Palau Trip Report - Eclipse

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Tim Ingersoll

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After reading about the wonders of Pacific diving for years I finally took the plunge and planned a trip to Palau. Somehow I convinced the wife to let me and a buddy travel one step beyond to the far reaches of the Pacific. A compromise was reached provided that we stayed in touch with a sat phone (surprisingly affordable at $75.00 per week for the rental and $1.75 per minute for airtime). I looked carefully at land-based versus live-aboard options and settled on chartering the Eclipse through Sams Tours. I used World of Diving in California to get the bulk air rate and arrange the package. Nothing but good things to say about them. They were responsive throuout the planning process and answered a number of tough questions. The package included six nights on the Eclipse with two nights at the Palau Pacific Resort on either end of the charter.
Travel. We flew from Rochester to Newark (1 hour ten minutes). Newark to Honolulu
(11 hours). Honolulu to Guam (8 hours) and Guam to Palau (2 hours). On the way out we had an overnight in Hawaii. On the way back it was straight time on the plane with minimal layovers. We stayed at the Hilton Hawaiin Village on Waikiki Beach about a half hour from the airport. The layover put us into the hotel in Honolulu at about eight o'clock pm and we didn't have to back to the airport for our flight to Guam until 3:20 p.m. the next day. From what I saw of Hawaii I won't be going back soon. Waikiki Beach was a pitiful excuse for a beach when compared to what the Caribbean has to offer. Everything was grossly over priced ($20.00 for two drinks!). If you stay on Waikiki get away from the hotels for meals. We found a great cafe right across the street from the hotel where we could eat on the cheap ($25.00 for breakfast for two as opposed to $75.00 for the same meal at the hotel). I'm sure I only scratched the surface of what Hawaii has to offer but I just wasn't impressed. Nuff said.
We arrived in Palau at 8:40 p.m. and were picked up at the airport for our transfer to the Palau Pacific Resort. The PPR is a very nice place that caters to a mix of Asian and non-Asian guests. The majority of the guests were from Japan although we met a lot of Americans. The facilities are very nice. All rooms have AC, minibar, room safes, balconies and decent cable TV. The staff were very attentive and overall we were very pleased with the accommodations. The food was reasonably priced ($18.00 per person for all you can eat breakfast) and quite good. Outside the resort we ate at Kramers and the Rock Island Cafe. Both are highly recommended. If you are on a budget you can't do better than the Rock Island Cafe. I had a ahi tuna sashimi appetizer for $6.00 that could have been a meal.
We had planned on taking the first day off from diving to recover from jet lag but due to the great advice I received on this board we beat lag going both ways. That advise was: 1. Set your watch to the time zone where you are going to land as soon as you get on the plane and live in the destination time zone for the ride; and 2. No alcohol, no caffeine and hydrate like its going out of style. It worked and we woke up our first day and decided to dive. A quick call to Sams and we were on our way. They picked up at the PPR and drove us over to Sams (10 minutes). Sams runs speedboats out of Koror that leave by nine am for the 45 minute ride to the southern dive sites. The boats are clean and very fast. There is plenty of shade and water is supplied both at the shop and on the boat. Overall a top notch dive operation. We dove Dexter's Wall and Blue Corner our first day. I was surprised at how crowded the sites were. More about the diving later.
Our second day we boarded our charter. The Eclipse is a 48 foot sailboat. The charter includes captain, cook and divemaster in the persons of John McCready and Charlie Wang. They are a husband and wife team who immediately made my buddy Paul and I feel right to home. We chose the Eclipse for a number of reasons but mainly because we didn't want to live at a resort for our vacation and also didn't want the dive, dive, dive experience of a live-aboard. At one point in my life it was all about filling up the dive log and squeezing in as many dives per day as was humanly possible but over the years I have come to the conclusion that doing so misses out on the myriad other experiences that far-away locales offer. By the same token I didn't want to experience Palau from a hotel room and the Rock Islands from a speedboat. Chartering the sailboat was the perfect compromise.
