Kona, Summer 2009 – Dive Day #1

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 4:30 pm

About a week before I went to Hawaii, I got an email from my friends Sylvia and Francesco, asking me for dive shop recommendations on the Big Island for their upcoming trip.  I did a double-take at their travel dates – we’d be there at exactly the same time!

This neatly solved one of my dilemmas: I was scheduled to land around noon on Monday, and hated to waste a perfectly good chance to dive for lack of a buddy.  Now I had two!

I headed straight from the airport to Jack’s Diving Locker to meet up with Sylvia and Fra.

Making fish faces with Francesco at Jack’s – at least, I made a fish face…
Making fish faces with Francesco at Jack's - at least, I made a fish face...

Once they were all set up with gear, we headed to Honokohau Harbor.  The dive site just south of the harbor has overtaken Place of Refuge as my favorite beach dive on the island – though the entry is a bit more of a pain thanks to a longish hike over lava.

We picked our way across the rocks uneventfully and walked into the water off the beach.  I was stunned by the water temperature; I’m used to the low-to-mid 70s of winter and spring, but it was 80-plus today.

As we snorkeled at the surface, we got an excellent welcome to our dive trip: a turtle right next to us.


We dropped down at the first of three mooring buoys.  Our plan was to descend to the sandy bottom, where divers are often treated to large critter sightings (eagle rays and tiger sharks), as well as garden eels and coral heads full of juvenile fish.

No sharks today, but we did spot an enrmous school of Heller’s barracuda.  These fish are usually rather skittish, but today they didn’t seem to mind as I slowly worked my way closer.


Francesco and Sylvia were terrific divers, especially considering they only had a few dozen dives under their belt – and those more than two years ago!  I never would have guessed if they hadn’t told me.  They followed me back up the slope, peeking into coral heads for eels.


One of my favorite (and reliable) sights at Manta Ray Bay are the schools of goatfish that linger in the shallows, waiting for the shade of a moored boat.  Like the barracuda, they let us swim right up alongside.


We spent some time poking around the third mooring buoy, where the staff at Jack’s had told us there was a yellow frogfish.  I didn’t have very high hopes of finding it (the darn things look just like the sponges they like to park next to), and sure enough we had no luck.

But it was still a pretty fantastic dive, and I was so excited to have a chance to show off this site to my friends.


Kona, February 2009: Part Four

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 2:23 pm

Sunday was eventful – in good ways and bad.

Our day began at Honokohau Harbor.  More accurately, at Alula Beach, just south of the harbor and accessible by a short hike over lava.  Without SCUBA gear, it’s a relatively easy hike.  With tanks, weights, and cameras, it’s a slightly tricky wobble over uneven ground, best made in two trips.

The dive site itself is variously referred to as “Honokau Harbor,” “Manta Ray Bay,” or “Rip-Off Reef.”  That last name comes from the fact that dive boats will often stop here, even though it’s just a 2 minute cruise from where they dock – thus saving them money.  However, it’s also a great dive site in its own right, so I’ve never minded being “ripped off” in this way.  In the deep, sandy area you can encounter larger animals like eagle rays and tiger sharks, as well as garden eels and small coral heads full of juvenile fish.  Or you can cruise around in the shallows, where big schools of fish like to hang out in the shade of moored dive boats.

We headed deep first.  I remembered doing a dive here with Jack’s years ago, where we found bicolor anthias and other colorful, tiny fish swarming over the coral heads in the sand.  A large tiger shark also showed up that day, so today I had my wide angle lens on just in case.  No sharks (or anthias), but I did get surprisingly close to an eagle ray as he soared over the sand.

Eagle Ray coming in for his close-up:

On our way back into the shallows, I was also delighted to discover more hungry raccoon butterflyfish.  One lonely  fish tailed me for quite a while, ducking in for a snack whenever I approached a seargant major’s nest.

Anastasia surrounded by her peeps:

After we hiked back to the car, I struck up a conversation with two local guys hanging out in the area.  When we’d passed them earlier, the air had been rather pungent with marijuana.  So it cracked me up a little when they told us we should come down in the evenings and hang out, barbeque and talk story – but not drink, as alcohol is illegal on state beaches.  Uh, pretty sure weed is too!

