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Me diving

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!

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