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December 24th - 31st, 2016
Air Temp. 82-87 F
Water Temp. 74-79 F
Wetsuit Recommendation: 3-5mm
Captain: Cliff Muse
2nd Captain: Chad Dolbeare
Video Pro/Instructor: Brent Goudreau
Instructor: Manuel Lassaletta
Chef: Cameron Smay
Sun Min Lee
Sunday, December 25th
DIVE SITES: Shark Fin Rock and Garden Eel Cove
Not everyone dreams of a white Christmas. For those preferring and yearning for a wet one, with tropical climes, daily, mouthwatering feasts, and harboring intentions of utilizing these holidays to seek out indelible underwater adventures, theyve come to the right place. Perhaps the best Christmas gift of all, Chef Smay, a more than capable Divemaster, is back where he belongs: in the kitchen, wielding his spatula and tongs, whipping up his gastronomical delights.
Following banana pancakes, our first submergence is at Shark Fin Rock, named after the breaching monolith bearing an uncanny resemblance to the dorsal fin of a Megalodon. Here, the guests utilize the first opportunity to check their buoyancy, adding and subtracting weight as needed to attain neutrality, and getting accustomed to any new equipment theyve brought along for the weeks excursions along the Big Islands sheltered lee. Goldring, Orangeband, Orange Spine, and Yellow Tang Surgeonfish, assorted colors of Nunu (Hawaiian for Trumpetfish) and Leopard Blennies watch as the Aggressors passengers acclimate to their new aquatic environment. After snacking on white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, the second dive at the location ventures further from the ship, and the divers are privy to Red Pencil Urchins, Cushion Starfish, Tako (Hawaiian for octopus), pairs (long-term mates if not lifelong companions) of Long-nose, Ornate and Threadfin Butterflyfish; and a White-tipped Reef Shark (Mano).
Afterwards, we warm up with bowls of split pea soup with ham, and enjoy grilled cheese or the more decadent turkey, goat cheese, and cranberry sandwiches on sourdough accompanied with baked pasta and green salad as we make our way to Garden Eel Cove. There, we observe the sloping reef filled with Flame angels; Bullethead and Palenose Parrotfish; Raccoon Butterflyfish; and Belted, Shortnose, Yellowtail, and Surge (which, according to tradition, snore like humans when they sleep) Wrasses; and the many Whitemouth Eels that peek out from the pristine reef thats protected from southern swells that descends into a sandy bottom where schools of Big Eyes and Yellowfin Goatfish gather. Our visit is heralded by the first sighting of the resident Hawaiian Monk Seal in approximately four months. Though human disturbance can cause the creature to abandon a location and the recommended approach is no closer than 100 feet, many of the divers are fortunate to have face-to-face encounters with llio-holo-i-ka-uaua, or “dog that runs in rough water.” During the second dive, we effortlessly drift back and forth with the surge in the shallows, timing our kicks with the forward thrusts in order to use the oceans strength to propel us forward. We glide over Convex Crabs and discover what appears to be a big red rose, the egg casing of the Spanish Dancer, the largest of the nudibranchs here. As if the Kona Aggressor II were not already the envy of Konas coast, during the safety stop, our earless and whiskered friend, one of only two mammals endemic to the islands, returns, diving under the boat between the two pontoons of our catamaran to bask in the warm waters expelled from the water port, precipitating snorkelers from another operation moored nearby to request permission to approach and take a closer look.
A delicious dinner consisting of Caesar salad, whole roasted prime rib with red wine jus, potatoes au gratin, roasted asparagus, and chocolate brownie sundaes precedes the last dive of the day, Manta Mayhem. The divers kneel or lay in the sand as one of these magnificent creatures repeatedly circles, majestically maneuvering up and down, mouth agape as it feeds on the plankton exposed by our torches and the lights from our cameras. The sites other bipedal visitors depart halfway through the dive, but the Manta continues feasting, providing our group with own private viewing. Afterwards, we sip hot cocoas, and try to find words to articulate the phenomenal experience.
Monday, December 26th
DIVE SITES: Kalokas Arches, The Dome, Mantaville
A pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins playfully provide us with an escort en route to the days first site, Kalokas Arches. Here, we spot a camouflaged Devil Scorpionfish, our first Tako (Day octopus) of the trip, and a Honu (Green Sea Turtle). As the divers climb the ladder to re-board the ship and snack on Chef Camerons coconut cameroons, we spot our first Humpback whale, or Kohola, in the distance, slapping the surface with its huge pectoral fin, waving it to and fro, and spouting a 300 mile-per-hour jet that produces clouds from its blowhole.