Other favorite local quote: “Honolulu – eh, pardon me for saying this, but it’s just for white folk.”

On warning them that I hoped to one day be one of those annoying ‘white folk’ who moved to the islands, I was assured that all I needed to do to gain acceptance from the local populace was “just love the island.”  That doesn’t seem like too tall an order to me!

After lunch at the harbor, we set off down south to dive Place of Refuge, with its much easier entry.  (Still over lava, but a very short walk followed by a handy set of natural ‘steps’ down into the water, and no hobbling out through rocky shallows.)

Sadly, this was where the ‘bad’ eventful part caught us – camera problems that you already know about by now.

You may recall from my last entry that we’d scheduled a second Pelagic Magic dive for Sunday night.  We’d even gone and bought a nicer focus light for Jeff to use.  Now he didn’t want to go at all – several rounds of phone calls ensued with the dive shop over whether we could cancel at this last minute, whether we could rent a camera and housing from somewhere, and so on.  They finally agreed to let us cancel, which was Jeff’s favorite option – but frankly, I still really wanted to go!  We hemmed and hawed a bit since they need two people to make it worth the trip, so if Jeff didn’t want to go I probably couldn’t either.

Finally I put my foot down and said I wanted to go, and would happily pay for his spot to make it happen.  But I hoped he would change his mind and come without the camera, so he could just enjoy the dive.  He didn’t think that was likely.  We headed back to the house to lick our wounds.

Fast forward a few hours, and Jeff decided a camera-less dive might be fun after all.  I was glad to hear it!

We were the only guests on the boat,  and had three crew members this time to keep us company.  Once again, this is just a REALLY COOL DIVE.  This time around we didn’t see quite as many little tiny critters, but there were lots of jellies – and I even managed some decent shots this time.  Near the end of the dive, I started to notice red blobbish things zipping by out of the corner of my eye – pelagic squid!  Darned things are way too fast to shoot, but nifty to see!  There were also a lot of tiny, colorful fish chasing my lights around.

Short clip from our Pelagic Magic dive – 1 MB, 20 seconds

40 minutes in, the batteries for my video lights died, so I spent the last 20 minutes camera-less and just enjoying the view.  It’s way more peaceful to dive without worrying about your camera – as Jeff was also reminded on this dive, which he enjoyed much more than the previous one.

And that was it for diving – at least until next time!

Our flights weren’t until Monday night, so we still had a day to chill.  We started by doing something we haven’t done since our very first visit to Hawaii: hanging out at the beach!  There’s a gorgeous little state beach not far from where we were staying, and we parked ourselves on the sand for a few hours watching the bodysurfers.

Soaking up the sun:

We must have brought our bad luck from Sunday with us, though – as we were getting ready to leave, we noticed someone being dragged unconscious out of the water.  Someone started CPR right away.  I got on the cell phone to 911 (I’ve learned you can’t always assume someone else has) – luckily, they already had a few calls in.  After about five minutes passed, we noticed the person was breathing on their own again, which is actually pretty amazing.  Another five minutes and the cops showed up.  Twenty minutes after CPR had begun… still no ambulence.  We went ahead and left, and passed the ambulence on the way in.  I have to say – twenty minute wait for an ambulence after you’ve been NOT BREATHING?  This might be a downside of living in Kona versus Los Angeles!

Back at the house, I checked in on our flights.  Jeff’s was good to go, but mine (different airline) had been bumped back to 3am.  Since the car rental places at Kona all close at 10pm, this would have left me in the empty, boring, closed-up Kona airport for five hours.

A few phone calls – and one very helpful dude in India – later, I was all set to fly back the next afternoon, instead.  Five hours of boredom averted!

Of course, Jeff still had to go.  We had a nice dinner in Kona, and then I dumped him at the airport and headed “home.”

Tuesday morning, I did nothing very interesting.  Slept in…  shopped around downtown Kona…  hung out on the balcony with a book.  It was awesome.

Then I left.  One of these days, the story won’t end that way.  It’ll go “and they stayed in Hawaii and lived happily ever after.”


Kona, February 2009: Part Three

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 4:59 pm

On Friday, we headed down south for a few dives with one of Jack’s ‘advanced’ trips.  These are fun trips to sign up for, as you may get to some more difficult or interesting dive sites – and even if you don’t, you’re on a boat with a bunch of other moderately experienced divers, and no classes.

