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Me diving

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Year in Review

Photo by Robert Lee
It's been a pretty quiet year on the blog.  It's been a pretty quiet year for diving too, though not as quiet as the blog might suggest, so I thought I'd do a quick (doubtful) post about all of the stuff I did but didn't post about. The local diving was pretty terrible, with El Niño bringing us what sometimes seemed like a storm every weekend. That, combined with a red tide in the bay for a couple of months, resulted in a ton of boat cancellations. I counted 18 days of local diving this year (or maybe really 17...), which sounds pretty terrible, but it's actually better than I would have guessed -- I would have estimated one per month. The breakdown was 1 night dive at Breakwater, 4 days at Lobos, 2 rec boats, and 11 tech boats. So a quick rundown of the action, somewhat chronologically...

Okenia felis, photo by Robert Lee
For the first time in many years, we did not spend New Years cave diving in Florida.  We spent the holidays at home (the Monterey home) for the most part. But we started the year off right with a scooter dive at Lobos with John and Clinton, out to Twin Peaks to visit the Okenia felis on the Road. Rob and I had done pretty much the same dive a week before, and we found the little buggers, but Rob was shooting wide angle. They were on a rock that I know (I've seen Okenia there before), so I was pretty sure we'd find them again, and we did. Everyone who was toting a giant camera got pictures of them. 

Photo by Robert Lee
The winter diving was not very inspiring; we did make it down to Diablo Pinnacles once, and the viz was excellent, but while I hate to admit that Rob is right, that site just doesn't excite me that much. We did have some awesome Orca action in the late winter. One day on the ducky with Rob, Clinton, and Jim, we saw a group of about 6 orcas have an encounter with a huge pod of dolphins. That was cool enough by itself, but then we got a front row seat to one of the orcas peeling off from the group and after a long chase, he took down a dolphin (and the guys got the shot!). The orcas were around for probably at least a month, chowing down on baby grey whales and such, and we had one other pretty cool day of watching a group of orcas between mile buoy and pinos, from the Escapade. 

Photo by Robert Lee
In April and May, we had a brief break from the bum weather and snuck in a few days at Lobos and south (Mt Chamberlin south wall, K1 crack) with epic viz and very cold water, brrrr.  On one dive at E3, we found more Okenia :P. We did get one trip down to Sur, but the water was quite dark, not quite the epic viz from those other dives. 

Photo by Robert Lee
After we got back from Fiji, we finally managed to do something we've been talking about for ages... We started up the slug count at Lobos again. Rob, John, Lauren, and I managed to get all 4 transacts counted in one dive. We had a bit of debate about where transact 5 starts and ends, and about which transact is 1 and which is 2 :P. Otherwise it was a successful day; we even found our warbonnet friends on transact 4 again!

Photo by Robert Lee
After that, the summer was pretty light on diving, and all of my tech boats ending up in the bay. At one point, at the end of July, I felt like my rebreather was taunting me, because it reported 42 days as my surface interval. Then after we made it out to the dive site (in the bay, of course), my O2 reg exploded, and it became clear that this was not a fixable-on-the-boat failure. And it's probably the one reg on my gear where swapping out another reg doesn't really work... The geometry is rather persnickety. So I sat out the dive (that would have been the 18th dive), and got a spare one of those regs so this won't happen again :)

Photo by Robert Lee
While the summer was sort of a bust for diving, we did have a couple of good days out on the ducky watching humpbacks. The whale watching wasn't nearly as good as it has been in the past couple of years, and we had a few days where whales were few and far between, but also a few great days. Rob got at least one shot good enough to make it onto our wall (and Jim's wall too, I believe). We also spent a few days in Oregon over the summer, where Jim and Rob came up with a rather intense schedule (e.g. waking up at midnight to catch the Milky Way at 2am, then head to a different spot to wait for sunrise).  There were also some more slightly relaxed days where we got to do things like (easy) hiking, looking at water falls, eating ice cream, and looking at quilts (ahead of the Sisters Quilt Festival). 

Felimida macfarland, photo by Clinton Bauder
For my birthday, there just happened to be a BAUE Lobos Day. Rob signed us up to do some dive for the geo-tagging project that I wasn't that interested in doing. So I vetoed him and organized another slug count with John and Clinton. We wanted to do it once a quarter, so this was perfect timing.  We had a couple of cool finds.  First, I found a Chromodoris macfarlandi (whose genus has changed, but I refuse to learn the new ones!) on my transact, so I even got to count it :P. Then, one the way in, on the back side of middle reef, Rob found a new-to-me (and him, but not Clinton) slug, Thordisa bimaculata. Woot!  So that was definitely a successful slu dive, and to top things off, Clinton brought cupcakes for my birthday :)

Thordisa bimaculata, photo by Clinton Bauder
Rob, Clinton, and I did one other cool dive in October, while we were waiting out the Cordell window. We wanted to dive, but leaving the bay was not an option. So we decided to try to find something like Consolation Prize (deep shale ledge) but a little shallower, like 150-160. While Rob was negotiating that with Jared, he found a GPS mark from when they did the original Consolation Prize dive. And it was in just the right depth range. It turned out to be an awesome dive, though when we first dropped we picked a slightly non-optimal (boring as hell) direction to go, but eventually circled back to awesomeness. We saw vase sponges, a purple sea fan, and a bunch of (at least 4 distinct) small flag rockfish!  Definitely a cool site that we will have to visit again when we are stuck in the bay. 

