It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

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. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Fiji 2016: Nai'a Day 6: Wakaya Island

We woke up anchored very close to a little island called Wakaya Island. Where we were anchored was very flat and you could see patches of turquoise blue water out on the reef. It was pretty much what you'd think of when you think "tropical paradise".  We were diving at three sites, which were really just the same wall, which had somehow been divided into and named as three sites. But you could swim from one site to the next without much effort in a single dive. Anyhoo, the wall came up to 50'-80' depending on where you were, and there were various sizes bommies along the edge of the wall, some coming up as shallow as 15'.  The bommies were said to have lots of healthy hard coral and lots of fish on them. There were also some assorted interesting macro critters that were known to live here. But this was also supposed to be the best chance of the week to see big stuff like mantas, hammerheads, and turtles. There were a couple of cleaning stations along the wall that might have mantas or reef sharks on them.  We were also told during the briefing that this was the one day that dives would be limited to 60 minutes, because the sites were too far away to ferry people back to the boat (but the sites were still super close).

We started at Lion's Den, which is on one end of the wall. There was supposed to be a cleaning station ear the end. The coral on the site wasn't actually that impressive. I guess I just can't get that excited about hard corals... Their colors are just so dull compared to California hydrocoral :P. There was a pretty big school of fusiliers that we had fun playing with.  As we approached 60 minutes, I swam over close to Joshua, since I figured we could get away with staying until he headed up. He found a leaf scorpionfish and we were checking that out when I guess I heard Joshua make some noise and looked over to see a manta coming up over the reef!  I looked over at Rob to get his attention, and of course he was staring down and impervious to my signals. He finally looked up and we swam over to the manta. At this point, both groups of divers had ended up in the same are (remember how I said you could easily swim from one site to the next?), so it was pretty crowded. We got to watch it swim by, circle around, and swim off. When the show was over, everyone started their ascents. We were on our way from 20' to 10' when I think I saw Hollyce point down, and I looked down and saw that the manta was back. So we swam back down to the reef, and I was already videoing as we descended to it. The manta circles around us a few times and even got quite close to Rob as his camera was pointed at it. Woot!  There were only 4 of us down there, so we managed to actually get some photo/video time. After the manta took off, I turned to Rob to tell him that I really needed to ascend (because I was very low on gas), and saw him slashing his hand across his throat from about 15' away. Doh!  I had my long hose deployed forthwith and in his hands by the time we swam to each other and we immediately started our ascent. I showed him my gauge, so we just ascended sans stops. This was the first time I have had to donate gas for realsies, and I think it went pretty smoothly, though Rob told me not to put it in the blog :P. But just for the record, he estimates that he had about two breaths left when I donated (based on his "extensive experience with breathing stage bottles dry"). 

Breakfast was really really good today... French toast with bananas and coconut. The French toast tasted like it had a cinnamon batter and the bananas tasted like bananas foster :). After breakfast, we went to Vatu Vai, which is at the other end of the wall. There is a bommies that comes up to 15' right at the drop point, where there is often a cleaning station. So we were hoping for more manta action, though that did not end up happening. We did spend a lot of time looking out into the blue hoping for something though. Joshua found a cool pipefish at the bottom by that bommie, which looks like a twig with leaves on it.  Other than that, we took some video of anemonefish to pass the time. Everyone seemed to find it quite amusing that Rob lights for me when I video :)

After lunch, we went to Blue Ridge, which is the site between the two that we had done before.  We dropped in and looked into the blue for a couple of minutes, then moved over to the reef. Just a couple minutes later, Amanda's bell jingled, and there was a manta doing somersaults just off of the wall!  It stayed there doing barrel rolls and circling around us for a few minutes. It was awesome!  It took off and after a bit of waiting, we gave up and went back to the wall. A couple minutes later, Amanda signaled us again and this time, one manta did a fly-by and two more swooped by, but we just got one look and they were gone. That was it for mantas for that dive. Amanda found some cool macro critters, though, including another leaf scorpionfish, a cool Blenny with his shrimp companion, and a pair of juvenile regal angelfish, which are very pretty and look very different than the adult.  It was a good macro dive, though the mantas clearly mad it worthwhile to shoot wide angle :)