We dropped in first at Driftwood, a site with a large coral ridge running down the slope.  Parallel to the ridge is a pretty roomy lava tube; a swim through it usually starts your dive here.  It’s a good place to look for slipper lobsters, cowries, and other critters that like the dark.

Once you make it back out into daylight, this site is all about the fish.  Jeff actually managed to spot a Flame Angelfish, one of the rare fish that we were told to be on the lookout for here.

There’s lots of whip coral at this dive site – and where there’s whip coral, you can find whip coral gobies!

Whip Coral Gobies:

It’s a nice enough dive – but I was more excited by dive #2, at The Dome.  As the name implies, The Dome has a nifty lava tube structure that includes a large, dome-shaped area big enough for everyone to be floating around in at once. It also tends to be full of neat little critters like the blue dragon nudibranch.

Blue Dragon Nudibranch:

No major excitement today – in between dives we motored around in search of dolphins, but none were in the mood to play.  I think we’re kind of spoiled after a few years of having big animal encounters in between dives, because we found this pretty disappointing!

There was one bit of good news, though: after we raved to the dive shop about the awesomness of their Pelagic Magic dive, they set up another one for us Sunday night!  They usually only schedule one a week, but Matthew was available and there were a couple other crew guys who were happy to go.  We were both glad to have another chance to try to photograph all those little critters!

Saturday we did the normal Jack’s boat dive, which meant a slightly larger crowd and slightly less exotic dive sites.  On the bright side, our divemaster was Elaine, who we know from the Kona Classic.   Not to put down any of Jack’s other fabulous DMs, but Elaine remains our favorite!

This is what we call “diver hair:”

Dive #1 was at Pyramid Pinnacles.  I found lots of yellowtail coris and rockmover wrasses to chase after with the video camera, and there were a few photogenic lava tubes as well.

Looking through a lava tube:

The highlight here was when Jeff spotted some Heller’s Barracuda up in the shallows.

Heller’s Barracuda:

No luck in between dives today, either – it was just too windy and choppy to go out to sea in search of whales.

But our second dive was back at our old favorite: Eel Cove.  And today, the raccoon butterflyfish were there!  This pretty much made my day, if not my trip.  Ever since our first Kona Classic, when I first saw these guys in action, I’ve been dying to have another crack at it.

Raccoon Butterflyfish clip – 24 seconds, 10 MB

We also found a grumpy-looking devil scorpionfish.  I think I spotted this one while he was swimming – the backs of their fins are bright red and black.  But once they stop moving, they blend into the coral rubble pretty well!

Devil Scorpionfish:

Saturday night, we treated ourselves to dinner at the Royal Kona Resort, where we’ve stayed on most of our visits.  We did the tacky tourist thing and made the waiter photograph us with our tropical drinks:


Then it was off to bed, to get a full night’s sleep before our last day of diving…


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.


Kona, February 2009: Part One

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 10:17 pm

This was my eighth visit to Hawaii, and Jeff’s fifth.

On our long weekend there last year, I wasn’t able to dive – so it had been two years since I’d dived around Kona, which is two years too long.  I was SO READY for this visit.  And Jeff was equally excited to dive someplace with clear, warm(ish) water; a nice change from our California diving.

I landed a few days before Jeff (work meeting).  The work part was productive, and the staying-in-Hawaii part was nice as always, but I was counting down the hours until the vacation part began!

Before I picked Jeff up from the airport, I went to settle into our house.  By “our house,” I mean a house belonging to some friends of ours who are getting ready to retire to Hawaii.  I’d hoped we’d be in Kona at the same time as them so we could dive together, but being allowed to stay in their wonderful home while they were back in the mainland was pretty nice too!  It’s just up the hill from the airport, a convenient distance from Kona and Honokohau Harbor, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Our friends have done a fantastic job with the place – every part of the house is lovely, but homey at the same time.    It helps that they’re divers, so the decorations are sort of “diver chic” – lots of underwater photography on the walls and ocean-related accents, and places to rinse and hang gear after a day of diving.

