It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Friday, August 31, 2012

Philippines 2012: Day 4: Verde Island Day Trip

On Friday, we went on a day trip to Verde Island.  We had to get going a little earlier, because we were going to the far side of the island, which is about a 45 minute ride (still a pretty short ride by our local standards!).  We were on a bigger boat for the trip, which I unfortunately didn’t get a picture of.  Doh!  The agenda for the trip was to do one dive on the far side, then go to a “dive camp” for a surface interval (and the cook would be dropped off to start working on lunch), then a second dive nearby, then back to camp for lunch, and then a final dive on the close side of Verde Island.  There were only four of us on the boat, which is a light load for one of these trips.  On the way over, I realized that I had left my gauges clipped to my doubles regs, back at Tech Asia.  Whoops.  Rob has a backup gauge, which he also left at Tech Asia.  Doh!  So we decided to share a gauge for the day :)

The first dive site was, I believe, called “The Dropoff”.  It was aptly name.  The site came up to maybe 20 feet, and dropped down to at least 100 feet.  It was pretty vertical once you to past about 40 feet.  It was very well-covered with coral, sponges, sea fans, gorgonians and the like.  There were also a good number of fish, like schools of anthias and such.  There were still plenty of nudibranchs and such to look at, but it was definitely more of a wide-angle site.  I kept swimming over and asking Rob how deep we were (what can I say? I just don’t trust him not to go excessively deep!).  After I did this about 3 times in the first half hour, he got really annoyed, took the gauge off, and flung it at me.  I must admit, I sort of had a feeling that the day would end with me in possession of the single gauge.

Verde Island
After our surface interval (which featured some yummy cookies and muffins), we headed to another site whose name I do not know, but it was a very nice site.  The dive started on a relatively flat area that was quite covered in coral. We were just swimming around there for a while, when we ran into a few turtles.  I think we saw three in all – one that was just swimming around, and another pair that were snoozing on the bottom.  We also saw a huge banded sea krait, which was writhing around in the water.  Neat!  Eventually we meandered into a series of pinnacles that were really nice.  They had tons of little fish swarming all around them, plus quite a bit of soft coral on the sides.  The deepest of the pinnacle was probably about 80 feet at the bottom, and the shallowest was around 20 feet on top.  We stopped for a while so Rob could take pictures of a patch of soft coral.  Actually it was a pretty long while… I was getting rather bored.  Eventually he was finished, and then we realized that the rest of the group had moved on.  I had a vague idea of the direction they’d gone (toward the shallower pinnacles), so we headed that way, but didn’t see any bubbles or anything.  Eventually after hanging out in the shallows for a while, we thumbed it, since our understanding was that if we got separated from the group, we were supposed to look around and then surface.  Apparently we had misunderstood this, and since we were still together as a buddy team, we weren’t expected to surface.  So that was sort of annoying.

We headed back to the camp for lunch, which was quite a spread!  There was bbq chicken, a Filipino noodle dish, some sort of fish dish, and a really tasty fruit salad.  And some other stuff in there as well.  After lunch, we hung out for a while, and eventually packed up and headed out for our last dive over there.  The last site, called Coral Garden, was back on the other side of the island.  We dropped into shallow water and we were in an area with patches of reef here and there, separated by sand.  It didn’t strike me as being that nice of a site at first.  We were swimming around a bit, when Rob pointed out to me that the leak alarm on his camera was going off.  Ruh-roh.  I thumbed it, but he seemed unconvinced that it required aborting the dive.  Oddly, it seemed like I was way more concerned about it than he was.  I guess he could see in the housing that there was just a little moisture.  So no pictures from this dive.  Even though I was initially pretty meh about the site, we eventually ended up in a much denser area, and it was a really nice dive.  It was a gently sloping reef, with a good number of fish, and I spent a lot of time nudi-peeping, and had a fun time with that.  We ended up in an area that was about 20 feet deep, and we spent at least the last 20 minutes of the dive there.  When it was finally time to end the dive, I thumbed it, and Rob was acting weird, asking what depth we should stop at.  I couldn’t understand why we needed any sort of stops at all when we were at 20 feet for most of the dive.  I finally remembered that he had no gauge, and was just asking what depth we were at.