The afternoon snack involved some fantastic fresh baked chocolate brownie cookies.  They were like brownies, shaped like cookies. And they were huge. And I had two. For the night dive there was a bit of negotiating about whether to do a night dive at 6PM or a dusk dive at 5:30. I could not find any reason to care. In the end, the other skiff did a dusk dive and we did a usual night dive. We went back to Lions' Den.  Joshua was leading us and he promised to find us something that would "blow our minds". At first, I felt like the dive was not super productive in terms of finding macro critters, but then things picked up. We saw a ton of scorpionfish, including two leaf scorpionfish (found by moi). Joshua lived up to his promise but finding these two awesome slugs of hydroids. At first I thought they looked kind of tritonia like because of the shape of their frilly bits, but upon more careful inspection decided they looked like dendronotus. They were beigish with a very intricate pattern (that looked like diamonds to my eyes, but I guess are more like ovals). They struck me as pretty big for hydroids slugs. There was also the usual assortment of little crabs, a few blennies poking their heads out of the reef, and quite a few moray eels, mostly very small and cute, but one medium and one huge.  Overall it was a good macro dive. 

When we surfaced, Rob postulated that the cool slug was a tritonia; I told him I thought it was a dendronotus. He said he didn't think so. Well, it was in the "dendronotid nudibranchs" section of the book. While we were on the skiff, we noticed that there was a lot of bioluminescence in the water. Even when we weren't moving, it was like little flashes of light in the water. Once we got moving, in the boat wake we could see what looked liked sparks flying off of the boat. Very cool. This competed for our attention with the awesome view of the stars. It's just so dark out there!

After dinner (the highlight of which was an awesome dessert of brownie cheesecake with chocolate ice cream), we went up to the sun deck. Unfortunately the mast light was so bright that we could hardly see any stars. One of the crew on watch in the wheelhouse came out and asked if we wanted the mast light off to see stars. When he turned it off, it was like he flipped on the stars :). A bunch of us were looking at the stars, and we saw several shooting stars!  Eventually Joshua came up and he asked the crew to turn off the bridge lights too and the view got even better view. Eventually I got chilly so we headed downstairs and found some of the crew gathering with guitars on the dive deck. So we stayed and listened to them for a bit, and Rob had some kava. He said he could feel the tingle on his tongue this time. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Fiji 2016: Nai'a Day 5: Namena Reserve

The ride to Namena was a bit sporty, not because the weather was huge but I guess it was all on the beam. So I woke up in the middle of the night and kind of felt like the bed was a free-moving inversion table. But eventually we got here and it was pretty flat; not lake flat like it was yesterday, and not flat enough for sunbeams according to Rob. Our first dive was at Two Thumbs Up aka Chimneys, which Rob had requested (whined about?) diving if possible. The plan was to put one skiff on each of the pinnacles, and each group was briefed to spiral down th pinnacle, then head to the shorter reefs (which come up to about 50') and then finish the dive back on the pinnacle. So based on that, we hatched a plan to get some bubble free time on each pinnacle. 

The one that we dropped on was the (slightly) shallower of the two. We swam around it until we found the side with lots of open soft coral.  There was some current, enough to to keep the soft coral open, but it was manageable. Rob took a bunch of pics on that pinnacle, then we did a pass around the top with the video.  Then we headed over to the other pinnacle, which conveniently by this point the divers from the other skiff had moved to the deeper area. So we got that to ourselves while we took some photos and video. I don't think the top of this was quite as nice from a video perspective. We the. Headed down to the two deeper ridges, with a visit to the garden eels in between. After we visited the first one, I dropped my GoPro in the sand and left it running while we went to the next ridge, then went back to retrieve it. The deeper ridges were not nearly as healthy looking as the pinnacles.  One of them was pretty well covered at the deeper end though, and had a bunch of really big sea fans at the bottom on one side. After I retrieved my GoPro, we went back to the pinnacle where we started. There were just a few people left at this point, so there were few enough bubbles for Rob to take a few more pictures. 

After breakfast (Eggs Benedict!), we headed to Schoolhouse, a site with a wall going down to "friggin' deep" according to the map drawn for the briefing, with the occasional big bommie right at the edge of the drop off. The site was supposed to have large schools of fish (hence the name) as well as nice hard coral on the bommies, plus the potential for big stuff (hammerheads, mantas) out in the blue off of the wall. Very shortly after we dropped, we saw a white tip reef shark. We hung out off the wall for several minutes, but didn't really see much, so then we started to swim along the wall, at about 60'. I was looking down the slope and saw a big gorgonian, so I asked Rob if we could scoot down the wall for a look around. He agreed, so we dropped down quickly to 110' + epsilon. Below the big gorgonian, there was a line of more gorgonians going down the wall. We agreed to head back up, and as we started to ascend, I looked down the wall to find the rest of the group, but I didn't see them or their bubbles. Just then, I heard Amanda's noise maker.  I looked around to see where it was coming from, and I saw her silhouette swimming like mad away from the wall. I figured it had to be a hammerhead to get that kind of response. Rob and I started swimming as fast as we could in her direction, and when we finally got there (huffing and puffing, having been swimming hard at 90' to 100'), there was a big group of sharks. Dozens of them. I couldn't immediately make out whether they were hammerheads, but then one on the closer side of the group finally turned so that I could get a good look at his head, and see the hammer shape. We watched them and then they were gone. Then they circled back around and we watched them a bit longer, before they took off for good.