Best of all, it has a lanai (balcony). This is the view:


We were also excited to discover gekkoes clambering about on the lanai, as well as one in the bathroom.  I was a little less excited to discover the tar-like substance that is gekko poo on the floor the next day, though!  At least they eat bugs (not that we saw any in the house).

I picked Jeff up Hawaii-style, meeting him at the gate with a tacky lei which I neglected to photograph.

That was Tuesday night, and our first dive wasn’t until Wednesday evening – which meant we had a morning to sleep in (unusual on dive trips).  We woke up to the distinctive sounds of morning in Hawaii: wind in the palm trees and the chatter of local birds. And fresh Kona coffee just down the street.  Life was good.

Jack’s Diving Locker has been our dive shop on every other trip to Kona, and we stuck with them this time.  After checking in at the shop, we met the evening boat leaving out of the harbor to go on the manta ray night dive.

Which is where Jeff noticed he was missing his BC.

I found this funny for two reasons.  First, he’d been gloating about how light his dive bag was compared to mine at the airport counters (42 pounds versus my 47).  Second, he’d JUST UNPACKED all his dive gear that afternoon at the house to swap it into the Jack’s mesh bags, and hadn’t noticed then either.

After a few jokes about his brain being left in California, we got him set up with a rental BC; no big deal.  And we were off!

Right outside the harbor we were swarmed by spinner dolphins leaping and twirling around the boat.  I have learned over the years that there’s no point in whipping out the camera – that’s a sure way to get them to stop.  So now I just enjoy the show!

The manta dive this year was a little different from before: we headed down south near Keahou, instead of the usual spot north of the harbor.    Our twilight dive was at a spot called Casa Caves, which does have a nice cave to swim through.  That was pretty much the highlight of the dive, though – if you can call getting wedged in a lava tube on your way out a ‘highlight’.

Luckily, the manta dive totally delivered.

Mantas feed on krill, which is attracted to lights; so a bunch of divers with bright lights make for an excellent manta party.  This was our 5th manta dive, and we only had zero mantas once.  That was last year, so the memory was fresh; I was a little apprehensive as we entered the water.  Would we be skunked again?

But as soon as Jeff and I dropped down, we saw manta rays swooping over the divers already on the bottom.  We took our stations and spent the next 50 minutes watching the rays cruise over and around all the divers.


It’s completely surreal: the lights from divers and cameramen light up the water with yellow and blue spotlights, and through it all are these enormous creatures slowly circling, twirling, and coming really, really close to your head as they scoop up their krill snacks.

Words really can’t do it justice – so how about a quick video clip?

Clip from Manta Ray Dive (0:36; 3.3 MB)

The manta rays seemed especially friendly tonight; I’ve never had to duck so often!  The manta show was going on quite close to our boat, which made for an interesting safety stop on our way back.  Divers are supposed to stay on the bottom when mantas are nearby, so that we don’t bump into them.  But as we hovered at fifteen feet under the boat, a couple of rays came over to check us out, leaving the main circle of light where the other divers were. It’s actually a bit unnerving to have a 500 pound critter playing chicken with your dive lights!

Jeff and I were the last ones on the boat, cursing the fifty-minute time limit; I would have quite happily stayed down there until my tank was dry!


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.


Working in Hawaii

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 3:03 pm

One of the great perks of my job is the occasional trip to Hawaii. Although I usually spend far more time in a meeting room than on the beach, I sometimes manage to tack on a day or two of vacation – which is what I did last weekend. Armed with Lars’s hi-def camera rig again, I flew out to Kona on Saturday morning for a weekend of Hawaiian leisure before starting our meeting on Monday.

I didn’t have any firm plans for Saturday; my plane landed at noon, leaving me with quite a lot of time to kill, and I was a little worried that it would be a lonely and boring afternoon without the company of Jeff. I should have known better: Hawaiians are far too friendly a bunch to leave a traveler feeling alone. I nabbed lunch at Lulu’s, where my server struck up a conversation. Then I spent a while wandering around downtown chatting up random homeless guys and tourists.

As I wandered back towards my hotel, it struck me that I still had several hours left until sunset – why not hop in the car and drive down to Place of Refuge? I’d read that turtles tend to hang out there nibbling on algae in the late afternoon, and that sounded like a pretty good video opportunity.