Photo by Robert Lee
For my last local dive of the year, Rob and I did a night dive at the Breakwater the week of thanksgiving. I was in Monterey for the week, but getting over a cold for the first weekend. Looking at the forecast though, the odds of getting a dive in did not look great. Rob left work a little early on Tuesday and headed down to join me, and I told him that afternoon that if we wanted to dive at all this week, this might be our only chance. It was a fun dive. It started out slowly, with not many good sightings, but eventually things picked up and we found some cool critters, the coolest of which was a super cute sculpin (I think it was either a buffalo sculpin or bull sculpin) sitting in a divot. I was so excited when I found it, and then he sat for quite a significant photo session.  But the coolest thing of all was the third buddy we picked up halfway through the dive -- a harbor seal. We didn't see him for a while, but kept finding patches where the viz was all stirred up. Then we finally got a glimpse of him swishing by a couple of times.  Then he warmed up to us and swam up right between us while we were watching that sculpin.  And he just kind of hung out with us. Once we got going again, he was swimming along with us for most of the rest of the dive. He would occasionally dart off and then rejoin us, but as we swam back in along the wall, he was swimming right beside me pretty much the whole time. At some point, Rob shined his light into a crack for me to look at something, and as I was trying to look, the seal came along and nudged me out of the way and stuck his face in the crack!  I never did get to see what Rob was showing me :(. The seal followed along with us all the way back to the beach (when we got to like 3 feet and stood up). I was worried he was going to follow us to the parking lot :)

To finish up the year, we restarted our annual tradition of cave diving in Florida over New Years. More on that later!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cordell Bank 2016!

In 2015, we never made it to Cordell, despite having a 4 week window during which we could move the boat.  There were never more than 2 consecutive days in the forecast that had good enough weather to move the boat and/or dive.  Given the weather that we'd had so far this year, we were not too optimistic about the 2016 trip.  We had a 3 week window this year, and finally two weeks into it, there was a 4-day window of very good forecasts.  Despite some fog on the first day, we managed to get in 2 great days of diving, with some of the best visibility we've seen there, and one amazing afternoon of whale watching too!  This year, for various reasons, the roster changed a little bit.  We had one new-to-Cordell diver joining us (Doug, an excellent addition, who thoroughly enjoyed the trip!), and Jim took a really big one for the team and crewed the boat instead of diving.  So in the end, we had Team Kitty Classic (Kevin, Rob, and I) and John, Clinton and Doug (still looking for a team name for those guys...).

More details in the day-by-day reports:
Day 1: Northern East Ridge
Thanks to Rob, Jim, and Clinton for doing most of the heavy lifting on the planning.  And as always, extra big thanks to the crew of the Escapade (Jared, Hunter, and especially Jim)!


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Cordell Bank 2016: Northern West Ridge

There was a lot less fog on Tuesday, and we also had a much better attitude about getting out to the bank and the fog would go away, so we got going at the usual time.  We headed out Northern West Ridge, everyone's favorite dive site at Cordell (although Northern East Ridge is giving it a run for it's money after yesterday's dive!).  We made really good time getting out to the site, though there was a little bit of swell when we got out there.  When we jumped in the water, it was just as clear on the surface as it had been the day before.  There was a little bit of current as we scootered to the downline.  On the way down the line, there were a lot of small jelly creatures, including lots of sea butterflies.  

Heading out for some more
As we approached the pinnacle, I was a little disappointed by two things: first, the water was not nearly as bright as the previous day (but the viz was still insanely good); second, there wasn't a giant school of fish on the pinnacle, like there were in the two previous dives there (2013 and 2014).  However, I immediately saw a smaller aggregation of fish on the northeast side, which included quite a few bocaccio!  We headed down to that area, and I quickly found a couple of big yelloweyes hanging out on the reef. 

Like yesterday, there were a lot of rosy rockfish hanging out on the reef, and many juvenile yelloweyes.  I eventually saw quite a few more adult yelloweyes, including one monster big one that is, I believe, the same giant yelloweye I've seen on our previous two dives there (even hanging out around the same crack).  This time I managed to get a little video footage of it though.  There were also quite a few blue rockfish, and the occasional china rockfish, and more bocaccio, and one monster lingcod.  The first year that we visited this site, we all noted the lack of blue rockfish.  So the next year, we were all keeping an eye out for them, and I saw about 3... so this year I was pretty surprised that there were actually a fair number of them there.  Definitely a new development from our perspective.  Other fish sightings included a kelp greenling or two, and a (not terribly large) school of small juvenile rockfish on the north side of the wall.

We started around 160' on the northeast side of the wall, and worked our way counterclockwise, eventually settling around 140'-150' for most of the dive.  I spent a lot of time around the north/northwest area of the pinnacle.  This is near the crack that the big yelloweye lives.  I spent a little while looking around for macro critters, and the only thing really notable that I saw was that there were quite a lot of Flabellina trilineata living on the brown hydroids on the white sponge.  There were also Corynactis of all colors (especially on top), including the light purple/lilac color which we hardly ever see in Monterey (especially not at these depths).  Again, at the top of the pinnacle there was more of that dark red kelp than I remember.  One thing that was notably missing was the golden hydroids which were all over the place in previous years (I know from diving in Carmel that this stuff can bloom and then disappear, but it was *so* prevalent in the first year that we went to Cordell).

