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June 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 38, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Bonaire, Maui, Phuket…

Francis Coppola’s five-star resort, a clueless Cozumel divemaster

from the June, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Introducing the Carib Dancer. Well now, there's a new Dancer in the Bahamas, but better give it some time before you climb aboard. We've forever been warning about taking maiden voyages -- or trips in the first three months of any new launch -- and subscriber Michael Joest, living in Germany, enjoyed his voyage but says it had its bugs. "No transfer was provided, so I had to take a cab to the marina, walk through customs and security check, then down to the boat. Carib Dancer had most of the amenities of the Turks & Caicos Aggressor, but had less storage in the cabin. It was a maiden cruise, so all kinds of problems appeared out of nowhere. The AC didn´t work well the first few days, so I slept on deck. There sometimes was a strange smell coming from the heads, but they managed to get rid of that with bleach. The nitrox compressor didn´t work. Nobody wanted to look at my log book, c-card or DAN insurance, which I found a bit strange. All the guys working on the boat seemed to slowly be getting used to their jobs. The kitchen and food were three stars. The boat was fully booked, mostly U.S. citizens and three Germans. It went to the Exumas and the famous Blue Hole. They let me run on a rather long leash, so diving was enjoyable. Visibility in the shallows was sometimes poor, but stunning on the walls. Like in the Turks, most dives went along a reef wall. Lots of swim-throughs, crevices, tunnels, canyons and boulders for cruising around. We had sharks, rays and turtles, but not many. On the edge of the wall were beautiful coral, sponge, gorgonia and fan gardens with better fish population than at the Turks and Caicos. Once we did a wreck, the Austin Smith. Dive operators from Nassau have started shark feeding here, so some reef sharks were cruising around, hoping to grab some snacks."

Stephen Kouri (Lacey, WA), who was on the next cruise, writes, "There were several boat issues unrelated to the crew. No nitrox, leaks causing wet carpets and AC issues (some cabins were hot, while others were meat lockers). The crew worked diligently to overcome these issues that should have been dealt with in dry dock, but were playing catch-up for the entire cruise." ( )

Buddy Dive, Bonaire. This dive operator brings interesting comments from our readers. Richard Sziede (Reston, VA) notes an advantage of using its package with a rental truck for shore diving. "The captive car rental means they won't try the 'scratched bumper' scam." That's something we get reports about on Bonaire and a few other Caribbean islands -- they often find some mark on the body that you have to pay for if you don't have insurance. As for diving, he says, "Reefs have taken a beating from overuse and/or global warming. They seem to be holding their own, compared to my last visit 10 years ago, but are sadly diminished from the abundance of 20 years back. No more storms of Creole wrasse, few big critters. But there's a new wrinkle -- a fluorescent night dive. Not phosphorescent, fluorescent. You carry a blue, polarized UV flashlight and wear a yellow polarizing filter over your mask to attenuate the polarized light. The non-polarized fluorescence from the corals, jellyfish and even fire worms comes through. Way cool light show!" ( )

Steven Davidson (Midland, GA) has been to Bonaire about 10 times, and while he says you can't beat Buddy's dive operation, "The coral and fish life seemed to be lacking. Lionfish are a problem, like everywhere in the Caribbean. They have a 'lionfish catching course," or something like that, for $250 that allows you to wear gloves and harvest lionfish. I would be glad to help them get the lionfish off the reefs, but I'm not that interested in paying for the privilege. Security on the island continues to be a problem; several divers lost personal items from their trucks. Our group of 20 had a regulator/computer stolen, as well as a BC from their porch. Get a second-floor room; if you are on the first floor, your stuff is not safe drying on the patio. It's probably significant that our divers had their stuff stolen on the last day. On the last night, one of our party had the battery stolen from their truck downtown." Ah, yes, the old "last night theft" trick -- you find out the next day when you're in a rush to get to the airport, so you can't wait to track it down or report it. Collusion among thieves and employees, we suspect.

Turtle Inn, Belize. There are few five-star hotel and dive operations in the Caribbean, but Francis Ford Coppola's Turtle Inn certainly fits the bill. Charlie Wright (Montgomery, OH) says, "I saw whale sharks on both full-moon trips I took in 2010 and this May -- they were on the surface, at 110 feet and everywhere in between. I recommend arriving around the full moon and staying at least a week. The resort looks east, so you see the full moon rise over the ocean. The beach is protected by the largest reef in the northern latitudes, and the whale shark diving is done outside it. There is a 45-minute ride to the dive area. I watched a hammerhead swim past 30 feet below the surface, plus loggerhead turtles, some very large. The Turtle Inn is a five-star diving experience. You stay in cottages on or around the beach, and the boat leaves from the bay side behind the resort. The value is definitely there for the dollars paid. Bertram, the dive shop manager, has been there 10 years, and his staff is excellent. The new dive boat is well laid out, with an upper deck, plus ample area to get out of the sun. Reef diving was on par with Bonaire, and you have the blue water diving with larger pelagic and fish species, and the Blue Hole for advanced divers." There's also the Belize backcountry, where Coppola has another resort, the Blancaneaux Lodge. ( )

"I intend to report this operation
to PADI, as the lack of concern
for newly-certified divers in these
conditions is unacceptable."

