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December 17-24, 2016
Air Temp. 82-87 F
Water Temp. 78 F
Wetsuit Recommendation: 3mm
Captain: Matt Herwig
2nd Captain: Cliff Muse
Instructor: Manuel Lassaletta
Video Pro/Instructor: Brent Goudreau
Dive Master: Cameron Smay
Chef: Kevin Bennett
Sunday, December 18th
DIVE SITES: Shark Fin Rock and Garden Eel Cove
Following the previous evening’s barbeque dinner, safety briefing, and introduction to the crew and other guests, and starting the morning with Hawaiian bread French Toast, sausage links, and fresh fruit, the divers are eager to get into the water. We begin at Shark Fin Rock, named after a monolith breaching the waves that bears a distinct resemblance to its namesake. The guests utilize the opportunity to check their buoyancy, adding and subtracting weight as needed to attain neutrality, and getting accustomed to any new equipment they have brought along for the week’s excursions along the Big Islands sheltered lee. In addition, a pair of Argentine brothers, Lautaro and Santiago, take their first breaths in the ocean as they perform skills they’d recently learned in confined sessions. It’s said that visiting the ocean and not scuba diving is like going to the circus and not entering the big tent, and this duo is continuing their quest to become certified divers, and ascending with eyes wide in astonishment. Assorted varieties and colors of tangs, trumpet fish, and blennies watch as the Aggressor’s passengers explore their new aquatic environment. A second dive at the location ventures further from the ship, and the divers are privy to different species of eels, Tinkers Butterfly fish (a tyoe of Butterfly not often encountered as it’s suffered the effects of the aquarium trade), and a White-tipped reef shark.
Satisfying the hunger after the first two dives, the guests enjoy a warm bowl of Corn Chowder, Ruebens and Chicken Salad sandwiches, and potato salad. As the meal concludes, we’ve arrived at Garden Eel Cove, where the sloping reef descends into a sandy bottom. Here, we observe schools of Big Eyes and Goatfish gathered near the sand, white mouth eels peeking from the pristine reef that’s protected from southern swells, Flame angel, parrotfish, raccoon butterfly fish, and many types of colorful wrasses. As the divers return to the ship during the second dive, a Manta Ray arrives to the location, a harbinger that the final dive here following a dinner of grilled Mahi Mahi with pineapple salsa, coconut rice, and mixed vegetables, will be a memorable one. The last dive of the day, Manta Mayhem, doesn’t disappoint. 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 site’s other visitors depart halfway through the dive, but the Manta continues feasting, providing us with our own private viewing. Afterwards, we sip hot cocoas, and try our best to articulate just how phenomenal the encounter that we were fortuitous to experience was.
Monday, December 19th
DIVE SITES: Kalokos Arches x2, Driftwood, the Dome
Aquarium and the Dome
Macadamia nut pancakes and bacon
Vegetable soup, grilled tri tip beef, baked Ling fish pasta salad and fruit
waldorf salad grilled pork tenderloin with herb sauce, roasted carrots and feta cheese mashed potatoes puff pastry with berries and cream
Scorpion fish, two mantas, gold lace nudi, spotted eagle ray, Octopus (tako), ghost shrimp in lava tube
baby lobster, Red stripe pipefish, 2 Frogfish, bearded Cask Eel
Day two continues our aquatic adventures at Aquarium. After Dive Master Brian includes a description of the spotted boxfish in the morning’s first briefing, the divers are fortuitous to encounter a sighting of the rare and beautiful male specimen. A Giant Moray and difficult to find Devil Scorpion fish are also spotted. The next dive features a playful octopus almost immediately after descent. Yellowtail Coris, bird wrasse, and a handful of Blue spotted Cornet fish aligned in formation are all seen. Just before the safety stop, a Panther Flounder ripples through the water like a flying magic carpet before settling on some ruble and seemingly disappearing from sight as it instantaneously blends into the rocks.
The next destination is The Dome. Here, the divers delightfully explore the cathedral-like structure after which the site is named. Torches shine on White Margin nudibranchs that gather in groups along the walls. During the night dive, we’re careful not to disturb the creatures that have settled into slumber like the Many bar Goatfish and the Parrotfish encased in their nightly bubbles. Giant Porcupine fish, Stripe belly Puffers, and Cask Eels wander among Stubborn Sea Cucumbers and Hemp rich’s Stars. The excursion culminates with the divers forming a tight circle, hiding the light from our torches, and, following a few moments in order for our eyes to adjust, begin waving our hands frantically, setting the sea’s phosphorescence aglow from our fingertips like magicians waving enchanted wands. A juvenile Starry Night Octopus scurries beneath us as we make our way back to the ship.
