Bonaire Day 7

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 3:32 pm

Naturally, 8am the next day rolled around and there was no sign of anyone by the truck. I started calling the rental place around 8:30, and was told someone was on the way. By 8:45, I tracked down a cell phone for that person and called them directly – turns out they were looking for the car over by the Sand Dollar office, even though I’d clearly stated several times the night before that it was parked by the dive shop. He came and gave the battery a jump; I left it running for a while and then parked it back by our condo while we went off to do a dive.

Just to be on the safe side, we piled into the other truck to get to the dive site. Our destination was the wreck of a sailboat named Our Confidence, located somewhere south of Eden Beach and possibly near Harbor Beach Resort. (We found conflicting information in the books on the best entry site, and none of the Sand Dollar DMs could give us any useful tips on finding the wreck).

At Eden Beach we got decent directions from their dive shop: enter off the dock and head south past a couple of buoys, and we should be right on top of it. We discovered a pretty strong current pushing us back the way we came. Luckily, that’s the way you want the current to be running, so we forged ahead.

Eden Beach is on a very rubbly area of reef, so there wasn’t much to see on the way besides sand and occasional piles of rock. As we were cruising along, I noticed a funny-looking object sticking out of the sand; I thought it was an old styrofoam cup or something. Jeff was on the other side of it, and started taking pictures so I went in for a closer look. Turns out it was a big snake eel sticking his head out of the sand!

Snake eel in the sand:

We pushed on over several ridges, every time thinking the wreck must be just out of sight. After about 15 minutes of swimming, we finally saw the hazy outline of a sailboat.

Wreck of the Our Confidence (photo by Carol Yin):

I have to say, I’m astounded that this wreck isn’t more popular and that more divemasters didn’t know how to get there. The current was a bit annoying, but not frightneningly so, and it was definitely worth the effort. The wreck sits in about 50 feet of water, which gives you plenty of time to hang out, and also means decent lighting for photography. It’s a wooden boat, so it’s rotting away in interesting ways. There were a lot of old ropes and cables strung around, so perhaps it isn’t very publicized because it would be an entanglement hazard for new divers. But we all loved it!

It was especially good for video because of the current. While the photographerss struggled constantly to maintain their positions, I would just swim against the current to the bow of the boat, hit “record,” and let the current take me from bow to stern in a long, smooth pan.

On the way back to shore, we stopped under the Eden Beach pier to wave hello to the ReefCam:

Being upstaged by a fish at the ReefCam:

Then it was back to the condo… where of course, we discovered that the battery in our other truck was dead again. Argh.

Carol and Michael opted to have a relaxing lunchtime before our afternoon dive, so we left them to deal with pestering the rental agency again. Jeff and I hopped back in the water for one last dive at Bari Reef. I was tired of dealing with my camera, so I went video-free on this dive – and thoroughly enjoyed it!

We puttered around mostly in the shallows, heading north in search of the “Reef Balls,” big cement spheres used as artificial reefs. On the way we passed several moored boats, which provided shade for huge schools of jacks swirling around in tornado-like formations.

At one point, Jeff suddenly started pointing his camera at me and taking pictures, which seemed odd since he had the macro lens on. It finally occurred to me to glance behind me – where a big snaggletoothed barracuda was hovering just outside of my peripheral vision!

After the dive, Jeff dunked all his gear in the Sand Dollar rinse tank. Almost instantly, his hands began to itch and burn. We think someone rubbed up against fire coral on their dive and then rinsed their gear in the dunk tank, leaving little fire coral bits behind for the next innocent bystander. Ouch! I made an emergency stop for some vinegar so Jeff could finish out his diving day.

Our afternoon dive was next door with Buddy Dive, on a boat trip arranged by Bruce (who just bought a house in Bonaire with his wife) for all the digitaldiver.net folks. We liked the boat operation there much better. No doubt we were influenced by the fact that the Buddy Dive divemaster was an ace at finding little things, including multiple frogfish:


We briefly considered squeezing in one last night dive, but decided to quit while we were ahead and call it a day. There was a digitaldiver.net evening get-together at Bruce’s – they have the most gorgeous house, with the perfect patio for hosting parties. Funny how everyone we know with vacation homes seems to not have kids!

Afterwards, Jeff and I sneaked off for a ‘date night’ dinner at an Italian restaurant, then joined Carol and Michael back at the condo to make plans for our topside adventures the following day…


Bonaire Day 6

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 5:06 pm

Jeff and I got an early start Thursday morning and drove south past Salt Pier. I’d seen the dive site ‘Tori’s Reef’ named on many people’s “must dive” lists, so we decided to check it out. The entry was similar to all the southern dive sites, a rocky ledge, but at this site you actually enter down the sides of a channel cut through to the salt pools. When the gates are closed and water isn’t being sucked in, it’s a little easier to climb down the edge there and walk out through the sandy channel, rather than having to deal with the slippery rocks and urchins along the usual beach.

The dive here started in about 8 feet of water. As soon as we dropped down, we found clumps of coral that were home to all kinds of interesting little fish. They swarmed with juvenile damselfish and bright orange and blue cherubfish, and occasionally with jacks cruising overhead in search of a snack.

