Sept. 23-30, 2013
Christmas in the Philippines
December 21-28, 2013
February 15-22, 2014
March 8-16, 2014
March 23-31, 2014
For Men Only
April 19-26, 2014
For Women Only
May 3-10, 2014
|BCDs Week Cozumel
Bears, Cubs and Daddies
May 3-10, 2014
Blue Hole and
May 24-31, 2014
|Questions & Answers
Calling All Divers
-By Roland de Beque
First Adventure: 'CABO SAN LUCAS February
Men Only Trip
-By Robert Daniel
- by Will
Women Only Trip
-By: Randi Hepner
Paradise. Undersea Explores Micronesia
-By Will Green
Year's Galapagos Trip'
- By Martin Dyer
Expeditions Calling All Divers
By Roland de Beque
Imagine a world far removed from the rigors
of city Dom; a place filled with exotic life forms and
unearthly plant life. In this world you are not restrained
by the physical laws of nature. There is no gravity
keeping your feet on the ground. In fact, you could
say there is no ground at all.
Undersea Expeditions can take you into
this world, even if you have never before donned scuba
"I find diving mesmerizing and calming,"
says Chris Winkle, an avid diver who would like to see
more lesbians and gays take up the sport. "You
realize that there is an undersea world that you are
not aware of. It's awesome
the marine life
An aspect of diving that Winkle finds
particularly exhilarating is the fact that there is
an extra dimension involved. Divers, when properly weighted
and balanced, can propel themselves up and down, as
well as forward and backward. "There is definitely
a 'high' involved. Diving is a lot like meditation,"
Winkle, a Connecticut native, formulated
the idea of a gay and lesbian scuba club almost two
years ago while living in San Jose.
Divers of all skill levels and ages are
welcomed. For those with no prior experience, two PADI
(Professional Association of Diving Instructors) instructors
who will offer lessons in diving certification. "All
you need is a desire to dive," Winkle adds.
Contrary to what you might think, learning
to dive doesn't require you to mortgage the house. Mask,
fins and a snorkel cost around $200; air tanks, weights
and diving suit can be rented for a reasonable price.
Winkle points out that diving is less expensive than
snow skiing. "Boat diving is what adds to the cost.
But anyone can go out to the ocean and just start diving."
Certification requires a classroom training
session, two swimming pool dives, and 4 open-water dives,
one-on-one with the instructor at a depth of 30 feet.
For the more adventurous, Undersea Expeditions
has a slate of gateways that reads like a travel agents
dream, including Papua New Guinea, Belize, Palau and
Tahiti. For more information contact Undersea Expeditions
Trip March, 2001
Undersea Expeditions, Inc.
By Robert Daniel
Although Undersea Expeditions has been
offering Gay & Lesbian dive trips to exotic destinations
since 1991, this Cozumel trip was Undersea Expedition's
first ever promotion of a "For Men Only" dive-trip
and occurred March 10-17, 2001 at the Scuba Club Cozumel,
Quintana Roo, Mexico. You can bet your newest Speedo
that it won't be the last either! (Undersea has hosted
several "For Women Only" trips quite successfully
in the past and will continue to do so in the future.)
For me, a frequent trip leader as well as customer of
Undersea Expeditions, this was my first land-based trip
in many years, and it proved to be one of the most relaxing
and enjoyable vacations I have ever had. Having never
been to Cozumel before, it was a diving revelation,
and a destination that Undersea will definitely return
to again soon.
Undersea Expeditions chose Scuba Club
Cozumel, a private, gated diving resort, because it
caters strictly to divers and it had successfully hosted
two of the previous "For Women Only" Expeditions.
The resort provided the Undersea group a comfortable
venue for a memorable week of diving adventures as well
as providing a full meal package. The food consistently
met our expectations in quality and quantity, with a
specialty of the local Yucatan Style cuisine offered
at dinner, usually freshly caught seafood. The Wahoo
was excellent, always one of my favorites when freshly
caught. The kitchen will take special dietary food orders
with advance arrangements.
Undersea hosted an exclusive afternoon
cocktail party after the first day of diving, with great
service and accommodations from this gay-friendly resort.
The group proved to be a wonderful and engaging group
of 23 men from all over the United States, along with
one Canadian and even one Aussie thrown in. The group
came from various backgrounds, locations, and age groups.
