December 31st – January 7th, 2017
Air Temp. 82-87 F
Water Temp. 77 F
Wetsuit Recommendation: 3-5mm
Captain: Cliff Muse
2nd Captain: Chad Dolbeare
Video Pro/Instructor: Brent Goudreau
Instructor: Manuel Lassaletta
DiveMaster: Shelby Penn
Chef: Cameron Smay
Cindy Suzanne Williams
Sunday, January 1st
DIVE SITES: Shark Fin Rock and Garden Eel Cove
When our visitors finish their corn beef hash and banana pancakes and step outside to behold 2017s first Sunrise, the name of our first destination, Shark Fin Rock, makes perfect sense. The monolith bearing an uncanny resemblance to the dorsal fin of a Megalodon (a prehistoric relative of todays sharks, or Mano in Hawaiian) breaks the surface of the white-tipped waves near the coast. Here, the guests utilize the first opportunity to check their buoyancy, adding and subtracting weight as needed to attain neutrality, and get accustomed to any new equipment they have brought along for the weeks excursions along the Big Islands sheltered lee. The first Eel (all known as Puhi in old Hawaii, whether Moray, Conger, or Snake), a Green Moray, is seen on the starboard side just below the stern. Moorish Idols; Orangeband and Orange Spine Surgeonfish; assorted colors of Nunu (Trumpetfish), Arc-eye Hawkfish, and Leopard and Spotted Coral Blennies watch as the Aggressors passengers acclimate to their new aquatic environment. After snacking on blueberry muffins, we venture further from the ship, and the divers see pairs (long-term mates if not lifelong companions) of Long-nose, Threadfin, and Pennant Butterflyfish; and happen upon a Jolly Green Giant - Miamira Sinuata - so rare the unusual slug is considered a Holy Grail to Hawaiis nudibranch hunters.Afterwards, we warm up with bowls of chicken noodle soup, and enjoy sourdough grilled cheese as well as Rueban sandwiches accompanied by pasta salad with Calamata olives, banana peppers, basil and feta on our way to Garden Eel Cove. There, we observe Flame angels; Ornate and Raccoon Butterflyfish; and Belted, Shortnose, and Surge Wrasses; Puhi (which, with the exception of Congers, have evolved to lack fins as well as scales, which would only impair their movement in confined cracks and crevices) peek out from the pristine reef that slopes downwards into a sandy bottom where schools of Soldierfish and Yellowfin Goatfish gather. Georgia, whos achieving her Adventures in Diving (Advanced Open Water) certification, completes her requisite Deep Dive here. Around 100 feet, under controlled conditions, she discovers how her body happens to react to Nitrogen Narcosis. Her studies have taught her that physiologically, she is in no danger, so she relies on her training, slowly ascends a few meters, and her symptoms subside. Returning to the sandy bottom, she gets first hand experience noting changes in color, compression, compares depth gauges, and giggles as she and the Instructor break open and pass the contents of eggs back and forth, spinning them in many whirlpools made by the movement of our fingers, sips soft drinks through a straw at 30 meters, and retakes a physical/cognitive test to see how the time it takes to complete the task differs here from when she took it at the surface.
A delicious dinner consisting of a mixed green salad, grilled Tuna with red pepper coulis, brown rice with kale, caramelized onions and mushrooms, and chocolate brownie sundaes precedes the last dive of the day, Manta Mayhem. The divers kneel or lay in the sand as four of these magnificent creatures repeatedly circle, majestically maneuvering up and down, mouth agape as they feed 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 Mantas continue feasting, providing our group with our own private viewing. Afterwards, we sip hot cocoas, trying to articulate what just happened and reviewing newly captured footage to verify that the phenomenal experience was real, and not just a dream.
