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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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July 2022    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 48, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Fiji, Indonesia, French Polynesia, Molokai

we’re diving the world once again

from the July, 2022 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

At last, as the rules for COVID ease, the North American diver's world has expanded beyond the Caribbean, Mexico, and Hawaii. That's not to say you shouldn't be cautious when traveling, because if you test positive in another country, where you may be required to test, you're headed for quarantine, lost days, and lost money. Check our Flotsam on page 15 if you want evidence.

Our readers have begun their international dive journeys and have been posting reader reports. Here are a few to which I want to call to your attention, not only so you can get to the best resorts and liveaboards, but also so you don't make bad choices. These are brief summaries of reports, and if a destinaxtion interests you, go to to read the complete reports. Our readers are very helpful to one another, and you can even email the report writer to get more information about the location.

"I was up several times in the middle of the night, and unfortunately, the watchman was generally asleep on an outside chair."

Liveaboards - Some Good, Some Less So.

One of our readers, Steven Damsky (Poughkeepsie, NY), wanted to go to Costa Rica's Cocos Island aboard the mv. Sea Hunter, a favorite of Undercurrent readers, but during his vacation window, it had already been chartered by National Geographic. So, he selected the Okeanos Aggressor.

Now, any boat will get you to the remarkable big fish diving, but he says, "I have used Aggressor many times but noticed a real decline in value and quality. This is an expensive trip at almost $7K per person, so you wouldn't expect to be nickeled and dimed. There was a last-minute per person $250 fuel surcharge, extra for nitrox, and another $1000 in park fees. Excluding airfare, it was a little over $10K per diver. . . . The cabins look like they haven't been updated in decades, and at 6 feet tall, I could not stand upright anywhere inside. There was an overall water pressure problem, and the showers and toilets didn't consistently work. Food was bland, basic, and forgettable. The crew, with one or two exceptions, was indifferent and seemed more interested in entertaining themselves rather than attending to the guests."

There are a lot of excellent liveaboards in the Maldives - e.g., see our full review of Emperor Voyager in the January 2022 issue, -, but it doesn't look like the Maldives Aggressor measures up, as Paul Neis (Mountain Home, AR) discovered in March. "The crew was all wonderful; however, this boat badly needs dry dock. The salon had some holes in the floor covered with carpets. Air conditioning marginal. We had the unfortunate experience of two wrecks. On the first one, the mother ship and the dhoni were blown off anchor onto the reef at night by a storm, and the port propellers on both boats were broken. They had to be pulled off the reef. A couple of nights later, while motoring in the dark, the mother ship ran up on the reef of a seamount. It took two hours to get it pulled off of the reef. Because of the broken props, the rest of the trip was slow, and night dives were out. We did not receive a good explanation of how these events occurred, considering all the navigation and weather information available on a modern boat. I was up several times in the middle of the night, and unfortunately, the watchman was generally asleep on an outside chair."

While the Ocean Hunter has always been the go-to dive boat in Palau, The Black Pearl Explorer has attracted some attention, and Jon Hoffmann (Gainesville, GA) gave it a go in April, flying east on Turkish Air, with stops in Istanbul and Manila.

"Even before we left home, there were issues."

"Built in China about five years ago, the vessel is spacious and comfortable; only the second cruise since the shutdown, so we expected some hiccups. Tender drivers had trouble locating dive sites, and dive guides were not yet experienced in where to find macro life. But you go to Palau for the big stuff. The crew was welcoming and eager to please and the food was awesome. The initial 12 guests (about 50 percent capacity) were American, including local ex-pats who departed after three days, leaving four of us with the entire boat. I was told most marketing efforts are toward Europeans and Americans. The beds were short and narrow by US standards and a bit on the hard side. The cruise directors are an Argentine couple, and the crew is mostly Indonesian with Chinese divemasters who are probably more accustomed to leading larger groups of Chinese divers. We set an early tone about providing ourselves a greater sense of personal freedom underwater and the director accommodated our outlandish requests."