Doctors, lawyers, scientists, architects, government
officials, military, and private industry were all represented
by this stellar group of individuals. Several of the
divers had been on previous Undersea trips to Cozumel,
and were returning to this diving mecca without having
been diving since. Several new divers joined this group,
having just finished their open water certifications
(Like the day before!). Most of the group were seasoned,
experienced divers who shared their experiences and
skills with the new divers from the get-go. For Undersea
Expeditions, over half of the group were repeat clients,
several of whom I had met on previous dive trips with
Undersea. It was great to be reunited with past dive
buddies and to catch up on what's been going on with
Our diving program consisted of two tanks per day. Diving
began after breakfast each morning, with the "Reef
Diver" embarking and departing around 8:30 AM for
the cruise to the dive sites, usually about 45 minutes
to one hour cruising time. The entire dive group was
accommodated aboard one vessel, the resort's power catamaran
"Reef Diver", which featured a great crew
consisting of three dive masters, two gear handlers,
and one ship's captain. Our group of 23 divers was divided
into three patrols to facilitate underwater crowd control
and good diving practice. "Reef Diver" featured
a partially covered and comfortable dive deck, dive
gear shelves, and a dive entry/exit platform at the
stern just above the water. The typical first dive of
the day was always our deepest dive of the day, usually
80 feet, although one dive of 100 feet was performed
midweek at Columbia Pinnacles. The typical second dive
each day followed a safe profile with descent to 60
feet or less. The typical dive lasted 30-45 minutes
or so, depending on each individual's air consumption
and depth of the dive. Midweek, many of the group chose
to take an optional twilight dive followed after the
mandatory surface interval by a night dive. All divers
reported a "thumbs up" for these two special
dives. Aluminum 80's were standard fare with air fills
consistently topping 3000 psi, although several of the
group with appropriate dive credentials did take advantage
of the available specialty Nitrox gas mix. Wind and
waves occasionally hampered operations, but no dives
were terminated due to weather or the sea state. The
weather was near perfect the whole week of diving, with
everyone glad to be away from the winter weather in
the States. Water conditions were optimal, with most
divers using a full tropical wetsuit or Polartec skin
for protection from the 80 degree water and the corals.
Underwater visibility was just incredible, the clearest
water that I have seen outside of an aquarium.
For me, Cozumel lived up to its legendary
effortless drift diving reputation with bountiful sea
life and geography for viewing in its extraordinary
Marine Park. Hard and soft corals, sponges deluxe, turtles,
nurse sharks, spotted eagle rays, barracuda, cleaning
stations, and skads of small tropical fish delighted
my vision. Moray eels, large and small spiny lobsters,
queen triggerfish, and parrotfish, were present to name
a few more. Tunnels and caves and swim-throughs, usually
lighted from above by sunlight through the eroded limestone
reef, were featured on many of the dives, always an
excitement for me! There were fantastic photographic
opportunities if you could handle the camera, current,
and not touching the reefs!
During the surface interval between dives,
after stripping down from diving attire to minimalist
swimwear, many worked on their tans and tan lines, others
just worked on lines, as in chat lines. Getting suntan
oil rubbed on your back is always helpful, especially
from another man. Aboard "Reef Diver", relaxation
was the first order of business after diving, with plentiful
bottled water and juice drinks provided by the charter
package. This group interacted more than any group I
have ever been with, and I can say that they thoroughly
enjoyed this Undersea Expeditions trip to the max.
Once the day's diving was concluded, finding
a spot in the hammock structure after lunch got to be
a race for position and availability, as the cooling
breezes off the water made reading or napping an exceedingly
comfortable pleasure, with the adjacent sunning areas
in full view and handsomely occupied by bronzing men.
Most evenings after dinner, a leisurely
stroll to town for shopping and then back to the resort
for late entertainment afforded by one of the guests'
patios, christened the Lido Deck for the week, where
stories and adventures were swapped, sizes of underwater
life compared, cigars smoked by those who do, and drinks
of various concoction were available. There were no
lies told, honest.
At the end of the week on our non-diving
pre-flight day, several of the group decided to visit
the rest of the island either by car or scooter rental.
I chose to visit the San Gervasio ruins and to view
the southeastern shore of the island. I was totally
impressed with what has been revealed so far by removing
the dense jungle growth which had enveloped these ruins.
There are areas partially unearthed, and I suspect more
ruins as yet discovered A separate trip to El Cedral
provided only one accessible ruin, purported by a street
vendor to be a fertility temple. There are more ruins
at El Cedral, but they are accessible only by horseback,
and the stable was closed when we got there. Island
maps indicate other ruins as well. Next time. The southeastern
shore of the island is relatively undeveloped, with
beach restaurants and bars occurring every so often.
