Saturday, October 29, 2005

Kona manta ray night dive.

Hi all,

I'm finally starting to heal up from my little doctor's visit on Monday. I keep running into guys who said they were fine in three days. Guess I'm a slow healer, I still hurt today but at least I can walk without looking like I'm riding on a saddle. I'm hoping to be pain free by Monday and get the clearance to go back to usual activities by week's end.

I haven't been diving since last Saturday now and have actually turned down a lot of work. Being as I have one of the best jobs a person can have, I'm hoping to be able to get back in the water soon. The heavy lifting is what will be holding me up.

I guess I'll talk briefly about one of the dives which Kona is known for, not only in Hawaii, but pretty much worldwide - The manta ray dive. Short of whalesharks and schooling hammerheads (which also can be found in Kona, although less commonly) one of the major goals of many divers is to see manta rays. Kona is the only spot in the world which I am aware of where you can literally sit on your rear end and be divebombed by mantas for upwards of an hour without moving an inch.

Our single most popular dive here is our manta dive. Several years ago some divers noticed that manta rays were feeding under lights shining off one of the hotels. They tried diving it and found that the mantas would come up and feed off the plankton attracted to thier dive lights. Over the years this has become a nice little industry in Kona. I think they came up with a figure in the last year or two that roughly 11,000 divers and snorkelers a year are doing the dive.

Over time, the main site for this dive has actually moved to off the airport, it seems to be more consistant, have larger numbers of mantas showing up, and is a better site as far as managing groups of divers and snorkelers as it's more protected from swells. It's been going like gangbusters the last couple weeks. I'm getting reports that they are seeing seven t0 ten, sometimes as many as 13 or so, showing up almost every night at the site off the airport.

It is a special event. Each boat operator will put their divers, with lights provided by the operators, down in a central area where the show will take place. Once the plankton starts to build up overs the divers' lights, the mantas will start to feed. They swoop directly over the lights, frequently coming within inches (sometimes they bump you) of divers' heads. We get people who've dove all over the world who say this is probably their single favorte dive. While never a guarantee, when they are in it's quite amazing. I've done it at least a couple hundred times and I still enjoy it every dive.

Curious? Click on the link to my "Wanna Dive?" web page and click on any of the manta links and I have more pictures and some video (from a slow night) on the page you can check out.



Friday, October 28, 2005

Garden eels in Kona

Ok, that last post was l..o..n..g. I won't be doing that for a while. Here's some garden eels, which are common in deeper sand below the reefs in Kona and much of Hawaii.



Thursday, October 27, 2005

The nervous beginning scuba diver

So now I'll tell one of my favorite intro dive stories. I'll try to keep it from being too long, but this won't be a short post.

Several years back, when I was working for another company, I was set up to do an intro off the boat for a woman who was there with a dive certified gentleman. I can't say with absolute certainty that they were a couple, but it appeared they were headed that way. He was on the island for a conference and they referred to themselves as travelling companions. Anyway...

After meeting her and sitting down to review the flip charts (there are pre-made flip charts with basic scuba info for these dives, which we go through a page at a time to ensure all the necessary information is presented) I asked the usual questions I ask to try to determine watermanship skills/comfort ahead of time just so I have an idea to expect. She said she was a frequent swimmer and enjoyed snorkeling, OK so far... We go through everything and it's off to the boat.

After the certified divers got in the water and I'd reviewed what we were to do, I got into the water and waited for the student to roll into the water. The captain helped her on with the gear and explained the process again and it was time for her to roll into the water... everything cool so far. She hit the water and immediately went into a full blown panic attack. I was right there and immediately lifted on her BCD so her head would be about 9 inches out of the water - it's amazing how fast a person can calm down once they realize their chin is out of the water - and took her back to the swim step. After about 30 seconds on the ladder she said she was ready to give it another try, so it was slip into the water... then back on the ladder to calm down again.

