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September 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 33, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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In Praise of Liveaboards

why itís more than just the diving that makes them better

from the September, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

It's difficult to explain the social aspects of a liveaboard dive boat to those who have never journeyed on one. After all, the vessel puts out to sea and often doesn't touch land again until the end of the trip. Divers who are accustomed to walking a resort's grounds, swimming in the pool and meeting strangers at the bar may view with incredulity and skepticism that a liveaboard diver only dives, eats, looks over images taken by fellow divers, and sleeps.

Of course, those of us who thrive on the liveaboard life know they provide access to dive sites unavailable to those who return to shore each evening. Stan Waterman, the iconic underwater filmmaker (five Emmys for his underwater work), is famous for saying that when you get to his age, liveaboard diving is the only way to go because it is far less arduous than day boats. In many cases, your floating hotel moors over the dive site and you merely have to totter to the stern, then plop into the water. Stan, at the age of 90, made his last dive in Grand Cayman in 2013.

However, when told you will be sequestered on the vessel with people you have never met, the casual inquirer might ask, "What if I don't like them?"

It rarely happens.

Every diver on board is, first, a diver, and second, like-minded in that they certainly don't want others to have a bad trip! So there is an air of empathy for fellow travelers. Furthermore, most are of a certain age and have had endless experiences fitting into strange groups. Besides, diving is a great leveler. Whether one is a high-powered executive or a suburban schoolteacher, they meet on even terms and have plenty of underwater experiences to share. These aren't people you meet in Walmart, or at least not often.

Where else but on a dive trip would you encounter a trial judge hanging out with an ex-Hell's Angel?

After a day-boat dive, you may not see your diving companions until the next dive, or maybe never, because many go home the next day. (And many will be new divers.) On a liveaboard, you can spend your time together (you can always retreat to your bunk or find an isolated chair on the top deck), and that's when otherwise strange alliances may be built. This can be especially gratifying if you are traveling alone.

I've met all sorts of people this way, such as the tattooed ex-Hell's Angel who shared a cabin with an elderly Canadian fellow on MV Manta Ray in the Red Sea. They had never met before, but became instant pals. The Hell's Angel took underwater photographs and the Canadian either modeled or spotted critters for him. He was obviously very educated, and at the end of the trip, I learned he was a trial judge. Where else but on a dive trip would you encounter a trial judge hanging out with an ex-Hell's Angel?

Some people can afford to book several trips each year, while for others it might be a trip of a lifetime, yet everyone is there for the same reason: to go diving. People from disparate locations, backgrounds and nationalities tend to bond quickly in such circumstances, and if they say travel broadens the mind, sharing a cabin with a person with a very different life can be enlightening. I've spent time with coal miners and brain surgeons in this way on MV Sea Hunter at Cocos Island. I've made lifelong friends with a British politician, now elevated to a Lord on MV Royal Evolution, and enjoyed the company of two Florida alligator farmers on MV Yemaya II. I've also shared cabins with people from many countries. Everyone has a story to tell, and can add insights and value to your own knowledge. It can also build respect for those who are good at what they do, and the cultural differences, even if you had never considered such aspects before.

Getting to know people from different countries and cultures is part of the great pleasure of being in a close-knit group. On one occasion, I met two British retired senior police officers chatting up two attractive Czech women (both strong, competent divers) on the aft deck of MV Orion in the Maldives. One of the men asked what they did for a living in Prague. I was startled when they candidly informed us they were prostitutes! When a younger passenger, a Swiss medical student, naively asked how they could afford such an expensive trip, one replied, "That's why we're prostitutes."

-- John Bantin

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