Sam’s Tours offers ECLIPSE and SAFARI!
Palau’s only private live aboard boats for exclusive charters
Dive with Eclipse and Safari, an amazing trip to a unique destination.
Eclipse, and Safari, Palau’s only chartered liveaboard dive yachts. Just for you and your friends or family.
Avoid diving with crowds, charter your own liveaboard in Palau with a very experienced crew of two at your service. Exclusively for one or two couples, a small group of dive buddies, or even a family of five or six, you get to choose where you dive and how often. You can even opt for other activities like fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, or exploring uninhabited islands and deserted beaches. Enjoy fabulous cuisine while experiencing Palau’s most celebrated dives when no one else is there. Spend your vacation immersed in a pristine marine wilderness, not hotels, restaurants, gift shops, and dozens of other divers.
How can we offer exclusive diving in one of the most famous dive destinations in the world? Perhaps a short introduction to Palau’s geography will help explain. Almost all of Palau’s best dive locations are concentrated along a ten mile stretch of vertical walled barrier reef on the southwest side of the island chain, facing the Philippine Sea. While this makes it easy to travel between a multitude of dive sites each day, this area is far from Koror, the only town in Palau and the location of most hotels and dive operators. The result is that hundreds of divers only arrive in this prime area after nine in the morning, then must leave before three since so much time is spent traveling to and from the dive sites, up to four hours in cramped speed boats each day, for just two dives. The liveaboard dive boats usually choose to dive the most famous locations before or after the multitude. But the four large liveaboards dive in groups of eighteen to thirty, thus providing their own crowds. We have always felt the ultimate adventure was diving with just your own friends or family. Since this area is so rich in amazing dive sites we can explore for days, remaining overnight, so easily get in four stunning dives each day without sharing a dive site, with night dives, too, on Palau’s most celebrated walls.
Eclipse, the original chartered liveaboard in Palau has been part of Sam’s Tours for twelve years. She has long demonstrated the practicality of equipping a classic ocean racing yacht for long range dive expeditions to keep costs reasonable. Deliberately kept simple, Eclipse is an excellent example of “appropriate technology” for successful operation in remote areas, far from parts stores, technicians and other boats. While basic, she has all the essentials for extended expeditions with more than adequate comfort. For days of adventure for just you and your mate, with another couple, or a fabulous dive trip with a small group of friends, charter Eclipse.
Safari, Palau’s deluxe chartered liveaboard dive yacht is Sam’s latest addition to the fleet. Just for a couple or small family, Safari has the superb comfort of the big dive boats with out the crowds. With air conditioning, a spacious dining area, hot indoor showers, beautiful aft stateroom, and a wide dive assembly deck stretching clear across the stern, Safari is designed for convenient diving with maximum comfort.
Table of Content
- Scuba Diving
- The Boat
- Itineraries for Eclipse or Safari
- Palau Information
- Other Activities
- Frequently Asked Questions
While there is tremendous variety of diving available in Palau, Palau’s most famous dive sites are concentrated along a ten mile stretch of the barrier reef facing southwest into the Philippine Sea. This section of the reef is nearly all vertical walls descending hundreds of meters straight down into abyssal depths.
These miles of sheer walls are made irregular by underwater projections, plateaus, and channels cutting deeply into the reef. This complex reef topography is swept by strong currents and upwelling nutrient rich water powered by Palau’s proximity to the powerful equatorial counter current.
The Palauan archipelago presents an eighty mile long barricade to this vast movement of water which accelerates as it nears the ends of the islands. One effect is that long stretches of reef wall can have gentle currents that carry divers effortlessly for more than a mile along a vast panorama of sea fans, hard and soft corals, and the thousands of creatures that make their home in tropical reefs. But where peninsulas and plateaus project out from the wall, nutrient rich water wells up from the deep and currents accelerate around and over these obstructions producing environments where fish congregate in astounding numbers. Such massed fish populations attract and provide food for the large predators, one of the hallmarks of Palau diving.
