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October 2021    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 36, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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South Caicos, Jupiter, St. Vincent, Cozumel

Undercurrent subscribers are traveling again

from the October, 2021 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

While many divers are reluctant to travel, despite being double or even treble vaccinated against COVID, many more intrepid Undercurrent subscribers are the vanguard of traveling divers, taking sensible precautions but enjoying trips to those dive destinations that will have us. Their Reader's Reports make encouraging reading, indicating that we are gradually getting used to the new normal. Here are a few abridged excerpts from some of the latest:

Had an encounter with a pod of dolphins that engaged us, vocalized to us and hung vertical inviting us to rub their bellies

Anne Warburton (Yorba Linda, CA) was especially adventurous for an American when she decided to join European divers aboard for a Red Sea liveaboard trip on MY Blue Force, based in Hurghada, Egypt, in September. A bureaucratic issue led to that vessel failing to get permission to sail, but the agent, Seasick Productions, procured another, MY Odyssey, crewed by those from Blue Force and saved the day. "Good diving in 84-degree water. Corals were incredible, very healthy, fish abundant; eels were enormous with heads the size of football players' thighs. The boat was very comfortable, and we were lucky to be on it. Things ran very smoothly, and the staff was wonderful. DMs, headed by Natalie, were very good. Staff aided us with set-ups every day." www.blueforcefleet.com

Canadian-run Nautilus liveaboards have an enviable reputation, and Randy Kettering (Evanston, IL) was not disappointed with the Nautilus Belle Amie in May when he traveled to Mexico's Revillagigedo Islands. And while Kettering says this was "Trip of a Lifetime" . . . Had an encounter with a pod of dolphins that engaged us, vocalized to us and hung vertical inviting us to rub their bellies. Also had a very close encounter with a manta that I was filming who continued to advance, so I just laid back and let it glide over me." Keep in mind this is a destination only for experienced and confident divers. "When low on air, my DM directed me to dive in a vector, and I dove solo to eventually encounter the pickup boat. He had asked earlier if I was comfortable doing so, and I was proud of myself going solo in the middle of the freakin' ocean." www.nautilusbelleamie.com

For divers with less experience, one option is the Bahamas Aggressor, which visits the Exumas and Eleuthera. Craig Freundlich (Madison, WI), onboard in August, notes "it's an old boat with small cabins," and Bahamas reefs aren't doing well, with "a lot of algae cover." Doesn't sound so good, does it? But Craig says, "there were a lot of fish . . . the staff was great and the food exceptional," and says he would make the trip again. www.aggressor.com

A step up both in diving and boat quality is the Turks and Caicos Aggressor, which Sean Brady (Pearl River, NY) boarded for a week in June. "The ship was immaculate. The dive deck is set up well; a large dry camera table accommodated everyone's set-up without compromise . . . Five dives a day. Sharks at almost every spot we hit, and we had a visit from JoJo the dolphin and a large pod of dolphins that the captain took us to on the tender to attempt to swim with, and [saw critters like] the smallest sea slug, nudibranchs, and baby trunkfish (pea). The marine life and diversity at West Caicos and North West point were perfect." And he loved the food. www.aggressor.com

And a caution from Randy for any tropical traveler: "I foolishly spent too much time on one surface interval on the open-top deck in the sun; don't be like me, use the readily available sunscreen on the deck often."

Resorts Worth Considering or Maybe Not

Liveaboards aren't for everyone, so one of the more popular spots for land-based diving is Mexico's Cozumel, with good Caribbean drift diving and day trips to the nearby Yucatan peninsula to experience diving in the cenotes (freshwater cave systems). On Cozumel,Liveaboards aren't for everyone, so one of the more popular spots for land-based diving is Mexico's Cozumel, with good Caribbean drift diving and day trips to the nearby Yucatan peninsula to experience diving in the cenotes (freshwater cave systems). On Cozumel, Aldora Divers is consistently top-rated by Undercurrent readers.

John E. Keith (Logan, UT) was there in September, stayed at Villa Aldora, and says, "as always it is welcoming and ready to help with any need . . . Aldora Divers always provides an outstanding experience . . . I had contracted COVID with some mild long-haul symptoms (including lung problems), so my doctor was not thrilled with me diving and suggested caution. We were on boats with other divers with similar characteristics, and the divemasters (Paloma and Miguel) were both watchful and helpful. They didn't over-manage our dives, but they made sure we were doing OK. We both struggled a bit with the current since our buoyancy control wasn't as good as it could have been after a couple of years' layoff . . . As usual, Cozumel has some very nice reefs with several turtles, a couple of sharks, quite a few Southern stingrays, crabs and lobsters galore, and abundant varieties of fish."

The manatee found us and made itself a fifth member of our dive group for about five minutes.

Pierre Hurter (San Francisco, CA), who has been going to Cozumel for 30 years, dived with Aldora Divers in September. "As far as COVID, locals wear masks; before you enter a shop, they spritz your hands with sanitizer and take your temperature. The only people ignoring mask mandates are, you guessed it, Americans." Considerate people, we Americans.

