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Dive Review of Jardines Aggressor 1 in

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Jardines Aggressor 1: "Pristine Cuba Diving", Sep, 2016,

by Jeanne Reeder, MO, US (Contributor Contributor 16 reports with 19 Helpful votes). Report 9159 has 3 Helpful votes.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 4 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 2 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 5 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments The diving in Castro's private marine reserve, Gardens of the Queen, was chiefly pristine and full of life! This was in contrast to crumbling Havana. 'Tis a third world country in all ways, seems to work well with being self-sufficient, and is also fascinating & vibrant. In the ‘50’s I joined a group of other teenagers on an Air Force base in Alaska collecting and sending money to Castro for The Revolution. I am delighted to see how well they put it to use. If you have an interest to go, I suggest you do so before American entrepreneurism gains foothold.

Ken Knezick, owner of Island Dreams Travel, led a group of twenty on this Cuban sojourn organized by Oceans for Youth Foundation, a USA based not-for-profit. Wayne Works Marine/Aggressor Fleet is one of several benefactors of the foundation. See Knezick’s trip report: [ link]

The one full day in Havana was organized & jam-packed with an informative lecture on the marine reserve, a well-led tour of Old Havana, government approved tasty dining, and markets to purchase souvenirs, cigars, rum and coffee. Of course we’d all heard and seen photos of the old cars, but seeing them swept us back in time. Our residence in Havana, Iberostar Parque Central had an impressively ornate lobby/bar area. Rooms were of good size, clean, and the bed was comfortable. Just don’t drink the water as it’s not potable.

Saturday morning early we set off for the six hour drive in a comfortable air conditioned bus to where the Jardines Aggressor 1 was docked. Two stops along the way eased our bladders and cramped legs. For most of the trip, the six-lane roads were in excellent condition, and had limited traffic of old cars, old buses, old trackers and horse-drawn-carts. The scenery was bucolic – sugarcane, rice and corn fields; cattle, horses and buffalo.

The Aggressor had lunch ready for us shortly after arrival, a good sign of the fine hospitality which set the expectations for the trip. The crew members were open and welcoming, helpful when asked but not pushy as we set up gear, which was positive foreshadowing for the eight nights onboard.

Jardines Aggressor 1 was refitted as a dedicated dive boat and began dive trips in April of this year. JA2 is scheduled to be added 2017. JA1 is a good looking vessel, with a roomy comfortable air-conditioned lounge, dining room for twenty, comfortable chairs around a mostly shaded deck around the hot tub (which was lukewarm), and an unshaded deck on top, from which it was perfect to watch sunsets. My room held two twin sized beds, with a very narrow space between, which made passing my roommate impossible. Each of us had several drawers and a shelf above the beds. The beds were high off the floor, making storage of luggage and life-jackets underneath easy fits. The shower flow was strong and water hot. There were bars of soap, but no shampoo, conditioner, or lotion.

Our gear remained on the one of two tenders to which we were assigned. Tanks were changed by the crew. One of our two dive masters checked our psi and nitrox %, calling the numbers to us one-by-one while we waited with clipboard to record. At the end of each dive we were asked our depth and time. Contrary to the dive report in the July UC Newsletter, I found the crew very respectful of our gear on the tender. Having tanks in holders in the middle of the tender, opposite of where we sat, worked well. Back roll entry was done as one was ready, not the usual 1-2-3-dive. Gear was lowered to the water first for our diver who had back issues. I handed my gear to the boatman, rather than climb the sturdy ladder with it on at the end of each dive. Our two dive masters, Lester & Joel, positioned themselves in front and back of our group. Sometimes we were fairly spread apart, as divers who wanted to go slower weren’t hurried along.

JA1 Rules: 1. Dive with a dive buddy or stay nearby the dive guide; 2. Dive your computer; no-deco. 3. Dives : one hour duration, but they were often more; 4. Meet at mooring upon entry, and in exiting, come-up as a group. (We were in the area around the boat, but did not surface as a group.) I was concerned at these ‘rules’ (consistent with Aggressor Fleet I gather), but happily found that they were fluid. Another set of rules for the tender existed: chose a side of the tender to sit and stick with it – come up the ladder on the side where you sit.

Visibility was low and murky the first two days of diving. With these conditions, brownish grey seemed the color-of-choice, and I was disappointed. The adult cocoa damselfish seemed to fit right in with its coloration. But, that only slightly diminished my appreciation of the numbers of fish, from a couple of lettuce leaf slugs to a few very large reef sharks and a lot in between. Sea fans and whip coral abounded; graysbys, grey angelfish, grunts, and hogfish seemed to proliferate. After the first day we moved 7 miles, and visibility started to pick up; by day three, clear blue waters were the order-of-the-day.