Tremendous schools of Barracuda, Trevaly Jacks, and Snappers slice through the clouds of reef fish surrounding these underwater plateaus while having to look out themselves for packs of patrolling sharks, moving through this mass of fish with an easy grace that tries to disguise their reason for being there. At these locations nothing is static, conditions, currents and the populations change throughout the day. Adding further complexity to the swirling oceanic currents are tremendous tidal flows crossing the vast reef flats twice each day, carrying crystal clear ocean water into the huge lagoon, then alternately flushing seaward a rich organic stew laden with tons of plankton made up of newly fertilized eggs and larva of reef dwellers.
For any chance of survival these microscopic juveniles must mature in the open ocean for a while before attempting a return to the islands to seek their niche in the hyper competitive reef environment. This incredible plankton production concentrates at certain locations, at various times of the day, and under particular tidal conditions, attracting tremendous schools planktovores, which in their turn draw the large predator fish. These conditions provide more opportunities to dive surrounded by thousands of fish while Mantas do slow motion back rolls to remain in the richest part of the plankton flow.
Eclipse is a Cal 48 sloop, designed by William Lapworth. The largest ocean racing boat produced by California boats, it is a stretch version of the famous Cal 40, the design that revolutionized ocean racing forty years ago. Eclipse has two cabins for guests, both with double berths. The forward cabin offers a larger berth and more privacy with an attached head (toilet). The aft cabin has a small double berth plus a single berth if needed, but shares the other head with the crew, just two in number. There are electric fans and reading lights over each berth and an excellent reference library for identifying fish, corals, birds, shells, and invertebrates. Sun warmed showers are taken on the foredeck and meals served in the cockpit under a large protective awning. Deliberately kept simple, Eclipse nonetheless has all the essentials for dive expeditions, with generator, dive compressor, inflatable launch with outboard, charging stations for cameras and laptops, sea kayaks, and trolling gear for catching fish under way.
While not as luxurious as Safari or the large liveaboards, Eclipse is quite comfortable, and much more an outdoor experience. Not surprisingly, Eclipse’s heritage can also produce a really fun day of sailing, with everyone having the opportunity to take the wheel and feel the power of the Pacific Trade winds coursing through her sleek hull. That is, of course, if guests choose to pass up some dive opportunities for this rare experience.
Itineraries for Eclipse or Safari
Many ask about our itinerary for diving Palau since there are so many fascinating dive sites illustrated and named in the publications and guides for the area. We often reply that our itinerary is “guest driven” since our guests are engaging an exclusive charter, so can choose what they want rather than giving over choice to a dive operator trying to please the largest number of clients. But that is an over simplification. Almost all our guests are divers, so our trips do follow a bit of a pattern based on long experience, but with constant consultation and discussion regarding their objectives and options.
The most immediate difference noted with Eclipse or Safari is that they are not speed boats, so about half the first day of any trip is spent getting to the south west facing reef where the best diving is found. But this is hardly wasted, a beautiful trip through a multitude islands offers time to make the first of many decisions to be made. Palau’s famous wreck dives are found on the way to the southwest reef, so best dived the first or last day of a trip, if our guests want to dive wrecks. Likewise, Palau’s famous Jellyfish Lake is located about two thirds of the way to the dive areas, so guests decide again when best to visit this unique attraction. If guest are flying the night we return, the jellyfish can wait ‘till the last day when diving may be off the agenda. Many are photographers, and with us you have the time to pursue your particular objectives, whether the large pelagics, sharks, and mantas for which Palau is so famous, or the colorful nudibranchs and other miniature reef dwellers that macro photographers find so compelling. But our long experience here tips us off to events that are so amazing that we plan some dives at specific times, tides, and places to catch the action, often not noticed from boats that are only in the area a few hours each day. A handful of dive sites here are so extraordinary and dynamic that we usually dive them two or three times in the course of the week. So it is easy to see why our itinerary is so hard to pin down. “Guest driven” hardly describes what we offer, but you do get to do what you want.
Palau is located in the Western Pacific and can be reached through several different airlines. Continental arrives daily via Guam fed by connections from Hawaii and Japan, plus two flights a week from Manila. China Airlines provides flights from Taipei, and Delta by way of Japan. Palau trades in US currency, is served by the United States Post Office, and English is almost universally spoken.