I'm real low pressure on these intro dives as it's not for everyone, sometimes it turns into a day of snorkeling rather than diving, but she kept saying "I can do this, I have to do this" so I wasn't about to argue with her. After another minute she was able to get in the water and get off the ladder without panicking. At that point I had her put her regulator in her mouth and try to put her face in the water... back to the ladder for another minute of "I can do this".

After a couple more attempts we were able to get her off the ladder with the regulator in he mouth, so she was basically snorkeling on scuba, and it was time to go to the front of the boat to the mooring line. I guess I will preface the remainder of the post by saying that typically, the vast majority of first time divers have no troubles with rolling into the water and making it up to the mooring line right off the bat. At that point we need to go through some surface skills (regualtor clearing and retrieval) and then we drop a foot or two beneath the surface and practice a few more skills (reg clearing, retrieval, mask clearing and use of alternate air source). This portion typically takes anywhere from 2 minutes to as much as 10-15 minutes if students are real nervous. The nervous group typically has not been snorkeling recently... I can't stress enough how much some snorkeling helps if done within days prior to the intro dive.

OK, back to the story. We're at the mooring line and practicing the surface skills, once again she is panicking, doing skills she essentially has done already back at the ladder. She calmed down quickly and was able to complete the surface portion of the skills. It was time to go underwater a few inches. I think she may have made it about three inches down... back to the ladder for a minute or two of hyperventilating and "I can do this, I have to do this". When she was ready to give it another try, I had her do the surface breathing off her regualtor with her face in the water to the front of the boat and the mooring line. Everything cool so far. I had her repeat the surface skills, everthing cool so far. It's time to go down again... one foot down... back to the surface, but this time she's not hyperventilating. She says we should give it a try so we go down and she signals OK. I demonstrate underwater reg clearing, she signals OK and it's ready for her to try... regulator out of the mouth... back to the ladder for more hyperventilation...

She still wants to conntinue, so it's back to the mooring line and another failed attempt, but this time she's not completly breathless. We are at a dive site called "golden arches" which is a very nice fishy site, infact there are fish around us as we are doing skills, so I have her surface snorkel on the regualtor for a minute and she's ready to give itr a try in another minute or two. The captain is throwing popcorn on the water so she'd get a good show from the fish coming up to eat it. I have her repeat the surface skills and then it's down a foot and we try regualtor clearing... success! Fabulous! Now it's time to try regulator retrieval.... back to the surface for another 5 minutes. Anyway, 10 minutes or so and two or three more attempts and success!!!! Now it's time to try a partial mask clearing...

Now partial mask clearing is generally THE skill which gives intro divers troubles if they are going to have troubles. This case was no exception, but by this point she had progressed beyond complete panic and hyperventilation. Several attenpts, and a bunch of surface snorkeling, later she was able to complete the skill. At this point, all the other divers had already returned from a 65 minute dive, were starting lunch and the water was getting choppy. At this point we only have one skill, which is basically making the out of air sign and then doing a regulator clearing which she has already done successfully several times.... No luck this time. After a couple of tries I suggested we break for lunch and told her we would pull inot a real protected spot for the next dive and we'd try it again. She had to be tired, after all she'd been through, and agreed.

Once back on the boat, her "traveling companion" said, "You don't have to do this, I'll wear the suit".

Now what's that all about?

So now the story comes out. He'd been wearing shorts and a tee shirt all week and she wanted him to go out to a nice dinner wearing a suit. He was a certified diver and wanted to do some diving anyway so he made her a deal. He would wear the suit at a nice restaurant if she tried diving. I don't believe he knew what he was getting her into.

As it turns out, when she said she enjoyed snorkeling she had left out a little fact. She had only snorkeled in a pool - because - she has an overwhelming fear of FISH. Apparently she had never so much as put her toes in a creek, river, lake or ocean because of this fear.

Now that is taking on a challenge. At this point both he and I are telling her she needs not continue. She still wants to do it.

