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Author Topic: My Kauai Trip  (Read 562 times)

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fisheater

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My Kauai Trip
« on: June 12, 2011, 03:32:32 PM »
The Gear:

My tropical BP/W setup worked great.  (It's a used FredT stainless steel plate, with a new Oxycheq camo 18# wing, new DSS cam bands and harness, with used hardware.)  Laying flat and still anywhere in the water column is such a joy.  It felt like it wasn't even on when I was in the water.

Contrary to my fears, it was very easy to doff at the surface, when I was diving from a small boat for which we had to hand up our scuba units to the captain before climbing in at the stern.

It was also highly unusual, in this land of the vacation-only diver.  Many of the vacation divers asked about it, including one who asked the DM "why doesn't he have a BC?"  However, many of the DMs said, under their breath, "I wish I had one of those, but I have to dive what the shop sells."

While the DMs were in 7 or 8 mil wetsuits and they put their customers into 5 mil full wetsuits, I dove with my 1/2 mil full and a 3 mil shortie.  I never had any warmth issues.

Even though my can light was useless for signaling during the day, as the water was very bright, it was excellent for looking under ledges, exploring lava tubes and, of course, for night diving.  (The DM's lights were a bit out-classed.  I tried real hard not to rub it in.)

The travel weight was an issue, mainly because of the can light.  All my scuba gear, with luggage, almost took up my 50# weight allowance.  So, I put my reg and can light in my carryon backpack.  That left enough weight for a pair of shorts, some shorts (including my NCD shirts) and underwear.

The Dives:

Overall, the dives were excellent.  Hawaii isn't either the Carribbean or the South Pacific.  Many divers are disappointed when they aren't overwhelmed by large schools of bright fish hovering over magnificent, multi-colored coral and sponge formations.  Hawaii is more subtle.  More lava than coral.  There are less fish, but because the Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated in the world, many of the species are endemic, seen nowhere else in the world.

But, if you have the West Coast divers' attitude - "Don't judge a dive by what you don't see; judge it by what you do see," you'll be very pleased.

Except for a short dive (limited to 30 minutes) on a tour / snorkeling adventure, I did all my dives with Fathom Five in Old Koloa Town.  It's an excellent dive op, offering both boat and shore diving (plus beginning through pro-level instruction), with friendly and knowledgeable DM/Instructors.  I very highly recommend them to anyone diving on Kauai.

Tuesday -

Two dives at Koloa Landing.  I met up with Seth, the DM, and did two shores dives at the old Whalers' Cove (where Yankee whalers would haul humpbacks out for processing in the late 1800s).  Seth not only knew all the fish species, which he'd write on his Magna-Doodle, but he would explain fish behavior BEFORE the dive.  For dive one, he explained that parrotfish often break into an urchin and then a reef fish feeding frenzy would ensue.  Sure enough, during the dive there was a parrot fish breaking into an urchin, surrounding by freeloaders.  For dive two, Seth explained that various butterfly fish (raccoons, four spot, millet seed, etc.) would follow us around (as they used to follow the now-endangered Hawaiian monk seals) in the hope that we would inadvertently scare off nesting sergeant-majors and have at their eggs.  Sure enough, on dive two Seth points out the purple splotch on the side of a lava wall and the following butterfly fish were hitting it hard until the sergeant-majors returned to drive them off.  As I wasn't wearing a hood, I could actually hear the fish hitting the rock while sucking up the eggs.  In fact, between breaths, I could hear the whole reef snapping, crackling and popping.  No "Silent World" here!

On these dives, as with all the dives at Koloa Landing, we saw a wide assortment of colorful reef fish, snappers, butterfly fish, antheias, etc..  In addition we saw a devil scorpion and a dragon moray.  Both way cool.  We also saw honus (turtles), scad and the jacks that were hunting them.  We also saw an extremely well camouflaged devil scorpion fish.

