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The Artemis in Turkey provided a trip that was memorable for too many of the wrong reasons.



Liveaboard diving gives you the advantage of being able to get to dive sites out of range of those boats that have to return to port each night. You spend your time confined in the company of a small group of people, so inevitably you get to know them rather well. You dive, dive, dive, eat and sleep.
On some boats, its possible to do up to six dives each and every day. Its a divers holiday. But if youve ever had a disastrous vacation while staying on the land, remember - worse things happen at sea!
The worst liveaboard I ever experienced had the optimistic name of Diver Show. It was an Egyptian boat that was about the size of a typical Sharm el Sheikh dayboat, built of wood, with six cabins below a saloon and a small aft deck.
There were only six of us in the group, all men, two Irish, two Danes and two Brits. We joined the vessel intent on doing some diving and having a laugh.
The fact that there was only a weak glimmer from the puny 6V lighting below was not a problem because we each had a cabin to ourselves and could fumble about in the dark without fear of trespassing on one anothers territory.
The crew all seemed extremely enthusiastic and helpful and we set off with great expectations. We soon discovered that the plumbing in the solitary head was out of action, and resorted to using a bucket of sea water filled at the stern as a flush. Everyone understood that you had to wait for this essential action before following a fellow-passenger or crew-member in. Otherwise we just used the stern directly.
Look for the sort of features found on the other liveaboards above - space to relax, good access to and from the water, and storage space for kit.
Naturally, we were not surprised to find that there was no fresh water in the shower but decided we were each man enough to take a little discomfort.
One passenger, in normal life a purser on a British passenger ship, pointed out that the cooking of our food on the open flame of a Calor-gas stove was quite risky on a wooden vessel, especially as the galley area was next to our only point of escape from the living quarters. He expressed the opinion that the British authorities would never allow such a thing at home.
This made us think about what we would do in the event of fire. It was then that we realised that the only items of safety equipment on board were our BCs. There were no lifejackets, raft or even an auxiliary boat for diver pick-up.
I was more interested in the wooden hull itself. The first time I climbed back up the stern ladder, I found myself staring directly into the engine room. For the sake of cooling and ventilation, the crew had removed the timber that would have formed the transom. I mused that we would easily be swamped by a following sea.
Then we travelled from Ras Mohammed over to the great reef of Shaab Abu Nuhas. The sea was flat calm, but as anyone knows who has visited that part of the world, the seas of the Gulf of Suez which we crossed are usually extremely turbulent.
When the time came to return, the captain said he thought the sea was too rough, but there was hardly any sea at all! When he confessed that it was not a good boat, we realised that we might have a problem.
We made it back after an anxious time, but then it was announced that we were going into Sharm to pick up six more passengers. This meant we would need to share our cabins.
I could foresee problems so I voted with my feet and disembarked to a hotel and the pleasures of dayboat diving.
I was later informed by my co-conspirators on the return flight to Blighty that the atmosphere had changed after I left. The new arrivals had no sense of humour, especially when it came to the matter of filling the bucket, and on the last day the cook had finally run out of food. The high point of those remaining days had been when the dive guide had fallen down the stairs. He was so drunk, he wasnt injured.
It was a very cheap trip, but always remember that, in the developing world, standards of safety that we take for granted at home might not apply.

Seeking sanctuary
Regular readers will no doubt remember a piece about diving in the Dardanelles. The Artemis, our liveaboard diveboat, was a disappointment, to say the least.
It was dirty and the cabins were minute, with more space taken by the en-suite facilities than the sleeping accommodation.
Not to suggest that the facilities were spacious - one had to sit on the toilet to take a shower, and then only in cold brackish water. The absence of any window emphasised the lack of a continuous electricity supply.
Some cabins on the lower decks were awash, giving the clue to the vessels general lack of seaworthiness.
Recognising that Artemis would never make a dive boat, the owner had subcontracted those services to another, much better equipped, dayboat. Within days the passengers had decided to overnight in the comfort of a hotel instead.
The Boca del Torro in Cuba might have provided a good trip had the weather not been so appalling. There was no saloon and no day-time shelter. There was no compressor and we had to share the heaving deck with all the cylinders we needed for a weeks trip, which was rather a lot.
The rain was so heavy that gradually the cabins below deck turned into a swamp. Things were made worse by the fact that my male buddy and I had agreed to share the matrimonial suite.
Confident in our masculinity, we had imagined it would have one large bed. In fact it proved to have a bunk so small that two people needed to be copulating to stay in it together.
Both six-footers, and with no alternative, we opted to sleep head to toe, but it meant any movement during the night had to be well-considered first.

