Friday, January 30, 2009

Save the Mantas!!!!

Ok, well that's a bit strong of a heading, but potentially true apparently. I opened my e-mail and found a bunch of manta talk.... apparently the state is reconsidering the protection of mantas and there are 2 bills in place. One flat out outlaws the taking or killing of mantas and the other apparently gets there eventually, requiring money and studies and such... I'm thinking the one people concerned about it prefer the one that just does the job without appropriating funds.

Anyway, here's some info below, just click on the link. Apparently they're taking testimony for two more days, so if you are interested and have anything to chip in with feel free... sorry for the short notice.

Manta ray protection bills in Hawaii

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Random Stuff.....

This post will be all over the board (as if I'm always on topic, not hardly).

The surf's cooperating nicely, we have a charter set for tomorrow so it'll be nice to get back on the water after a few day layoff as it's been slow.

I just renewed my commercial harbor permit and insurance for another year... I hate writing checks when it's slow, perhaps I should see if there's some way we can move the renewal dates to a busier season?

Pat comes home this evening... Yay! I'll probably try to catch the first part of the underwater photo club meeting before getting to the airport. I've been a member, but I'm not what you call active in it at all... I should make the attempt.

Just perused and I'm happy to find I've been getting good reviews there. They claim to be "Scuba Diving's Most Unbiased Information Source". Essentially, it's a pay to use review site and lots of the divers on it are fairly frequent dive travelers that tend to research a bit before picking their dives (believe it or not, if you're a diver that's found this blog you've probably done at least a minimal bit of research... a fair amount people just walk up to their hotel desk and ask the likely non-diving employee behind it "who should I dive with while I'm here"... which is sort of the equivalent of asking me "where do I get a good salad?"). Anyway, Wanna Dive fared quite well for the reviews for 2008 diving. It'll be interesting to see the next "Diver's Chapbook" they put out. To anyone who happened to have put a review on there, thank you.

Sad economic news maybe... this article came out and mentioned a foreclosure may be looming for one of the big hotels here. I'm hoping it doesn't come to pass. Things have slowed down enough that several of the hotels are scheduling temporary closures or partial closures later in the year for remodeling. In the good news... the Mauna Kea Resort has "softly" opened and will have their grand re-opening in a bit over a month.

I noticed the other day that the blog has grown to over 500 posts... wow, I never thought I'd keep it going that long, or at least with that frequency, to where I'd see that many posts.

These little guys are Redspotted Sandperch (Parapercis schauinslandi). They're a cute little fish that hang out in deep sandflats. They're tough to get a decent shot of because of the combination of depth and sand... at their depth it's dark enough that the photos want to go blue, and the sand's white enough, as well as them, that the strobe flash can get overpowering. Pat took a picture of these ones, I want to say it was out in the sand at Crescent Beach outside of Honokohau Harbor.



Sunday, January 25, 2009

Man Versus Food... Finally, a TV show that inspires me....

I've sort of been batch'n' it for a few days... Pat's off in Texas visiting family. It's been slow, lotsa bookings for later but this week's been slow so I probably could've joined her for this trip. We've been Skyping (Skype is a free online video conferencing service and if you have a fast connection and a vidcam you practically owe it to yourself to join up if you have friends or family who also have the vidcam and fast connection) the last couple of days, and she's mentioned they've had some food at/from Fuad's in Texarkana... yum yum, I'm jealous, he can cook up some good food.

Anyway, today I watched a few episodes of "Man Versus Food" on the Travel Channel. That job would've been a perfect job for me back when I was 28. I'm on the tail end of my significant eating abilities these days. He visited places in several cities that intrigue me.... Now I'm interested in going to Atlanta to try Gladys Knight's Chicken and Waffle place (sorry, no link) and the Vortex Bar and Grill, and to Memphis to try the Kooky Canuk, formerly called the Bigfoot Lodge and to the Boston area to try the Barking Crab and to Pittsburgh to try Primanti Brothers and DeLuca's (sorry, no link), as well as Amarillo to try The Salt Lick Barbeque and Coyote Bluff Cafe as well as to Austin to go to visit Juan in a Million,.... it's not that I want to plan my vacations around food, but these places sound interesting.... let's face it, if the food sucks the vacation might not rate as high.

