Trip planning in an age of COVID-19
By Stephen Frink
With all the discussions lately about phased “re-openings” of society, I naturally began thinking about where I might go and when, speculation on future underwater photo centric travel to offset the dive deprivation we are all suffering at the moment. It occurred to me I should think about the lead time it takes to make a great trip happen, and organize my wish-list accordingly.
I’m lucky in that I have a home in Key Largo and this is where I chose to stay during the self-isolation time. This means that I can go diving, and fortunately have friends with private boats. The dive operators aren’t running, but I’m still able to get wet now and then. With no particular assignment or deadline I can pick the days with the calmest seas and best visibility and just go shoot for fun. What a concept … I should do that more often!
I realize that’s kind of unique in the big scheme of things. Not everyone’s local diving happens to be a meaningful dive destination like Key Largo, but maybe there is some level of local diving available to just keep nascent photo skills sharp.
For North American divers they should be planning some Near-Term dive travel, places that are easy to get to with modest airfare and reasonable travel time. For me this means the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Probably one of my first projects post-COVID is to head back to Nassau and dive with Stuart Cove. They have several new shipwrecks since the last time I was there and they are continually refining the sharks encounters. Plus it is less than an hour flight from MIA.
For me, I’ll be looking to New Providence, Grand Cayman, Roatan, Dominica, and Bonaire as top of the heap for my Near-Term dive travel. In fact, I’ll probably visit one or two of these this fall. I went to Bonaire just prior to the pandemic closures, so maybe some place quick and easy that offers consistently good diving. Grand Cayman would hold tick off all those boxes too. So, I’m thinking that by October or November I’ll be ready for a nice Caribbean escape.
I’ve rescheduled all of my exotic dive trips for 2020 except for one that still could happen in October aboard the MV Oceania in Papua New Guinea. Note that I said: “rescheduled” and not canceled. I think we all owe it to the dive travel industry to not expect money back from prebooked trips, but to merely reschedule for 2021 or 2022 when COVID-19 is (hopefully) behind us. To plan an exotic trip properly you have to think about the seasons to assure best dive conditions, and in my case since I charter whole boats rather than just book myself aboard, I need to find a window of opportunity when the boat is available. Individuals doing their own dive holiday will have greater latitude but you still need to be thinking ahead six months probably. I often need to book 2 years out to get the best boat in the best destination in the best season. This is the time to begin aspirational cogitation.
If Fiji, Indonesia, French Polynesia, PNG, or Australia (to name a few) is your dream begin your research now. Learn the seasonal variations and the probability for marine life encounters for where you are going and when. For example, I just rescheduled a trip to Palau with Sam’s Tours for July 2021 to coincide with a lunar cycle so we can photograph the bumphead wrasse spawning. That’s the kind of due diligence you need to invest in these more distant destinations that require greater time and money commitments.
Look out for more dive trip planning assistance over the next few weeks. If you haven’t seen them already, please check out Allison Vitsky Sallmon’s and Adam Hanlon’s articles. Good luck and happy planning!