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Dive Review of Explorer Ventures/Caribbean Explorer II in

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Explorer Ventures/Caribbean Explorer II: "Saba/St. Kitts on Caribbean Explorer II", Oct, 2016,

by Mark Kimmey, NY, US (Contributor Contributor 13 reports with 4 Helpful votes). Report 9214 has 2 Helpful votes.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 4 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity N/A
Dive Operation 4 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 4 stars
Beginners 4 stars
Advanced 3 stars
Comments We booked the Caribbean Explorer II after reading a review in Undercurrent and then the rather in-depth comments of diving friends. Booking was relatively easy through the parent company – Explorer Ventures – which is quite amusingly located in Mills, Wyoming, on the west side of Casper. They answered all of our questions promptly, and were quite friendly on the phone.

CEXII is a 115-foot monohull with a 20 foot beam, displacing 99 tons. She was built in 1978 as a “crew boat” and used to ferry personnel to and from oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Captain Ian Marriott, she was overbuilt, and originally had three engines that allowed her to make 23 knots. When she was refurbished as a dive boat, the center engine was removed. The boat will now make 12 knots.

A full complement of divers would be 18, but I imagine that would be tight. On our trip we only had 15, which was comfortable. We requested a cabin on the main (dive) deck, which was snug, but we had plenty of room under the lower queen bunk and on the upper single to stow all our hardside luggage. Belowdecks would have been more stable (less roll during crossings), but less natural light. When in the lower bunk the overhead is quite low, and it’s easy to bump your head. Both bunks also included reading lights, though in our cabin the one over the lower bunk did not work.

There was only one clothes drawer in the cabin, and only one electrical plate (two sockets). We ran an extension cord over the window and onto the top bunk where we charged the small batteries that went into our point-and-shoot cameras. The captain prefers that batteries for “real” cameras be charged on the dive deck, where a charging station is protected behind a rubberized flap, and this is where we also charged our Sola dive lights. One bedside shelf appeared to be an afterthought, and was not secured.

There was also no real hanging space, save for a wrought iron rack on the back of the door. We’ve seen this sort of thing before, and we suspect it’s an attempt to discourage divers from trying to dry wet gear in their cabins. Unique to this boat was a fabric shoe bag attached to the wall behind the door, which worked well for organizing small stuff.

The central air conditioning works almost too well. A bulkhead vent pumped out a steady stream of cold air, and we were asked not to close the vent since that would force more air into other cabins, making them colder. We’re pretty sure our neighbors ignored such advice, as our cabin became an icebox. We actually pulled all the blankets from both bunks onto ours to be able to sleep.

The bathroom was well-lit and included grab bars – a nice feature when trying to shower when underway – but offered no hooks or shelves. A plastic hanger over the showerhead was almost useless as it easily swung away from the wall, quickly dumping anything placed on it onto the floor. While we suffered no shortage of fresh or hot water, the latter was almost too plentiful: showers are simply on-off, with no control over temperature. A constantly-running exhaust fan kept the bathroom comfortable.

Plumbing was the usual marine head – flush early, flush often – with warnings about what should and should not go into the bowl. Fortunately, we experienced no problems.

Meals and dive briefings are in the salon on the level above the dive deck. This is nice open space, directly aft of the galley, and was definitely an add-on when the vessel was remodeled. Instead of solid bulkheads with windows, the salon features plastic windows all around, which are simply unzipped and rolled up. This was actually quite nice when the weather was mild and/or we enjoyed a gentle breeze. At other times, this was a problem since none of the three air conditioning units in the ceiling were functional. When it was necessary to zip up due to rain or bugs, the salon was stifling. On our first night off Saba, our lights attracted a swarm of “fair-weather flies” right around dinnertime, forcing most to the back of the dark sundeck to try to eat. According to Captain Marriott, “This never happens,” so I suppose we should have felt honored. We later contacted Explorer Ventures about the salon’s air conditioning problem, but did not receive a response.

There seemed to be just one four-socket power plate in the salon, but the number of people actually wanting to plug in laptops during this trip was small, so not a lot of competition for juice.

In general, the boat is in good shape and well-maintained, and I credit the skipper and his engineer.

Dive skins are not allowed in the salon. This is to discourage folk from wearing anything wet into the common areas. A good rule, we think.

The dive deck is reasonably well laid out, with a forward –and large – camera table, and a center-port drying rack toward the stern. Entry protocols are a giant stride out the port gate – a five foot drop – and this can cause a bottleneck as divers line up between the camera table and the dive stations along the port rail. Sometimes this is exacerbated by having to lower cameras once divers are in the water. Each diver is checked in and out of the water, the latter accomplished by asking for maximum depth and remaining tank pressure upon exit. The protocol for exit is to grab hold of the drag line (usually attached to a towed dinghy), remove your fins and pull yourself forward to the two ladders at the swim platform. Two hot-water showers await on the aft of the dive deck, as do camera tubs (the crew will take your camera and immerse for you if you wish). If you forget to give your depth and pressure, someone will chase you down.

Tanks were available in several sizes, including aluminum 100s. We started with these but quickly found they weren’t worth the trouble (they become quite buoyant as they bleed) and dropped back to aluminum 80s. Air wasn’t an issue as much as depth. Dives are limited to 60 minutes (sometimes less for night dives), which we understood was to allow the boat to move between dive sites: we rarely dove the same site twice in a row. As such, my phenomenally low-breathing dive buddy routinely returned to the boat with half her original air remaining.