The host of the show likes to take on food challenges (his Eagle's Deli challenge looks fabulous, but I'd be stuck when it comes to the fries... I saw one or two that I'd still have a chance at today, but for the most part I'm almost over eating more than four pounds of food at one sitting unless it's something I really like (last night I kind of broke that barrier with fried chicken).

Anyway, this show inspires me. We're hosting a superbowl party for our neighbors and a few dive friends next week and I'm really wanting to try cooking up some deep fried turkey tails (I didn't know anyone sold turkey tails, but the store up the hill has them) and putting them out there with all the wings, chili, chips, salsa and other garbage we have planned to see if anyone tries them (no turkey tails were on the show... just sounded good and fatty).

Here's a closeup shot of a Titan Scorpion (Scorpaenopsis cacopsis) by Pat. These guys are so camouflaged that you miss them most of the time.



Friday, January 23, 2009

Razor Wrasses of Hawaii...

These guys are pretty interesting. There's a couple different species, and frankly I'm not that good at telling them apart on the fly. This one is what we call a Peacock Razor Wrasse (Iniistius pavo). As a juvenile they'll have a very elongated first dorsal spine, oftentimes as long as the body of the fish, they tend to lose it (or keep it back and down) as they mature and it's much less noticeable. The adults are much more pale in coloration than the juveniles, this one's starting to be a "tweener" that's maturing.

We find Razor Wrasses generally in larger sand patches in the shallows, and below the reef in the sand at depth. They're not often easily approachable, as they tend to dive into the sand when you find them. It seems as though they have specific spots they "cultivate" in my opinion, 'cause sometimes they'll move as you approach then get to a spot and hover 'til you get too close and dive in. Interestingly enough, sometimes when you stick your hand in the sand it'll go through like nothing while the sand around it is much more firm. Anyway, these guys seem to have a knack for covering some distance under the sand as you can't dig them up (not that I've ever tried - it's hearsay, yeah that's it).

I used to have a Dragon Wrasse in an aquarium at home a half a life ago, these fish also dive into the sand on occasion and tend to sleep underground at night, mine had the habit of pulling up algae and piling it in one corner of the tank about 45 minutes before my lights were timed to go off and then it would dive into the pile and the oyster shell/dolomite mix for the night.

Pat took this photo, which is better than anything I have of Razor Wrasses, on a dive a couple months back.

We're off to do the manta dive tonight. Water conditions are quite decent today. I heard through the grapevine that there were 7 mantas seen off the airport last night.



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

So does anyone out there "get" Facebook and other social networking sites? I just put up a page for my Kona scuba diving biz....

When I've gone to DEMA (the big dive manufacturer and marketing show) the last couple of years I've sat through a couple of seminars. Nearly all of the marketing related ones mentioned "social networking sites are the one of the new hot marketing tools" or something to that effect. I set up a myspace page after one of those seminars a couple of years back, and that held my interest for all of the length of time it took to sign up... I just couldn't "get" it. Even though my wife says I often act 13-15 years old, I just didn't feel comfortable in there right off the bat.

Well, after some deliberation, and a trial personal page, I've set up a Facebook page for "Wanna Dive Kona". I figure at some point I'll figure out what I'm doing with the Facebook page and maybe down the line it'll pay off to some extent. Anyway, if any of you are Facebook members, drop in and check it out. So far I'm the only "fan" - kind of embarrassing, but I doubt these things take off overnight. I try to keep any real updates I have with the business current here, but I might as well do the same there and potentially reach some other people I'm not reaching through my other efforts.