You Ashamed
The crew can make or break your vacation, too, and I am ashamed to say that I was part of a crew that ruined a number of peoples vacations. I will never forget the cruise of the Lady Jenny V to Sudan, Yemen and Eritrea in 1992. I was the dive guide.
The vessel was very old and tired, and of a quirky character, but despite the regular breakdowns of equipment inflicted on her crew, we were constantly amazed at the general sea-keeping qualities of her 1930s German-built steel hull. The problem was the crew itself.
The owner, not a diver and far away in England, made a gross misjudgment. He hired a temporary captain for the four-month trip and installed him over the head of the incumbent skipper.
This new captain brought with him an assistant, a so-called deck-hand who liked to pick and choose which jobs he did (we already had a deck-hand who was relegated to the less pleasant duties). These two made it clear early on that they had come for a diving holiday and made an unholy alliance with the woman chef and her pal, the stewardess, themselves two rather unattractive characters.
This gang of four decided to run the boat for their own benefit. The paying passengers were treated with total disregard and sometimes even outright abuse.
Dive sites were chosen to suit the convenience of the captain. He would insist that the passengers dived near where the vessel was moored out of the wind, yet then take the pick-up boat and go with his own friends for a crew dive at the better, inevitably windward, part of the reef.
He even announced that night dives were to be undertaken during late afternoon, when it was still light. He did not want the chef working late. Her cooking became careless and infrequent. As the temporarily disenfranchised skipper said: We were lucky to get any meals at all, because she spent all her time in the captains cabin.
The passengers were stunned by all this but, far from home and without any phone, there was little they could do.
The rest of us, the self-dubbed aft-deck crew, could only apologise whenever we got an opportunity. After two months, when sufficient numbers of home-bound passengers had asked for a full refund, the owner flew out to Hodeida to find out what was going on. He had a crew meeting and implored us to be nice to the customers.
Why should we piped up the charming stewardess. Its our holiday too!

What helps make a good liveaboard holiday is attention to such details as - sound briefings, good access, src="http://diverfiles.net-genie.co.uk/data/archive/travel/pics/0900laint8.jpg" a solid vessel with good engines and tenders to provide flexibility.
Never mind the carpet
What nearly all the best-run liveaboards have in common is the presence or at least the recent influence of the owner. A boat for diving should not be judged by the thickness of the carpet, nor the sumptuousness of the upholstery in its saloon. Some vessels stand out because they are perfect - perfect for the job which is demanded of them. They do not need to look glamorous. Sleek lines are not important.
Safety apart, what do you need from a liveaboard dive boat besides a good, comfortable sleep, plenty of fresh water in which to wash, and good food
Wooden hulls are ideal for sheltered water inside reef systems and atolls and can easily be maintained in developing countries - but they do tend to bob about in the water. Steel hulls have better sea-keeping qualities and tend to give a more stable ride in the wild seas of the open ocean.
Longer vessels are more stable, too, but tend to carry more passengers so that there may be less camaraderie.
Dividing the number of passengers by the number of cabins can give you an idea of how much privacy you might expect. The privacy of en-suite facilities can be very important, especially if you encounter rough weather.
There is something rather special about jumping from your hotel directly into the dive site but as the esoteric demands of divers increase, the requirement to get in close to a particular and often difficult place means that more and more vessels use smaller auxiliary boats for actual diver access.
Easy access to and from the water is important, and this includes properly run pick-up boats. If there are a lot of passengers to dive, more than one pick-up boat will ensure that you will not all be diving on top of each other.
Some vessels do not routinely use the pick-up boat and the crew expects you to swim back to the mothership following a dive.
Switched-on dive guides are essential. You need to be put in at the right place and at the right time.
When you surface, it is comforting to know that the coxn understands diving and has a good anticipation of events.
The same must be said of the crew, in case of that moment when things go wrong. Every boat now seems to carry a DAN oxygen set but it is crucial that the crew knows when and how to use it.
Air-conditioning can give relief if you are visiting a part of the world where the weather is particularly hot. If there is no air-con, you can be almost sure there will be no Americans on board.
Some vessels carry huge reserves of fresh water, but however big the tank, it is a finite supply that is most likely to run low at the end of a trip, just when you need it most. An on-board watermaker produces enough fresh water for the daily demand, so there are no horrible surprises when you come to take that final shower.
Knowing the voltage of electricity provided will help you come suitably equipped to recharge your lamps, camcorders and flashguns; nitrox supplies will make repetitive diving safer. If you need the special facilities required for technical diving or for using a rebreather, you might need to pre-arrange them, but it is nice to know that such diving techniques are looked on favourably while you are on board.
A telephone on board for passengers use can be essential for some of us.

Take a tip
The joy of budgeting for a liveaboard vacation is the fact that you can have a jolly good idea of what your all-up costs are going to be. There are few extras. Some boats make an additional charge for all pre-packaged drinks, whereas others charge extra only for alcoholic tipples. On others, all drinks are included.
Your travel agent should be able to tell you what extra costs are entailed if you want to do a diving course, hire equipment or get film processed on board, and what you have to pay for visas and diving permits. Dont forget to take sufficient cash to tip the crew at the end of your trip - on some boats you are expected to pay as much as 10 per cent of the total, though it is of course optional - and lets hope you think they deserve it.
You should confirm that all the details you have been given about a boat are correct at the time of booking - and, having read this article, you might well want to ask all sorts of other questions of your own!