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Friday, December 18, 2009

Hawaii 2009, Part 2: The Kona Aggressor II

Todd and I traveled to the beautiful Hawaiian Islands in November 2009. The first part of our trip was to go to Honolulu. After we spent a couple of days on Oahu, we took a plane to Hawaii, The Big Island, for a week aboard the Kona Aggressor II.

Days 1-3 (Oahu)

Day 3 Continued: Arrival in Kona

We arrived in Kona around 4pm on Saturday, November 21. Crew member Drew met us at the airport, and then dropped us off to wait for the Aggressor to dock at 6pm. We had about an hour to walk around Kona, and we got to see what the town was like. What a pretty little town! I had never been to Kona before, so it was nice to look around. We went to the Wyland gallery, and wandered in and out of the other shops. I found a plumeria flower to put behind my ear. (Note: I LOVE plumeria. So pretty.) We also looked in vain for a geocache that was supposed to be near a Banyan tree near the pier.

At 6pm, we headed back to the pier and watched some children and local folks fishing. The Aggressor had been moored in the harbor, and came over to pick us up. We got to meet a few folks who were going to be on the boat with us as we watched it approach. Then, there we were! On the boat!

The first thing to do was to unpack our dive gear. This is kind of one of my favorite things about a liveaboard - you get right down to business immediately. We picked a place, and pretty soon had all of our gear set up, and our travel bags stowed away. Todd got to working on his camera, but then it was dinner time. We met Gere, Sandy, Barry & Paul, two couples from California who travel together.

After dinner, we had a briefing about what the procedures were on the boat - safety, meals, schedules, etc. Then, I retreated to the room to unpack, read a little, and get in bed. Our whirlwind in Oahu had tired me out! Todd put together his camera and then came in later to rest for our first full day of diving!

Day 4: First Day of diving and Mantas

A Gold Lace Nudibranch at Kaloko Arches
We spent our first day of diving at two different dive sites: Kaloko Arches and Garden Eel Cove. Kaloko Arches was a great place to see nudibranchs, and between the two morning dives that we did there, we saw quite a few. Kona is different from other places we've dove, since it has very little soft coral (well really none at all). There are a lot of boulders, lava tubes, rocks and hard corals, but no soft corals to speak of. There were a lot of animals and fish though. I wasn't sure there would be, since I'd heard some things about Hawaii welcoming people who take fish for use in aquariums.

A Varicose Phyllidia at Kaloko Arches

After lunch, we headed over to Garden Eel Cove. What is exciting about this particular dive site is that it is in front of the airport. Why is that special? Well, the airport has a lot of lights, which illuminate the water a little. The lights attract plankton. Manta Rays eat plankton. Scuba divers come and bring more lights, attracting more plankton and more Manta Rays. This is the Manta Ray Night Dive and is known as one of the top ten dives in the world.

Me, jumping in at Garden Eel Cove

First, though, we had two afternoon dives to do. We saw a lot of interesting things, including a lot of urchins and other fish. One thing I noticed - Hawaii has a lot of urchins and eels. Instead of calling it the Big Island, I wanted to call it "Eel Island." Seriously.

A beautiful Urchin at Garden Eel Cove

So, it was dinner time and then we were ready for our Manta Ray Night Dive. We were not disappointed. Even before we splashed, there were three Mantas circling around the boat. They would flap their fins against the water, similar to what you might see if you go to the Stingray Exhibit at the National Aquarium, except that Manta Rays are much much bigger than those (6-8 foot wingspan).

A Manta Ray

We jumped in and there were already other divers and snorkelers at the site. This is the one dive site where lots of divers doesn't ruin the experience. We basically sat on the ground with our flashlights, shining them upward. The Mantas would swim above us, circle and do flips, and frequently would rub on our heads or smack or faces. We weren't permitted to have snorkels on our masks, because the Mantas would scrape them on their bellies. It was amazing. One of the most amazing dives I've ever done. Incredible. I cannot describe it. And really, I just sat still on the ground for the whole dive. Highlight of the entire trip.

Me and the Mantas

Mantas dancing

Day 5: The Conditions Change
Things changed on Monday. A swell came in, and it brought surge, current and low visibility. Because of this, we had a rather eventful first dive of the day at Never Never Land. On my documentation of that subject, I talked about my experiences and Todd's, but others on the boat had similar experiences battling the current. So much so, that the longest dive that anyone did at that dive site was about 30 minutes. Rare for liveaboard folks.

So, we left Never Never Land, and headed further south to a nice little cove, where a pod of Spinner Dolphins were playing. The surge was still bad, and would remain so for the rest of the trip, but at least we had good vis and no current.

