Saturday, 14 March 2009
Saturday the weather never really got better. So far, the weather has been the biggest disappointment really - torrential downpours, and not much sign of the sun. We had a half a day at the Pearl prior to transferring to the live aboard for the next week. The drive took us up to the town of Suvi - although we never got to see Suvi as the dock for the boat was before the town. On arrival the crew brought our gear on board, and we were given the grand tour of the boat.
The Aggressor II is a big boat - over a hundred feet long, accommodating 18 passengers plus the crew. As a single traveller, I was matched up with another single traveller - Dwayne, an air traffic controller from Atlanta. Her seemed like a good guy, and ended up as my dive buddy for the week as well. The ship has three decks, with the dive deck and cabins on the main level, the lounge and kitchens on the second level, and a top deck half in the sun, half out of it for relaxing between dives. But the coolest feature of this ship was the dive boat - a full 26’ dive skiff that gets hauled out of the water on hydraulics, and hung off the back of the main boat. We did all our diving off the skiff, which was different from what I did in Australia. We ended up with a bit of a delay as the last few passengers arrived, and the crew organized some last minute details for the week head. We had the orientation meeting, got settled in out cabins and had a last meal at port. In no time, we were off on our journey north.
And that’s when things started to get a bit... interesting. As I had mentioned, the weather really had not been cooperating, and that continued for our trip out to the dive sites. As we got out from the protected port, the waves started to grow. The ship was getting rocked pretty good - nothing dangerous, but enough that it was tough moving around, and the motion started to get to some people. Now I’m lucky in that I do not get seas sick, but most people are not that fortunate. Within a couple of hours almost everyone was feeling a bit green, and by 8:30 everyone was in bed and asleep (if they could). I gave up and went to bed as well, reading until the motion of the boat put me to sleep.
Abandoned ship, near the port the Aggressor II departed from.
Sunday morning arrived, and the weather was better. We had arrived during the night, and were sheltering in a protected cove, near a small island (there are like >300 islands in Fiji, so finding one isn’t an issue...). The sun was partially out, and I was starting to get that tropics vibe - still not quite what I wanted, but getting there. Dive boat trips are a different type of vacation - it’s very structured. Wake up; eat; dive; snack; dive; lunch; dive; sack; dive; dinner; night dive; sleep. Rinse and repeat. You get into a flow that starts to come pretty easily. After breakfast, it was into the water!
The island we were harbored near was called Makogai Island, and our first dive site was “Becky’s”. The site comprises a pair of pinnacles, along with a cool swim-through tunnel absolute filled with sea fans and soft coral. We did the swim through a couple of times. The fish life here is prolific - the sheer number and variety of small reef fish is mind-blowing; there’s just no way to try and identify everything, and the variety is almost infinite. The colors, especially in the shallows is spectacular - greens and blues and reds; pinks, yellows, oranges, purples - literally every shade of color you can imagine - an some of them so bright and fluorescent that the camera couldn’t even capture the color. Speaking of cameras, when you jump off the boat into the water, you leave the camera on the boat, then come back for it. I was so excited on the first dive that I forgot to go back for the camera, and descended down to the depths.
One of the more common soft corals, in vibrant pink.
I spent close to the full hour (the max we’re supposed to stay in the water, regardless of how much air you have left) on the dive. Some of the highlights included: regal angelfish, bluebarred parrotfish, spotted unicorn fish, solor boxfish, moorish idols an coral groupers. There was also a huge trident trumpet snail - about 2 feet long - and what may be my favorite small reef fish, the threadfin anthia. I’m not sure why I like this little guy so much - a combination of an amazing violet, lots of attitude and sheer numbers. I think I saw them on every dive, and I really came to enjoy watching them at the end of the dives.
Regal angelfish; spot-tail butterfly fish
The second dive, still at Makogai Island, was called “Pin Ball”. The site was made up of a series of four or five pinnacles, absolutely covered with hard and soft coral. I’m guessing the site partially gets it’s name from the fact that you could get bounced off the various pinnacles if the current was racing. On this dive, there was a bit of current, but not a lot. I did remember to bring the camera along on this dive, and so the picture taking began in ernest. There was a ton of life on this piece of reef - both hard and soft coral were in abundance. There were tons of small reef fish, and loads of invertebrates. I spent a lot of time trying to photograph the various butterfly fish - with limited success. There were also a lot of unicorn fish on this dive, and one thing we were told to look out for (and that I did observe) was the fish actually changing color. That was wild! In addition to a lot of the same fish from the previous dive, I was able to add trumpetfish, black spotted puffers and some giant clams. The colors on the clams are amazing.
Butterfly fish; giant clam