The beaches feature both sand and rock, and the waves
are wind waves, driven by off shore winds. It was rumored
that a strong undertow exists out there, but I didn't
take the chance to find out. Another next time.
Other intrepid guests went to the Yucatan
mainland by regular and frequent ferry service from
Playa del Carmen and visited oogling beaches and the
Tulum ruins, and the river mouth waterpark @Xel-ha.
One guest even flew to Chichen-itza on Saturday morning
and still managed to catch the late afternoon flights
back to US from Cozumel. As in all vacations, this one
ended too soon, and leaving Cozumel after such a fun-filled
week was hard
very hard. I am looking forward to
my next Undersea Expeditions adventure, which I will
take as soon as possible.
Undersea Week: Women's Dive 1998
By: Randi Hepner
For months I had been anticipating the
3rd annual women's dive trip offered by Undersea Expeditions.
More than 30 women from around North America (it was
surprising and pleasing to see how large this group
of women had grown) were heading south to an island
close to the Yucatan, Cozumel. After diving the main
objective was to relax and savor the company of women
who love women in a tropical paradise.
Undersea Expeditions has been hosting
exotic dive vacations for nine years, taking lesbians
and gay men to dive sites from Key West to Roatan, from
Egypt's Red Sea to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Participants
enjoy sightseeing and shopping excursions, sometimes
staying at attractive beach resorts, often experiencing
live-aboard dives on popular yachts. Dives explore coral
reefs, caves and atolls with their exotic undersea life,
allowing plenty of time for relaxing on beautiful beaches
around the world.
Our accommodations, this trip, were at the "Scuba
Club Cozumel," a lovely Spanish-style resort decorated
with hand painted tiles throughout and frequented by
only divers. Each room is different, all of them special,
including beautiful bathrooms and showers. I had actually
previously stayed previously at this hotel many times
and was pleased that it was to be our home on this trip.
Additionally, all meals were included.
The first day was spent greeting old friends
from previous trips and making new acquaintances, a
memorable part of any holiday. Once the rooms and boats
were assigned, we did a check out dive in front of the
hotel to ensure a successful boat dive the next day.
The next morning, fins were pulled on,
BCDs (dive jackets) struggled onto, and air checked
and rechecked. Mask defoggers were passed around, and
then "listo," Spanish for "ready,"
was shouted. Our group flap slapped its way to the custom
"Meet at the bottom with your buddy,"
the dive-master yells before backflopping out. I try
my regulator one more time and stride out to find my
buddy floating on the surface of the azure water, waiting
for me. As we descend, I watch a black angel fish play
in her hair the entire way down. I couldn't believe
she didn't feel it. Oh for a camera!
Once below, delicate living coral in
a rainbow of colors caught our attention. We viewed
schools of neon-colored angelfish, several toadfish
(indigenous only to Cozumel), groupers, barracuda, lobsters,
and three stingrays, all cavorting in the deep. Cozumel
offers unequalled wall dives, patch reefs and "swim
throughs". The time flew. I ascended to fifteen
feet for my safety stop, looking up at the small flying
fish that had delighted us on the way out.
When we climbed back aboard our boat, staggering a little
under the weight of our tanks, the entire group had
huge smiles on their faces. For a short while no one
spoke. Each woman was still in her own world, daydreaming
about what she saw and felt, then chattering began:
"Did you see that?" "What were you pointing
at?" "What a sight!" "Wasn't it
beautiful?" This was followed by the practical
tasks of equipment maintenance and peeling off damp
suits. By then, everyone was ready for some surface
time. This was the first of five days and one night
of rewarding diving.
After a day of superb diving our thoughts
then turned to the evening and socializing with each
other at Joe's Bar, drinking tropical punch (God knows
what was in that drink!), swaying to the live Cuban
music, retelling the events of the day and meeting new
women friends. At dusk we were mesmerized by the incredible
sunset, and later captivated by the romantic night sky
filled with stars, particularly impressive to those
of us from cities where we usually miss this splendid
effect of Mother Nature.
In addition to the dives some of us were
excited about excursions to Mayan ruins, while others
looked forward to lazy afternoons around the hotel's
pool or beach combing.
As I remember back through the week: the
Welcome Cocktail Party, the afternoons spent exploring
a sublime undersea kingdom, the awesome the sunsets,
the socializing at Joe's, nights spent dancing into
the wee hours, bargain hunting, the diving seemed almost
secondary to the friendships we made. And on the last
day, with phone numbers and e-mail addresses flying
and unhappy farewells exchanged, I was sure that there
was one thing on all our minds - where would we be going
The 2002 Women's Dive will take place November 9-16,
in the Caribbean's diving Mecca, the Turks and Caicos
Islands. Accommodations will be at the luxurious Osprey
Beach Hotel. The cost - US$999 per person - includes
7 nights, 5 of days boat dives, daily breakfast and
Welcome Cocktail Party. Reserve your space now, as this
trip fills fast!