Nitrox is available – of our fifteen, only one diver was on air. Mixes varied between 32 and 33%. Like on most liveaboards, tanks are refilled at dive stations, often within minutes of getting out of the water. It was sometimes amusing how the engineer would seem to hover as we sat down and got out of our rigs so that he could attack our tanks. It was quite common for us to be among the last back on board even with the time limit, as we were also commonly the last ones in. So it was probably as much a case of “As soon as I get you guys done I can take a break,” as anything else.

The crew does tend to overfill tanks, however, commonly to 3400 PSI. I’ve heard lots of reasons why this is “okay” over the years, but as a former dive tech and tank inspector, I prefer to stay on the side of caution.

Our only complaint about the dive deck was that the plastic – not rubber – matting used on the dive station benches was constantly snagging our butts. We later discovered that what was really happening was that the stitching on our wetsuits was getting ripped out. We also told Explorer Ventures about this, again with no response.

Crew during our trip were only six: skipper, engineer, purser/divemaster, cook, and two more divemaster/instructors. The boat always had a divemaster in the water when divers were down, often providing guide services. To avoid unnecessary nitrogen loading, the two primary divemasters would alternate dives. We found both to be competent and with a comfortable diving style. This is not to take anything from the third divemaster, but her purser duties did not allow her into the water as often. When she did dive with us, she was equally able.

That does bring up the matter of depth. Quite honestly, I don’t know how anyone makes all the dives on this boat without getting into some serious nitrogen loading, and I don’t think anybody actually did. Sites are consistently “moderate,” which I’ll define as 40-70 feet. This meant that off-gassing only occurred out of the water, rather than during subsequent, shallower dives. By Wednesday morning, my dive computer was nagging me that I should either sit out a dive, or hover no less than 20 feet above everyone else (and the reef): I skipped the next one. As it was, by the end of the first dive on Friday my computer was back to the 80% saturation mark.

The boat has two itineraries. The first starts with a pick-up in St. Maarten on Saturday, crosses to Saba during the night, dives off Saba Sunday-Tuesday, crosses to St. Kitts, dives off St. Kitts (and maybe Nevis) Wednesday-Friday. Dives on Friday are deliberately limited to two, and reasonably shallow at that. This encourages divers to get their gear rinsed and dried Friday afternoon, and to keep them within a safety window for flights on Saturday morning, which can leave very early. The reverse itinerary starts in St. Kitts, three days diving there before the crossing to Saba, another three days diving and then crossing to St. Maarten for debarking. We were on the first itinerary, but we know some who have done two full weeks aboard, starting and ending at the same location. Doing just a week does require some finagling of the air routes, and if you’re coming from the United States we recommend biting the bullet and scheduling American Airlines to and from Miami. We’ve not been impressed with any of the small Caribbean carriers, especially with all the gear we carry. By the way, a lesson learned is that American Airlines’ “first checked bag free with our credit card” policy does not apply to international flights. Apparently we missed that in the fine print when we signed up. Since this was the only reason we applied for the card in the first place, we canceled it as soon as we got home!

One shore tour was offered on Saba, but participation meant skipping a dive. We passed, as usual. By the way, a hilarious video is at [ link]

Diving was good, overall, with the caveat that visibility would have probably been better had we not arrived just after the tropical storm that would later develop into Hurricane Matthew not just moved through. Fish were generally plentiful, though some of the reefs around St. Kitts have taken a beating: broken, some bleaching and algae. Lionfish were present on every dive, of course, including two monsters on Old Road Bay reef (St. Kitts). During the night dive on the River Taw Wreck, we were swarmed by schools of “silversides” that we discovered were attracted to both white and blue light: switching to red caused them to lose interest. We assumed they were after plankton that was also attracted to the white. Also common were Southern Stingray, Orangespotted Filefish, Black Durgon, and we often found Moon Jellyfish at the surface, a few of which were a little chewed-on, we assumed by turtles. Tarpon were plentiful, but not the obnoxious kind we see in Bonaire: these usually keep some distance.
Websites Explorer Ventures   

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 501-1000 dives
Where else diving New York, Hawaii, California, Kwajalein, Florida, Grenada, Bonaire, Caymans, Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Belize, Mexico, Australia, Sea of Cortez, St. Vincent, Indonesia
Closest Airport Depends on itinerary Getting There Best bet is via Miami on American Airlines.

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny Seas calm, choppy
Water Temp 77-81°F / 25-27°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 10-40 Ft/ 3-12 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions 60-minute dive time limit.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks 1 or 2 Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 3 stars Tropical Fish 3 stars
Small Critters 2 stars Large Fish N/A
Large Pelagics N/A

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 2 stars Boat Facilities 3 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 3 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments About the biggest camera table we've seen on any liveaboard; clean, dry towels reserved specifically for cameras; two air guns; nearby charging station for camera and light batteries (can get crowded). Large freshwater tubs for dunking between dives were kept full and clean.
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Report currently has 2 Helpful votes

Subscriber's Comments

By Ms Lynda Durfee in VA, US at Oct 29, 2016 19:34 EST  
I've made five trips on this boat (4 on the St. Maarten to St. Kitts itinerary). Switching from NITROX over to air mid-week for the night dives kept my computer happy. You hit the deepest dives (Saba) earlier in the week, so by the time you get to St. Kitts, you should be OK. This isn't a luxury boat, but you can't beat the value for the price.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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