Cold Water Kitty

It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Fiji 2019

We returned to Fiji and this time we did a 10-day liveaboard on the Nai'a.  We had a great time on the Nai'a last time (which was a 7 day charter).  Our favorite dives were at Somosomo Strait and Namena Reserve.  I was under the (correct) impression that they don't usually go to Somosomo Strait on 7 day trips, which was part of the motivation behind doing a 10 day trip this time.  Apparently (at least these days) they don't routinely go to Somosomo Strait on any trips on the Nai'a.  So that was a bit of a letdown.  We did spend two days in Namena (which I think they do on every trip, whatever the length).  So while we had a great trip overall, I don't think we did the amount of great diving that you could do with 10-ish days in Fiji.  Next time I go to Fiji, I'd probably do a 7 day trip on Nai'a (to get to Namena) and a shorter land-based trip near Somosomo.  (I said the same thing after our last trip on the Nai'a, though, so who knows?)  This is mainly because I think that the soft corals are *the* reason to go to Fiji, and over our three trips to Fiji, Somosomo consistently had the best soft coral.

Actually I'm now thinking that my next trip on the Nai'a might be one of their humpback trips in Tonga.  Hmmmm.

Without further ado, the day-by-day reports are here:

Travel to Fiji and Day 1
Day 2 (Bligh Waters)
Day 3 (Bligh Waters)


Monday, May 6, 2019

Fiji 2019: Day 10

On the last day, we did 3 dives.  I didn't do a super job of writing down notes afterward, so you get a short report.  Rob had camera problems of some sort (auto-focus wasn't working) so there are also no pictures.  So I'm using some pictures from other days.

Pinnacles

This site was a pinnacle with a surprising amount of open soft coral, considering how little current there was.  We spent a lot of time at the top of the pinnacle, which in addition to the usual variety of little tropical fish, had a huge bait ball (of fusiliers I think) that was hanging out just off of the pinnacle.  I spent a while just hanging out on top, staring at the bait ball.

Breakfast was fried eggs with bacon and potatoes. And banana bread.  Yum.

Golden sunset

This site consisted of a bunch of fairly flat squat pinnacles (if you can call them that) which was fun to swim around, and had a lot of yellow soft coral. 

For lunch we had lentil soup and Caesar salad.

Labyrinth

This dive was not at all photogenic, but was quite fun.  The name pretty much tells you what the site was like.  The site was pretty shallow and consisted of little pinnacles with narrow channels running all throughout.  It was fun to see where we could fit and where we couldn't.  In the center of the site it was fairly open and there was one nice big coralhead.  Many of the narrower channels had sea fans in them, so I guess there were some spots that were photogenic.

After this dive, we started to motor back for the long ride back to Lautoka (where we arrived that evening).  Boohoo.  For our last night, there was a "chef's buffet" that had lots of tasty food on it.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Fiji 2019: Day 9 (Vatu-I-Ra)

We had a slightly sporty ride back to the Bligh Waters overnight, but not nearly as bad as the ride to Namena. So I didn’t sleep super well but not super badly either. But there were several naps during the day.

Dive 1: Coral Corner

Clinton sat out the first dive so it was just Rob and me (and Koroi) on this dive. Conditions were supposed to be favorable (aka high current). We decided to not spend too much time in the early sections of the reef, but to concentrate on the little triangle of reef off of the wall (which Rob had completely missed on the previous dive here) and then the last section of wall (for however long we could manage to stay on it in the current). When we first dropped into the water it was cold! My gauge said 27C (when most of the week it has been 29C). Luckily it was just a cold patch off of the wall. We actually dropped a bit early and had to drift before seeing the site.

There was quite a bit of current, mostly pulling me toward the wall, in the early section. We spent a while on the triangle-shaped reef, which has a nice side benefit that it was super easy to find little holes to hide in to avoid current. So we’d be up off the reef getting whacked by the current for a while and then I’d drop into a little depressed area to catch my breath.

Eventually we made it to the final section of the reef, which looked awesome it was covered in yellow fuzzy soft corals with various shades of purple throughout. And man was the current ripping, this time moving us along the wall. By this point in the trip, I’d mastered the art of holding on to a piece of dead coral with one finger, and it really helped here. I’d drift along, find a spot to park on. Wait for Rob to catch up, pose for some pictures (without holding on of course :P) and then drift along to the next spot. At the very end I left go and zoomed to the end of the wall and as soon as we turned the corner, there was no current at all. We hung out on that (much less pretty) wall for a few minutes and then ascended. We met up with Koroi on top of the reef and ascended together. He was looking for Rob’s wedding band for part of the dive but didn’t find it :P


For breakfast we had scrambled eggs, bacon, and potatoes. And chocolate chip muffins (yes, the plural form).