Throughout the day, Chef Say is up to his tricks, preparing dishes like hot pastrami sandwiches, a selection of flavored chicken wings, fresh Maui, and his magnificent chocolate chip cookie pie. Whispers among the guest can be heard heaping praise on the concoctions, some wondering if the delectable treats might even surpass the incredible diving.
Tuesday, December 20th
DIVE SITES: Paradise Pinnacle Au Au x2, the Hive
Rob’s Reef, Paradise Pinnacle, and The Hive
Long nose hawk fish, gold lace nudi, frogfish, titan scorpionfish and turtle (Honu
Waffles Portuguese sausage
spinach and broccoli soup, Italian meatloaf, cheese stuffed pasta shell, three bean salad and garlic bread
Cornish hens with piccata sauce sauté broccoli and onions brown rice pilaf and caramel pecan cheesecake
It’s not yet midweek, yet the guests with fewer dives or those who hadn’t been diving in some time are showing remarkable improvement due to each of the more than capable instructors’ patient and enthusiastic tutelage. Those who had originally been nervous entering the water or had descended slowly, now do so more confidently and efficiently, arms tucked close, streamlining their trim as hands no longer scully with fingers apart. More attention is diverted from concern, and is now focused, still cautiously, where it belongs, on the many mysteries the Pacific reveals as we glide through the water inspecting in awe. An example of hubris, some of the diving today reminds us of the importance of acknowledging one’s limits, the benefits of diving with experienced Dive Masters familiar with the local sites and variety of possible conditions, and the respect we must always give to Poseidon’s domain.
The morning’s first two immersions are at Rob’s Reef. Here, many of the divers decide to wander off in buddy pairs on their own, as they are always welcome do. They explore the two lava ridges and vast gardens of finger corals; but it’s not until the second dive, when they follow their guide, that they arrive to the site’s cave.
The next dive is at Paradise Pinnacle, and though there’s a moderate current, the conditions cause many of the divers to use more of their air much faster as they expend more energy kicking against the current during the start of the dive and breathing heavier and more rapidly from the excitement. There’s never trouble in paradise however, as the Dive Master briefed that were this to be the case, an augmented plan would go into effect; following the sage advice, the divers descend to inches from the bottom and use the pinnacle as a shield as they make their way to calmer waters protected by the natural fingers of the shallower reef. Orange band Surgeonfish, Orange spine and White margin Unicorn fish continue among the various colored Cushion Starfish as though it were business as usual.
At The Hive, the guests use the first dive to familiarize themselves in order to avoid unfamiliarity during the evening’s night dive. This amazing site offers a plethora of new creatures: a Tiger snake Moray, a Titan Scorpion fish much larger than ones one’s likely to see elsewhere, Ghost and Marbled Shrimp, Red Rock Lobsters, a sizeable 7-11 Crab, and an endemic variety of Lionfish referred to as the Turkey fish.
It being Taco Tuesday, the menu continued to widen eyes as well as stomachs: smoked salmon and goat cheese omelets for breakfast; beef as well as stewed chicken tacos and fresh ceviche induced an afternoon siesta; but it was the supper consisting of tossed Caprese salad, grilled pork chops with passion fruit mustard, and poached pears with mascarpone and dark chocolate that had everyone deciding that Chef May was indubitably preparing the best meals they had ever had on a boat, and perhaps, anywhere else.
Wednesday, December 21st
DIVE SITES: Land of Oz,
Land of Oz, Catacombs, and Manuka Bay
Ham and cheese omelets,
cream of mushroom soup, grilled lamb sandwiches turkey wraps and greek salad
crab and corn fritters
Caesar, grilled salmon with roast pepper sauce, green beans, mashed cauliflower
Today’s first plunge is into the Land of Oz, where the group stays together in one collective unit, pointing out the many Domino Damsels of which they were briefed in advance, and leisurely weaving up and down the sand channel referred to as “the Yellow Brick Road.” Unlike the novel and/or film, no one here wishes they were home.
