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Liveaboard Diving and the Art of Speed Socializing

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Liveaboard Diving

I have to admit, even though I ignore it, the liveaboard is a potential backdrop for huge drama.  It is several days out to sea, so the first challenge is to arrive on time for the departure and with your gear.  The second challenge is that you have to like what you see in the first few minutes, because once the voyage begins, you will not be getting off.  I try to avoid the first problem by arriving to the departure point at least one day in advance, and the second problem, by using a dive travel agent who has been on the liveaboard he/she is selling.

I have seen drama unfold first hand; amazingly – a fire (on a rocky open sea crossing), a firing (as in losing a job), and clandestine meetings.  And one trip that I had reserved a year in advance, was cancelled not because of one boat accident, but because of two.  I had to seriously consider whether or not it was a safe way to experience diving with any dive company.

Janice 2The boat can be built in a traditional style, which conjures up adventurous storylines, ones that might even involve pirates.  Or romantic ones like Mutiny on the Bounty – which is a bit of both – because of the beautiful dark crew members. The social aspect is the one topic that non-diving friends are most curious about; what could be considered one of the best reasons for choosing a liveaboard may also be considered to be the worse part of being on a liveaboard – that you are forced to share a limited space and to be social.  Occasionally though, the boat will not be full, and you might get to have a great cabin all to yourself.

As a single traveler, it might actually appeal to you to have so many people around because ultimately you may feel as if you really are not traveling alone.  There is always something to talk about at the end of a dive day, as well as someone to talk to, and conversation including anything ending in ‘shark’ or ‘ray’ never becomes dull.  It is rather like a ‘speed socializing’ event where in 12 days, you can meet interesting crew and guests (about 30 people) from different countries, learn about the local culture, and maybe even pick up a few words of the local language or get your feet massaged by the crew member who is also the cook.  You have time to do this, and crew members are exceptionally gracious as well as usually eager to try to speak English.  I learned that “matahari” (I only knew it as the name of a famous spy) in Indonesian is the word for the sun.  The funny thing is that even though it seems like a lot of people in a small space, in the middle of the day after lunch, it is amazingly deserted.

I really have had only a couple of occasions out of over 600 dives to ever want to try to avoid any other person while diving. There is enough space in the ocean to do this. More often though, I have met people whom I plan new adventures with. But for the most part, the diving diverts all of your attention, or at least uses all of your energy, so that by the end of the day nothing will bother you except that you have to keep your head up until dinner is over.

Although the purpose of the liveaboard is to dive (…eat and sleep), it is also a cruise.  For this reason, I think some liveaboards are just as interesting for non-divers as well.  On a boat, you might be taken out to completely open water where there are only pristine reefs and no other boats or you can be cruising around diverse smaller islands, volcanic or otherwise, which makes for spectacular viewing whether you are above or below the water.  Pink and black sand beaches for sunset or maybe a game of volleyball on a palm tree covered island or even an island cave full of bats (really).  I am especially partial to any liveaboard where volcanoes are on the route.   The scenery is ethereal whatever your viewing perspective is, and scientific phenomena are happening both above and below the water.   Furthermore, the black sand makes it easy to spot virtually any kind of nudibranch, which are usually brightly colored, even without your guide.

A good liveaboard will have efficient boat tenders (or at least duckies with fast engines) so that not so much time is spent going to the dive sites from the main boat.  It is important, otherwise there is little time in between dives (and an earlier first dive) to eat and prepare for the next dive.  However, you do not have to do all of the dives.  I tend to forget this…

Janice 4It took a lot of courage for me to take my first liveaboard; Palau, which is better by boat than from land because of the distance to the dive sites.  After the first experience though, it was a bit like getting onto a diving circuit because from there I automatically planned the second one and the whole thing then has its own momentum.  I had never really considered that I might feel trapped on a liveaboard with strangers, but I did think a lot about whether my skill level would be appropriate for the cruise that I chose.  The diving can be at times more challenging, but the best boats really know their territory and the tides, and adjust the schedule based on the abilities/desires of the guests.

There have been a couple of times when I struggled (and I thought my heart was going to burst in my chest), but I did not panic.  I either successfully completed the dive or wisely chose to abort it because I could not swim into the current.  The best boats will have tenders that just know where you are so you will not be lost.

Janice 1One of the unexpected pluses of the liveaboard is the quality of the food.  It is hard to imagine that gourmet meals would be prepared in the middle of nowhere, but they manage and it seems like a major miracle that on top of everything else, the food takes a priority as well.  There is way too much of it, first of all, and if you ever thought it might be a unique 12-day strategy for losing a few pounds quickly, forget it.  Breakfasts, desserts, and some in between snacks kill that possibility even though each dive burns around 500 calories.  And you must try everything so as not to insult the chef, of course.  If you are lucky, the crew will sometimes even purchase a fresh fish (ok maybe this is a conflict of interest, but wahoo is my favorite), and sushi/sashimi will never taste quite that good again.