When we surfaced, it had become pretty overcast, and started raining shortly after that.  It was a pretty wet ride back to the resort.  When we got back, we found that we had plenty of time to make the night dive, and even some time to warm up beforehand.  For the night dive, we were going blue-ring-octopus hunting.  We went to a site called Small La Laguna, just off to the left from the resort.  We did not succeed in finding a blue ring octopus, but this was an awesome macro dive.  We saw a pipe seahorse, (non-flamboyant) cuttlefish, a leaf scorpionfish, some other more “normal” looking scorpionfish, and of course a variety of little crabs, shrimp, flatworms, and nudibranchs.  I found a Cerberilla affinis, which I was pretty happy with, since it was unlike any other slugs we’d seen yet.  We did see one octopus, but it wasn’t blue-ring; I’m actually not sure what it was.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Philippines 2012: Day 3: Some more tech diving

We planned a slightly deeper dive for the morning, to a site called Deep Atolls, which is basically just further out than a popular recreational site called Canyons.  So we dropped at Canyons and scootered out from there.   The scoot out was quite nice, zooming through the canyons, which had quite a bit of soft coral on them.  Not the brilliantly colored stuff that they have in Fiji, but just lots and lots of pastel-colored stuff.  After quite a bit of scootering, we eventually came to deeper water, with these spits of reef that extended out, with patches of sand between them.  They totally reminded me of pinnacles, NorCal style.  In fact, I was thinking as I scootered along them just how similar it was to diving at home.  Big structure, colorful reef, lots of gorgonians.  But just a teeny bit warmer! :)  We saw a school of barracuda when we got out to the end of the first deep pinnacle.  We looked around there for a bit and then continued out to the next one.  After just a moment there, we headed back over to the first one.  When it was time to switch off of my stage bottle, I went to clip off my light, and the double-ender just slid through my fingers.  Sadly, I was over a bottom that was just a bit too deep to go after it.  So after yelling a few choice words through my regulator, I figured out how to make do without the double ender (because I didn’t have a spare… Rob always has a spare, but since he was diving sans pockets, that was no good).  Amazingly, this was just the second time I’ve ever dropped a double ender in the water, and the first time was the week before! (But that was during a Fundies class, so I recovered it the next time we dropped down the line.)  So needless to say, I felt like a moron.  After I finally dealt with the light, I went to pin my trigger, and found that my trigger pin had gone walk-about.  And since this wasn’t my scooter (which has a nice little spot to stow the pin AND a backup pin), I had no backup, so just had to deal.  Grumble!

Not too long after the bolt-snap debacle, we headed in shallower.  The great thing about this site is that it’s a really nice dive site the whole way up to 20 feet.   After a fairly long scoot in, we stopped at 80 feet, and the whole time, I felt like I was forgetting to do something, but couldn’t figure out anything I should be doing.  When we got to 70 feet, and I switched to my deco bottle, I finally realized that lately, whenever I do a 3-bottle dive, it is 3 deco bottles, so usually I switch to backgas at 80 feet.  Once I figured that out, I felt sort of relieved that there wasn’t something I’d actually forgotten.  Once we got onto our bottles (and I dealt with my GD light without a bolt snap and GD scooter without a trigger pin), Rob whipped out his camera for a few shots.  Then we slowly scootered in from stop to stop.  I must confess that pretty much the whole 50% portion of the deco, I was a bit confused about what our deco schedule was.  We had discussed one thing at 70 feet, and then seemed to be doing longer stops, so I just waited until everyone else was ready to move and followed.  There was also an accidental gauge reset somewhere in there that added to my confusion.  Apparently Ferg had countered our proposal, and I had missed that.  On the way in, we passed a group of divers from Atlantis, being led by Cris; we waved hello to each other.   When I got to 30 feet, and started fumbling with my light, I looked up and Steve had a spare double-ender for me.  Phew.  Then I asked if he had a trigger pin; he handed me one and I proceeded to drop it (but since I was over a hard bottom, I was able to retrieve it).  I think my hand was cramped from scootering with a slightly off tow cord length.  The 20 foot stop was quite fun; there was lots of stuff to look at to pass the time.  We did an excessively long deco (in my opinion), but who cares in water like that?

Once back on the boat, we headed back to the shop, and after making plans for another dive in the afternoon, we adjourned for a couple hours to have lunch and leave time for gas fills.  We planned to meet a little bit earlier, because we were heading to Verde Island for the afternoon dive.  We were headed to a spot called Black Fish, which is on the near side of Verde Island.  It is on one corner of the island, and apparently lots of fish like to congregate there sometimes.  Unfortunately, when we were there was not one of those times.  We actually saw relatively few fish in the deep areas on this dive.  Anyhoo, on this dive we scootered down a fairly steep slope, and eventually hit a dropoff, and the followed the wall in one direction.  Off of the wall there were some little pinnaclets on which there were more of those nice big sea fans.  We also saw the one and only shark of our trip on this site; a nice-sized reef shark just milling about.  The wall at this site was quite dramatic, so for me, the site was really about structure (at least the deep part).  We eventually turned around and headed back along the wall in the other direction.  My scooter stuck on in a manner that I was unable to resolve myself.  So I jammed my hand into the hub (and got a nice hub-shaped bruise in the process) as the scooter proceeded to not de-pitch itself, and started scootering in a big loop around Rob.  Eventually Rob and Ferg unclipped it from me and Ferg switched scooters with me.  Once I was finished clipping his scooter on, I looked over and saw that mine was no longer running.  I wondered what trick he had up his sleeve, but apparently the scooter finally just wore itself out and died.  So from there, Steve towed Ferg (despite my offer to give Ferg’s scooter back to him and be the towed). 