We finally tore ourselves away from the super-shallows and headed across the sand towards the real reef, but again I found myself constantly distracted! I spotted half a dozen yellowhead jawfish in their burrows, and even saw my first sailfin blenny giving his signature display off in the distance! (Of course, he hid back in his little hole as soon as I went close.)

Yellowhead Jawfish sneaks out of his burrow:

By the time we reached the slope, we’d already been down 40 minutes just tooling around in the shallows. Here we saw more nesting butterflyfish, a barred hamlet, and of course I found lots of slender filefish.

Slender filefish hides in a gorgonian:

Our next dive of the day was also our first boat dive on this trip; we’d signed up for a boat and picked Klein Bonaire as the dive spot (the only area you can’t get to from shore). I think we were all a little underwhelmed by Sand Dollar’s boat operation. The boat itself was extremely cramped. I don’t expect luxury, but a little room to move is nice – and we didn’t even have a full load of divers, so I can’t even imagine how awkward that would have been.

But more importantly, we didn’t feel like the divemaster was particularly useful. He only “led” the dive insofar as he cruised a little ahead of the divers. We signed up for a boat dive mainly so a local guide could point out cool stuff, but we did a better job of that on our own.  In fact, the divemaster was the first person out of the water – something I’ve never seen before!

We finished off the day with a dusk dive back at the house reef. Carol and Jeff had done a night dive several days before, and followed a DM’s instructions to find a little frogfish. Jeff was able to retrace their steps and find froggie again, though he wasn’t in a very photogenic spot.

We also saw the usual suspects: peacock flounder, filefish. But as evening dives go, this was one of the least impressive I’ve had for some reason.

There was a little bit of adventure at the end of the dive. We bumped back into Carol and Michael as we did our safety stop under the pier. Jeff signed to me that he wanted to go look for the frogfish again, but I was feeling pretty much done (it had already been over an hour, and I was getting chilly), so I waved goodbye to him and surfaced. I put away all my gear and waited. And waited.

Eventually they all surfaced; apparently Jeff had convinced Carol and Michael to go after the frogfish. Except, Carol had thought from all his signing (“frogfish? 40 feet?”) that he meant he needed her to show him where it was, when in fact he was asking if she wanted him to show her. So she reluctantly trudged back to the frogfish, which she actually wasn’t interested in pursuing (end of dive, and she’d already seen it).

Once they were all back on the surface, I went to move the truck closer so we could back in our gear – and it wouldn’t start. Completely dead battery. In the meantime, apparently I missed a rather spectacular fall when Jeff slipped on the dock and landed smack on his back. So we were all in an excellent mood by the time everyone had their gear piled up in our other truck (thank goodness we had two), and I put in a call to the rental agency.

Which went something like this:

Me: “Hi, we’re renting a truck from you guys, and the battery seems to be dead. What should we do?”

Her: “You need to bring the truck in.”

Me: “I can’t bring it in – the battery is dead, we can’t even start it.”

Her: “I’m sorry; what’s wrong with the car?”

… ad infinitum. I finally got the cell number of a manager, who said he’d come first thing in the morning (8am) to replace the battery…


Bonaire Day 5

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 9:20 pm

Tuesday morning we headed north to Karpata. We’d been warned that the wind kicked up and made it harder to dive after 10am, so we wanted to get started early.

At the top of the stairs to Karpata:

Things didn’t get off to a very good start. As soon as we descended I turned my video camera on – and the external monitor stayed blank. Then I realized it wasn’t exactly blank. It had water in it.


Luckily, the external monitor is the one part of my rig with some redundancy; I can use the tiny viewfinder on the back of the housing instead. Not optimal, but usable. And the flooded monitor provided its own entertainment, filling up with funny little crystals of god-knows-what, and spitting bubbles out the back as the electricity/saltwater combo oxidized.

And aside from my flood, it was a gorgeous dive. We swam south from the entry, which we’d never done on our last trip. The visibility was wonderful, and the dive site was more pristine than some of the busier dives down south.

We all decided to skip a stop at the condo, and head straight down to Invisibles, a little south of the Hilma Hooker. I’d read in the guidebook that garden eels could be found here on the swim out to the dropoff, which I assumed must be some sort of typo as we’ve never seen garden eels in shallow water. So I was thrilled to discover that there really were patches of garden eels in 15 feet of water!

Me shooting some garden eels:

Carol was the only one shooting macro on this dive, so of course I spotted more juvenile filefish than on any other dive. We also found lots of nesting banded butterflyfish hanging out in sponges, and had a spotted eagle ray fly-by.

Nesting butterflyfish:

Jeff and I squeezed in a quick dive back at Bari, where we saw lots of little filefish and yellowhead jawfish. At about 50 feet, we noticed a huge cloud of something around a pile of sponges. I didn’t see any divers or large fish in the area that could have kicked up sand, and it didn’t dissipate, so I suspected some sort of sponge spawning. I’ll never know for sure!