So we go to the next site, which is one of the fishiest sites we have, but it's very calm annd is protected from the chop which has built up on that day. Before going in I run through the program and tell her we will repeat all the skills we did earlier and then the alternate airsource skill is just a matter of signalling, taking the regulator out, blowing bubbles and then taking the regulator I hand her and clearing it - which in itself is a skill she'd done numerous times earlier. If all went well we could be diving is less than a minute - ALL WENT WELL. She completed all of the skills on the first try and we were diving in less than 45 seconds.

She had a great time. We were swimming right through schools of raccoon butterflies and yellow stripe goatfish and you could see her smiling and giving two handed OK signs the entire time. The dive was right around 40 minutes long and she came out of the water hyped to find a dive op in Maui to sign up with when they arrived there in a couple of days.

A very frustrating experience had turned into a very good experience, for both of us.



Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Introduction to scuba diving

Hi there,

Living and working in a resort style dive destination area, we get to meet people with all levels of experience as far as scuba diving goes. A fair portion of our (pretty much all Hawaii dive operators, not just me) business involves introducing non-divers to scuba. This can entail a full blown course which takes a few days, or a simple intro to diving which can be accomplished in a few hours.

Most operators offer people an opportunity to dive one-on-one, or in a small group, with an instructor. This is a great opportunity to give people a chance to try diving without much time invested. The typical program involves about 20-30 minute review of scuba hows and whys, and then it's to the water to practice skills and then go diving. Depending where and who a person does an intro dive with, it could be done in a pool, off a beach, or off a boat. Length of the actual dive can vary from operator to operator.

If you are doing your intro dive in open water there will typicaly be a 30-40 foot depth limit and the group size is kept small, 4 intro divers per instructor max. There are companies that seem to specialize in intros and they will likely have a full group with each instructor, I usually will have just one or two individuals diving with me off my boat when I'm doing intros. If I have certified divers on board, they'll be going off in a different directrion with their own guide.

Intro dives are a great way to check out scuba. Most people really enjoy the experience, but it's not for everyone. Here's a couple personal opinions/observations if you or someone you know is ever interested in trying an intro dive... Virtually everyone who is a comfortable snorkeler has a great experience on intro dives. RECENT snorkeling experience is highly recommended, I'm talking like in the last week or two, not last year, several years ago, or when you were a kid... comfort level can change. We do get our share (not huge, but still it does exist) of people who just are plain uncomfortable when they are trying the dive - virtually all of these in my experience do not have RECENT snorkeling experience. I've done hundreds of intro dives in the last 6-7 years and I can only think of one or two times that someone with recent snorkeling experience did not enjoy thier dive or couldn't make the dive. So here''s my big hint if you are thinking about trying an intro... get out and snorkel for a couple hours first and make sure you are comfortable... you'll have a blast on the dive.

Anyway, this post is sort of a lead in to a story of an intro dive I did several years ago that I'll post next.



Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A few days off..

Well yesterday was the surgery I mentioned earlier. I was knocked out for 2 hours for what was supposed to be a few minute procedure. Remember that cold I came back from Vegas with? I tend to have a lot of drainage down my throat after a cold and apparently excess drainage and airway tubes don't mix well on occasion. Apparently I was caughing a lot while I was under.

At any rate, I remember absolutely nothing. One moment I chatting about diving in Palau and Micronesia with the anesthesioligist, who's a diver, and the next moment I'm being told to wake up as it was over. Now I'm just kicking back with appropriately placed ice packs and a little Vicodin and watching a little TV and surfing the net, thank goodness for laptops.

I've pretty much cleared out my calendar through the 5th, but hopefully I'll be cleared to his the water again prior to that. I've been getting calls the last few days to do classes and intro dives,I hate to send business elsewhere, but then I'd hate to get back too soon and have something get infected. I worked with a guy a few years back who came back a couple days early and we paid for it the next week or so.

Well, that's what's going on for me right now. I may have to tell a story or two while I'm sitting out.