Dive 1:

1:10
74F
47 fsw max.
29 fsw ave.
25-30 ft. vis.

Dive 2:

1:11
74F
43 fsw max.
29 fsw ave.
25-30 ft. vis.

That evening, I went on a two tank twilight-to-night boat dive.  Conditions were pretty rough on the surface, with considerable swell and a lot of wind chop.  But, underwater, things were pretty nice.

Dive 1, at a site called "Ice Box," I saw my first white-tip reef shark!  I also watched the DM masterfully handle a diver who panicked just after we'd gotten to depth.  She was just about to bolt (from about 80 fsw) and he grabbed her and held her in position, while getting her to calm down and get her breath under control.  He stayed with her the entire time for our 35 minute dive.

35 mins.
75F
85 fsw max.
62 fsw ave.
50-60 ft. vis.

   Between dives, they fed us pizza (cheese and - of course - Hawaiian).  With the rocking boat, only two of us ate any pizza.

   Dive 2 was full-on dark at a place called "Sheraton Caverns."  We saw more white tips and lots of other fish.   This place is famous for the swim-through lave tubes and sea turtles.  I didn't see any turtles, but I saw one of the weirdest, eeriest things I've ever seen underwater.  They looked like sea snakes, a few feet long, with bands, They were crawling on the lava formations like regular snakes, but their heads were holes with many tentacles surrounding the mouth.  When I'd shine my light on their heads, they'd contract and fall down to the sandy bottom.  Turns out that they are a form of sea cucumber.  Very, very weird.

   I really liked having the can light and it did a great job in the dark, clear water.  

51 mins.
71F
66 fsw max.
47 fsw ave.
50-60 ft. vis.

Wednesday

   I did a two tank boat dive.

   First dive was "Fast Lanes," where we watched four white tip reef sharks lined up and sitting on the sand, under a lava ledge.  One at a time, they would swim up over the lava ridge and under a large school of circling barracuda.  Three to five barracuda would break formation and brush against the shark, supposedly to remove parasites.  Fascinating.

   We also saw lots of large turtles.

36 mins.
74F
92 fsw max.
62 fsw ave.
50-60 ft. vis.

   Second dive of the day was at "3 Fingers," where we saw a wonderful assortment of reef fish, including some larger predators.

45 mins.
73F
60 fsw max.
44 fsw ave.
50-60 ft. vis.

Thursday.

   I was booked to go to Ni'ihau that day, but Fathom Five re-scheduled the trip for Friday, as ocean conditions were very rough, for a crossing that is notoriously rough as it is.  So, I back to Koloa Landing for a couple of shore dives.  

On the first dive, in addition to the now-usual suspects, I saw a dragon eel!  Talk about a fierce looking critter!  When I figure out how, I'll post a picture.

1:04.
74F
39 fsw max.
28 fsw ave.
25-30 ft. vis.

   Dive two, featured - in addition to the usual suspects, a very, very tiny juvenile flounder and a very, very tiny juvenile devil scorpion fish.

1:10.
74F
46 fsw max.
30 fsw ave.
25-30 ft. vis.

Friday

   Today was the big day!

   Even with the delay for the promised "100% better" conditions, it was still rough.  The early morning started with a MASSIVE thunderstorm near our condo.  By the time I was at the dock (a way-too-early-for-a-vacation 6:15 a.m.), it was sunny and warm.  We were served fruit and pastries as we set up our gear and got underway.

   The 45 mile crossing was to be undertaken in a 35 foot, six pack, which guaranteed a fast, but wet and bouncy ride.  The other main dive op, Seasport, was prepping its much larger 48 foot boat (with more than twice as many divers).  Though we both left the harbor at about the same time, the Fathom Five boat was so fast that we had already finished our first dive and reboarded the boat before the Seasport boat arrived.

