It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Fiji 2019: Day 4 (Wakaya)

We moved over to Wakaya overnight. Today we did three day dives and a dusk dive, so the schedule was a bit more relaxed (and we got to sleep in, since the first dive wasn’t until 7:30).  We motored from about 1am to 6am, when we heard the anchor drop (even though we were told we would be moored here). The boat was anchored just off of an island with some fancy pants resort on it, in a super calm bay. It was super calm last time we were here too.

There is a long wall that has three named dive sites on it, but really they are just different parts of the same site. The last time we dove here, we saw mantas (there was a cleaning station) and a school of hammerheads. But neither of these are typical so the crew recommended macro. I brought my GoPro just in case :)

Dive 1: Blue Ridge

This is the middle of the three sites and it is a pretty impressive wall, which goes from 40’ish to supposedly thousands of feet. It definitely went a long way, though there were occasionally little sections sloping more gently along the wall in some places. So I doubt if I dropped a boltsnap it would end up at 1000’ but there were definitely spots where I’m confident it would end up in well over 100’. The dive was not very productive from a macro subject point of view. I think the highlight was a shrimpgoby that Chad found for us up in the shallows at like 30’. We watched that for a while, waiting for the shrimp to poke his head out. He came out and scurried around a few times.

Overall I’d say this site has a really impressive wall, but unfortunately it’s not a very photogenic wall. So macro was the right call, it we didn’t see that much on that front either. And no mantas or hammerheads :(

We came back and had breakfast. I had papaya waffles and Rob had fried eggs, though the savory option was actually a breakfast burrito. There were chocolate croissants too which were soooo good though my breakfast was kind of dessert with dessert :). Vanessa gave a presentation on macro subjects and then since we had a slightly longer than usual break, I finally got a chance to lay on the sun deck.

Dive 2: Vatu Vai

The next dive was at another section of that wall. At one spot along the wall, there’s a pinnacle which comes up to about 15’. It’s a reasonably big pinnacle which is worth spending some time on. Overall this dive was a bit of a dud. I think I looked at a thousand hydroids and did not manage to find a single slug on one of them. I found a blue dragon nudibranch and several Chromodoris lochi. And that was pretty much it.

For lunch we had seafood chowder and garlic bread. The chowder seemed like the sort of thing I might not like but it was super tasty. After lunch there was more time to lay on the sun deck :)

Dive 3: Lion’s Den

This was the third piece of the wall, on one end. The way starts at about 50’ and there was a sandy plateau at about 100’, where we went at the start to look for two fish: the square spot anthia (which is purple, with a big blue square-shaped spot on its side) and some kind of dart fish. I had some trouble clearing my ears on the way down the wall. So I could see everyone below me looking at the anthias, and I was hoping they didn’t get scared away by the time I got down there. I finally made it down and saw that there were tons of anthias. And Rob had already managed to find a dartfish that he was taking pictures of. So that was success on two fronts.

The plan after that was basically to zig zag along the wall at various depths heading shallower and shallower. It was a nice wall, which seemed a bit more scenic than the other sections. There were several outcropping with fans, corals, and aggregations of fish. But the highlight of the dive were not one, but two leaf scorpionfish. So awesome. The first was was on a little sandy area on the wall at 60 to 70 feet. Omg those fish are so cool. Much later when we’d made it to the top of the wall, I found Rob peering into a little rock arch and I ask trying to figure out what he was looking at. After a bunch of annoyed gesticulations from Rob, I managed to see another leaf scorpionfish! Apparently Rob had kind of given up on it because it was tucked so far back, but once I started looking at it, it waddled forward a but, until it was in a much easier to see/photograph location.

We worked our way up from the edge of the wall, and there was a somewhat annoying current on top of the wall (which we had been warned about before the dive). We were faffing around up there when suddenly a pair of remoras swam by. It was like a (slightly larger) remora that had a (slightly smaller) remora on it. When I saw that, I was sure a manta was going to swim by, but alas there was none. Shortly after that, we headed up to do a safety stop. I noticed a neat little jellyfish with a purple tinge to its middle and showed it to Rob. He asked me to light it with my light while he took pictures (I guess to help with focus). But the jelly immediately scooted up and up and the next thing I knew, my gauge said 2.1 meters and I decided to break away and rejoin Clinton for a safety stop. Then Rob came back down and made some annoyed grunting noise at me. I guess my attempts to light the jelly were inadequate. I think the noise he was making loosely translates to “I would throw my wedding band over the side of the boat if I hadn’t already done that yesterday”.