Friday, October 21, 2005

Firedart fish are blooming

I just finished a three day certification course today and tomorrow finish another course which had been started earlier. Some new divers are out there.

My personal highlight, critter-wise, was seeing a trio of firedart fish (Nemateleotris magnifica) in about 60 feet of water. Back in the day when I used to own an aquarium shop, we sold these as "firefish". I moved to Kona in early '99 and I knew of a few spots where we could find single individuals. They pretty much disappeared over the following winter and I hadn't heard of any sightings again 'til June or July of this year. Well, they've come out relatively bigtime. We're finding them very commonly right now. I'd only seen individuals, but I've had friends see two and three at a time. Today I ran across my first trio and I wish I had a camera in hand as they were all in a close grouping. Unlike most smaller fish that hang out in coral rubble areas, you can get quite close to them. They are quite attractive, it might be worth your while to do a search on the latin name if you are a fish nut to see what they look like. I don't have any pics of these guys yet, hopefully I'll be down with a camera sometime before they disappear again and I can post a pic.

We may have a heck of a swell, especially for this time of year, coming in Sunday and Monday. The Oahu news is talking 20-25 feet by tomorrow evening and hitting 30' by Sunday. We generally see our swells come in 12-24 hours later, but luckily north and northwest swells are often shaded/blocked by the islands of Oahu and Maui and sometimes we get no swell at all while the other islands are hammered. If the swell has a large enough western quotient, then we could see the full brunt of it too. The water's been nice the last couple of days, relatively calm and still running 81 degrees.

Well, time to hit the hay.



Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Eels, Manta Rays, Leaf Scorpions, etc....

Yee Haw!! Someone actually has read my blog, and left a comment. I know that doesn't mean more will, but it's nice to know that this thing actually gets seen - guess I'll have to be somewhat careful what I talk about.

The comment author asked if the pics were mine, yes they are. I'm likely to talk a bit about underwater photography over time as it is an interest of mine when I'm diving. I don't consider myself to be all that good at it, but I'm gradually getting better over time. I generally do not take my camera with me when I lead dives, so most of my stuff was taken when out on "personal" diving, which is happening less often these days as my charter business is picking up.

In the comment it was mentioned that the shooter wasn't happy with the results of the disposable camera. I wouldn't pooh-pooh disposables totally just yet. They seem to be getting better all the time, and from what I've seen in my limited underwater photography experience, the first couple of times you use any new camera (I've had two, and am about to house a nicer one soon) the results are no where near as good as once you've had a chance to practice. My first several rolls with my MX-10 film camera basically didn't even turn out, after a while I was getting 2-4 "keepers", and a whole lot of junk, every roll. I switched to a small 4 megapixel digital in a housing and even then the first couple of outings gave me nothing but junk. I started figuring things out and soon was getting a few "keepers", a bunch of at least recognizeable pics and the usual assorted junk shots on each outing. I haven't even carried the camera this year, so I've pretty much forgot any settings I figured out so the process likely starts again. I think the trick is to keep at it. I'd love to see what an experienced good underwater photographer could do with a disposable after some practice.



Monday, October 17, 2005

Surf's up a bit.

Well, we've had our first bigger surf of the season this last week. I didn't have anything scheduled after returning from vacation 'til the weekend. The surf was down and I did some intro dives for non-divers and a couple dives for a class I'll be finishing next weekend. Luckily the surf doesn't really affect the diving in Kona, except when there's exceptionally high surf, all that often as we generally are able to pull around a point and find good diving which is protected. It usually only really causes troubles, dive cancellations and such, in part of January and February. Some years it's not a problem at all, here's hoping for one of those years.

The schedule for this week is a class Wed, Thurs and Friday with finishing up the other class on Saturday with posslibly some intros on Sunday. I've had to turn down a bunch of work for next week as my wife is taking me to the spay and neutering clinic next Monday morning and I'm not supposed to lift anything or do any diving for a week-10 days afterward. I'll be taking that time off I guess, don't want any troubles down there.

