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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!

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