Philippines Expedition Fleet: Stella Maris Explorer
It's the sort of dive trip where all the stars have to be in the right position. In the center of the Philippine's Sulu Sea, the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park is an oceanic island of untouched marine Asia a place where you'll see sharks on practically every dive, and schools of jacks and rays congregate in numbers common before commercial fishing ever commenced in the area. The two coral atolls of Tubbataha are separated by a five-mile channel, and walls drop, in some places, well over half a mile. The best time to visit is the extremely short March-June diving season, when the weather is dry, seas are flat and temperatures are warm.
And the last star to align in this scenario is the "Star of the Sea." That's how you translate the first two words in the name of the Stella Maris Explorer, a beautiful and spacious dive cruiser live-aboard commonly considered the best way to experience Tubbataha.
Philippine divers rave about Tubbataha, and with good reason. It is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in all of Asia that is marine in nature. It is the only place in the Philippines where shark sightings are not a rarity, but guaranteed. And the diversity is such that Tubbataha is comfortably within the ranks of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, as determined by voters at New7Wonders Foundation.
More than 1,000 distinct species, many of them endangered, make their homes in Tubbataha's waters. And these include almost all the fish that divers journey to Asia to see: from clownfish, to mantas, to lionfish.
Stella Maris Explorer, one of eight Explorer ships, embarks for Tubbataha from Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Being self-contained, the luxury yacht can easily cross the open ocean and reach 15 reefs and three wrecks on all sides of Tubbataha's North and South atolls. It's a remote destination with a very short diving season, but with Stella Maris Explorer, it is doable and well worth it.
Stella Maris Explorer is a 101-foot monohull luxury yacht with a 24-foot beam, carrying up to 22 passengers in 10 cabins, served by a crew of 14. Nitrox is available. Diving is done mainly from two 27-foot chase boats. For more information: sportdiver.com/expeditionfleet