The Aqua Safari Back in the Water

Engine trouble. Bad enough that the boat has spent a couple months on shore, one engine replaced and the other rebuilt. Thus it has been a while since I have been out diving, since late October! Had the weather been better shore diving may have been a higher priority. The winter weather has been rough, with high surf warnings a common item in the morning news.

Cave Entry
One of the many entries to the cave at Pentagon
Since the gear had sat for several months the first order of business was a good checkout of everything. The tanks only had a few hundred pounds of pressure in them, but enough to check the regulators and computer. The valves and buoyancy bladder in the BCD held pressure. I did need a new mask strap, solved with a trip down the hill to the Blue Wilderness shop. Purchasing two, one for the mask, one for the spares kit. Both of the tanks are due visual inspection, need to get that taken care of.

Arriving in the Makalawena area we found a dozen boats milling about. Only one thing would attract that may boats… Dolphins. The shallow water here is a good place to find dolphins and whales. Sure enough, there were dozens of dolphins about and pods of humans snorkeling between the boats in an attempt to see the dolphins in the water. The dolphins seemed intrigued by the boats and swimmers. A group came over to check us out and surf in our wake.

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Unintended Photos 2

Yes, I meant to do that… Not.

Sometimes you download the SD card and find photos you had no idea you took, an accidental actuation of the shutter. Most of the time they totally worthless, a photo of blurred gravel, or a hand across the lens. But on occasion they are a bit more interesting, properly exposed and in focus…

An accidental photo of my gauges early in the dive with plenty of air remaining.

Diving ʻAuʻau and The Hive

When Dennis let me know he was heading south for ʻAuʻau Crater and that I was invited I didn’t even think about it… I’m in! When do we go?

The ʻAuʻau Wall
The wall at ʻAuʻau Crater
The furthest south I had been diving along the coast is the Red Hill area. The dive sites there are good, some of the best I had seen. The snorkeling at Kealakekua, even further south, is spectacular. I had read descriptions of the diving at ʻAuʻau, and had really wanted to see for myself.

It is a long drive past Kealakekua Bay to the ʻAuʻau Point area. As such we left Honokohau much earlier than usual, ready for a long day of diving. ʻAuʻau crater itself is visible on the shore, a classic littoral cone formed where lava met water and created an edifice much like a cinder cone from the resulting hydrothermal explosions. The cliffs are pocked with sea caves, many small, and some huge, large enough for us to drive the boat into on a calmer day.

The first hint about the site was the amazing glimpses of the terrain you could see from the surface as we crossed the area looking for the mooring. Boulders and coral 30 feet below us one moment, then nothing but deep blue the next. This site has a wall! Not just a little twenty foot wall as you see along the Kohala Coast. A sheer wall that we could not see the bottom of while we hovered at 100 feet. The wall just drops into the depths, inviting you ever further down into oblivion. On 32% EAN nitrox we dared not venture any deeper. This thing is at least 200 feet high, probably much more.

The wall is a mix of volcanic rubble, in places you can see layers, but mostly it is remnants of thousands of years of lava flows hitting the sea and creating sand and fragments of rock. On the ledges and in the little cavities life flourishes. Urchins and sea stars roam, but there is relatively little coral. This unstable surface is a poor place for the hard corals to colonize. One exception is wire coral, meter long specimens protrude here and there.

For our second dive the choice was The Hive. Arriving at the site revealed a small sea arch adjacent to the mooring large enough to drive the boat through. We did not know what to expect at the site. Thus the dive plan was to make a sweep out the edge of the reef and then back towards shore to check out the sea arch for possible caves. The sweep was pretty routine, a steep coral covered slope, nothing to hint at why there was a dive mooring here. Coming back to the arch revealed what was special about this spot! A set of great caves hide right under the arch at 25-30 ft depth. There were lobsters, innumerable flat rock-crabs, and several species of nudibranch to be found.

As I thought about leaving the caves after a first sweep I looked at my gauge… Still a thousand PSI in the tank! I turned around and headed back into the cave to find still more.

The Caves at The Hive
Dennis explores the big caves at The Hive
Entering the cave I immediately noted a Spanish dancer I had swum right past earlier. Looking through the large boulders at the entrance I found a few blue dragon nudibranch, always a pleasant find. Dennis was trying to get my attention from a few feet away. I insisted that he look to see what I had found, a blue dragon. When I looked to see what he was pointing at it was another blue dragon. They were everywhere, I lost count, it was just a matter of finding one better situated for photography.