Eventually I came around the south side and only then did I realize that there was a large school of rockfish on top of the pinnacle, well really more like above the pinnacle.  There was actually a mix of YOYs and adults, with the YOYs seeming to congregate closer to the pinnacle, and the adults higher up in the water column.  I went as shallow as 100' to video the school of fish.  I wasn't sure what they were; in the water, I thought they were widows, but in the video, they seem a bit dark in color.  Rob sent pictures to Tom Laidig, who reported that the adults were widows.  The smaller ones were quite the mix... he ID'd rosies, blues, widows, and (most prevalent) shortbellies.  Good thing for hi-res images :)

One nice-looking diver
The first team started their ascent a few minutes before we did.  When we left the pinnacle, we were initially in an area of water that was unbelievably clear and devoid of any critters.  It was so clear that I had the sensation that I was looking at Rob suspended in air :)  I was thinking about how when we first descended, I was "disappointed" by the viz -- I've become pretty spoiled by the viz at Cordell!  A couple of stops later, the amount of deco critters definitely picked up, so there were sea butterflies, jellies, etc. to stare at to pass the time.  At 20', I met a reddish-orange copepod that I was transfixed with for most of the stop.  Unfortunately we were not visited by whales today.  Or I really hope we weren't visited by a whale while I was staring at a copepod :P

Making friends on deco
When we surfaced, it seemed that the swell had laid down, and the water was back to glassy.  Unfortunately there weren't any whales to watch on the surface; extra disappointing since I even remembered to bring my selfie stick today!  We made it back to the dock in good time, which was good for Jim and crew, who needed to gas up the boat for the return trip tomorrow.  The forecast made it pretty clear that tomorrow was the day to get back to Monterey, unless Jim wanted to permanently relocate the boat to Bodega Bay :)

Mission accomplished
After getting our gear off of the boat, we headed across the street to Fisherman's Cove for lunch, and eventually everyone else made it over there too.  Then we headed back to the housing enclave to pack up and hit the road.  It was about 4 by the time we were ready to go, so Rob and I hung around for a while, to try to wait out traffic through San Francisco.  Everyone else seemed in a hurry to get home, so it was just us and the boat crew.  Rob volunteered to take some of them to town to get some provisions (beer, but "provisions" sounds more nautical).  Since Rob was driving, I volunteered to help the crew finish up the leftover liquor from the trip.  It's important to be one with your boat crew.

Despite some doubts at the start of the trip, it was a super successful trip to Cordell this year.  Considering how bad the weather has been overall this year, I really didn't believe we'd pull off Cordell.  But this makes up for all of the weather-cancelled dives this year :)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cordell Bank 2016: Northern East Ridge

The day started with a lot of skepticism about whether we would even be able to dive.  The fog was THICK, all the way to the building in the marine lab housing enclave, where we were staying.  It was probably even worse than the worst fog we've seen there (when we went out and could not dive, at the end of the 2013 trip).  And this was not really surprising, considering the forecast, or the report from Jim and Jared about the trip up the day before.  We decided to wait for a bit to see if the fog lifted.  Eventually the fog lifted (or retreated) from where we were, and John, Clinton and I went for a walk to check things out, and kill time.  We could still see the fog just outside of the harbor, though it improved noticeably between when we left and when we turned our walk around.  We ran into Rob and Jim just outside of the housing enclave, and decided to drive up to the top of the cliff and see how it looked further out.  It was very grey, but we could see pretty far out.  It looked like there was a wall of fog further out, but it was really hard to tell.  So we decided we had to go out and take a look, or we'd always be wondering... (Jim claims this is what he was saying all along, but I think that's a bit revisionist.)

Packed and ready to go at the dock
We scurried back to the dorm and announced that it was on, and all got our stuff together and headed over to the dock.  We got everything loaded onto the boat and finally headed out at 11AM, which was coincidentally (or not) the time we had agreed to (in the early morning) as the last possible moment that we could leave the dock and still make it out, dive, and back before dark.  It was very grey on the ride out, though not foggy, and SUPER flat.  Of course, it's always flat at Cordell, since we only go there when the weather is super flat ;)  Jim and Jared had reported almost no whale sightings on the drive up the previous day, so we were very pleasantly surprised to see quite a bit of whale action on the way out.  Once we were about an hour from the dock, we stopped pointing out whales, because there were so many of them.  They weren't doing anything particularly interesting, there were just a lot of them around.


We made it out to the bank in very good time, faster than I expected, because it was so flat!  And when we got there, the clouds miraculously lifted, and there was a blue sky.  And the water looked spectacularly clear from the surface.  So in total contrast to the conditions on shore in the morning, it was pretty much a perfect day to be out there.  We got geared up, and Team Kitty splashed first.  We were at Northern East Ridge, where we had put down lead balls to mark the corners of transects 2 years earlier.  The idea was to re-locate these markers and do some photo/video documentation of the area around them.

There's a diver somewhere behind those fish
I jumped into the water and saw that the viz on the surface was really good with very clear blue water.  I could not really detect any current on the surface either.  I scootered to the downline with Kevin and Rob, and then we started our descent.  Not too far below the surface, starting at around 10 feet, was a layer of at least 5 feet which was filled with krill.  At the time it didn't occur to me that this was krill, but it was small translucent shrimp-like critters with a red tint.  I've seen (and scooped up with my hands) krill on the surface before, but never underwater.  As I was passing through the layer, I tried to avoid scootering to get down, so as not to disturb them.  We met up at 20 feet, gave okays all around, and continued down the line.  The line was pretty straight up and down, though around 80 or so feet there was a little bit of a shimmy on the line, which suggested to me that there was some current.  The very clear blue water continued all the way to the bottom where it was quite bright from the clear water above us.  This was probably the best viz I've seen on a dive at Cordell (which is saying something, since we have had exceptionally good viz there in general).  The water was also quite cold.