Monday, January 2nd
DIVE SITES: Aquarium and The Dome
Smoked salmon and goat cheese omelets await our early risers as we make our way to the aptly named Aquarium. In addition to the sheer quantity of sea life swimming around us on all sides, this place is particularly photogenic now, as the Sunrise sends its rays into the shallows swim-throughs. As serene as it seems, however, the champagne bubbles serve as a warning to what locals refer to as "Suck em up," so our divers are informed not to get too close when they see such effervescence. We see Yellowtail Coris (Hinalea akilolo, or "brain biting," since this fish was used to treat mental disorders) take urchins in their jaws and throw them sideways into rocks to remove spines before eating them, a Stout Moray, a 7-11 Crab, and a White-tipped Mano sleeping in the reef. After snacking on white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies, we pause to take note of two special milestones, Clevelands 800th dive and Garys 60th birthday! During the second submergence at the site, we see two octopuses (Tako), Scrawled Filefish, a Longspine Porcupinefish and a Peacock Flounder. Yellow Spotted Guard Crabs, a Hawaiian Swimming Crab, a Hawaiian Stromb Shell, and Brittle Stars are discovered within different Antler Coral. We swim through enormous schools of Unicorn fish and Keeltail Needlefish as we break the surface after our safety stops.
The next destination is The Dome, named for the cathedral-like structure in which we see Gold Lace, White Margin and Blue Dragon Nudibranchs along the walls covered in Cnidarians, polyps of Orange Cup Coral. Between dives, we dine on a delectable lunch consisting of roasted squash soup, Reiyaki beef, char su chicken wings, fried rice and fruit, and devour a dinner of garden salad, curry roasted leg of lamb, lentils and roasted vegetables, and Asian pear crumble for dessert. Georgia completes her Fish Identification Adventure Dive here, and identifies more than 25 different species within the 12 fish family groups, including Four Spot Butteflyfish, Blue-Spotted Cornets, Bullethead Parrotfish, Pearly Squirelfish, two Frogfish, Whiteline Triggerfish, and a White-tipped Mano.
Tuesday, January 3rd
DIVE SITES: Paradise Pinnacle and Manuka Bay
Our mooring line is located atop the peak of the structure for which this site is named, Paradise Pinnacle. On the first dive, we descend to the base and circle it, swim south, passing over garden eels that stretch from the sand forming what appears to be two foot question marks. Before heading towards the shore, we stop at "Mini me," a smaller replica of the pinnacle, where we see Freckled, Gold Lace, and Fried Egg Nudibranchs and pause to inspect the black coral and locate the Longnose Hawkfish that resides there. We make our way to the shallows, where we see an octopus (Tako), and a myriad of puffers: a Spotted Pufferfish, a Hawaiian White Spotted Toby, and a crowned Toby. The dive concludes as we ascend among a school of Pyramid Butterflyfish.
With 27 dives, memories of even amazing ones here on the Kona Aggressor II can quickly and easily merge together. However, todays second visit at Paradise Pinnacle is one of those indelible moments that will forever be etched in our minds. Approximately five to ten minutes after the group descended, a word we all hope to hear when we are near the ocean is heard coming from the Sun deck, and from the top of Stephans lungs in his endearing Germanic accent: "WWWHALLLESSHHHAARRKKKK!!!!!" It only took a few moments for anyone not already in the water to grab a camera and/or dawn their gear and get in. The gentle giant, likely an adolescent despite already measuring at least 15 to 20 feet in length, curiously and casually circles just in front of the dive deck, dips down about five to ten meters where it seemingly sashays down an aquatic cat-walk for photo ops, and then departs into the deep blue. Everyone had ear-to-ear grins while recounting individual accounts of the encounter with the worlds largest fish over beef short ribs, BBQ chicken, ranch style beans, corn on the cob, and corn bread with honey butter.
Our last destination of the day is Manuka Bay. We weave beneath the lava formed arches and search the sand alleys for 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. Before the next dive, while snacking on duck quesadillas with Poblano peppers, black beans, and sheeps milk feta cheese, a pod of Spinner Dolphins appear, prompting a number of guests to grab snorkel gear and join them. After a supper of Caesar salad, grilled shrimp with herb pesto, couscous and vegetables, and chocolate chip cookie pie, its time for the night dive. During this evenings nocturnal excursion, we observe Light-spotted cucumbers, Fishers Stars, Red Swimming Crabs, Marbled and Hinge-beak Shrimp, a gigantic Horned Helmet, Convict and Sailfin Tangs, and a Yellowmargin Moray on the hunt as we watch from above during the safety stop. The most difficult element of this dive to articulate was the sound of a Humpback Whale bull eerily moaning a lullaby to the rest of the sea, which we heard from the darkness when we were in close proximity to the wall.