We surfaced, a set of very happy divers, conversation buzzing as we compared notes. Diving has an interesting complication… Communication is limited underwater, you have to wait until you surface to ask questions and compare notes. We identify critters, sometimes grabbing the ragged and well used books Dennis keeps aboard to identify some rarity. We find out what others saw and what we missed. Through the conversation the dive is extended as we relive it one more time.

These are some of the most fantastic dive sites on the island. Not easy to get to but worth it. There are very few boats that run this far south, most vacation divers are happy with the dive sites near Honokohau and the boats need not venture very far from harbor. Jack’s Dive Locker runs a long range dive if there is sufficient interest. The Kona Agressor live-aboard is the only boat that regularly calls at these sites. The very occasional private boat like us is the only other practical way to get to these fantastic dive sites.

Calm before the Storm

Tropical storm? What storm, it was one of the prettiest days on the water we have ever seen. Apparently everyone thought so, the water was busy with dive and tour boats everywhere. The sky was clear blue, the water a blue crystal. No wind and just a bit of south swell. The day seemed at complete odds to the dire storm watch messages on the radio. We will do the storm thing tomorrow, today we dive…

Manta ray (Manta birostris) cruises the reef at Garden Eel Cove
With a storm watch out we did not go far from harbor. For both dives we used one of the moorings at Garden Eel Cove, the same moorings used for the famous Kona Manta Dives. These moorings also offer decent daytime diving, with rich coral and one of the shallowest places you can visit garden eels.

At one point I filmed a manta cruising the reef right below me. Just after it passed by the manta swung about and came right at me. I continued to film and the manta bumped the camera. Yes, it was that kind of day. The mantas were coming in close. These manta are familiar with the idea that divers mean food. During the night manta dives the dive lights attract plankton, creating a buffet for the mantas. The behavior seems to spill over into the daytime, with the mantas coming very close to divers.

Hawaiian Garden Eels
Garden eels (Gorgasia hawaiiensis ) at Garden Eel Cove
On the second dive Deb and I wandered in the other direction from the rest of the group. Crossing under another dive boat we dropped to the sand in the corner of the cove. Here is one of the shallowest places you can visit a garden eel colony. Usually you must drop to the sand at the base of the reef to visit the eels, 70-100ft down. Lying on the sand my gauge read 57 feet as I waited for the eels to poke back out of their burrows. A little patience rewarded Deb and I, as the eels re-emerged and allowed us to get a few decent photos.

After the last dive we often head for harbor. Today we just hung out at the mooring for a while, it was such a nice day. Out of air? Not problem, a mask and fins is enough, just take another swim.

Christmas Eve Diving

What else would I do on a Christmas Eve? Go shopping? Not really my ideal plan for the day. What about going diving? Not a bad idea at all…

Pete and I had already planned to go diving, but the plan had been to go shore diving somewhere. Then Dennis extended an invitation to join him on the boat, a gracious invitation we quickly accepted. As a result, the morning of the 24th saw us leaving Honokohau Harbor looking for a dive site to try.

Facing the Deep
Pete attempting to photograph garden eels at the base of the reef at Eel Cove
The surf was definitely up a bit, with a long swell rocking the boat and breakers hitting the rocks. Conditions in the water were pretty nice, visibility to near 100ft and just a gentle surge to be felt nearer the shore.

We did not go far from the harbor. First choice was a dive site called Sharkfin Rock just off Old Airport Park about two miles south of Honokohau. It is always a good sign when you can see the bottom 60 feet below through the blue water. Just inshore from the mooring a few surfers enjoyed the breaks along the park. Except for the one bodyboarder who was yelling at us to stop blocking his waves, as if a mere boat can have any significant effect on waves of any real size!

Strobe Effects
Pete imitating an old fashioned photographer with his strobe held away from the camera
The second site was a spot even closer to the harbor, a site called Eel Cove. The little indent in the shoreline that is right at the tip of the peninsula that protects Honokohau Harbor from the south. It is a very exposed site that drops off steeply. The cove offered just a bit of protection from the southerly swell and gave access to great diving conditions.