Dive 2: Maytag

After a short nap, we headed back out to Maytag. I’m not sure why this site is named that. I assumed it would be a washing machine on top, but it wasn’t. I remember diving it on the last trip and thinking the same thing. So this site las a fairly tall skinny pinnacle and a ridge covered in hard corals on the bottom at one side. We didn’t spend much time on the ridge, though at some point we did swim over to take a look. The pinnacle had a lot of nice sea fans and gorgonians, and some but not a ton of soft corals. I’d say the highlight of the dive was the insane school of fusiliers sitting on top of the pinnacle. It was huge and not at all bothered by me swimming through the school. We also saw a few green morays (one on the side of the pinnacle with some cleaner shrimp, and another on top beating up on a smaller moray) and several lion fish. Rob and Clinton both became fairly obsessed with getting shots of the lion fish, who were of course experts and turning their backs to the camera.

Dives 3 and 4: Mellow Yellow

After a bit of discussion between Rob and Chad about our options fo the afternoon, we decided to dive Mellow Yellow twice. The idea was that we’d get the current going both ways (or at least one way) so the yellow soft corals would be open on both faces. It turned out that the first dive had no current at the start and a tiny bit by the end, so the corals were just starting to open. Earl in the dive, we saw a sea turtle on the little side pinnacle and followed it for a bit. It was into a little overhang area and was munching away at something on the wall. We waited for a while(like 15 minutes) for him to come out but he never did! Even though the yellow coral wasn’t too open, at the top of the reef there were huge schools of anthias and many of the purple soft corals were open. So it wasn’t a total bust even without the yellow corals being open.

One the next dive, the current was quite a bit stronger and the yellow soft corals were really open. What a difference a couple of hours makes! The wall was a furry yellow with purple soft corals here and there. And the top of the reef where we’d hung out on the previous dive was even more spectacular, with even more schooling fish (and some big tuna or mackerel showing those guys who was boss) and lots of open purple soft corals. We had such a great time that when it was time to ascend,I had to share gas with Rob. Well I didn’t exactly *have to* but we would have skipped the safety stop otherwise (though we’d been hangin at the top in 20’ to 25’ so that was definitely optional). But you know, it’s always good to practice a gas sharing ascent, and even better to have a story to make fun of Rob with!

For dinner I had sesame snapper with a crispy rice cake. Rob got the curried chicken with vegetables and he was totally jealous of my rice cake. For dessert we had chocolate silk pie, which was approximately a brownie pie with fudge sauce on top. A lot of fudge sauce.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Fiji 2019: Day 8 (Namena)

We spent the night at Namena.

Dive 1: The Arch

This site is basically between Grand Central Station and Purple Hill. There’s a moderately sized reef structure with (surprise) an arch in the middle. There’s also a pinnacle that comes out to around 30’. As we dropped down, we checked out the sand by the wall (which had a couple of sharks swimming around plus the schools of barracuda, jacks, and snapper). We spent almost no time at the arch and it’s surrounding structures and headed back to Purple Hill. Unfortunately there wasn’t much current, so most of the soft corals were closed up. So it wasn’t nearly as pretty :(

Eventually I convinced the team to go back and check out the arch. Well convinced is a strong word. After suggesting it and not getting them to go, I swam over there myself and figured they’d eventually realize I was gone and follow me. And they eventually did, though it took disturbingly long. I feel so loved. Back over at the arch, I found a pretty nice overhang with lots of fans and stuff. It was kind of C-shaped (or 2/3 of an E shape) with a flat area and a little parallel flat area hanging over it with just enough room in there to pose a diver. So I showed it to Rob and he got some pictures.

I then headed over to the tall pinnacle to check it out. There wasn’t a ton of interesting life on the reef, but lots of little fish schooling around the top of it. So I just hung out there looking over the edge at the big stuff below, including those two sharks that were still circling in the sand. I hung out there for a while and eventually Clinton showed up and hung out with me. Rob was down on the sand shooting some snapper (I think). When he was finished, he suggested swimming out over the abyss before we started our ascent. We didn’t actually see anything but it was fun trying.

For breakfast we had a choice between banana pancakes and an omelette with potatoes. I just couldn’t decide so I ordered half and half, which was just perfect (and the petite omelette was adorable). Plus we had chocolate croissants. Omg I love those things.