In the evening, we had our next guided dive: a night tour of Kralendijk’s Town Pier. The pier pilings are absolutely covered with an amazing variety of colored sponges, making this a world-famous dive. Only four groups of four divers each are allowed at any given time to keep damage to a minimum. Michael decided to sit this one out, so it was just three of us and our guide.

I wasn’t too impressed by our first visit here. The pilings were beautiful, but got old fast – and even with only sixteen divers in the water, it felt insanely crowded when most of those were inexperienced divers bumping into each other and confusing who’s with who. It also didn’t do wonders for the visibility.

So I was thrilled to discover clear water as soon as we descended, and not another diver anywhere in sight! In fact, on the whole dive we only encountered one other group, even though we overstayed our one-hour slot and were under for nearly 90 minutes.

Colorful pier piling (photo by Carol Yin):

Besides the beauty of the pilings themselves, we were treated to constant visits by the resident tarpons, lots of juvenile drums hiding near bits of trash, two frogfish doing their best to blend into the sponges, and a chain moray out on the prowl. It was my longest dive to date, and I could have done with another 30 minutes to explore!

A tiny yellow frogfish hiding on a pier piling:

You can see the rest of Jeff’s Town Pier photos here.

After dumping all our camera gear back at the condo, we treated ourselves to Pasa Bon Pizza (even more delicious than I remembered), and crashed into sleepy piles back at the condo.


Bonaire Days 3-4

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 2:40 pm

Jeff and I finally managed a four-dive day on Monday – but only by squeezing one in before breakfast.

Since the gear room didn’t open until 8:30, we hauled all our scuba stuff up to the balcony the night before, and plopped into the water at 7:30am to do a pre-breakfast dive. I had the macro lens on, which actually winds up taking a lot of the enjoyment out of the dive for me because I spend so much mental effort stressing over focus issues. There’s certainly no shortage of macro critters in Bonaire, though; I spotted dozens of little secretary blennies peeking out of holes, and even saw some of my local favorite, yellow-headed jawfish, popping up and down in the coral rubble.

Carol and Michael met us for breakfast, and then we drove north to a favorite site of ours from last time: Oil Slick Leap. We thought it might be a little more camera-friendly, since there’s a ladder down into the water. Since it’s the windy season, the chop was picking up quite a bit already by 10am, making the camera hand-offs at the ladder bottom a bit of a pain.

It was just as pretty a dive as I remembered, once we got underwater and away from the wind. There’s a large shallow area near the entry that’s great to poke around in looking for little stuff, but also a beautiful drop-off covered with gorgonians and all kinds of interesting fish. I spent some time filming a barracuda who wasn’t very shy, and finding little blennies for the macro photographers to play with.


Back in the shallows, we were entertained by an enormous swarm of blue tangs that descended on the area like locusts to eat algae off the coral, darting en masse from one coral head to the next.

We spent the rest of the day back at Bari Reef for an afternoon and a night dive. The afternoon dive was nothing special (I was on macro again – argh), but night dives are always fun. In Bonaire, you usually wind up being followed by tarpon, huge silvery fish that hunt for dinner by your dive light. There was also some sort of enormous snapper trying to get in on the action.

I was especially entranced by basket stars. During the day, they just look like strange lumps inside gorgonians. But at night, they unfold in these amazing fractal patterns, and feed off tiny plankton in the water.


After our dive, Jeff and I raced over to Papaya Moon, a mexican restaurant in Kralendijk where Carol and Michael were having dinner with a bunch of folks from digitaldiver.net. Based on our food experiences last time, I wasn’t expecting too much, but we were in for a surprise. Everything was amazing – I can’t recommend this restaurant enough to anyone visiting Bonaire. The entire DDN crowd ordered the dessert special: apple pie. (I know – weird at a mexican place, right?) Although not normally a pie person, Jeff and I caved to peer pressure, and were glad we did. They make the most amazing pie, loaded up with thin-sliced apples and caramel, and served on a hot fajita platter with ice cream. Definitely perfect after-diving food!

Tuesday morning, Jeff and I headed back to the Hilma Hooker by ourselves while Carol and Michael went to Windsock. We didn’t get that much of an early start, but we still managed to do our dive and meet them at Windsock before they got in the water. We finished off our surface interval there and then followed them in. Windsock is just next to the airport runway, and I think it’s hands-down the easiest beach entry ever. It’s a very sandy beach, with only a few dead coral bits to get around in the shallows, so you just walk right in without worrying about tripping or slipping on anything.

Best of all, it’s a pretty great dive site, too! The slope is full of beautiful coral formations, and I also found the world’s stupidest fish at this dive site. I have lots of video of a lizardfish who kept getting scared and would dart away – about two feet, an then let me settle back in for some more video. But my favorite was the bright yellow trumpetfish who was “hiding” in a purple gorgonian, and seemed quite confident that I couldn’t see him.

We scarfed down some lunch in town, and then met up with a divemaster back at Sand Dollar for our afternoon dive on Salt Pier. Since it’s a working pier for the salt ships, every group needs to register with the harbormaster and go with a guide, even though you only dive when there aren’t boats there. It’s a great place for fish nerds: there are half a dozen sets of pier pilings which provide nesting areas and shade for schooling fish. French and queen angelfish are all over the place, as well as schools of snapper and lots of sergeant majors protecting nests.