So here's a cool photo that Pat took. It's a Tiger Moray (Scuticaria tigrina). We don't see them out all that often. I've seen far more body parts through the coral than heads sticking out looking around over the years. This one was pretty active for daytime. The larger ones often look half dead, just plain don't move around a lot during the day. These guys are more roundish than the typical moray we have here, not much of a pronounced dorsal or anal fin, and look more snakelike - people occasionally ask if we have large sea snakes here, this is one of the eels they're seeing that make them wonder.

Surf should be down... bummer, I had charters when it was up that didn't go out. I'm hoping to get some phone calls now that the surf's back down to reasonable levels for diving.



Sunday, January 18, 2009

Still no diving for us today, but the surfers are very happy....

Here's a shot of the Keauhou Sheraton from a distance. You can see what the surf was doing today. It's pounding off the Sheraton observation deck (the old Kona Surf saltwater pool area) pretty well. It was actually down a bit today. Tomorrow I expect it to flatten out, it might be OK by morning, nice by evening, and should be pretty nice come Tuesday.

If you take a look at the photo, you'll notice a more toothpaste blue in the shallows to the right of the splashing. The last day or two that's pretty much been all along the coast. It's pretty to look at, as long as you're above the water, it sucks to dive in. I'm not sure if it's a combination of sand and air bubbles or what, but the viz is really bad when the water looks like that from a distance, and unfortunately it's been that way on most of our dive sites the last couple of days. We only need about 12 hours of relatively non-heavy surf for it to all fall out and clear up for diving.



Saturday, January 17, 2009

Just stumbled across a new little mexican food spot near downtown.... I thought I'd stop in. Located at the corner of Kaiwi and Kuikini, it's in the space where Orchid Thai was before it moved to larger digs. It's called "Almas Mexican Food" and shares a space with another business (might be the same owners, I didn't ask) and is the first Mexican restaurant - religious bookstore I've ever been in. So far it has a limited menu - burritos, tacos, enchiladas and tamales, with a choice of meats and such. They apparently also serve chili rellenos on Wednesdays and menudo on Sundays.

I had two pork/bean/rice burritos... 3 bucks a pop or 2 for 5 bucks, which were quite decent for the price. They're pictured here with some add on salsa they have on the side. Pretty tasty and a good amount of food for $5 for the Kona area, so I thought I'd mention them here.



Friday, January 16, 2009

It's Rock N' Roll time in Kona... Nasty surf for a few days...

Well, the surf came up big in Kona yesterday and today. I'm looking for it to be heavy through maybe Sunday. We ended up canceling the charters both yesterday and today after looking at it. There were probably 3 "diveable but yucky" moorings left yesterday, but it would have involved timing the exit to the harbor and praying the winds predicted for later in the afternoon didn't come early, so it was better to call it. Today's basically the same, but they're expecting 10-25 mph south winds to come up today, which would really make for a poor time on the water.

We've actually got it pretty good on the Big Island. We had some beach closures on the west side yesterday, but aside from the surf and high winds on the north end of the island, it's been great weather. The other islands are shutting schools and parks and setting up emergency shelters today as they expect to get the brunt of the bad weather.

I hate canceling for weather/surf, as I like money coming in, but sometimes you've got to look at it and allow for the fact that if you know a large portion of your typical guests are going to have a miserable time because of it, it might be best not to go out. If it's flat out unsafe I cancel, if it's just plain nasty but doable, I try to give people the option.... there was one time I had two customers and I gave them the option on a night trip, they insisted we had to go and spent the evening throwing up - most of the time people are happy to pursue other activities when it's that nasty.

So I'm trying a new video thingy today, I'm using Blogger's Google video hosting just to see how it looks vs. the Vimeo and Youtube videos I've used in the past. Here's a quick video of Magic Sands Beach, also called Disappearing Sands Beach or La'aloa Beach park, in Kailua. Much of the year it's a nice sandy boogie boarding beach, when the surf gets real high, all the sand is pulled out and it's a big rock pile.