Another popular destination is Belize, a two-hour flight from Houston. Divers who don't know better -- or want to hang out in a town with bars and restaurants -- go to Ambergris Caye, but our readers prefer better diving. Turneffe Atoll has some of the best, and the resorts pick you up in Belize City and motor you out on either Saturday or Wednesday. J.E. Anderson (Little Rock, AR) stayed at the Blackbird Caye Resort on Turneffe Island in August, "a small, friendly resort, owned by Belizeans. The carefully prepared native recipes are based on Belizean meats, fruits, and vegetables. The villa rooms are large, spotlessly clean, and the beds were so comfortable that I am kicking myself for not figuring out their manufacturer so I could buy one for home. I have never stayed in a nicer room on a dive trip. After 10 days, I decided to stay on . . . The divemasters were a jolly engaging bunch full of stories. We saw pipefish, toadfish, squid, sharks, tiny newborn flounders, free-swimming morays, hamlets, turtles, etc. Lionfish were culled by the DMs and some guests. The reef is in good shape, and the diversity is high . . . Not having Advanced Open Water certification, we were not allowed to dive the Blue Hole because the resort follows the PADI recommendations. So we snorkeled . . . COVID protocols were straightforward. Since everyone must be vaxxed and proven disease-free, it was a relief not to worry." www.blackbirdresort.com

Another well-regarded choice is Turneffe Island Resort, which Jeffrey Hubbard (Glenmont, NY) has visited five times, the latest in March. Jeff, with more than 1000 dives under his belt, says, "Diving is scheduled, two or three a day (one night dive), and the boats return to the resort for surface intervals, rarely more than a 15-minute run. Divemaster Brad, of limitless knowledge and love of the sea and its animals, always finds something of interest, from marlin to the smallest arrow blenny, to the largest manatee. Well, the manatee found us and made itself a fifth member of our dive group for about five minutes. Dives are guided, not herded, with no arbitrary limits or nagging . . . The Belizean cook makes Belizean recipes, natch, and our server, kind and friendly Reynalda, advised us on choices of entrées and gave other assistance in minimizing the spicy . . . Turneffe Island Resort is special -- dive operation and hospitality side are equally excellent."

"We both struggled a bit with the current since our buoyancy control wasn't as good as it could have been."

Anthony's Key Resort on Honduras' Roatan Island was once a go-to resort for divers, but the diving has dropped below Roatan's standards and is best viewed as a family resort, a good place to get kids wet. Frances Lewis (Waterford, MI) and a buddy went there last June and reports: "After seeing such glowing reviews for diving in Roatan, I was extremely disappointed in the diseased coral and definite lack of fish and marine life. In our general briefing, we were told that stony coral disease had arrived there four years ago, and we would see damaged coral. The fish life seemed rather sparse compared to other places in the Caribbean, but the highlights included an eagleray and some turtles and queen angelfish on almost every dive. The accommodations were very nice, with all having ocean views . . . The food was good, although they seemed to think Americans all want French fries. The sand fleas drove my buddy crazy but didn't bother me until I returned home and they started to itch." www.anthonyskey.com

Bill Tewes, the man who made St. Vincent the critter capital of the Caribbean three decades ago, has passed on, but his dive center continues. Ray Haberman (China Spring, TX), who often helped out Bill, has been going there for 18 years, so we guess he likes it, his latest visit being in September. Ray noted, "The dive shop is an extremely old building that was not built for a dive shop, so all camera work needs to be done in your hotel room." Ray has seen but one shark in all the time he spent there, but he goes for critters, and you can see whether your macro wishes will be granted by checking his photos. https://raymondhaberman.smugmug.com He says, "Come in the rainy season, and you are going to get lots of rain and sun and wind and clouds and dry spells, maybe some current. Come in the dry season, and you will get the same conditions but less rain." www.divestvincent.com

Looking for something new? Grand Cayman's Reef Divers moved boats and staff to South Caicos in the Turks and Caicos Islands and opened East Bay Resort. Robert Hales (Milford, OH) went there in September and reports, "The resort was great! There was a small washer and dryer in the room, which was wonderful to have. The room was really nice -- lots of room. The bed was really comfortable. We were on the 3rd floor and had a beautiful view. The food was fantastic. This was their first real recreational diving at South Caicos in years. The valet diving they provided was great. They had beautiful walls and some really pretty shallow dives. We saw reef sharks, nurse sharks, eagle rays, big stingrays, turtles, squid, and all the usual fish. The reefs looked good. Saw huge elkhorn coral. Some surge on most dive sites. The wall is accessible from many dive sites, with the lip being around 60 to 80 feet. Shuttles that take you to the dock -- only about a five-minute drive. The only downside: there was a lot of sargassum seaweed coming in." www.eastbayresort.com

"The black water dive was impressive. The guide placed a lighted buoy in the water. We all entered and drifted in the Gulf Stream at about 40 feet for over an hour."

Prefer to Stay at Home?

If you don't want to leave the U.S. mainland, Florida is the first choice for divers, and those in the know dive north of Miami. Mary Adams (Rockville, MD) did 12 dives in June with Jupiter Scuba Diving, 90 miles north of Miami, plus a Wednesday black water dive with Walker's Dive Charters in Riviera Beach. "I got seasick on the first trip. We saw loggerhead turtles, a few sharks, angelfish, Atlantic spadefish, goliaths, parrotfish, a hawksbill, and porcupinefish. The underwater landscape is deep ledges, 70-80 feet, with gorgonians and rock crevices with interesting small creatures. The black water dive was impressive. The guide placed a lighted buoy in the water. We all entered and drifted in the Gulf Stream at about 40 feet for over an hour. The tiny pelagic creatures are beautiful. Excellent, safe, and well-run outfitters." www.jupiterscubadiving.com and www.walkersdivecharters.com

Wherever you choose to go, Undercurrent reader's reports offer a wealth of knowledge based on candid reports from fellow Undercurrent subscribers. We look forward to receiving yours.

- Ben Davison

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