The next destination is The Dome, where two dives bookmark a delectable lunch consisting of baby-back ribs, BBQ chicken, ranch style beans, corn on the cob and fruit. Todays conditions are a bit too precarious to spend too much time within the cathedral-like structure after which the site is named. The extra time enables us to cover more ground and inspect large Helmet Shells and locate not one, but two –one brown and one green– Frogfish.
After devouring a dinner of grilled One with red curry beurre blanc (literally translated from French as “white butter”), jasmine rice, and mixed veggies before an apple crumble dessert, and still giddy over the previous evenings Manta dive, the guests come to the consensus that theyd like to have another. Always aiming to please, we set our headings, and make our way towards Mantaville for Manta Mayhem Part II. Although we can never guarantee what nature will or will not provide, the decision is one no one will ever regret. Multiple Manta Rays come to satisfy their appetites as well as our guests wildest dreams, prompting ear-to-ear grins as we exit the water, and many proclamations that it was the best dive of their lives.
Tuesday, December 27th
DIVE SITES: Paradise Pinnacle and The Hive
Todays first two dives are at Paradise Pinnacle. Our mooring line is located atop the peak of the structure for which this site is named. We descend to the base and circle it, swim south, passing over garden eels that stretch from the sand forming what appear to be two foot question marks. Before heading to the shore to look for Hammerheads, changing direction at "Mini Me," a smaller replica of the pinnacle, we pause to examine the black coral, where we find the Longnose Hawkfish that resides there. We make our way to the shallows, where we find Fried Egg and Freckled nudibrachs, Green Linckias (Starfish), and Crown of Thorns. On the dives, we see another Honu, Frogfish, and a Day as well as an Ornate Tako. More importantly, between the dives, after snacking on Spinach dip, we take a few minutes to celebrate one of our divers new achievements: Sun completed her 100th Dive! In Kona Aggressor tradition, we reward her by literally "making her a cake." Only those aboard know exactly what this entails, and the hilarity that ensued.
While the guests continue to strengthen the bonds of their new friendships with riveting conversations over corn chowder, grilled chicken tenders, blackened fish, a full salad bar and fruit, we arrive at The Hive. This site is named after a large coral cropping in the shape of gigantic bees nest. The first two outstanding dives here - in which we see Gilded and Wedgetail Triggerfish (the latter, also known as Picasso Triggerfish, being the State fish), a Frogfish, and dozens of Keeltail Needlefish just beneath the surface - provide ample opportunity to become familiarized with the location in preparation for the night dive; night dives here never fail to be optimal, and is why its one of the crews favorite places to conduct them. After dining on grilled pork-chops with guava mustard accompanied with Molokai sweet potatoes and green beans followed by chocolate chip cookie pie, the guests are briefed on how the night dive will be done. We descend together and make our way over the boulders to the black sand before the locales cavern. There, we carefully make sure our fins will not disturb anything, take a knee, press our torches against our chests so that no light escapes, and wait for our eyes to acclimate to the darkness. A minute or two later, we begin to wave our hands, and behold the glow of the phosphorescence emanating from our movements. We then lift off and continue our expedition, circling around the cape where we see Spider Rock Crabs scurrying between the stones shaped and smoothed by the the continuous movement of the waves before penetrating the cavern. Reticulated, Tiger and, Honey Cowries pepper the walls; Sculpted and Ridgeback Slipper Lobsters crawl between the nooks and crannies, and a Yellowmargin Spanish Dancer are all seen. We then return to and scour the area just below the boat, and admire adult and juvenile Titan Scorpionfish, Spiny Brittle Stars, and Marbled and Uniform Hinge-Beak Shrimp.
Wednesday, December 28th
Dive Sites: Peles Playground and Manuka Bay
After awakening to the scents of freshly brewed coffee, baked spinach & cheese frittata, and roasted Portugese sausage, we start the day at Peles Playground. Not to be confused with the greatest soccer player before Lionel Messi dawned cleats for Barcelona and his native Argentina, this site is named after the goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes (often referred to as "Madame Pele" or "Tūtū Pele" out of respect), the creator of the Hawaiian Islands. It takes no stretch of the imagination to grasp why this is a place within her domain, and where she might "blow off some steam," as the pillars of lava rock, outcroppings, fingers, and pinnacles that we explore all bear her fiery fingerprints. Joining us throughout these dives, separated by a surface interval during which we indulge in banana bread that could win any baking contest, are a Honu, Tako, a Dragon Moray, and a White-tipped Reef Mano.
