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Dive Review of Nautilus Swell in
The Continental USA/Alaska

Nautilus Swell, Jun, 2014,

by John Sommerer, MD, US (Contributor Contributor 15 reports with 6 Helpful votes). Report 7737.

No photos available at this time

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

Accommodations 3 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 5 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 4 stars
Beginners 1 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments This is sort of a useless review, in that just before we made our trip (Juneau to Sitka), there was an announcement that the Nautilus was sold, and 2014 will be her last season as part of the Nautilus operation. That said, this was a great trip, and if Nautilus were to get another boat for BC and Alaska (which all of us guests recommended in our feedback to the company), I'd expect a similar operation. Boarding and waiver-signing were typical for Nautilus: "we're going to treat you like responsible adults, and you're going to take responsibility for your own safety -- if you don't want to sign the waiver, we'll send you home at no cost."

The boat (a 100yr-old wooden tug) was a little on the small side, in terms of cabins, lounge, etc, but it was a beautiful boat. The custom-designed skiff was pretty convenient for diving (gear stayed aboard the skiff the whole time). One issue is that the skiff is advertised as pump-jet powered, but only one of the three very large outboards is a pump-jet. According to the captain, the propellor outboards are often needed in the currents. This is basically not a problem, as the boarding procedure used is from amidships forward.

The operation was first-rate, especially with the small crew of five, who appeared to work very well as a team. However, that small crew meant we had to be more self-sufficient than is typical on a live aboard. Particularly getting our (seemingly tons of) gear aboard and squared away. That said, if you asked for some help, you got it cheerfully supplied. Although the emphasis was certainly on diving, one whole day was devoted to "ice day," in our case a trip up Tracy Arm to Sawyer Glacier. Fabulous use of a day, which you spend in your drysuit, to enable swimming amongst, and climbing on bergy bits (well away from the glacier face), under waterfalls, etc. Lots of seals, a few sea otters, etc. Other non-dive activities included whale watch cruises, a beach bonfire, visits to small ports and a salmon hatchery, a trip around a bird refuge, a trip to some warm springs (that weren't -- there'd been too much rain, and the Baranof springs were overwhelmed by runoff), etc. I found that after the 10 days winding our way from Juneau to Sitka, I'd have little interest in a "standard" inside passage cruise at this point.

Many of the dive sites were fantastic, especially for those of us who were new to cold-water diving. We saw all the big stuff (GPO, wolf eels, stellar sea lions), and lots of little stuff like nudibranchs, lumpsuckers, clingfish, etc. Although much of the weather was pretty rainy, we had some great days at Wooden Wall, probably one of the most colorful sites I've seen, even including the tropics. Other notable sites included two historic shipwrecks, a "green" dive in a huge mass of moon jellies, an open cave in St. Elazaria island. There were a few dud dives as well, but aren't there always? Although there are clearly land-based operators in the cities of Juneau and Sitka, it seems unlikely that they could deliver you do some of the best sites.

My wife and I bought dry suits and did the training specifically for this trip (Nautilus Swell said they had some suits to rent, but were not encouraging about using them). I now find that I like cold-water diving, but am having a hard time figuring out where to do it, having apparently skimmed the cream. There are supposedly no live aboards working these waters anymore. We're not into the east-coast wreck scene, and I can't really understand the Swiss guests on our trip who go diving every week in fish-less cold-water lakes in the Alps. So, Mike Lever, won't you please buy another boat? I might have to move to the west coast, where most of the remaining divers aboard this trip live. I have to say, I'm impressed with their dedication, enthusiasm, and experience. We typically think of ourselves as experienced divers, but we notched #700 on this trip, and I bet there was no other guest aboard with less than 1000.

One peculiarity, which I blame on US Government, rather than Nautilus. After spending a week in US waters, and having departed from a US port, we had to show passports to get off the Swell in Sitka. A CBP officer met our skiff at a dock and went through all our papers, politely but meticulously. Apparently, diving from a Canadian-registered vessel means we were technically in Canada.
Websites Nautilus Swell   

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 501-1000 dives
Where else diving Australia, Caribbean, Costa Rica, Galapagos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Micronesia, New Zealand, PNG, Polynesia, Revillagigedos
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, windy, rainy, cloudy, dry Seas calm, surge, currents, no currents
Water Temp 45-50°F / 7-10°C Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility 10-50 Ft/ 3-15 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions No deco, 60 min. max dive. 500psi, pool closed time.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks None Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles None Whales 1 or 2
Corals N/A Tropical Fish N/A
Small Critters 4 stars Large Fish 3 stars
Large Pelagics N/A

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

Subject Matter 4 stars Boat Facilities 4 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 4 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments All diving from custom skiff. Divers largely responsible for their own cameras (no specific storage area) and getting them on and off the skiff. There is a camera work area and a large rinse bucket on the top deck of the Swell. Not huge, but then there aren't a lot of divers.
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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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