You can read more about the Eclipse at the Sams Tours website. I would say it is comfortable for three singles or two couples. There are two single berths aft and one double berth forward. John and Charlie sleep in the central part of the boat. There are small fans and reading lights in each berth. The onboard CD player and stereo provide background music of your choice. Bring your own CD's or choose from John's collection of jazz. The boat is rigged to do what you want to do. If you want to dive, dive, dive then thats what they are going to try and do. If you want to sail and fish then John is more than happy to accommodate. We chose a mix of activities and I'm really glad we did.
The first day John offered us the choice of diving wrecks all the way south or sailing down. I fought off the urge to immediately start diving and am glad we chose sailing. We fell to as crew and helped rig the sail. Soon we were pushing seven knots. John encouraged us to participate although he made it clear that we could choose to do nothing and let them do all the work. He trolled two rigs on the way down and we caught two Spanish Mackerals that supplied us with fish for the week. Don't miss the opportunity to sail and fish. It was a highlight and a great way to start the week.
For us a typical day on the Eclipse started at between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. with a cup of hot coffee and a discussion of where we were going to do our first dive. Because the day boats don't get out from Koror until mid-morning we had the sites to ourselves most days. We were usually in the water before 8:00 a.m. for our first dive. When we got back on board it was time for breakfast and then our second dive of the day. John encouraged dive intervals of at least two hours. That meant a late morning dive and then, you guessed it, lunch! We limited ourselves to three dives per day which meant were done with the dive gear by mid-afternoon and ready to pursue another activity. Some days that meant kayaking or snorkeling and on others it meant reading a book. John always anchored us in some out of the way secluded cove in the evenings that featured something interesting like a Japanese pillbox or sunken transport. Staying up past nine o'clock pm was a late night.
The food. Charlie does an unbelievable job with the cooking. All meals were taken on deck around the table just aft of the wheel. I didn't have one thing I didn't thoroughly enjoy. She asked us what we wanted and didn't want when she met us the first day. We let her make whatever she wanted and were very glad we did. We had one meal that was "American" (steak, salad and corn on the cob) but other than that the food was a wonderful blend of Southern Chinese and whatever Charlie twisted it into. The food was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. The only criticism is that we didn't get any desert. If you want chocolate you better bring your own!
The drinks. Beer and rum were included. The beer was San Miguel in cans. Verrry nice on ice. John also made sundowners on request. If you want something else bring your own. I brought a bottle of JD that kept me going for the trip. If you want wine bring your own. I must admit I regretted my decision not to bring a couple bottles from the cellar at home.
The diving. We did the following dives outside the reef: Dexter's Wall, Blue Corner (2X), German Channel (2X), Turtle Cove, Big Drop-off (2X), New Drop-off, Blue Holes/Blue Corner, Fern's Wall, Virgin Blue Hole, Barnham's Wall. We did the following dives inside the reef: Wonder Channel, Gozan Maru, Shipwreck Iro, Jake Seaplane, Helmet Wreck and Chandelier Cave. We also paid the obligatory visit to Jellyfish Lake for a snorkel. As indicated the diving could be divided into those dives outside the reef and those that were inside the reef. Outside the reef vis was good to excellent and the diving was better than the best the Carribean had to offer. The reef was healthier and there are simply more fish and big stuff. Fifteen to twenty sharks in one dive was not uncommon. The schools of fish were bigger than anything I had ever experienced. It was just more of everything. Inside the reef the diving was fair to middling vis and was on par with average Caribbean diving. For me some of the coolest things we saw were: Lionfish, Manta Rays and Zebra Sharks. The wrecks were cool because of the historical context. Be very aware that many of the wrecks sit in what appeared to be a silt layer of ten to twenty feet in depth. Vis dropped to near zero at the bottom. Even the slightest disturbance of the accummulated silt in the wrecks dropped vis to zero. Be careful and know your limitations.
Overall impressions. The Eclipse was definitely the way to go. I truly experienced the beauty and wonder of the Rock Islands by living aboard. I would go to Palau again but only if I could do it aboard the Eclipse. If I was on one of the other "true" liveaboards I think that there would be too much diving and not enough else to do and if I was at a land-based resort I think I would miss out on what Palau is really like.
 

