Rock Islands Aggressor
Sunday afternoon we greeted our guests for a special ten day charter. Mike Haber from the Jim Church School of Underwater Photography is onboard conducting an intensive ten day underwater photography seminar. Our twelve egger photography students/divers for the next ten days are Jan, Tomas, John, Patricia, Mike L., Stewart, David, Noel, Julia, Nathalie, Richard, Thomas. After a quick room briefing our guest began to set up dive gear before heading upstairs for the first of many delectable meals prepared by chefs Cam, after which our Cruise Director went over the general safety and vessel orientation. Once everyone was well fed and informed it was time for some relaxing for the rest of the evening many stayed up for a few drinks and socializing before heading off to bed for a little rest to prepare for the next ten days of amazing diving in Palau.
Monday morning we left the dock bright and early and after breakfast and we covered the dive deck briefing before we started off our ten day charter with a day of diving some of the many wrecks found here in Palau. Our first dive was at the Jakes Sea Plane for our check out dive. After checking weights and equipment we explored the wreck and the coral garden surrounding the plane. For dive number two we headed to the Helmet Wreck AKA Depth Charge Wreck we moved along the deck of this ship and checked out WWII artifacts such as Japanese a rifle, bullets, depth charges and stacks of remaining helmets. We also found a sawblade shrimp and a pair of signal gobies. Our third dive was on the Iro Maru where everyone observed massive bow and stern guns and swam through giant kingpost. Another highlight of the dive is the anemone covered masts with several large tridacna clams being swarmed by anemonefish. Our fourth dive and final dive of the day was at Mandarin Fish Coral Garden where our guest did their best to capture a shot of the extremely shy Mandarin fish mating at dusk. We returned back to the big boat to another fabulous dinner prepared by Chef Cam, After dinner our photo students sat through a lecture by Mike on underwater photography.
Tuesday morning we awoke in front of Ulong Island for a couple of days of diving in this area our first stop out here being Siaes Wall. The wall is a beautiful wall full of hard and soft corals and reef fish of all sizes and colors; it is reminiscence of a fire display on the 4th of July. The second dive was at Siaes Tunnel. The entrance to the tunnel is self sits at 90 and exits around 100. Inside this massive tunnel diver are able to find several fish rarely seen by recreational divers including B&W butterfly, pygmy blue-back angle and both helfrich & decorated dart fish. Once divers exited the tunnel they made their way along the wall seeing tons of fish life and several sharks. For dive 3 we headed to Ulong Channel this time hooking in at the mouth of the channel and watching the sharks before drifting down the channel passing a massive patch of lettuce coral with hundreds of squirrel fish living amongst the leafs and finished the dive at two giant clams sitting side by side. The fourth and final dive of the day was Sandy Paradise, a sloping hard-coral garden that turns into a sandy bottom around 70-80. On the dive divers found a friendly octopus, several leaf-scorpion fish and had two marble rays that put on a nice little show for everyone scouring through the sand for food.
Wednesday morning we started with a dive out a Shark City, with the full moon three days away divers were able to see red snapper spawning making for an awesome show. Dive two was at Siaes Corner this time however there was hardly any current so instead of hooking in everyone just explored around one of the best coral gardens in Palau. There were still around a dozen gray reefs in the area along with whitetips napping in the sandy area, along with the sharks divers found two octopi, a pair of turtles, napoleon wrasse and a large school of barracuda. After dive two it was back to the Rock Island Aggressor for lunch before dive three at Ulong Coral Garden not too far from the channel its self. So divers explored this terrific hard coral garden for the first half of the dive finding sharks, schools of scad and bat fish then fished with an easy drift down the channel. Dive four was back to Ulong Channel one more time, this time starting from the south side but with almost no current instead we just explored around finding lots of great little creatures. That evening during dinner the Rock Island Aggressor moved down through Wonder Channel.
Thursday we Switched things up a little from our normal schedule and headed to Jellyfish for extended snorkel to accommodate our photographers on this special charter. After Jellyfish Lake we made a stop at Clam City to check out the giant clams and to see what macro life we can find. After lunch and some relaxing we headed to Barnums Wall for dive 3, the guest were delighted to see and be able to photograph a a sleeping Leopard Shark. For the fourth dive we headed down to German Channel to try our luck at seeing some manta but unfortunately none were to be seen we did however still have several sharks and tons of schooling fish in the area. Then after dinner for the first night dive of the charter we went back towards German this time diving German Coral Garden to the side of the channel. Here we found lots of cool critters including plourabranchs (nudis on steroids), a friendly octopus, several flatworms, lots of lionfish including the rare twin-spot lionfish and a very cool jellyfish.
We started Friday morning off with a bang with our first dive at the famous Blue Corner and Blue Corner did not disappoint our guest were absolutely blown away. I asked Captain Ike how he would rate that Blue Corner dive and he said it was a 10 out of 10. Coming from Captain Ike who has been diving here for 30 years that is saying something. For dive number 2 we headed over to Turtle Cove for a nice easy drifted dive down the wall. We spotted nudibranch galore, turtles some sharks cruising up and down the wall. It was a great diver for macro photo ops. After lunch we headed over to Dexters Wall another great drift dive close to Blue Corner. We dropped in and headed down the wall spotting at least 8 turtles, a leopard shark, schooling hump head parrotfish and a couple napoleons. Dive 4 was at Ngedebus Coral garden where we spotted more turtles a crocodile fish and a feathertail ray. For the night dive we headed back to Turtle Cove to see what the dive site has to offer at night. It was a full moon and the reef was alive with life. The corals were spawning, a plorabranch was spotted along with orangutan crab and some squid at the safety stop.
