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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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September 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 39, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Eritrea, Kiribati, Sipadan . . .

why to consider Wananavu, when not to consider the Odyssey

from the September, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

M/Y Suzanna. This liveaboard plies the southern Red Sea, and Mel Cundiff (Broomfield, CO) took a trip in May, hoping the southernmost reefs near Eritrea would have greater biological diversity, as he had heard. He reports that the 10-cabin boat has lots of common space, but a malfunctioning generator meant cabin A/C was shut down during daytime hours except in the common areas. "The boat catered to European clients, with only three dives a day. It was only with insistence that we managed two night dives. Our two divemasters could remember Americans being on the boat only one other time. Our typical dives were in pursuit of deep-water sharks, with European divers going down to 250 feet to photograph them. Our first dive briefing dealt with how to communicate to the divemasters the depth ceilings and decompression times we had accumulated. Everyone went into deco, with the Italians doing so multiple times a day. It was common for dive computers to be locked out during the over-limit violations. By naively following the divemaster, I too went into deco and needed the larger tank to maintain the one-hour dive time. One of the Italians who violated his computer limits had visible and physiological symptoms of decompression sickness. He was administered oxygen for three hours and most of his symptoms subsided . . . Our two Zodiacs didn't have ladders, and some divers found it uncomfortable to be pulled onto the boat after a dive. The stern part of the lower dive deck on the Suzanna was high off the water, and a diver carrying a 90-cubic-foot steel tank needed to take one step down a ladder, step onto the gunnel of the Zodiac and then take a long step onto the floor. Three divers with their tanks on fell into the Zodiacs; fortunately, they were not hurt. Our itinerary took us 200 miles south of Port Sudan, near the border of Eritrea. These southern exploratory dives were a trade-off from the reefs of central and northern Sudan. I dived the 18 dives available, with several being repeat sites. Being interested in, and teaching about, the diversity of reef critters, I rely on a divemaster's younger, experienced eyes to help me locate critters. On this boat, with the emphasis on sharks, this didn't happen. By resisting the deeper dives and hugging the reefs, I still managed to see five species of sharks, but they weren't up close. A titan trigger bit my fins four times, and not being satisfied with the results as I kicked her away, she blindsided me with a bite to my left elbow, drawing blood and leaving a scar. My buddies were amused and disappointed they didn't get it on video! In my less-thanexpert opinion, I feel the coral reef diversity of the southern Sudan was no greater than of the northern Red Sea." ( )

Bonaire's Wild Side. It's not in the bars. It's diving the east side. We've written about the unique dives here led by Bas Tol, and one of his fans, Wally Szaniawski (Greenwich, CT), reminds me, "Some years ago, I wrote to you about East Side diving with Bas. My enthusiasm is as fresh as ever! Disregarding windy weather, there was almost always an accessible dive site, and Bas' expertise and knowledge of marine life has been unequaled." ( ) If you're headed to Bonaire, you might be interested in inside tips from one of our long-time travel writers who is currently living there for a few months. You can find them in our online blog at

Kiribati. Located south of Hawaii, this will be one of the first nations to disappear as ocean levels rise. There in August, Peter Deegan (Erskineville, Australia) found the dive sites "pleasant and pristine, with lots of hard coral and small fish, however, the sites had a sameness, with the identical varieties of fish and coral. Some morays and other eels. One large green turtle appeared for a few seconds, a lone dolphin for a fleeting moment. There's a large manta ray population feeding in the shallows (snorkeling available but the water is often murky). Visibility was usually 100 feet, unless there's rain or tides unfavorable. Water is around 82 degrees. Most dives were 60 feet or less, but the dive to Boland Caves went to 80 feet. The trip to dive sites lasts 20 minutes max. Ikari House was the only place that offered diving. The meals are good quality. Ikari is close to the wharf, only a few minutes' drive, while other Kiritimati hotels are a tedious, speed-bumped, 20-minute drive away . . . Ikari House runs, shall we say, an irregular accounting system. Quotes are a single amount for a week, with no breakdown into room, meals, diving, etc. At the end of the week, there was unnecessary confusion about what has to be paid, particularly on my shortened visit due to a three-day flight delay. The staff had no change available, making final payments difficult and guests scrambling with each other to get smaller-denomination notes." ( )

Sipadan Security. If you have read our quirky dive book There's a Cockroach in my Regulator ( order at ), then you're aware that Philippines terrorists kidnapped 20 people, including 10 divers, who were staying on Malaysia's Sipadan Island in 2000. Seems as if another run was made there on August 27. This time, thugs, believed to be bandits with guns from the Philippines, kidnapped a Malaysian fisherman and ordered him to guide them to Mabul Island, in the province of Sabah, where dive resort boats visit Sipadan daily. When the gunmen discovered there was a Malaysian military outpost on Mabul, they turned back towards the Philippines, but briefly abducted more Malaysian fishermen along the way. We reviewed Mabul this past January, and after hearing about the latest incursion, our reviewer said he still harbors no security concerns. The military keeps gunboats and helicopters in the area and has ramped up patrols this year. That's because in February, 200 armed followers of a self-proclaimed Philippine sultan landed in eastern Sabah, claiming it for their leader and reviving a centuries-old dispute over Sabah's sovereignty. After a long standoff, Malaysian forces cleared out the guerrillas. Dozens died in the drama. What does this mean for divers? If I had a trip planned, I'd say the hell with the crazies and be on my way. But if you're concerned, you can get U.S. State Department travel warnings at . Malaysia is not on the list.

