Of the three dive trips, this was the one I was most anticipating, and unfortunately, the lowlight of our diving.
Booking a Manta dive during a peak season was a lot more difficult than I expected, and we almost didn’t get to do it. Because we also chose to have D and Damon snorkel the site, we were limited to a single dive (not a pre-dive and manta dive). We left with Aquatic Life Divers from the same docks we dove in the previous day, with a single dive master, Liliana, for the five or so of us diving, and a lead for the three snorkelers.
There are times when no manta show, but for us, we did get to see one for a minute or two, but… that was it. A highlight for this trip was actually the snorkelers, they got to see three or four manta in the area they went to. The organization of all the operators coming out and adding their lights to the “bonfire” is always impressive, and hopefully the next time I come out, there are a lot more rays to see.
The other interesting thing I encountered was a flounder that I had totally missed for several minutes, hanging out on a rock right in front of our waiting spot. Tripp says he saw it pretty early, but it seemed pretty camouflaged to me!
Having purchased new short booties for Tripp, and checking in with Jack’s the day we arrived, I was excited for this dive in Kona. The area is my favorite to dive in, and I’m grateful we had the opportunity to book a dive trip.
We headed out to the docks in the morning and got everything setup. I’m pretty used to Jack’s being a fully staffed company, with young dive masters and instructors in training. For this dive, though, we got two fairly seasoned DMs, one leading a group with high end camera gear, the other leading the group of new and fairly-new divers.
I was fairly worried going into this dive that there would be a repeat of the issues and anxieties of the last dives, but nothing of the sort happened at the start. Getting in the water was a breeze, we followed the group the entire dive.
“Lone Tree” refers to a spot on the short that used to have a single tree on the rocks. That tree is long gone, but the dive site name has remained. The arch is a fairly large swim-through that leads to some great photo spots.
After a good dive, at the time we decided to ascend, Tripp was already down at about 500psi. We’re initially taught to go up earlier than that, and the pre-dive had talked about when we planned to head back, and when we planned to start the ascent. Tripp was extremely worried about his low air, and didn’t want to do the safety stop. I kept getting him to stay down at 15 feet, and his worry kept growing as he saw the air creep closer to 0. There’s no good way to communicate that, we’re at 15 feet, even if it hit zero here, you’d be okay. We’re better doing the safety stop than heading up. The only think I could do is keep pulling him to me each time he started to ascend.
This led to Tripp not wanting to do the second dive. Add in a lack of wanting to eat a sandwich with sprouts on it, and he wasn’t too keen on diving. However, the second dive location had recently seen a white-tipped shark, and that was enough to overcome his reluctance to dive again, and get back in the water.
While we didn’t get to see the shark, as we didn’t make it that far out from the boat, we did see an awesome coral that routinely held a group of fish that would swim out from nesting in the coral when you approached, and also held a crab. We also got to see a viper eel on this dive. Tripp was a lot more comfortable, and overall, this was diving as I’m used to. Comfortable, fun, full of life, and a great experience.
Our plan coming into Oahu was to do a night dive the day we arrived. We had a wedding to attend, non-divers to keep occupied, and a flight to Kona to consider leaving enough decompression time to achieve.
The day we arrived into Oahu, we had plenty of time to get the dive going, had confirmed our dive reservation, and were ready to go. By the early evening though, we got a message that the current was too bad, and our dive was canceled. Looking through our schedule, I made arrangements with the dive operator (Banzai Divers) to dive the morning before our flight, as long as they were relatively shallow dives. However, after the wedding concluded, the day before the dive, they canceled due to an ear infection with the dive master.
Frantic calls to every dive shop ensued throughout the reception dinner. Calling for a “next day” dive proved almost impossible. One shop was kind enough to send me a list of ten different dive operators to contact. The ninth one on that list, fortunately, had availability, though it was quite a ways away. We booked with Reef Pirates and had a dive set.
Dive Anxiety and Equipment Issues
We made it down to the Hanauma area in the morning, and to the little strip mall containing the dive operator. The coolest part of their setup; the strip mall backed up to the water, and so the boat left straight from the “closet” that was their shop.