Wednesday, January 4th
Dive Sites: Stony Mesa, Land of Oz, and The Hive
After awakening to the scent of freshly brewed coffee, Italian sausage, hash browns, and eggs your way, we start the day at Stoney Mesa. Cindy ascends excited, not only about capturing a photo of a Flame Angelfish as she had desired, but also a fish none of the crew has ever seen or of which we had even heard. Certain of her discovery, she scours the identification material while enjoying Chef Cams coconut cameroons, and confirms the rare species as a Dusky Angelfish.
At Land of Oz, an Albatross, sitting on the surface, careens its neck to see the group, especially Brian, descend amid schools of Black Durgons and Sgt Majors. Leisurely gliding up and down the sand channel referred to as “the Yellow Brick Road,” our divers see the many Domino Damsels darting about. There may be no place like home, but no one here wishes they were anywhere else, and another milestone is celebrated with a sign and underwater photos of Cindy and Thomas celebrating their 30th, or Diamond, anniversary.
Todays lunch is comprised of chicken and corn soup, open faced crab melts, beef & Portobello mushroom pasta, green salad, and fruit. By the time the meal is finished, weve arrived at The Hive. This site is named after a large coral cropping in the shape of gigantic bees home. 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), and two perched Frogfish, the larger of the two seemingly pregnant and on the precipice of exploding. After dining on gnocchi with duck confit, chicken picatta, potatoes & mixed vegetables, chocolate cake and banana splits, its time for the night dive at one of the Big Islands premier locations. As one group begins, Georgia, eager to fulfill her performance requirements, takes the lead and sets the lubber line of her compass towards the locales cavern. She descends using a line as a reference, communicates with hand signals and her torch, maintains buddy contact, and navigates her way to the cave and back to the boat. During the dive, we spot Sculpted Slipper, Tufted Spiny, and Red Reef Lobsters; Flat Rock and Thin-shelled Crabs; and Reticulated, Tiger and, Honey Cowries.
Thursday, January 5th
DIVE SITES: Au Au Crater, Amphitheater, and Mantaville
The guests awake to Blueberry pancakes and bacon before beginning todays dives at 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. During the pre-dive briefing, a Humpback whale flamboyantly displayed its fluke. The divers climbed back aboard talking of having seen turtles (Honu), a Tako, a Titan Scorpionfish, Dragon Wrasse, and a Hammerhead Mano. Many agree its been the best dive so far.
After snacking on oatmeal raisin cookies, the next stop is Amphitheater, where a carved reef appears to be where Neptune enjoyed underwater theater. The explorations into the shallower reefs has lava formed swim-throughs, and another Honu joins us for a portion. An Undulated Moray and two more Takos are observed.
We lunch on Tacos as we make our way to Mantaville for the evenings Manta Mayhem Part II. Before the main event, Georgia finishes her course by completing her 5th Adventure Dive, Peak Performance Bouyancy. Not a baby diver by any means before starting the course, as she was already Nitrox certified and had logged over 100 dives, her course still proved both formidable and effective, none more so than her final challenge. Already, she had dropped weight throughout the course of the trip, having started with 14 lbs and managing to cut in by more than half! Before making a calm, controlled five-point descent, she practiced visualization and breathing patterns and performed a buoyancy check. In the sand, she practiced her Fin Pivots, and hovered in various positions before working on her kick-kick-glide, frogkick, kicking backwards, and back-finning. The true test, however, were the bouyancy games, in which she followed the leader, forwards, upside down, spinning, and over and through the hoop, and using her lungs to rise and fall in order to knock over weights with her regulator. As the dive concluded, the evenings first Manta Ray stopped by to congratulate her on the amazing improvement shed displayed.
After a supper of mixed green salad, seared beef tenderloin with Kalbi sauce, sweet potato mash, bok choi, and lemon pie, the guests return to the water, and once again, spend almost an hour in awe as one after another marvelous Manta Ray approaches each of the divers within inches, repeatedly.
Friday, January 6th
DIVE SITES: Turtle Pinnacle