It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Fiji 2016: Nai'a Day 4: Somosomo Strait

Today was our second and final day at Somosomo Strait. Our first dive was scheduled for 7:30 but it was delayed until 8 due to the tides, so I hung out on the sun deck to kill some time. Both skiff's were diving the same site (Jerry's Jelly), so we staggered by about 10 minutes (nominally 5 minutes). However, when we got to the site, and saw lots of bubbles like 100' from where we were dropping, Rob questioned the effectiveness of that. Anyhoo, we dropped down to find a sloping reef that went down to 60 or so feet. The site was briefed to be a wall with the occasional bommie off in the sand to our left, and that eventually the wall would end (well turn a corner really) and if you kept going straight there would be some large bommies out there. The slope where we landed wasn't that great to look at, but up the slope there was a big bommie around 40' that had a bunch of anthias and soft coral. We were hanging out there, waiting for th crowd to disperse.  We noticed another relatively tall and skinny bommie off in the sand, in the opposite direction of most of the grou, so we headed there. There were a couple of really nice patches of soft coral, and some, but not a ton, of fish congregating around it. There was a huge school of fusiliers up in the water column, zooming around, so I went up to liked 15 feet to try to get some video, and then eventually went back down to collect Rob. 

From there we headed to another bommie further off of the wall, and then I noticed across the sand going parallel to the wall, but back the way we'd come on the wall was a ridge of reef running perpendicular to the wall. And it had a ton of little colorful fish (anthias and more) on it. But it was too far to make out what was there. We went to check it out and found a ton of soft coral, of all different colors. It was exactly what Rob had been looking for all trip... Lots of soft coral and lots of anthias concentrated above it.  And the ridge was very shallow, from about 15' to 30'. After we were finished there, we saw another parallel ridge across the sand channel on the other side, and it also had tons of fish on top of it. So we headed there, and this continued for pretty much the rest of the dive. In all, we visited 4 parallel ridges, all of which were covered in soft coral and topped with tons of anthias.  While Rob was taking pictures on some of the ridges, I played around with the hero came to see what the available light would do so shallow. Rob also lighted for me for a while. Eventually I suggested doubling back, since the first two had been the prettiest. By the time we got back to the first, our skiff was parked on top of us, waiting for us to finish, which made for some nice boat shots for Rob. I noticed that the soft corals were staring to close up, so I guess we timed the dive just right. When we finally thumb edit, both skiff's were sitting there waiting for us. I guess everyone else was long finished and back on the boat. 

We had breakfast burritos (with bacon) and chocolate croissants for second breakfast.  Nom nom. Then there was a presentation about macro critters, which culminated in a video about flatworm penis fencing. Disturbing stuff. By then, it was time to get ready for the next dive. Our skiff was going to Rainbow's End (which the other skiff went to yesterday). It was a slopey wall that was supposed to have a lot of soft coral. We were warned that there might be a bit of current coming up the slope. When we dropped in, we found that the current was in fact going up the slope, and a little bit in the direction that we were going. The current picked up throughout the dive (which we'd been warned about). It was an exciting ride at times. However, the scenery was amazing. There were all of these scattered outcroppings that were covered in all different colors of soft coral, and there were zillions of colorful little fish everywhere. It was liked drifting through an aquarium in a fish store.  Taking pictures was a bit of a challenge, to say the least. And so was posing for pictures, so I only posed for a few. I mostly just tried to watch the scenery as we drifted by, and occasionally I'd find a well-shaped outcropping where I could hide from some of the current.  The slope ended around 65', but if you went up the slope at all, you'd get caught in the current and have to kick really hard to get back down. So we pretty much cowered at the bottom the whole dive, but that was okay because there was plenty to see down there. Eventually after huffing and puffing through all of our gas, we had to ascend, which was a little exciting. Once we started up the slope, we basically got dragged to the top (20') where we attempted to hold station, but that we quickly exhausting, so we let the current drag us over the top and deposit us in a barren area at about 30'. So we did a blue water ascent from there. 