   A few words about Ni'ihau:  Known as "The Forbidden Island," it has been privately owned by the Robinson family since the mid 1800s.  Only a few native, traditional Hawaiian families live on the island.  No visitors allowed, save for the very few guests of the Robinsons.  No industry.  No commercial agriculture.  No tourism.  No commercial fishery.

   Unlike the lush, tropical Kauai (aka "The Garden Isle"), Ni'ihau is a dessert isle.  So, there is virtually no run off.  And right next to Ni'ihau is Lehua Rock, a very large volcanic crater rising from the sea.  Our dives were around Lehua Rock.

   Hence, Ni'ihau is surrounded by deep, blue water with amazing clarity and an astonishing variety of rare, endemic species, including the Hawaiian monk seal and Hawaiian anthias.  

   Our first dive was on a 300 ft. volcanic wall known as "Vertical Awareness."  The horizontal visibility was 100+ ft. and vertically, who knows?  From the boat we could see details of the bottom at more than 350 ft.  Though surface conditions were still rough, all was peaceful underwater.

   We descended to the mooring line on a plateau at 60 fsw and then explored down the dramatic wall, looking for the endangered Hawaiian anthias, which we found at about 115 fsw.  We had been accompanied by the also-endangered Hawaiian monk seal, too, so we had a great opportunity to see what Hawaii used to look like underwater.

   We worked our way up the wall and onto the plateau, at which time everyone else began their ascent up the mooring line.  As I started, the DM called me back and the two of us looked for more stuff, including a dwarf moray.  (Damn, that was small!)  When I began to run out of air time, we ascended, leading to one of the key memories of my trip.

   Without touching any lines, I'd ascended in good trim up to one of the weighted stern lines and started my safety stop at 15 fsw.  Simply put, I nailed that SS.  I was flat in the water, perfectly neutral without moving a muscle.  I was pointed right at the line and as the current pushed me away, I'd regain position with a couple of slight frog kicks.  Three minutes of stillness, while being able to take in the tremendous vista spread out underneath me.  A priceless moment.

41 mins.
75F
112 fsw max.
61 fsw ave.
100+ ft. vis.

   During our first surface interval, we were joined by a large tourist catamaran that takes sightseers out to Ni'ihau and the Na Pali coast.  It became "marooned" by a large, nasty thunder cell that sat in between us and the Na Pali coast of Kauai.  They couldn't (or wouldn't) go through that to get on to Na Pali.  The cell was strong enough to start drawing wind towards it from where we were, roughing up the already not-so-calm surface conditions.

   Our second dive was at "Ni'ihau Arches," a drift dive through a number of volcanic tubes and arches.  More monk seals, reef fish and a white tip reef shark that got a bit agitated when we inadvertently "cornered" it on lava tube.  (We backed off and it swam away.)  My can light made a great difference here and I was able to look into many a dark corner and see what lived there.

   This was my first live-boat, drift dive.  When it was time for the group to ascend, the DM popped a SMB and we slowly made our way to the surface.  Once there, the boat came over and we split into two groups to grab the lines along her gunwhales and board at the stern.  Very slick operation.

46 mins.
72F
59 fsw max.
42 fsw ave.
100+ ft. vis.

   Our last dive was along "Das Wall," another drift dive with structure, fish and monk seals.  We were also visited by a gray tip reef shark and a number of tuna and other pelagics.

47 mins.
73F
85 fsw max.
46 fsw ave.
100+ ft. vis.

   The ride back was "up hill," so it was a rough, wet, wild bronco ride.  However, it was fast and nothing that a California diver would be too surprised about.  We beat the Seasport boat back by a very large margin.

   All in all, an excellent day of diving in a very unusual environment.

Saturday

   The whole family took a catamaran tour of the Na Pali coast.  It was a five hour tour, including a one hour snorkel session.  As an option, certified divers could do a 1/2, shallow reef dive for only $35 more bucks.  I took the option and did a short, shallow reef dive for 1/2 hour, seeing various reef fish, including the infamous humuhumunukunukuapua'a.  After we all reboarded, the sandwich buffet spread was set out and the bar opened for unlimited mai tais.  