The cold I picked up in Vegas has pretty much run it's course and so far I'm not having the allergy issues I had the last time I came back from there. It knocked me out for a couple of months last time as my sinuses were shot from all the dry air. Kona has a thing called "Vog" which is a volcanic smog/fog, which builds up on the leeward side of the island. Tradewinds come in from the east and pick up the sulfur dioxide from the volcano. As the wind streams around the island it sort of creates an eddy behind Mauna Loa, which pushes 14000 feet high, and we get a haze which builds up generally around the Kealakekua area on the Kona side. It often gets thick enough to obscure the view of the horizon if you are at altitude. If the winds switch and come in from the west, which seems to happen a few times a year, it clears out wonderfully here and Hilo gets socked in.

Well, that's about it for now, I really should get some work done today.



Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Personal Stuff

Well, since I'm just starting this blog, I thought I'd tell a little about me without getting long winded. You are likely to get glimpses of my life over a period of time.

I live with my wife and dog above Kealakekua Bay (the spot where Captain Cook was killed and eaten) on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii. I own a scuba charter which keeps me quite busy seasonally, while at other times I have the time to do stuff such as this. My wife works full time... and when she's not working, she's working on something anyway, she's a very driven person. She's cool though, she bought a football the other week we can go out in the yard and toss. Not too many mid-40ish couples throwing footballs on a regular basis I suspect. She throws a better spiral than I 'til we get about 15 yards apart.

My job for the day is to clean the vacation rental and get it ready for our next guests which arrive tomorrow. That'll keep me busy this afternoon. Tomorrow I get to deal with the yard (things grow rediculously fast here) and then I'll be back to diving for a few days each week 'til we hit our next busy spell.

Well, that's about it for now. I figure if I keep it short it'll bore you a little less.



Monday, October 10, 2005

Just returned from Vegas

So I just returned from 6 days in Las Vegas to go to the big Dive show (DEMA) which is held annually and features booths by equipment and accessory manufacturers, dealers and travel related services. Not sure how many were in attendance, but I suspect it was in the 10-14K range through the course of the week. There was lots of stuff to keep a diver's interest on the floor, and lots of industry sponsored seminars, but I was really ready to be done with it by the time it was over.

Now for Vegas. It's an amazing place, at least the Strip area. The first time I was there as an adult was the day after the New York, New York opened. I returned three years ago for another DEMA show and then this time. Boy is it much busier these days. Everywhere I hit was busy, busy, busy... it seemed much busier than last time, which was much busier than the previous time. It would be curious to see their tourism numbers.

I was able to take the monorail to the convention center each day. I stayed at the Tropicana and it more or less took longer to walk to the station at the MGM than to get to the convention center once on the train. It's a fantastic way to get around. One interesting monorail story, for me anyway. The train can move something like 4000 people an hour in each direction. On Friday moring I was heading to the show and there was a couple across the train who were there for their 35th anniversary and the gentleman was quite talkative so we chit chatted for a while. 6 hours later I stepped onto the train again and sat down and I hear "How was your show?" - it was the same couple sitting exactly across from me again. They'd spent the day walking the North end of the Strip.

I enjoyed the trip, but I'm glad to be home. One thing that makes Vegas tough for me is that I live in a very humid climate and Vegas is so dry. The last show, most everyone I knew from my area that went was waking up with nose bleeds or other problems. This time I came prepared with saline spray for the nose and chapstick for my lips and still had some problems, but not as bad as before. I only had one day of real sinus pain, but I did manage to catch and bring home a cold.



Aloha to all.

Hi there,

Someone once told me, a couple years back, "Steve, you ought to set up a blog". I really didn't understand what a blog was then and I don't really know what the purpose is today...

But it's my slow season, I spend too much time on the internet anyway, and it's free, so what the heck... Why not?

I don't really intend to have any kind of a theme, so hopefully every now and then I'll have something of interest to somebody at some point in time.