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November 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Sick Divers, Macho Divemasters

travels in Egypt, Fiordland, Bonaire, the Bahamas...

from the November, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Our anonymous travel reviewers work hard to provide our monthly feature travel reports, so we really appreciate responses from our readers that tell us we've been very accurate in our portrayal of a liveaboard or resort trip. So, thank you Brent Woods (Deep River, Ontario, Canada), who took a cruise on MV Aqua Cat in The Bahamas this September, and wrote to tell us: "This was my second liveaboard of 2016. Both trips were reviewed in Undercurrent. I mention this because it gave me the opportunity to compare my experience with that of the Undercurrent reviewers. In both cases my experience was similar."

For another Bahamas liveaboard, Richard Jones(Upper St. Clair, PA) took a trip with Lost Island Voyages on the 60-foot (18m) ketch SY Avalon, and though he was less impressed with the vessel's necessarily cramped accommodations, he otherwise had a great time. "They treated us as adults, with good briefings. You dived with a divemaster if needed, but mostly on your own. The ship was as comfortable as any small liveaboard can be; the food was excellent and healthy. The crew was helpful and made you feel relaxed and part of the experience, and less like a customer. The diving was some of the best I have ever done. Most days we didn't see another dive boat, most nights we didn't see any lights, we really were in special places visited by only a few operators occasionally. My suggestion: spend a few extra dollars over the low price operators, and get lost with Lost Islands."

Shore diving can be great if you're in the right place, and Bonaire is one of those places. You don't have to schlep your gear to the shallows if you don't want to, because you can dive right off the dock at the beachfront hotels, but most divers still prefer the dayboats. At Captain Don's Habitat, says Irina Zeylikman (Lexington, MA), who was there in August, the "dive crew practices diving freedom rule, dive your own profile, but come to the boat in about 60 min. Every dive was great, and amazingly enough, we encountered very few lionfish, but quite a few seahorses, frog fish, and nurse shark. The reef is lush and healthy."

She went on to add, "The last time we went to Bonaire was in 2003, and now, 13 years later, I realized what we were missing all these years, incredible diving, great dive operation, friendly people, and new restaurants." So that's a result!

Spring is a good time to travel to Cuba, but it can result in a culture shock because the Cubans tend to be much more macho than we might feel comfortable with. Steven Clayman (Toronto, ON) discovered this to his dismay when he was diving with the Marlin Dive Center on the small island of Cayo Largo.

"On the third day, I decided I didn't feel comfortable diving with Marlin. I followed the dive guide's rules as best I could, having decided to slowly ascend from about 90 feet (27m) to 50 feet (15m) to conserve air as my tank emptied. I always had the group in sight and felt in control. When we all returned to the dive boat, the dive guide chewed me out for not following his rules. Although I signaled my intentions to him and told him I felt comfortable with my decision, this was [evidently] not acceptable.

The last dive I went on, I followed the dive guide's rules and signaled when I was down to 500 psi (33bar) while we were at about 90 feet (27m). He gave me the 'OK' sign. At 250 psi (17 bar) and still at depth, I went to him requesting his octopus. He refused to hand it to me, and instead, pointed ahead. It took a few seconds until I saw the mooring line. He signaled for me to go to it and guide myself to the surface. I immediately did that, arriving at the rear of the dive boat. It was windy and I was being pushed toward some reefs. What astonished me was the ladder was up, there was no trailing line, and none of the crew was on lookout. I yelled, blew my whistle and kept swimming toward the transom. Eventually, someone came on deck, lowered the ladder and I came on board. My tank pressure [by then] was zero. I decided not to return and sent a report to the charter representative."

It may be a long way to go, but the hundreds of Indian Ocean islands of the Maldives feature some of the most luxurious resorts in the world, and the same can be said of some liveaboards that operate around the many atolls. Alas, Gilbert Montoya (Lafayette, CA) was less lucky with his choice.

He booked on an Egyptian-built Blue O Two vessel, MV Blue Voyager, and suggested, "The experience was less than two-star. . . . The boat itself was a wreck. Their excuse was it had traveled from Egypt to the Maldives in stormy conditions and different humidity. The decking was torn up in multiple areas, rendering the vessel dangerous to move around on and uncomfortable. Also, the boat they had was not the boat they advertised. They had the nerve to say it was 'better.' We did not receive the cabin type we had paid for. They did refund the difference, but we had a much less comfortable cabin than we'd planned to be in. The worst thing was the incompetent crew. The native crew members seemed 100 percent inexperienced and were worse than useless. They were directly responsible for damage to my wife's brand-new Scuba Pro BCD, rendering it unusable after day one. They were unable to help people properly to and from the 'mother boat' to and from 'dhoni' (the smaller boat used for the actual dives). They were clueless how to assist people in and out of the dhoni, both before and after diving. . . . The instructors were indifferent to passenger complaints. . . .They had two 'divemasters in training' from their Egypt operation who were sleeping in the public lounge space, rendering it unusable for the paying guests. These individuals were extraordinarily rude. They were not diving in conformity with the instructor's diving instructions and ended up ruining shark dives for paying customers by not following the dive profile outline."

Montoya went to the Maldives at the beginning of the year, when the diving is high-voltage thanks to powerful currents bringing clear water and big animals in from the Indian Ocean. However, that sort of diving is not to everyone's taste. He wrote: "The Southern Maldives are not a good site for beginners, as currents are strong and depths are deep!" (The same could be said of all the other atolls at that time of year.)