After snacking on deviled eggs and brownies (yummmm on both counts) I had time for a micro-nap before the dusk dive.

Dive 4: Vatu vai (dusk dive)

We went back to Vatu Vai (the site with the pinnacle coming up to 15’) for the dusk dive. I like the concept of a dusk dive because it pretty much has all of the benefits of night dive, but you don’t have to convince yourself to go diving after dinner (and skip the wine with dinner :P). We dropped in the sand and headed over the wall. We didn’t go too far down the wall, I made it down to 60-70 feet. I found a bug blue dragon nudi and showed it to Rob. I was doodling around nearby and about 5 minutes later, Rob signaled me and made the nudibranch sign and circled the same slug. I was super confused. Rob has this very endearing habit of taking credit for things I’ve done, occasionally even when he’s talking to me, so I thought this was just the underwater equivalent of that. Then I thought maybe he thought I was showing him something else, so I tried to enquire about what else was there, which just confused him. When I asked him about that after the dive, he said that he thought Koroi had shown him that slug. Hehehe.

Not too much later, we headed up the wall and over the lip. Not too much later, I made my best find if the night, a really cool aeolid with bulbous cerata (which we had seen before). I showed it to Rob (with a flourish) and figured that was my one good find of the night :). Rob found a cute little flatworm a bit later, and then two big lion fish showed up. We thought they were doing something mating related, but then they broke off. Maybe because we spooked them with our lights :(

We headed up the pinnacle from there and I don’t think I saw anything much of interest there. After we surfaced and got back on the boat, we could see really cool bioluminescence in the boat’s wake. It wasn’t a huge amount, up it was super bright. Like fireflies flying up out of the water.

Chicken cordon bleu for dinner (Rob had the roast pork) and a super tasty apple cake w ice cream for dessert.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Fiji 2019: Day 3 (Bligh Waters)

The boat only motored for about an hour from where we were yesterday.

Dive 1: The whole Shebang

This was a long pinnacle (more like a ridge since it was so long) from about 15’ to 30’ with the bottom eventually sloping down to maybe 70’. When we first dropped in, I was a bit worried we’d missed the site because we were drifting along a rubble slope that was really not pretty or interesting. But after a few minutes, I could see some structure up the slope, and as we drifted further, it turned into a taller and taller wall. The current was enough for a nice drift and enough that swimming against it was annoying but not quite enough to get all of the soft corals open. But it was still a nice wall, with a lot of sea fans and such. Pretty early in the dive, before we were really on a wall, we saw a white tip shark. Later on Rob saw a turtle off of the wall, but I missed it :(. We stayed pretty high upon the wall, generally around 30’ for most of the dive, because that was the nicer looking part. The only time that I really dipped down was to see a moray eel living in an overhang down around 60’.

Eventually we drifted to the end of the pinnacle and there were some smaller pinnaclets clustered around the end of the wall. There were quite a few small fish congregating on top of those.

For breakfast we had friend eggs, potatoes, and bacon. And chocolate muffins. Mmmm.

A better day at Mellow Yellow
Dive 2: Mellow Yellow

This is one of the really memorable dives from our last trip. We did it on the last day. (I think) and I remember it being covered in shaggy yellow soft corals and green corals, and a small side pinnacle with a nice top. Unfortunately there was basically no current today, so the soft corals were all closed up. So it was a pretty different dive but still a nice dive, the highlights were the top of both the side pinnacle and the main pinnacle, which had tons of fish. Lots of little colorful tropicals like anthias, some schooling fusiliers and bugger fish (like Spanish mackerel, I think) hanging out off the pinnacle. The side pinnacle had some nice sea fans and soft corals on top whereas the main pinnacle was more hard corals but sooo many fish. One cute find was a yellow damselfish protecting its eggs, which were laid on the stalk of a dead gorgonian. Anytime you would point at the eggs or move near them, you’d get an adorable little bite. I got several nips because it was so cute.