Dive 2: Tetons 1

Clinton was feeling a bit under the weather so he took a nap during this dive (since we knew the third dive was at two thumbs up, he wanted to save his energy). So it was just Rob and me, plus one other diver (Yeng) who dove with Chad. This site was a really tall skinny pinnacle going from like 10’ to 70’. There were some other little pinnacles just off of the bottom in slightly deeper water. But we didn’t really spend anytime on those. We basically just circled around and around. I swear we swam around it like 20 times. There were spots with lots of sea fans and gorgonians and crinoids, though not a lot of soft corals (well not a lot of soft coral soft coral, but a lot of things I might generically call soft corals). And there were tons of anthias along the side of the pinnacle, not just the top. They were blurple with orange along the tops (I can’t quite figure out what they are from the ID book). There was also a grey reef shark at the bottom of the pinnacle occasionally making an appearance.

Overall I’d say this pinnacle was pretty impressive and a fun dive, but not especially photogenic. The top was surprisingly barren. There was a anemone with some clownfish that I tried to video, but it was a total washing machine up there, so that didn’t work. I guess it’s not a very hospitable area for stuff to grow. When we left to ascend, we swam off the pinnacle, since it’s crazy shallow. We found a HUGE barracuda drifting along like 3 feet below the surface on our way up.

Dive 3: Two Thumbs Up

We went back to two thumbs up, and once again we started at the outer pinnacle, went to check out the other one, and then came back. But there was more current this time, so the soft corals were a lot more open for the entire dive. Yay! One other exciting (but undocumented) find on the dive was a Pygmy sea horse, at the bottom of the pinnacle, all out in the open and photogenic. Boohoo. Still wide angle was the right lens for this dive :)

I also found a dark blue/black nembrotha that we hadn’t seen yet on this trip, so I showed that to the boys. Aside from those couple of macro finds, I spent most of the dive either posing for pictures, or hanging out on top of the pinnacles, bobbing around with all of the anthias and clownfish on top :)

Dive 4: Schoolhouse

I wasn’t sure if this dive was worth doing (I was getting cold and tired from all of the diving) but it was a lot of fun. There’s a deep wall, starting at like 70’ or 80’ which you swim along, and there are these coral fingers reaching out from the wall. So you will be swimming along the wall with sand on the top of the wall, and then there will suddenly be a coral structure on top of the wall that will be buzzing with fish, etc. in the sand, we’d see wall creatures like sharks (we saw both greys and whitetips) and schooling jacks, plus lots of those turquoise trigger fish on the wall. Aside from all of the generic reef top fish life, we saw several lion fish, some big sweetlips, and a trumpetfish trying to be BFFs with a grouper, which was hilarious to watch.

For dinner we had chicken with coconut rice and green beans and for dessert we had panda cotta with tropical fruit.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Fiji 2019: Day 7 (Namena!)

The crossing to Namena was pretty rough. I don’t think anyone slept too well. Luckily I fell asleep around 9 so I got a couple hours of sleep before it got rough. We woke up at Namena (on the south side) and it was very windy. Big steep whitecaps windy. Getting on the skiffs and into gear on the skiffs was a bit of an ordeal.

Dive 1: Tetons 2

There were only eight divers doing the first dive, so we took one skiff. This site has a fairly squat pinnacle going from like 15’ to 60’, and on one side there is a ridge that kind of wraps around the bottom. The top of the pinnacle had tons of anthias on it. There were a few spots along the side with nice patches of soft coral and sea fans. There was some current so it was kind of a chore getting around the pinnacle to just the spot you wanted. Eventually I figured out it was easier to go the top and swim across the top to where you wanted to go. But it was a total washing machine up there :P. But that was where most of the good stuff was, so I just hung out up there, getting swooshed around in the surge. My average depth for the dive was 6.5 meters (I have a metric gauge... long story).

There was also a Napoleon wrasse swimming around the whole dive.

Dive 2: Two Thumbs Up

This is my favorite site in Fiji. It consists of two tall skinny pinnacles (from 15’ to 70’) as well as some lower lying ridges. I think the nicest parts are from about 30’ and up on the two pinnacles. The pinnacles remind me of Compost, though they are much skinnier. We started on the “outer” pinnacle (whatever that means) and the other skiff started on the inner pinnacle. There were still only 8 of us between the two skiffs, so there was plenty of room on the site.

Before we left the big boat, Vanessa mentioned that there should be current but things might be running late based on the state of the first site. When we got to the pinnacle there was very little current and most of the soft corals were closed. Some patches were open, but overall it was pretty disappointing. Of course there were still zillions or anthias on top of the pinnacle and lots of nice looking sea fans and hard corals on the side.