When I reached Place of Refuge, there were just a handful of tourists left snorkeling off the rocks. The tide was high, giving turtles lots of room for their snacking in the tidepools. Their antics attracted a small crowd, oohing and aahing appreciatively when a turtle got knocked over by an especially high wave, or managed to hold his ground as the water flowed back out to the sea.

As the last tourists packed up to go home, the locals started setting up for the evening. Across the harbor, a large group of hula dancers in Hawaiian dress practiced on the beach. Next to the boat ramp, a guy started playing ukulele and signing in Hawaiian, to an appreciative audience of his friends (and me). Behind where my car was parked, a group of older guys hung out by their pickup truck, and I insinuated myself into their group by virtue of being a fellow smoker. Some were white guys who’d moved to the island years ago and stayed, integrating themselves into local culture; others were Hawaiian born and bred. All wanted to talk about how there was too much development going on, and too many rich people moving in and creating a society separate from the locals. They all welcomed newcomers, but wished it didn’t feel so much like this new community was the one deciding the future of the island. I couldn’t help but sympathize; my flight in afforded an excellent view of the huge tracts of land currently being turned into condominiums all along the coast. According to these folks, it was just as bad down south.

Of course, part of me is dying to be one of those rich people who move to Hawaii. But I’d like to think I’d be the sort to join the local community – they’re certainly friendly enough.

When I got tired of turning down beers (or marriage offers from tipsy Hawaiians), I headed back up to Kona for sunset-watching, complete with more chatting up of random Hawaiians. After dinner and a mai tai, I was ready for bed by 8pm. A small cockroach materialized out from under the fridge in my room, and I vigorously stomped him. I can’t plan to live in Hawaii one day and continue being a weenie about roaches…

Sunday morning I was wide awake by 6am, and didn’t need to be at the harbor until 9. I took my time packing up and strolling around the hotel grounds, chasing lizards with my hi-def camera. Next to the Royal Kona is a beach bar, which turns into a coffee shop in the mornings, so I headed there for breakfast. My previous visits had familiarized me with the overly-aggressive birds, who will sweep down onto your table the instant you walk away from your muffin. But I was surprised by just how fearless they’d gotten; as I toasted my bagel up on the bar, a dove wandered across the bagel cutting boards (mm, healthy) and right up to my hands. Sheesh.

It was a gorgeous day for diving: sunny, no wind, and flat seas. I was thrilled to discover Captain Roger was driving the boat today, and I knew one of the divemasters from previous trips as well. I quickly made friends with the other divers in my group, including a couple from Alaska who mostly dive the cold water up there, and a photographer from the east coast who was on a vacation with his (non-diving) wife. There were about 12 divers on the boat total, including a brand new 10-year-old scuba diver and her dad, who’d just gotten certified together.

We had an auspicious start, coming across a playful pod of spinner dolphins on our way out of the harbor. We didn’t go far; just hung a right and zipped over to Lone Tree Arch, a little bit north of the harbor. On the first dive, our group of six divers followed the divemaster down to about a hundred feet, looking for interesting fish in the rubble that covered the bottom. Heading shallower, we swam through some mostly-open lava tubes. On our way into the first one, we got a close look at a pregnant white-tipped reef shark lying on the sand. After getting sucked out the other side of the tube, we took our time moseying back over to the moored boat. I spotted lots of juvenile coris wrasses, as well as their adult counterparts, a mating pair of surgeonfish, and – briefly – a turtle in the distance.

During lunch, we scarfed down sandwiches while Roger took us out to look for “Easter pilot whales.” No luck there, but it’s still about as pleasant a way to spend an hour as I can imagine – bouncing across the nearly-flat Pacific in the Hawaiian sun, geeking out with other divers.

Our second dive wasn’t too far from the first, at Golden Arches. This site has several nice archways you can swim through (or just hang out in, insinuating yourself into the schools of fish that are doing likewise). In between are large rubbly areas where I always see lots of rock-moving action by coris and rockmover wrasses, and today was no exception. I found one large yellowtail coris in particular who turned out to be a great video subject; after his initial wariness, he let me put the camera practically right next to him while he turned over enormous rocks and blew away sand in search of food.

We also spotted quite a few moray eels on this dive, though none were feeling very perky. There was even a large zebra moray, although we only saw his midsection – the head and tail were buried in a coral head.

During a long safety stop near the boat, I was thrilled to discover two rockmover wrasses who appeared to be mating. They’d sort of poof up their dorsal fins (until this, I’d never realized their dorsal fins were poofable) and twirl around each other before spinning away. Like the coris wrasse, they let me get surprisingly close, but it wasn’t long before they worked their way into shallower, surgier water than I felt like dealing with.

It was a short ride back to the harbor after our two dives, and alas, that was it for my mini-vacation. I met up with my Bruce (my boss) and David (project scientist), and we headed up to Waimea to check into our hotel.

We stayed at the Jacaranda Inn, a lovely, romantic bed and breakfast. Felt a little weird for a work trip. My room was enormous, with a four-poster bed all carved and painted with tropical birds. The shower was impressive. The boys each had a bedroom in a separate cottage, which came with a hot tub.

Interestingly, the rooms did not have televisions. Or telephones. Or wireless, though it claimed to; nor did this self-proclaimed “bed and breakfast” serve breakfast anymore. My room didn’t have an alarm clock, either, so I relied on wake-up calls from David or Bruce (who did have them). It did, however, have mosquitoes – in spades. I sat down to read for five minutes, and got as many bites, so I high-tailed it over to the cottage (which for some reason was mosquito-free) until it was time for dinner. When we got back, I high-tailed it under the covers and didn’t give them any chance to bite!

The second night there was even more exciting bug-wise. First I got to practice my cockroach-crunching some more in the bathroom (this one actually went CRACK when I stepped on it – ugh). I headed towards the bed, carefully NOT examining any dark corners for roaches, but made the mistake of glancing up… and spotted an enormous daddy long-legs dangling from the top railing of the four poster bed. Then I repeated the mistake by looking to the left, and spotted another one up towards the headboard. I briefly considered attempting to squash them, but decided that they’d most likely escape, and then I’d be even more freaked out about where they might be. Plus, if I looked any closer, I might find MORE of them. So I just went to bed and pretended there weren’t spiders two feet from my head.

I won’t bother blogging about work, since it’s pretty boring. That’s why it’s work. Still, cockroach-intensive though my trip was this time around, I was extremely sorry to leave. I like the big island a little more every time I go.


2006 Kona Classic Page

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 10:28 am

Links to all galleries, blog entries (in order), etc have been posted here:

Kona Classic 2006

2006 Kona Classic Day 7: And the Winner is…

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 10:27 am

We briefly considered squeezing in one last dive Saturday morning, but laziness and a desire to travel with dry scuba gear won out. Most of the day was spent sitting around, eating, or shopping – Hawaii is one place where I love to shop. I loaded up on fishy earrings at the shops downtown, Jeff added to his collection of Aloha wear at the local Ross, and my small library of Hawaiian pop music grew a little larger at the Kona Borders.

Best of all, I found a dress to wear to the awards banquet – with fish on it! To match my earrings! For $10! Check it out:


The last bits of the afternoon we spent attempting to consolidate our stuff into packable piles, to save time the following morning. I should have taken a picture of our hotel room during the week we occupied it – it looked like the SCUBA fairy threw up all over. Or possibly the computer fairy, with all the laptops, external drives, and cables lying around…

I was surprisingly nervous going into the Awards Banquet. The thing was: I really wanted to win. I’m not usually a very competitive person, and this was something I didn’t really expect to have that great a chance at, given the competition. But I feel like I’m a pretty good editor, and I had a nifty idea for the basic storyline of my video, so I was more confident than a first-time competitor really should have been.

We managed to squeeze most of our boat buddies into one table, though there was a bit of overflow to the next table over. Eric Cheng, one of the photo/video pros for the week, joined us for dinner, proving that he’s just as fun to sit and talk with as he is to dive with. Jeff chatted him up about how to get started publishing photos in magazines, and I pestered him about his diving life (he’s only 30! And he takes amazing photos and videos AND is making a career out of it!), and about video equipment. He’s good people, and I’m not just writing that because he knows how to find my blog.

After everyone finished scarfing down dinner, they got down to the business of giving out awards. Our boat made a very respectable showing – I think we wound up with more than 15 awards (including honorable mentions). Jeff picked up a 3rd place in wide angle, an honorable mention in macro, and then – the one he was really psyched about – a 1st place in Photo Journalist! What was especially cool about the Photo Journalism category is that all the winners were from our boat, and they were all FANTASTIC photo sets.

Photo Journalists: Bonnie, Jeff, Dee and Jim, presented their awards by Ty Sawyer


Up next was the video category. First came an honorable mention – Jeff Leicher, owner of Jack’s Diving Locker. It was amazing footage as always, but not quite as polished as his usual submissions. I suspect he intentionally recused himself from placing in the category, so as not to compete with his customers!

Next was third place, and I was getting nervous. I wanted to be one of the three so people could see my video, so I was hoping to see my movie show up… but on the other hand, what I REALLY wanted was first place, so I didn’t want to see it yet!

And I didn’t – 3rd place was, again, amazing footage by a local. This guy goes out on black water dives at night – basically floating around under a boat in the open ocean. He shot video of all the little translucent and glowy critters that float around out there. Did I mention it was amazing? Now I was starting to worry I wouldn’t place at all.

2nd place, and I held my breath – Dave Husted! Whoah. Dave has won several years running, and he’s been my mentor for the last year (and loaner of much equipment). I was sad to see him dethroned, terrified that I wouldn’t place at all since it seemed unlikely I’d beat Dave, and still a smidge excited that 1st place was still available. Dave’s movie was hysterically funny as always: he dressed up like a conductor and “conducted” all the fish in the ocean, to some really fun music. Good stuff.

And finally they were up to 1st place. There were three other folks and myself left as possible winners, and I wasn’t familiar with any of their work – so I really couldn’t say how good my chances were. So imagine my delight when I saw the familiar titles for my video pop up on the screen!

Here I am surrounded by crazy-talented people:

(That’s a better shot of the fish dress, too!)

There was something awfully poetic on winning my first time out, just like Jeff did last year. Pretty cool.

We finished off our evening by closing down the bar next door (not hard; it closed at 11:30), along with a bunch of our new buddies from the Kona Classic. Jeff and I then crawled to bed for a bit of sleep before a day of packing and traveling.

The traveling part was not so bad, but packing was a bit of an adventure, thanks to Jeff’s prize in the photojournalism category. He won an Aqualung limited edition Mistral (double-hose regulator: think Jacques Cousteau), which came in TWO BOXES, one of which was a fancy wooden display case that’s notoriously breakable during shipping.

Enter the Husteds, YET AGAIN, to rescue us. They invited us to breakfast at their house, which is just up the street from the airport, and took the monster off our hands to ship or carry themselves. And we finally had an excuse to see their house! Which is beautiful! That’s it; we’re packing up and moving to Hawaii.



2006 Kona Classic Day 6: On Our Own

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 10:27 am

Friday morning, we left town early to squeeze in a morning dive down south at Place of Refuge. We’ve dived this site on both our previous trips to Hawaii, but always in the late afternoon or evening. The morning light was incredibly beautiful, and the water was clearer than I remember seeing there before.

Jeff and I were basically “same ocean” buddies, keeping each other’s bubbles in sight but otherwise steering clear so as not to interfere with each other. We really need to get pony bottles…

I had a great dive: cleaning stations galore, a tiny lizardfish, and – well, more cleaning stations. That was pretty much my goal for the day, anyway. Jeff found a snowflake moray out hunting towards the end of the dive. We were back on the road by 10:30am.

Surgeonfish gets a bath:


Jeff really wanted another shot at turtles, so we followed the advice of one of our boat captains and tried to hit Turtle Heaven, theoretically reachable from shore just north of the harbor.

I say theoretical because it’s A) a long walk from the car to the beach, B) a long swim in 3 feet of water from the beach to the boat channel, C) there’s a boat channel, and D) the only turtles we actually saw were in a foot of water, with an inch of visibility.

We got some great exercise in, but I doubt we’ll try that again. Luckily, I did manage to nab some usable footage of a juvenile hawaiian dascyllus bobbing in and out of an urchin, so it wasn’t a total waste! And anyway, even a crappy Hawaiian dive is still better than most of our SoCal dives..

Finally learning to just hover and wait:

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