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October 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Florida, Maui, Palau . . .

good and bad Bahamas dive shops; the best week to dive Bonaire

from the October, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Underwater Explorers, Florida. While a lot of divers looking to get wet in Florida's tropical waters head to the Keys, savvy divers go north of Miami, where the Gulf Stream runs closer to shore. In August, Craig Wood (Radnor, PA) dived with Underwater Explorers out of Boynton Beach and reported visibility up to 80 feet and water temperatures averaging 84 degrees. "I spent six days doing 15 dives with Kevin Metz and Underwater Explorers for one of the best dive trips I've had. I did nine drift dives on the healthy Boynton Beach reef, seeing about a dozen bull sharks, numerous loggerhead and hawksbill turtles, green and spotted morays, lobster and nearly all the Caribbean reef fish you can think of. I also did six dives on the Castor. Even though it was a little early for the peak of the Goliath grouper aggregation, there were about 100 around the wreck. There were also large bait balls and all the hunters looking to make a meal of them. Kevin takes out just six divers in his roomy boat, making for a relaxed, uncrowded atmosphere. My reef dives averaged about 75 minutes. Many advanced photographers dive with Underwater Explorers." ( https://diveboyntonbeach.com )

Tropic Dancer, Palau. Jim McKnight, (Leominster, MA) just returned from a Palau trip aboard the Tropic Dancer, and after reading our September feature about the Ocean Hunter III, he opines, "Comparing its prices to the Ocean Hunter, the Tropic Dancer look like the better value to me . . . the cabin for my wife and me was $2,000 per person. A single occupancy cabin was $2,600 for one week . . . Beer (Red Rooster, brewed in Palau) was available on tap, and wine was served with dinner, both gratis . . . Nitrox was $100 for the week. And the itineraries for both boats are pretty much the same." He's right about price: seven days on the Ocean Hunter III begins at $3,495 per person. ( www.aggressor.com/palautropic.php )

A Week in Bonaire with Fishid. Jim Reilly (Baltimore, MD), making a return visit to Bonaire in August, stumbled across a week's free program put on by Fishid's Scott and Patti Chandler (and sponsored by Bonaire Dive and Adventure, Den Laman Apartments and Budget Rental Car), and says this is a mustweek to visit Bonaire. "The program starts with a fish ID brochure listing the most common fish in Bonaire, then daily morning chats with the Chandlers (lovely, warm folks), four evening presentations on how to identify fish, dives led by the Chandlers on Bari Reef, and prizes for divers who reported sighting the 'fish of the day.' The 7:30 p.m. outdoor presentations were not only interesting and beautifully illustrated, with both still and video shot by the Chandlers, but Scott was also a master teacher who was interesting and fun. Perhaps the most remarkable evening was the one we thought most likely to put us to sleep -- Scott's unedited video from their morning tour. It began with a large pink frogfish blending into a small stand of coral. Bonaire Dive's divemasters were in the audience and gasped, 'Where did you find it?' 'Within 20 feet of the dock,' was Scott's answer. This was followed by video of a good sized, sand-colored eel with brown spots; Scott claimed the sandy lip at the top of the reef had plenty of them. (We've dived Bonaire at least once a year for more than a decade and have never seen an eel like that.) Another was a short video of an octopus attacked by a spotted moray. It was all much fun." Fishid also has a seahorse festival coming up in November at CoCoView in Roatan. ( www.fishid.us )

Lahaina Divers, Maui. After 35 years, Lahaina Divers continues to get high marks, and while it's a large operation, it takes care of experienced divers well. Lynda Durfee (Alexandria, VA), who has gone out with them five years running, went again in July and notes, "They are the only operator that makes regular trips to Lanai, Molokai and the Molokini backwall. Lanai sites are probably the best overall as far as water clarity, topography (cathedrals) and reefs. Molokai and the Molokini backwall are for advanced, experienced divers only, due to currents. Lahaina Divers has two big, comfortable boats. Even with up to 18 divers (the max is 24), it never felt crowded because divers were divided into groups of six, each with a divemaster. They let me go down with the first group and surface with the last group, maximizing bottom time. Lunch (sandwiches, chips, fruit) is served between dives. Very safety conscious, friendly, efficient and you can rinse and store your gear overnight at the shop. The twilight/night dive trip was nice; I got a sunset view, snacks and two dives for the price of a 'sunset cruise' on a catamaran (minus the booze, of course)." ( www.lahainadivers.com )

Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas. Stuart Cove's huge operation, which has been around nearly as long as Lahaina Divers has, doesn't get the same high marks, having succumbed to the call of cash. Michael Tekel (Hampton Bays, NY) says, "It's like Grand Central Station at rush hour. They get three or more buses coming in, cruises, other hotels, etc. Upwards of 60 people in a shot at registration. They mish-mosh everybody to fill boats to capacity -- students, newbies, experienced are all on the same boat. It's all about their sales volume, not your dive experience."