Jeff perked up when our divemaster mentioned it was also a good place to find tarpon. Sure enough, when we headed to the northern edge of the pier, we found an entire school of tarpon cruising around. Jeff played with the big fish while I swam in and out of the pier pilings, occasionally letting my hair down for a photo.


We pondered a night dive, but ultimately decided to take it easy and rest up for a busier day on Wednesday…


Bonaire Day 2: May 4 2008

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 5:03 pm

I spent most of Saturday looking forward to Sunday: a full day of diving, after a real night’s sleep. And as a special bonus, the day I’d hit dive #400; I’m a total sucker for meaningless milestones.Jeff and I made noises about attempting an early morning dive, but opted to sleep in a little instead and do our first dive after breakfast. This also meant we didn’t have to haul our dive gear up the night before; Sand Dollar has the rather annoying policy that you can only access the gear storage area from 8:30am-9:30pm, making it a bit of a pain to dive early or late.

We had fond memories from our last trip of one of Bonaire’s best-known dives, the wreck of the Hilma Hooker, so the four of us drove down south to check it out around 10am. We got off to a bit of a false start when Michael realized he’d left some crucial gear at the condo, and had to make a quick run back up north. It actually worked out for the best, as we didn’t descend until nearly 11am, after most of the morning divers had already departed. In fact, for most of the dive, we had the whole wreck to ourselves!

As would happen over and over again throughout the week, I was amazed to discover how easy this dive seemed now that I had some more experience under my belt.

When we dove it in 2004, even the entry was horribly challenging for me. The surf is generally zero-to-ankleslappers, but there’s a bit of a step down right where the water hits the shore. You’re hobbling around on rocks that are full of holes, slippery algae, and spiny urchins, and once you’re past the obviously tricky part you still have a ways to go in knee-deep water with random holes and rocks trying to trip you up. I used to need Jeff’s hand to hold all the way in to keep from wobbling and falling over, and that was when I wasn’t dealing with a camera.

Carol still had a bit of tricky time with the entry (her camera is the heaviest), but I found it to be much easier than I remembered. I took my time feeling out the good spots to step, sat down as soon as it was comfortable to do so, and didn’t expend nearly as much energy worrying about tipping over as I did last time.

Likewise, the “long” surface swim just didn’t seem that bad after a few summers of LA county’s ADP program. And the dive itself, which was super-short and stressful for me on our first trip due to its depth, felt like a total breeze now that we were diving on Nitrox. All in all, I just felt infinitely more relaxed and comfortable with all aspects of diving. It’s amazing how much difference a little experience can make – and how the exact same dive sites even looked different to me when sizing them up.


We took advantage of the extra bottom time (Nitrox!) and checked out both ends of the Hilma Hooker. I actually spent most of my time in between, cruising back and forth through the hold that’s open at both ends, with a neat window where you can look out at the rest of your dive buddies. (Something else that was scary to me last time.) We spent about twenty minutes at depth, then slowly cruised our way back into the shallows, with a nice long stop for me at the top of the ship’s hull to check out all the nesting fish.

We didn’t have far to go for our next dive: Angel City is just next door to the Hilma Hooker. We took our time setting up gear and soaking up a little sun, and I dug out a couple of paper party hats for Carol and I to don for our underwater birthday photos.


Angel City boasts easy access to Bonaire’s second fringing reef, which comes to its highest point in this area before dropping off. You can see the second reef from the first one at this site (and the ones on either side), so it’s an easy swim to go check it out. Being a little deeper and a little less-dived, the second reef is downright lush with coral and sponge growth. There were strange coral formations everywhere, each with its own cloud of little fish. Up above, schools of larger fish cruised the area, teasing all the photographers up into the water column as we tried to get closer.

It was a gorgeous place to celebrate dive #400!


It was already mid-afternoon by the time we left Angel City and headed back up to our condo. After scarfing down a late lunch from Sand Dollar grocery, Carol was ready for some down time. The rest of us decided to hop in at Bari Reef to see what we could find.

My favorite thing about Sand Dollar’s house reef is that you really don’t have to go far at all to start seeing interesting things. On this dive – and every dive – we basically landed right on top of interesting subjects. I spent the start of the dive in 15 feet of water watching a sharptail eel hunting through the coral rubble for his dinner.

I had the macro lens on for this dive, which is equal parts fun and excruciating; lots of neat little critters to shoot, but focusing on them can be a serious bitch! I’m still learning the ropes in that department. But I was excited to spot what may be the tiniest fish I’ve ever seen, and I found it entirely be accident. I was shooting some interesting texture on a sponge when I noticed something with eyeballs on my monitor – which was zoomed all the way in and at close range. Sure enough, it turned out to be some sort of juvenile blenny (like blennies aren’t small enough when they’re grown up), not any longer than my pinky joint. I have lots of blurry footage to prove it. As well as this photo from Jeff:


Jeff was dying to hop back in for a night dive, but I pleaded exhaustion. (I know! After just three dives!) I blamed the previous day’s travel schedule. And so ended Day 2 in Bonaire…


Off to Bonaire: May 2-3 2008

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 11:10 pm

It almost went off without a hitch.

