We are headed to Aruba next week for our first time. I've been researching some of the dive operators (good info here in historical threads)! Found that many of the operators recommend diving western sites prior to southern sites unless you have x dives and have had a dive within the last x months.
How much do the conditions vary between the two areas? Is it mostly a matter of current and surface "chop"?
I've been diving for many years and consider myself fairly experienced (with a few advanced certification levels) but my wife is only OW certified with just a few vacations worth of dives under her belt.
First off, different sources have different variations on which direction exactly is which. The directions I am going to state, may not necessarily agree on all of the maps, but by comparing the maps and the sites, you will DEFINITELY have an idea of what I mean.
There is a difference in Aruba between the north and south coasts and the eastern and western ends of the island. The north and west coast is expert level only. The eastern tip has Baby Beach. Dh had his DM cert and given the chance, would not have have dove north or west. The island's local dm's and di's we had dove with, only very seldomly dive these sites, and always in the fall when there were "dead winds".
Natural Bridge dive and California wreck, same "dead wind" conditions would have to exist. On the map the location of Arashi is in actually a little further south.
For example, a review of a dive at the Natural Bridge from shorediving.com http://www.shorediving.com/Earth/ABC/Aruba/Boca_Anidicuri/index.htm: "10/10/2007 Gerard (Avg: 3.22 Review) - This was a difficult dive. We jumped in to the water directly next to the former natural bridge. After the jump we had to swim out fast. Once under water it was really nice. Getting out of the water was not easy, though. Rough seas and a lot of rocks made is hard to get out. It was a nice dive!"
There is only two reviews for Boca Grandi (one is from a local diver) and none for Bachelors. These are both on the "other" rougher coast.
If you want to dive the south coast, dive with JADS. There are a good number of reviews of divers who have gone with them at http://www.shorediving.com/Earth/ABC/Aruba/Baby_Beach_Reef/index.htm
Any of the reviews there written by Walter Mohamed are from an employee of JADS. JADS is also on our "to try" list. The only complaint people have had about them is that they are at the southern end of the island, though they do provide transportation.
For me as AOW, the hardest dive on the island, never having dove the south coast (Baby Beach) was the Jane Sea. Tough current here for sure.
Thanks for the info! I now appreciate the variations on what direction something really is or isn't (kinda like directions to the Natural Pool) For my purpose I was describing the sites like the Antilla, Malmok, etc... as "west coast" and Harbour Reef/Tug Boat, Barcadera Reef, etc.. as "south coast" sites.
Given this definition I'd hope the west coast doesn't match your version of west coast (expert only).
With that said if we do a Malmok (Antilla, etc...) "checkout" dive to get our bearings straight and figure out how to work those regulator-thing-a-ma-jigs again would most divers be comfortable on the above described southern sites (or probably still more for AOW types?). My DW's diving experience to date has been in fairly flat seas, low current, and great vis (Grand Cayman & Sister Islands and Bora Bora).
Do Pedernales for your check out dive for dw and do it in the morning before the wind kicks up to full speed in afternoon. It is only 25'-30' feet. If she feels comfortable to start the worst is that you will have a very long bottom time and see even more critters. The Palm Beach operators use it for their cert dives as well as discover scuba dives. The Antilla is 60' and a little more current on top. Once she is comfortable the Antilla and other sites from Palm Beach on North will be okay.
As far as south dives go, I strongly urge you to go early in the a.m. before the wind kicks up the waves. See how comfortable dw is on the Antilla before venturing south, sticking with the shallower reefs if at all possible to start out like Barcadera and Harbor Reef.
Don't expect the best in visibility either. I was so disappointed the first time we dove Aruba. In an ideal world, with your dw comfortable with her skills, and the funds to do it, you can easily do 2 tanks south in the a.m. and 1 tank afternoon to the north.
I think DW will do fine but since it has been a few years it probably isn't a bad idea to work in slowly. DW has been nothing but calm in other less than ideal situations (e.g. diving in 10' vis/high current with Manta Rays off Bora Bora, emergency air sharing situation on her first night dive when my rented reg (my rig blew a seal earlier in the day) blew the HP line at the gauge -- talk about low viz because of all the bubbles and I very very quickly had no air --but she was cool and collected we took our time with a nice ascent and safety stop)
And we prefer morning dives so it sounds like that should work nicely. We are going on vacation first and diving second -- so I am prepared for less than stellar diving. We normally go on our "beach vacation" in April (before hurricane season and after peak $$ season) -- but couldn't get away this year until now. So we choose Aruba (never been) due to the location outside the normal hurricane belt (vigorous knocking on wood). Maybe we'll fall in love like others on the board and return for years to come.....