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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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July 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Dominica, Fiji, Belize, Costa Rica, Florida

big animals, no head counts, free flowing regulators

from the July, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Though we divers like to dream of exotic places in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, most of us still find the Caribbean and the Western Pacific our primary destination. And many find surprisingly good diving.

For example, long-time Undercurrent subscriber Clem Clapp (Maplesfield, AL) wrote after a May trip to the Blackbird Resort on Turneffe Atoll in Belize, "Our suite with hot tub on the water was roomy and comfortable, with plenty of hot water and really nice bed ... On almost, if not every dive, we encountered blacktip and nurse sharks, loggerhead turtles, eagle and sting rays, eels and large schools of fish. All dives were really nice and led by Aldo and Ralphie (a fill-in from Hopkins), two of the more competent dive leaders in my diving history. They were very alert looking for critters and always on the lookout for the many lionfish encountered, many of which were taken or fed injured to groupers or morays."

Diving in the West Pacific can be very different from the Caribbean, as Paul Fitzpatrick (San Antonio, TX) discovered. Diving with Aquacenter Diving at the Flamingo Beach Resort in Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica, in May, he reported, "Like much of the Pacific coast of the Americas, there is little coral, but the fish are much larger. The best dives were great. We saw mantas on three of eight dives, usually at the safety stop. There was a huge school of lesser devil rays overhead on one dive and a group of six white tip sharks on another. Several times we were swimming in large schools of the kind that are rarely seen in the Caribbean anymore ... There are a limited number of dive sites, so we were repeating sites by dive number six or so. Some were outstanding, with lots of wildlife, and others were just dead. The dives were all close to the islands (rocks really) so there was a lot of surge even at 60 feet (18m). We mostly swam beside or around an island. There was a substantial thermocline at 50 feet (15m), going from 84°F (28°C) to 73-75°F (22°C)"

Of course, Florida is the easiest place for most Americans to reach, and as we've reported many times, the better diving is along the coast north of Miami where the Gulf Stream flows. Diving in the Keys is much less predictable and sometimes not up to snuff, as Samuel B. Johnson (Greensboro, NC) notes about his April trip to the Florida Keys.

"The people were pleasant, and I enjoyed two unremarkable dives with Key Dives, typical of Florida Keys diving. However, on each of my dives, there was a serious safety concern. After the first dive, when the captain called the roll to make sure all divers were back on the boat, he skipped my name and did not call it. Had I still been in the water, no one would have known. When asked, the captain admitted that it was not the case and that I failed to hear; he had, in fact, skipped my name. It didn't seem to bother him much!"

"On the second dive, I was one of a three-diver group led by a divemaster. I stopped to take a photograph, and when I looked up, the divemaster and the rest of the group had disappeared. Luckily, I'm a fairly experienced diver, so I got back to the boat by myself, but it struck me that the divemaster seemed rather unconcerned that one of her group was missing. She returned with the rest to the boat and made no comment when I showed up later. Luckily the boat had not left without me."

Nor was it so good in San Pedro, Belize, with Amigos Del Mar. After an experience with them in June, Linda Teichman (Oakland, CA) was prompted to report, "I was unhappy that my first rental regulator tended to free flow; the second stuck. Both dives I had to switch to the spare. Thank goodness we were only on local dives, 10 minutes from the dock, so it was easy to switch out the gear. All the gear looked quite tired and worn."

Beyond the Caribbean

Traveling far afield doesn't guarantee success either. Dennis McCrea (Burien, WA) went all the way to Fiji for a two-center visit including the Volivoli Resort in May. Sadly, Volivoli was destroyed by Typhoon Winston last year and is still rebuilding, but as something it wasn't. "We met several people who had been here in previous years, and they were disappointed that it had lost its 'local charm ' They commented, 'It is an amazing place to stay because of the accommodations, but it feels too upscale for a dive resort '" Dennis adds, "If you want a really nice place to stay and go diving, this is one of the best He calls it a 'Resort that offers Diving '"

That said, "The coral in the 'Bligh Waters' surrounding the resort took a harder hit than Rainbow Reef in Taveuni. Shore diving is a waste unless you just want to get wet." Also, he advises "bring plenty of DEET for the sand fleas/no-see-ums, and bring Benadryl tablets and lotion, as there is none for sale in Fiji," which holds true for many tropical destinations, even in the Caribbean.

