It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fiji Day 1: Hammerheads (or not) and Al50s

After breakfast we headed down to the dock, where we had been told to meet at 8:15.  We were told that we would get started a little late today, since it is Sunday, and apparently the locals actually like to go to church on Sunday.  We got there a bit before 8:15, so we could snag some good spots on the boat, right by the entry (at the rear of the boat).  We were diving off of the Namale Pearl, which is a nice new 40-ish foot boat that belongs to the resort next door (Namale).  Since we had such a big group, bigger than the dive shop's boat could handle, they rented the Namale Pearl, and half of us were on that boat.  It was a much nicer and faster boat than the Koro Sun Dive boat (the Bligh Explorer), though the tank racks left a little to be desired.  It was basically not possible to put your BC on the tank and snap it into the rack (at least not if your BC has two straps).  After much bumbling around, all of the crew finally showed up, and we finally got going a bit after 9.  I thought it was pretty lame (and unprofessional) to have a boat full of customers who were polite enough to show up roughly on time, waiting around for the crew to show up.  At the time it may have seemed like it was just the first day kinks being worked out, but this was pretty much typical throughout the trip.  We weren't always literally waiting for the crew to show up, but we were generally waiting for something before we could get going.

For the first dive, we went to a site that can have hammerheads out in the blue water near a pinnacle.  We were warned that there would be some current on the way out.  As we were approaching the site, I went to zip up my suit and the tail on the zipper fell off in my hand.  I asked Rob to take a look (thinking it was just the little fabric thingy that had pulled off), but he determined that the zipper was "busted", must have been damaged in transit, and was not fixable.  So I just velcroed my suit at the top and put my vest on over it (instead of the usual under it.  That actually worked fine.  Rob and I dropped down first, and after dropping a couple of feet, I reached back to vent a bit more gas from my wing, and felt my OPV come off in my hand.  Doh!  I looked at it, and didn't think it looked like the good kind of OPV-falling-off-in-your-hand failure, where you could screw it back on.  What is it with pieces of my gear falling off in my hand!?!  I pointed this out to Rob and we agreed to debug it on the bottom.  We got to the bottom of the line, I gave him the OPV and he agreed with my assessment that it was not fixable -- the plastic part had actually sheared off.  Oh well.  Luckily I have a lot of experience diving out of trim, so I can dive with a missing OPV.

We looked around and saw a bit of soft coral.  I posed for some pictures and once enough people showed up, we were herded off of the pinnacle.  Our boat had 18 people on it, with 3 DMs.  Ginny had quite carefully assigned us into groups of 6 before the trip, but this was completely disregarded (both the group assignments, and the concept of even splitting up the group of 18 into smaller groups).  The current was pretty significant and we swam like hell for a while.  Flutter kick for the win (thank you, David Rhea).  We didn't see any hammerheads, but did see a few reef sharks in the distance (before we even left the reef) and some schools of barracuda and jacks.  Those schools were actually pretty cool, but a bit of a let down when looking for hammerheads (and not necessarily worth the swim like hell against the current).  Eventually we gave up and somehow we had to swim at least partially against the current on the way back.  Yikes.  Once back, we had a few minutes on the reef, but overall it was a pretty crappy dive.

We went back to the dock for a surface interval, which seemed lengthier than necessary, then headed back out.  The second site (Dungeons and Dragons) had a bunch of swim-throughs -- I guess that was the main attraction.  We sort of did our own thing though, and skipped all but two of the swim-throughs.  The swim-through thing just isn't that exciting to me, since there isn't much life down there.  [Snooty-cave-diver]Plus if I want caverns, I'll go to Florida or Mexico [/Snooty-cave-diver] We thought the reef on top was much nicer than the swim-throughs we went through.  The highlight for me was that we saw a ton of anemones with clownfish (which I'd never seen before).  They were so cute!  Near the end of the dive, Sergio saw a reef shark and announced it by yelling through his reg.  I also found my first nudi of the trip, a black with white speckles dorid.  We did a pretty long dive, and when we finished, we just swam off of the reef and ascended, since we were live boating.  One great thing about the dive op was that they didn't care how long we stayed in the water.  We were pretty much always the first in the water, so that we could do long dives without people having to wait too long for us to come up at the end.  One day we did a dive that was like 75 or 80 minutes, and the next day, when we pulled up to a site that was quite shallow, they asked that we limit our dive to 90 minutes... which I think is quite generous :)  While I was climbing back on the boat, I got totally smacked around at the ladder (not really sure what happened) and ended up with some epic big bruises on my leg!

