Downey Duck Stella Maris







Philippines Aboard the Stella Maris - September, 2008

This was our first trip to the Philippines, as part of a FAM (familiarization) group of eight. Our routing was Pittsburgh to Houston, where we met a few members of the group, then to Honolulu, where everyone else showed up, then to Guam and finally to Manila, all in one very long day. We overnighted at the Manila Hotel. The next morning, after an excellent buffet breakfast, we boarded a bus for the three hour ride to the Anilou Outrigger Resort where the Stella Maris was waiting for us to board for our week's adventure.

The Stella Maris is not a luxurious liveaboard by American standards, but the rooms were decent sized, with three categories of rooms. Bill & I were in one of the two "owner's" rooms, although it was rather gloomy looking, with dingy beige colored wall paper and dark gray slip-resistant flooring. The bed was huge, with an offering of mint wafers waiting for us. The bathroom, with shower and commode, was small with a constantly wet floor. The sink, in the main part of the cabin, had generous counter space. Some cabins were similar; others had the sink in with the shower. Each cabin had its own air conditioning unit. Some had bunk beds.

Our first dive was right off the resort. Although they could have squeezed the eight of us into one skiff, two skiffs were used. After a short ride, we back-rolled into a huge amount of trash, then went down to 60 feet where we had an enjoyable dive, seeing juvenile crocodile fish, several large nudibranchs, a black lionfish, blind shrimp gobies, and a dozen chubby, aged tridanca clams; we did a safety stop while floating with the trash. A good dive except for that trash.

All meals were buffet style. Our first supper consisted of a delicious corn and chicken soup, roasted chicken, fish, vegetables, rice, and a mouth-watering mango and banana dessert. Cereal, toast, and coffee were offered as pre-dive breakfasts; a more substantial post-dive breakfast might include hot porridge, eggs, meat, and pancakes. Lunch and suppers always included yummy soups, rice, fish, meat, and fruit for lunch or a succulent dessert for supper. Between dive snacks might include hamburgers, cake, or delicious banana or mango smoothies.

The boat traveled all night toward Apo Reef after our first supper. A typhoon was forming in the area so for some it was a tummy-tossing trip, although travel exhaustion helped us sleep. Apo Reef had clear water, a couple white-tip sharks, colorful anemonefish, schooling pyramid fish, banner fish, titan and clown triggerfish, and a humphead wrasse, among others.

The typhoon, getting stronger, chased us from Apo Reef after only three dives; instead of an overnight ride, it was a rough evening, night and much of the next day trek before when we finally did an afternoon dive at Coron Bay. Coron Bay had a nice variety of diving, depending on the dive site, from interesting critter diving, to some well salvaged WWII wrecks, to Barracuda Lake, similar looking to Jellyfish Lake in Palau, without the jellyfish. The top portion is fresh water, then a halocline, then some really warm (97 degree) water at 80-90 feet. We dove the wrecks during the 64th anniversary week of their sinking. Unfortunately the typhoon affected visibility, even though it was now moving away, so the diving was not as enjoyable as it could have been.

Heading back north to Verde Island, our three dives there consisted of a rubble slope with many fish and good critter possibilities, and a large pinnacle where we saw sea snakes, schooling fish, and other smaller things. My first dive I came up early due to camera problems-no skiff. I raised my flag, blew my whistle and started swimming toward the boat; eventually they noticed me. The skiff transferred me to the Stella Maris where the only comment was "it's too soon for you to be up".

Among the 14 crew members taking care of us and our gear, boat manager and divemaster Paul stood out, going way out of his way to make sure we were comfortable and well taken care of. He even ended up going with us on the next portion of our trip, to Dumaguete. We never had to touch or rinse our gear, including wet suits. Warm towels were wrapped around us after each dive, and there were 4 showers on the back of the boat, although they ranged from cool to luke warm. No bathroom on the dive deck. Sheets were not changed during the week, no big deal, but neither were towels, although when I asked for fresh, dry ones, it was no problem.

Would we do this trip again? Maybe. The cabins were a bit dingy, although the rest of the boat was OK. The crew was fabulous, as was the food. But the boat will sleep up to 22 people-I would not want to be on it with that many people, or on the skiff with 12 divers. The camera room is very small, with enough room for one or two people at a time. We averaged fewer than 3 dives/day, mostly due to weather problems, and the quality of the diving was not worth the extended travel times. I would not do this particular route again, especially during typhoon season! I would do the Stella Maris again in a different location if I knew there would be a maximum of 16 divers aboard.

Check the review for Bahura resort, a much better experience!