saw eagle rays, morays, turtles, sharks, stingrays, lobsters, various crabs, and the usual Caribbean fish. The corals are in good shape and varied. We saw all kinds of small creatures, which Chris was excellent at pointing out. We got to snorkel with dolphins about 15 minutes."

And, the Roatan Aggressor is being well received. Don Wikle (Atlanta), aboard in June, says: the previous Utila Aggressor has been refurbished stem to stern. Dive sites were off Roatan and Utila, as well as open water seamounts. There was one planned shark dive, which was so good, the divers voted to do it again. There is plenty of variety with reef, wall, and wrecks. The crew and service were among the best. Rooms are small, but nice ... Danee Hubbs (Seattle), aboard in July, says "I rented equipment, and the crew set it up for me near the entry; I have some arthritis problems, and the crew could not have made it any easier for me. We dove Cayos Cochinos and most sites in the area except for Utila. Marine life was plentiful, and a special treat was the millions of silversides as we dove Dolphin Caves. Food was incredible and included organic greens from Guanaja, plenty of local food and flavors, and decadent desserts!"

The Perils of Diving in Hurricane Season: The MV Juliet had just begun it's week-long Bahamas' trip October 1, with Frank Hall (Floyds Knobs, IN) aboard. "On the second day, trying to find a location where it was safe to dive was getting difficult, if not impossible. Captain Liza called a group meeting. The weather was projected to get worse, and crossing the Gulf Stream more difficult. We could stay one more day, or go back to Miami. The group elected to go back, as the waves in the Gulf Stream were supposed to be 14 feet later in the week. Arrived back in Miami October 2 at 7:00 p.m. after a very rolling trip in 8- to 9-foot Gulf Stream waves. They gave us credit for the unused portion of our trip toward another trip (or we could submit a claim to our trip insurance). Thanks to the Captain and crew for getting us to Miami, a bit queasy, but safe and sound to dive another day."

For serious divers wanting to visit Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Mike Ball's operation has always been the choice. Jeff Robertson (Roseville, CA) dived with them years ago, but in April, with only a few days to spare, he went with Deep Sea Divers Den. He started in a day boat out of Cairns that had about 80 snorkelers, and divers for two dives, then was transferred to Ocean Quest liveaboard for diving and two nights aboard, then met up with the Sea Quest for the afternoon ride back to Cairns. "Our cabin on the Ocean Quest was very nice, the food was adequate, but the briefings were terrible, with little in the way of dive planning. Go on your own or pay $15 per diver per dive in a group. The reefs were in bad shape from coral bleaching, overuse, and inexperienced divers. The mostly young and energetic crew seemed helpful and friendly. I asked one of the crew about the minimal boat, safety, and dive briefings and he said that Diver's Den found it was easier to correct people than to try to inform them." And, since two divers were left to drift away from a GBR boat 20 years ago (remember the film Open Water), Queensland is supposed to have tough rules!

Undercurrent Gets It Right

Robertson says that "their reviews on Trip Advisor are glowing, so I'm in the minority on that score." And that's why Undercurrent stands out with serious divers, because we pride ourselves in honest writing, as do our subscribers pride themselves on their honest reader reports. For example, Steve Dougherty joined Los Island Voyages out of Nassau in August and says "Read about it in Undercurrent's 2017 Travelin' Diver's Chapbook. The review was all it said it was and more. Three to four a day plus night. Crew was impressive, food good and plenty beer and other liquors. The dive masters were very informative" ... And, Dr. Bill Schlegal went to Fiji's Paradise Resort in May and says, "You will be pleased to hear that all the 16 divers in our group, and two nondivers, agreed wholeheartedly with our feature article on Paradise Resort. Paradise, Taveuni is an amazingly high-end resort for something that remote. The description of the diving was wonderful and covered well."

In 2004, Undercurrent was the first dive publication to report on the whale sharks off Holbox, and they've since become an enormous attraction. Perhaps the easiest way to see them is through Isla Mujeres, a small island off Cancun. Howard Kaiser and his wife (Liberty MO) wrote: "We booked with Rafael de la Parra, a gentleman recommended by another Undercurrent reader. Rafael and his son gave us three straight days of interaction with at least 70-80 whale sharks, often with four or five within 20 feet of us! Rafael is an educator, and his knowledge made this trip exceptionally rewarding. He was a master at not only finding the whale sharks but steering away from the 30-40 boats that came out each day, often with eight to 10 people in one boat. Rafael was able to move a few miles away and we'd have quiet water that made for great photo opportunities."

Bad Behavior from our Fellow Divers

Michael & Jan Lewis (Vonore, TN) went out with Ocean Frontiers on Grand Cayman's East End in June and a had great diving trip --- they've dived with them 15 years, and, like Undercurrent, recognize it as one of the best full-service dive resorts in the Caribbean. However, they raise an interesting problem about rude photographers, "who extended their morning dives to one hour and 15 or 20 minutes without regard for the other divers or the crew. The crew had no chance to get lunch, and divers who were going to another resort for lunch or to pick up other divers had less than half an hour to get back to check in for the afternoon dives. We would have liked the shop to say something to these rude divers, and I think they might have. They should have been banned from future dives after doing this on multiple days." Some photographers will argue that they paid good money, so they want maximum bottom time, but that's a bit self-centered answer, we think.