Brendal's Dive Center, Bahamas. Then there is Brendal Stevens, who has been around as long as the others (I first dived with him at Small Hope Bay in 1979) and has been operating his dive center at Marsh Harbour on Abaco Island since 1985. Tiffany Townsend (San Francisco, CA) dived with him in August and, as everyone else who writes us about him, says, "He is a charming and entertaining character, a bit of a local celebrity on Green Turtle Cay. They book out in advance, even during what we thought would be 'low season' (July in the hurricane belt). We were on a sailing trip, and radioed ahead but nothing was available for several days. We were only able to dive because we happened to be hiding out in his shop during a thunderstorm when a group of four called to cancel. Thinking we were signing up for a two-tank morning dive, we only realized once on the boat that we were in for the long haul for a family 'adventure day.' My 80-minute dive was limited only by my bladder capacity; we still had 1000-1500 psi at the end of it. The dive was not rushed, and I was able to jump back in and snorkel at the end to take naturally-lit reef shots. Brendal's 'secret' site, Coral Caverns, was great for snorkelers and divers alike. Starting in the shallows, with snorkelers trailing behind, we moved above beautiful, healthy, mature coral reefs, with Caribbean reef sharks occasionally passing, then moved on to watch Brendal put on a show as he got up close and personal with Nassau groupers. He then led us deeper, to 50 feet and past a large group of tarpons, and we passed through a system of swim-throughs sprinkled with thousands of glassy sweepers and beams of natural light shining through. Brendal pointed out beautiful displays of light and tiny macro subjects for the photographers. Following our dive, Brendal cleaned and seasoned fresh hogfish and grouper, while we motored to the beach that has a BBQ pit and picnic tables labeled "Reserved for Brendal's." Soon after arriving, a little girl exclaimed, 'Here come the stingrays!' I slipped in with my snorkel to take pictures as they slid over our legs and feet at the water's edge. We feasted on conch ceviche, fresh green salad, stewed fish and coconut bread, washed down with rum punch, with our new friends. Of the various sites we dove in the Abacos, the reefs at the Coral Caverns, north of Green Turtle Cay, were among the healthiest." ( www.brendal.com )

What's with Fiji's Island Dancer II? We wrote about its serious problems in our July issue, only to hear from subscriber Angela Richards Dona (Honolulu, HI), who was aboard later that month. "The biggest disappointment is the yacht itself . . . My husband and I had a very strong sewage smell in Cabin 2 and moved to Cabin 3 when it was apparent the crew could not fix the problem. The smell was so strong at times it made me gag. Cabin 3 did not have a functioning A/C unit, but the smell was milder though it was always present . . . Nitrox fills were generally between 28 and 30 percent. We paid $100 for Nitrox and the fills should have been closer to 32 . . . Tank fills were contaminated, and all tanks had to be emptied and refilled, causing us to miss a dive on our first night. A bad taste was ever present, but got better after the first day . . . The windlass on the anchor broke, and we were stranded in choppy seas at anchor for 18 hours. We missed two dives, and after the anchor line was finally cut, we resumed diving. Captain Joji tried to give us time to make up these dives, but that came at the expense of the village visit that we were all keen to do . . . The diving platform was filthy with black oil splotches. I got these all over my gear . . . Tanks took forever to fill. There were only seven guests plus the divemaster, but we almost never did our dives on time. We all felt the crew was kind, helpful and did a great job with great attitudes despite the problems. The boat was at port for two weeks prior to the week I was aboard, and it would seem that so many of these issues could have been taken care of . . . I wrote a stern but courteous letter to the Aggressor Fleet, and their response was they are not responsible for how the individual boats are run because they are all franchises. The management blamed most of the issues on the crew, and even wrote back a defensive, inaccurate account of the issues. They simply issued us a $200 voucher, which expires in one year, to try them out again since, as they put it, 'the trip didn't live up to your expectations.'" Angela had a lot more issues on her list, but these are enough to persuade me not to board this craft.

P.S.: I erred in reporting on the Dancer II in the July issue, referring to it as the Fiji Aggressor. It's part of the Aggressor/Dancer fleet, but it's named the Island Dancer II. My apologies.

-- Ben Davison

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