We spent at least 20 minutes just bobbing around on top at the end. It was like floating around in an aquarium.

For lunch we had fettuccine with a creamy pesto sauce (and chicken).

Dive 3: Coral Corner

This site has a fairly long wall from like 10’ to 40’, which gets deeper as your go along it. There are channels (some pretty wide) running perpendicular to the wall but we were warned not to go in those because the current would suck you in and you might not be able to get out. At the bottom of the wall is a slope with scattered coral heads. As we were approaching the dive site, Clinton asked me to remind him to tighten his tank strap before the next dive. He said the top strap was a little loose but would be fine for one dive (this is what they call “foreshadowing” in literature). After we flopped into the water and descended, I noticed that Rob was doinking with Clinton’s tank strap. Apparently when he flopped in, it became clear that his tank strap was not going to make it through the dive. The top strap was loose and the bottom one came completely undone. It was a different style of cam band than we have on our STAs, and it seems very sketchy... anyway, Rob finally managed to get the buckle tightened and Clinton handed Rob his camera back and we were off.

The current was definitely running, in an odd way it was both pushing us along the wall but also pulling you toward/up the wall (and into those channels). But dealing with the current was totally worth it because the soft coral was all open. There was a ton of purple and yellow soft coral. The yellow was the shaggy kind I was expecting to see on the previous dive. Along the rubble slope, we saw a grey reef shark circling for a bit. There was a small white tip too, which I didn’t see. We also saw a turtle swimming in that area. At each of the corners of the wall and channel, there were gobs of soft corals and sea fans with little fishies swirling around. Rob kept staying behind in one spot for a long time, so Clinton or I would have to swim upcurrent to fetch him, or we’d just have to wait and wait while swimming against the current to hold station. This was a bit, um, annoying. There was one nice big outcropping in the rubble that was big enough to call it a pinnaclet, I think. This spot had a lot of nice soft coral, hard coral, sea fans and little fishies on it. Plus if you were downslope of it and looking up at it, you could see one of the channels that had tons of soft coral behind it.

Eventually the channels end and you are on a taller wall (down to maybe 60’) that is more vertical and totally covered in yellow and purple soft coral. We were just drifting along watching it all go by. At some point, Clinton told me he had 700psi). So I swam back to fetch Rob, who once again had just stopped on the wall, while we drifted down current from him (can you tell that I’m annoyed? Because apparently Rob couldn’t). I signaled with my light and gave him the stay with your fucking buddies hand signal and he gave me and okay and headed toward us). We continued drifting until we got to a hard right turn where there was obvious mixing of water (there was the shimmery look like at a halocline when the waters mix) and it felt abruptly colder. Brrr. Just after coming around the corner, Clinton signaled that he had 500 psi, so we started up the wall. Guess who was nowhere to be found? Clinton seemed more concerned about this than I was, but I figured he’d live e(since Chad was still there) plus if he wasn’t going to stay with the team, he couldn’t expect us to swi m upcurrent to get him when someone was low on gas. We got to the top where I felt like I was going to blow off the wall, so I had to hold on with a finger. I saw bubbles coming up the wall just before the hard right and was thinking that was probably Rob. I started to attempt to cut across to look down, but the current wasn’t going to allow that. After not very long, Rob drifted around the corner and I threw him the thumb. We started to ascend, and he was dawdling as we drifted off the wall, which further annoyed me, because we had been specifically told in the briefly to either ascend on top of the reef or go straight to the surface (without a safety stop) at this site. Not that he probably paid attention to the briefing. When we got to the surface, I gave him some feedback about his buddy skills (or lack thereof). He claimed he hadn’t seen me give him the stay with your buddy signal and thought I was signaling him to show him something. But he hadn’t come over to look, so that didn’t make too much sense.