The last time we went to Bonaire, it involved a red-eye, multiple connections, and two painfully long layovers – one in the Curacao airport, which was truly awful. And we each paid about $1200 for the privilege.

This time, thanks to Continental’s new direct flights to Bonaire, we paid less than half that and only had to deal with one red-eye and and a layover in Houston – not such a horrible place to be stuck. We were there for a while, though; since the Houston-Bonaire flight only leaves once a week, we took an early LAX-Houston hop just in case anything went wrong.

Jeff and I met up with our friend Carol at LAX, where she said goodbye to her short-on-vacation-time boyfriend and introduced us to her non-boyfriend, Michael, who was our other dive buddy for the week. We’d met Michael once before on a dive boat, but I hadn’t been able to put the face to the name when she invited him to come along to Bonaire. When he showed up at our gate, I was relieved to discover he was someone I absolutely adored. Imagine a 50-something-year old LA professional photographer with a wicked sense of humor and about as irreverent and heathen-y as it gets, then make him a scuba diver – a perfect fit for us!

Our first flight left on time, so we wound up with six hours to spend in Houston. We were supposed to meet Ben and Kathy there, who were flying from Denver. Jeff got an email from Ben warning that they were having some sort of passport issues, but they’d be on a later flight and should still make it. I called Ben to get the full scoop: apparently, their passports had gone through the washing machine (literally) at some point. Ben had actually used his since then to travel to Paris on United, so he’d assumed everything was fine. But Continental had denied them boarding because their passports were not up to code.

Since he’s a loyal United customer, that airline tried to fix him up. The passports scanned just fine with United, so they took a United flight from Denver to Houston where they’d be transferred back to the Continental flight. Hopefully no problem, right?

Wrong. They arrived just as Continental was doing passport checks on every passenger. As soon as they reached the counter and presented their slightly-damaged (but not the important, front page) passports, the Continental representative started frowning. Apparently that whole “denied boarding” thing in Denver had made it into the system, and their whole itinerary with Continental had been deleted. After 30 minutes of intense discussion between Ben and a manager, the verdict was in: no Bonaire for the Brantleys. Even if Continental bent the rules and let them fly, Bonaire customs would almost certainly turn them away. And being late on a Friday night, when no passport offices were open, they were basically just out of luck.

Ben and Kathy handled it with remarkable grace – I would have absolutely lost it in their position. In fact, I did a pretty good job of losing it in my position. But we didn’t have much time to commiserate; we had a plane to catch, and the Brantleys had luggage to collect and a hotel to reach.

My only real complaint about Continental’s Bonaire service is the lousy timing – we landed at 5:30am after 3.5 hours of fitful dozing. Not the best mood to start a trip in! Carol and I kept watch on our pile-o-bags (below) while the boys picked up our rental trucks.


Because of Kathy’s fatigue issues, I’d requested a room that would be available first thing Saturday morning when we arrived. So we owed it to our missing friends that we were able to walk right into a lovely second story apartment at Sand Dollar and unload all our stuff at seven in the morning. We also owed them some extra space… with no Brantleys, Carol and Michael were able to each spread out into their own room.

We tried several times during the week to request a downgrade in the hopes of getting the Brantleys some cash back, but no luck – the place was packed. Much guilt was felt, but a little relief as well, to be honest – because the room we had was wonderful. Being on the second floor, with a screened in patio, meant we had a nice breeze and a relatively secure place to leave dive gear. We were also on a corner, so the patio was a huge wraparound one with several seating areas, an excellent “camera table”, pegs for gear, and a hammock.


I’ll have to make it up to the Brantleys somehow the next time we go on a dive trip!

After breakfast and an hour-long dive orientation, I was a complete zombie and in no shape to hop in the water. I lay down for a short nap, and apparently fell into such a deep sleep that Jeff had a really hard time waking me up after 45 minutes. We dragged our sleepy asses down to the Sand Dollar dock and hit the water around 1pm for our checkout dive.

I was instantly blown away by the visibility. Our first Bonaire trip was in December, and I remember the vis usually being around 60-70′. Here at Bari Reef, it was easily 100′ – and the water was perfectly calm and still. We dive so much in California that it feels downright shocking to be able to maintain your exact position in the water column without battling any current or surge. I left the camera behind for this dive and just enjoyed the feeling of doing an effortless dive in clear water!

Another surprise to me was spotting a turtle – on our last trip, we only saw turtles on the east side, but apparently Bari Reef is a popular hangout for them these days.

I also found myself getting really chilled in just my 2mil suit, which had kept me more than warm enough last time. On our surface interval, I swung by the dive shop to add a 2.5mil vest, which I wore the rest of the week and stayed perfectly comfortable in the 79-81 degree water.

