It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Winter Big Sur Diving

We had a crazy good winter diving season, which included 4 tech trips to Big Sur, of which 3 were back to back weekends.  It was really unusual, and because we made it down there so many times in such a short period, we were more willing to take a chance on something new.  On one trip (to Sur 20), Rob and Kevin did a short second dive to check out a mark that Rob found on the bathymetry.  They found a site that was actually worth diving, so the following weekend, we went back.  The structure there had really interesting formations that caused us to name the site Funnel Cakes.

Anyhoo, since I also got new video lights relatively recently, I was actually shooting video on all four dives, and I put together not one, but two videos from these dives -- at Sur 19, Sur 20, Funnel Cakes, and Sur 19 again.

In addition to making it down to Big Sur a lot this winter, it was also a great winter in the sense that we only cancelled one boat due to weather, and I think I did not dive in the bay at all!

At the time of the dive at Funnel Cakes, the formations seemed really unusual to me; it was like nothing that I'd seen underwater before.  But then a week or so later, Rob and I were heading down to Garrapata State Park for. a hike, which we do *all the time* when I noticed that these kinds of formations appear all along the coast down there, and all along the side of highway 1 as you are approaching that area.  So okay, maybe not that unusual :)


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Taveuni, Fiji: New Year's 2022

When we heard that Fiji was reopening in December, we almost immediately booked a trip there for over New Year's.  It was the one place we had most closely been waiting to reopen so we could go there and dive.  After our last trip to Fiji, I decided that the ideal next trip would be a week on the Nai'a and then a week land-based on Taveuni (so we could dive Rainbow Reef a lot).  Since the Nai'a wasn't reopened yet, we had to settle for just the week on Taveuni :).  Based on (not that) extensive internet research and the limited selection that was available, we stayed at Paradise Taveuni, which was very nice.  Details are in the play-by-play posts below.


Taveuni: Getting There and Back

Taveuni: Paradise Taveuni

Taveuni: Day 1

Taveuni: Day 2

Taveuni: Day 3

Taveuni: Day 4

Taveuni: Day 5

Taveuni: Day 6

Taveuni: Day 7

Monday, January 3, 2022

Taveuni, Fiji: Day 7

We were supposed to do a 3 tank trip to Rainbow Reef on the small boat (there were just four of us), but for some reason the plan was changed to instead do two dives in the morning at Rainbow Reef and do a separate third dive in the afternoon. We were leaving at 7, so we had to get up a bit early, though in reality I've been waking up at like 5am all week anyway, so it just meant I had to actually get out of bed and leave the room earlier than usual. I had French toast for breakfast, which was predictably a mistake, because I was hungry while we were diving, due to the all-carb breakfast. On the plus side, there was mango AND coconut on the fruit plate this morning.

So we headed out to Rainbow Reef, and the water was dead flat, so we went very fast and made the best time we've made all week. It took like 20 or so minutes to get out there, and it was a very comfortable ride. As I mentioned, there were only 4 divers (Rob and me, plus two guys named Dave and Rick who we'd been on the boat with all week), and we posited that the fast ride was a combination of the flat seas, lighter load, and we had a different captain (Kim) who seemed more willing to use the full range of throttle positions :P Once we got out there, we discussed where to dive, and Dave (I think) mentioned Fish Factory, which was a site that had been discussed earlier in the week, which he'd dived on previous trips and really liked. Given the name, it seemed like a promising site.

We were diving with Christine as our guide today. She gave very clear, thorough briefin. Basically there was an area with a pinnacle from about 60 to 100+ feet with a lot of fish on it. She mentioned anthias of many colors, and anemonefish. And a combination of hard and soft corals. The site did have a ton of fish, but the coral was in pretty bad condition. I guess it was damaged in the last cyclone, as Dave said it used to be a completely different site. So while we did see huge schools of anthias, the backdrop was not that photogenic, so overall I thought it was kind of a dud of a dive.

After that dive, since it was our last day of diving and we really wanted to see more soft corals, we basically got to pick where to go. There were a couple of possibilities given the current state of the tide, and we decided to go back to Jerry's Jelly, since we really liked it last time. (Dave and Rick had both been on the previous dive there too, and did not have a great time due to the current, but they were kind enough to let us go there anyway. Christine again gave a very clear and thorough briefing and I think they both had a great time this time around, since there was more of a plan related to dealing with the current). One thing that Christine mentioned in the briefing was the possibility of down currents when we left the reef for our safety stop. She said if we saw our bubbles going down, not up, to swim away from the reef to get out of the down current. Cue foreboding music now.

