Palau on the Eco Explorer - Dec 2007
The Eco Explorer is big, a 155' former Japanese "research" vessel now converted to a dive liveaboard. Though it doesn't appear to be functional for diving, it works well. All diving is done from one of the two chase boats which are kept alongside the mothership and boarded by a staircase.
Dive gear is set up once for the trip on the chase boat, which means you never have to carry anything up or down the stairs! Fins and masks are stored right underneath the seats and tanks are filled by the crew between dives from a long whip connected to the compressor onboard the Eco. Nitrox is highly encouraged and everyone in our group was using it except for one person. The tanks are aluminum 80s with fills always around 31-32% and 3000psi. Rooms on the Eco were on C deck, B deck, and a few on A deck, and are larger than expected with a full bathroom in each. Our room was on the B deck, B2 and had plenty of space for two people. Large luggage was taken to a storage room for you. A large camera room with A/C and 110v and 220v was on the A deck with plenty of space for a dozen photographers. A gear area is on B deck with storage bins for small items like lights, gloves, etc. Hangers for wetsuits are provided and there are approx. a dozen individual shower heads and a shampoo dispenser there. Benches sit in front of the bins so you can sit to don your suit and booties. Two rinse tanks for cameras and another rinse tank for wetsuits are right there by the stairs. Nothing could be easier after a dive! All you had to do was remove your suit, dip it in the rinse tank, hang it up, take a quick shower, and then grab one of the hot towels. Next stop - up the stairs to A deck for a snack or meal. All meals and dive briefings are held on A deck which is covered. The bow of the ship has a hottub which is large enough for a group (and some of us did use it on the last day).
All meals are buffet style and served on the top deck. Early risers can have a "little breakfast" as they called it, consisting of toast or muffins before the first dive. After the first dive a full hot breakfast is served. After the second dive Lunch is served. After the third dive a snack is served. And after the forth dive Dinner is served. Right after dinner a briefing and night dive is offered. After the night dive, most divers gathered in the dining/hangout area for beers ($3 each) and to review photos on their laptops and chatting before heading off to bed. The food was plentiful and ranged from good to excellent. Having a Filipino staff, the food had an Asian flair, with rice and soup at all meals along with a salad, a vegie, a fish dish and a meat dish. Deserts of fruit and cakes, cookies, ice cream or cheesecake were provided at Lunch and Dinner. Needless to say, no one went hungry and there was always something for even the pickiest eater. A large water cooler and mixed instant drinks along with soda were available 24/7 along with the usual coffee and tea.
The Dive Schedule:
Each evening the schedule for the following day was posted on a white board on top deck. Dive sites were chosen based on tides and location of the boat for that day. Most days the Eco was moored in the area of German Channel making the most popular dive sites 5-10 minutes away by chaseboat. A few days dives were scheduled but on arrival at the site, the dive guides decided conditions were not favorable so another nearby site was chosen. The guides were open to suggestions on dive sites also and were willing to change schedule if requested. A few dive sites were deeper than a few divers wanted so the main group did that dive and the other divers went shallower with another dive guide. Every diver's needs were accomodated and no one was left out of a dive. All dives were scheduled for 45 minutes but no one was limited to that if they had plenty of air.
Dive #1 - Ngedbus Coral Gardens, 80fsw, 32%, 52 minutes, Checkout dive, gorgeous reef with slightly sloping wall, some pinnacles, a tiny lionfish, anemone fish, a few giant clams, sweetlips, angels and butterflyfish, two whitetip and a blacktip shark, 2 turtles, and a remora looking for a ride. Nice introduction for us to the South Pacific!
Dive #2 - Turtle Cove, 86fsw, 32%, 47 minutes, First true Palauan vertical dropoff wall, we entered at a hole on top of the reef about 3' under the boat, coming out on the wall. Lots of soft coral and schools of colorful fish everywhere.
Dive #3 - Fern's Wall, 62fsw, 32%, 50 minutes, Another vertical wall with strong current this time, grey reef and white tip sharks, 2 lionfish, large schools of pyramid butterflyfish and triggerfish.
Dive #4 - night dive, Big Drop Off - 63fsw, 32%, 52 minutes, Lots of soft coral and squid.
Dive #5 - Blue Corner, 87fsw, 31%, 42 minutes, We dropped into a strong current which picked up and by the time we reached the "hook-in" point it was blasting us at mach speed. I had trouble hooking in and holding my camcorder housing so an observant dive guide rushed over and helped. About 2 dozen grey reef sharks and a few white tips paced back and forth in front of us along with hundreds of other colorful fish. The current increased to the point that even the sharks left so we unhooked and floated backwards over the plateau, unable to stop and enjoy the napoleon wrasse (at least 6) and a pair of eagle rays. What a dive!