Rob got back in the boat before I did and right after I climbed in I noticed him hanging over the other side of the boat, grunting and squealing. And then he said something like “oh no” and it was clear he had dropped something in and hadn’t caught it before it was too late. I asked what it was. It was his wedding ring! He claims that it got caught on something on his gear (a boltsnap I think) while he was doinking with it and when he attempted to pull his hand away, his ring flew off of his hand, bounced on the tube of the boat, and into the water. That’s what he says anyway. But I was nagging him about being a bad dive buddy and then suddenly his wedding ring goes into the ocean. That’s all I know for sure. I asked if I should throw my ring in to make it official.

When we got back we had a snack of some kind of cake which I think had bananas and maybe pineapple in it. It was super tasty.

Dive 4: Charlie’s Garden
There was some debate about whether this dive should be wide angle or macro, so Clinton shot macro and Rob shot wide angle. The site was a wall, of varying heights, which had a few channels/cut throughs early on. These were great for wide angle (in my non-photographer opinion) because they had big fans coming off the sides and a nice cavey look with a little window of bright blue water beyond. So I posed for some pictures with those sea fans and in the second one we kept swimming and popped out next to Clinton.

There was a long break in the reef with a rubble bottom, which you cross and end up at a taller wall. Somewhere in the rubble, I found Clinton looking at something that Vanessa had just shown to him. I watched for a while to see what he could be looking at. I noticed a huge very active sea cucumber whose butt was facing us. I was wondering if there was a pearl fish (which I had just learned live in cucumber butts). Vanessa asked if I saw it and gave a signal which I took to mean “shrimp”. So I looked a bit more and I caught a glimpse of a little crab in there... like the kind of crab you would find in a soft coral. Hehehe. I was giggling and so was Vanessa. Rob and Clinton didn’t manage to see the crab.

Once we got back to the wall, it was more interesting. It got more vertical and there were a bunch of really cool underhangs, and a bunch of soft corals and fans hanging off of the wall. I went under one of the overhangs and was looking around for a while. All of the surfaces were so encrusted with colorful invertebrates, it reminded me of slug hunting on middle reef at Point Lobos :). There wasn’t much current, so the soft corals weren’t that open, but they were a bit squirrely, sometimes I was drifting along comfortably, other times it seemed like the current was going in the opposite direction. By the end of the dive, we were on an impressively vertical patch of wall. We came up to the top for our safety stop, which was pretty nice. There were a lot of soft corals that were totally closed, but they were different, brighter colors (fuschia, red-orange) than most of the ones further down the wall. It would be very pretty if the current was up, though we probably wouldn’t be able to stay on the reef if the current was up :)

For dinner we had filet mignon (which was super yummy) with rice and broccoli. And line cheesecake for dessert, yum!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fiji 2019: Day 2 (Bligh Waters)

 Dive 1: Humann Nature

After quite a bit of waffling (and reconfiguring) Rob decided to shoot macro because while the top of the reef was supposed to be pretty, the critter life was also supposed to be excellent, and we were promised other even prettier sites later in the week. Our skiff had just the three of us plus Koroi on it. The site had really awesome life on top, which was apparent as soon as we dropped in (the top of the pinnacle is around 15’). Tons of anthias and fusiliers. Vanessa told us that some fish surveyor saw 140 species of fish in one dive. I totally believe it. There were lots of fish and so many different kinds of fish. Schools of all different kinds of fish kept appearing at the top of the reef (including a huge baitball and later a small school of jacks). Anyway, we zipped down to the bottom and spent most of the dive there (40-50’). Several (of two or three species) little aeolids, and a pipefish (whitish with some line design all over it) were the macro highlights for me. Also some cute little fish (blennies I think) sticking their heads out of holes, warbonnet style, and a couple of blue dragon nudibranchs in the rubble. For the last 20 minutes I hung out at the top and watched all of the fish going by. I kind of regretted not bringing my GoPro. Right at the very end (after the one hour mark, because Koroi had already gone to the surface) a little turtle swam by!

After that we had breakfast. I had a waffle with pineapple mint topping. Rob had something more boring like fried eggs, potatoes, and ham.