Maldives Aggressor. Besides the Carpe Diem, which we profile in the previous article, this is another choice for a Maldives liveaboard. Robert Kopki (Alexandria, VA) says, "This was my third trip on the Maldives Aggressor, so they must be doing something right. Half the people on the boat were Americans. The crew is very customer service-oriented and will do whatever possible to make your voyage pleasant. The food was reasonably good for a liveaboard, and lots of fruits and veggies are available with meals, as well as fruit drinks. All diving was done from a 40-foot dhoni, a well-equipped, separate boat used only for diving. Four dives per day, starting at 7 a.m. I saw a wide variety of Maldives marine life, from macro to swarms of the amazing tropicals there, to sharks, rays, huge trevallys and nurse sharks. Some areas had thousands of schooling fish around us, truly amazing. In general, the coral was healthy, beautiful and impressive. We had two great manta dives to conclude our voyage." ( )

Ed Robinson's Diving Adventures, Maui. When experienced divers go to Maui, many head for Robinson's operation. One reason: His special Adventure dives relax the rules for the hardcore so they get big experiences. Roger D. Roth (Cincinnati, OH) went in February, and says that Ed "can usually be counted on to join the experienced group for his 'Adventure X' Wednesday trip, where the group has more flexibility in their dive profiles -- do your own thing, but make sure you can see someone else's bubbles. This is super for underwater photographers and videographer. I heard whales in the water on every dive, and between dives there were usually whales nearby to watch and photograph from the surface. One diver was even fortunate enough to see a whale underwater near the dive boat. I filmed over a dozen different species of nudibranchs, including the Spanish dancer and its egg cases; plenty of frogfish; most of the species of butterflyfish found in Hawaii, including a rarer dark longnose; and the somewhat rarer bandit angelfish. There were also more than eight different species of eels, a few octopus, sponge and coral crabs, four-footlong barracuda and plenty of turtles. Some of the dive sites have great concentrations of schools of bluestriped snappers, pyramid butterflyfish, Moorish idols, chubs and more. At the St. Anthony wreck, turtles can almost be guaranteed." ( )

Scuba Club, Cozumel. Too often, we get comments from readers who find themselves in situations where the dive guides are oblivious to divers in danger, and so they step in, at some risk to themselves. While at the Scuba Club Cozumel in March, John Miller (Lubbock, TX) says the wreck diving should have been called by the divemaster, as currents "were the worst I have ever been in. I literally had to use the wreck's structure to pull myself to the mooring line to surface, and the divemaster had to tow my wife. Another lady lost her camera from her wrist." (Ah, yes, those Cozumel currents: see page 8 in this issue.) On another day, "a 14-year-old girl, who I had assisted in her PADI openwater training the week before, was on a dive with her dad and the rest of us. The plan called for a maximum bottom depth of 80 feet, drift on the wall and then go to 50 feet. I was on the wall at 85 feet and saw this girl 20 feet off the wall and below me. She did not have her depth gauge or elevator buttons in her left hand, and was slowly sinking. I kicked as hard as I could, and caught her at 104 feet to bring her up to her dad, at 80 feet. The divemaster was nowhere around. Ten minutes later, he was at 60 feet, on one side of a coral head, and the girl was nowhere to be seen. I found her on the other side, at 90 feet, and her dad was nowhere around. Finally, they began their ascent to their safety stop 10 minutes later, due to dad being at 700 psi. The divemaster was down around 55 feet and did not see them ascend. He was not concerned that two of the group had surfaced without deploying a float, so I deployed mine, as boat traffic was heavy. As I surfaced, our boat was safely picking the girl and her dad out of the water. But I intend to report this operation to PADI, as I consider the lack of concern for newly-certified divers in these conditions unacceptable. Their position seems to be if you have your C-card, you can take care of yourself."

Jolly Roger, Phuket. Finally, when you get to the Third World and hook up with the less expensive local boats, you may not get what you bargained for. In April, the Jolly Roger out of Phuket was the choice of Karl Gustinger (Monroe, LA) and, right off the bat, he found that while nitrox was offered, there was no analyzer available to check the oxygen concentration. "The dive deck was small and cramped. Divers were packed, with no room for preparation. The food tasted like it had been prepared the night before, if not earlier in the day before. This boat caters to Russian divers, probably the rudest divers I have ever been on a boat with in my life. One of our divers had their mask stolen, and another had wetsuit boots stolen on the same dive. After this one day of diving, I switched over to dive with Sea Bees Divers, and the boat crew were very attentive to everyone's needs on the boat." You have to be careful in Phuket, where scores upon scores of dive operators compete for the backpacker crowd, and you don't want anything to do with them.

Truk Odyssey Discount Pays Off. Ed Leibowitz (Jersey City) sent us a nice thank you. "In the April 2012 issue, I learned about the reduction in price for the Odyssey in Truk for the week of April 12. Because I'm retired, I was able to go on this trip, taking advantage of the $1,000 discount. It was a great trip, and Odyssey has the best and safest diving operation I've ever encountered in all the years that I've been diving. If I hadn't subscribed to Undercurrent, I would not have known about the reduction in price on the Odyssey. Thank you."

- - Ben Davison

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