By this point it was time to head up the slope anyway.  This was actually the nicest part of the dive.  From about 100 to 70 feet, the reef was really quite stunning.  Lots of fish, lots of color, this would make a great recreational dive spot.  Despite some dire warnings about possible downcurrents as we worked our way up the slope, we basically had no current on the way up.  So it was a nice relaxing deco.

When we surfaced, it was raining and the ride back was kind of ugly.  But it added to the adventure.  When we got back to the shop, we decided that we would dive the next couple of days with Atlantis, so we took most of our gear back with us, at least what we would need for recreational diving over the next few days.  Or so I thought :)

Rob did a night dive that night, but I had spa plans, so I skipped it.  So of course they went out to an awesome muck site that I wanted to go to, and found flamboyant cuttlefish.  Boohoo.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Philippines 2012: Day 2: Two dives with Tech Asia

On Wednesday morning, the boat from Tech Asia picked us (and more importantly our gear) up from the resort.  It was just a couple minutes ride over there, but I guess they thought this was the easiest way to move the gear.  We walked up to the shop, and met our guide, Ferg.  He told us we would be diving with another GUE diver, Steve, who showed up shortly after us.  It turns out (though we didn’t realize this until later) we had met Steve in Florida before.  Steve has done all of the dives in the area before many many times, so it was basically like having two guides.  We ended up doing a dive in the morning and a dive in the afternoon.

For the morning dive, we went to a site called Deep Monkey Wreck, which has a series of walls in the 18/45 range.  And then we would work our way up the reef (if the currents behaved) and deco all the way up the reef.  Woohoo.  After a briefing with a chalkboard and everything, we loaded up our gear (well actually WE didn’t load anything) and got going.  The boat we were on was a smaller version of one of those outrigger boats.  It was a nice spacious ride, but rolling off of the side was a bit nerve-wracking, at least the first time, for two reasons.  First, it is pretty high off of the water.  Second, there are those outriggers, which I was afraid of hitting on the way down (yes, I know that's ridiculous).  Actually there was a third thing too.  We were diving with scooters (Gavins, barf), and the usual protocol is to sit the scooter on the rail next to you, clip it to you, and then roll in with your hand on the strap.  I noted that I had never rolled into the water with my scooter before, and was given the option to have it handed down instead.  While mulling that over, I asked what would happen if I somehow screwed up the roll-in-with-scooter maneuver.  I was assured that the worst that would happen would the scooter would land on my head, so I decided to go for it.  In all, over the course of the trip, I rolled in off of that boat 4 times with a scooter.  I think the scooter landed on me at least twice, but much more impressively, on at least two of the dives, I did a complete 360 underwater before popping back to the surface.

Anyhoo, back to the dive.  The dive ended up being a little shallower than I expected;  I don’t know if we dropped in a different spot, or just didn’t cover as much ground as expected.  My scooter turned out to be a bit mis-weighted, so that when it was running, the handle was about 30 degrees off from where I would like it.  So that took a little getting used to.  We were initially over a slopey area, and then ended up on a wall, though it wasn’t a very tall wall (by local standards anyway).  The thing I found noteworthy about the site was that it was covered with sea whips (I think that’s what they are called… the things that stick out and look like fat pipe cleaners).   I was terrified of a sea whip versus scooter incident, so I was giving them quite a bit of space :P  Those were there on the slope and on top of the wall.  Once we got to the wall, there were also some really big sea fans along the side of the wall.  Eventually we turned around and headed back the way that we came.  Rob kept making me pose behind sea fans, which was tricky with the current.  I would scooter way up current and then get in position and drift along and hope he could get a shot or two before scootering back up-current and doing it all over again.  As promised, we deco’d up the reef.  And I got to enjoy crinoids in every freakin’ color of the rainbow.  I love crinoids!