27 mins.
75F
45 fsw max.
26 fsw ave.
20-30 ft. vis.

Sunday

   Took the day off from diving.  After all, it was a family and not necessarily a dive trip.

Monday

   Another early day, this time to drive up to the north shore of Kauai, for the legendary Tunnels Beach.  It's named Tunnels after the tubular waves that the surfers love here during the winter when the north swell abounds.

   Divers love it for the lave tubes running into the inner and outer reefs on the east end of the beach.

   Sightseers and snorkelers love it for the being one of the most gorgeous beaches on the planet, a gentle arc of white sand, backed by lush greenery and picturesque mountains.  (In fact, its the actual place re-named "Bali Hai" in the movie "South Pacific.")

   This was shore diving and, unlike my other shore dives here, this one involved a group of divers.  A group of troubled, worried divers, who'd never dived from a shore, let alone a beach with a (tiny) bit of surf.  One diver got herself so worked up, she couldn't descend and scrubbed both dives.  Another quite after the first dive.

   Vis was the worst I'd seen in Hawaii, but it was mainly due to wave action raising sand, not to mention rototilling divers kicking up the bottom.  Nonetheless, it was great diving in and through the lava tubes.  In addition to a smattering of reef fish and turtles (the DM explained that almost no fish lived here during the winter when the surf was up), I found a very large, brightly colored crab called a seven- eleven crab in one of the tubes.

   First dive was the inner reef and the second dive was the outer reef, working our way back to the inner reef.

Dive 1:

41 mins.
75F
41 fsw max.
34 fsw ave.
20-30 ft. vis.

Dive 2:

51 mins.
75F
54 fsw max.
29 fsw ave.
20-30 ft. vis

Tuesday

   This was my last day of diving, alas.  However, it was very special in that my son, Harrison, decided to do a two tank Discovery Scuba Diving dive at Koloa Landing.  I joined in.

   There were two DSD students, Harrison and a guy on his honeymoon.  His bride was a certified diver and joined us, too.  After an hour-long DSD briefing, we hit the water.  The DSD students did a few skills (ear clearing, mask clearing and reg recovery) and then we went off for an actual, legit dive.  I was very impressed with Harrison, not only did he do his skills with aplomb, but he quickly looked like a seasoned diver - good trim, no dog paddling and generally in control.  (OK, so he did get a bit of pre-dive coaching and in-dive reminders from me.)

   It was wonderful sharing the various critters that I'd become somewhat accustomed to with Harrison, not to the mention the peace and serenity of exploring the underwater world.

Dive 1:

49 mins.
75F
35 fsw max.
17 fsw ave.
30-40 ft. vis

Dive 2 (which featured a dragon moray!!):

47 mins.
75F
37 fsw max.
26 fsw ave.
30-40 ft. vis


Overall:

   I'm SO glad that I'm a California diver!

   When I went to Kauai the other time, I'd just been certified in Monterey and had one North Coast Divers dive (to a whopping 12 fsw for whole 28 minutes).  I was sitting with my AOW instructor from Fathom Five at Koloa Landing and explained that  "I'm not very good at this.  Though my OW instructor said I was doing OK, I have buoyancy issues, sometimes getting sucked up to the surface from 10-15 feet."  She asked where I'd been certified and when I told her, she said "Oh, don't worry about it.  You're already a much better diver that most of these people here."  "You don't understand," I responded.  "No, YOU don't understand," she retorted.

   She was right!  There, I was a buoyancy God.

   Now that I'm a fair-to-middling California diver, the difference between my skills and control and the rest of the tourist divers was shockingly wide.  I've never seen so much dog paddling, roto-tilling and general lack of control from certified divers.  What was most depressing about it, is that they didn't seem to know or care about being better divers.

   The dive op folks noticed, too.