Monday, January 12, 2009

The calm, after the storm... WOW! What a great picture perfect Kona day it was....

This is actually a pic from last night... after the storm ended. We woke up yesterday morning and it was a bit gloomy outside, but nothing to deter us from diving, so Pat and I headed off towards the harbor to take the boat out since we were both off. As we headed into town I got a call from Bob... "Steve, are you still planning on diving today? It just started raining two minutes ago and now the wind is swirling so hard the trees are bending over." I said we'll check it out, and then about a minute or two later we got to the edge of the front.

What a strong little tropical storm. It was very messy and blew in in an instant. Apparently there was a drowning/storm related death at the harbor right as it happened, something involving kayaks and a small boat that tried to rescue them. I'm watching the news tonight to see if I can find anything out, I heard 2nd/3rd hand early today that someone I know may have been involved but is OK. Very very sad for all involved. I'm glad we weren't on the water when this came across, that's about the time we go out when we have charters. Anything that was on the water at 9am yesterday got suddenly pounded bigtime. We turned around about half way to the harbor and got back to a home with no power. Apparently there was a swath through our neighborhood that lost power (we had neighbors both to the right and left of us with power, but straight above us and below to the coast were without for about 11 hours). It was about a 4-5 hour storm, rather strong for here, then turned beautiful.

Last night's sunset was fantastic, and we woke up to incredibly clear skies this morning. For those of you who get here on occasion... Hualalai was clear of clouds all day, and that's not a common event. Today I went for a drive. I went up to check out the newly re-opened Mauna Kea... they wouldn't let me in - boo on them - said only guests with reservations were allowed during their soft opening. I wanted to check it out. When the Mauna Kea opened back in the 60's it was regarded as one of the top resorts in the world. They were hit pretty hard by the big earthquake in October 2006 and decided it was time to renovate and remodel. They just re-opened this last month and will officially re-open in March. It was still an excellent drive... clear skies and bright sunshine everywhere.



Saturday, January 10, 2009

Another book review.... The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Whales, and Seals by John P. Hoover.

OK, I feel sort of weird for doing a quick review of this book immediately following the quick review of his second edition of Hawai'i's Fishes, but appears "there's a new sheriff in town" when it comes to books covering Hawaiian reef fish. I'd heard about this book and found a copy of it last night, turns out Amazon has it in stock so it's readily available.

This book is a step up from the other series, more pictures, more species, more pictures of color variations... cool. I'm on about copy number 4 of the other series.. I manage to get them wet on the boat over time, and I suspect I'll be getting more of these as I wear them out.

Anyway, I thought I'd give a heads up as to it's availability. If you like these, check on the sidebar of the blog where I'll have permanent links to them as well as "Hawai'i's Sea Creatures" which is Mr. Hoover's excellent invertebrate book.



Book review... Hawai'i's Fishes - a guide for snorkelers and and divers - second edition by John Hoover

I've mentioned in the past that the first edition of this book was terrific. Last year, John Hoover left a comment on this post that he'd put out a new edition. I had to run down to Costco to pick up a copy, but Amazon did not have it available so I never reviewed it. I haven't looked in quite some time, but it's definitely available outside of Hawaii nowadays. This is it:

This is an upgrade from the first edition... more species, more pictures, and good pictures of juvenile and adult stages of species that change appearance during their lives.

I'd highly recommend this book for a guide to Hawaiian fish.... but check out this next post as I'll quickly review an even more recent book by John Hoover that you might be tempted by (if you can't find the post following this one, check the archives for January '09 or just click on the "book review" in the label tag below this post).



Thursday, January 08, 2009

Just noticed some orchids were blooming in the side yard....

Hey there,
Pat had mentioned the other day we had some orchids blooming, I'd assumed it was the usual suspects, but this time it's one we hadn't had bloom in the yard that I can recall. Thought I'd take a quick picture.