Undersea Expeditions is the Lesbian and Gay gateway
to the diving world: Belize, the Turks and Caicos, Roatan,
Egypt's Red Sea, Palau, Fiji, Australia's Great Barrier
Reef, Bonaire, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea,
the Galapagos Islands, Mexico's Sea of Cortez and Cozumel,
Cocos Island in Costa Rica, the Maldives in the Indian
Ocean, and Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles, are
some of our favorites. Call 1-800-669-0310 or visit
Year's Galapagos Trip
By Martin Dyer
Undersea Expeditions offers festive holiday
trips to exotic dive destinations each Thanksgiving
and most New Years. The 2001-2002 trip to the Galapagos
was one of the best!
Sixteen of us, all men, assembled under
the cloudless sky and warm sun of the Galapagos Islands
for a week of superb diving and adventure travel aboard
Peter Hughes' new Sky Dancer. It was a fun and gregarious
group of professional men of all ages from throughout
the U.S. One diver who flew all the way from Paris added
continental flavor to the group. Four doctors were in
the group, so we didn't have to worry in case anybody
New Year's Eve the crew entertained us
with a riotous skit and drag show
and then we all
joined local custom. This involves torching a kerosene-drenched,
full-figured papier-mâché doll, and floating
it off the boat. Apparently burning effigies is meant
to symbolize getting rid of the past and starting the
year anew. We had the chance for a midnight New Year's
night dive, but no one wanted to delay their partying
until after 12 am.
The diving was awesome all week. We dived
with hundreds of hammerheads and smaller numbers of
white-tipped and Galapagos sharks. The sea lions barked
and played with us. The penguins played keep-away with
us. The sea turtles mated. There were sea horses, dolphin,
barracuda, jacks, stone fish, green moray eels swimming
free, and a full spectrum of colorful tropicals. There
were parrot fish, large-banded blennies, trumpet and
cornet fish, puffers and Moorish idols. And we were
extremely lucky to see very two unique events - one
day we saw whales spouting off in the distance, and
on one remarkable dive we encountered a thirty foot
whale shark! Truly awe-inspiring sights.
The dive operation ran very smoothly.
We made 3-5 dives each day and there were 2 night dives.
Fills were good and Nitrox was available. We dove off
two zodiacs, each with a divemaster who guided us through
caves and swim-throughs and remarkable underwater terrain.
Water temperature was in the mid-70's in the south,
and hit 80 degrees at Wolf and Darwin Islands. Visibility
was very good. At the end of each dive we were greeted
with warm towels, warm drinks, and freshly-baked cookies
or snacks from the bountiful kitchen.
The Sky Dancer is by far the most comfortable
and well-designed of the five liveaboards on which I
have traveled. Everything is set up perfectly and the
furnishings are attractive, well-designed and functional.
Rooms on the upper deck have huge picture windows and
allow twin beds to be mated to create a king sized bed
for two. Rooms below have split twin beds. Each room
has a private bath, shower, and plenty of hot water.
There is a large, partially shaded and well-equipped
sundeck above - a great spot for bare skin. One deck
down there is another comfortable lounging area where
thorough dive briefings were held. Below is the spacious
dive deck with ample storage, a large camera table and
dedicated charging facilities.
Further forward is the large interior
lounge, where we watched dive videos and Ab Fab, where
we played cards and board games and simply relaxed.
Besides the great diving, I really enjoy meeting the
groups of outstanding people that came on Undersea Expeditions
trips. From doctors to university professors to Silicon
Valley executives, a universally exceptional group of
educated and fun people. A chance to relax, be ourselves,
make new friends and future dive buddies.
As a regular customer of Undersea Expeditions,
and a periodic tour leader, I am quick to say that the
Galapagos present a dive destination second to none.
I love diving in the Red Sea, Hawaii, Belize, the Caribbean,
and Mexico. So far, the two best dive venues I have
visited are the Galapagos and Papua New Guinea. In any
case, the best people I have been diving with have been
assembled by Undersea Expeditions. I'm eager for the
next trip. Let's go diving!
