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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!

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