Dive #2 was at Bari Reef again – with such a convenient house reef, and as tired as we were, none of us felt the urge to travel. We got in the water around 5, so we spotted some of the early dusk action: lots of spawning creole wrasses zooming all over the reef, peacock flounders sailing over the sand in search of mates, and a sharptail eel on his evening hunt, accompanied by a motley crew of fish sidekicks.

Below is my favorite clip from the day – Magic Carpet Flounder!

After Dive #2, we zombied our way through dinner at The Reef restaurant (attached to Sand Dollar and surprisingly delicious) and collapsed early for a long night’s sleep…


Stuck Snorkeling

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 7:44 pm

Jeff and I had a mini-vacation to Kona last weekend, in conjunction with a work meeting I needed to be at Tuesday and Wednesday (hooray, frequent flier miles).

Naturally, the Wednesday before our trip, my doctor strongly suggested I NOT GO DIVING. Of course I asked what exactly she was worried about – if it was just that my ear infection would come back, I would risk it. But apparently she was somewhat concerned about the integrity of my eardrum. Not wanting to risk all the rest of my dives for the year (or, you know, my hearing), I heeded her advice.

My ear actually felt okay, except I couldn’t hear out of it – I gather there was still some gunk blocking it up from the infection. Yuck. Anyway, I was cleared to fly and to snorkel, so I was sure I’d still have a good time. And Jeff would be able to dive.

We flew out Friday morning, and landed around lunchtime. Naturally, we headed straight for beer and the world’s best pizza over at the Kona Brewery. Seriously – it’s that good, and not just because it’s in Hawaii and you can watch the mongooses run around in the shrubbery while you’re eating your pizza and working on your tan.

Saturday we were up bright and early for a two-tank dive with Jack’s Diving Locker. They’ve bought a new boat since the last time we were there; it’s almost twice as big but only takes a few more divers, so there’s more room to maneuver. I kind of miss the charm of the old boat, but it was still great to see the same old divemasters that I’ve been diving with for four years. I also bumped into a DM I know from here in SoCal; he spends 8 months a year working the boats here, and four months working for Jack’s. Pretty sweet retirement gig!

Jeff plopped into the water with the rest of his dive group, while I bobbed around on the surface building up my library of topside video footage. Sigh. I now have many, many shots of divers entering the water, the boat at mooring, and diver’s bubbles floating up from below me, taunting me with my be-snorkeled reflection.

What the real divers got to see on dive #1

I bitch about it, but it was actually quite relaxing to get to spend a day out on the water without having to fret over scuba gear.

And, as it turned out, the highlight of the day wasn’t on either of the scuba dives anyway. In between dives, we motored offshore in search of whatever critters might be hanging out in the blue. We found ourselves in front of a huge pod of pilot whales, which I’d never seen before. About a dozen of us slipped into the water just in time to watch them dive down and under us – not quite close enough to photograph, but a darned cool sight just the same.

Pilot whales surfacing near the boat

As we were finning around, waiting to see if any other whales would turn up, one of the divers calmly announced that we were being circled by a shark. From his relaxed tone of voice, I thought it might be something small and boring – but no; we were being cruised by an oceanic whitetip shark.

Jeff photographs an oceanic whitetip shark

She was gorgeous – about ten feet long, solid muscle, and just slowly circling all the snorkelers, seeing what we were up to. Every time she’d make a pass, all the photographers would hold our breath waiting for her to turn towards us for a good shot. But as soon as she did, that gut instinct kicks in – there’s a SHARK COMING RIGHT AT YOU. I had one slightly nerve-wracking moment when it looked like she was going to go right under me. I thought: do oceanic white-tips mind having a snorkeler right over them? Because if I was a shark, and something got that close to my head, I might want to BITE IT.

Whitetip shark headed straight for me

Whitetips are kind of funny. They routinely turn up on the “top 5 most dangerous sharks” list, but aren’t usually aggressive to divers. On the other hand, they’re apparently somewhat moody. A whitetip might show up and just be chilling out, and ten minutes later decide that it’s in a bad mood. This is much more likely when there’s more than one – and sure enough, as soon as one of the snorkelers thought they spotted a second shark, the boat crew shooed us all out of the water.

I should also point out that these sharks are in much more danger from people than we are from them: something like 99.7% of their population has been wiped out for shark fin soup.

After another dive, we took a break for dinner before meeting up with a different dive operator for a manta night dive. I was looking forward to doing the manta dive as a snorkeler, to get a different perspective on the action. We’ve done this dive three times before, with anywhere from three to eighteen mantas showing up.

This time? Zero mantas. Know what’s more boring than a “manta dive” snorkel with no mantas? Nothing.

Jeff had a fun night dive, though. In fact, he was the only scuba diver on our boat, so he and the DM just went off by themselves and had a blast.

Sunday was pretty much the same drill. The first dive was at Manta Ray Bay, right outside the harbor. This is where I saw a tiger shark several years ago, and other big critters often cruise through. Nothing so exciting showed up this time, but there was a really pretty area for snorkeling close to shore.