The Ocean Hunter III was off to a rough start in April as well, Mark Rosenstein (Cambridge, MA) reports: "We learned the day before boarding the vessel was as still in the Philippines in dry dock. So we dived on day boats out of the dive shop that manages the liveaboard. Midway through our third day, we moved onto the boat. Our trip leader negotiated a non-typical schedule. Rather than 4-5 dives a day, often limited to 45 minutes to an hour, we would do 75 to 80 minute dives, with just three dives in a day, and a dusk or night dive.

"The membrane on the boat compressor wasn't working, so they couldn't make nitrox. Reef fish were plentiful. Much of the coral was in good shape, though a few sites had cyclone damage. We did see grey reef sharks, and Napoleon wrasses on most dives.

"We did Blue Corner several times, and there wasn't as much current as expected each time, so we didn't hook on to the reef and watch the show. A highlight was spawning bump-head parrotfish. A few hundred bump-heads were milling about 60-100 feet deep. Then, 5-10 fish would form a tight group and dart upwards, sometimes within 20 feet of the surface. Went to German Channel twice to see mantas being cleaned. Turtles were plentiful, both hawksbill and green. Jellyfish Lake, a saltwater lake on an island, is filled with millions of non-stinging jellyfish."

Divers are looking to reduce travel time by cutting the number of flights they take, so a Bali to Komodo and back makes getting to an Indonesian liveaboard just a little easier. Robert Fetterman (Cazenovia, NY) joined the Adelaar, a Dutch 39-meter schooler, for a 10-day round trip in May.

"Incredible trip. It is a first-class operation with friendly and helpful staff. There is a huge diversity from macro (not the best macro trip but good) including frogfish, ghost pipefish, bobtail octopus, and seahorses, to large manta rays and even whale sharks. I saw cuttlefish and a large variety and quantity of fish swimming around endless landscapes of diverse coral. The boat was comfortable, and the staff superb. We ate all our meals at a large table in the middle of the top deck and hung out between dives. My master cabin was large and extremely comfortable, with A/C pumping nicely. Lunch and dinner were delicious.

Fiji has become a go-to place for divers now that COVID restrictions have lifted; one reason being that it's nonstop from Los Angeles (though 10-plus hours and more if you're flying to an out island). One liveaboard, the Nai'a, rarely gets a bad word from our readers and was recently praised by David Marchese (Hummelstown, PA), who was on board in May.

"We can't remember the last time we saw hard coral this pristine. The soft corals were of every color. We spent two days (of our 10) in areas with 3-star coral, but that was specifically to see mantas and sharks. We also dived a couple of rubble fields looking for small stuff. The entire crew was as friendly and helpful. Anna served us three great meals each day on white tablecloths. The cabins are large, with more storage space than we needed. Twice our skiff driver spotted a pod of pilot whales. We grabbed our snorkels and were able to jump in with them."

Book well in advance because divers return again and again.

Dive Resorts - For Landlubbers

Once you land on Fiji's main island, Vita Levu, if you don't want to hop another plane, it's 90 minutes by car (provided by the hotel) to Voli Voli Beach Resort and Ra Divers. Gary and Robin Schiendelman (Limerick, PA) were there in April and said, "Our premium ocean view room was excellent. The food was good, and all meals were plated. They load your BC, reg, and fins on the boat, and you don't need to touch it again. The daily dive schedule was either two or three boat dives. Vat-i-ra (a marine protected area) provided the best diving. The coral was stunning, and the reef fish life was prolific. We saw some bleaching - the amount varied between sites. We saw only a few sharks and not as many critters as expected, except nudis. We saw no cephalopods the entire week. There are sites with medium to strong currents, but they were always manageable."

Rik Pavlescak (West Palm Beach, FL) went to Waidroka Bay Resort in March 2022, after a stay at VoliVoli resort, and says, "Waidroka arranged for transportation by road to their resort, with pick-up at Voli Voli. It was a four-hour drive. Thee layout of the resort is basic--the 'main hall' has check-in, dining room, bar, and lounge area. It has an award-winning chef who takes pride in the meals he serves. Reefs were splendid - plenty of corals and sea life - frequent sighting of reef sharks and a leopard shark on one dive. Waidroka Bay Resort also organized taking guests to a shark feeding dive led by another company where there were six types of sharks spotted Waidroka is a bit more rustic in look and feel than Voli Voli, which is more modern in look and amenities. However, Waidroka's service is 5-star. There are only a few drawbacks: lack of nitrox, limited Wi-Fi access, and the condition of the road leading from the main road to the resort.