CABO SAN LUCAS February 1992
By: Chris Winkle
Our group (all men) spent an awesome
five days with Undersea Expeditions in Cabo San Lucas,
Mexico over the President's Day weekend. It was sunny
and hot every day with little wind, the flat Sea of
Cortez contrasting with the mountains and dry Arizona-like
Our group stayed at the Plaza Las Glorias
hotel, a new addition to Cabo and right on the harbor
in the center of town. Modern and well-equipped, it
provided easy access to the dive operators in town,
as well as the many restaurants, shops and taco stands
Our first day of diving was at the Pinnacles,
giant jutting rock formations at the tip of Baja California.
We had excellent visibility (90 feet!) on our first
dive, the Sandfalls, an underwater anomaly caused by
a rift or crevasse in the ocean floor. During our surface
interval, we watched migratory gray whales frolic and
breach nearby. Our second dive was at a location called
Seal Rock, where we dove with playful sea lions and
spotted unusual, large parrotfish with "humps"
above their beaks, found only in the Sea of Cortez.
Day two dawned partly overcast but calm
as we set out for Gorda Banks, a spectacular underwater
sea mount that rises from the sea floor 3000 feet below
to a maximum height of 110 feet below the surface. Schools
of manta rays and hammerheads, and even the occasional
whale shark, are spotted at this dive site. This dive
was for the experienced diver- five miles offshore in
Enroute we were thrilled to see nearly
a dozen whales breaching, blowing and sounding. At one
point our boat was surrounded by schools of dolphins.
While suiting up we were treated to the sight of sea
lions playfully tossing fish amongst themselves.
Alas, the Gorda Banks did not produce
any large pelagics but did offer schools of red snapper
and yellowtail, as well as unusual white and black coral
gardens along a rocky bottom strewn with giant boulders.
On our last day we dove a ninety foot
wall at Chileno Beach, about 8 miles north of Cabo.
While visibility was only about 40-45 feet, we were
fortunate enough to spot two manta rays, some giant
grouper and a lobster, along with innumerable tropicals.
Our guide dive, Alme, was both helpful and spirited,
with an easy laugh and smile. On our second dive that
day we spotted sea turtles and two different kinds of
blowfish, as well as giant clams and huge queen angelfish.
Cabo is a compact town that has seen a
boom in the last 4-5 years. (Editor's Note: You should
see it now! Cancun on the Cortez!) Prices are generally
reasonable but certainly not "cheap." It's
an easy getaway for divers, only about 2 ½ hours
by nonstop air from the Bay Area. Water temp was about
72 during our stay, with a significant thermocline on
the deep dives. Visibility ranged from 35-90 feet. In
fall, water temperatures can reach 88 degrees and visibility
150+ feet! That's when the hammerheads and whale sharks
are usually found and the time we hope to go back! (Editor's
Note: And we have gone back often, but to La Paz, still
part of the "real" Mexico)
I was secretly gloating that I had another
week to go. Jered, Phil and I had elected to continue
the trip for another week of vacation in Fiji. And what
a week!!! The Garden Island Resort on the island of
Taveuni, booked through Undersea Expeditions, was incredible.
There were hot showers (none the first
week) and views of the ocean in all the rooms. There
was live music at dinner. Dinner was your choice of
such succulent offerings as lobster bisque, or coq au
vin. The dive boat was a custom all aluminum boat you
could ski behind (at least 35 knots); the dive shop
took care of all of our equipment including washing
it out everyday, setting it up, and taking it down.
I just sashayed down with my stuff on the first day
(Phil kept insisting that I sashay, but I still believe
that I am much too butch for that), and sashayed back
with it for packing on the last day. It didn't even
smell-and after two weeks of continuous diving!! What
And the diving! Sharks, lion fish, triggers,
parrots, wrasses, eels. Fish were everywhere! Schools
of yellow tails, and schools of L.B.F.s (Little Blue
Fish) abounded. Several times visibility became disastrous
as schools of fish swam by. We even saw a giant manta
ray feeding just below the surface-what an awesome sight!
The corals, especially the kaleidoscopic displays of
soft corals were incredible.
There were also currents that could tear
the mask off your face if you looked in the wrong direction.
Divers during their safety stops reminded me of a used
car lot with all the flags flying. But this time the
flags were divers hanging desperately to the anchor
line. The current also brought in nutrients which fed
all the life, so it was a two edged sword. If the dive
had strong currents, then the corals would be feeding.
One of the most interesting corals was
found on the last day of diving. The location was called
the Cabbage Patch. Here each hard coral formation was
10 to 15 feet high. It consisted of concentric sheets
of very thin convoluted coral, sort of resembling flowers
on steroids more than a cabbage patch. All over the
surface were tiny feathers poking out through small
holes. A fuzzy coral is a happy coral.