maddmike

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Tim Ingersoll said:
Overall impressions. The Eclipse was definitely the way to go. I truly experienced the beauty and wonder of the Rock Islands by living aboard. I would go to Palau again but only if I could do it aboard the Eclipse. If I was on one of the other "true" liveaboards I think that there would be too much diving and not enough else to do and if I was at a land-based resort I think I would miss out on what Palau is really like.

We were on Eclipse in 2001. I completely agree. Although our 4 days at Storyboard Resort on Peleliu were also wonderful.
 

caymaniac

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Hey Tim, I'm glad you finally had a chance to get outside of the Caribbean to see how different that the Pacific is from the Atlantic or the Caribbean. I think that it is very comfortable and inexpensive to go to the Caribbean but since we've dove outside of it, feel that there is so much more to see on a trip like you've taken. It's not really a problem to go back to St. whatever or T&C, but now, you'll measure up the diving with more knowledge of what else is out there.
Thanks for the report, do you have any pics to share?
 

Tim Ingersoll

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I've got a ton of topside photos but am apparently computer illiterate. I uploaded them to webshots.com but am having trouble finding them again. We had Kevin come out from the Samstours photo shop and video us but once agian I am unsure how to upload that to a public forum. Ahhh. . .what I need is a 12 year old to explain it all to me!
 

Damselfish

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Tim Ingersoll said:
From what I saw of Hawaii I won't be going back soon. Waikiki Beach was a pitiful excuse for a beach when compared to what the Caribbean has to offer. Everything was grossly over priced ($20.00 for two drinks!). If you stay on Waikiki get away from the hotels for meals. We found a great cafe right across the street from the hotel where we could eat on the cheap ($25.00 for breakfast for two as opposed to $75.00 for the same meal at the hotel). I'm sure I only scratched the surface of what Hawaii has to offer but I just wasn't impressed. Nuff said.
Waikiki is far from representative of the whole state of Hawaii! I stayed there a week once because my husband was there on business, and another time on a layover. I wouldn't choose it for a vacation. But all the other places I've been in Hawaii are lovely. Even some other areas of Oahu.
 

Diver Dennis

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Glad you had a good time Tim. How were John and Charlie? They have a few little arguments from time to time...
 

Tim Ingersoll

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No more arguments than any other married couple! They seemed to be doing fine and made me and Paul real comfortable.
 

MaresMan1

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Tim,

Thanks for the great report. Gets the engine going to get back out and try the pacific again.

The Ms and I went to Hawaii last December and while she was very happy, I was not impressed. But, the further away we got from Oahu, the better I felt about it. Once we got to Lanai, I was all better.

The trip you discribe on the Eclipse sounds wonderful with the perfect balance of diving and other experiences. While I love diving, it always completes the trip if I experience other adventures also.

Thanks for sharing.

Dive Smart; Dive Safe
Enjoy the ride
MM1 :14:
 

Shasta_man

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Thanks much for the report, Tim.

We were considering the Eclipse after a great time in Fiji on a sailboat. However, we wanted to get all the diving we could in, so we went with dive, dive, dive. :) However, Palau is awesome and the Rock Islands beautiful so it merits a return.

Question:

Can you describe how the diving went off, entry and exit from the water, etc? I was concerned about the access in and out.
 

dnhill

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Tim,

Great report. I thought Palau was a very nice place to dive. If only I moved to Hawaii, it would be a lot closer.

dnhill
 
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