Saturday, July 16, 2011

Diving - Corsair and Koko Craters

WAHOO!  Oops, I mean, O WAHOO!  I recently joined the Waikiki Divers Association.  Today was my first dive as a member, although it wasn't a "club activity" - I just get a huge discount on boat dives.  I met some really nice people that came on the boat, including an LDS mom and daughters from Missouri.  An underwater camera is still somewhere beyond the horizon for me, but I found some pictures online.  I tried to choose the pictures that most closely represented what my eyeballs actually saw, rather than the most amazing pictures I could find of things that I saw.  SO...  here's the story...

Heidi drove me to the dive shop at 7:15am (thank you!!).  Next time I'll go later, because most of the setup involves people getting gear, and I already have mine!  Although I did use a shorty wetsuit from the shop.  I'm glad I did, cause I was cold by the end of the second dive.  So all the gear and the people went in the van and we drove to Hawaii Kai, where we transferred gear to the boat and headed out.  Our guides were great: Marco and Eric.  Eric was hilarious, singing his head off and talking about how "cited" he was to dive.

The first dive is called "Corsair" because of the crash-landed F4U Corsair airplane.  It was flown by a US pilot whose fuel gauge apparently malfunctioned during a routine flight.  He ran out of gas, ditched the plane, and floated in his life jacket until he got picked up... so that makes it a fun dive site, knowing nobody died there.

Here are some pictures of the plane:

It was awesome!!  My dive computer says my max depth was 108'.  That's the deepest I've gone.  We used the boat's mooring line to descend and ascend, which was nice because 1) it's easy, especially at the safety stops on the way up, and 2) there was a decent current, so it was nice to not have to fight it.

On the way down, I finally saw pennant butterflyfish!  There were tons of them, along with other fish.  It was amazing to see so many fish in the middle of the blue.  Usually there's a reef backdrop, but this was just blue, blue, blue, and fish.  Here's a great picture of a pennant butterflyfish, and then one that more closely resembles the view I had (if there was no reef in the background):

There are also a lot of Hawaiian Garden Eels near the corsair:

I LOVED exploring around the plane.  It's amazing to me how trash, generally, is bad for the ocean, but if it's something like an entire boat or airplane, it serves as a foundation for so much life!  There are lots of different fish around and inside the plane.  In fact, the first thing our guide (Marco) pointed out to us when we got to the plane was TWO Commerson's frogfish sitting on the horizontal part of the plane's tail.  One was yellow, and the other was red, kind of like these two, but brighter red and, obviously, the non-red one in this picture isn't yellow at all.  Both of the ones we saw today were very bright.

Here's a better picture of a bright red frogfish:

They sit perfectly still and wait for prey to come near, then they shoot their jaw open and the prey gets sucked in instantly.  They're so determined to stay camouflaged that they'll let you pet them!  Their dorsal "fins" (more like lumps) stand up as if to show their annoyance, but they don't move!  I was so happy to see (and pet) these frogfish.  I'm so glad Marco pointed them out... I don't know if I would have spotted them on my own.

Here's a funny picture I found of someone sitting in the cockpit of the corsair:

Marco warned us that there's a big yellowmargin moray eel that lives in the plane, so none of us got in the cockpit, but I definitely poked my head in, and peeked through a lot of holes in the fuselage.  There were lots of yellowfin goatfish in there.

After two slow circles around the plane, we went back to the mooring line and started ascending.  It was the first time I've had two safety stops on the way up.  We stopped at 50 feet for 1 minute, and then the usual 3 minutes at 15 feet.  When we got to the surface, the swells had grown big time!  One guy just about got thrown up the ladder feet-first!  As he was holding onto the ladder, a big swell came.  He held on with his hands, and his feet got above him.  Then the water (and his feet) went back down, and he started climbing again.  The crew had a good system where a diver would approach the ladder underwater, hold on with their hands in superman position while a crew member behind them took off their fins, and then the diver would climb the ladder while the crew member handed the fins up to someone on the boat.