This would have been my third frogfish EVER if I’d actually been on the dive:

Once again, the real excitement was between dives. As we prepared to leave the harbor, a humpback whale and her calf showed up. Boats aren’t allowed to come within 100 yards of humpbacks – though if you stop the boat, and the humpback comes to you, that’s just fine. So – that’s pretty much what we did. At one point, they came right by the boat for a few breaths. The little guy was always right next to mama, like a little mini-whale. They were pursued by a pod of playful spinner dolphins for a while, just as curious about the whales as we were.

Humpback whale and her calf

The last dive was at Eel Cove, one of my favorite dive spots. This was the first time I was really jealous of the divers below: there were several times when I could see cool things going on down there (hunting eels, octopus) but was totally unable to join the fun, or even to get the attention of any of the photographers to point them out!

After the dives, Jeff and I hopped in the car and headed south to Place of Refuge. Turtles often hang out there in the evenings, so we planned on snorkeling around and seeing if any were friendly. Once again, there’s a rule about approaching them – but if you snorkel around the boat ramp, there’s not much keeping them from approaching you! I got tired of the murky water pretty quickly and headed over to snorkel in the pretty part, while Jeff waited to see if any turtles were feeling photogenic. There’s too much rainwater run-off there for really good photos as a snorkeler – but it’s a great place for scuba or freediving (which I also couldn’t do, thanks to my ear).

Turtle pretending to ignore me

Monday morning started out with a horrible disappointment. As long as we’ve been going to Kona, we’ve been getting breakfast at Bubba Gump’s. Now, Bubba Gump’s is a lame-ass, touristy chain restaurant in general – but the one in Kona was the only one that had a breakfast menu, and it was absolutely AMAZING.

Well, I guess not everyone thought so – they stopped doing breakfast a year ago. Doh!

I made Jeff go to Borders with my for my traditional hunt for Hawaiian music, then dropped him at the airport just as my coworkers were arriving. The next few days weren’t really any more exciting than working here at home is – less so, since we were just trapped in a meeting room for two days in the rain.

But even with the all-day meetings and the rain, I’d still step outside for a minute and just feel completely, ridiculously lucky that I got to be in Hawaii.

The rest of Jeff’s pics here.



Filed under: — Anastasia @ 3:21 pm

Figures that my last blog post was all about other people being sick. Two days later I came down with the Christmas plague as well. Mostly a cough, but plenty of mucus to go around…

I finally started feeling back to normal about a week ago, so I got back to my workouts. After two trips to the pool, I woke up Sunday morning with an earache.

I get mild ear infections pretty often, thanks to my rather lax attitude towards ear care. Here’s a quick list of things I probably should NOT have done over the last weekend:

  • Used my waterproof headphones without ever disinfecting them (they’re kind of hard and ridged – good for scraping up your ear canals and depositing whatever bacteria they’ve been growing while sitting in a moist puddle in your locker)
  • Scratched around with q-tips. (Oh please – like YOU never stick a q-tip in your ear.)
  • Re-used an old ear wax removal kit. You know, with the blue bulb you use to squirt water into your ears and wash out the wax? In retrospect, a new one would have been smarter.

So, okay, I TOTALLY DESERVED an ear infection. Usually I have a day or two of pain, and then I see the doctor and get some antibiotic eardrops. Problem solved.

This time, I got the infection over a 3-day weekend. Then my doctor was booked all day Tuesday. By Tuesday evening, I was about ready to find an urgent care office when she said she could squeeze me in Wednesday morning.

Well, by Wednesday morning my ear was, as she described it upon inspection, “quite dramatic.” Translation: swollen almost shut and full of pus.

Yes, pus. In my ear. She couldn’t even see all the way to my eardrum. She had to poke through a CRUST OF PUS to get a swab to do a culture.

So I got the usual antibiotic eardrops, plus an oral antibiotic to keep the infection from spreading. Usually those eardrops make me feel better after just one dose. But… remember the swelling? And the pus? Makes it kind of hard for drops to go in, or to penetrate very far.

By Thursday evening, my ear was still swollen, and the pain was still excruciating. Here, let me describe the pain with another bulleted list:

  • A constant, dull ache
  • Some throbbing in time with my pulse
  • Frequent stabbing pain that makes me scrunch up my face, stop talking midsentence, and/or pound my fists into my thighs and squeal like a baby
  • Burning/itching sensation (just the icing on the cake, really)

Since Tuesday, I’d been taking Advil or Tylenol every three hours, and it was NOT KEEPING UP. So I made the doc squeeze me in again this morning, just in case my ear was actually on the path to explosion over the weekend.

This morning I got:

  • A shot in my ass of some sort of hard-core antibiotic
  • A “wick” in my ear, and a package of them to use over the weekend. These make a passage past the swelling for the drops to get in, and then make them stay there.
  • A prescription for Vicadin.
  • Orders to stay home.

So that’s where I am: drugged to the max and loving it. I’m pain-free for the first time since Sunday (although the occasional stabbing pain pierces the drug-induced haze). The swelling should go down today or tomorrow, but I can’t bring myself to care or worry all that much because of the afore-mentioned drug-induced haze.

Here’s hoping I’m back to normal by Monday.

Then I’m hiding the q-tips.

And buying one of these for my gym bag.


Poor Things

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 6:40 pm

Jeff came down with a nasty cold our first day in South Carolina. Usually when he gets sick, he’s just sniffly for a couple of days – maybe a little out of it in the evenings. This one hit him pretty hard, and he was stuck at home with my parents while Katie and I went gallivanting around Columbia visiting friends.

(Of course, being stuck at home listening to my dad tell stories may have been preferable to him even if he wasn’t sick, so it kind of worked out.)

Today my dad’s all stuffy. Daddy’s never sick – he’s 82, and he took antibiotics for the first time in his life last year when he broke a hip. Mom thinks he had a cold once. It’s hilarious: he keeps saying things like “I don’t understand… I feel mostly fine, but my nose won’t stop running. It’s so strange!” Mom and I usually catch everything that goes around, and catch it bad, so we’re not terribly sympathetic.

So far I have avoided the plague, which is weird. Out of my last six or seven visits here, I think I’ve been sick for, oh, ALL of them. Barrie even commented on how strange it was to see me without a Kleenex constantly hanging from my hand. I’ll probably catch it just in time to fly on Tuesday, but maybe I’ll get lucky.


Labor Day Diving

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 11:06 am

On Labor Day, Scott chartered the Sea Bass for a bunch of his photographer buddies. This is the second time we’ve joined one of these trips, and it’s a lot of fun – despite the slightly crowded conditions that result from sharing the boat with nearly as many enormous camera rigs as divers!

We did a repeat of our July trip: one dive on the wreck of the Olympic, followed by two dives at the oil rigs. Captain Richard dropped the anchor in the sand about 30 feet off the wreck. Jeff, Carol and I were the last group down, so we missed the initial search for the wreck – we reached the bottom just as a group of divers was headed back the other direction from a fruitless hunt in the dark. And it was DARK. There was a thick layer of gunk at the surface blocking out all the sunlight; the water cleared up quite a bit near the bottom, but it was basically a night dive.

We followed the dive lights and flashing strobes to our destination: the bow section of the Olympic. On our last dive here, we were over the stern area, and I didn’t realize just how much of the boat we missed. The bow area rose about 30 feet off the bottom, totally encrusted with anemones and other growth. The starboard side is largely open, so divers can cruise around the interior easily.


I’d love to see this wreck on a clear day. My video lights barely made a dent in the darkness and the super-green water: I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be with a little sunlight!

Not wanting to descend all the way back to the bottom in search of the anchor, we headed off in its general direction at about 70′ – but shortly realized we’d never find it in the dark, and did a slow free ascent. There had been a slight current running on the surface when we jumped in, so we fully expected a surface swim back to the boat. Imagine our surprise when we broke the surface about 10 feet away from the dive ladder!

Our second dive was at the joined oil rigs Ellen and Ellie – I never remember which one we actually dive on. The green layer at the surface was gone, and the visibility was a respectable 50′ or so, so we had a good view of the schools of baitfish swirling around the rigs – and the sea lions chasing them. Jeff and Carol were shooting macro, and I quickly got tired of trying to get decent wide angle footage in the dark shade, so I spent most of my time looking up and hoping a sea lion would come bother me.


We picked up and moved over to Eureka for our last dive. Visibility was a little bit better here – not the 100′ plus that I always hope for on the rigs (and have encountered more than once), but a damn sight better than the 5′ vis we’ve also seen here before! I jumped in the water and promptly lost a fin. (New jet fin, and new dive booties that weren’t quite a perfect fit, as it turned out.) Doh. One of the crew stepped up with a loaner so I wouldn’t have to miss the dive. And it was a good thing he did, because this was definitely the highlight of the day!

Sea Lion scaring baitballs:

Puttering around in 60′ of water, enjoying the sea lion and baitball show, I accidentally scared up a cabezon hiding in the rig structure. But instead of swimming away to hide, he turned around and headed right for Jeff – and settled comfortably onto his camera! Carol and I came close to get shots of the little guy, while Jeff hovered with a slightly confused expression on his face.

Eventually he started gently trying to shake the fish off his camera – but the cabezon wasn’t interested in leaving. He was finally dislodged – and immediately turned around to nip at the strobe, swim at Jeff’s face…. and then settled back on the camera again! Every now and then he’d move off long enough for Jeff to take his photo, but he kept coming back to his new home.


When Jeff finally thought he’d gotten rid of him for good, he moved on to other photo subjects while I kept an eye on the lonely fish. He didn’t disappoint: as soon as Carol got into range with HER camera, he tried to settle onto her rig! She fended him off with the lens, spinning around in circles while I completely cracked up.

We didn’t completely shake off the cabezon until we started our ascent: he constantly swum around us looking for a chance to sit on someone. Except me – for some reason, he had zero interest in my video rig. Which means I got lots of video!

I’ve edited together the highlights of our friendly cabezon encounter: enjoy!

“Why Can’t We Be Friends” – 1:43 Quicktime movie
Medium Quality – 14.7 MB
Low Quality – 4.7 MB

And some photos:
Jeff’s photos
Carol’s photos

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