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Dive Review of Club Ocellaris in

Club Ocellaris, Apr, 2013,

by Jeanne Reeder, MO, US (Contributor Contributor 16 reports with 19 Helpful votes). Report 7134 has 3 Helpful votes.

No photos available at this time

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

Accommodations 2 stars Food 3 stars
Service and Attitude 3 stars Environmental Sensitivity 3 stars
Dive Operation 3 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 2 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments Philippines -- Anilao

Not a Club Member? Beware. I wanted to go to the Nudibranch Capital and indulge in locating and identifying these esoteric critters in their multicolor glories. Where to go was a no brainier -- Club Ocellaris at Anilao, Philippines. Critter ID folks of the first-order have all gone there, and never gone away without identifying new species. My dive buddy made the transition from film to digital for this occasion, and with my large 10x magnifying glass in tow, we headed to the Pacific.

Not receiving any response from Club Ocellaris from my couple of weeks emailing, foreshadowed my experience there. Getting a reservation was like pulling teeth, and I finally had to ask my very patient Reef & Rainforest agent Katie to intervene. Dive Master Perry explained that next time I wanted to come, email him directly. Returnees get priority and ‘virgins’ often do not receive a response. Club O is a rustic dive resort which was built by Boy Venus (Manila) a few decades ago for him and his friends to enjoy undersea pleasures in a laid back, dramatic setting. Perry explained that Boy does not want people there who aren’t good divers and who kick up sand for the photographers. Dive masters do not ‘baby-sit’ divers. They are first class spotters of the esoteric and cater to photographers.

The welcome we received by manager Joy at Club O was gracious, and as we walked down the steps from the 100’ cliff, we were shown to our respective abodes. Asking when we wanted lunch was a good start …now or whenever the group returned. Always hungry, I opted for 10 minutes. And that was the last of the information we received without ferreting it out using a lot of patience. There was no briefing about anything, even the basics such as a schedule for meals and dives. I asked to meet the dive master and talk with him before diving the next day. Although I was assured this was possible, it was not until the next day, about 15 minutes before the dive that I learned which of the three boats I was on and a comment or two about procedures. I only missed one afternoon dive because I was told the incorrect time. Since the times varied, I learned to just suit up a half hour before I thought was the dive time. The two morning dives were usually between 08:00-08:30, afternoon or dusk dives between 13:30 – 14:30, and dusk and night dives followed depending upon when boats returned.

My dive buddy expected state of the art facilities for cameras, but after we searched, discovered that extra electrical plugs in or around our rooms and a wooden table were just about it.

All diving was done with the 14 guests backrolling from 3 bancas, and exiting via a vertical ladder. The three boats all went to separate dive sites. The dive crew and two of the bancas are provided freelance. No oxygen is carried on board; there is a small first-aid kit, but no vinegar for stings. Between dives, hot tea and coffee were offered on the boat. There is no dive shop at the resort. And at least from the answers I got, dive crew and resort are very limited in how they coordinate their information.

The sunny days were around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. A small tarp provided some respite from the sun on the cameras, and two of the five divers on my banca squeezed their feet beside the cameras, sitting on the boats edge, trying to grab some shade. The dive master gave a few sentence description of the dive, waving in the direction we would be going. There were no expectations to stay with dive master, dive with a buddy, limit dive time, depth, or amount of psi tank reserves. The divers backrolled in as individuals and often surfaced just as alone. Sometimes the driver would pick us up, other times we swam a few dozen yards back to the boat. Hoarding a sighting was the rule, so other divers were either patient or wandered off to get their own unique treasure recorded. I was marginally less rude as I studied the behavior of my macro subjects. Afterall, I had the magnifying glass! However, I was unceremoniously nudged away by a photographer more than once, as well as waved off by the dive master who gave priority to the diver with the camera.

On most dives, I spotted at least a dozen Nudibranch, and often many more. A few of my favorites were the light lavender with white edge Bullocks Hypselodoris, the pale yellow Kunie’s Chromodoris, Chamberlain’s Nembrotha with dark, almost black patch between deep orange/red gill branches and the Red Speckled Chromodoris which looked like it had measles. I might have spotted more species if it weren’t for the distraction of frequent Pygmy Seahorses, Frogfish (Giant Frogfish, White Phase and the yellow Painted Frogfish) and Rhinopia’s. One of my favorites was the magnificent golden Rhinopias Eschmeyeri (Paddle-Flap Scorpionfish) which was seen on several dives. The lavender Rhinopias frondosa (Weedy Scorpionfish) with its upturn snout and Rhinopias aphanes (Lacey Scorpionfish) with its maze-like patterning were spectacular. Other scorpionfish were seen, but paled in comparison.

Staff carried our gear to the staging area on shore the first day, where it was fitted to a tank and placed in the banca. I did not handle it until being assisted into my BC/Tank as I sat on the edge of the boat. There is no dock. I walked a short distance over rocks, and up an 8” plank, being assisted into the boat by the dive master and driver. There were outside hanging areas for wetsuits and long horizontal poles for hanging gear to dry. Mosquitoes were scarce, but red ants were rampant. One diver warned me to shake out my boots and wetsuit before dives, as one had been in her suit the day before and she got some nasty bites.

