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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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May 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Cozumel, Raja Ampat, Cuba, Grand Turk . . .

plus advice on wetsuits and resort options for older divers

from the May, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

From time to time, we publish select reader reports to bring unique possibilities, old problems, or generally good diving to your attention. Here's a fresh batch.

A Reader Speaks Up Aboard the Komodo Aggressor -- and They Listen. Rene Cote (Richmond, VA) headed off for great diving aboard the Komodo Aggressor. However, she encountered one serious problem and wisely took it upon herself to solve it. "The guides would not allow divers to dive on their own. Aggressor markets itself as providing 'ultimate service' by giving divers the freedom to pick a buddy and dive within proper limits, but this crew required everyone to follow the guides. When I pointed out to the lead guide that Aggressor usually allows divers to dive their own plan, he said, 'That's not in the Standard Operating Procedure.' However, the next morning, Diego (the cruise director) approached me to say he had reviewed the SOP, and I was correct. Here is the language: 'While in the water, you and your buddy are in charge. Every dive starts with a dive briefing from the yacht staff. However, as a certified diver, you and your buddy are responsible for planning and conducting your own dives within the limitations set forth by the briefing . . . (or follow the guide).' Despite acknowledging this was in the SOP, Diego said something about how the conditions here were much harder,and that we needed to follow the guides." Cote also produced a compelling two-minute film on plastic waste that has despoiled once-pristine Komodo Island, home of the unique Komodo dragons. It's a must-see -- watch it at

Aging Divers and Wetsuits. Ed Noga (Akron, OH) who has made more than 1,000 dives, had a great trip to the Red Sea aboard the Emperor Superior, but raises a point that aging divers must keep in mind. "My only complaint was about myself. I rented most gear and everything worked well, but I ordered a full 5-mm wetsuit. Back in the day, I'd dive comfortably in water down to 55 degrees in a 5-mil. Not anymore. In 72-degree water, I froze my butt off on most dives. Everyone else wore at least 7-mm suits. Live and learn." Yes indeed, and keep in mind that many destinations we think are "warm-water destinations," aren't always so. Some Indonesia destinations have upwellings in the low 70s, or even lower. Water temperatures in the Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos get into the low 70s in the winter, and the Sea of Cortez doesn't really warm up until late September. Multiple dives a day aren't fun when your teeth are chattering.

Attention, Cruise Divers. Going on a cruise and hope to dive? Apparently, some cruise ships have restrictions such as age (you can be no older than 79) and credentials (you must have Advanced certification), so get the details before you go. But you can get around the requirements by booking your diving directly with a local dive shop instead of through the cruise staff. Subscriber Michele Jacquin (Encinitas, CA) learned that if she wanted to dive on her upcoming Linblad Expeditions/National Geographic cruise in French Polynesia next year, she would need an Advanced Open Water certification, so she signed up with Kihei's Maui Dreams Dive Company and said, "Not one person was snotty or disinterested in this beginner. I dove 15 dives over seven days, mostly shore dives with two boat dives, including a deep dive to Molokini Crater, which had visibility over 100 feet. They respected my goals, listened to my experience (50-plus years of surfing, snorkeling, sailing and marine biology coursework) and tailored the guided dives to me. Besides earning her certificate, Jacquin enjoyed shore dives full of life. "An octopus popping its head above a rock, nudibranchs galore, butterflyfish, wrasse, surgeonfish, many eels and ulua jacks, turtles on every dive, and eagle rays. The highlights were the sleeping white-tip in a lava cave and watching three mantas feeding, with mouths and gills open, making 'S' patterns a mere few feet above us." (

A Raja Ampat Homestay: The Cabin at KayafyokBudget Accommodations and Diving at Raja Ampat. The dive resorts and liveaboards of Raja Ampat have become extremely expensive, pricing many people out of world-class diving. However, Andrew Falconer, a well-traveled Australian subscriber who finds all sorts of bargains, let us in on how he gets a room and two dives for under $100 per day.