To this, Joel Hirsh, at Waidroka in April, adds, "Compared to Indonesia, the variety of fish and critter species was not as impressive. The shark dive(s) were fun. It is in a location where fishermen have always dumped their fish guts, so it is just capitalizing on what was happening anyway. Divers sit at 60 feet behind a low rubble wall and watch the show for about 25 minutes. We saw reef sharks (gray, silver, and white tips), nurse sharks, and a few bull sharks."

French Polynesia is even a shorter nonstop flight from Los Angeles (under nine hours), but John Hoover (Volcano, HI) made an extra two-hour hop to hunker down at Blueway Manihi in February. "We had been looking for a small operation in French Polynesia where we could go to different dive sites daily, and Blueway fit the bill perfectly. It offers wonderful diving, gourmet food, and comfortable lodgings. Bernard and Martine Tora, your easy-to-be-with hosts, speak good English and only accommodate four guests on their private island. Two dives a day, although it is possible to make a third dive in the lagoon in front of the lodge."

"The pass dives are exciting for the sheer numbers of fish, many large. We saw sharks on most dives, usually blacktips. On one exciting drift dive, you rip through the pass on the incoming tide, with gray reef sharks and nurse sharks as well as whitetips and blacktips. I came upon an amazing wall of parrotfish - seemingly hundreds of them of different colors and sizes. Inside the lagoon, we hung out with half a dozen or more Napoleon wrasses of all sizes, some huge. There was no shortage of small fish, either. All equipment is provided at no extra cost. Bring your mask and computer.

While I have dived off the coast of Molokai, Hawaii in boats from Maui, I've always been curious about the dive operation, and Ron Jyring ( Bismarck, ND), who was there in March, has convinced me not to give it Molokai Fish and Dive a go. "Even before we left home, there were issues. Emails were not returned. Once there, as we were boarding, one diver asked if the boat was going to the same site as yesterday. The captain barked, "How would I know? I wasn't out yesterday. I don't know where you went!". . . . After much maneuvering at the first site (inexplicably extremely close to the company's other boat with more snorkelers), we entered off the stern into 15-20 feet of water.

Right under the boat were two turtles! Unfortunately, that exciting start was almost immediately crushed when we swam past the anchor chain rubbing up and down the reef, abrading and breaking off the coral. It was a breezy day, and accidents can happen, but I've been diving for over two decades and have never seen such abuse. At that moment, I knew we would not be diving with this company again."

And a couple of things to watch out for:

Some divers are still being whacked with hefty fees for bringing cameras into Cabo San Lucas. Reader Leonid Baur arrived at the airport in February: "I was taken aside and my luggage was scanned. They discovered my SECAM underwater housing, which was assessed at US$3000, and I was forced to pay $570 - or else return home. . . .This assessment appears to be only in effect at the San Jose del Cabo airport (SJD). You will not have any issues if you enter Mexico anywhere else and then arrive on a domestic flight at SJD." It seems like a scam, but it is the law, and there's not much you can do about it.

Jim Squires ( Saint Simons Island, GA) likes Dive with Martin on Cozumel (one of the best fast-boat operations I've experienced in Cozumel for over 35 years) and stayed at the Cozumel Palace (formerly Plaza Las Glorias), which now has a policy preventing other dive operators from picking up and dropping off divers at their dock. A selfish and stupid policy. Only Aqua Safari is supposedly allowed to use the dock. They changed the policy midweek during our stay and hid behind 'corporate policy,' which was infuriating. We had to lug our gear to Hotel Barracuda ¼ mile away to Dive with Martin."

Hefty fees for photographers bringing cameras into Cabo San Lucas

Thanks to all you readers who submit reports, and please keep them coming. They are put up directly on our website for thousands of other divers to review while researching a trip. Click HERE to post a report.

-Ben Davison

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