Most dives included overhangs, undercuts, canyons, and crevices. With the mangroves nearby, which provided a breeding area for fish, it was not surprising to find many juveniles of a large variety of species. My favorite, the juvenile drum was seen on several dives. The one seahorse I saw, reddish and white striped Longsnout, was a pretty nifty find. I only saw three species of butterflyfish, with the Foureye dominating in numbers. The greatest numbers of fish I saw were groupers, grunts, hogfish, and creole wrasse. I did not see scorpionfish or turtles, and only a few nudibranch and lettuce leaf slugs. (My dive buddy, who was on this Aggressor trip two weeks earlier, saw many turtles.) There was a lot of big oversize fish – tarpons, goliath grouper, reef sharks, slender elegant silky sharks, and a couple of spotted eagle rays. The Green was the most prevalent of the morays, but I also saw one Goldentail.

There are two fish which are unusual to see except in Cuba, and perhaps the Cayman Islands and/or Utila: golden fairy basslet and Caribbean whiptail stingray, The Silky shark is considered an uncommon sighting in the Carribean. All three species were there for us to spot.

We had two REEF surveyors on board, Pam & Terri. Pam recorded each of our estimations of number of species, which motivated most of us to ferret out species to add to the list of ‘seen’. Our total was 157!

A profusion of sea fans, colorful sponges and healthy soft corals graced most dives. There were several sightings of tall cylindrical spires of golden pillar coral. Unfortunately, reddish brown algae was taking hold. Many of the hard corals showed signs of stress or were dying.

Water temperatures at depth were 86 degrees, and air about the same. Water surface was mostly flat, with some slight chop a couple of days. On two dives we had maybe ¼ knot current at most, the rest of the time there was none. Beginning divers with decent buoyancy would feel comfortable; advanced divers could go further afield exploring.

In the evenings, we dined on white table cloths and were served our four courses including choice of wine. Every night began with a fresh pasta dish prepared by the Italian Chef, and ended with a flavorful dessert. In between there was plenty of lobster, steak, or chicken. My favorite of the cuisine were the soups at lunch, all the salads, plantain chips and first-rate homemade ice cream. Breakfast was made to order eggs and bacon.

The crew was very accommodating. It soon became apparent that night diving was not a priority in our group. Instead, Aggressor offered a fourth dive late afternoon, and moved dinner back an hour to 7:30 or 8. Crocodile and mangrove snorkeling were offered between dives, and a trip to the beach to observe and feed fresh fruit to the inhabitants: hutias (a rodent) and iguanas.

There was a predictable crowd who began happy-hour after the third dive. Outstanding mojitos were the drink of choice by most. (all beverages were free) The affably fun-loving crew member Idebran served as bartender, and also taught us salsa and conga dancing. It was not uncommon to see dance steps spontaneously performed by both crew and divers on the dive deck.

A big negative to me was the practice of The Jardines Aggressor 1 dumping raw sewage into the calm lagoon waters of the Gardens of the Queen. When Jill, one of our divers, first noticed this, it was vehemently denied, followed by a detailed defensive explanation later the next day. Where is their ‘environmental friendliness’?

Eight of the group of twenty were plagued with debilitating intestinal issues, and the last night on board at least 3 became ill with food-poisoning symptoms. A cold made itself felt by most. Could all of this been brought on-board and manifested itself during the trip? I suppose. However, I hope that they do a thorough cleaning, check vents & air conditioning for mold, and do a constant clean-wipe-down of surface areas. Something was going on. My advice is to not to forget your medical kit!

Some side-notes: We were advised never, never to drink the water or eat anything not in a government or approved private restaurant or in a wrapper. The USA blocks all Skype and Facetime coming from Cuba – or does Cuba do the blocking? Credit cards are essentially useless and there is very limited cell phone use, basically text messages. There is no free wifi; everyone has to buy a government wifi card. 13% is levied for US dollar exchange into Cuba tourist dollars (different from 'regular' Cuban money).

Overall: I’m so glad I was able to dive this still pristine great area! I did not find Cuba diving as prolific or dramatic as Tobago, but much more easily dived. Cuba is definitely one of the top five dive destinations in the Caribbean & surrounding dive areas

Websites Jardines Aggressor 1   

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience Over 1000 dives
Where else diving Sudan, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Philippines, Palau, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Raja Ampat, Turkey, Saba, St. Kitts, BVI, Bonaire, Cayman Brac, Cozumel, Turks and Caicos, Statia, Nevis
Closest Airport HAV Getting There St Louis - Houston - Mexico City (overnight) - Cuba Easy Route!

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, dry Seas calm
Water Temp 85-86°F / 29-30°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 20-80 Ft/ 6-24 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions See report.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles None Whales None
Corals 4 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters 2 stars Large Fish 5 stars
Large Pelagics N/A

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter N/A Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments [None]
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Report currently has 3 Helpful votes

Subscriber's Comments

By Randall S Preissig in TX, US at Oct 18, 2016 06:18 EST  
Excellent Report! Thank you.
By Michael L Lewis in TN, US at Apr 18, 2017 14:58 EST  
Excellent report. I'm very sad to hear about the sewage dumping. Thank you.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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