The plan was to spend 15 minutes or so around the "jellyfish" bommie, then cross over to the other side of the reef and drift back along there, possibly ending up at Rainbow's End (I think we did in fact end up there, but I can't distinguish the various sites well enough to say... but it definitely had a similar look). I thought that the current at the bommies at the beginning of the dive was not as bad as it was on the previous dive, but Rob thought it was worse, and said there were spots he could photograph last time that he couldn't today. So who knows. But I spent more time on the main jellyfish bommie and less time on the other ones near it, because the other ones seemed to not have quite as much stuff going on (open soft corals, anthias). After maybe 20 minutes hanging out there, we headed to the crossover point.

This time around, I knew what was coming, so I got my camera out and just started videoing as we went flying across the reef. There was so much current that my light arm got pushed into a different position by the current, hehehe. Near the beginning of the crossover, we zoomed past a rock with some really nice, really open soft corals, which I managed to at least point my camera at, and which I knew Rob would not be able to resist trying to photograph. But there was no way I was going to hold station in that current, so I had to leave him behind :). The fish in that crossover section were hilarious, there was tons and tons of them streaming across the reef in a line and above the line of fish, there'd be a cloud of fish that got knocked back by the current. It was quite strange to watch. Eventually we made it to the other side of the reef and the ride settled down. Just on the other side of the reef, we saw a turtle. Yay! Last time, we saw a white tip shark there, so I guess it's a good spot to look for big stuff.

We then drifted back in the direction we'd come from, on the other side of the reef. I don't know if this section of reef is technically Rainbow's End, but it looks a lot like it, though we were going in reverse. There are scattered coral heads with tons of soft coral on them, and zillions and zillions of little fish all along the reef. It was a fun ride. At some point Rob hung back and was taking pictures, so I turned around and faced into the current and finned to stay where I was, while I waited, and waited, and waited. I finally (after 5+ minutes) signaled to Rob and told him we were moving. I wanted to enjoy the ride in the current, and Rob was annoying me. So I was hanging with Christine, with the others just a little bit in front of us, and once again, Rob fell behind (plus he was down at the bottom of the slope for some reason), and I had to swim into the current to find him. Eye roll.

It was past time to start our ascent, so Christine signaled to head to our safety stop and we swam off of the reef and headed up. Sort of. I wouldn't say that there was a dramatic downcurrent or anything, but I was definitely having trouble getting from 30 feet to 20 feet and when I looked Dave and Rick, their bubbles weren't going down, but they weren't going up either. They were sort of spiraling around in the 5 feet above and below them. It was intriguing. Just as I noticed that, I also noticed that I was no longer at 20 feet, hehe. It was nothing that a little air in the wing and attention to our depth couldn't solve. As we were ascending back up to 20 from our downward bobble, Rob swam over to me and gave me this "come here" hand signal and swam right up to me and was reaching out toward me. I thought he was trying to fix something on my gear, which annoyed me, because while trying to swim out of a downcurrent really did not seem to be the time for Rob to doink with my gear. So I kind of pushed his hand away, and after a brief exchange I realized he wanted my long hose. Ahhhh. Way to give an unambiguous sign that he needed to share gas! Okay so I deployed my long hose and we headed up from our 20 foot stop to 10 feet. As soon as I whipped out my long hose, Rick was practically on top of Rob to make sure everything was okay, which was very nice. Everything went fine, and when we finished our 10 foot stop and I signaled to ascend, Rob insisted on switching back onto his gas. This annoyed me, as it seemed to just make things more complicated for no reason. Of course right after he switched off of my long hose, he dropped to 15 feet, and I was like -- great, do I need to go down there and donate gas again (giant eye roll). We headed up to the surface, and Rob got an earful about both his ambiguous signal for my long hose and going off of it before we got to the surface. I think he needs a fundies refresher.

That all probably sounded pretty dramatic, but it was like 90 seconds of an hour long dive, and 60 seconds of it was us hanging out at 10 feet sharing gas.

After lunch, we headed back out to Vuna Reef, and got our pick of what site to go to.  Since we really liked the mini white wall at The Stairs, we asked to go back there.  I was kind of expecting this to be a disappointment of a dive after the awesome dive this morning, but it turned out to be a great dive!  First, the mini white wall did not disappoint.  We had fun hanging around in and under the ledge again.  But more importantly, Christine made some very good macro finds.  We saw both of the purple aeolids that I love, which was a nice way to wrap up the dive.  But the find of the dive was... drum roll... a pygmy seahorse!  She got my attention and I swam over and she was pointing to a little white coil on some hydroids.  At first I thought it was nudibranch eggs, and was expecting there to be a nudibranch there.  But it was actually the tail of the seahorse -- a tiny white pygmy seahorse.  He flapped a bit in the moving water and unveiled himself.  Then he took off swimming!  By the time that Rob appeared, he had landed on some little green algae leaves, which I think are what the seahorses on the house reef supposedly lived on.  Now I could see how one of those seahorses could hide in that algae.  Considering that Rob had been looking for a pygmy seahorse the entire trip, it seemed like a good last dive of the trip.

