just two hours underwater

just two hours underwater by Janice Nigro

I especially love the dive holidays where you can leave home in flip-flops and arrive at the dive destination in flip-flops (or slippahs where I went). Los Angeles to Maui is one version of the flip-flops only necessary dive holiday.

I had a short trip ahead of me, three nights, more for personal reasons than diving. Theoretically I could dive three of the days, but realistically probably only one. I did not hesitate though as to whether I should pack my equipment or not. But I have done it so many times that I know if something is missing because each item has a specific spot in my suitcase or backpack. This includes my camera gear. However, I still had to run through the routine of pre-trip equipment check as it had been over a year since my last dive.

On top of it I had procrastinated, so when it came time to reserve dives with a boat, only one of my three days was available. Although potentially with some extra effort, I would have been able to dive each day from the shore. But I knew the boat I wanted to dive with: Mike Severns.

This group is big on showing you animal behavior rather than running you around underwater showing you a lot of critters. They can find most of what you ask for, for sure, but they would rather show you fewer animals, but ones displaying interesting behavior. Furthermore, some of their people have been there a long time and have their own interesting histories. I have dived with Pauline a few times over the years (although she does not remember me) who has her own obsession with nudibranchs inhabiting Hawaiian waters. Her website is called seaslugsofhawaii, and you will hardly notice it, but she carries a small point and shoot to document new critters that she might find. Our other dive guide/instructor, Warren, used to practice dentistry.

Note to self: it is possible to leave your life of logic for “another way of living,” as someone on a dive boat once said to me.

It is a confusing way to start your dive day. A trip out to Molokini requires an early start time in order to avoid the afternoon trade winds that make the sea rough later in the day. We were up in the dark with the moonlight still above us, and flashlights (thank you iPhone) to fill out our consent forms. But the sun showed up before we left the harbor at the small Kihei boat ramp. The opposite of a night dive (and a bit like a Norwegian winter day on the walk to work).

At this time of the year, the search for marine life begins as soon as the boat leaves the breakwater. Humpback whales are in Maui to give birth, court, and breed from perhaps as early as December through April. Some females will begin their journey back to the north, pregnant and without having eaten a thing for their entire time (months) in Maui.

So you are immediately on the look-out for whales spouting, breaching, or just chilling on the surface on the way out to Molokini. At first you think you are imagining the poofs of water vapor here and there, but once you see a body attached to it, a very long graceful one, and a tail, you realize that what you are seeing is real. Our special treat on the way out was a mother and a calf perhaps nursing at the surface.

Hawaiian waters are not necessarily so warm. Even in summer. I wasn’t happy to have to put on a 7 mm wet suit so near the equator, but below 26°C is too cold for me in 3 mm. Pauline gave me a straight answer when I asked for the temperature, which was even lower than they expected ~20°C. However, 7 kg of weights easily fit into my integrated weight pockets, and I did not need a hood or gloves.

We jumped and made our way down the mooring line to the sandy bottom on the inner side of Molokini. The endemic Hawaiian garden eels as I remembered them welcomed us. Unfortunately with the same behavior as anywhere, as it is impossible to approach them before they discreetly disappear into their sandy hole.

You never know what you will find. Maui for sure is different than coral diverse areas like Raja Ampat, but there is always something on a dive I have never seen. Pauline found the blenny (huge, huge blenny by the way; gargantuan I think) that she had described in the dive briefing; the male would be found with the eggs, which would be yellow if recently laid. And near the end of the dive over the coral reef, something caught my eye. Another eye – an octopus which apparently is not commonly seen there. For all of you Incredibles (a.k.a. Indonesian dive guides), I have been paying attention. In between were colorful fish, mostly the Hawaiian version of something I have seen elsewhere.

You never know what you will be obsessed by. The second dive, Wailea Point, was shallower and more of a macro dive. Pauline had told us that baby frog fish were in season (to view of course) and sure enough, she spotted a bright speck of yellow, smaller than her thumbnail, navigating the sandy bottom. Black sea cucumbers looked as if they had just been randomly strewn about. And as anyone knows, they are a unique habitat, especially for crustaceans, that might be called for example, the sea cucumber crab. Once you turn a sea cucumber over, you have to look quickly before the crab/shrimp slips away to the underside of the animal again.

I found myself behind again photographing…sea urchins. Sea urchins? They are everywhere-black ones, red ones, striped ones. It is a real wonder how the pencil urchins develop, but more of a mystery is how do they move around. They look stuck and you wonder, do they develop in the hole you find them in and are lodged there for life, or do they move around somehow despite their large solid spines? Edward Scissorhands underwater went through my mind.

The real magic of these dives though is something that you can not even see. It is what you hear (or you think you hear): humpback whale songs. They still are going through my head, like an ethereal recording playing in a shop selling incense meant to transform you into a peaceful state. A minor inconvenience is that you have to breathe, which makes an obstructive noise over the background of the whale song. I was told that each whale song lasts 20 minutes, and of course you have no idea exactly how many animals you are listening to at any moment. I wish I had tried to make a video of just anything, even the blue, to prove the music was real.

Time (and air) goes fast under water. When you have only two hours to dive, it seems to go even faster. Before I knew it, my time was up, and I had to drag myself, weights and all, up the stairs behind the dive boat. The sun was out from the clouds and hot by then though, and with a few views of spouting whales on the way back, the trip was not over until we reached the shore. A mere test dive day, perhaps, but packed nevertheless.

©2015 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com

also published on Scubaverse: http://www.scubaverse.com/just-two-hours-underwater-in-maui/

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2 thoughts on “just two hours underwater

    • It was 23C on my computer but the dive guide beforehand told me that at some point the dives were registering around 20C. It is not that warm in the water but it is lovely when you get out. I wish I had had more time especially because of the whales. They are amazing. I love going to Maui even though it is very different than Southeast Asian waters.

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