And speaking of rude divers, what about this group aboard the Okeanos Aggressor last January? Elizabeth Russell (West Mifflin, PA) had a good trip on a local itinerary along the Costa Rica coast, except for these louts. "Seven people who came as a group were loud, arrogant, and obnoxious. They found reasons to throw our drying suits on the floor, move gear from lockers, sit on our lockers when we were trying to dress, and be general nuisances. After the last dive of the day, they took three bottles of wine each and went to the upper deck. They left no room for anyone else to sit, so the remainder of the passengers were relegated to the salon. I know that some boats ration alcohol and charge for extra drinks. I don't think that is the answer, but perhaps some reasonable limits should be put on drinking and diving."

And, she supports a pet peeve of ours. "On our first day, our divemaster wanted to swim as fast as possible to get to who knows where. I'm not sure why young male divemasters think their divers want to swim long distances into the current, but it seems to happen on too many boats. Several of us decided to follow our own dive plan after we hit 104' and the nitrox alarms on all the computers started screaming. After that, the dives became less stressful and more enjoyable."

There's a good chance that a reader or two may recognize themselves, so we offer it up as an opportunity to join The League of Considerate Divers next time out.

Guadalupe and Guadeloupe

Mark Tarczynski (Glendale, CA), went to Mexico's Guadalupe Island with the MV Sea Escape in September. He got plenty of great shark photos and was happy with the cage diving, but, he says, "OMG, this boat is filthy. Every night the bottoms of my feet were black ... like I had been walking around in black mud. Do they ever hose down the decks? Safety? Well, the door from the dive deck to the salon, on pretty much every liveaboard I've been on, is a steel bulkhead door that seals against water intrusion in case of a catastrophe. On the Sea Escape, the doors are standard issue residential doors and seal against nothing! If you are the hearty, uber-macho, California diver type, who likes to spearfish, or drop below 300 feet on tri-mix gas, my issues with Sea Escape probably won't matter, but if safety and a 'clean' operation are important, I would recommend a different liveaboard." The Nautilus Fleet has great boats for diving with the great white sharks of Mexico's Guadalupe Island, and it is preferred by Undercurrent readers.

Don't mistake Guadalupe Island for Guadeloupe, an island in the Caribbean. Americans rarely seem to dive there -- probably because French is the primary language -- but Cousteau loved it, and there's a large marine reserve there named after him. From the Atlantis Dive Resort in Guadeloupe, Meurice Vincent wrote to say that the reserve had survived hurricane Maria and was good for diving. How about one of our subscribers going there and sending us a report?

Luxuriating on Land

While Indonesia is liveaboard heaven, a week or more confined to a boat is not for everyone, so if you're one of those, but dying to get wet in Indonesia, Gerald Wilison (South Orange, NJ) says Bunaken Oasis and Spa on North Sulawesi, near Manado, is "quite simply, the finest resort I've ever been to. It is a small resort with a high level of service. From your airport pickup on, you'll never have to pick up anything heavier than a large glass of beer. The rooms are private cabins, beautifully appointed, with air conditioning. Vaulted ceilings and beautiful views from their locations on the hill. Diving's superb. Plentiful, healthy corals, tons of fish, and lots of interesting smaller creatures. I saw more frogfish than I've seen over 700+ dives. Turtles abound. And who doesn't love clownfish? The boats are large and beautifully appointed with bathrooms, and carry a maximum of five divers. The guides are sharp-eyed and attentive, with typically two guides per boat. I was part of Martin Edge's underwater photography workshop, so all of us had vast amounts of heavy, fragile, and expensive camera gear. Each diver had his own camera Sherpa to carry his rigs back and forth from the camera room to the boat. The menu varied, always with a local option, and had artistic and tasty appetizers, soups, beautifully presented, flavored entrees, and yummy deserts. One night, the staff serenaded us with local songs, pop classics, and even a charming solo rendition of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah.' Truly a remarkable experience!"

Most folks headed to Cayman Brac stay at the well-regard Brac Reef Beach Resort, but if you prefer getting away from the crowds -- one of our subscribers took a group of 50 divers there -- consider what Richard Rigg (Boise, ID) advises. "The Brac is very beautiful, very quiet. The diving is as good as diving Grand Cayman's the East side (though insufficient restaurant choices). We stayed at a VRBO owned by Henry, who has five houses you can rent. His onsite manager, Sasha, will cook for you; blackened fish or chicken are two of her top dishes. She buys the food and you get to enjoy it in the comfort of your home. The units Henry has are top-of-the-line. Brac Scuba Shack goes out of their way to make sure you have a great experience; they are on a flexible schedule, so if you want to leave at 9 a.m. instead of 8, they do it. Safety and instructions about the sites are foremost." Email to:

You Can't Get There from Here

That Yap/Palau United Direct Flight is No More. And Ken Kurtis, owner of Reef Seekers in Beverley Hills, tells us that as of January 8, "If you want to go from Yap to Palau, or from Palau to Yap, you'll have to fly to Guam and endure a long (12-17 hour) layover." ... Adam Preston (Koh Samui, Surat) adds that the cost of going to Micronesia is the bad attitude of United Airlines employees "and the aggressive attitude of American officials when passing through Guam. Immigration consists of long, pointless questionnaires (everyone needs a visa anyway, even to transit), and if the box is not ticked in the right way, you are sent back to complete a new form."

Next month, the Travelin Diver's Chapbook, with hundreds of well-organized pages of scores upon scores of world-wide dive resorts and liveaboards, will be delivered to your mailbox. There is no better way to research your next dive trip. Thanks for being members and subscribers. As a nonprofit organization that takes no advertising, we can't do this without your support.

-- Ben Davison

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