Wananavu Resort, Fiji. A three-hour van ride from the Nadi airport, this resort has long been a favorite of Undercurrent readers, but it has had its troubles. Nearly a decade ago, Dan Grenier, who took resort guests on dives, disappeared while on a charter boat dives. Ra Divers, located on the premises, upped its service, then pulled out three years ago, leaving an uncertain diving future. Now, says Philip Nicozisis (West Palm Beach, FL), it's surely worth the trip. "When I arrived, the room's A/C was not working properly, so they moved me to a smaller room in which it worked better. The manager gave me a free massage for my troubles. The best dive sites are an hour away, and up to 23 miles from the dock. We had personalized service, which included a captain, a deckhand and a divemaster who came with us on dives, and on some days, the two managers came. These guys knew the waters like the backs of their hands, and found the best sites 20 miles out without GPS! The best reefs were in the upper passage of the Vatu Ra Straight. Unfortunately, there was a cyclone last year, so a third of the reefs are in extremely bad shape. But these reefs on a bad day are better than some other places on their best day. The closest dive sites were most affected by the cyclone, but the dive shop is committed to showing you the best dive sites, which are farther out. The reefs are mind-blowing. There are some unpredictable currents, but they would never put intermediate or beginner divers in them. They took us to some challenging dive sites -- one was called the Maytag Reef, which, as the name implies, has crazy currents. I saw at least one shark on every dive, usually whitetip reef sharks. The fish population is abundant -- all kinds of beautiful and interesting species of angelfish, butterflyfish, and too many others to mention. Wananavu's rooms are clean but could use a little sprucing up, especially some new air-conditioners. The food is excellent, and the Indian chefs turn out an international cuisine." ( )

"I believed my PADI advanced certification and my Nitrox card would be sufficient for diving here, but I was wrong."

Turtle Bay Eco Resort, Honduras. This resort on Cayos Cochinos is too often overlooked by Caribbean-focused divers. It takes divers to the ecological preserve, where fishing is limited to native hand-line, says Wellington Lee (Washington, DC). "It has some of the most dramatic reef structures (walls and pinnacles), coral diversity and fish density I have seen in the Caribbean. Beautiful sea fans, gorgonians, elkhorn, staghorn, sponges. Visibility at the Banks dive sites, 40 minutes out, was 100-plus feet. Most sites were a 15-minute ride from the dock, but only averaged 55 feet visibility. Macro subjects were excellent: harlequin pipefish, whitenose pipefish, pipehorse, nudibranchs, sea slugs, squid and octopus. Not much big stuff -- a few eagle rays, a nurse shark, one turtle but many huge snappers and groupers. The house reef is a five-minute kick out from the dock in calm water, excellent for new divers. The resort is small but accommodations are charming -- open air, screened windows, and mosquito nets. It's extremely quiet, with iguanas, hummingbirds and crabs right by your room. Food was solid, including some lionfish killed that day. No A/C, only fans, but cool enough at night. I was bitten by sand fleas while sleeping; DEET was moderately effective." ( )

The Odyssey. This serious liveaboard in Truk Lagoon is a favorite of Undercurrent divers. But we know many divers who make the long journey there and never quite get adjusted to either the depths or penetrating the shipwrecks. I'd like to thank Barry Fox (Apple Valley, CA), who just returned from there on August 26 and wrote us to honestly appraise his own skills and, therefore, send a cautionary note to some divers considering the trip. "The crew was top-notch, very professional and kind. Aboard were 13 Australians and three Americans. My accommodations were in cabin #9, with a full bed, and a twin bed as the top rack. It worked well for me and my dive buddy. The beds were comfortable and both had reading lamps. I thought the food was great, but one of the Australians said that the Odyssey definitely catered to American taste buds . . . I had in excess of 250 dives, and I hold a PADI advanced certification along with a Nitrox card (almost mandatory in Truk), but that did not prepare me for diving Truk Lagoon. Thorough dive briefings were held each morning at 7:30 a.m. and lasted 40 minutes, by far the best dive briefing I have ever heard. They covered both descending from and ascending back to Odyssey, where there is a deco bar at 12 feet and a full tank on a line in case you need it. You can dive steel 80s, steel 108s or multi-gas setups with backpacks. I grew up listening to stories of the Pacific Theater from my Dad, who served in the Navy during WWII. I also served in the Navy so that added great interest for me. I believed my skill set would be sufficient for diving Truk, but I was wrong. They say the visibility is anywhere from 40 to 85 feet, when in reality, the viz on the best day was a hazy 40 feet. The wrecks I dove had a bottom from 100 to 130 feet. I averaged over 85 feet for my max depth during the week, but I stayed shallow in comparison to other divers to make my air last longer. You can stay out of the holds if you choose, or you can go inside the bowels of the ships. I stayed mostly on the outside of the wrecks, and would go inside only if I knew I had a clear path out, with some ambient light penetrating the wreck so I could find my way out. I tend to get claustrophobic, plus I am 6'4" tall and weigh 275 pounds, so getting into tight dark spaces doesn't appeal to me. Odyssey guides will take you anywhere you feel comfortable going. There was no pressure to go on any dive I didn't feel at ease with. In fact, a divemaster will take divers on a tour of the outside of the ship, which for me was wonderful . . . Though I felt out of my skill level diving Truk, I got everything I wanted from my trip there. Odyssey is an outstanding dive boat with a great crew. So if you have a skill set similar to mine, do what I am going to do for my next dive vacation: Go back to the Caribbean." ( )

-- Ben Davison

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