After the dive, Rob said that the seahorse didn't look anything like what he was looking for.  I told him that I knew that the pygmy seahorses in Fiji looked different than the ones in the Philippines and lived on different things, and since I couldn't remember what they looked like, I figured I had no hope of finding one, so wasn't even looking.  Apparently he did not remember that they looked different.  Doh.  I think this one is Pontoh's pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi).  There are some nice pictures of the various species here.  I think the ones in the Philippines are cuter (is that mean?).

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Taveuni, Fiji: Day 6

It was really windy in the morning, and there was talk of it being too rough to go out in the afternoon/evening, but it ended up being crazy flat on the water for all three dives. After breakfast, we headed over to Rainbow Reef on the big boat. I think we made the best time yet getting over there, because it was so flat. It was really cloudy over Taveuni, but over the reef and Vanua Levu, it was sunny. For our first dive, we went to Purple Wall. We dove in two teams, and Rob and I were diving alone with a guide (Dee). We'd been there before, but not when the current was running, so we saw the purple fans and gorgonians on the wall, but not a lot of the soft corals were open. Today, the current was running, so we should see the soft corals too. It was an awesome dive! I told Rob afterward that I thought it might have been the best dive yet of the trip (he begged to differ -- I think he liked yesterday's dive at Jerry's Jelly better).

The current was quite strong and on the purple section of wall, near the top, there were tons of soft corals that were open. They were mostly purple with some white and the occasional pink. Some of the spots with soft coral had small reef fish darting around, but there weren't *that* many anthias and such (which is why Rob didn't think it was as good as Jerry's Jelly). We stayed on that section of the wall for almost 30 minutes, drifting down current, then swimming back to the beginning to get more photos and video. The current was strong, but there were little outcroppings that you could hide/rest behind when you needed to. Eventually I suggested to Rob that we go down the wall a little and drift past it one final time, and then we continued on from there. The reef kind of petered out and then we crossed over a finger sticking out in the deep (as discussed in our briefing). At this point, Dee thumbed the dive, earlier than expected. I didn't know if it was because she wanted us to ascend there or what. But once we got to our safety stop, we drifted over the rest of the group, who were still on the reef. Apparently there was another really cool section with some white and purple soft corals that we missed, grumble.

As I mentioned, I thought that was a super awesome dive. However, most of the other people on the boat were not as happy to dive in high current as we were, so we didn't get to do another awesome soft coral dive for the second dive (grumble). We went to a site which I think was called Nuku Reef, though I may have gotten the name wrong. This was described as having a combination of hard and soft corals. We'd go to the end and then circle back up the reef for our safety stop, before drifting off into the deep for the pickup. The reef here was really not that great, as Rainbow Reef dives go, though there were a lot of fish. The hard coral was in really bad shape in sections, and while there was the occasional soft coral, there weren't really any spots with tons of soft corals. There was also a decent amount of current, so I'm not sure why we couldn't have gone to a better site if we were going to dive in current anyway :). The fish life was impressive, tons of anthias, some barracudas off of the reef, but it was not my favorite dive.

After lunch (we both had kokoda, yum!) and a micro-nap, we headed back out to a site just north of the resort, whose name I didn't catch. Rob was shooting macro, so we were looking for critters. The site was described as three rock fingers pointing out into the deep, and the current was running south, so we'd just work our way over/around the fingers. It was a bit of a fail as far as macro dives go, but it was fun to look for stuff. We got separated from the group pretty quickly, and I found a whopping one nudibranch the whole dive (a bumpy dorid, and a boring one at that). Before we managed to get separated, one of the other divers, Rick, pointed out a green moray eel sticking out of a hole, and that may have been the highlight of the dive :P. Rob found a pretty big octopus in a hole, but it was really in a hole, so not photo or video worthy. When it was time to ascend, I shot a bag since we'd gotten separated and were drifting in current. It was my hot pink bag, which Kevin gave to me a while ago, but I have never actually shot before! It performed admirably.