We've hit a few day dead spell, so it looks like I get to watch the Florida/Oklahoma game to see which team lucks into a National Championship (gotta get a little dig in a the BCS system). Tomorrow is new tire day... man, truck tires aren't cheap, and hopefully we'll get some calls for diving this weekend... otherwise we'll go out diving for fun as Pat has Sunday off. Next week's looking much busier on the boat. This time of year it's pretty sporadic for us 'til March.



Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Let's discuss working as a Divemaster or Instructor for a bit.... pay, getting a job and such....

Quite some time ago I solicited some questions and reader Mel asked these.... "What do you typically look for when hiring a divemaster? (Qualities, skills, type of experience, etc.)" and "Is it possible for a DM to make a living wage in the Kona area?". I haven't answered these yet so I thought I'd try now.

Part of what got me thinking about this was a phone call I got back in October or so. I had a Course Director (essentially Instructors that teach how to become Instructors... not a whole lot of them working in Kona right now) from Colorado call me asking about work, if I recall correctly he was looking at moving out this way in the following month. Course Director is a desirable qualification, but not one that is needed at my business at this point. Anyway, I filled him in the best I could giving him the names of a couple of shops that might possibly be large enough to hold an occasional Instructor Development Course. As we were ending our conversation he wished me good luck on my "upcoming season"... I couldn't bring myself to tell him Kona's busy winter dive season is typically December 20th through January 3rd or thereabouts... the holidays were hopping this year, but boy did the number of boats on the water drop as of Sunday. There's a lot of people who think "snowbirds" will keep the diving community busy all winter, but the reality is that not all that large of a percentage of that group are divers, and while places like the Florida Keys are just a few hour air flight from over half the population of the US and see a lot of people taking a long weekend to dive, we're a bit harder to get to so the busy dive times tend to surround typical vacation breaks. I wonder if he had any luck getting on anywhere. Personally, if I were to come here out of the blue looking for a scuba job, I'd do it the first week of June and keep my fingers crossed that things pick up by the end of the month, as summers are the longest "busy" season we have here. If he found his way to Maui, which arguably doesn't have quite the diving Kona does, but has lots more tourists and hotels, he might have been able to hook up with some steady work.

On to what I look for when looking for a DM... Personally, I've been lucky in that I've known, and in most cases worked with elsewhere, every person I've hired for quite a while. That really helps because I've known their ability, local knowledge and disposition already. I'm lucky enough to have employees who've been leading dives in Kona and Hawaii for one to three decades each rather than having to rely on people who just became Instructors or just moved here. Odds are if I do need someone else in the next couple of years it just might be someone who's already working here, but you never know. To me the local knowledge is important, but really loving diving and really liking meeting new people are probably more important. Enthusiasm and sociability skills are darned important on a 6 pack boat, and probably at a premium on any boat. If I were a dive operator with a shop, retail skills would be real important. An Instructor's certification and a Captain's license are a big plus, especially for my particular business. I'd guess the larger portion of the "DMs" here in Kona are actually Instructors, but there are some DMs who either came up through classes in the local shops or walked in the right place at the right time and have found work.

Occasionally I get some bright, enthusiastic people approaching me for a job, but they have no scuba leadership certifications or Captain's license. I'd love to be in the position to give them some work, but unfortunately that doesn't work on the boat, there's really no such position as a "deck hand" on the dive boats, at least the smaller ones... people who fall into this category need to look at a boat with a shop (and then get the leadership certification to get work on the boat) or look at getting on a boat that primarily services tourists other than divers.

Wages... not really a subject we talk about that much. When I came over in '99 the prevailing wage worked out to between $65 and $75 bucks a charter. There are some DMs/Instructors getting a higher wage, and apparently some getting lower still these days. Some are paid a decent hourly wage, but aren't necessarily guaranteed full time work, so in the end you're likely still talking Taco Bell earning levels for a lot of divers in the business. Many divers here have second jobs to make ends meet, have additional incomes, or are semi-retired and don't necessarily need full time work (that's a huge bonus to their employers). I gotta be vague because the wages run the gamut here, I know of dive guides making anywhere from Zip (working for free) to 15/17 bucks an hour but not necessarily full time.

