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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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August 2022    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 48, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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U.S. Dive Magazine's Best Diving Destinations

reader's votes only mean they have been there

from the August, 2022 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Many years ago, when I was Technical Editor of Diver Magazine in the U.K., we came up with the idea of introducing Diver Awards in several categories for diving products and services. We were probably the first diving magazine to do that, and we commissioned expensive bronze statues of a diver to present to winners. It was a way to encourage dive businesses to spend more on advertising in the magazine.

Dive magazines everywhere picked up the reader-favorite approach, and those that remain still publish flawed polls.

The Editor-in-Chief wanted the competition to be fair and depend solely upon the reader's votes. Soon, many potential winners realized that they could buy vast quantities of the magazine and give them out free to their customers, who would, of course, vote for them. Magazine circulation boomed, and it was 'win, win' all around, or so we thought.

Readers voted by mail (it was before the Internet) and it fell to me to count the votes for "The Liveaboard of the Year."

I was shocked to discover that the winner would be a Red Sea vessel (MV Xanadu II, now long-since scrapped) that I knew well but vowed never to travel on again. Cabins had crude bunk beds. We all had to go ashore to buy towels because they provided none. I even found a rat in my cabin. Basic Egyptian food was plentiful but unappetizing to international travelers, and to cap it off, there was only one head and shower to serve 16 passengers.

How could this vessel have collected the most votes? It was incredibly cheap, but more Diver Magazine readers had been on it than any other. Despite being clearly on top of their game, boats like Sea Hunter, Cuan Law, Poseidon's Quest, Sundancer II, Paradise Sport, and Pelagian didn't get a look. You see, readers voted only for the liveaboards they knew and could afford and reach, not for those they could only afford to admire from afar.

Not long after, a rival British magazine, British Sport Diver (not to be confused with the American publication of the same name) emulated Diver Magazine, but its awards were clearly linked to advertising spending. Its gold award went to a double-page-spread advertiser; its silver award went to a full-page advertiser; its bronze award went to a half-page advertiser.

And then, dive magazines everywhere picked up the reader-favorite approach, and those that remain still publish flawed polls. It is obvious that readers will think Hawaii diving is better than Papua New Guinea - who's going to go there? - and the Cayman Islands will get more votes than Raja Ampat. It's a couple of grand for a Cayman week, probably triple that for a visit to Raja Ampat. So, you won't vote for Raja Ampat if you've never been there. No matter, the magazine in the most prominent font possible will exclaim the virtues of the Caymans with, perhaps, only a footnote for Raja.

Dive Magazine (not to be confused with Diver), an online publication with an international readership, took a different tack: For its awards, it chose some very obscure dive resorts and one or two equally unknown liveaboards for its roll of winners. None could have attracted too many individual votes from an undeclared circulation of readers.

America's Scuba Diving magazine hedges its bets and manages its reader preference list by including virtually every destination, resort, and liveaboard in many sub-categories. It puts Bonaire as the best destination overall in the Caribbean and Atlantic, according to its readers, closely followed by Mexico and the Bay Islands. Sure, Bonaire offers easy diving with plenty of pretty corals and sponges, but it's hardly high-voltage. Maybe it's best for those who don't want high excitement. When it comes to the Indo-Pacific region, Hawaii is the clear winner, followed by Palau and the Galápagos. Really? Places like Cocos Island, loaded with big animals, don't get a mention - is it the 36-hour one-way boat trip to get there? Yet, veteran cameraman Stan Waterman always exclaimed, "Cocos always delivers!"

I suppose that Cocos, the "Island of the Sharks," will have to be content with its tenth-place listing in the Big Animal Encounters section of the poll, way behind - you guessed it - Hawaii.

When it comes to wreck diving, the Cayman Islands, in the Caribbean section, are hardly known for difficult navigation or maritime wars. Cayman's few wrecks were purposely sunk for divers. But it still gets first place. The Bahamas (#2) has far more such wrecks, but the British Virgin Islands (#6) has a couple of spectacular wrecks - the Rhone and the Chikuzen - well worth diving. And Grenada has several picturesque wrecks including what remains of the Bianca C. In the Indo-Pacific, that ultimate diver's wreck location, Truk Lagoon, makes it to only eighth place, way behind - you guessed it - Hawaii. Bikini Atoll with its WWII wrecks of the aircraft carrier Saratoga and Yamamoto's flagship from the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Nagato, among others, is forgotten entirely.

It's telling that in the sub-category "Quality of Rental Gear," Hawaiian dive centers take the first eight places. Less serious divers tend to rely on rented gear rather than owning their own.

So, substitute "Most Popular within my Range of Travel" for "Best," and you get a better idea. I've been to just about all these destinations, having made thousands of dives abroad over 25 years, and my personal favorites? For big animals - the Bahamas (Tiger Beach), Fiji's Beqa Lagoon, and the Tuamotus of French Polynesia. For easy dives on wrecks - clearly Truk Lagoon and Bikini Atoll. (I've dived the wrecks at Bikini, but with the demise of Air Marshall Islands, it's become very hard to get there). For macro life - Lembeh Strait. If you want to see mantas, go to Socorro, or the Maldives in the spring. Every destination has specific strengths. It all depends on what you are interested in.

Of course, you are much better off perusing Undercurrent's independent Reader's Reports on our website to get a fair impression of what you might see. Our reporting is for our subscribers, not the industry.

- John Bantin

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