When we got to the bottom (after a somewhat slow descent), we found the reef was completed covered with a huge school of young-of-year rockfish (I'm not sure of the species, but Rob got some pictures so that they could be identified).  After taking in that sight, we agreed to do a circle around the area, to look for the lead balls, our first order of business.  We circled around and searched for several minutes, and then kind of spread out around the pinnacle, but no one saw a lead ball.  We eventually decided to start working our way around the pinnacle taking photos and video, in hopes of running into one of the balls while we did that, though we never ended up finding the balls :(  I think that the fish-limited visibility was at least somewhat to blame!  While the conditions were stellar for photo and video (in terms of clear and bright water), it was actually a bit challenging due to surge.  I guess this was not really a surprise, since there was a pretty big but very long period swell.  But even down at 150', we could feel big surge periodically.  It definitely made it more challenging to pose for pictures.

Rob was carrying a video light for me, so we alternated between him taking pictures and the two of us doing video runs.  I have to admit, I wasn't very motivated to take video; it was too nice of a dive for it to seem worth my time to take video :P  We stayed pretty close to 150' for most of the dive, since the top of the reef is where the balls might be found, and also it was so beautiful there seemed to be no reason to go any deeper.

Other fish sightings, aside from the huge school of YOYs, included several (around a dozen) YOY yelloweyes and one fairly big adult yelloweye, a handful of blue rockfish and quite a few small adult rosy rockfish, one or two decent-sized, but not huge, lingcod, and some kelp greenlings.  We were asked to keep an eye out for sea stars, so I was a little excited when I found a blood star that had 4 long legs and one nub of a leg.  The short leg had no visible damage, but it was at most 25% of the length of the other legs.  (I showed it to Rob, who apparently thought I was pointing at something next to it, so he didn't take a picture.)  I also saw one completely healthy-looking pin cushion star.  In terms of invertebrate cover, the reef was totally covered with Corynactis, sponges of various colors, and hydrocoral.  There were a few really big hydrocoral bushes, but most were not huge.  There was a lot of white sponge, many of which were coated with a shaggy-looking brown hydroid.  There were several vase sponge-looking sponges, which I don't remember seeing at this site before.  There was also more burgundy kelp flapping around on top of the reef than I remember from previous years (which I've noticed in Big Sur in recent years as well).

We didn't cover a huge amount of ground on the dive; we stayed on the main ridge whereas on the first year we went to a separate reef across a sand channel.  Just around 30 minutes into the dive, Rob was taking pictures of a cool-looking vase-like sponge (which didn't seem quite the same as our usual vase sponges) in a channel, and I thought it would make a nice shot if I was lined up behind it in the channel.  So I swam over to pose, and Rob wasn't taking my picture, which struck me as odd.  He signaled to me that he had a drysuit leak and was cold.  We went on with our dive, but a few minutes later, Rob signaled that he was very cold due and wanted to start our ascent.  Actually what he signaled was that he and I should start our ascent, and Kevin should buddy up with the other team (which was nearby).  I said no to this plan, and called Kevin over and gave him the thumb.  Rob again suggested that Kevin could stay with the other team, but Kevin and I were adamantly opposed to this and so we prepared to ascend.  Kevin pulled the bag out of his pocket, and as he did this, I saw a bunch of line and his spool unspooling.  Before he could stop it, the spool was headed to the bottom (20 to 30 feet below us) and he had to go to the bottom to retrieve it.  We've all done the same thing before (many times) but I could tell by the look on Rob's face that he was thinking "why now!?!" and I had clown music playing in my head :P

Once Kevin took care of that, we really started our ascent.  We got to 70 feet, and I figured out our bottom time and called 5 minutes, which everyone agreed to.  About halfway into the stop, Kevin signaled to move up, and I asked why.  He pointed to Rob, who was visibly shivering (I was in a position to be staring at Kevin, since I didn't realize just how much of a "leak" Rob had).  So we expedited our ascent from 70' to 30', and bumped our PPO2 a bit higher on this part of deco (I usually run it at 1.2 until we get to 20').  At 50', Rob started flapping around excitedly, pointing behind Kevin.  I thought maybe he'd gone hysterical on us, but then I looked behind him and saw something thing and grey.  At first it looked like a ray, but I realized I was staring at the pectoral fin of a humpback!  So then I joined Rob in the excited flapping around.  There were two humpbacks, and the one closer (that I got a good look at) was small, a calf.  Rob said he got a clear look at both of them and that they circled around twice (I only saw them on the second pass).  That was super cool, and made up for the fact that we had to end the dive early... if we'd stay down for another 10 minutes, who knows if we would have seen humpbacks on deco? :)

Once we got to 20', we had some time to think and come up with the minimum acceptable deco, and I was basically watching the clock and watching Rob the whole time, until a little after 10 minutes into the stop, I thumbed the dive.  It was about 5 minutes less deco than I would ideally do, but it was more than what I considered the minimum.  After a bit of arguing about it, we agreed to send Rob up first (given the viz, we could see him up to the surface) and Kevin and I would do a bit more deco, assuming Rob didn't need our help.  We watched as he got back on the boat, both gave a sigh of relief, and hung for a few more minutes before we headed up.  When we surfaced, I could see Rob on the boat, wrapped in towels and a coat (not breathing O2, which is always a good sign).  We got back on the boat, and Rob showed us the source of the leak.  There was an L-shaped slice in his suit, about 1 inch on each side, on the thigh of his suit (a few inches below the p-valve).  Yikes!  Apparently the crew had to pull him up the ladder because his legs were filled with water.  But by the time we were on the boat and out of our gear, he was okay, just a bit cold.

A successful day of diving
We told the crew about the humpbacks on deco, and they told us that there had been whales feeding around us the whole dive.  This is when I realized that the layer on the way down was krill!  I looked around and saw that there were whale spouts all around.  We waited for the second team to surface, which was not too long after us... they left the bottom a little bit early too.  They'd seen humpbacks on deco too!  After everyone was back on the boat, we decided that we had enough time to do a little whale watching.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Well not exactly "a little" whale watching.  There were an insane number of whales all around us, many of them actively feeding, but a lot of them just playing around.  You couldn't look in any direction without seeing at least 5 spouts, fins, or flukes.  There must have been at least 100 whales in the area, and we just drifted along with them for over an hour.  There were one or two full breaches in the distance, but the sheer volume of whales flapping around all around us was what was so cool.  It was the best whale watching experience I've ever had!  I took a lot of video footage, which of course did not capture how awesome the experience was at all.  But it will have to do :)  I was kicking myself for forgetting my selfie stick (aka stick I use to drop the camera under the water), because with this kind of viz, we could really see the whales clearly underwater.  Clinton hung off of the swimstep with his housed camera and randomly shot pictures, and actually managed to get a nice shot!  See how blue that water is!

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from the whales and head in, because sadly, there is only so much daylight, and entering Bodega harbor at night in fog is, well, not something you want to do intentionally :P  What an amazing day at Cordell Bank.  The underwater conditions were probably the best we've ever had there (or maybe tied with one of the days from the first year), but the whale watching was even better than the diving, which is a pretty high bar!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Fiji 2016

After a long dry spell of not going on any sort of real vacation, we finally managed to organize a vacation this summer.  We had a few places on the short list, and in the end, Fiji had the right combination of a place we wanted to go, that wasn't too hard to organize on relatively short notice, and was the right time of year (or rather, was not the wrong time of year, like some of the other options), and unlikely to be affected by El Nino.

After our previous trip to Fiji, I was sure that I wanted to go on a liveabord this time around, and after reading about the various options, the Nai'a seemed like the only one to go on.  It was fantastic, and I'd love to go on the boat again.  One interesting bit of advice though is to figure out where the boat goes on its various itineraries.  We really, really wanted to go back to Somosomo, and it turns out that on the 7 day itinerary they don't usually go there -- but we got lucky!  I still love Somosomo, and think it's my favorite spot that we've been to, so if I went back to Fiji, I might do a week(-ish) land-based in Somosomo and a week on the Nai'a :)

I also wanted a little time to recover after a week of diving, so we spend 3 days at Tokoriki Island Resort.  It's close enough to Nadi to do such a short trip, but a bit more remote than the main island.

And now, the play by play:

Fiji 2016: Getting to Fiji
Fiji 2016: Nai'a Day 1: Leaving Lautoka Wharf

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Fiji 2016: Heading home

Fishy feast
Our flight home was not until late in the evening, so we had most of the day before catching the 4pm ferry back. Unfortunately we had to be out of our room at 10am, but they gave us a room in the afternoon to shower before we headed out.  So we didn't have much planned for the day, which made it a good time to take advantage of the champagne at the breakfast buffet :P  After breakfast, I convinced Rob to go paddle boarding.  For some reason, Rob thinks that paddle boarding is really dumb.  I don't know where he got this idea, but I've wanted to try it, and kept telling him we should try it in Fiji (so if I fell in the water, it would at least be nice and warm), and he kept poopoo-ing that idea.  I brought it up several times during our stay and he always sneered.  But he finally agreed to go paddle boarding.  We paddled around for a little while, and eventually I got bored, so headed in and abandoned our boards.  Paddle boarding was fine, but kayaking seems a lot more appealing to me :P

After that, we played in the water a bit more, went for a little swim in the ocean, and then went for a swim in the pool (which was the first time we actually went to the pool all week).  We hung around at the pool for a while, until it was time for lunch.  For lunch, we were served the tuna that we caught the afternoon before!  They served it three ways -- a big pile of sashimi, seared, and fried (fish n chips style).  It was all tasty, but the sashimi was my favorite!

We hung out in the lounge and read and used the internet for a while, before getting a room to shower before leaving.  The room that they gave us was a regular room, which didn't have a separate living room, but was still quite big and super nice, and had its own pool too.

View from the ferry
After some coffee and singing, we headed down to to beach to get on the tender to meet the ferry.  It was quite choppy on the ferry ride back... it was an impressively sporty ride, considering how big the boat was.  It was only choppy for the first 1/3 of the ride, and then it flattened out.  When we got back to Denarau, we took a cab to the airport, where we waited for our flight in the lounge.  I came up with a great plan for exactly when to sleep to minimize the jet-lag, which I promptly ignored when I got on the plane, found that I was too bored/sleepy to stay up as long as I'd planned, and slept too long.  But it was a good flight, except that it ended in LA :P

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fiji 2016: Tokoriki Day 3

Path to the beach
On our last full day, we had a pretty packed schedule. Okay not really, but something planned in both the morning and afternoon, so for vacation that seems like a packed schedule. I had French toast for breakfast. It was good, but after the insanely good French toast on the Nai'a, it was a bit of a disappointment.  Shortly after breakfast I headed to the spa to get exfoliated and wrapped in a banana leaf. Okay, there wasn't really a banana leaf involved, but that was how Rob referred to it (I think because I did get wrapped in a banana leaf the last time we came to Fiji). I spent an hour and a half getting scrubbed with various things (one of which involved papaya and smelled very good), then was wrapped in a space blanket and baked in that for a while, while I got a head massage. It was an interesting experience, though not as good as the time when I was actually wrapped in a banana leaf. The reason that I did it was because my skin was very itchy from spending a week in salt water. I think the scrubbing helped, but if I were going to spend that much time at the spa again, I'd probably just go for a massage.