For lunch we had seafood chowder, which was not exactly what I'd think of when I think seafood chowder, but it was delicious. There was garlic bread too, which was delicious, though slightly less so on the subsequent dive. The dive was at a site called The Ledge, which was a new to the boat site (they got the location for another dive op). So we knew it was a pinnacle, but that was about it. Turns out it came up to about 10', and dropped to around 50' or 60' where there was a ledge, and then it continued down (in a steep slope) to deeper than our MOD. We started at the top, where there was a nice spot with soft coral and some anthias on the north side, and from there we swam around the pinnacle clockwise, keeping pretty near the top (down to maybe 40') the whole time. The site was kind of boring compared to the two previous sites, which I tried and failed to convey to Rob :). When we made it around the whole way, I suggested we drop down into the deep, just to see what was there. So we scooted down to our MOD + epsilon, to have a look around. There weren't any monsters from the deep, but the slope was pretty densely covered all the way down, with quite a bit of different kinds of coral and fish. We slowly meandered back up to the top, then took a few more pictures of that soft coral patch, then went on top of the pinnacle (10') and played around a bit and took some video. When we surfaced, I guess our skiff driver had just gotten sick of waiting for us, because he was headed back to the boat. So we got to hang out on the surface for a few minutes, which was fun. There was a big rainbow in front of one of the islands, so I decided to take a bit of video of our drift through Somosomo Strait :)

After we were retrieved by the skiff, the driver dropped a down line with a strobe on it, for the night dive. I'd been thinking during the dive that this would make a good night dive :). We snacked on some chocolate cake and had a relatively long break (to work on photos and blog) before we headed back out.  There was a teeny bit more current on the night dive, which was pretty cool because the soft coral was a lot more open... This site would be pretty awesome during the day with a little current. We saw a sleeping turtle right after we dropped. Overall the dive was not as productive as the previous night dive, but we still had lots of fun. We found lots of weird little crabs and shrimp. I found a rather large ornately decorated flatworm, which was probably my best find of the night. Not a ton of nudis, though at the very end, Rob found a pretty big very cool nudi on some hydroids. Unfortunately (and oddly), it managed to slither off before he could get a shot. Sigh. After waiting a bit to see if he would return, we called the dive. Still need to ID that slug. 

For dinner we had chicken cordon blue and some dang tasty custardy apple pie with ice cream. Yum!  Then we watched a rather amusing video about the refit that was done to this vessel when it was converted to a dive live aboard. It was significant, to say the least!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Fiji 2016: Nai'a Day 3: Somosomo Strait

We made to crossing to Somosomo Strait overnight, which was a 10-11 hour trip, so it really took all night.  Since the currents are very finicky, or rather the dives are very current-dependent, we were told to be ready to get ready to dive starting at 7, but we could end up diving as late as 8:30. So we had to get up a half hour early, which I was a bit cranky about. But it turned out that we did dive at 7, so at least we got up early for good reason. The first dive was at White Wall, which we did last time we were in Fiji, though I was pretty convinced that the way we did it wasn't the right way.  We had a very thorough briefing about the path we would take, how the current would flow, and what was worth looking at after we came up the wall.

We got in without incident (no slipping tanks today) and immediately as we started to descend I saw a little reef shark below us. We got down to the first structure (across the sand channel from the main wall) and found some very nice (non-white) soft corals. We decided to hang there for a minute while the rest of the group got moving. So the plan in the briefing was to take a vertical chute swim through to get down to the wall, but I didn't see the group go through a swim through and I didn't see one. So we just swam around to the wall. We were swimming into a bit of current and the group was ahead of us. We got to the really cool part of the wall, which was covered in ice blue soft corals, and we dropped down to about 100'. Rob was taking pictures, lagging behind, and the group disappeared around a corner. I swam to the corner to keep an eye on the group and whoosh, I got sucked around the corner.  So this was *that* corner, where the current splits. So I had to swimuocurrent to get to Rob, doh!  I posed for a bunch of pictures, swimming into the current, while Rob back kicked into the current, which makes me tired just thinking about it!  Eventually (well actually pretty quickly) we had drifted to the point where the thick cover of soft corals ended, and we started working our way up the wall. We found the swim through that we were supposed to use to get off the wall, and went through it. It was pretty nice in there, except that Rob kept bumping my fins; guess he wasn't interested in checking out the scenery!

We popped out of the swim through and just in front of us was a bit mushroom-shaped bommie with all kinds of soft corals of all different colors covering it. I was completely expecting to find the dive group I this area, but there was no sign of them or their bubbles. We stayed there for a bit, then went to the nearby reef and looked around.  But we ended up back at the mushroom because it was so nice. We decided to go back around the wall but then I called it off after I realized what an up current battle it would be to get there, which didn't seem worth it given how much gas we had at that point.  So we spent most of the rest of the dive on the mushroom (it really reminded me of Super Mario Brothers) then went to some of the shallower adjacent reef right near the end, just to look around.  Very near the end of the dive, a bunch of divers popped out of the swim through, which was the other skiff-load of people (we staggered entry so it would not be crowded). When we started to surface, I realized that there was yet a third boat on the site, which was moored to the site.