After lunch at El Galleon resort, which is like a 2 minute walk from the dive shop, we met up again in the afternoon, and went back out for another dive in the same depth range.  This site was called Sweet Lips Corner, and featured a neat swimthrough with lots of sweetlips congregating at the exit.  We dropped in fairly shallow water, and then scootered down a long gradual slope, and eventually hit a dropoff.  After following along this dropoff for a bit, we found the swimthrough which went into the wall, then there was a sharp turn to the right, and it came out on the other side of a bend along the wall.  I swam into it first, and once I got to the area where it turned, I looked out and saw a bunch of fish congregating at the exit.  I figured if I swam out, it would disturb them, so I turned around and went back out, and told Rob to go through first.  He swam in and was in there forever and ever and didn’t end up taking pictures of the fish.  Not sure why.  Eventually I went back through and posed for pictures at the exit.  By this point the fish had mostly scattered, so they aren’t really evident in the picture.  Once we headed up the slope to start our deco, we found ourselves in a howling current.  It was crazy.  Until we got up to about 20 or 30 feet, we were just flying over the reef, which was fairly barren.  I entertained myself by videoing us being dragged along.  When we got to 30 feet, some patches of reef appeared, and then it was denser at 20 feet.  The current also died down, so we could actually swim around looking at critters.

We made plans to meet again in the morning for some more diving, and we walked back to Atlantis (which was an 8 to 10 minute walk along the water).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Philippines 2012: Day 1: Local diving with Atlantis

We met up a little early since we had to setup our gear in the morning.  We had both forgotten to bring our STAs, but since all of the DMs dive with backplates and wings, we were told on arrival that they could hook us up with STAs (phew).  So we had to scavenge from the DM gear to find ones that would work for us, and figure out how to rig weights and stuff.  I ended up just using a small weight belt, after a couple of sketchy attempts to mount weights on the cam bands (my STA has weight pockets).  Once that was taken care of, they loaded our gear onto the boat, and we headed for one of the “far away” local sites (a 12 minute boat ride), called Coral Cove.  This site is around the eastern point of the island, then southwest from that point.  It was crazy flat when we got to the site.  Rob asked the crew if it was always this calm.  They laughed and said no.

We were diving with Norm, and it was to be a 70 foot max depth dive.  The site slopes down gently from about 20 feet to > 70 feet (we didn’t quite stick to the 70 foot max depth, but I don’t think we got much past 80).  Rob was shooting macro, so we were looking for critters.  We saw a few different kinds of nudibranchs, one Pygmy seahorse, two frogfish, and a (black) ribbon eel.  Plus lots of cute little fishies and crustaceans.  One cool thing that Norm pointed out was an electric clam.  I did not even know that such a creature existed!  It was really cool to watch it “arc”.  The second frogfish that Norm found was multi-colored, with an interesting pattern on it.  Unfortunately, Norm found it after Rob had already thumbed the dive.  We had worked our way up the slope by this point, so I asked Rob if he really didn’t have the gas for some pictures, and sadly he did not.  There was a decent amount of current on this site, and we were at some points swimming against the current (I think because Norm wanted to find the pygmy seahorse for us).  It was a bit of work :)

The second dive was at West Escarceo, which is closer; it is not quite to the point to the east.  We joined another boat with some chaps from the UK for the rest of the day.  This was another site that was reefy on a slope.  This dive was with Cris, who was good at pointing out little critters.  After lunch, we went back to basically one site over, to a site called “Wreck Point” with Thax.  Our nudi-finding skills improved with each dive, so we saw more of the ones we’d seen before plus some new guys. 

There was a dusk dive to look for mandarin fish, so we initially thought we wouldn’t have time for the second afternoon dive, but Rob didn’t comprehend this concept, and talked them into taking us for a quick dive just out from of the resort.  Like a one minute boat ride.  We were joined by another diver who had just received his delayed gear, so this was his first dive of the trip.  This site was pretty much sand with little patches of reef, which had plenty of neat critters.  All in all, across the day dives, in addition to the nudibranchs, the other critters that I liked the best were the orangutan crabs (which are SO cute).  And that electric clam was really awesome.

The mandarin fish dive was similarly close to the resort.  The plan was to spend 20 or so minutes in the rubble area with the mandarinfish and then swim off for a night dive.  We were told that the fishies wouldn’t like white lights, so a couple people had red lights to use instead.  We were briefed to drop down around this rubble area and form a circle, and kneel on the sand and wait for the fishies to come out.  I’m not exactly a fan of kneeling on the sand (not so much for philosophical reason but because it just isn't comfortable in my opinion), but hovering in a circle, when there is current, is a bit of a pain.  Rob found the perfect spot in the circle so he was just swimming a little bit into the current.  And left me to get swirled around in the current :P  At first I was getting pretty bored because I would just occasionally get a glimpse of one or two of the fish, and I could barely make them out.  I guess my eyes eventually adjusted, because eventually I was able to see them really clearly and I could pick out pairs of them all over the place!  So then it got fun.  We ended up spending about 45 minutes with the mandarinfish, and then swam around a bit to look for other critters.  The memorable critters that we saw were a white cuttlefish (my first ever, not a flamboyant though) and a really cool (maybe a little creepy-looking) flatfish.

Somewhere during the course of the day, I managed to destroy yet another E/O cord on my light.  I hate E/O cords.