After that was done, I found Rob back at our bure, snoozing on the patio. We went to lunch (I had tempura prawns, Rob ate my tails :P), and then after a bit more doing nothing, we went fishing around 2:30. We met up with our guide, Joe, and headed out to "Tokoriki rocks" which were some small rocks sticking out of the water to the north(west). They really were just rocks... That's not a euphemism for a small island. Apparently fish like to hang out near there. We were trolling, which is not a fishing technique that I've used before, but I'm sure it will be a handy skill when we sail around the world. We were in a pretty decent-sized boat for the three of us -- a 25'ish aluminum boat.  

We put the lines out and basically circled waiting to hear the zing of a fish on the rod. Eventually we got a hit, and I was enlisted to drive the boat while Rob and Joe worked on getting the fish into the boat. It was a Spanish mackerel, which I recognized from diving :P  We drove around the rocks for a while, getting one more hit that we did not get into the boat. After a while more of driving around without much fish interest, we decided to head over to the next island to the north to do some real fishing (casting). Joe told us to reel the lines in. So I was reeling in the reel on the port side and Rob was on the starboard side. I was reeling and reeling and getting really bored. Then right as the line was almost the whole way in, I felt it get harder to reel, and suddenly a fish was flopping around on the surface on my line :). I squealed and Joe cam over to help me get the fish in the boat. It was a feisty fish who made a pretty good attempt to flop back into the water even once it was on the deck, but we put an end to that. It was a skipjack tuna, a nice sized fish, but not big by tuna standards (or not what I think of as tuna standards). 

Once the excitement was over (and I was finished posing with my fish), we continued to that other island, but by the time we got to the vicinity, the wind had really picked up, to a pretty unpleasant state, so we decided to head back instead.  When we got back, we took the tuna to the kitchen, and left the mackerel for Joe. It was too late to prepare it for dinner, so we chatted with the chef about how to prepare it, and then headed back to our room to get ready for dinner. On the way back, we passed the volleyball court, where the staff seems to have a game around sunset every night. Rob joined them for a few minutes (until it was too dark to play) while I got ready for dinner. 

Some interesting looking mystery dessert
We went to the lounge (and sat inside after the bug bites from the previous night), and I had a piña colada.  Or maybe two. Last night of vacation :P. We eventually headed to dinner. I had beef tenderloin which was fine, but not spectacular. The service at dinner was terrible, I guess because there was a wedding going on that day, so they were presumably understaffed in the restaurant.  So dinner went on and on. For dessert, I had cheesecake with a chocolate (brownie-ish) crust, which was super tasty!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Fiji 2016: Tokoriki Day 2

After breakfast (Fijian eggs Benedict, which instead of ham had smoked walu, yum!), we went kayaking. The guy who dispensed the kayaks to us explained where we could go. I guess we had a reputation now... The boundary that he described was much less confining in kayaks than a hobie cat. I was originally hoping for a two person kayak, but none were available. I like the idea of a two person kayak, because I like the idea of sitting in a boat while Rob paddles me around. But in reality, two single person kayaks is a lot better because we can actually converse with each other.  We went out of the channel (though there is plenty of area to paddle around in inside of the channel) and turned right. We paddled over to a buoy. There are supposedly buoys that mark snorkeling spots, where you can tie up your kayak and go for a snorkel. But I'm not sure that this was that kind of buoy... It seemed kind of deep and I could see much (through the "glass bottom" in the kayak). Then we headed back and past the channel and a bit further out, to another buoy, which may have actually been marking a snorkeling spot. After that, we headed back through the channel, which was extra squirrelly, because the tide was really low, and ambled about in the shallows. There was more sitting than paddling, but with the tide going out, we did have to occasionally paddle to hold station.

Lunchtime libations
After our paddling adventure, we didn't do much until lunch.  I had grilled mahi mahi with a tropical fruit salsa.  After lunch, I went to the spa for a massage. My masseuse was named Kara and she was hard core. I'm sure she could have mad me cry if she wanted. But I don't mean that in a negative way. It was an excellent massage. And the spa was nice in general too.  That was pretty much my activity for the afternoon. Rob claims to have gone for a dip in the ocean while I was gone, but I'm guessing there was quite a bit of sleeping as well. 

We went to happy hour at the lounge again, but this time with enough forethought to douse our legs in bug spray beforehand.  Not enough forethought to douse my arms in bug spray however. So I got like 20 bug bites between my elbow and shoulder on one arm (which I didn't notice until the next morning).  They weren't very itchy luckily, but look pretty gross. I also got a few VERY itchy bites on my ankle (despite the bug spray). Anyhoo, I had a piña colada, which was not frozen, but was very good.  I was reading Log from the Sea of Cortez, which was very entertaining (and I think should be mandatory reading for the Cordell team).  