The crew in general is super-talented.  In fact, without you knowing it, mini-crises may be taking place, but they manage to fix everything and can even sing and play music.  I would never be hired for a job on a liveaboard.

Finally, you can even take courses on board: upgrade your skills with photography or nitrox, or even start at the beginning with open water diving!

It is an expensive adventure (make a lot of lunches yourself), but I always think more about choosing the right boat for me because I may only ever get to go once.  At the same time, it is a fun exercise to consider how the crew would evaluate you: would they even allow you to come back?

Janice Nigro is an avid scuba diver with a PhD in biology.  She is a scientist who has studied the development of human cancer at universities in the USA and Norway, and has discovered the benefits of artistic expression through underwater photography and story writing of her travel adventures.

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Save £500 on Maldives liveaboard – but hurry, there’s only 2 spots left!

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Join The Scuba Place on board the award-winning (Best Liveaboard, Maldives Tourism Awards for 2 consecutive years) Sachika for a week in the sun!

Taking in the very best dive sites of the ‘Best of Central Atolls’ itinerary, including manta cleaning stations, Whaleshark Alley, the Fish Factory and the legendary night dive with hundreds of nurse sharks, this is one trip not to be missed.

To make it even better, they have taken a big chunk of cash off the price to fill the last TWO SPACES (twin or double cabin) on each of the following sailings:

  • Outbound 5 November, return 13 November
  • Outbound 12 November, return 20 November

The Scuba Place team can arrange flights from any major UK airport, and the whole package will be ATOL Protected. Price includes flights, taxes, full board in a twin/double cabin based on 2 sharing, 17 dives with Nitrox included, all soft drinks and meals and snacks. Bar bill is extra and extra dives are available too!

The prices are based on flying with Emirates and include 30kgs of baggage per person.

Don’t miss out – get in touch today! Call 020 3515 9955 to find out more!

Brochure link: https://bit.ly/TSP_Maldives_Nov2021

www.thescubaplace.co.uk


Boat images by Top Class Cruising

Underwater images by Nigel Wade for The Scuba Place

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The Scuba Genies head to Bonaire! Part 1 of 2

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In the first of this two-part blog, The Scuba Genies share their trip report from the Come Dive with Us hosted trip to Bonaire in September 2021…

Travelling during the Covid pandemic has been challenging for some, impossible for most, and missed by all. We have been scanning the rules and regulations daily, and as soon as the UK Government allowed us, we were off!

What was supposed to be a trip to Mexico for a gang of 12 of us, just like most trips over the last 18 months, we were forced to change as the travel rules changed – we have been trying to get to Bonaire for ages, and this became the perfect opportunity – at last!

With our bags packed, negative test results and completed Bonaire health forms in hand – we made an early start for Heathrow, prepared for an 0630 departure. A quick flight and we landed in Amsterdam. As a Dutch Caribbean territory, all flights from the UK to Bonaire on KLM go via Amsterdam. In the airport, we met up with the rest of the gang who had travelled from Birmingham. After a quick layover we took off for Bonaire, where we arrived about 9 hours later. Our health documents were checked at the airport, and we grabbed our bags. It seems odd to have to fly East to then go West, but as we stepped out of the minibus at Buddy Dive Resort, only 10 minutes after leaving the airport, the sunshine and blue sky told us it was worth it!

Our accommodation for the group was made up of two 3-bedroom apartments, a stone’s throw from the water, dive shop, dock and Blennies, the main restaurant and bar. Buddy Dive also has 1- and 2-bedroom apartments along with studios, all comfortably furnished with either a garden or ocean view.

Each 3-bedroom apartment is spread over two floors – but a floor up from ground level. The ‘ground’ floor of each apartment offers a double bedroom (beds can be configured as twins or double in all rooms), a bathroom, lounge with balcony, and a very well-equipped kitchenette. Microwave, toaster, hob, fridge/freezer with ice-maker and enough pots, pans and utensils to satisfy the avid cook! On the upper floor, there are two further double rooms with ensuite bathrooms, both with balconies of their own. Each bedroom is air-conditioned, and the lounge and kitchen have celling fans. All in all, quite perfect for a home away from home for a fortnight!

The rules of group travel say we must unpack (empty bags onto floor or bed), sort kit out (look at dive bag and save it for later), put cameras together (er….NO!) and hit the bar – so being rule-abiding people that we are, this is what we did. Picking up the rental van for our stay would have to wait!

