Saturday on the Puakō Wall

The email is brief… Let’s go diving, my place 9am – Pete. It is all I need to plan a Saturday, just need to get the tanks filled.

Pete Shoots the Frogfish
Pete in the process of irradiating a painted frogfish at Puakō.
Just three of us, Pete and a Akamai student intern at Keck also named Andrew. Andrew is spending a few weeks with us and building some optical bench heaters to keep the laser stabilized.

Conditions are pretty good, no swell or surf to create trouble crossing the shallow shoreline reef. Visibility could be better, it was only 30-40 feet. Andrew thought it was good, we looked at him and quickly let him know that this was downright murky for Puakō.

The usual dive plan for Puakō… Work the wall. Pete dives this section of the reef several times a week if the weather is good. We just follow him. If he bypasses some spot, it is not worth the time. Much of the dive is spend working the wall at 30ft depth and wandering in and out of the small caves that penetrate the reef.

Painted Frogfish
A bright red painted frogfish (Antennarius pictus) at 25′ depth, Puakō
First stop is a bright red painted frogfish Pete had found the previous day while freediving. Sitting in a coral head above a large arch it is nicely situated. This time we have the heavy camera gear and work over the little fish, taking turns. While Pete shoots the frogfish I wait my turn and shoot Pete.

A lone turtle is found at the cleaning station, the usual swarm of tangs and surgeons nibbling the algae from the turtle’s shell. Midway through the dive we take a quick excursion over the face to check out the garden eels at about 80ft. With my last air I shoot a trio of racoon butterflyfish raiding the eggs of a sergeant major.

Beyond the frogfish there is nothing particularly special about the dive. It is simply a nice day to spend a little time underwater. As we come ashore we are not the only divers using the beach access point. There is another group that landed just ahead of us, we chat about what we have seen, sharing the easy camaraderie of fellow divers. Everyone is enjoying the morning, it is hard not to. Another dive on a pleasant first day of summer weekend.

Puakō Night Dive

Watching sunset is one way to end the day, in this case it heralded the start of our activity. We were waiting for the Sun to go away, for the skies to grow dark. We were preparing for a night dive.

Once again into the black water, looking to meet the the reef’s night shift. It would be our usual crew… Pete, Sky, Mark and myself for the dive. Dennis joined for dinner, but did not stay for the dive.

Watching Sunset
Pete watching sunset over the Puako shoreline
We would meet at Pete’s place, an ʻohana he is currently renting in the middle of Puakō. From this base of operations we would have dinner, and head into the water for a night dive along the reef. Dinner itself was an event, it featured kebabs made with mouflon sheep. Sky and Pete’s latest hunt on the mountain had been successful. The mutton was pretty good, a credit to the cook, who prepared it properly.

While I had never used this particular entry, we were all familiar with the Puakō reef, having dove the area many times over the years. The layout is pretty straightforward. A shallow reef slopes away from shore for about 50-100yards, reaching about 10ft deep. There you will find ancient sea cliffs, a sheer rock wall that drops to 25′ or 35′ depth. Below this wall the reef slopes away, sometimes gently, sometimes steeply. At 70-100ft you reach sand that slopes further into the abyss. Our goal would be the old cliffs. These are pockmarked with small caves and overhangs, excellent terrain to explore on a night dive, there should be plenty of small invertebrates about.

The plan was simple, taking advantage to the nature of the Puakō reef and the multiple entries available along the shoreline. We would enter at one point, do a one way dive along the submerged seacliffs at 20-30ft, then exit at another entry about a quarter mile further south. Exit would be aided by a strobe left at the designated exit point, a bright light in flash mode easily visible to lead us back to the correct landfall.

Overhead a full Moon rose, lighting the sky and aiding our visibility. Once under water the moonlight would ad another dimension to the dive. The glow of moonlight coming through the water was sometimes quite pretty.

At one point I did something I almost never do on a Hawaiian reef. I was actually forced to use my compass for navigation. Normally the slope of the reef quickly indicates which way is shore. I had followed Mark out onto the reef below the wall. After a little photography I found myself disoriented, which was was the shore? I held my compass to the divelight to charge the glow-in-the-dark dial, then got my bearings to head back to the wall. I know I bought the console with a compass for some reason. Just a reminder of how easy it is to lose ones bearings in the dark water.

Orange Cup Coral
Orange cup coral (Tubastraea coccinea) at 20′ depth, Puakō
One feature of the wall at night that you just have to love, are the cup coral gardens. Here and there, usually near a cave entry, the entire wall will be covered with golden cup corals. Bright golden orange, these corals retract their tentacles during the day. It is at night that these gardens bloom, covering entire rock faces.

The strobe worked very well, we were able to head inshore, across the reef shallows, to just the right point. The shallows at Puakō can be a nuisance to cross in the day, they are more so at night. There was no real surf to complicate the issue, but you are just feeling your way across the rocks. I only put my hand on one urchin.

It was a pretty stroll back to the house along Puakō Road. A warm tropical night, a bright full Moon high overhead. We were chatting about the dive, reveling in the experience. One car did pass us as we walked, it must have been an interesting sight… A group of four guys in full scuba gear, dripping wet, walking down the center of the road.

Back at Pete’s place we broke out snacks and drinks. Beer and scotch appeared, dive photos reviewed, as we talked story for hours. Yeah, it was that sort of night.

Diving Puakō

Another weekend, another dive. This time at one of our favorite dive spots, Puakō End-of-Road. It was just Deb and I this time. The usual crew was out this weekend as well, but we had other goals in mind for the dive and choose to go to a closer site.

Brick Soldierfish
Brick Soldierfish (Myripristis amaena) in a cave at Puakō
One goal for the dive was testing some new kit. The new regulator performed pleasingly well, very easy breathing. Need to test it deeper, but for a first dive with new gear we kept it easy, around 40′ maximum depth. One issue is the mouthpiece, that simply has to change! I will be taking the mouthpiece off my old reg before the next dive. Need to rearrange the hoses as well, these

The other pleasant surprise was finding two new species of nudibranch. As Deb and I were diving without the rest of the crew, I was particularly slow. As usual poking my head into every nook and cranny. The result was finding examples of Phyllidiella rosans and Phyllidiopsis sphingis.

Going slow and shallow had another effect, almost 80 minutes underwater. Not a record for us, but high on the list of our longer dives. Not bad for a single aluminum 80 cylinder.

A nice Saturday dive, another hour spent underwater, and some new stuff found. A good day.