After lunch, we sent Kevin Barry to negotiate with Colin for afternoon diving.  Rob had been a bit loud about his displeasure at our first dive, so he didn't seem like the right person to do the negotiating :)  Kevin returned and said there were 4 Al63s we could use with the kayaks.  After offering the other two tanks to some others, it ended up being me, Rob, and Kevin.  Like Team Kitty, but with a stand-in Kevin.  When we showed up for the tanks, we found that they were actually Al50s.  Hehehe.  They had two-person kayaks, so we took two of them.  Rob and I rode in one with one of our rigs, and Kevin rode in one with the other two rigs.  We kayaked down the boat channel for a while, I'd say 20 to 30 minutes.  There is a fringing reef around the island, which is where you want to do your diving.  But at the point where the reef drops off, there are (as you'd expect) breakers.  In order to get out to the other side of the reef, there is a channel dredged from the dive shop dock to the reef.  As we were approaching the dropoff, we were a bit intimidated by the breakers on either side of the channel, so we started discussing how we should approach it.  Someone had the idea that we could gear up, get back in our kayaks and then head down the channel the rest of the way.  I wasn't too impressed with this idea, so I suggested that we kayak out of the channel, so we were in the shallows, stand up and get our gear on there, and then walk to the drop off at the channel and descend in the channel.  So this is what we ended up doing.  The plan was to tow the kayaks.  We lashed them together, and Rob tied a spool to them.  We tip-toed to the edge of the dropoff, and I went to put my first fin on when I "slipped" off of the ledge and ended up bobbing on top of the deeper water in the channel.  It was no big deal, as my BC was inflated and and I think I had a reg in my mouth (or I did in short order).  But I was flailing around a bit to try to get my fins on.  Just then, Kevin said "shark!" and while I thought he was kidding, then he said there was a reef shark below me.  I stuck my face in the water and was like "ooh la la, cool" and finished putting my fins on.  I was disappointed that he was gone by the time I was ready to descend.  Later, Kevin told me that he wasn't too happy with me flailing around on top of a shark :)  Ooops.

We dropped down and it was quite murky.  There was a pretty significant current pushing us out the channel, but we did not think it would be a problem to make it back up the channel on the way in.  Eventually the water got much clearer, much colder, and then we popped out of the channel.  There was no current here.  We headed left.  I think that was an arbitrary choice.  We saw more clownfish, which were more Nemo-like than the ones we saw earlier in the day.  There were also several BIG grouper swimming about on the top of the dropoff, which was pretty neat.  Rob found a nudi, which was black with white stripes, and I found at least one more of the kind that I had seen earlier in the day.  We eventually turned the dive and made our way back to the end of the channel.  There was a bit of a miscommunication about everyone's gas situation, and then there was confusion, so I just called the dive.  We headed up into the murk up the channel, and boy was there some current.  Rob was towing the kayaks (the plan had been to "take turns" but Rob never turned the spool over to anyone else) and he was getting worked making progress against the current.  Luckily there was dead coral rubble on the bottom of the channel, so we could actually pull and glide up the channel.  We saw a few lionfish hiding under some of the rubble in the channel. We eventually thumbed it on (Rob's) gas.  We basically all had the same amount of gas when we started up the channel, but since he was towing the kayaks, he used about twice as much as we did on the way in!  When we surfaced, we were further up the channel than we started.  We came up the channel wall and then up into the shallow part and stood up there.

We took our rigs off and were getting back into the kayaks, discussing the likelihood of someone flipping the kayak.  Rob was already in our kayak when I attempted to get in.  I can't remember the exact sequence of events, but he had the idea to use Kevin's yak to stabilize ours, which was great, until the noise of Kevin's ended up UNDER ours and ours flipped, as I was attempting to get in.  Doh.  The gear that was not clipped in (e.g. Rob's fins) scattered, but since we were in like 3 feet of water, it was not a problem to retrieve it.  Once we all managed to get in our kayaks, we headed up the channel.  It seemed like we were barely moving, while Kevin was having no trouble making progress.  Rob made the astute observation that while we were towing a rig, Kevin had both rigs actually in his kayak.  So we stopped and moved the towed rig up front, between my legs.  Oh man did that make a difference!  It was so much easier and we were moving so much faster!  So there, towing your rig behind the kayak is dumb.  Don't do it.

So that was our afternoon dive.  The diving was fine, but I think the fact that it was a bit of an adventure was the best part!  When we appeared at the bar for happy hour, it was like we'd returned with tails of travel on the high seas :)

Frank managed to fix both my OPV and my wetsuit zipper.  The fix for my wetsuit zipper involved a needle and thread.  I must admit I felt a bit lame standing over Frank watching him sew a zipper up for me... after all of the sewing projects I've done that include instructions on shortening a zipper, I really should have been able to figure this out myself!  But this is one of the benefits of traveling with Frank!

No comments: