Kona, February 2009: Part Two

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 4:45 pm

On Thursday, we had a special treat planned.  Several weeks before our trip, I’d contacted the local underwater photography club to see if anyone wanted to dive with us while we were in town.  One of our offers was not just to go beach diving – but to go out with someone on their boat!  Adding to the treat was the fact that said someone (henceforth Boat Dude or BD to protect him from random other divers pestering him for dive trips) is an experienced videographer; of course we jumped at the offer.

We met BD at Honokohau Harbor at 7am on Thursday to launch the boat, which is just big enough for three divers with photo gear.

Launching the boat

BD used to live in Southern California, but has retired to Hawaii and definitely has the laid-back Hawaiian attitude going on; I felt totally welcome even though he’d never dived with us before and couldn’t have known if we would be good company or difficult passengers!

Dive sites today were on request, so we asked to hit Turtle Pinnacles first in search of turtle cleaning stations.  We’ve had good luck at this site before, and were excited to have the chance to dive it without a ton of other divers nearby.

One reason BD may have been glad for company, even unknown company, is that it’s probably impossible to moor a boat if you’re the only one on it.  There’s no anchor-dropping at the dive sites in Kona; instead, each one has a mooring with a buoy attached to it which floats 5 to 15 feet under the surface of the water.  GPS coordinates will get you close; then you motor back and forth while peering down in search of the submerged buoy.  Once you’re on it, someone needs to dive off the boat with a rope to run through the loop on the mooring – and since BD was driving the boat, that someone today was Jeff, who nailed it on the first try.

Alas, the turtles were not to be found today.  Maybe they just hadn’t gotten out of bed yet!  We cruised around for a while seeing nothing special, but just enjoying a relaxing dive.

Of course, as soon as we climbed back onto the boat turtles started popping up out of the water all around us.  Figures!

Our second request was another old favorite of ours, a site where I always find something fun to look at: Eel Cove.  It’s exactly what it sounds like: a small cove with lots of little coral heads where eels are usually found hiding out.  Around the north and south corners of the cove you can often see one of my favorite fish behaviors: attacking raccoon butterflyfish.  Seargant majors nest in the large boulders in this area, and usually chase the hungry butterflyfish away from their eggs.  But when divers pass nearby the nests, the seargant majors hide – and the raccoon butterflyfish, not at all deterred by the divers’ presence, dive in for a free buffet.  It makes for a pretty good show, but you need to be careful not to linger too long near any of the nests, so that they aren’t totally decimated!

But, like the turtles, the swarming butterflyfish were not to be found.  There were plenty of eels though, including one or two out on the prowl.  And I managed to get in some quality time with yellowtail coris as they moved rocks around in search of food.

Whitemouth moray eel

Back at the harbor, we unloaded the boat and watched as BD gave it a good rinse at the boat-rinsing station (one of the perks of Honokohau Harbor, for a modest annual use fee).  We grabbed lunch at a restaurant right on the harbor, where I decided to have another go at local fish.  I was told they were out of fish and chips, so the waitress gave me a few minutes to look over the menu and decide on a second choice.  By the time she came back, she had an announcement: they had fish and chips again!  Guess it really was fresh off the boat!

Thursday night was another special dive: Jack’s “Pelagic Magic” black-water night dive.

It’s pretty much just what the name implies – a dive at night in the open ocean in search of bizarre pelagic critters.  We had an hour-long orientation at the shop to go over diving procedures, as well as look through a photo book of some of the common pelagic animals we might see.  Our guide for the night was Matthew d’Avella.  We first met him years ago at the Kona Classic, where he’d screened video from “black water” night dives he’d started running; we were excited to have the chance to do this dive with him at last. Only three divers were signed up: us, and a guy who’d actually never made a night dive before and had intended to sign up for the manta dive.  (Luckily, he turned out to do just fine.)

Along with Jeff Leicher (owner of Jack’s), the five of us hopped onto the roomy Nai’a Nui and headed out into the darkness.  We motored straight offshore about 3 miles, where the water is probably about 7000 feet deep (yes, more than a mile).  The boat’s motor is cut, and a parachute deployed into the water to help drag the boat along through the current.  Three lines were hung over the side of the boat; each had a small weight attached to the end to weigh it down, and ended about 45′ under the surface.  As each one of us approached the swim step, we hooked ourselves into another, shorter line that would attach us to one of those lines while letting us move up and down freely.

And so we splashed into the dark ocean a few miles offshore, and let ourselves dangle under the boat for an hour.

I can definitely say this is one of the coolest dives I’ve ever done.

Most of what you see is teeny.  As in, super duper teeny tiny.  Larval crustaceans zip around in the water or attach themselves to slightly larger gelatinous critters and enjoy the ride.  They look like children’s drawings of crabs and shrimp: tiny colorful outlines against a black background, like little neon signs.   Some creatures just sort of slowly float by you; others will circle around your lights and investigate you until they pass on in the current.  Most are translucent and hard to see unless you shine your light at just the right angle; others generate their own light shows as they sail through the dark.

I attempted to shoot video, but didn’t expect to come away with any watchable footage – it’s hard to focus on small, moving, translucent objects in the dark.  I did manage a few shots that make for semi-decent screen grabs, though:

Comb Jelly
Comb Jelly

Larval crustacean on jellyfish
Larval crab on jellyfish

Jeff had an even harder time, since the focus light on his camera isn’t very bright.  He managed to take pictures of a clump of critters near the beginning of the dive:

Shrimp on some sort of jelly – eating it or just taking a ride?
Shrimp on some sort of jelly - eating it or just taking a ride?

After that, he never did manage to focus and basically gave up.  He was a little task loaded on this dive, between futzing with the camera and worrying about buoyancy control in the dark.  We probably should have skipped the cameras, but since this dive usually only goes out once a week we figured it was our only chance.

Still, I thought this dive was totally worth it – we saw creatures most people never get a chance to observe.  It was just really darned cool, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

1 Comment

  1. This is super cool. I would do this dive several times and not get tired of it, I think.

    Comment by Ben — 3/22/2009 @ 12:40 am

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