One other diver accompanied us, so we set sail to our first dive location and got ready to enter the water. Tripp couldn’t get into his full-size booties, so he went barefoot in his fins (mistake one!) When we dropped into the water, almost immediately his fin came off. This being his first dive since certification a year prior, his anxiety levels skyrocketed, and he canceled his dive. However, with the help of the boat captain, and the spare fins they had on the boat (all the way down to XXXS!), he made his way back into the water and we descended.
Things from that point didn’t go great. This is the first time I’ve dove with a true beginner, and non-adult, and having started already in a bad place, Tripp did not enjoy the dive at all. In fact, we told the DM to go ahead with the other diver, and three times, we ascended (slowly, fortunately) to the surface, to communicate, deal with issues, and then descend again to try to continue the dive. We did get about 20 minutes of real dive time, but after coming to the surface quite a ways from the boat, and an unsuccessful attempt to swim back, Tripp was done.
A boat ride and a surface interval later, the captain and dive master had talked quite a bit to Tripp about how normal some of the anxieties are. With a goal of seeing turtles at the next dive site, Tripp convinced himself not to worry, but to just do the dive and enjoy it. That self-mantra worked! This time, we made it down, and had a good, full length dive with the dive master and other diver.
It was interesting talking to Tripp afterwards, and hearing the personal struggles he went through and overcame. The decision he made to enjoy the second dive meant that he did! The equipment issues not being present in dive two meant he could just enjoy the entirety of the dive. I worried about the future plans for three more dives, but it seemed that, since he did succeed at one, we could succeed at the next, till the anxieties were gone. And the fin issue and other issues are all preventable and manageable.
The Dive Highlights
The dives weren’t all management of the dive process, I’d be remiss to not talk about the fifty or so minutes of actual diving that happened.
Oahu isn’t nearly as full of life as Kona, but it definitely is better than anything on the West Coast. Since we didn’t travel too far from the boat on dive one, the majority of what we saw was sand, coral, and small amounts of life. That first dive was dominated by the dive process.
The second dive, though, had a lot more of what I’d expect in Hawai’i. Trumpetfish, schools of squirrel fish under the overhangs, tang and butterfly fish, puffer fish, etc. Not quite in the abundance I recall, but definitely a normal variety of Hawai’ian sea life. The highlight for me, though were two items. Several (I think four) turtles, and the best moray experience I’ve had. While moray eels are often peeking out of some hole, trying to find their next meal, or just intimidate some diver, this guy made his way out of his spot and swam out while we were watching. I’ve never gotten to see (or video) a moray swimming during a dive.
I’m happy we were able to make it out to dive, and doubly happy that we didn’t do a night dive as our first dive. I think, had we had the equipment issues at night, we wouldn’t have had a single full dive in Oahu. The cluster that was booking this dive was, in hindsight, a great thing.
The last time I took a personal vacation to a dive area, I lugged my full set of gear, and yet never got in the water for diving. So with a karate-focused trip planned to Okinawa, I decided to go to the other extreme, and carry only my C-Card, the bare minimum to dive.
After a couple of days in Naha, our group went up to Chatan to be near our training locations. A typical morning and evening had me walking along the Sunabe Sea Wall, and I saw that, all times of day, there were tens of divers out in the water. The inspiration these groups gave me to look around for a dive operator was strong. I spent an hour or two, visiting several of the many local dive shops, till I found what I thought would be the one. However, between the time I was visiting the shops and deciding to book, one of the shops I couldn’t find returned my call via text, and I arranged a dive with Okinawa 39ers.
The Dive Logistics
Typically, dealing with a dive operator and a boat excursion, you arrive at their shop, they take you to their boat, and you make your way out to the dive spots. However, in Okinawa, it seems the MO is for the dive operators to go to a dock and share a boat amongst themselves that they hire from a fisherman. Dai picked me up at my hotel at about 7am and we drove a half hour or so north to Manza.
One major advantage to this kind of setup… between each dive we docked back up, and our lunches, snacks, gear, personal effects, were all left in the van while we went out diving. No scarfing down food and killing time on the boat while at a distant location, or traveling to the next dive spot. Instead, we got to stand on firm land, wash down with fresh water, and enjoy our hour between dives in a much more comfortable spot.
Another interesting finding on this style of dive; the original group I was going to book with was on the same boat. I got essentially the same dive, for about $50 less cost! And I have absolutely no complains about Dai as a divemaster, he was fantastic to work with and dive with.
