Anyone who has dived in a popular destination such as the Red Sea will know that good, accessible dive sites tend to attract several boat loads of scuba lovers, so you may be in spectacular marine surroundings, but in the company of other divers. The solution? Take the seven seas aboard a luxury live-aboard dive boat, exploring reefs and islands as and when you decide, and far from the madding crowds. Even better; where live-aboards were once a byword for function over form, designed for divers far more interested in spectacular aquatic scenery than spectacular comfort above the waves, many of the new generation of luxury live-aboards rival their landlubbing chic boutique hotels for sophisticated accommodation, service and cuisine. Dive in with six of the best from around the globe:
Mere attention to detail would seem slapdash to perfectionist Patti Seery, owner of the stunning Silolona, a traditional Indonesian phinisi two-masted sailing ship. Patti employed the finest Sulawesi boat builders to create Silolona, in my opinion the beautiful blueprint for all new liveaboards in Raja Ampat and Komodo (including her sister boat Si Datu Bua), generally regarded as the finest dive destination in the world. There are just five suites, a sublime deck area, exceptional Asian fusion fare from the onboard chef and an extremely well thought out dive centre and professional dive team on board. On the subject of the team, the boat itself may be a stunner, but Silolona’s secret sauce is definitely the completely charming and friendly crew. Non divers can snorkel above pristine reefs and enjoy day trips to deserted islands.
True North may not be a liveaboard in the strictest sense, but this expedition cruiser explores some of the wildest and woolliest parts of the Pacific, including the Kimberley in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Cenderawasih Bay Marine Park in Indonesia’s West Papua. The latter trip sees guests diving and snorkeling with the normally elusive whale sharks who have developed a fascinating relationship with local fishermen (who feed them sardines, basically). Back on board, True North is big enough (18 berths) to have space for a sundeck, observation lounge and another lounge where marine biologists and on-board naturalists give presentations on what guests can expect to see beneath the waves.
OK, so she’s not as uber-luxurious as some of the other entries on this list, but Nautilus Belle Amie is still extremely comfortable and spacious and offers the opportunity to experience one of the world’s great dive regions – the Revillagigedo Archipelago. Socorro Island and its neighbours far out in the Pacific are famed for their giant manta and (ten types of) shark, although this is diving for experienced divers only. The specifically wide-beamed Nautilus Belle Amie is the perfect liveaboard to reach these remote islands, with a supremely knowledgeable and friendly team of dive masters on hand, as well as a chef who cooks up a mean Mexican.
Take a Four Seasons hotel and transfer the slick service levels and comfort onboard and you have possibly the ultimate liveaboard experience – Four Seasons Explorer is a stunning catamaran that explores the superb dive sites that can’t be reached from any of the island nation’s luxury resorts. The dive set up is as immaculate as you’d expect, from the team to the equipment and the dive deck facilities, and throw in desert island barbecue dinners and cultural tours (particularly in the outer atolls) and this is a deeply civilized way to enjoy the Maldives.
Richard Branson’s catamaran is one of the best ways to sail the Caribbean, and as with namesake Necker Island, the service is top notch. The diving in the West Indies in general may not rival that in Indonesia but some individual dive sites that you can explore are right up there, such as the wreck of the RMS Rhone, which featured in classic 70s movie The Deep. Necker Belle is available for private hire only so you’ll need deep pockets, but the BVIs are perfect for charters, and the diving is about as good as it gets in the Caribbean.
New for 2016 from Stefano and Giorgio Barbini, the ridiculously stylish couple who own San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge (now White Deer), comes Blue Deer, a catamaran with interiors and attention to detail to rival their Dolomites lodge. Blue Deer will spend winters in the Caribbean but we’re particularly excited about her summers along the Italian coast. Dive the crystal clear waters off the Aeolian Islands, or just enjoy la dolce vita aboard a floating luxury lodge.