Early on Saturday morning the Rock Island Aggressor moved down to Peleliu and pulled into the protected lagoon of Camp Beck for the next day and a half of diving. Our first dive here was at the infamous Peleliu Corner on the incoming side know as the The Express. The current was descent at the start of dive as we drift past numerous sharks and other sea life, about half the down the wall the current pick up a bit and we hooked in to watch the sharks parade around. Around thirty minutes into the dive we unhooked and explored the rest of the dive site seeing some large groupers and a massive school of jacks just before beginning our ascent, then on our safety stop we had a school of rainbow-runners circling around us. After the dive 8 of our 13 guests went on the Peleliu WWII land tour viewing sights from one of the bloodiest battles of the war between the USA and Japan. While everyone was on the land tour the remaining guests went on a dive at West Wall for an easy drift dive with six or so large dogtooth tunas hanging around for most of the dive as well as several sharks, a school of bumphead parrotfish and a curious turtle. After the dive and the tour we all met back on the Rock Islands Aggressor for lunch before dive 3 at Barracks Point, a sloping coral garden with a steep wall on both sides. Here divers saw several giant clams and more than a dozen green sea turtles. Our last dive of the day was at Orange Beach Coral Garden. This dive site is actually where the marines land on Peleliu during WWII our guest explored the reef for artifacts leftover from the battle such as bullets, mortar shells and a small landing craft. After dinner the night dive was back at Orange Beach CG were divers found a Lionspaw seacucumber, nudis, flatworms and lot of other macro life.
On Sunday morning we headed back over to West Wall for a nice easy drift down the wall where the guest spent a lot of time photographing the large red anemone and all the clown fish that call it home. During the second dive the Rock Islands Aggressor moved back up into the German Channel area for the remainder of the charters dives. Dive 2 was out near Blue Corner at Virgin Blue Holes, A straight drop into the darkness and then out to the blue and a cruise down the wall. The lighting on the massive plates of hard corals was stunning as it was an early morning dive. After another scrumptious lunch from Chef Cam we dropped into the Blue Holes and snapped off photos left, right and center…and up and sideways. The holes make for some excellent photo ops with the sun beaming down from all different directions. After the left the holes we headed down the wall were we spotted two very little octopus one the size of a quarter the other the size of a half dollar. Dive 4 was at Big Drop Off; As we dropped in we came down right on top of a crocodile fish to all the guests delight. We cruised down the wall coming across anemones all balled up and feeding a perfect photo op. After dinner we headed back to Big Drop Off to see what it has to offer for a night dive. It was a dark night as the moon has not risen yet. All the critters were out shrimp, lobsters, nudibranchs and a couple sharks cruising along the wall.
Monday we kick off the day with another outing to Blue Corner, this time there was very little current and divers only hooked in for a short while before going and exploring the top of the plateau. On the dive guest saw a huge school of jacks, many sharks, barracuda, dogtooth tuna, Spanish mackerel, napoleon wrasse and much more. Dive 2 was Blue Holes, we planned this dive for all the photographers to shoot macro and see the pygmy sea horse. We entered the water and went down to the sea fan where we saw three pygmy seahorses the other day and none were to be found today. Wonder where they went. The photographers still had fun shooting the macro life in the holes. Then after lunch dive three was at a dive site known as Ferns Wall here divers found turtles, and a couple of crocodile fish. After the dive the big boat started heading back up to Koror. Our group wanted to do a repeat dive at Mandarin fish coral garden. We entered the water around 5:40 pm when the mandarin fish will be doing their thing; we saw a lot of the mandarin fish and two spiny devil fish. We then headed back to the big boat for a Thanksgiving day feast before watching our video pro Jons movie of the 10 days.
Tuesday we started off with a dive at Short Drop Off. Short Drop Off is on the East side of Palau and is where they set a trap for the Nautilus. As we arrived out to the dive site Neco Marine was pulling up the trap they set for us and everyone waited in anticipation to see how many they caught. Only one nautilus was caught, so we had to break it up so all the photographers had some time to shoot the nautilus. For our last dive of the charter we headed out to Chandelier Cave. We have done this site twice already for the mandarin fish outside the cave but this time we actually did the cave. With multiple air chambers, to surface in and view the stalactites. We returned back to the big boat at the dock and helped our guests break down their gear and then after lunch they enjoyed some free time, going into town for shopping and relaxing on the boat. In the evening we all gathered in the salon for the cocktail party and reflected on the week and raised glasses in cheers. During the cocktail party we said our goodbyes as one guest headed to the airport for his flight. After the cocktail party the guests headed into town for dinner among the many wonderful restaurants found in Palau, During the night several more guests went to the air port for their flights.
Wednesday morning the remaining guests woke up to continental breakfast and then headed off to their hotels. We again would like to thank everyone for joining us this 10 day charter for the Jim Church school of underwater photography with Mike Haber. Hope to see you all soon, until then we wish you safe diving and good times.
-Rock Islands Aggressor Crew