Big Animal Encounters

By their very nature, wildlife encounters cannot be guaranteed. The ocean is not a zoo. Gregg Backmeyer (Atlantis, FL) found this when he booked on an Amos Nachoum Big Animals Expedition in Dominica in April and was very disappointed.

He wrote, "We had no sperm whales for the first four days. We did have false killer whales day one., pilot whales day two, and sporadic pods of dolphins, but none were bold enough to swim with us.  At 10:30 a.m. on day five, we spotted sperm whales -- finally.  Something had evidently spooked them out of the area, and upon their return, they were very shy. We had no close encounters as a result. There are normally 10 pods of sperm whales that frequent the waters off Dominica. I realize that there are no guarantees with such trips as to the level of encounters. Nevertheless, for the expense [2017 price is $8200 for seven days], it was quite disappointing."

Often, liveaboard diving is the only way to get big animal action. David Fox-Revett (Holland Landing, ON) was luckier diving from Mike Ball's MV Spoilsport on Australia's Great Barrier Reef in June. He wrote, "A major objective of the trip was snorkeling with Dwarf Minke whales. The diving was good, but I wouldn't say great. Many of the reefs have been damaged by two recent cyclones that have broken up the coral. However, the coral does appear to be regenerating. The Minke whales did appear several times, as advertised. We had two long sessions with them -- one two hours and one four hours -- with four to six whales each session."

Sean Bruner (Tucson, AZ), aboard the MV Solmar V out to Mexico's Islas Revillagigedo in June, said "The manta action was fantastic, with up to five mantas at a time, and they came in close, cruising right up next to me. I was shooting black and white with my old film camera with Subal housing and got some fantastic shots. The white tips (sharks) were mostly in the caves along the ledge, but it was impressive to see so many, maybe a dozen piled on top of one another."

Mel McCombie (New Haven, CT) traveled on board the MV Galapagos Sky (formerly Sky Dancer) in the Galapagos in May and offers helpful tips: "The diving mostly rocked, although the memory of Darwin, Wolf, Isabela, and Fernandina tends to displace the few dives that were a little quiet. Don't consider going unless you feel really comfortable with your buoyancy in rough conditions; you will enjoy yourself even in down currents, cross currents, etc., if buoyancy is comfortable."

"Wear good gloves, because you will need to grab onto barnacle-clad rocks; bring a reef hook. A 7mm plus hooded vest plus warm booties will save your bacon. Divers on this trip wearing 3mm froze. The water temps ranged from 64°F (17°C) to 75°F (24°C). Bring a strong portable torch so you can sniff around, not just on the one night dive, but also during often-occluded and turbid day dives. Pack some warm shirts or jackets, plus something lightweight with long sleeves to protect you on the daytime expeditions, since the sun is very powerful."

Feedback from other subscribers can make such a difference to your trip planning, helping you manage expectations and avoid problems. Your feedback is just as important to them, as well. So let us hear from you. Please send us a report on any trips you've made in the last six months by filling out our online form. You can follow the link "File a Report" on the left side of our homepage at, or after logging in, follow the "Reader Report" link in the top navigation bar.

Happy dive trips!

PS: Nice Gesture: Subscriber Lynda Durfee told us that earlier this month she received an unexpected $250 voucher from Larry Speaker of the Aggressor Fleet to compensate for poor air on her Belize Aggressor voyage. "My cabin didn't have any problem (except AC first night), but others complained of fuel a smell in their cabins, apparently due to a spill in the bilge. I'm reporting this because I've seen reports on other Aggressor Fleet boats with more serious problems and poor response from the fleet office. This voucher is good on any future reservation, including discounted weeks. Now: where to go next!"

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