The best time of year to dive Palau is November through June. The prevailing “trade winds” that time of year blow from the north east, leaving the south west side of the islands, where all the most famous dive sites are located, in the lee, with little wind. This almost insures calm water. Conversely, during the remaining months, July through October, the winds are usually from the south west, thus blowing on shore at the best dive areas. While usually not strong enough to affect diving, these winds occasionally blow hard enough to make diving difficult to impossible, for up to a week at a time. This is the reason many divers avoid Palau this time of year, preferring the “high season”, November through June, to assure getting in the dives for which Palau has become famous. We choose not to book Eclipse July through October, but Safari is available since she has the capability of crossing the barrier reef any time of the day to seek a calm anchorage should the wind and sea state become too rough to remain outside in the open ocean.
Since most visitors travel to Palau for some of the most celebrated diving in the world, they rarely have time to savor other aspects of the unique natural environment that contribute to the unique diving observed here. On Eclipse and Safari guests have time to not just dive more each day, but some also engage in additional activities available only aboard an exclusive chartered liveaboard.
For experienced photographers or novices, chartering a dive boat with a crew dedicated to your agenda is by far the best way to get great photos. With no other divers to consider, you can take your time, no one will rush you or insist you keep up with a group. We can be at the right place for particular events or the right time for the best lighting. Both Eclipse and Safari have 12 and110 volt power sources for charging camera batteries, light sources and laptops. If you don’t have the necessary equipment or experience, one of our dive guides, both experienced photographers, will take photos and video clips of your dive trip, giving you a disc at the conclusion of the trip.
Usually overlooked except by dedicated wreck divers are dozens of Japanese ships and aircraft destroyed and sunk during the Pacific War by American carrier based war planes, eliminating the usefulness of Palau as a major Japanese naval base. Most of the Japanese fleet were in port at anchor when attacked, therefore much closer to Koror than Palau’s famed reef dives, so liveaboards always visit wrecks on the first or last day of a dive trip. With Eclipse and Safari wrecks are an option for those that want to take the time to check them out. Both boats have aboard the books resulting from years of research and exploratory dives to find the remains of Japan’s wartime fleet in Palau. So look over the material and decide if you too, want to see real shipwrecks with artifacts, not artificial sanitized sunken reefs to attract divers.
Spectacular snorkeling is found throughout Palau, especially at the famous dive sites since most of Palau’s walls descend straight down from waist deep water on the reef top. Snorkelers cruising along these precipices can peer down over sixty feet and share the excitement of meeting the sea creatures that have become the icons of Palau diving, sea turtles, sharks, eagle rays, and dense schools of large predator fish.
Palau’s hundreds of islands, serpentine waterways and remote beaches produce world class paddling opportunities. We have kayaks available for both Eclipse and Safari. Kayaks are indispensable on trips that include children or non divers. But most of our guests do not avail themselves of the kayaks since their involvement in diving is so total and time so short. Kayaks do take up a lot of deck space, particularly on Eclipse, eliminating some of the best places to relax between dives, so bringing kayaks is best an option for those that know they want to love to spend some time paddling.
Fishing in Palau can be amazing, and we usually troll for a large game fish or two since they are plentiful and delicious. If you fish too, you are welcome to bring your gear and help provide fish so fresh that we change how some feel about seafood. Trolling is the most productive method since we do that while traveling between dive locations. Spin casting also works but requires some time set aside, since by long custom and law, no one fishes near dive sites in Palau. Bait fishing may well be productive for those with patience, experience, the right gear, and lots of time. We are not qualified to say since we don’t have those attributes.
Terrestrial Flora and Fauna
The number of birds in Palau is amazing considering the remoteness of the islands. In addition to scores of species both native and migrant, there are eight endemic varieties found only in Palau. Palau is so remote that bats are the only native terrestrial mammals. All other mammals, dogs, cats, pigs, even rats, are introduced species brought by the first human settlers, voyagers exploring the vast reaches of the Pacific at least two to three thousand years before the coming of European explorers. Dugongs are rare and illusive residents of mangrove swamps as are crocodiles, curiously quite timid in Palau. The flora of Palau is incredibly varied and specialized. The hundreds of limestone islands are devoid of soil, but the tropical forest is nonetheless very dense, with hundreds of species, many with special adaptations that evolved into endemic species, and even plants that prey on insects for their nutrients.
