The quality of a California dive charter boat operation usually falls on just one individual–the owner and skipper. In the case of Captain George Staehling of the Sand Dollar he has succeeded wonderfully. On the completion of a recent multi-day trip on the Sand Dollar, I watched as divers left the boat and each had a smile, and I felt one on my face as well. I wished the trip had gone longer.
The main thing that made this trip special is Captain George knew all the right dive sites and he knew them well. He knew just where to put you for what specific goal. Want lobster? He put you right on top of them. He knew where and how to catch them and freely shared that information. Want great photos? Again, right on the spots. But what amazed me was that he often was able to put divers on the same site for different goals. I was successful shooting great images at the same time other divers were gathering up lobster. (I wish I could have done both at the same time but that is hard; I only have two hands after all.)
The history of the Sand Dollar in California diving lore is deep and rich. Built in 1974, the Sand Dollar was one of the first charter boats built specifically to be a dive boat. Designed and built by the late diving legend Bill Johnson she is a solid ship, definitely one of the smoothest rides in rough seas. The twin engines are new as of just a few years ago which equates to better reliability. More keys to an uninterrupted fun and successful dive trip include two onboard generators and three compressors. A few other key mechanical elements that will definitely add to comfort include an onboard freshwater maker (longer showers!) and air conditioning.
Tanks and weights are included with all the trips. Gratefully, you now have two less very heavy things to lug to the dive boat. This is, by the way, on of the features that make this boat popular with out of state dive groups chartering the Sand Dollar. Tanks provided are Scubapro LP 95 and 76 cubic foot steel. Myself, a consummate air gulper, very much enjoyed the extra dive time afforded by the 95 cubic foot tank. You are, however, welcome to bring your own tank. Air fills are quick (up to 3,000 p.s.i.) and nitrox is available.
Perhaps my favorite physical feature of this boat is the water entry and exit on the stern. Gates through the transom are large. The wide swim step is only a few inches off the water so a giant stride into the water is painless and easy. For exiting, perfectly angled open ladders make getting out of the water also very easy.
Other pleasant physical features of the boat include two unusually large heads with big showers and a large freezer for passenger’s game. Overlooking the dive deck is a wonderful sundeck.
Other than the diving probably the most enjoyable feature of this boat is the food. The homemade meatloaf was my favorite. The soups and chili are fantastic also. Other stellar meals included the full breakfasts, taco lunch, tri-tip and pork loin dinners. Between dive snacks were frequent and tasty. Nobody ever went hungry.
Both single and multi-day trips are run on a regular basis but the Sand Dollar runs a lot of multi-day trips indicating that this seems to be one of their specialties. Another specialty seems to be they know how to cater to the advanced diver. While dive sites are of course chosen according to the skill levels of the divers onboard Captain George does not shy away putting advanced divers on advanced dive sites. And a chase boat is available should divers stray a bit too far.
The Sand Dollar is now setting up its calendar for 2010 and will again be filled with exciting dive trips, especially multi-day dive trips to all the Southern Channel Islands. A mini-vacation to these islands on the Sand Dollar is well worth consideration for your 2010 dive schedule. For more information on the Sand Dollar, visit their website at www.divingcharters.com or call (877) 444 – BOAT or (951) 279-DIVE (3483).