We came back and had breakfast, followed by a presentation on Cnidaria. After a short break, we headed out to Freeway. This was a sort of rubble reef slope, with come scattered bommie a along the bottom.  There were all kinds of fish there. It wasn't insanely fishy, but there were a lot, and a very large number of different kinds of fish.  About 35 minutes into the dive, Amanda called us over to a fairly far off and deep bommie (from about 60' to 100'). It was awesome.  Super covered in healthy coral and lots of concentrated balls of colorful fish, with some soft coral.  This area made the dive -- we wished we'd started the dive here -- so we finished the dive here and pretty much sucked down every last drop of gas until we absolutely had to go, and did a blue water ascent from there.

After lunch, we headed out for our third and last dive of the day, at Jack's Place.  There was a detailed briefing about the shape of the reef, where we would drop, and the expected direction of the current.  When we got to the site, Koroi jumped in and I guess he found the current not quite as expected. He and the skiff driver had a fairly long conversation in Fijian, and then he said the we planned to swim with the reef on our right, but might go with the reef on our left, depending on the current.  When we got to the bottom, the current didn't seem that significant to me, but he signaled to go with the reef on our left.  We hung back and let the group get going, and then we headed in that direction too. The dive did not in anyway resemble the briefing, but basically it was a sloping reef, at some points pretty dramatically sloped, and at the bottom there was sand and scattered bommies.  There was a ton of soft coral, which at first seemed to be mostly in shades of purple, but as we went further along, we found patches of all different colors.  The one problem with this site was that since it was reef that went on and on, there weren't any areas with really concentrated fish (like you'd want for photos or video). There were tons of fish, but they were everywhere rather than in tight fish balls. But it was a very nice site, and at the end, when we followed the slope up to 20' we didn't find some bigger concentrations of anthia.

The reason that we only did three dives was because around 5, we headed to a nearby village to visit and see a singing and dancing performance.  We went to keoa, which is a Polynesian village (which is quite rare in Fiji). They told us a bit about their history and we watched a performance of singing and dancing.  Then we wandered around a bit, took some pictures, etc.  the villagers were playing volleyball right next to the community center where the performance was, and after watching for a while, Rob and two of the crew joined the game. They managed to not embarrass us and got a few good shots in. After that, we headed back to the mother ship.

After dinner (filet mignon!), there was a kava party. The crew played guitar and sang (they were quite good!) while periodically force feeding us kava.  Okay, not exactly. I tried it and other than making my tongue tingle, I'm not sure what effect it had. But that could have been because of the wine with dinner.  In any case, the musical presentation by the crew was quite enjoyable. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Fiji 2016: Nai'a Day 2: Bligh Waters

We motored most of the night -- in very comfortable seas -- and we woke up somewhere in the Bligh waters between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. We had some toast and fruit and juice (cereal was available too) before the first dive. At 7:30, we met for the briefing.  For the morning dives, we would dive two nearby sites with one skiff going to each site for each. So we got a briefing for both sites (Cat's Meow and Vatu Vonu).

We went to Cat's Meow first.  It was a fairly large around pinnacle going from about 20' to 70'.  On one side of the pinnacle, there was a bigger reef structure across a small sand channel. But we stayed on the pinnacle the whole dive. There was a bit of current, but it was not too bad. I would describe it as "moderate". We started on the bottom and followed the herd around for a bit, maybe about a quarter of the way around the pinnacle, but eventually we realized that things were much more interesting up shallower. We found that on one end of the pinnacle, there was all sorts of sea fans, soft corals, etc. growing out of the side of the wall, and zillions of colorful fish, including tons of orange and magenta anthias.  The shallower we went, the more fish there were swarming around us. Eventually, I just went up to the top and hung out with the swarms of fish, while Rob took pictures on the side. Up there I saw a bunch of anemones with clownfish snuggling up in them. One other notable find from this dive was that Josh found a "Pygmy sea horse" (though not the same kind of Pygmy sea horse that I'm familiar with. This one was dark red and lived on hydroids) on a little coral patch on the bottom, just off of the pinnacle. 