Dive 2: Cat’s Meow

There was supposed to be a Pygmy seahorse at this site, and the other skiff had gone there in the morning and Chad had found it. Chad was going back with us, so Rob and Clinton brought macro. This site is a pinnacle from around 20’ to 70’ with a big swim through at the bottom. The sides of the pinnacle have a bunch of big sea fans, and whip corals, and the swim through had a lot of soft corals. I only went through the swim through once, and went pretty quickly, because I had ditched Rob and Clinton without telling them. It was very nice and I should have spent more time there. There were a bunch of big sweetlips hanging out near or in the swimthrough. They seemed nit at all skittish. The highlight of the dive was the Pygmy seahorse, a different kind than I’ve seen before. I also found a big purple aeolid, some big flat yellow/black slugs (Phyllidia ocellata), and Chad found a different kind of pipefish (stubby nosed) in the sand. Rob almost ran out of gas. Well,that’s a small exaggeration. After he’d been shooting the Pygmy (forever), he asked how much gas I had. Which surprised me, because I’d just checked and I had 1200psi. So I told him that and he told me he had 500psi. ??? I guess shooting the Pygmy was a bit hooverful. I asked Clinton how much gas he had and he said 700 psi. So I deployed my long hose to Rob and we headed up to the top of the reef. I shot some video on top of the reef. Eventually Rob gave me my long hose back and we hung out on top for a few more minutes before calling it.

This was funny because before the trip, Rob had made some remark (which I relayed to Clinton when we were traveling) about what are the odds the three of us can make it through a trip without anyone deploying their long hose. I pointed out that there’s a difference between deploying it in anger and doing it to extend the dive a bit. So at least I didn’t have to deploy it in anger :P

Chicken curry for lunch. Rob had beef stir fry. After lunch, Clinton announced that his strobe had miraculously started working again. Okay I guess it wasn’t that miraculous — he’d left it in his air conditioned room to dry out.

Dive 3: UndeNAIAble pinnacle

This pinnacle came up to about 10 feet and I guess, according to the briefing, it goes down to like 70 feet and then it has fingers that extend in 4 directions to even deeper depths. But we spent most of the dive in the 40-50 ft range, where there was a plateau. Vanessa mentioned in the briefing that one section had “wheat fields” of some kind of sea fan. I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, until I saw it on the dive. This was down in the 60+’ range, and we just dipped down for a quick look... it was this tan sea fan kind of thing that was pretty bushy (Singularia). Once I saw it I remembered it from our last trip to Fiji (there was a night dive with a ton of it). The much nicer part of the dive was on one side of the pinnacle, there was a lot of soft coral, sea fans, etc. and the current was kind of kicking. There were sections where it was quite hard to kick, then there was a lull, right in the center of the really nice part of the wall, and then you were zipping around to the other side of the pinnacle. During the briefing, Vanessa described two swimthroughs one on top of the other. We found one swim through and I went through it several times (it was a great shortcut to bypass part of the section with a lot of current), including to pose for pictures for Rob and Clinton. I don’t know how I didn’t notice a slot cone swimthrough (since it was supposedly just below the other one). I found a nice little scorpionfish right next to the swimthrough, but alas, everyone was shooting wide angle :( The current on this dive was kind of annoying. I felt like I spent a lot of time just trying to find a spot where the reef jutted out and could block the current, and the zipping behind that. So there were a lot of ups and downs in order to find those spots. But it was overall a very scenic view. Near the end of the dive, we came around to the less pretty side (also the side protected from the current) and then came up that side of the pinnacle. I saw a nudibranch (pink lines and blue tips) on that side of the pinnacle. When we got to the top, Rob swam upcurrent across the top. But I couldn’t be bothered so I waited for him to come back and then we thumbed it.

We swam off of the pinnacle and surfaced (so the boat wouldn’t have to get too close to the shallow pinnacle to pick us up). When we surfaced, we saw one skiff (which I think was the other skiff, at the other site) in the distance and then it took off. It was quite choppy and while we could see the big boat in the distance, there was no skiff in sight. I put up a bag (which kept going a little flaccid and I’d hav to re-inflate it). Then Clinton put up a bag. Then two other divers surfaced and swam over to us. Then we finally saw a skiff heading our way. Ever got the full story on that. When we got back to the big boat, we looked at my bag more closely (in a rinse bin) and found the leak (on the fold not too far above the OPV). Rob says this is what I get for never shooting the bag at home.

Between dives they served a snack of chicken skewers (meat on a stick... one of the major food groups according to Rob) and veggies w dip.