The second dive site is called "Koko Craters."  I guess they were crater-ish, but it was more like a few curved ledges with flat surfaces above and below.  Our max depth on this dive was 40', so it was just a nice, relaxing dive.  We saw about five turtles, and three of them had barnacles ON an eye!  How does that happen?  I've seen a turtle being cleaned by fish, and when one came to his eye, he jerked his head away.  So how does a barnacle latch on?  Weird.

(By the way, I saw a turtle being cleaned last Monday when I went freediving with Brian Rugen, one of my professors.  It looked very much like this, but there were no yellow tangs.)

So... it was a nice dive, and we saw a very active snowflake eel.  It was swimming in and out of holes and cracks in the reef, frequently stopping with his head poking out (as eels do), only to start swimming around again.  It was fun to watch, and as one of my fellow divers said, "I think that was the most beautiful eel I've ever seen."

There were also a few statues down there.  I forgot to ask our guides if they know why there are statues.  Here are a couple of them:

I rubbed his belly for good luck.

I also identified three more fish on this dive!  Let's start with the least exciting (no offense, manybar goatfish... you're just not all that pretty).

Goatfish are common, so I've procrastinated trying to tell them apart (except for the yellowfin goatfish, which I really like).  Manybar goatfish, check.

I also saw a couple of potters angelfish.  These ones are really beautiful:

I also saw a lizardfish.  It was near the active snowflake eel, so I was a little bit wary as I tried to get a good look.  I was hoping to see an orange mouth, but no dice.  It was one of three very similar lizardfish, not an orangemouth.  After a bit of research, I think it was a Hawaiian lizardfish.  It was about a foot long.

As we were heading back to the mooring line (we used it for ascent/descent again), Marco pointed out a leaf scorpionfish!  It was small - about 3 or 4 inches long.

Overall, these were two fantastic dives!  The second one was a little boring in terms of topography or "wow" factor, but that's probably because I had just done my first wreck dive and my deepest dive.  My previous max depth was 60 feet, so 110 feet was pretty exciting for me, not to mention the airplane, frogfish, garden eels... WOW.  Definite "wow" factor on that dive!  The second was great as well, with the turtles, fish identification, the active eel, statues... geez, now that I think about it, I was definitely spoiled by the first dive to think the second lacked anything!

There was one moment on the second dive that I was lagging behind and above my 2 buddies and our guide, and I had a strong sensation of flying.  That was the first thing that appealed to me about scuba diving - the weightlessness.  It was such an amazing feeling!  I was up above those guys, belly down, and flying.  I stayed a good 10 feet above the bottom for a while, enjoying the feeling.

Man... I really, really love diving.  It's actually a bit spiritual for me, in addition to being just plain fun and exciting.  I remember talking with Brady Statham one time about how incredible it would be to be able to fly.  His mom heard us and said, "I think Heavenly Father knew what would make us most happy."  I heard that and thought, "Yyyeeeaaahhh... buuuuuut... it would be REALLY cool to be able to fly."  Well guess what?  Now I can!  At least that's what it feels like to me.  I think Heavenly Father really does know what will make us most happy.  And I don't just fly over streets and grass and trees, I fly over (and under, and through) this alien world full of incredibly diverse, strange, and beautiful creatures.  It's such an awe-inspiring part of our planet that relatively few people get to explore like I do.  It makes me feel very thankful for this earth, and for my wonderful wife urging me to put some money into a "diving" category in our budget so that I can develop this aptitude and explore this passion while we live in such a wonderful place for it.

Goodness gracious I LOVE IT!!!

(Edit: I just found two pictures of frogfish at the Corsair on the Waikiki Dive Center's facebook page... this is probably one of the frogfish I saw today.  So cool!)


Lindsay said...

This is amazing. What incredible dives. How wonderful that you're where you are and taking advantage of the opportunity. I haven't seen fish feeding on turtles. I'm glad you were able to add all these photos to help me visualize what you saw.

Dennis said...

Very cool! Nice to live where you can go under water so much!