Our first of the three dives was out to Nakayukui. Unfortunately, while I began this blog in earnest after the dive, it was four years later till I hit submit. My recollections of the dive are slim, but my notes say I saw two lionfish at the start of the dive, an interesting disintegrated net, snd some big boy fish.
It had been a while since I dove, and the difference in protocol between some of my previous dives and this were apparent. When we hit the 3 minute safety stop, I planned to swim around a bit at 13-17 feet, as we were in a shallow spot, but Dai wanted me to stay put on the anchor line, so I got a wee bit reprimanded.
The second dive out, I encountered some problems with the BCD. It wouldn’t release air unless I was 100% vertical. I know air travels up, but my personal gear is much more forgiving.
This vest was definitely giving me a bit more problems. We went down a hole starting at 7m depth and down to 27, with a sand floor and a wall. We exited out a hole shaped like Pikachu, and swam the rest of the 41 minute dive.
Our final stop was a wall dive, from about 7 to 40m. There was some beautiful purple and yellow nudibranch, a school of around 20 box fish, and about 10 lion fish on this dive. We swam out about 80m from the boat to hit the wall, and meandered our way back on a 47 minute dive trip.
One thing is for certain, getting here was worth the dive, but next time, we fly!
The boat over to Saba, just a seventy minute boat ride off the coast of St Maarten, was fast and furious, leading to more than one pale or green face, and a lot of blank stares out towards the horizon. Arrival into the island was by way of a little port, with a small road leading straight uphill to the town of “The Bottom.” The three local dive operators have storefronts alongside the power plant and two restaurants that occupy the port. Selecting Saba Deep as my dive operator was very scientific: it was the only one of the three that our hotel booking agent had heard of.
The shop was small, but friendly, and as for the staff, they were great. Suggestions to pre-order lunch with the restaurant above the shop, so that we could still get to eat, and make the return trip on time, were well received by the divers. After mentioning that I hadn’t eaten yet, and that the only thing the restaurant offered that I could take with me was potato salad, they directed me to an item on the menu that could be made in less than the ten minutes it would take before the boat was taking off. This type of common kindness and courtesy has lacked on some previous charters I’ve taken, and it was nice to see.
The captain and divemaster had already taken our gear down to the boat and gotten all of the rigs set up on tanks by the time we got down and set out for the south-west coast of the island.
It took a while to find a dive site that wasn’t too choppy to dive, or too deep to give us much time. The first dive was at Ladder Labyrinth, an area around the site where the original Saba settlers had to hike goods up before the port and road were built. The site had fingers of lava extending from the mountain, covered in coral and offering the area life. The first thing to strike me here was a new type of coral that I hadn’t seen in my recollection. While tube coral I’m used to seeing, this larger tube (whose name I don’t know yet), was amazing in its texture and size.
The second thing to amaze me was my first encounter with a seahorse. The little guy wasn’t moving much, or at all, but I’ve met divers with hundreds of dives under their belts who’ve never seen one. The divemaster said that one had been hanging around this site, and that she’d set off trying to find it once we got down. After she didn’t find it, I had lost hope, but on our return after our time was up, she flagged us all down, and we got to see it hanging out on a rock right below our boat.
Our second dive was a drift through a lot of varying reef types, from crevices between large rocks, to boulders and lava fingers. We started the dive with a shark swimming off (which I didn’t get to see), and a ray on the sea floor. The drift took us through a lot of varying sea life, with an abundance of nudibranchs, small schooling fish and larger ocean fish (one barracuda that I got a photo of its tail end departing). Box fish, butterflies, and other species that I typically associate with warm tropics were in abundance, and while the life was plentiful, and much more like what I expect in warm water diving, this dive was not much different than many others that I’ve been on; which is to say, I loved it, and would go back in an instant.
After heading back to shore, the operators dismantled and cleaned our gear, while we all enjoyed the lunch we’d pre-ordered. On our way back out to the return boat to St Maarten, I watched other divers cleaning their own gear and doing their own work. I guess my random choice was a good one, since the sites were great, the divemasters great too, and the shop was the most customer-service friendly of the three.
Amazing. Absolutely surreal. The pictures won’t do it any justice, because, frankly, making pictures in the dark of 1″ critters that the camera can’t really focus on is only possible with gear much nicer than my own.