"In April, I dived from two locations, staying at homestays, which benefits the local population. From Sorong, I left by fast ferry at 9 a.m. to Waisai (a two-hour trip), then by pre-arranged local boat to Kri Island . . . Wobbegong Dive Adventures was fine, and I also stayed at its homestay, Koranu Fyak Bungalows. The accommodation was basic, as you would expect, but the meals were not good (fish -- never fresh -- with rice and veggies). The generator for lights usually only came on after dark; once I had dinner by torch light, as they had run out of fuel. Yenkoranu, the homestay next door, would have been better . . . I was Wobbegong's only guest and diver for the week, so I had personal dives with Matthias as my guide, who was good. We dived the top sites, including Cape Kri, Blue Magic and Chicken Reef, and had some fantastic close-up experiences with mantas . . .Visibility was generally good (it was the dry season), and the water warm (I dived with a sharkskin and stinger suit). Some sites, Cape Kri in particular, had strong currents, which attract barracudas and jacks in large numbers, plus trevally, tuna and sharks, which I could observe by hanging onto a rock . . . I did 13 dives from Kri, all boat dives except one on the house reef on Sunday, which is a day of rest, so no boat dives; they only accept cash.

"I did my second week of diving at Arborek, a small sand island (you can walk around it in less than 30 minutes) surrounded by reef and located at the western end of the Dampier Strait. It has a dive shop and a number of homestays. I stayed at Kayafyok, in a cabin on stilts over the water. The food was basic, but the fish was mostly fresh and the veggies more imaginative. I was the only guest and made seven boat dives with Arborek Dive Shop, mostly with two or three other divers. Dive guides Gita and Marcel were excellent. The diving continued to be great, especially on the Deep Rock, Citrus and Mayhem sites, which all had amazing amounts of fish, including schooling barracuda."

Excellent information about these homestay options are at; you can also send emails to Koranu Fyak Bungalows at and to Arborek Dive Shop at

How about a Sandals Resort? It could be a good option if you're looking to tone down your diving. Bernard Dubois (Barrington, NH) says that while he has made 300 dives since 1966, he is 72 and "I do not dive for challenges any more. So with my wife, a diver with 60 dives in three years under her belt, we went to Sandals in Jamaica, which is efficient and relatively inexpensive. We were able to go to the fitness center, use the sauna, have good lunches and dinners, and dive twice a day, enough to make my wife focus and for me to take pictures and laugh while relaxing. Twenty-one dives in two weeks was a little boring for me, but not for my wife! I am not looking for challenges any more; I enjoy simple, well-organized dives. Since then, we've been to Sandals resorts in St. Lucia, Nassau and have dived Tahiti. I would have found those locations quite boring 40 years ago. But back then, we had so much more freedom to dive. Thirty years ago, in Nassau, we were diving by pair on our own profile; my youngest son and I shook hands at 200 feet deep. Nowadays, you get called back if you go beyond 90 feet. And alas, 80 percent of the fish and coral are gone, compared to back then." (

The Southern Yucatan and Chinchorro Banks. Eric Williamson (Polson, MT) reports that when he dived in January with XTC Dive Center in the southern Yucatan Peninsula, the four-hour, round-trip to dive Chinchorro Banks was well worth the time and discomfort. "Our dives were about two miles from the island. We saw large fish, and lobster as big as my leg. The boat ride was wet, so XTC provided neoprene parkas to wear over the wetsuits we wore. Adding a little excitement, a flying fish landed inside the boat. We docked at the park headquarters for the surface interval and lunch; there were three crocodiles next to the dock and five more below a viewing platform over a lagoon." Back on the mainland, Williamson had a great dive at La Poza. "We saw snapper up to 70 pounds, grouper to 90 pounds, several green morays, and 25 tarpon weighing between 30 and 90 pounds. The tarpon moseyed around us for 10 minutes while we just idled on the sand. That dive rates in my top five ever, and we repeated it the next day." (