Dive 4: UndeNAIAble Reef

For the fourth dive, we went to the reef very near the third site. Once again it was just the three of us (plus Chad) in our skiff. This reef was really cool. There was a pretty long wall from about 15’ to 40’ (the bottom eventually got deeper as we followed the wall, to maybe 60’). All along the reef, there were little channels running perpendicular to the wall. And the channels were covered in sea fans, soft corals, and the like. Some of the channels reminded me of the crack at K1 (but with soft corals instead of gorgonians!). The channels pretty much all had a fair amount of current, which was, somewhat annoyingly, sucking you into the channels and then you had to fight your way back out of the channel. But the channels were really cool and I posed for pictures in many of them. The life in the channels varied from one to another. For instance, one of them was totally covered in yellow soft corals (the shaggy ones that aren’t that pretty in isolation but when there’s tons of it they look really nice). Eventually I got a bit annoyed with my buddies disappearing into cracks and channels without telling me, so I followed Chad for a while. He found some cute little shrimp in an anemone. When we got to the end, the surface was really churning right above us, so we swam out a bit before surfacing. Rob and Clinton surfaced just after us.

We had some time before dinner so we headed up to the sun deck to chat and watch the sunset. Rob eventually disappeared into the wheelhouse to talk boaty things with the captain.

For dinner we had carrot and ginger soup (I hate ginger, it tastes like soap to me, but after a few bites I somehow acclimated and could only taste the carrot, and it was very tasty), grilled fish with a tropical salsa, and lemon cake with ice cream. Yum!

We skipped the night dive, because Clinton and I are lightweights.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Fiji 2019: Travel to Fiji and Day 1

Waiting for our flight
Getting to Fiji got a lot easier since our last trip (bit that it was ever really hard) because there is now a direct flight from SFO. Woot! The flight was really cheap too, which unfortunately made it impossible for me to justify paying for business class tickets. So Rob and I were slumming it in coach. Apparently Fiji airways has some auction system where you can put in a bid for an upgrade that might get confirmed shortly before the trip. Clinton did this and got upgraded. Bastard. Fortunately we all got lounge access so Rob and I were able to adequately prepare for the trip ahead (by drinking as much as possible in the allotted time). I’d never been to the Virgin lounge before. It was pretty nice and they had an adequate menu (I had a cheeseburger and a brownie sundae) which was good since we hadn’t managed to eat dinner before getting to the airport.

The flight was fine, I think we even got in a little early. I slept for a surprising amount of it. We got day rooms at the Fiji Gateway Hotel (which is the same place we got a room last time, but with a new name). It was a good place to get a shower, get some internet (which was good because I unfortunately had some work drama to deal with before going off the grid for 10 days), and have lunch. At the appointed time (1pm) we checked out and waited for our transfer to the boat. It showed up about a half our late but then we were on our way.

When we arrived at the boat, we were greeted by Vanessa and Chad, our cruise directors, and we got a basic briefing about the plan for the day. Basically we were to setup gear, go get our rooms sorted out, then reconvene for a thorough briefing on boat and dive logistics. Then we would go for a checkout (more of a shakeout) dive nearby.

Dive 1: Samu Reef (an hour outside of Lautoka)
This was our shakeout dive (but not a "checkout dive" -- not mandatory and cameras were allowed). Clinton had a problem with one strobe, so only Rob was shooting (macro).

We got in around 4:30 and the sun was already pretty low, so, as Rob and Jim would say, the light wasn’t great. Neither was the viz. there was supposed to be a little wall from around 15’ to 30’, then sloping sand and patches of reef along there. I don’t think we ever saw the main reef, we were on sand in the 50’ range with scattered coral heads the whole time. Saw 4 Chromodoris lochi, which are pretty abundant everywhere else but supposedly pretty rare here. Also found a really neat big shrimp with pink spots in a little hole. And a pretty small scorpionfish. Rob found a little fish on a whip coral which he spent quite a bit of time with. Right as we surfaced I spotted a cool purple jelly fish right under the surface so we dropped down quickly to play with that.

For dinner, we had salmon and couscous, and key lime pie (which was different than the usual but very tasty).