Working in this trade is more about lifestyle than earning power for the vast majority of people here by my guess. I've seen lots of faces come and go, but several that have made it work for a number of years. I'm not sure that it's any different here than anywhere else. It's a wonderful time when you can make it work.

Here's a rather blurry shot of a small group of Bicolor Anthias (Pseudanthias bicolor). They're a real colorful smaller fish, often found in deeper waters (this is in about 90') in coral heads in or next to sand patches here. If you are out poking around in a deep sand patch it's not uncommon to see a lone coral head with a group of fish surrounding it, as you approach closer they'll pull into the coral head for protection. They're commonly found in heads that have a cleaner shrimp, pictured here in the lower right.



Sunday, January 04, 2009

So here's a weird story....

Back in the fall, I think around early October, Pat told me I needed to stop in at Border's books to pick up a copy of the second season of Heroes while they were on sale that weekend. I picked up the copy and went to the register. In line the guy next to me reminded me of someone I grew up watching on TV as a teenager and beyond but hadn't seen since the mid-90's. You know how some people really look like someone and this guy was practically the spitting image of a rather famous person back in the day. I finally said to him "you look just like so-and so did a decade or two back, do you ever get that?" or something to that effect, he replied he gets that from time to time. So then, more thinking to myself, I said out loud "is he still alive?" and then as I was leaving Border's I thought, gosh that's a rude thing to say, that person's probably out there living a great retired life right now. Anyway, I'd forgotten about that 'til recently.

Here's a picture of a female Marbled Shrimp (Saron marmoratus, the males look different, they have really long arms/claws. These are one fuzzy shrimp. I dove today for the first time in 6 weeks or so due to whatever I've had going on. It was great getting back in the water, although I was really surprised at how cold the water was when I dove the mooring ball.... brrrrrr.... it's four or five degrees cooler than last time.

Here's another weird story. I had the day off about a week or so before Christmas and I was watching the Bonnie Hunt show. She had Tim Conway on and it was a delightful segment. At the end Bob Newhart shows up pushing a cake out as it apparently was Tim Conway's birthday. So here's Bonnie Hunt, she's all a-twitter about being surrounded by two legends of the comedy world. I'm thinking I could understand that, she must be pretty excited. She was standing there next to both of these gentlemen and said it's great to have both of them on the show, then Bob Newhart said something along the lines that he figured he needed to get out more... he was standing in line a few weeks back at a Borders and the guy next to him said "you know, you look like "him" and that he said he gets that from time to time, then the guy said "is he still alive?"


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Heavy surf to start off the new year... water's cooling down too....

We've had heavy surf from the west/northwest the last 4 days or so. We've been able to get out and dive during the daytime, with most of the diving being limited to Pawai Bay/Old Airport area and the south Pine Trees dive sites.

We canceled our night dive on the 1st because we went up and checked out the bay off the Kona airport (home of the manta dive) that afternoon and there was basically 10 foot surf in shallow and little viz out to about the 60-80 foot depth. We checked it again on the 2nd and it was much better, doable but still not real nice conditions. Today the surf is down a bit and I suspect other sites are opening up again. We've got the day off today but have bookings the next several days.

The water temp off Kona is 75, maybe even 74, depending on the computer you use. It could get pretty cold this winter if the lack of 81-83 degree temperatures this fall is any indication. It pretty much topped out at about 79 this fall.

This picture is a re-post of a picture I took earlier in the year. If you are getting about 2/3rds of the photo on your screen, just click on it for the whole picture... I've never tried linking a full sized picasa picture before. Some of the message boards have "your favorite picture of '08" threads, and that got me to thinking - I think this is mine, although I really like some of the squid shots I took earlier this year too.