Look up, look down, look around and remember your fins

Wayne was up and out of bed at 4:30 am.  When I joined him at 5:45, and Matt shortly after, he greeted us with a perky, “Happy morning!”  Matt countered, “Sad morning.”  I kind of have to agree.  Today is our last day on the Ocean Hunter.  Wayne is looking forward to booking the next trip, the dates of which are tentative.  But I’m pretty sure we are coming back.  Tova is brilliant.  I just didn’t realize how so until about 2 days into this trip.  Last year we told her we would be coming back, and bringing two friends, so that we could get a guaranteed three dives a day (you have to have four for the shop to arrange a third dive).  She then suggested returning on Friday when the two live aboard dive ships returned.  We were so impressed that I emailed Jodi and Matt right away.  And happily, they agreed, and we set out on this adventure.

Today holds four dives for us rather than the typical three.  I believe this is because Jellyfish Lake would have been this morning, but Captain Ken’s daughter is graduating, and he needed to be in town as of last night.  The good thing is Ken has confirmed our reservations (with Matt, Jodi, Don and Valerie) for the Taj tomorrow night.  Woo hoo!  

First dive this morning was the Chuyo Maru.  It was a civilian ship conscripted during WW II by the Japanese Navy, used as a supply ship, bombed during Operation Desecrate One during March 30-31, 1944.  There are two anchors lying on the port side of the deck, one of which belonged to the Chuyo, the second belongs to a fishing boat that accidentally anchored onto the Chuyo’s anchor.  Because of the age of the ship, the silt conditions, and the existence of ammunition on the wreck, penetration is considered to be dangerous.  Guess what Wayne did…

We rolled off the sides of our skiff, with a momentary stop to get Wayne’s fins, and then proceeded to the front  of the skiff to descend down the line.  From there we went to the stern, looking at various wildlife and wreckage.  On our return towards the bow, Wayne decided to penetrate the engine room and the kitchen, joining me back forward.  It was about a 3-5 minute swim down to the bow, where we were greeted by a barramundi and two batfish.  Then it was back to check out the masts, observing a crab inside an anemone, and a cascade of translucent smaller fish.  As we moved towards the ascending mast, we passed by cleaner shrimp and a tomato anemone fish.  Nice dive.  My right ear was a little achey at the end of the dive, so I used some outer ear 

Our second dive was at the Iro Maru, probably the most popular wreck in Palau.  The Iro was a fueler/supplier.  On her way from the Philipines to Palau, she was torpedoed by the US submarine Tunny on March 22, 1944, and she continued on to Palau for repairs.  During Desecrate One, she was attacked by air on March 30th, causing a massive explosion in the engine room.  We descended to probably the best conditions we have ever seen on the Iro.  You could see quite a bit in front of you, and the masts are just as impressive as I remember them being the first time I was on the wreck.  The school of jacks at the bow is missing, but we had a school of squid, a juvenile batfish, and a GINORMOUS octopus that flashed multiple patterns and colors as we watched.  Got a picture of Matt at the gun turret, and we headed back.  That was the closest to NDL we got during this trip.  At the safety stop I could hear multiple dive computer alarms going off.  Happily, my ear felt much better, and no treatment necessary post dive, but I did do it again after lunch.

Lunch was a taco bar replete with soft tortillas, hard shells, spicy and mild salsa, rice, ground beef, guacamole, refried beans, sour cream, and the decidedly non Mexican adobo chicken.  Quite tasty, putting Waipahu adobo to shame.  Never thought I would see that day!  We also spent time talking about Saturday activities after getting off the ship, and my mind just went to finding wifi, uploading the fixed up blog, maybe hitting the national museum when the sun is less bright.  Our flight is at 12:20 Sunday morning, so we want the bags downstairs and packed at the DW well before hitting the pillow for a few z’s.

Dive three, post lunch, was the Jake Seaplane, which is believed to have crashed during takeoff or landing after the engine stopped, as its propellers are straight.  The tail section and a pontoon lie to the north of the main body of the airplane, which is filled with many of the original equipment.  We arrived after another private boat was on site, and we waited a few minutes before descending.  The tide was high, and the visibility excellent.  It was easy to see the seaplane, and the separated pieces.  We had to wait a while for people to clear out before getting a good picture of the seaplane.  Then it was time to tool around the shelf.  There was an octopus who appeared to be in a food coma (2 empty crab shells in front of it), a cuttlefish, and a variety of fish nestled in staghorn coral.  Near the end of the ride, I hitched a ride on my bunny around the seaplane.  Nice ending to the dive, most certainly.  When we got back to the ship, we were greeted by soursop smoothies.  I think today is a red letter day for Wayne!

The fourth and final dive of the day was Chandelier Cave.  The cave is made up of five separate chambers, all of which are connected to one another and can be entered.  Four of the caverns have air pockets, and the fifth is completely above water. At the end of the dive, dive guides motion for you to turn off your light, and you exit the cave following ambient light coming in from the entrance.  I will not lie to you and tell you that Wayne and I went in.  I have been in there several times before with him, and each time after the first time I have suffered some sort of barotrauma.  This time, we stayed outside the cave and looked for mandarinfish.  I saw one immediately upon descent, and then another about 10 minutes in.  Then we spent another 40 minutes looking along the wall, but saw nothing more.  There just wasn’t enough rubble.  At about the 50 minute mark, we were back at the opening to the cave, and we went out in the rubble.  The little buggers were everywhere, just not staying in place long enough for a photograph.  We hit almost 1 1/2 hours before getting out and heading back for our final dinner.

We got off the boat, and the staff pulled our gear off, and cleaned it super thoroughly.  I don’t think that even Wayne and I do quite so good a job at rinsing.  I was duly impressed.  This staff has been so professional and thorough, I don’t think that I have ever met a dive boat staff that compares.  My hat off to them.

After we both did our five minute rinses on both ears, we headed down to dinner.  Oh dear, how yummy!  Tuna and mackerel sashimi, vegetable soup (Wayne enjoyed this), pumpkin curry, salad, beef short ribs, bow tie pasta, and okra.  With the exception of the beef short ribs, Wayne was in diver heaven.  He even ate two chocolate souflee with vanilla ice cream (I could only eat a few bites of mine).

Tomorrow is a sad day, breakfast at seven, off the boat at 8:30, settle the bill afterwards.  And then on to our second phase, a few days in Yap.  I will be counting the days until I can come back.