Palau does not have extensive beaches since the encircling barrier reef absorbs most of the wave action that would normally produce sand by breaking down rock and coral. What beaches are found in Palau are remote and uninhabited, far from town, but with many close to the dive sites since waves do crash into the dozens of small islands dotted along the barrier reef. These beautiful rarely visited beaches are easily reached during intervals by swimming, snorkeling, or kayaking ashore.
Trips with Children
Eclipse has proven to be the best trip available in Palau for families. There really is no other way for parents to experience the superb diving in Palau while still having time to share the wonder of such a rich environment with their children. With great snorkeling available between dives and kayaks for all during intervals, our trips make a memorable family legacy. In fact, families with children represent a large portion of our repeat guests. When asked about the minimum age we recommend for children aboard we advise that children should be mature enough to willingly take directions from adults. In fact, we insist that children listen to their parents. It is a matter of safety, after all. Safari can include a child or two by converting the dining area into a berth each night, but Eclipse is far better for family trips since all can have their own cabin and berth.
Trips with Non-Divers
Many divers have non certified friends or relatives they love to vacation with, or even wish they could introduce to diving. Eclipse can do it all. With all the other activities we have available, non divers can be fully engaged. We even do a couple fabulous trips each year without any Scuba divers at all. Here is your chance to show your friends what they are missing. We can also do one-on-one intro dives with the non certified, but think that getting Open Water certification while aboard will cut too deeply into a fabulous vacation.
Eclipse is a terrific sailing boat and some guests really want the experience of taking the wheel and feeling the surge of the trade winds as she puts her rail down and quickly covers the twenty miles to the best diving areas in Palau. This is best done the first day of a trip when winds are favorable and decks free of dive gear. But most are here for the diving and excellent wreck dives can be visited on the way south, so getting in a couple dives the first day usually takes precedence over sailing.
A must for most visitors to Palau, we take guests there almost every week. Jellyfish Lake is not very close to the most extraordinary reef diving so we usually go there the first or last day of a trip while on the way. Since this amazing place is always a snorkel and never dived with scuba gear, the last day is usually best, particularly if guests are flying that night and need to decompress the last day aboard instead of diving.
Frequently Asked Questions
• How do we find Eclipse? When can we move onboard?
We will pick you at the airport or your hotel and take you to the boat at Sam’s Tours. Guests move aboard Eclipse Wednesday afternoon, Safari on Saturday afternoon, so that unpacking, checking gear and discussing objectives and options over a couple beers doesn’t cut into your six action packed days starting the next morning.
• How rough are the waters typically in Palau? If we are prone to seasickness will this be a rough trip for us?
Not rough at all. The prevailing winds and waves from November through June are out of the northeast, opposite the side of the islands where all the best diving is found. That is the reason for Palau’s “high season”. Eclipse does not do dive trips from July through September, only occasionally in October, since that time of year the wind blows from the southwest, onshore at Palau’s most celebrated dives, occasionally hard enough to disrupt diving a week at a time. Safari is more flexible since she can more easily seek a calm anchorage if onshore swells become too uncomfortable for easy sleep.
• Is there a generator on board such that we can use our laptops to download pictures ‘n such?
Yes, we have generators aboard both boats and can run everything, 12 volts, 110 volts or 220 volts. We also have power inverters so that we can charge camera and strobe batteries and run laptops when the generator may not be running. The generator is used principally to power the scuba compressor aboard Eclipse, on Safari the generator also powers air conditioning, so runs far more.
• Will we have lights so we can read or play games at night?
Yes, there are bright lights over the cockpit table aboard Eclipse, and over the salon table on Safari, plus reading lights over each berth on both boats.
• Is it possible to do Jellyfish Lake while chartering our own dive yacht?
We go there every week.
• With 4 people, can we do as many dives as we want per day? We would probably like to do 4-5 per day.
You are welcome to dive as much as you like. Most guests do four dives a day; five is achieved by a few. But the first and last days of the trip involve three hours or more travel time so the number of dives is necessarily less. We do great night dives, too, on Palau’s famous walls, something not offered by the dive shops in Koror because of the distance.