I took 12 rolls of film, mostly underwater.
As the sun set over the pool and Jacuzzi, fresh drink
in my hand, I had to admit that if this wasn't paradise,
it was close to it!
Undersea Explores Micronesia
By: Will Green
I was saving my pennies for an exotic
trip, one which would take me on an adventure so memorable
that I would be talking about it for months. I wanted
to go off the beaten path, on a road less traveled,
even primitive. My aim was to scuba dive one of the
world's most prolific reefs and witness some of the
most complex ecological systems on earth.
There are very few gay diving experiences
to truly exotic places in the world. It is definitely
a niche market. From past experience I knew that Undersea
Expeditions always provided top-notch tours, and this
trip proved to be no exception. Our destination was
Yap and Palau, two islands tucked into Micronesia, located
just north of the equator.
Yap is one of the states of a country
called the Federated States of Micronesia, while Palau
is its own new country.
Yap was our first destination. It took
me about 26 hours to get here from Phoenix. One of my
fellow travelers came all the way from Trinidad, taking
him over 32 hours. With time and date changes, we arrived
not even sure what day it was!
At the Yap airport, we were greeted by
several baggage handlers clad only in a bit of cloth
wrapped around their loins, and were escorted to the
Manta Ray Bay Hotel. Later we found out that this was
suitable attire only for very young children and married
men. Young men wore more modest attire.
Our hotel was arguably the best in all
Yap. It was a little eccentric in its ability to provide
hot water, air conditioning and electricity to all rooms
at times, but the staff's hearts were in the right place.
Our rooms were spacious and decorated with native art.
The halls of the hotel were laden with photos of the
wondrous sights at nearby reefs, and the ocean lapped
peacefully just outside the lobby.
The dive operation was well-run. Freddy,
the proprietor, was very accommodating, speaking in
a soft Swiss-German accent. His boats were clean and
punctual. Promptness, expected my most Westerners, is
not always important in Yap's culture.
Although we were still feeling the effects
of jet lag, all of us wanted to dive as soon as possible.
That same afternoon, with only a shower and lunch, we
experienced one of the most spectacular dives of our
The reason divers come to Yap is the mantas,
gentle, soaring creatures that have made the area world
famous. We were overwhelmed by squadrons of these creatures,
each weighing up to 1,500 pounds, with 20 foot wingspans.
They flew (swam?) in formation on graceful wings. Freddy
set us down between the rocks to witness these wonderful
creatures and we were fascinated by the spectacle. I
noticed that each of the mantas has its own unique pattern
of spots on its underside. Back at the dive shop, a
poster showed the patterns on several mantas, each with
its own name. Little is known about these creatures,
their breeding or migratory habits.
Sights On Yap
Back at the hotel, we were treated to
what I believe to be one of the best delicacies I have
ever tasted. Parrot fish sashimi. It was soft, succulent
and incredibly delicious. Unfortunately the fried dishes
available fell below our expectations. Our group was
getting to know each other, most of us being from North
America, with others from places as diverse as the Philippines
and Trinidad. The youngest among us was 25, the oldest
about 50. We all got along famously, a trait I have
noted on scuba trips with Undersea Expeditions.
One of Yap's customs which surprises (shocks?)
many tourists is the tradition of topless women. One
afternoon, we stopped by their equivalent of a supermarket,
checking out the local fare. Several of us rounded a
corner, and right in front of us, a rather large lady
was examining a can of pork and beans, her ample chest
exposed for all to see. Coming from our western society
it was a bit unnerving at first!
The people of Yap have some very unusual
customs concerning nudity. While Yapese women are free
to show us their attributes, men operate under different
rules. Young males are always primly attired. One member
of our group, wearing a Speedo swimming suit and a long
T-shirt to his knees, was actually stopped by police
on a walk in to town and requested to return to the
hotel and put on more appropriate attire.
One free afternoon our group went on a
cultural tour of the island. An extraordinary attraction
is the local "stone money." These negotiable
items are literally large round stones, some over 6
feet high with a hole in the middle, left in public
areas around the island and never moved. They may be
used to purchase land, or other commodities. Some of
this currency is valued at US$ 35 per square inch. Only
the ownership changes. There is only a finite number
of this "cash" originally brought from Palau
to Yap hundreds of years ago, so their perceived value
among the locals is high. I remembered my Economics
101 class and discussions concerning Relative Value
of Commodities. The bottom line was that value is a
perception, not a fact. If the people of Yap believe
these stones to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,
then that is what they are worth.