Dive #6 - Dexter's Wall, 84fsw, 32%, 48 minutes, Excellent wall dive with tons of fish, soft coral, and the sharks circling above us this time.
Dive #7 - Big Drop Off, 82fsw, 32%, 52 minutes, Nice vertical wall again, covered with soft corals of every color and a rare red anemone.
Dive #8 - Blue Corner, 70fsw, 32%, 60 minutes, Our plan to do Big Drop Off was foiled by raging currents so we headed back to BC. Currents were less than before. The shark action was there again and many divers returned to the boat exclaiming that was the best dive of their lives.
Dive #9 - night dive, Alice's Garden, 69fsw, 32%, 43 minutes, A small, sloping wall with coral overhangs, some sleeping fish, and lots of crabs and shrimp.
Dive #10 - Peleliu Express, 100fsw, 32%, 44 minutes, We dropped in and drifted down a nice wall to a hook-in point where we were greeted by sharks, sharks, and more sharks. Some of the sharks had serious gashes in their sides; mating season had started early it seemed.
Dive #11 - Peleliu Cut, 84fsw, 32%, 48 minutes, This dive we dropped in on the other side of Peleliu Point and drifted down to another hook-in point. Richard was leading and turned around to signal that there were 5 sharks ahead - but then in the background we realized there were more, many many more! Honestly, my first thought was all those pictures I have seen of the Galapagos with a wallpaper of hammerheads. These sharks were grey reef and the school was fin to fin stacked up and reaching as far as we could see. Richard turned back to the group and screamed through his regulator, his eyes bugged out. We all finned to the point and hooked in as quickly as possible and just stared in disbelief. It was so amazing! The huge school swam one direction then turned and came back over and over. I tried to film them but had to drop the camcorder after awhile and just try to count. The background school was at least 35 sharks, plus there was another 1-2 dozen zipping back and forth right in front of us. Richard and Sean both said they had never seen that many there before. Wow!
Dive #12 - Peleliu Wall, 71fsw, 32%, 50 minutes, Once again we dropped into a hole in the top of the reef into a cave and exited out to a wall. Just a few greys joined us on the drift back towards the Cut. The wall was lovely though and we found a few more interesting fish and an eel.
Dive #13 - Peleliu Pocket, 71fsw, 32%, 43 minutes, A coral garden instead of a wall this time, lots of HUGE clams, some white tips, clown triggerfish, and a few nudies. This dive was a nice break from the intense shark action and reminded me more of a Caribbean dive with lots of small spur and groove formations, overhangs, and slight current.
Dive #14 - night dive, Barnum's Wall, 68fsw, 32%, 42 minutes, Richard found lots of little guys for us, coral crab, crinoids and whip coral with crabs and marbled shrimp and hinged-beak shrimp.
Dive #15 - Saies Tunnel, 119fsw, 31%, 47 minutes, A large deep cavern which opened up to the wall on the outside with a huge window. As soon as we dropped in we noticed the sharks circling the window. The next thing we knew the sharks were coming inside with us! Yikes! It was freaky and fun all at the same time. A few divers opted to stay on the outside this time as they didn't want to go that deep. As we exited the cavern, the sharks moved away. Nice dive. After the dive we took a short ride over to Ulong Beach where Survivor is filmed for a picnic.
Dive #16 - Ulong Channel, 55fsw, 32%, 48 minutes, Another reef hook dive! We dropped into a channel where we had to kick into the current most of the way. Arriving at the mouth of the channel we all hooked in and watched as another dozen sharks put on a show. After about 20 minutes we unhooked and drifted at mach speed again down a channel passing over one of the largest lettuce coral heads in the world. This thing is HUGE! Along the way we were greeted by large triggerfish who tried to nip at us and scare us away from their nests. Yikes! At the end of the channel was a sandy area covered with sleeping white tips and a large baitball of fish swirling around. Excellent dive once again!
Dive #17 - German Channel, 74fsw, 32%, 45 minutes, This dive was one I was really looking forward to and it did not disappoint. A huge school of hundreds of gray snappers hung to one side feeding on plankton as sharks and tuna dashed in and out feeding on them. The next thing we know, mantas! Five large mantas in formation came swooping in above us and everyone headed for mid-water to watch. In order to watch the mantas you had to kick against the current, just holding your position. Two more mantas appeared and as we watched this direction and that, the sharks hunting below us, and the dive soon came to an end. A truly memorable dive.