   On the way out to Ni'ihau, the DM (who turned out to be the owner of Fathom Five) engaged me in a long conversation on dive table and dive computer theory, from the original U.S. Navy tables to the latest Reduced Bubble Gradient Model.  Thankfully, I'm a dive nerd and could follow along and contribute a bit to the conversation.  Then, he asked me where I'd gotten my commercial diving certification.

   Huh?  Where'd THAT come from?

   He explained that he'd heard from some of the other DMs that I was a commercial diver.  I certainly had never said that, so it must have been from my diving.  

   In another incident, on our second dive at Tunnels, the DM must have hit her first stage on an overhang in the long lava tube we were exploring, because she had a free-flow between her first stage and the tank orifice.  She swam right past two other paying customers to come to me for assistance.  (I couldn't fix it without removing the first stage, so we ascended together and I fixed it at the surface.)

   I'm so grateful for all of the more-experienced California divers, especially those in NCD, who have generously "shown me the way."  Thanks.
-- Fisheater

I love the smell of neoprene in the morning.

fisheater

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Re: My Kauai Trip
« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2011, 01:15:22 AM »
Devil Scorpion Fish



Dragon Eel



Harrison's DSD

-- Fisheater

I love the smell of neoprene in the morning.

ZKY

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Re: My Kauai Trip
« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2011, 09:47:12 AM »
Wow, great report! a very loooooong report.
It took me a while to get through it.

Did you run across any Halemano's while you were there?

zinmaker

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    • North Coast Conditions
Re: My Kauai Trip
« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2011, 10:15:33 AM »
Sounds like a fun trip! 
I've never dove Kauai, only one trip to Maui, didn't think the diving compared to the carribean.  Do you need a Divemaster to do a shore dive on the island?  I'm asking because on the island of Cozumel in Mexico, you need or are required to have a Divemaster to dive in the Marine park. 

scubajunkee

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  • 20FT VIZ, 50F, KELP... A GREAT DIVE!
Re: My Kauai Trip
« Reply #4 on: June 14, 2011, 10:46:35 AM »
Awesome dive report Oren. My first dive in Hawaii was also in Kauai with Fathom Five Divers.  They're a great bunch of divers and being a smaller operation than Seasport, they were more service oriented. Local Hawaii DMs do notice CA divers with the good trim buoyancy skills etc. I almost sold my Freedom plate in Hawaii to my tour DM, but he changed his mind after the dive. He was a vintage diver and saw how the Freedom plate was modeled after the old backpacks of yesterday.

Man, I need to go diving!

Ericson
48F, 20ft viz, kelp... a perfect dive!

fisheater

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My Kauai Trip
« Reply #5 on: June 14, 2011, 11:22:57 AM »
Thanks, guys.

No Halemanos!  The DMs who discussed my rig all wanted one, but were limited to diving the poodle jackets (including the i3 with the "elevator button" - one of which malfunctioned at Ni'iahau, necessitating oral inflation) that the dive op was selling in the shop.

Erik:  The DM with the i3 failure was the owner. Maybe you could sign him up as a Freedom Plate dealer. Your trips out there would be, of course, tax deductible. :-)

There's no NEED for a dive guide for shore dives and Fathom Five will rent you anything and everything you need. However, I wasn't traveling with a dive buddy and couldn't detect any local diving "scene" from which I could arrange for a buddy. Besides, I'm enough of a fish nerd that it was worth the money for me to have my own private DM pointing out fish ID and behavior. I would have missed most of the cool stuff had I been "on my own."

Tunnels is considered a dangerous dive without a DM. However, I think an experienced and thoughtful NCDer would not likely have issues without one. Vacation-only divers would likely get themselves in serious trouble.






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-- Fisheater

I love the smell of neoprene in the morning.

carolswims

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Re: My Kauai Trip
« Reply #6 on: June 15, 2011, 05:23:03 PM »
Great read!  Thanks, Oren!

 


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