Dolphins playing at Puhoe Canyon

After this dive, we decided to head even further south to see if we could find better conditions. The boat rocked, the seas were rough. I took one look at the water, thought about what had happened earlier at Never Never Land, and decided I wasn't getting in that water at that site. The captain got in to set the mooring line, and when he surfaced, he was swept away in the current. The crew had to send the chase boat after him to pick him up. Somewhere amidst all of this, the boat rocked so much that it snapped the mooring line, which then had to be repaired. We didn't dive there, and headed back up to Puhoe Canyon for another two dives (an afternoon dive and a night dive). We were one dive short on Monday.

Dolphin at Sunset

Days 6-8: Eat, Sleep Dive
The rest of the diving and the rest of the dive sites were not nearly as exciting as the Mantas and the Current. We had a lot of surge for the rest of the trip. We saw some of Hawaii's finest fish, we saw a White Tip Reef Shark lounging in a Lava tube. Lots of eels, lots of interesting things, lots of fun fish. Most of them will be covered at some point in future editions of Sea Things (which is not gone, just on hiatus while I get through talking about the Hawaii trip). So, that's why I'm not going to go into a ton of detail about each dive and each animal. Trust me, you'll hear about it :)

We did have one interesting dive at a site called Au Au Crater. I'm all about Au Au Crater. I'd heard about it during my research for the trip. It was supposed to be beautiful black sand, with lots of nudibranchs and small things. However, due to the surge and current, anything we'd have wanted to see that was small had burrowed away to hide. Anything that might be big (like sharks), had taken off to deeper or better water. So, really, we saw nothing but blowing black sand. I kept thinking, "yeah, this looks just like Bonaire... If Bonaire had been hit by a nuclear bomb!" At one point, we entered the crater, which was actually a big volcanic crater. How did we enter? Well, as we approached, surge came up, pushed us at a high rate of speed UP and OVER, literally throwing us into the crater. Then what? Being surge, it totally reversed, and threw us back up and over, so we were outside the crater. We did this like 3 or 4 times, until we finally figured we could stay there all day and headed off. It was fun, but scary. It shows you how powerful water can be.

The one thing we did get to do was dig our hands down into the black sand. I loved the black sand, and underneath? It was warm! I don't know why, I assume because it had absorbed the heat of the sun, but who knows. Interesting dive, anyway.

Another highlight was diving at Southernmost Point. Why is it called that? Well, because it is the Southernmost Point of the US. Many of you may have heard that Key West is the Southernmost Point of the US. Not true! Key West is the Southernmost Point of the continental US. The Southernmost point of the US is on the Big Island in Hawaii. The dive site there was called "Ladders." We did two afternoon dives there, and a night dive. Then, in the morning (I believe this was Thursday), there was a dawn dive to make up for the missed dive a couple days earlier. I missed that dive, but Todd did it, meaning he did six dives in one day. Crazy man, my husband. Anyway, Ladders was very nice, full of boulders with tons of rocks and crevices for eels and other things to hide. The Aggressor only makes it down that far south about once or twice a year, so it was a real treat to get to go there.

Moorish Idols

Kim and Todd Take a Self Portrait

Sunset on our Last Full Day of Diving

Day 9: Last Day on the Boat
Friday, we did two dives at a beautiful dive site called Aquarium. The water was clear, the surge was minimal. We found a turtle and a huge Frogfish. On the second dive, Todd and I headed straight over to the Frogfish, and then ran into other divers from our group. They were signaling "Squid." I love squid, so we headed over to investigate. There, we found a pair of mating Octopus. How cool! We stayed with them for most of the dive, I think it was about 25-30 minutes just with these two. The current had picked up, and we had a good 3 knot current going by the time we were ready to ascend. We had to hold on to the reef to not blow away. Finally, when we ascended, we were all holding on to the mooring line to keep from floating off to who knows where. Those currents, they're tricky.

Two octopi mating (Todd was set for macro, so the photo is not the best)

That day, we picked up our rental car for our last day in Hawaii, and parked it so it would be ready for Saturday. We spent some time on the boat, packing and such, and then had dinner that night at Quinn's (which I was not all that impressed with, it wasn't my choice).

Overall, diving was good. We saw a lot of things we'd never seen before. The surge and current made things more interesting, but at least we had good visibility most of the time. The Manta dive was spectacular, something I'd do again in a heartbeat. Water temps were 75-77 degrees, which is a bit chilly. Todd was wearing a 5mm wetsuit, I was wearing a 3/2mm wetsuit, which was ok for 77 degrees, but too cold when the temps dropped to 75. We had a good time aboard the boat. My total dives? 26 for the week, with Todd doing 27. It qualified both of us as "Iron Divers," doing 5 dives a day, every day.

Frogfish at Aquarium

Stay tuned for the final installment of our Hawaii trip report -- Travel to Hilo, waterfalls a volcano and a helicopter!

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