We swam over to the other pinnacle after about 20 minutes and spent some time there. There was a Napoleon wrasse with a remora, which I tried to get some video of. After swimming around that pinnacle a couple times, we headed back to the first one. The current had picked up and when we got back, a lot more of the soft corals were open. Woot! So we hung out on that for a long time. Clinton and Rob were taking pictures from all different angles, and I was mostly just bobbing around on the top with the anthias :)

On our first day briefing, we were told that there is no time limit on dives and we definitely tested that on this dive :). When we surfaced, the skiff was waiting just off the pinnacle for us. Everyone else was back on the big boat.

For lunch I had a roasted veggie panini. It was super tasty.

Dive 3: Kansas

We motored to the north side of Namena for the afternoon. There was some concern that it would be too rough and we’d have to retreat to the south side, but it ended up being a bit flatter on the north side. Getting geared up in the skiff was a bit less frightening. This site has the wheat-looking Sinularia soft coral flapping in the breeze, hence the name of the site. We dove this site as a night dive on our last trip. Maybe we dove it during the day too, but I only remember the night dive.

This site is pretty boring, at least as a wide angle site. The Sinularia is neat to look at for a bit, but it’s not really photogenic and it’s not entertaining to look at for more than a few minutes. There is one pretty photogenic spot on this site, which is like a rectangular frame with soft corals growing inside and outside it, and a diver can swim through the inside. Other than that, there are garden eels in the sand. Eventually I got bored, so I started looking for macro critters. I found a ton of blennies, a pipefish (burgundy and white striped, I’d seen two of these during the previous div and Rob found one more later on during this dive), and a purple Flabellina on a hydroid (finally!). When it got to the point where we were all pointing our macro critters to each other, I figure everyone was bored and I called the dive.

Dive 4: Grand Central Station

This was a super fun dive. We’ve done it on our previous two trips but I don’t think we really did it right.

When I rolled into off of the skiff, I managed to do a complete somersault under water before popping back to the surface. I think that’s literally the first time that’s ever happened to me on a back roll entry. When I popped to the surface, the boat was drifting out of Rob’s reach to get his camera. I was just within reach so I grabbed it and handed it to Rob. Super nerve wracking, especially over a very deep wall :). There’s a wall that tops out at 80’ to 100’. At the top of the wall is a big sandy flat area. The idea is that lots of big stuff (sharks, barracudas, schools of snapper, jacks, big tuna, rays, turtles) come up from the deep. In the past we hung out on the sandy area and watched stuff come by. Today we drifted along the wall instead, which was a lot more fun. Shortly after we got to the bottom, Rob took a big helicopter kick right next to me and kicked my reg out of my mouth. Not like a little bobble where I had to grab it with my teeth, but one moment it was there and the next I could hear it free-flowing and couldn’t find it. I had to switch to my necklace and find it :P

Anyhoo, we were kind of deep, so it wasn’t a super long dive, but it was neat looking down (down down) the wall and out into the abyss. We saw lots of barracudas of different kinds and a few sharks. Plus schools of snapper. And tons of these turquoise trigger fish (or as I prefer to call them, those fish with the floppy fins). Eventually we came up off of the wall and drifted with the current until we hit a reef called Purple Hill (which I didn’t know it was called that at the time). The current was really blowing so the soft corals were all open. But because it was really blowing it made it pretty tough to pose for and take pictures. But it was super fun drifting by and looking at all of the purple soft corals.

When we were finished we did a drifting ascent. We hung out for a few minutes since it had been a deep dive, and we drifted by Kansas and saw the other skiff’s divers on the top.

For dinner we had kokoda and steak and for dessert we had chocolate mousse.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Fiji 2019: Day 6 (Gau)

We headed back to the other end of the island in the morning and dove the outside of the fringing reef.

Dive 1: Jungle jig

This site is just outside and to the left of the channel. It was a rather sporty ride to the site and Vanessa warned us that it might be a bit surfy in the shallows, so we probably be better off staying a bit deeper and ascending off the reef at the end of the dive. There is a gently sloping that becomes more of a wall as you go deeper, with a pinnacle just off of the wall. The pinnacle comes up to 80’ and that is where we spent most of our time on the dive. Rob and Clinton were both shooting macro. We found a little turtle almost immediately when we got to the pinnacle. He was pretty friendly. Other than that, we saw a bunch of pipefish, a coral with some bubble shrimp, and some strange mantis shrimp. The top of the pinnacle had hard corals and lots of little fish (like anthias). Overall it was a nice dive with excellent viz.

French toast with bananas and coconut for breakfast.

Dive 2: Nigali pass

We did the shark dive one more time. Rob decided he was tired of sharks (?) so he went up the wall on the left to look for reef shots while Clinton and I did the shark dive again. The viz was a bit better today. We saw more white tip sharks including two snoozing on the reef. We hung out at the Y again and got lots of shark fly-bys. One shark had a little pilotfish friend accompanying him, which was pretty adorable. At the end of the channel, we saw a little turtle twice, who was pretty friendly. I think Clinton got a couple of shots.