• Is Nitrox available?
No, not readily, Nitrox apparatus is too expensive to justify for the small number of divers we serve. On the upside, the best reef diving in Palau is not very deep. We easily get one hour bottom times four times a day.
• How bad are the bugs that bite?
Non existent, for the most part, there is no standing water in the Rock Islands or near any dive sites. Mosquitoes are only found where people live, Koror and Peleliu, and we can protect you there in any event.
• Will there be opportunities for stops on land to hike around, relax on a beach or mingle with the locals?
Yes, we are often anchored near uninhabited beaches and islands that you are welcome to visit by kayak, on foot, or snorkeling. But locals are only encountered in towns, like Koror and Peleliu, or on passing boats.
• Can we increase the trip to 7, 8, 9 days – or does it have to be 6 or 10 days?
No, intermediate length trips mess up our scheduling. But there is so much to experience in Palau that ten or twelve day trips are superb.
• What kind of food will we be eating?
Fabulous, a bit spicy, definitely exotic, with fresh local veggies. Charlie and Rene are both great with fresh caught fish. In addition to her native North China cuisine Charlie does great Mexican, Japanese, Korean and Thai specialties each week as well.
• Will we be freezing the whole time…is it cold or warm at night?
Hey, we are only seven degrees north of the Equator; if not for the ocean it would be too hot to live! Seriously, we have electric fans over each berth to insure comfortable sleeping. Fortunately, air conditioning is not essential in Palau, but is always available on Safari. Do bring a light rain jacket or wind breaker, also a long sleeve shirt, big hat, and polarized sunnies, cheap one work fine. Dive booties are adequate for the hike to Jellyfish Lake.
• Is there bottled water and sodas available in addition to beer and rum punch?
Always, ice cold, too.
• We like camping and such, but is this going to be a ton of work? How much work do we have to do on the boat?
No dishes to wash, or floors to sweep, or tanks to fill, that’s the crew’s job. Our chefs are so inspirational they often get offers to help. But with such small galleys, it is better for guests to just watch and learn instead. About the only time we like assistance is when guest choose to sail Eclipse. Guests are welcome to steer either boat if they like.
• How do we get in and out of the water with dive gear? Is there a small zodiac or some similar smaller boat to take to dive sites and for easier entry/exit?
While we have large inflatable launches with outboards along for safety, we have found it far more convenient to dive directly from our charter boats, so no transferring gear, tanks and guests in and out of small boats all day. The reason the large liveaboards use an outboard powered speed boat for diving is so they don’t have to move from their moorings all week, thus saving a lot of fuel. Our efficient yachts use less fuel that even their outboards, and are far more comfortable while traveling between dive sites. Eclipse has a boarding ladder extending well below the surface for easy climbing out, and tanks are filled right where divers suit up on the cabin top. Safari has a custom dive deck, the design based on our years of experience diving aboard Eclipse. It is four feet wide extending across the full ten foot width of the stern, with fill whips and tank racks, seating and gear compartments for easy suiting up, less than a foot above the water. A large ladder extends well below the surface, and a warm fresh water rinse available on deck. This is the best system we have yet seen for safe and convenient diving, and by far the most comfortable conveyance between dive sites as well.
• Do you have life jackets or a life boat in case the boat gets crushed by some strange Micronesia whale or something?
No strange whales here, but both boats have full safety gear, flotation jackets, radios, phones, oxygen, and hard bottom inflatables with powerful outboards.
• Do we need to bring towels?
No, nor sheets either, these trips are not camping out.
• Is there somewhere where we could safely lock up luggage that would not be going on the boat with us?
Yes, the rental locker at Sam’s Tours has secured space for luggage.
• Are there ever opportunities to stop on land during the week to get a good full shower in? Is the shower onboard fresh water?
No, we dive in wilderness areas, 20 to 30 miles from town. The sun warmed showers aboard Eclipse are fresh water, always available after dives, and remarkably refreshing. Safari not only has fresh warm showers on deck, but full hot showers down below, but not unlimited amounts of water. Safari is still a boat, after all.