When we returned, we had real breakfast. I had a waffle with a pineapple and mint topping and Rob had a spinach and tomato omelette that was served with bacon. There were also some very tasty apple muffins and fruit. After breakfast, there was an "environmental presentation" that was about creatures that are out during night dives. 

After a short break, we gathered for the next dive. We went to Vatu Vonu, which is also a pretty wide pinnacle, which goes from about 15' to 50'. Rob was shooting macro, so I spent the dive looking for nudibranchs and such, with some success. Josh found some pretty nice nudis for us. One of them was inside a pretty tight swim through that we were warned not to try to swim through during the briefing, teehee. We also saw two turtles (the name of the site means something about turtles in Fijian).  When we got to the top near the end of the dive, we found some more snuggly fish. I also noticed that on one side of the pinnacle near the top, there were soft corals of all different colors, but they were all curled up asleep. It would be interesting to see this site when the current is blowing. 

We had lunch when we got back (are you noticing a pattern?). I had chicken curry and Rob had beef stir fry.  We had over an hour before the next dive, so I took a nap.  I'm not sure if that was a good idea though, since I was quite groggy when I woke up. We had the dive briefing where we found out that once again the two skiff's would swap sites between this dive and the night dive. We were diving undeNAI'Able wall (and would dive undeNAI'Able pinnacle for the night dive).

Okenia japonica!
The wall was pretty interesting, with a bunch of "crevices" which were a bit large to call crevices.  One of the crevices leads into a little enclosed "lagoon". In the crevice leading up to that, the walls were insanely colorfully encrusted with sponge and coral. But it wasn't coral formations, but mostly flat walls with super colorful patches of all different colors. Reminded me of the middle reef at Point Lobos.  Past that crevice, I thought that the dive got much better... The wall had way more interesting coral formations on it and was just overall more attractive. We also found some cool nudibranchs along that patch. After the dive I suggested that the dive should have started at that crevice :)

We had some snacks and a break (to work on the blog) after that dive.  We were supposed to get together for the night dive at 6, though I think everyone was very eager so we got started a little early.  We went to the pinnacle, as planned, but for some reason the other skiff did not go to the wall as planned (they went to some other site). We had a few false starts getting into the water (gas leaking from the DIN fitting on someone's tank, then an outbreak of tanks slipping out of cam bands) but we finally got in after having to reposition the boat 3 times. It was an awesome dive. We saw all kinds of cool critters... Lots of nudis, and lots of weird crabs and shrimps. Joshua found lots of stuff, though Rob and I did a reasonable job too.  I didn think I'd be up for an hour plus dive, since I was quite cold before the dive, but we were having so much fun, I didn't notice the chill until the very end. 

We had dinner pretty much right after we got back. Squash and ginger soup, chicken stuffed with goat cheese and tomatoes, and chocolate mousse. After dinner, I really wanted to go straight to bed, but Rob twisted my arm to stay up long enough to finish this post :)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

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

View from the boat
Before you know it, it was time to go wait for the Nai'a bus to pick us up (the pickup was at 1pm+epsilon, depending on the order of pickups).  We basically waited around until we saw that the other people in the lobby with dive-themed baggage all started to head outside and we followed and asked if this was the shuttle for nai'a. It was. We got on and headed to the airport next, then back to raffles (to pickup a passenger that missed the unannounced shuttle pickup earlier) then onto a couple more resorts and on to Lautoka Wharf. All in all the journey was about an hour. We boarded the boat forthwith, while the crew unloaded our big bags to the dive deck. We setup dive gear, the crew took the rest of our bags down to our rooms, and then we all gathered in the salon for a briefing. We were in cabin 1, which has one big bed. Impressively big. Rob and I both thought it was pretty swanky.  I had to pee so I inspected the head to determine how it worked. I couldn't find a button or a pedal or any  such. There was one feature on the side which I inspected and decided was not a button. So I asked Rob to figure it out. He looked and immediately pointed to the button on the side. So that was a button!  I don't know why I decided it wasn't.