A friend at the resort
We eventually headed to dinner, and sat inside, I guess because the bugs were annoying me even before I knew about all of the bug bites.  I got a seafood appetizer, which came with three little items... Salmon sushi, seared scallops, and shrimp tempura udon. Rob got the ceviche again. Then I had the roasted pork belly, which was really really good. It came with a little roasted apple and an apple sauce, and I'm a huge fan of pork with apples. It was also enormous, which was good, so I could share it with Rob. He loves pork belly but for some reason ordered something else. There were also truffle mashed potatoes, which were good, though I didn't think the truffle really went with the rest of it.  For dessert, I got baked Alaska, which was good, but the meringue was a bit too sweet for me. It tasted like a pile of marshmallows on top of the ice cream.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Fiji 2016: Tokoriki Island Resort

Tokoriki Island
On Saturday morning, we packed up and bid farewell to the Nai'a and her crew :(. We left a little early, to catch a ferry to the resort where we would stay for the next three days. We took a car to Denerau, and then a ferry (on South Sea Cruises) to Tokoriki Island Resort. The ferry terminal in Denerau was fairly well organized and civilized and after checking our bags, walking around to look at the boats in the harbor, checking in, and getting coffee and a muffin for breakfast, it was finally time to board our ferry. We sat on the middle deck, so we were outside and had a view, but it was also well shaded by the top deck. We made a stop about 25 minutes in, which was not on the schedule I had, at a tiny little island ("South Sea Island") where people can pay to go for the day (or so I gather). An enormous ember of the people on the ferry disembarked here, and so Rob and I were left with the middle deck all to ourselves :) ), we got a briefing about the island and the various islands around it. Once we arrived, we were given a cold juice drink and there was guitar playing and singing to welcome us. We went to the lounge to fill out paperwork and wait for our room to be ready (and they brought us champagne somewhere in there too).  The lounge was looking out on the pool and the awesome view of the ocean, and it had wifi, so we were perfectly happy to hang out there.  The view from the lounge really looks exactly like the pictures on their website.

View from the bedroom
We were taken to our room (villa) a little after noon. It was awesome. Both the living room and bedroom had basically wall to wall windows/glass doors looking out on the water. The patio had a small pool, lounge chairs, and a day bed under its own bure. There was a rock pathway down a hill to the beach. I walked down there and waded into the water, but it was a very low tide, so not a great time to swim.

We eventually headed to the restaurant for lunch. I had veggie pizza (a classic Fijian dish, I'm sure). After that, I tested out the pool for a bit. We wanted to take out one of the Hobie Cats, but there was no wind. But after laying around on the patio for a while, we noticed the wind had picked up, so we decided to give it a try. Rob has always claimed that he sailed in high school and college (mostly on the Charles River, but occasionally on longer trips in the big bad Atlantic Ocean). But I never quite believed it, since I'd never seen any proof of this former life of sailing. It turns out he does actually know how to sail, which he proved quite well while maneuvering us through the channel to deeper water. It's a bit squirrelly, not exactly straight, and the tide was very low. Once we got out to deeper, less obstructed water, he even tried to teach me. That went okay, but I found it much more enjoyable to sit on the boat while Rob did all of the work. So, I mentioned that on the tender ride from the ferry, we got a small orientation to the islands around us. There was one pretty big one, which is inhabited, called Yanuya, to the west of Tokoriki.  We headed out in the direction of that island. We were really moving. I couldn't believe how fast we were going. Enforce you know it, we were more than halfway to Yanuya, so we decided to go take a closer look. There was a beach that had houses overlooking it on the south end, then some cliffs, then another small be patch with palm trees lining it, then some smaller cliffs. We decided to scoot along the uninhabited beach and the small cliffs and take a look at those. 

Denerau marina
Then we turned around to head back. Upon turning around, we saw a boat from the resort heading in our direction. Apparently we had exceeded the unspoken bounds of where they wanted us to go in the boat. Hehehe. We were already heading back anyway, but the guy kind of hung around and escorted us until we got pretty close to the channel and then he took off. Apparently the unspoken boundary was not very far out. They basically only wanted us to go out of the channel and then along the reef drop off that is right there. I was just glad that we went on our little adventure before anyone explained that there was such a boundary :). Rob looked on a map and estimates that the two islands are about 4km apart. 

View from the patio
Once we got back, we headed to our room, very amused with ourselves for having broken the rules, and hung out on the patio and watched the sunset. I was a big fan of the day bed. We then went to happy hour at the lounge, and sat outside as the last bit of light disappeared over the horizon. We forgot to put bug spray on (got used to the bugless nights on the boat), but they had some at the front desk that we used. I had a mai tai, and Rob had something that was supposed to involve guava and some other juices, but which was not very guava-y. We then went to dinner, which was super tasty. To start, I had a duck salad, which I actually got because it had beets in it. Yum. Rob got the Fijian ceviche thing that has coconut milk (Kokodo). Rob ended up getting that every night... It was really good! Then I had salmon, which was cooked perfectly, and came with a bunch of other tasty things, including a carrot purée and a fairly fluffy lemon cream sauce was drizzled around.  It was pretty fancy food.  I think Rob had chicken curry. For dessert we shared ice cream, which was rolled in some butter crunch type thing and topped with a cookie. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Fiji 2016: Nai'a Day 7: Vatu-I-Ra

For our last day of diving, we were near an island not too far from where we did our first (full) day of diving. Today was a 3 dive day, and then we'd tear down our gear to dry it off a bit before packing. There were three dive sites that we were visiting, the order of which would be current dependent. Joshua told Rob that two of the three sites had pretty awesome walls of yellow soft coral, so they would be good dives for wide angle. The first site was called Coral Corner, and it was one of the sites with walls of yellow.