As we lunch on green chile chicken and pork tacos al pastor with homemade salsa and guacamole, we arrive at Manuka Bay. Multiple Devil Scorpionfish are sighted as we make our away to the slopping sand that leads to the deep. There, a Great Barracuda (Kaku) hovers motionless, scanning the see for prey. We head back towards the shore and swim beneath a stationary school of a dozen or two silvery Blackfin Barracuda. We weave beneath the lava formed arches and search the sand alleys where we find a juvenile Rockmover Wrasse, or Dragon Wrasse, which are among the reefs most unusual fish with their filamentous fin extensions and the peculiar way they mimic seaweed as they swim. Just below the boat, a barred moray twists around and within the calcium carbonate, and a Tako buries all but his eyes beneath the rubble.
We dine on Asian pear and cashew salad, herb and garlic shrimp, orzo pasta salad and roasted veggies, and satisfy our sweet teeth with a zesty lemon pie before descending into the dark water for the night dive. Afterwards, Michael, who later revealed that he had silently completed his 1000th dive during our trip, and frequently explored the reef in the evenings with his Night Sea blue light, reported that he had witnessed urchins, which today means "a small mischievous boy" but is derived from the old English word for "hedgehog," spawning: where the males and females simultaneously emit either sperm or eggs that appear like smoke from these miniature chimneys. One could say that the observation was a "diadema in the rough."
Thursday, December 29th
DIVE SITES: Catacombs, Land of Oz, Amphitheater, and Pelagic Magic
As always, for breakfast theres eggs any way one likes, fruit, cereal, and breakfast breads, but everyone seems to be thoroughly enjoying this mornings bacon and waffles. At Catacombs, we plummet into the deep blue, follow the Sunrise east to the shore, climbing a wall comprised of stony coral that looks like an enormous collection of piled bones, and follow the passages between the giant lava formed bulwarks. Most notable among the fish on this dive were a trio of remarkably slender and elongated Bluespotted Cornetfish (Nunu) on the reef, and the dozens of Paletail Unicornfish (Kala lolo) and hundreds of Rainbow Runners (Kamanu) as we return to the ship.
After snacking on moist and chewy oatmeal raisin cookies, the next stop is the Land of Oz, where, the group descends amid schools of Black Durgons and Sgt Majors. Leisurely weaving up and down the sand channel referred to as “the Yellow Brick Road,” we see the many Domino Damsels darting about. There may be no place like home, but no one here wishes they were anywhere else.
Satiated after the afternoons banquet of crab & shrimp gumbo, corned beef and cabbage, salad, and corn bread with honey butter, the next two dives, with quesadillas for anyone who still happens to be hungry between, are at Amphitheater. This site is named for a structure carved in the reef that appears to be were Neptune enjoyed underwater theater. The explorations into the shallower reefs has swim-throughs and yields Christmas Tree Worms, Gold Lace Nudibranchs, a Hawksbill Turtle (Ea "reddish brown" honu ea) and yet another Mano sighting. Another Frogfish is also spotted near the mooring line. The highlight, however, and uncannily fitting for the location, are the sounds of the Kohola opera, as a nearby bull provided a soundtrack, singing us an aria for the duration of the second dive.
We overindulge on mixed green salad, surf and turf (top sirloin and Monchong), and smashed potatoes and broccoli followed by caramelized banana splits. Then its time for our signature “Pelagic Magic” dive. The divers secure their torches so as not to drop them, as no one will be going down more than 5000 feet to recover anything that gets dropped or lost, and then take their giant stride before taking hold of one of the five lines running from the dive platform. Were three miles offshore in the open ocean, observing the worlds largest migration, which happens daily. From the phyllums Cnidaria, Hydra Medusa, Annelids, and Ctenophora, with names like Cubozoa, Lobata, Sea Angels, Sea Butterflies, and Nudibanchia, these dreamlike gelatinous creatures resembling insects and aliens, flash their fluorescent bio-luminescence as they make their way from the Pacifics depths to the surface.
Friday, December 30th
DIVE SITES: Turtle Pinnacle
All things must come to an end, but theres still two dives left on the weeks itinerary. Someone must have told the dolphins, or perhaps they knew intuitively, but, in any case, a pod appeared as we gear up. Turtle Pinnacle is named after the structure near the mooring line and the reptiles that formerly congregated here before a Tiger Shark, Lavern, took up residence in the nearby harbor. Though the beautiful beast is not seen during the dives, a large Yellowmargin Eel, enormous Ocean Triggerfish, and a Longspined Porcupine fish all make appearances. Though rare these days, the last dive concludes with us following a beautiful intermediate Honu, who swims in wide circles and up and down the water column, bidding the Aggressor IIs guests Aloha from Konas splendid reefs, and a happy new year. If 2017 continues any way that 2016 has ended, were definitely going to be starting the year off on the right scuba booty.