The next morning after breakfast, served in the Ingridients restaurant and right on the water, we attended the Buddy Dive orientation. The staff gave us a quick tour of the dock and resort including the famous drive thru tank shed offering both air and nitrox tanks ready and waiting to be loaded into your vehicle. Check in at the dive centre was easy… we all completed our diver forms online before arrival so with a quick hello we were handed locker keys for our kit storage. Time to head back to the room and get ready for our first dive!! That is why we’re here after all!

As with all trips, the first dive was a check dive, so we climbed down the steps into the water off the dock to go an explore Buddy Dive Reef. Finning over the sandy bottom, past the coral restoration project ‘trees’ and following well laid lines with directional markers we hit the reef after just a minute or two where you can drop to 35+ metres over simply stunning corals. This reef, just like the rest of the sites we dived, is super-healthy and teeming with juvenile fish wherever you look. Moray eels, turtles, octopi and HUGE tarpon on our first dive! What a great start!

The following day we decided it was time to explore the island. We picked up our 6-person minibus from Reception, pulled up to the drive thru tank station and grabbed 12 well filled Nitrox 12l aluminium (A-Clamp – not DIN) cylinders. With our guidebook in hand, off we went driving on the right of course, in search of marine life.

There are over 50 dive sites scattered around the coast of the main island, and even more on the island of Klein Bonaire accessible by boat. We chose a comfortable start by picking dive sites to the South where the entry seems to be a little easier on old knees and hips. We packed up sandwiches we made after a quick shop at the supermarket the day before, along with waters and a few essentials – towels, sunnies and bug spray.

I won’t bore you with every dive site name and description – the guidebook is the tool for that – but it is more than safe to say that we dived, dived and dived again! Every dive gave us far more than we expected, and the marine park surrounding the whole island delivered the goods without fail. Super healthy corals, plentiful marine life, warm and very clear water at 30 degrees made life easy. Parking the van up at the marked dive sites wasn’t difficult, and a few strides across the sand was far simpler than we had expected.

I will say that some sites are a little more challenging to get into the water from – anything more than three or four steps doesn’t float my boat! We adapted our entries for the group – some kitting up in the water, some not, but the rule of thumb quickly became step in up to thigh-depth, inflate bcd, fall flat on your back and paddle out before putting your fins on. Simple! Getting out of the water was pretty much the reverse of the above – stand up when you can, remove fins, and then navigate the rocks and sand channels before you walk up the beach. Nothing that an over-weight, under-tall chap in his mid-50’s with dodgy knees and even dodgier hips couldn’t cope with! (That is me by the way…..no offense to anyone else intended and no animals were harmed in the writing of this either).

We saw stuff – lots of it! Huge tarpon, French and Grey Angelfish, forests of Christmas Tree worms, anemones with Peterson, sexy and cleaner shrimp, clinging crabs, nudibranchs – especially lettuce-leaf slugs, coral-banded shrimp, lobster and so much more. Turtles everywhere, trumpet-fish in unbelievable numbers, and that was generally the story – all in very good visibility too! The corals and huge sponges were stunning with fascinating reef-structures offering all sorts of hidey-holes for critters!

There were some really special sited that we loved, and Salt Pier was one. The Cargill solar salt facility is easily found with its distinctive line of white salt pyramids.Each pyramid, roughly 50-feet high, can contain up to 10,000 metric tons of 99.6 percent pure salt. Even more noteworthy, in addition to the acres of salt ponds, the facility is also home to largest pink flamingo sanctuary in North America. Our very own Chloe has written an in-depth blog about Bonaire and its pure salt so be sure and check it out!

Back to the diving! We were given a hint to drive just past the pier to park where we would find an easy sand entry to the site. We kitted up and finned out through the shallows where we encountered three juvenile hawksbill turtles along with a few smooth pufferfish fighting to feed on patch of sponges, and then made our way under the immense structure of the pier. There are several platforms supporting the conveyor belts that move salt to the container ships and there wasn’t much diver-traffic to contend with. We were amazed by all things weird and wonderful – big scorpion fish hiding under the metal work, angelfish battling for food, schooling fish up above you, and frogfish! Barracuda, Caribbean reef squid, spotted drums, octopus, oh! and more frogfish! Even a flying gurnard in the shallows! What a dive! And as it is shallow, it can be a very long dive too, especially with the 200-210 bar fills the drive-thru often gave us.

Check back for Part Two of this Blog tomorrow!


Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.

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Egypt | Simply the Best Itinerary | 04 – 11 November 2021 | Emperor Echo

Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. Great value for money and perfect for small groups of buddies with a ‘Book 5 and 1 dives for FREE’ offer all year round.

Price NOW from just £1275 per person based on sharing a twin cabin/room including:

  • Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in shared cabin
  • 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner
  • 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees
  • Free Nitrox

Subject to availability.
Alternative departure airports available at supplement.

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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