Our cabin
The briefing was long and detailed. Too long in Rob's opinion. I thought it was fine, plus snacks were served.  I was glad to learn that toilet paper was allowed in the head.  Rob gave me a look when they explained how to,flush :P. After the thorough briefing (which did not include the safety briefing... that was promised for later), we were told to meet on the dive deck for our first I've briefing in 20 minutes.  I had already changed into my swimsuit between gear setup and the intro briefing (because I have the gift of foresight) so I was twiddling my thumbs for most of the 20 minutes. I got into my wetsuit and found that my new (identical to my old) wetsuit booties were a bit big. Not really too big but just big enough to be annoying. 
The dive deck

After the dive site briefing (small reef with scattered bommies in the sand, in 20 to 30' of water), we headed to the rear deck and boarded our skiff. It was a bit windy so boarding th skiff was a little squirrely. We motored for what seemed like 100 feet and then stopped and started to get into our gear. We all rolled in on the count of 3 (which miraculously actually worked with 7 people) and after Rob retrieved his camera, we descended to the sand, in about 30 feet.  The viz was a bit milky/hazy plus it was almost 5, so with the low light, you just couldn't see that far. We started poking around among the rubble on the bottom, and I immediately found a tiny filefish. We headed to the nearest bommie, and Rob pretty quickly found a white and purple Dorid (there were actually two, though he only showed me the one). At this point we'd already lost the rest of he group. Oh well. We meandered from bommie to bommie. The bommie weren't very beautiful by Fiji standards, but there were some pretty decent hard coral formations. We saw a bunch more of those blue and white nudis, plus Rob found a cool little whip coral shrimp (like we saw in the philippines). I kept looking at it, trying to convinc myself that it was actually there, and not part of the coral.  

We eventually caught up with the other skiff's dive team (with Amanda as dive guide) and we benefited from her good eye.  She found a cool slug (not a nudi I think) and then a dragonet and later an even cooler Aeolid. We found another dragonet, and showed that to her. She asked if there were two, because apparently near sunset, they do a little mating dance. But we did not get to see that. We finished up the dive on top of a bommie, finally surfacing a few minutes after Amanda. We got back on the boat (I even managed to pull myself back in unaided) and had a one minute ride back to the boat. Something smelled great as I walked from the aft deck to the dive deck (passing by the galley on the way). 

View from our cabin
After getting out of our suits and changing, we hung out in the salon until the dinner bell was rung.  Dinner started with a salad of arugula, pears, walnuts, feta and balsamic vinegar (my kind of salad as Rob pointed out). Then we had salmon with some kind of caper topping, with couscous. The salmon was fantastic. For desser we had key lime pie, which was a bit different than the usual key lime pie, but it was very good. All in all a great meal!  After dinner we got an intro to the crew (aside from the dive staff, who we'd already met) and a safety briefing, but first several of he crew (including the captain) treated us to some music, singing along with 2 guitars and a ukulele. I think the crew of the escapade should learn from this!

After that, Rob and I headed to the sun deck.  We'd returned to shore to pickup a delayed passenger, and it was super smokey on shore... Something about burning sugar cane?  So after about 15 minutes, I started to have a sneezing fit and my eyes were burning, so we retreated to the salon. But the sun deck has a lot of potential for evening stargazing. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Fiji 2016: Getting to Fiji

Our flight to Fiji was not bad, except that we had to go through LAX, which is always terrible :P  We flew on Fiji Airways, which was formerly Air Pacific (aka Air Pathetic).  They rebranded since we last went to Fiji, and I was skeptical that it was anything more than a name change, but they replaced their planes and the new planes are WAY better.  And I didn't get food poisoning from food on the flight this time, so that's a bonus!  We flew business class, which were angled lie-flat seats.  I've never been subjected to angled lie-flat seats before, but I've read a lot of negative reviews of them.  I had no trouble sleeping in the seat, and couldn't really notice it wasn't completely flat.  But I drank an ample amount of booze to help with the sleeping, so that could be why :)

Our flight arrived in Nadi a bit after 6:30AM (a little bit late) and after a very quick trip through immigration and customs, and a quick visit to the bank to get some Fiji-dollars, we walked to the area where hotel shuttles pick people up. We had reserved a day room at the hotel across the street ("Fiji Gateway Hotel" formerly Raffles). We couldn't find the shuttle so we decided to give it a few minutes. While we were waiting, a friendly Fijian man, who I think was tasked with maintaining order among the shuttles, told us that they come every few minutes, and as we were discussing it, he pointed out the shuttle entering the airport.  Once we got to the hotel, we were quickly checked in and taken to our room. The room was a fine place to spend a few hours napping and enjoying a few last moments of Internet. And showering. The water pressure was excellent. We also lunched there (I had chicken curry and Rob had fish n chips -- both were good).