Technical Diving in Cozumel, Anyone? We wrote in the last issue about aspects of technical diving that sport divers may wish to pick up. Reader Christopher Morris (Calgary, Alberta) recently took his technical diving skills to Cozumel and Deep Exposure Dive Center. "Service could not be better for technical divers; this shop can easily service the most extreme dives, side-mount diving, multiple tanks and gases. The owner provides his time and vast knowledge, and makes his recommendations, assisting with all details of the dive plans. All my dives were tech dives except for the last dive. Day One, I went down to 150 feet; Day Two was 250 feet; Day Three was 300 feet; Days Four and Five were 400 feet; back up to 150 feet on Day Six; and Day Seven was a drift dive between 40 and 80 feet with nitrox. Two dives per day, except for the 400-foot dive days. Visibility was 100 feet most days but can vary from 40 to 100 feet. There was a mild current most days, but it can vary from no current to a very strong one. It usually follows the coral reef, but sometimes the current could be going up or down the coral wall. Swimming left or right will eventually bring you to a place with the opposite direction . . . Roger, my dive guide, was excellent, always nearby and monitoring our depth, time and gas switches. Support on the boat by Pepe takes customer service to a new level - he helped me with all details of my gear and tanks, checking all hoses, regs, gear placement, and getting on and off the boat. When we were done, he rinsed all my gear with fresh water, including inside my BC and surface marker buoy. It's a large boat, with a big ladder on the back, and when I was ready to get out of the water, I raised my hand in the air and Captain Giovani backed it up.

"Very little fish life below 200 feet. I did see a couple of reef sharks at 400 feet, but they quickly scooted." For fish life, it was the shallow dives, Morris says. "At Palancar Reef, swimming around and through the towers must be one of the best coral reef dives in the world. The best fish life is from 40 to 100 feet. I did a drift dive a few feet above the bottom, floating a few feet above the coral floor, moving with the current and not even kicking, watching all the activities happening in fish town. Thousands of small and medium-size fish of all kinds, along with groupers, turtles, moray eels, rays, spotted eagle rays and nurse sharks." (

"The coral, sponges, tropical fish and general reef conditions were healthy and plentiful. It is the best dive experience in the Caribbean."

Avalon III Launches in Cuba. Frederick Michael Maisch (Okemos, MI), who was aboard in March, says "I can't overstate how wonderful the ship and crew were, as they have everything you could ask for aboard the boat. The dive deck was enormous, with plenty of room to change, a freshwater tank for cameras and wetsuit rinse, and even a bathroom. The sun deck has a bar, hot tub and lounge chairs. Our cabin was large, with a balcony, twin beds that were very comfortable, a large and functional bath, and storage -- and everything worked! The ship has a large modern kitchen, and the chef and food were extraordinary. There were 15 divers on our trip; the six who had the major camera equipment took a skiff, and the other nine took the 45-foot cruiser. Gear was always set up for us by the crew, and up to four dives a day were offered. Nitrox was US$100. Suggested tips were around $400 total for the dive crew and boat staff, and they were worth it . . . Most of our dives were drift. I saw many sharks up close on every dive, plus huge eagle rays, tarpon, black and Goliath grouper, green eels and a couple of big turtles. The coral, sponges, tropical fish and general reef conditions were healthy and plentiful. It is the best dive experience in the Caribbean."

U.S. citizens can legally go to Cuba, but there are a few requirement (see our "Easy Travel to Cuba" article in the March 2018 issue). Maisch says, "U.S. Immigration asked for nothing more than my passport, which did get stamped in Cuba." You must book passage through a dive travel agency, but view details and photos of the boat at

Grand Turk Keeps Its Charm. Susan Mindock (Playa del Rey, CA) notes that longtime divers such as herself "know it's not uncommon to revisit places you initially loved and be heartbroken to find the coral bleached, the fish life decimated, and the island ambiance degraded. I had fallen in love with the diving in Grand Turk back in 2003, but hadn't been back since 2007, and I was amazed that the underwater state of health seemed to be unaffected, along with the topside charm. So after all these years, Grand Turk remains one of my top three Caribbean dive favorites! I dove with Oasis Divers, and the first thing I need to state is that Mackie is a national treasure for the Turks and Caicos. He has a genuine love for diving that has never diminished over the 30-plus years he's been doing it. The visibility was 100-plus feet on the wall, maybe 50 to 80 feet on the shallow dives, and driven by weather. We saw sharks, turtles, big puffers, grouper, big parrots and all the Caribbean standards. One thing we did not see was lionfish. Grand Turk is still a fantastic dive destination, and for me, it has the best of all worlds -- close dive sites, huge dramatic walls, healthy topography, and enough fish to entertain you." (

-- Ben Davison

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