Another afternoon activity was a demonstration
of the local native dances, straight out of National
Geographic. Women, joined of course by more modestly
dressed men and boys, moved in a series of rather intricate
steps with singing. Some dances involved the use of
bamboo sticks which were brandished about their heads
in a warlike fashion. I found these performances an
amazing display, authentic as they were sincere. Hopefully,
in future years, when Yap becomes more "Westernized"
these dances will not disappear simply to placate the
"sensibilities" of tourists and commercialism!
The dancing is as unique as Yap itself.
As much as we enjoyed natural, somewhat
quirky Yap, most of our vacation was on the island of
Palau, a much more modern place. It has multi-storied
buildings, a port, and a healthy tourist industry. We
were met at the airport by a blow-dried blond guy, one
of the land-based staff of our dive boat, the magnificent
Peter Hughes Sun Dancer, our home for the next few days.
Over 100 feet long, the boat has just about everything
you could want in luxury: en suite bathrooms, full air
conditioning, water making equipment, video editing
and film development capabilities, an open bar plus
a wonderful crew of eight and excellent food. That first
evening we sat around telling fish stories and reminiscing
about the wonderful places we had visited on other trips.
The next day, our first dive was a check
out, where the crew evaluates the divers, assuring that
we knew which end of the regulator to suck on, as well
as having at least a passing acquaintance with our air
pressure gauges. We viewed the extraordinary sight of
copious quantities of giant clams strewn about the reef,
up to four feet across, their mantels a myriad of beautiful
The Blue Corner
Probably the most incredible dive of my
life was at the Blue Corner, a reef offering everything
a diver could expect. There were sharks, hundreds of
them prowling the deep waters just beyond the reef,
with perhaps a thousand barracuda swimming in large
schools closer to the surface. We viewed schools of
lesser fish: jacks, sweet lips, sturgeons, and tunas.
The reef was awash in every color of the rainbow. Bright
reds, oranges and yellows burst from the soft corals.
The lighter hues of the hard corals included numerous
specimens reaching 10 to 15 feet across. There must
have been a thousand species of fish in the area.
One fish which particularly stood out
was the Napoleon Wrasse, weighing about 500 pounds and
being ten feet long. The frowning wrasse is a green
carnivore with large protruding lips. Unlike most fish
who flee divers, one wrasse was very friendly, looking
for a handout. He would cruise by keeping a wary distance.
It was comical, watching this huge fish, following our
divers like a bizarre dog for a treat.
We embarked on an exploration of several
wrecks in Palau. All the ships we dove were Japanese,
and had been sunk during World War II. The first was
the newly discovered Tatsu Maru, a 300 foot long freighter.
Our group was only the second boat to ever explore the
wreck since it sank in the 1940's. It was an awesome
sight laying on its side in about 60 feet of water,
a massive hole blown in its superstructure. Diving this
wreck was definitely spooky. The sea had started an
interesting colony of corals on the ship, claiming the
vessel as her own.
Our last wreck dive was the Chovu Maru,
another magnificent freighter, over 400 feet long. What
made this dive eerie was that we dove at dawn. Five
of our group braved the 5:30 am wake up call to don
our wet suits. Frank, our dive master, had located the
wreck earlier. We jumped overboard with flashlights
in hand. Down we went, and suddenly out of the green
murky water the wreck appeared. It was all around us.
This ship had landed right side up, and out of the gloom,
she was slowly revealing herself to be a glorious find.
I decided to descend into the bowels of
the freight compartment. In the light of early dawn
I went down a large hatch into the blackness, descending
110 feet. I could barely make out the steel hull on
either side of me or the faint light from above marking
the hatch where I entered. Noticing I had only about
four minutes before I entered decompression diving,
I rejoined my buddies, never to discover the contents
in the hold- if there was anything.
Later in the week we dove Jellyfish Lake,
famous for two kinds of jellyfish which are found no
where else in the world. These creatures have adapted
to the brackish water. They are unique in the animal
kingdom in that they have no stinging cells.
The day was bright and clear. We had enjoyed
a wonderful Sun Dancer breakfast and set out amongst
the small islands dotting Palau. After a 30 minute boat
ride, we stopped at an indentation in one of these islands.
Leaving the boat, we discovered a small path leading
up a hill. The jungle enclosed us until we reached a
small pool among the mangroves leading to a lake in
the distance. This lake appeared normal until we noticed
a translucent brown jellyfish pulsating through the
water. It was exquisite, its transparent top pulsing
rhythmically, slowly propelling it through the water.
Out in the middle of the lake it was not possible to
swim a stroke without touching these lovely creatures.
