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September 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Ambergris, the Red Sea, Raja Ampat

bad briefings, free flowing regulators, overflowing toilets

from the September, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As a subscriber, you have access to thousands of online reader reports that can help you ensure you get the kind of diving you want, with a quality operation for a good price. So we urge you right now to go our website (see sidebar) to file reports of any of your recent trips to help your fellow readers as they help you.

From time to time, we use a few reports to help illustrate diving issues to call into account dive operations that aren't measuring up (as well as report on those that do). Here are a few of the latest.

Ambergris Rental Gear and Reefs: Divers are increasingly renting gear to reduce the bags we carry and to avoid airlines' baggage charges, so many operators now offer top-of-the-line stuff -- and they should, for our safety. But, Linda I. Teichman (Oakland, CA) had problems with the gear rented from Amigos del Mar on Ambergris Caye in Belize. Her first rental regulator free-flowed, then the second stuck. "Both dives I had to switch to the spare. All the gear looked quite tired and worn." As was the diving. She adds that "We dove Tackle Box and San Pedro Canyon. The dives were disappointing . . . There were hardly any fish on either of the dives. We saw plenty of friendly nurse sharks, there was plenty of coral, fans, plumes, sponges, even a couple of reef sharks and tiger grouper . . . but the clouds of reef fish I was expecting were nowhere." Clouds of reef fish on Ambergris Caye dives? Well, those days are long gone, and now exist only in the imagination of good scuba ad-copy writers and Photoshoppers.

Dive Briefings: Too many cavalier divemasters deliver inadequate briefings, some preferring to draw attention to themselves rather than to the conditions, while others, having dived there so many times, give briefings short shrift. Neal Langerman (San Diego, CA) was aboard the Cuan Law in the British Virgins, and even for a guy with his experience -- more than a thousand dives -- he found the briefings fell well short of standards. "The pre-dive briefings were notably inadequate. The presentation was difficult to hear. One guide only addressed the divers to his left and those sitting to his right were left out. The poorly drawn or entirely absent site maps made understanding the dive plan difficult. Though the diving is very easy, the lack of clear "what if" instructions and current information increased the overall dive risk. A dive crew is supposed to be professional, and we divers must expect them to behave so. The minimum we must do, of course, is to ask questions.

We can do more. On more than one dive trip, I approached the head divemaster and made suggestions -- the guys in the back couldn't hear, you didn't mention the current, what if my partner doesn't want to follow you through that 100-foot swim-thru -- and the questions were answered and the briefings improved.

High Marks for the Red Sea Aggressor: Harold L. Fenner, Jr. (Beachwood, OH) spotted a $1300 deal for a late June north itinerary week and jumped on it. "Only 11 divers booked for the week, so I ended up with my own cabin. Everything about the RSA is outstanding. All crew members were extremely service-oriented; the food, the best I've had among five previous liveaboards. The highlights from diving were the quantity and quality of hard and soft coral, a variety of tropical fish (most smaller), numerous large eels, and frequent sightings of sharks (scalloped hammerheads, oceanic white tip, thresher, silky, and white tip reef, and mostly at Daedalus Reef).

"I felt very safe everywhere I went in Egypt. Security is prevalent at the tourist sites, along the highways, hotels, and pretty much all over." Also, Fenner did a lot of private touring and used Deep Blue Adventures ( to set it up.

Medical Attention: Several times when traveling, I've had to seek out a doctor, and my experiences have been fine. Frank Nelson, staying at the Iberostsar in Cozumel, said his buddy had "a sinus cold (with flu-like symptoms) and could not make the dive. The hotel called the hospital, and a doctor came to the hotel to check him out. He arrived in 75 minutes, examined him and prescribed three 'scripts which were delivered from downtown: $65 for the doctor, $24 for the 'scripts. My buddy was unable to dive the eight days we were there and Dressel Divers gave him a voucher for the 12 dives he prepaid, good for 5 years at any Dressel shop." Hats off to Dressel!

Dominica: Looks like the Fort Young Hotel -- once a business hotel -- has become the go-to for divers, especially with Buddy Dive running the show." Says Dave Inman (Devon, PA), "They have built on their good reputation from Bonaire, and their dive operation is pretty much identical. They operate two roomy dive boats with adequate shade and marine heads. Although the dives are structured for inexperienced divers, the dive guides quickly realize which divers are experienced and afford them some latitude. The Fort Young Hotel was an unexpected pleasure. It is built on top of a fort that has a history dating back to the 17th century and changed hands between the British and the French in the 18th century. The hotel has been rebuilt and added onto several times and is somewhat of a warren of passageways. Is interesting to see the old construction techniques blended with the new." And, it's close to other restaurants.

Saving Mantas: Eric A. Frick (Elmhurst, IL), aboard the MY.Seahorse in Raja Ampat, Indonesia in May: "During my land-based stay at Misool and before boarding, I had been told that a manta had become entangled in fishing line at a dive site called Magic Mountain. I spotted it when we visited Magic Mountain while aboard Seahorse. Divemaster Daniel del Ordi quietly moved toward the manta, and after two tries, got the fishing line off! It was a great moment as the manta swam away and then returned to hover over the reef." It's amazing how many divers have had the opportunity to free entangled creatures. But we divers cover such a tiny part of the ocean; it's tragic to think just how many entangled animals die in nets.

Based in La Paz, Mexico, Club Cantamar runs day boats and a liveaboard, and we have constantly cited problems with their operation, dating from my full review more than a decade ago. David Gere (Kent, WA) was aboard their liveaboard to the Revillagigedo Islands, and said, "Our cabin had problems flushing the marine head from day one. We talked to the staff almost every day, with little improvement. The last three days we had solid waste sitting in the bowl that the crew failed to clear, despite speaking to the crew and the fact that the owner was on board. The cabin next to us had sewage overflowing from its head and sloshing into the lower level corridor during the 27-hour return trip in moderate seas to Los Cabos." Frankly, I wouldn't dive again with them on any of their craft.

-- Ben Davison

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