It was hot and humid. I had hoped it would cool off at night so the standing fan in my room would be sufficient, it didn’t and it wasn’t, keeping at a steady 85 degrees. Nary a breeze could be felt in my room with its one screenless sliding window. A couple of the divers chose to sleep on the porch on the comfortable couches where the breeze could reach.) When I returned at night, the wooden window frame was teeming with termites, and the one lizard in my room could not keep up. I stayed in one of the original five thatched rooms built in a line, with open ceilings along its length; this made it possible for sounds of the occupants to be heard throughout. I was in a room alone with two sets of bunk beds. My dive buddy was in a bungalow on the hill which was air-conditioned (1 of 5, for $10 more each night). For some unfathomable reason, he never used the AC.
One of the divers had been there 26 times over 20 years, with the others having varying repetitions under their belt. They obviously knew the routine and the dive sites very well. The granddaddy of 26 repeats complained that the macro diving was not what it used to be, and that divers should keep their fins off the silt. I observed him maneuver for a photo of a second nudi in a one foot radius, sending the first one photographed (a 1/2” Thecacera Picta with its red-tipped black rhinophores) flying into the air along with a cloud of sand. There was deference by both the staff and the returnees to the people with the most dives at the resort. The kitchen staff fixed special dishes for several ‘because it is his favorite,’ to accompany the buffet dinner fare the rest of us ate. A fellow from Belgium was also a ‘virgin’ at Club O, but had Face-booked with several of the others and seemed part of the club. My dive buddy and I were clearly outsiders, but were warmly accepted after the first diving day. I felt that we had to ‘prove’ ourselves undersea. A couple of Canadians were there, one Belgian, and otherwise all Americans, expats or otherwise.
We ate together at a long row of plastic tables on the narrow rock-paved beach; conversations flowed with enthusiasm. Meeting before dinner for drinks and watching the sunset were de rigueur for those not night diving. I thought the Filipino food was adequately prepared, but nothing to write home about. There were always choices of fish or chicken entrees and plenty of cooked vegetables. Rice was served with every meal, and I never got used to the garlic embedded therein at breakfast, A few great things about the food: kalamans - the local tiny tart thin-skinned green limes, Club O’s mango preserves, fresh fruit, and delicious cups of a variety of soups served before dinner. No snacks were provided, but for a small fee they would prepare a sandwich before dusk or night dives. Only bottled water was available on the boat, but when checking out I discovered there was a payment of a little under $1 usd per bottle. A cooler was by the al fresco dining area, full of ice, beer, sodas, and wine. Local San Miguel beer was $1.50 and wine bottle $24. Wine was not available by the glass.

On half of my 12 dives in three days in Anilao, I exited not having a clue where the other divers were. Not infrequently, strong currents and low visibility made the separation easy. Visibility was very poor at Bethleham, our third dive site of one day, near a very small village on the southern end of Caban Island. My ten minutes of deco time did not diminish as I ascended from 70’. Viz closed to about 2’ and there was surge, making the deco-stops virtually impossible to maintain. I laughed when I surfaced, as we five divers and dive master were spaced about 100 yards apart from each other and our banca. At the town pier area, on a night dive, I again got separated from the others, and waited 10-15 minutes to be picked up. Viz was low in the water, and I had become entranced with Short-fin Lionfish and nudi’s crawling over the silted bottom. My last view of this site before surfacing was a surprise and out-of-place stand of tall yellow sea grass with coral shrimpfish in their vertical rigid stance.

I requested a dawn dive and finally found three divers who also were interested; otherwise, the charge would have been $40. The earliest time I could negotiate with the dive master was 0600, and we headed for The Cathedral, within a marine park. A plethora of beautiful shades of soft and hard corals were enhanced by a teeming variety of the usual tropical smallish fish such as Moorish Idols and Butterflyfish. Even the nudi’s found a home there. Frequent feedings at this site have reaped big benefits. A small cross graced the site at 50’, placed there by President Fidel Ramos and blessed by Pope John Paul; a few etched tombstones with names were nearby. Between the two seamounts, I had the feeling of a cavern-church without its roof. The current was strong once out of this sheltered area, and getting back to the boat took a lot of energy – but not so much for me to loose focus of the colorful sponges, inflated soft corals and colorful feather stars. Fed by strong currents, Mapating Rock was the other spot I went to with beautiful corals and an abundance of fish. Yellow spotted Fimbriated and Blackspotted honeycomb patterned Morays, yellow ribbon-like nudi eggs, and lots the small 2” bright Yellow Sea Cucumbers with their branched tentacles.

Mucking around in the sand at Manit revealed a handsome Dragon Sea Moth (Pegasus) with its pale winged fins extended. My two favorite sightings there were found along the dark rock wall surface – a 1” juvenile Oriental Sweetlips in its undulating dance and about three dozen distinctive red tailed Ringed Pipefish.

After 4 nights and 10 dives at Club Ocellaris, my dive buddy and I headed to the Manila airport,a 2 ½ hour drive, for Tubbataha in the Sulu Sea. Reggie, an on-time freelance driver arranged by the resort for the drive to and fro, had an air-conditioned car (yea!). Will I return to Anilao?You bet --the sooner the better! But to Club ‘O’? Nope.

Cost:4 nights single accommodation, 12 dives, Marine Park Fees and round trip transfer from Manila, $765
Websites Club Ocellaris   

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 501-1000 dives
Where else diving Raja Ampat, Papua New Guinea, Japan, Solomon Islands, Palau, Sudan, Turkey, Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, Turks & Caicos, Saba, St. Kitts, Statia, Cayman Brac, Bonaire, Curacao
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny Seas calm, surge, currents
Water Temp 82-85°F / 28-29°C Wetsuit Thickness 5
Water Visibility 2-75 Ft/ 1-23 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions No restrictions
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

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

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

Subject Matter N/A Boat Facilities 1 stars
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities 2 stars
UW Photo Comments [None]
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