I felt them caress my body as I swam.
Further into the lake there was another
type of jellyfish, larger and more diaphanous, their
gossamer tentacles glistening in the subtle currents.
Perhaps most amazing was the fact that this place was
unmarked and completely undeveloped. Had this lake been
in most other parts of the world, there would have been
parking lots, a visitor's center, rangers and a cordoned
off area so no one could swim in it. Palau is off the
beaten path for all but the most committed divers, so
the lack of traffic has kept the area as pristine as
when it was first discovered.
Our last dive was Crystal Cave. Cave diving
is a specialty all its own requiring a certain amount
of skill and a realization that should you have difficulties,
there is only rock above you. Bobbing to the surface
at a sign of trouble is not always an option. Our cave
entrance was innocuous, located in a lagoon, with no
way that anyone without prior knowledge would ever find
it. Several staff of the Sun Dancer were along just
in case of an emergency.
We followed the dive master out of the
light, into a gaping hole in the side of the island.
As the rock closed in above my head, the way was illuminated
by the none-too-bright flashlights of the divers in
front. We swam through the first long passage, widening
into a vast room. There was evidence that this area
had once been above water, stalagmites looming up from
the bottom. We progressed to several additional "rooms"
taking in the vast yet constricting water-filled temple.
It was a sight to behold!
Back at the boat, it was time to prepare
to leave our floating hotel. Several of us had vainly
attempted to buy out the "boatique," assuring
we would have all the right fashion attire. We said
our farewells to the wonderful crew who made our stay
comfortable and luxurious and our dives effortless.
The airport departure was a mix of good-byes
and see-you-soons as we departed for our various destinations
around the globe. As usual, on the flight home my thoughts
turned to work, bills and relationships. Welcome to
the real world! The fantasy had to end
Undersea Expeditions and Peter Hughes
offer an extraordinary opportunity to be among the first
to discover the wonders of diving in Tobago. One can
experience both Atlantic and Caribbean diving on a single
trip around the tropical island on the spacious yet
cozy Wind Dancer, among the most comfortable
boats in the Peter Hughes fleet. Wind Dancer
moved to the still unspoiled and seldom-visited waters
of Tobago in October of 2003.
I was lucky enough to join the inaugural trip.
We enjoyed warm water diving, with water
temperatures in the mid-to-high 80’s, and fine
visibility. We cruised through magnificently healthy
and colorful coral reefs that carpeted the marine landscape.
And cruise we did, because Tobago diving is exhilarating
drift diving that carried us happily above the ocean
Tobago may be known for hammerheads and
other sharks, for manta rays and sea turtles, and even
for the elusive whale shark, but on our trip we focused
on the huge variety and number of colorful tropical
fish that paraded through astounding coral-draped reefs
and canyons. Among the guests on our trip were a number
of dive and travel professionals who worked together
to inventory a rainbow of more than 150 reef fish. There
were barracudas and parrots, jacks and squirrels, French
and queen and gray angel fish, porcupine fish, wrasses,
chromis, blennies and groupers. The list is too long.
Wind Dancer, which can accommodate
up to 18 divers, is indeed comfortable. The owner’s
suite has a king-sized bed, a glass-stall shower, and
its own TV. The other eight cabins, all with private
baths, are equipped with double and single bunk beds,
plenty of storage, and plenty of room to avoid any feeling
of being cramped. Hot water and air-conditioning provided
The well appointed dining salon is set
with tables for four at meal hour, yet still provides
room to relax and visit during the day, at cocktail
hour, or later to watch videos or listen to steel drum
music from the Tobagan crew.
On top, the Lido Deck is amply furnished
with truly comfortable chairs and lounges to enjoy both
sun and shade, a great place to kick back between dives.
The dive deck is well arranged and uncrowded.
There is plenty of room to store and don dive gear.
The currents facilitate tender diving, so tanks, BC’s
and regulators are stored, and the tanks refilled, on
one of the two tenders.
Nitrox is available, and is gratis for annual repeat
Peter Hughes clients.
All in all it’s a great way to do
four to five dives a day, including night dives, as
you circle the lushly vegetated island as yet unspoiled
by the influx of large numbers of travelers.
There are a number of ways to get to Tobago.
Check British West Indies Airlines (BWIA) out of east
coast cities in the US. Many visitors fly through Miami
and then Port of Spain, the capital of the nation of
Trinidad and Tobago.
Undersea will be visiting Tobago in November,
2005 for its annual Thanksgiving “Pilgrimage.”
Check the trip index page for details at http://www.underseax.com/gay-scuba-trips/tobago.html