For lunch we had chicken kebabs (there were fish kebabs too which looked very tasty) and fried rice.

Dive 3: Outside slope

After lunch we went to the outside slope of the fringing reef, to the slope near where the jungle jig pinnacle was. We didn’t plan to go to the pinnacle but Rob saw a little turtle and zipped over there quickly. This was a pretty uneventful dive. The viz was really good, so it was fun just drifting along the slope, but we didn’t see anything particularly interesting. Rob was bored so he demoed some GUE-approved kicks with his fins on his hands.

Not-Dive 4: Village visit

Instead of a fourth dive, we had a village visit to Somusomu in the afternoon. We visited a village on our last Nai’a trip, but it wasn’t the same one and it wasn’t nearly as interesting as this visit. Somusomu is a very small village (29 houses and 117 people) so we got to walk around pretty much the whole place with our guide Tom. They had lots of mango and breadfruit trees. We stopped in the kindergarten (which currently has 5 students), which is a bamboo hut but very well stocked with books inside (mostly from Nai’a passengers). We also happened upon a dog with a litter of super cute puppies so we played with them for a bit. After the tour, we went to a sort of community hall where kava root was exchanged, everyone introduced themselves, and there was some singing and dancing and some chatting with the locals. We headed back to our boat just after sunset.

For dinner I had stuffed chicken with risotto and Rob had steak and potatoes. For dessert we had brownie cheesecake with ice cream (yum yum yum). It was One of the guests’ birthday and also the anniversary of a couple so the crew sang to them.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Fiji 2019: Day 5 (Gau)

Overnight we moved to Gau Island (pronounced roughly like “now”).

Dives 1 and 2: Nigali passage

The first two dives were at Nigali passage, which is a break in the fringing reef where, at least when the tide is flowing in, there is an aggregation of grey reef sharks along with schools of barracudas, snappers, etc. There are also some white tips, which aren’t as active but more hanging out/snoozing on the reef. The dive has to be timed with the tides, so we got a briefing at 6:45 and were going to wait for the ride to reverse (estimated to happen at 7:15) then the first skiff would go and 20 minutes later our skiff would go. As it turns out, the tide didn’t change directions on time and so I think it was 8:45 by the time the first skiff went. Doh. But the conditions underwater turned out well, so I guess it was worth the wait.

There is a sand channel in the 60’ to 90’ range, which you drift through. At some point there is a smaller sand channel that splits off (in a Y) to the right. Just after that, there’s a little ridge set off just from the wall which they call “the bleachers”, because you can stop there and hang onto the reef while watching the action. On the first dive, we did that and watched for about 15 minutes as around 10 grey sharks swam around in front of us. Then we went into the channel for some more up close action, and shortly past there, the channel gets shallower and you are spit out of the channel, where we turned right and followed a reef that goes from around 15’ to maybe 30’. A couple minutes down the wall, there is an area called the cabbage patch, which is covered in big lettuce leaf corals. That spot is pretty neat.

We had a quick turn around time between dives, but there was enough time for some delicious eggs Benedict (and banana muffins) before heading out.

For the second dive, we did things slightly differently. It was just the three of us (plus Chad) so we decided to go right at the Y since there’s some nice soft coral up there which should be open in the current. That channel comes out right by the cabbage patch. So instead of chilling at the bleachers, we hung out right at the Y, which I think was a slightly better spot for the sharks to come up closer to us, and the. When we’d had enough fun with the sharkies, we headed up the channel, where there was quite a bit of soft coral. Then we spent a while on the cabbage patch before ascending.

We had fish wraps with cole slaw for lunch.


Dive 3: Anthias Avenue

We moved a little at lunch time to the other end of the island. The skiffs went to two different sites, and we went to Anthias Avenue first. The site consists of a long ridge the goes from about 30’ to 80’ and has three smaller round side pinnacles (one in line with the ridge and two off to the side, in line with each other). Vanessa recommended one specific pinnacle as her favorite. The current was t running as expected, I guess because the tides were still behind. So there wasn’t much current and so the soft corals in many spots were not really open. But the bigger problem was that the via was terrible. It was super chunky. So we swam around and looked at all of the pinnacle but overall not a great dive.

Clinton and I skipped the next dive because of that and while Rob reported more current (so the corals were open) he said the viz and the light were not great.

For dinner we had super yummy lamb shanks, followed by passion fruit pudding for dessert. After that we had kava with the crew (yuck).