Dive #18 - Blue Holes, 102fsw, 32%, 43 minutes, Four holes within about 10' of the surface are entrances to a large cavern and with the sunlight shining down you could see where it gets the name. Due to depth and lack of sunlight, the cavern seems very dark and creepy. Using a dive light, many fish could be found swimming upside-down on the wall. After a few minutes, we exited the cavern side opening, and drifted down the wall towards Blue Corner. Lots of sharks again, ho hum..
Dive #19 - night dive - Turtle Cove, 52fsw, 32%, 44 minutes, Wall dive with a cuttlefish, scorpionfish, octopus, pipefish, tiny crabs shrimp, and squat lobsters on whip coral, and a school of unicorn fish.
Dive #20 - Virgin Blue Hole, 57fsw, 32%, 55 minutes, Another deep cavern with exit to wall. I opted to go on a tour with a dive guide of the exterior reef structure which turned out to be beautiful. The coral formations reminded me of Cozumel's Palancar Bricks and Columbia deep with their pinnacles and swimthroughs. I found numerous cleaning stations and one with a sweetlips covered with at least 4 cleaners who let me stop and video him for several minutes. Also one area of a wall was covered with blue sponges, soft coral, and gorgorians making quite a dramatic visual image. Just a wonderful dive.
Dive #21 - New Drop Off, 84fsw, 32%, 51 minutes, Another nice vertical wall but this time I spent half the dive on top of the wall looking at the little critters. Soon I was joined by most of the other divers and we found rockmovers, leaf scorpionfish, crabs, huge anemones with anemonefish adults and babies, fire dartfish, etc. Very nice dive.
Dive #22 - German Channel, 63fsw, 32%, 50 minutes, Yes, we had to go back and see the mantas once again. The dive guides didn't expect to see them two days in a row, but SURPRISE, they were there. We hopped in and soon we were surrounded by 7 big guys again. What a dive!
Dive #23 - Blue Corner, 83fsw, 32%, 45 minutes, Third visit to Blue Corner and this time the current was mild. Sharks were there but after half the dive we all unhooked and spent the rest of our time on the plateau looking at fish. A huge school of bumphead parrotfish came through along with an eagle ray. Lots of baby fish kept me mezmerized. Not the intense dives of earlier in the week but still a great dive.
Dive #24 - night dive - Ngemlis Wall, 66fsw, 32%, 48 minutes, More decorator crabs, marbled shrimp, coral blooming. Ron and a few other divers had an encounter with a very angry white tip on this dive. He must have been hunting and didn't like all the company.
Jellyfish Lake, snorkel - After a hike over a hill that seemed to be Mt. Everest (just kidding) we arrived at a the large lake. From the dock we all swam out to find the 6million stingless jellyfish which were ranging in size from at pea to baseball. I was surprised at how they pulsed through the water, some so quickly they seeming to be on a mission, while others barely moved at all. The sunlight shone down on them making them almost luminescent.
Dive #25 - Iro Maru Wreck, 83fsw, 32%, 46 minutes, Wow! WWII Japanese wreck. Following the rope down we were greeted with one of the most lush, encrusted wrecks I have ever seen. Every inch of the wreck was covered with colorful life, sponges, large coral foramations, clams, clams, and more clams. Vis was only 30-40' at best but an excellent dive.
Dive #26 - Chandalier Cave, 53fsw, 32%, 22 minutes, This 4 chamber cavern has lots of interesting stalagmites and stalagtites. Each chamber has an air pocket so you can come up and chat before heading off to the next chamber. Not much to see other than that.
Dive #27 - Mandarinfish Lake, dusk dive, 16fsw, 32%, 47 minutes, This dive is purely a hang onto some dead coral at 15'and wait for the mandarin fish to come out and dance and mate. The water is very murky and keeping lights off is important until they are mating as not to scare them away. We saw at least a dozen of these cute little colorful guys.
If you do not feel confident in your diving skills - don't go to Palau!
If you are afraid of sharks - don't go to Palau!
If you are afraid of deep dives - don't go to Palau!
If you are afraid of caverns, swim-throughs, and tunnels - don't go to Palau!
BUT if you ARE looking for exciting dives, lots of sharks, sheer walls, deep and dark caverns, and the unexpected --- GO TO PALAU!
Topside and Underwater Photos can be found here: Palau Photos
Explorer Fleet website: Palau on Explorer Fleet boats
we were on the Eco Explorer, but the Big Blue Explorer is the boat used in Palau currently)
Ultimate Dive Travel: Ultimate Dive Travel