Egypt tends not to be the first choice of destination for American travelers, but it cannot be denied that the Egyptian Red Sea has some of the best and most varied diving in the world. Randall S. Preissig(San Antonio, TX) exhorts Undercurrent readers, "Do not be afraid to go to Egypt, especially for diving. The dive areas are far removed from the tourist areas -- and both are heavily protected and safe. There has never been an incident related to dive operations." He went on the Red Sea Aggressor in September.

Craig A. Wood (Radnor, PA) also embarked on the Red Sea Aggressor, otherwise known as MY Suzanna One, at Port Ghalib, near Marsa Alam, in April of this year. He reported that "the boat was clean and well cared for, and the crew was absolutely fantastic and did everything they could to ensure a good trip. . . .The diving was excellent. Highlights of the southern route included beautiful hard coral gardens at Abu Dabab Bay, large schools of scalloped hammerheads at Daedalus reef, beautiful caverns and swim-thrus at Cave reef at St. Johns, and snorkeling with spinner dolphins at Sataya reef. There were other cool encounters with Napoleon wrasse, giant morays, blue-spotted stingrays, with thousands of anthias all over the reefs. Highlights of the northern route included a few thresher sharks and a couple of mantas at Little Brother Island, a thresher and the wrecks of the Numidia and Aida at Big Brother Island, anemone gardens with many anemone fish at Daedalus reef, and a good dive in brisk current with sharks at the Elphinstone reef."

Infectious illness can strike anywhere, but when it strikes one passenger in the confined environment of a boat, it's often bad news for everyone else. Deborah Berglund (Bozeman, MT) discovered this when aboard the MV Spirit of Solomons during a trip in the Solomon Islands in May. All round, she appears to have experienced an unhappy time.

"This is an older boat and somewhat shabby, although everything was clean and functioned. The crew was great, the food good and the dive operation OK. The diving was not guided; often I was diving alone, which I did not like. The boat is too small for the number of divers. One person got sick, and most of the rest of us caught it, making it a rather miserable, crowded experience. My roommate got sick and made it impossible for me to sleep. I had no place to nap until I was offered a bunk while the people in the room were diving; the uncovered upper deck was too hot in the daytime heat. I skipped many dives due to fatigue and sickness, so may have missed the better diving. Space was a huge issue. I often had to stand to put my gear on, as there were unfriendly people taking up the sitting spaces. About half of the available space was taken up by camera gear."

On the subject of health, when you are far from home, you need to be circumspect about the risks you might be tempted to take while diving, too. Dr. Michael Davis (Christchurch, NZ) wrote about diving New Zealand's South Island Fiordland in April, with the 60-foot (18m) MV Pembroke. He advised Undercurrent readers, "You are totally responsible for your own diving safety, bearing in mind that civilization is a long way away and there is a mountain range between you and any medical assistance."

And, then he reports on diving where few Canadians or Americans have been. "I have been diving in Fiordland for 25 years, and for much of that time on the MV Pembroke (through two owners). For me, Fiordland is my favorite place to dive in all the world. Both the topside and underwater worlds are unique. Big black coral trees are everywhere, from shallow water to disappearing into the depths beyond diving range. Each tree is an ecosystem in its own right. This is a truly remote diving experience. The Pembroke is very seaworthy and cozy, but basic (with a bunk room for up to five and two tiny double-bed cabins, both accessed through the bunk room -- therefore, privacy is at a minimum. The water is cold and suits experienced drysuit divers, but Dr. Davis's enthusiasm for it is untarnished: "Water temperature is 52 - 62°F (11-17 °C), visibility often 65 feet (20m), but this fails to describe the unique environment you experience, especially if there is a reasonable fresh-water layer after heavy rains. This is a very special part of the Fiordland experience."

Donald A. Ricetti (McDonald, PA) was agreeably surprised at the welcome he got from Wreck Life based in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was there, out of season, in August. He was staying on St. John, where he'd made many dives previously, so made the ferry journey across and was told they would meet him at the public dock. He reported, "To my surprise, when they showed up, I was the only diver, and they asked where I wanted to go. Told them the locations I definitely did not want to see again, then said 'far be it from me to pass up a wreck,' to which they replied, OK, General Rogers it is. Great dive, clear water and the biggest green moray I have ever seen -- shades of 'The Deep' movie size. Then a shallow dive to Grass Caye, where there were lots of fish and nice corals."

It's not always luxury that people are after. Hunter Smith (Melbourne, Australia) enjoyed the rigors of an eco-resort in Papua New Guinea. He stayed at the Lissenung Island Resort, Kavieng, at the start of 2016 and was over the moon with it. "Lissenung is simply brilliant. Never mind no hotwater showers, this is a true eco-resort. The house reef is superb, with a school of jacks, clown fish of various types, snappers and all matter of other things within 160 feet (50m) of the dive shop and super-easy beach entry. The open water dives and wrecks are all there."

Too tough for your taste? The flip side of that coin can be provided by Dive Butler International, and if you find mixing with ordinary divers simply too tiresome, DBI might be the answer, although we have yet to receive a reader's report. French Canadian Alexis Vincent once ran the dive center at the exclusive Rangali Conrad resort in the Maldives and discovered his clients preferred the use of a private speedboat with their own crew with personal dive guide, complete with gourmet lunch, to the usual ten-dive package we lesser mortals normally opt for. Price was not a problem. From this he developed the idea of the dive butler, and Dive Butler International was born. DBI supplies services tailor-made to suit the demands of those who rent private tropical islands or own/charter super-yachts wherever they might be in the world. DBI has a retinue of suitably qualified dive guides who have fins and will travel. The cost? It's a pittance in contrast to the other expenses you'll encounter if you charter a super-yacht. Ask any billionaire!

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