The site starts out with a sand slope with scattered bommies and a shallow wall at the top of the slope. Well, it was advertised as a wall with periodic deep crevices, but it seemed more like a discontinuous wall... Though I guess I made not attempt to explore the crevices. Eventually the reef juts out, which is supposed to be he nicest part, plus there is a wall of yellow soft coral right around there, before the reef takes a 90 degree turn. So that was what the site was supposed to be.  But from my perspective it went more like this... A somewhat boring sand slope (with a few sharks to liven things up) then about 25 minutes in, a series of amazing walls of yellow soft coral and green cup corals, then the reef turns and at the corner there were tons of fish on top of the reef. The walls of yellow were really really cool, I just think we should have dropped in at that part :). There was practically no current, so only about a third of the yellow corals were open, and I kept thinking that I'd love to see this site when the current is pumping (with a scooter or course!). But it was pretty cool as it was. 

For breakfast, we had scrambled eggs with cream cheese (which I love, though I've never met anyone but my Dad, who introduced me to the concept, that eats the two together) and some kind of smoked fish, which was insanely tasty. After breakfast, we had the environmental presentation, which was about symbiotic relationships. It was one of the more interesting of the presentations, and all of the cool macro critters in the video inspired me to do some macro peeping. So I suggested to Rob that for the dive that wasn't more walls of yellow, we should do that. He was a bit resistant to the idea, since it turned out that would be the next dive, meaning he'd have to switch lenses twice. But I talked him into it. I think it was a good decision. 

The site (Maytag) actually had quite cool topography, with a pretty skinny/tall round pinnacle, separated by a very narrow sand channel from a sloping ridge (sloping from around 70' to 90'+).  We started on the ridge, worked our way deeper, then headed back shallower to the pinnacle. It was a quite productive macro dive. We saw one nudibranch we hadn't seen before, and several that we'd only seen rarely on this trip. There were also moray eels, leaf scorpionfish, and some regular scorpionfish. And other lesser macro critters ;). Rob and I were on top of the pinnacle (which comes up to about 20') on our "safety stop" when Joshua signaled us from about 40'.  Rob scooted back down and started lining up to photograph another of the Tambja that we hadn't seen before. I heard Joshua laughing as I approached. While I was looking, I noticed him checking my gas (a move I am familiar with, from Rob's classes). Apparently Rob's gas was quite low, and he wanted to make sure I had enough gas to get Rob to the surface :P. But Rob was speedy with the photo shoot, and no gas sharing was necessary. This time :)

For lunch I opted for the veggie option (after coveting the veggie skewers at lunch yesterday), which was a roasted veggie ciabatta. It was quite tasty, though a bit structurally unsound.

For our last and final dive :(, we went to Mellow Yellow, which was a fairly fat round pinnacle with a small sand channel and another little ridge shaped pinnaclet. One side was supposed to have gazillions of yellow soft corals. This site was awesome. There was a decent current, so the yellow corals were all open. They were covering about half to one third of the pinnacle. On one side of the pinnacle, there were all of these overhangs and cuts into the reef, and the yellow coral was hanging from all of those surfaces, hanging down from the overhangs. A bit shallower, there were some purple and white soft corals mixed in. The other cool thing about this site was the amazing numepber of fish just off of the pinnacle. There was an enormous school of at least three different kinds of fusiliers, plus some bigger fish like trevally and Spanish mackerel roaming around to keep them in line. This was in additional to the swarms of anthias that were actually on the reef. We swam around the pinnacle counterclockwise, ending in the channel with the smaller pinnacle. I swam over to it (which was a bit deeper) and found One end of it was completely covered in yellow, purple, and white soft corals and green cup corals (and swarms of anthias). I signalled to Rob so that he would join me. It was a really cool spot. When it was time to go, we went up to the top of the main pinnacle and watched a few anemone fish cuddling with their anemone. 

When we got back to the boat (which was like 100 feet from the dive site but we still took the skiff) there were rinse stations setup around the dive deck for our various bits of gear. It was a pretty efficient setup, though the soapy tub of water for the wetsuits made it insanely slippery. We hung a bunch of our gear out to dry on the sun deck, which did a very good job of drying stuff (there was also an option to hang your wetsuit in the engine room overnight).

Rob's death-defying stunt
Once we finished with that, I finally made us cocktails (after all week telling Rob that one of these nights I would) and we went up to the sun deck for sunset. Rob mumbled something about climbing the mast and scurried off to the bridge. He'd been talking about that all week. I was he'd be told no, but unfortunately that was not the case. He climbed up to the crow's nest and looked quite pleased with himself.  Soon after that, Bailey, a 13 year old girl on board also climbed up there. So the two of them sat up there for a while. It got pretty windy but they managed to make it down okay. Phew. 

Farewell feast
For dinner, we had the one and only meal that was served buffet style. It was the "chef's farewell dinner" and there were all kinds of tasty dishes (and lots of wine!), including a platter of roasted veggies, au gratin potatoes and these insanely good fish skewers (which Rob was still raving about a day later). There were lots of other dishes, but those were my favorites. After dinner, Joshua gave a presentation of photos from the week (everyone was asked to submit up to 20 of their best pics). Unfortunately only 3 people contributed but there was some good stuff.   After that, we hung around in the salon for a while, and Rob found a few more people to watch our Cordell Bank project video (he's much bette at that self promotion thing than I am) and then we went to bed fairly early sine we had to get up early to pack, since our gear was still drying.