The dive started out about three miles from shore, and drifted with the current. A parachute attached to the front of the boat kept it moving in the direction of the current, five ropes weighted down kept us first-timers from getting too distracted and sinking too far, and from that on, it was just “shine the light, and look two feet in front of your face.”
The most embarrassing point of this dive was when I nearly hit my head on the bottom of the boat. The only good part about that is that two of the other four divers did the same thing, so I wasn’t alone in my distraction. You don’t feel like you’re moving when you’re just floating and following something that’s an inch or three long, but when you’ve found that you dropped twenty more feet, or rose (fortunately slowly) twenty feet.
The best pics definitely came from Josh, and I must give him credit for this one directly, as none of my pics were half as good as his two best, so that’s what you’re looking at here.
Let me just say, that dive made this entire trip to Kona worth it. Seven massive rays, flying around, brushing (or knocking into) the top of our heads, twirling, dancing, feeding… it was absolutely amazing. The pictures and video just don’t do it justice. While I can’t say it’s my best dive ever, it was amazingly unique, wonderful, and an astounding experience.
The videos don’t do justice to the experience. The lighting is a bit off, and the clips range from short to long, but they’re absolutely worth visiting. The dive just reinforced to me why I like Jack’s. Their crew are great, with a great attitude, the dives they choose are wonderful, and I can’t understate that anyone going into Kona NEEDS to do one of these dives.
Highlights: Back in a more pleasant dive environment, and the Javanese Lowlights: How can you not see ANY eels at a site called eel cove?
Josh and I went out on this, my thirty-something dive, back again with Jack’s Diving Locker, my favorite charter I’ve used over the past few years. As always, the boat was amazingly clean and nice, the crew was laid back and fun, and the location, well, I came back to Kona for a reason, ya?
The first site we dove was called Pipe Dreams. As you can see by the album cover, it’s an area where the energy lab placed some large pipes to do research, and in this case, one giant pipe that they laid just to see how well pipe held up in the environment. This pipe is the only remaining segment from that experiment, and is, as always, teeming with life. The neatest part is that insite, a giant Javanese Eel was hanging out.. and I do mean giant. Probably two to three feet in diameter. It spooked and swam away, just as I was going to take a picture, but it was an amazing sight.
Also spectacular on the first dive was my first octopus sighting. I didn’t get a good look, as it had wedged itself under a rock, but the blinking eye and the one look at the suckers on its tentacles were enough to make me smile in memory. Other than that, what this dive gave me was a remembrance of why I loved Kona so much, the color, and life well exceed the other dive vacations I’ve taken.
The second dive, at “Eel Cove” was quite the disappointment. Our DM Shep mentioned that the last time he dove the site, he saw no less than eight different species of eel, and that I might get to once again see a dragon eel (which I’ve seen now twice, and are quite beautiful). The grand total at the end of the dive for eel sightings were a whopping zero.
That’s right, no eels in eel cove, at least for us. I did get a great shot of a pair of lizardfish, had fun getting swarmed a few times by schools of raccoon butterflyfish hoping that I scare away the parent fish on guard over their egg nests, and got to see a couple of beautiful cornetfish and trumpetfish. So in honesty, a good dive, only disappointing in the expectation of numerous eel.
Molokini was a huge disappointment. The center of the crater is so over-dove, that there was very remaining coral and life. Yes, I’m excited that I got to see a 5-6′ black-tipped reef shark, and many young spotted boxfish, but the dive was also dominated by a beginner who breathed so heavily he ran out of air quickly, and the second dive was cut short while I still had 700psi to go, getting pulled out so the operator could depart.
We did see a gray reef shark and a white-tipped reef shark on the second dive, and an unusual box-fish with spots top and bottom, white stripes at the corners, and black sides. But overall I will not be visiting Molokini again, at least not the inside of the crater.
One other thing about diving with the old timers, they weren’t particularly fond of cutting a dive short due to newbie divers. Our surface time was spent on learning to breathe. Lessons about how, holding your breath and not actively exhaling are two different things, yoga type breathing, and more. This showed in our 56 minute and 66 minute bottom times, with massive depth to start.
The first dive was impressive with the amount of ocean life. Triggers, hybrid butterflies, tangs, and more. While the second dive, I learned lessons on dive plan management, and extending bottom time through a long, shallow finish after a deep start.