The next two dives take place at the Catacombs, where the divers descend amongst a huge school of black triggerfish before practicing their buoyancy control investigating the endless amount of subterranean passageways. Following the first dive, the boat celebrates a passengers 500th dive by literally, but not necessarily the way one would expect, by “making her a cake.”
As the ship approaches Manuka Bay, a pod of Spinner Dolphins welcome our arrival, breaching the surface and staying in close proximity for photo opportunities. The divers scout the location in preparation of the night dive, and thread through arches amongst Picasso triggerfish. The last dive turns out to be an emblematic example evening’s changing of the guard. The eyes of dozens of Uniform Hinge-Beak Shrimp glow read as torches pass over them, Spiny Lobsters are out in force, and the Long spine Urchins, a wide selection of varieties from the family Diadema, are out in legion. The divers witness two different Yellow head Morays hunting, capturing, and devouring their prey.
Tomorrow might be Thanksgiving, but the gastronomical delights continue as Chef Smay tantalizes our taste buds with Hawaiian Bread French toast for breakfast, herb crusted baked salmon, grilled lamb chops and homemade macaroni and cheese for lunch. No one goes hungry on this boat, as Spearfish comes off the grill for dinner, served with roasted gold pepper coulis, and quinoa salad with kale, mixed mushrooms, and asparagus followed by coconut white chocolate crème brulee.
As the guests settle into their rooms to rest up for tomorrow’s celebration, it’s crystal clear that the only limits on the Aggressor II are those of decompression.
Thursday, November 24rd
DIVE SITES: Never Never Land, Au Au Crater, Driftwood, and Pelagic Magic
After waffles and chicken garlic sausage, Thanksgiving begins at Never Never Land, named for the uncommon deep faring Tinker Butterfly fish. From the mooring line, the divers kick against a formidable current as they look down at a drastic drop-off. We head north to the pinnacle, passing Clearfin Lizardfish perched and motionless upon the many large boulders. Returning to the ship is effortless as we return to the ridge, drift, and watch the canyon that slopes and blends into an abyss pass beneath us while a curious Oceanic White tip shark simultaneously watches us from the pelagic.
The next site is Au Au Crater, a site with a unique topography: a massive amount of earth, approximately 100 feet across, starting at 30 feet and extending into what appears to be an unfathomable pit, appears to have been scooped away. Nudibranchs line the walls as the divers search for them while keeping an eye on the depth and deco times.
After Balinese Chicken with Peanut Sauce, pork belly adobo, stir fried vegetables, and a cucumber salad, the afternoon is spent at Driftwood, threading the two swim-throughs and its couple of caverns. Here Ghost Shrimp, Regal Slipper Lobsters, and Tiger Cowries are all located and identified. On the way back to the boat, a few divers play pick-a-boo with a Day Octopus.
Naturally, we the guests feast on roasted Tom Turkey, molasses and mustard glazed ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, roasted brussel sprouts and cranberry sauce. Over pumpkin pie, the guests watch a video of collected footage from throughout the week, as well as a second video with examples of what they might witness during the Pelagic Magic dive.
Once briefed, the divers take their giant stride, descend, and take hold of one of the four lines running from the diving platform. We’re three miles offshore in the open ocean, observing the world’s largest migration, which happens daily, as these dreamlike jelly creatures, some with fluorescent coloring, others resembling insects and aliens, make their way from the Pacific’s depths to the surface. Some more familiar creatures whose paths we cross are a squadron of squid, bar jacks, and a few Ocean Triggerfish.
Friday, November 25th
DIVE SITES: Turtle Pinnacle
The final day of diving, the guests enjoy Eggs Benedict as the Aggressor II makes its way to Turtle Pinnacle. The first of two dives is planned to head from the wall to the shallows in hopes of seeing the resident Tiger shark. Though the beautiful beast is not seen, an Octopus swims next to the divers, displays his ability to change from red to green, and back again. The star of this dive, however, is an enormous Hawaiian Conger, which was either pregnant and on the verge of giving birth, or had just eaten even more than we had the day before.
The inevitable, ultimate plunge takes place, this time the group making a large rectangle, first heading south. An Orangemouthed Lizardfish, another octopus, a Spotted Boxfish, scorpionfish, and a Zebra and mother and child Whitemouthed Moray all make appearances and send off the Aggressor II’s guest bidding them Aloha from Kona’s splendid reefs.