We managed to find a guide to go night diving tonight, Oscar, so we headed out a little before sundown. We headed down the slope and of course Rob spent half of the dive looking for a Pygmy seahorse (more on that later). Well he didn't say that's what he was looking for, but I know that's what he was doing. We made some good finds on the dive. I made one *really* good find, which was a super exotic looking frog fish of some kind. He was scurrying across the reef and there is absolutely no way I would have been able to pick him out on the reef if he weren't moving. It was red and orange and really warty/frilly looking, and I wasn't even sure it was a frog fish until I saw it reach its spindly little frog leg out to step across the reef. But it was so cool!  I looked at an ID book and my best guess is a freckled frogfish (Antennarius coccineus).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before I made the find of the day (maybe the trip), we did see some other nice critters. First, we saw a few of these weird lionfish variants that have these long nostril poker thingies sticking out in from of them. I think it is a twinspot lionfish (Dendrochirus biocellatus). We saw one on our other night dive (but it was in a hole, so I didn't get an unobstructed view) and I could tell it was super awesome but didn't know what it was. Rob said he thought it was some kind of lionfish (or maybe a baby lionfish, I can't remember). On this dive, we saw at least three and at least two of them were out in full view; one was the first thing that Oscar found after we descended. I asked Oscar after the dive what they were and he said some kind of lion fish, maybe people call them "butterfly lionfish" but googling didn't really turn anything up by that name.  But perusing an ID book, it looks very much like, and only like, the twinspot lionfish.

Other than that, I made one other nice find, which was an itty bitty slug. It was so small that while I was pretty sure it was a slug, I wasn't sure if it was a nudibranch or not, I could basically just discern what I thought were black rhinophores on a mostly white body. Rob got a picture of it and thinks it is some kind of sap sucking slug. So probably a non-nudibranch slug. It looks a bit disheveled in the picture, possibly due to my double-ender inspection to determine if it was really a slug. Whoops. Aside from that, we saw one of the blue ribbon eels, a couple of nudis of varying coolness, and lots of shrimps.

After the dive we headed to dinner. It was "roast night" which entailed a plate of various meats (pork, beef, chicken), a baked potato and a big pile of veggies. Yum. I was least excited about the chicken but I think it was actually the tastiest of the meats. But they were all tasty. For dessert, we had chocolate mousse, which was more like a dense chocolate pudding than a mousse, but in any case it was delicious!

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Taveuni, Fiji: Day 5

I was too lazy to write about this day on the same day (but I did take notes), so you get a somewhat abbreviated post for today.  I had muesli for breakfast, which was actually a bit sweet for my tastes.

In the morning, we did two dives at Rainbow Reef.  The first dive was awesome, one of my favorite dives of the trip.  It was at Jerry's Jelly, which is named because if a bommie that looks like a jellyfish.  It is dome shaped with a horizontal cutoff going through it, and white soft corals hanging down over the opening.  The site had crazy current, but of course that also meant amazing soft corals and tons of little fish darting around on top of the soft corals.  At the beginning of the dive, in addition to the jellyfish bommie, there were a couple of other reasonably-sized structures that were just downcurrent of the jellyfish bommie.  We spent probably like 30 minutes in that area, hiding behind the structures to get a break from the current, then swimming upcurrent to enjoy the soft corals and anthias again, and then drifting back behind them.

While we were in that area, Soni was hanging around on some smaller outlying rocks, and he found two leaf scorpionfish and a blue ribbon eel.  Nice finds in general, but especially in crazy current!  When we finished up in that area, we drifted down the reef a bit and then not too far from the bommies, we crossed over the top of the reef, which was a wild ride, with tons of little fish everywhere.  We got spit out on the other side of the reef, in the relative calm.  A whitetip reef shark swam by right on the other side of the reef.  By this point, it was about time to go, so we didn't really explore the other side of the reef.

The other group on the boat was a bit traumatized by the current on the dive, and so they wanted to do a lower current dive for the second dive.  (Boo!). We went to The Zoo, which we'd been to earlier in the week.  For the first half of the dive, I was a bit annoyed that we were wasting a dive on Rainbow Reef at this site because people don't like current.  Why would you go to Rainbow Reef if you don't want to dive in current?  Anyway, the site does have good variety overall.  There were some nice soft corals along the top of the wall near the beginning, and we saw a lot of barracuda, including some really big ones.  We also saw a big tuna swim by along the wall.

After lunch (chicken and veggie chow mein), we did an afternoon dive at Vuna Reef.  It was actually a really awesome dive, at a site called "The Stairs".  This site has a swimthrough from about 40 feet to 70 feet, and right after you pop out of the swimthrough, there's a little ledge that is covered (above and below) by white soft corals.  It's like a mini great white wall.  We hung out there for quite some time getting pictures of it.

We were going to do a night dive, but apparently we aren't supposed to go unguided (even though we had earlier in the week), so we had to postpone that to tomorrow, because it was too late to find a guide.

It rained like crazy starting around 6.  We tried to wait it out for the walk over to dinner, but eventually made a run for it during a lull.  I had beef satay skewers for dinner and banana fritters with ice cream for dessert, which were both super yummy!  It rained really hard off and on all night.