Once we determined that they weren't coming back, we headed back toward the wall. It was a couple minute swim, and just when I was staring to worry that we wouldn't find the wall, Amanda turned to us and gave us a big phew signal, and then the wall cam into view. We worked our way up to the top of the drop off, which was around 50', and meandered along the wall for the rest of the dive. The one others interesting find was a HUGE pair of lobster whose antennae (equally huge) were hanging out of a crack. We ended the dive on the last bommie, which came up to about 40'. It was a pretty short dive overall, since we used a good bit of gas visiting the hammerheads. 

After lunch, we watched the video that Hollyce shot of the hammerheads. You could clearly see how big the group was, somewhere between 35 and 40 sharks. Woot!  For the next dive, we were given some choices of where to dive... Another dive at Schoolhouse, Kansas, or Grand Central Station. We had to pick at most two, since there were two skiff's. We chose Grand Central Station, which we'd been to before, and liked the fact that it had potential to see big stuff. We did the dive differently than before, with most of the dive being on the wall (last time we dove the sand on top of the wall and the shallower bommies). The wind had kicked up quite a bit.  Getting on the skiff was a bit sporty and the ride out was a little wet. Before the dive, Rob asked if we could shoot a bag and drift over the abyss at the end of the dive. Joeji said to make sure we put up a bag, because a squall was coming in, and asked if we had a whistle. Rob said we had a radio :). The wall here is pretty amazing,  when we first dropped in, it came up to about 70' and it is a sheer vertical drop as far as you can see. I didn't put my light on my hand because I was afraid of losing it in the abyss (that's one benefit of a can light). We looked out into the abyss for a while, but big stuff was not immediately forthcoming.  We did eventually see several grey reef sharks, a pretty big school of jacks, and some big tuna (I think) cruising along the wall or sand. We also saw one barracuda once we were further up the sand. After about 30 minutes, we had made it to a part of the wall where the top was at about 100', so we worked our way up the sand to some shallower bommies. Joshua found a juvenile rock mover wrasse doing its dance, which I tried to video, but it was not being cooperative. 

We were with what was left of the group almost up to the very end, but then I went down the side of one of the deeper bommies to look at a blennie that Rob had found. When we emerged from that, the others were gone. We headed over to the next, shallower bommie, and finished up the dive.  Rob went to put up a bag (even the the drift over the abyss was not to happen... The current would have just pushed us back onto the reef). He opened his pocket and dug around and pulled out a bag.  And a bunch of string. He batted at it like a confused kitten and then asked for me to help. I went over and ended up having to pull everything out of his pocket, because the line was caught on liked every bolt snap gate and bungee loop in there!  As soon as I got the spool out of his pocket, he reached back to grab it and I had to smack his hand away because it was still tangled around everything. Grumble. I finally extracted it and handed it to him and stowed everything else. Rob put the bag up and we immediately heard the skiff come over. We did a short drift and surfaced to ominous looking conditions -- dark clouds had rolled in. We got back on the boat and had a very short but chilly ride back to the boat. 

I was a bit worried about the conditions and how they would impact the night dive plans, but about an hour later I noticed that the wind had laid down... No more whitecaps at all.  But by the time the night dive came, there were occasional whitecaps and it was a bit drizzly. The skiff drivers were even dressed in foul weather gear!  We went to Kansas for the dive. We were diving with Koroi for our guide and there were only two other divers.  He found us some good macro critters, and then the other group led by Amanda, showed up, and she found us quite a few nudis. And we even managed to find some ourselves. The best (or at least funniest) find of the night was a nudibranch (an aeolid even!) slithering over a scorpionfish!  Amanda showed me the fish but it took me a while to see the slug :). Aside from the great macro finds, there was quite a bit of soft coral that was nice and open to the current. Yea, there was a bit of current. I'm glad I wasn't trying to shoot macro :)

For dinner, we had lamb shank. Yum!