Eel Cove Profile
A typical Hawaiian dive profile, start deep and work your way up
The sites we dove this day allow access to deep water, we dropped to the base of the coral reef and explored our way up the slope. At Eel Cove there were indeed garden eels below 80ft on the sand slope. We dropped down to see them for a few minutes before heading back up the slope.

We found nothing truly unusual.. There were a number of nice encounters with reef regulars, some uncommon species of butterflyfish, a large day octopus, a young whitemouth moray. The second site at Eel cove was definitely one of the fishiest sites I have seen in quite a while. A lot of young fish to be seen. I expect the the more exposed site offers good feeding opportunities and less abuse from the aquarium collectors. I got a few good photos, particularly of the octopus. I have not seen what results Pete got from his efforts.

The day was simply a nice day to be out on the water, with good dive conditions that provided two nice dives. In the end I did do a little shopping. A stop at Costco was convenient as it is right above the harbor. There I grabbed a quick lunch and a couple things to keep our refrigerator stocked over the holiday.

A Morning at Three Tables

With the south shores of Oahu denied us by rough conditions, we spent a day diving the north shore of the island. The specified rendezvous was a site known to local divers as Three Tables for a little shore diving. With an iPhone and Google Maps in hand, Deb and I drove across the island along unfamiliar roads to Oahu’s famous North Shore.

Three Tables
The beach at Three Tables, North Shore, Oahu as seen from the parking lot, photo by Deborah
What greeted us was a pleasant surprise. A small, sandy beach fronted a very interesting cove. Parking was just above the beach, we would not need to carry the gear very far at all. The “Three Tables” were an obvious set of flat rocks just out from the beach.

There were quite a few divers already present, including a class just getting their certification. Our group just added to the party. Charles and Jeannie, who had been with us on the previous day’s aborted dive at the YO-257. Another visitor from Texas, Ray, joined us for the dive.

Leading the dive would be Gabe Scotti, the owner of Kaimana Divers. Christine would be his backup. While Gabe led off, Christine would play the caboose, riding herd on the group. It was a nice day to be diving, we chatted while setting up the gear. It was a relaxed, Hawaiian style morning.

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Three Dives on a Holiday Weekend

We managed three dives last weekend. It was a holiday weekend, Kamehameha Day, that helped. But still, we average a couple dives a month, three dives in a weekend was a bit unusual. We dove with some friends at Pukao on Saturday. Then two more on the following Monday. This was conservative, a few of the guys dove on Sunday too!

Diver Down
Diver Mark Devenot cruising the reef at Hoover’s Towers north of Honokohau
Monday’s diving was with Dennis. Again he invited us out on his boat. The Aqua Safari is quite comfortable, a 42′ cabin cruiser outfitted for diving. There are plenty of tank racks, a big swim deck and a very nice ladder. Dennis is quick to point out one of the best features… A warm fresh water shower on the swim deck! Which, I have to admit, is rather nice.

Thus, Monday morning saw us packing up the dive gear, a cooler with drinks and sandwich makings for everyone, and heading for Honokohau. There Deb and I joined Dennis and Mark for a very nice day diving.

We have been diving a lot in the NELHA area lately, I expect we will be diving some more there. It is some spectacular diving in the area. A rich reef sloping out to a steep drop-off that descends far beyond scuba depths. You look into the deep blue and know that somewhere down there is the abyssal plain, 8,000 feet below.

As usual I had my face in the coral, in and out of every crevice or small cave I came across. This is a great way to find the little stuff I love to photograph, but you can miss the big stuff… A series a sharp clangs gets my attention, the sound of Mark’s tank banger. I pull myself out of an alcove and swim over the large coral outcropping just in time to see a ten foot manta sweep by! The manta was just beyond the reef drop-off, against the deep blue of open water.

The find of the day was a Spanish Dancer, the largest nudibranch found in the islands. I do mean large, while most nudi’s I locate are an inch or two long, this fellow was the size of a dinner plate. Dancers have another feature… They Dance! Actually a form of swimming through undulating the body. I flushed him out of a crevice in the cave and the nudi proceeded to dance for us, everyone got a good look. After a few photos, actually quite a few photos, I carefully shepherded the pretty fellow back into the crevice I found him in.

No dives this weekend, I was on call. But we are already planning another outing next weekend. Summer diving season is here, bringing calm and clear water to the Kona side. The crew is ready to go, discussing where we will dive next.