A group of us chartered a weekend dive trip to Niihau a couple of months ago as a birthday and a farewell event for a couple of us. After talking with Kyle of Red Sea Ocean Adventures, it was decided to keep the group to 4 so there would be more space on the boat despite the higher costs we would pay to do that.
Kyle of Red Sea Ocean Adventures was excellent at following up with the required deposits, forms and final payments, as well as patient in answering our questions we had about the upcoming trip. We were excited!
The arrangements that we chartered for as per their website were for a double bed, three single beds, a sofa sleeper and a large covered mattress on the observation deck. Plenty of space to go around. TV, DVD player, electrical outlets, two private bathrooms. Also unlimited food and sodas, a huge bonus for me! I don't normally drink sodas, but the carb-up would be welcome after each dive.
We landed in Kaui in windy conditions and hung around at the airport to wait for our fourth member to land. Once he landed, we had to wait another 20 minutes at the curb for the pick-up. They knew when we were landing and it would have been nice to be picked up then.
We get to the dock and were told to take all of our dive gear out of their bags/tubes/cases to be stowed away on the boat. The tubes/cases/bags stayed on land. I noted that there were no less than 9 coolers on the deck.
This made for cramped conditions and difficulty in putting our gear away and accessing our things. I was expecting two or three coolers at the most. I would find out why later.
I also noted two additional people on the boat along with the captain who were also coming with. I thought we chartered this trip and paid extra to keep the number down to 4 but that wasn't the case.
Turns out they were fishermen and that they would be fishing through the night for money. There was some mention of the possibility of fishing at night in an early communication with Red Sea Ocean Adventures. I had envisioned this as anchoring in a quiet spot, dropping a line in the water for a spell before reeling up and going to sleep. What actually happened both nights was that the deck lights were on full blast, we were in rough seas (despite being on the leeward side, the wind was cranking) and the captain was motoring the boat back and forth with diesel smoke blowing back into the cabin. This was why there were so many coolers - hundreds, if not a thousand or so fish were fished up and put in coolers.
Only two single beds and the sleeper sofa were available to us divers. One of us had to sleep on the floor.
Did I mention that the toilets were designated as off-limits as well? We had to pee overboard. We had to crap in a bucket and toss the crap overboard, and wash the bucket afterwards.
Due to the seas, and the captains desire to save money, we never exceed 8 knots the entire trip.
On Saturday night, we agreed we would check out/dive the north side of the island. We "woke up" at dawn to find the crew fishing on the south side of the island. I think the captain should have been a bit more considerate and worked his way to the north side before dawn so that we could have hit the water then, instead of waiting the hour (more fishing time for the crew on our dime) or so it took to get to the north side.
On the flip side, the captain was very nice/good about picking us up or picking up our fish so we wouldn't have to lug it around. All we had to do was raise our guns above the water and he would usually be on his way over within a minute or two.
A couple of other issues I ran into - I specifically asked about having power for my electronic devices and was told I was all set. Turns out that wasn't the case. I asked to watch a DVD I brought along, but the TV/DVD wouldn't turn on and when I asked about turning the power on for this, I was told that the TV/DVD was broken which was a lie. I also had to use my laptop under battery power only. It wasn't until the another time when I insisted that the power be turned on, that we got power. Lo and behold, the TV/DVD started working and I was able to repower my devices. I was however rationed to a hour of electrical use/recharging.
The unlimited soda options were... Diet Coke and Coke. Caffeinated sodas are the worst thing for a free-diver to be drinking on a dive trip. However, the food was decent and plentiful. We thankfully were provided with bottled water.
I made a gentlemens agreement with the dive group that whoever got the biggest fish the first day would sleep on the floor that night. I "slept" on the floor that night thanks to a large Uku. I didn't actually sleep though. Bright lights, fumes, pounding seas, motors roaring on and off, boat being steered around while I tumbled around on a hard, wet floor. I must have looked at my watch 100 times that night wishing it was the next day already so I could get off of the floor and back into the peaceful water.
There wasn't much structure or activity where the captain would drop us off each time. It was rather bland actually, and wasn't full of choke fish like I was expecting. Maybe it was because the captain wanted to fish for more fish throughout the day and those were better fishing grounds. I don't know, but I came away unimpressed with what I saw underwater. I've since then been told that it's better on the other side of the island, but the Captain wouldn't go there due to the wind/waves.
It wasn't until the last dive that I finally saw things of interest. We went up to the north side to a small island with steep cliffs and a steep drop-off. We saw a bunch of small sharks, a baracuda, and I saw a couple of Onos drift off in the distance. I tried and tried to get one, but could never get them to come close enough. I think I saw my first pair of Uluas ever, but they were about 100' down and spooked when I went down. Never saw them again.
One of the group had a SWB after a 85' descent, and that was pretty much the most exciting thing that happened. The captain came pretty quickly when I blew the whistle - I think he understood there was something wrong. Props to him for that. I dove down to my personal best of about 80' looking for the person's gun but to no avail. The second most interesting thing that happened was when a shark came up to one of the group's floats and ate most of a fat Mu. The person was rather upset about the whole thing.
For those who have an issue with diving Niihau, all in all, we averaged about 3-5 fish each for the whole weekend (about 6 dives), and stayed well off-shore.
Would I do this trip again at the price I paid or recommend it to somebody? No. Half the price? No.
The best part? I got to hang out with this group of divers although the location/charter could have been better. I also have a nice Uku fish print in my classroom now.
What did I learn? Go over EVERY detail with the chartering company/captain beforehand. Don't assume. Even if the website says I will get this, ASK if I will really get exactly this, and how/what it will be. If there are any unfavorable surprises or changes, demand that the surprise/changes be undone. We found out some of the surprises at the dock and felt we really couldn't do anything. We already took the time off of work, we already spent a lot of time preparing, shopping and packing for the trip. We already flew there. I didn't feel like we could say "Hell no, gimme a refund". We were stuck, and we had to suck it up.
One other thing that bothered me was that when a couple of us expressed our concerns about what happened with the trip to Kyle, one of them got an angry phone call from the captain. That was not cool and not professional of either Kyle or the Captain.
Kyle of Red Sea Ocean Adventures said he would update his website accordingly.
I personally don't think I will ever go on a trip with, or through Red Sea Ocean Adventures. I have yet to meet Kyle in person but perhaps I will change my mind later down the road if I feel I can trust his company.
I wish the experience was more favorable.
*puts on his flame-proof suit*