Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Scuba Dude

Two dives in two days.
This time... back to Makena Landing.

Before gearing up, we have a lesson on land, learning:
  • how to read the codes on the scuba tanks, and what it means
  • how much weight to put on your belt and the knots to keep them on
  • how to attach the BC to the tank and high pressure test the hoses
  • reading the depth gauges, and pressure indicators
  • how to inflate and deflate your BC to find neutral buoyancy
  • what tests/skills we will be doing on the ocean floor
Walking from the parking lot to our gear (masks, fins, etc..) is a challenge, and soon after we made it, Makena tipped over.  We laughed about it as Steve, her dad, helped her back up.

I've fallen, and I can't get up!

We got our toothpaste in our masks, fins in our hands and headed to the beach.  Luckily for you, Kyle was there to document it all in technicolor (on his phone).

We walked into the ocean, put our fins on and rinsed out our masks.  I was looking around as I did this, scanning the water for the shark I had seen last week, since we were standing in the very spot I had seen it.  I saw some Goatfish and a Humuhumunukunukuapua'a... but no shark.


We floated out to the deep on our backs, conserving our air and enjoying the cool refreshing water.  I kept sneaking peeks into the water, checking out the reef as we passed over a colorful, live stretch.  We dove down to about 30 feet and followed the dive instructor (Dave) as he flanked the reef on his right.  Within minutes, we saw our first turtle, cruising down towards us from the surface.  It came a few feet from us, looked us over and swam away.
Then we came upon a fish that was swimming weirdly, right above the bottom.  As I got closer, I noticed that the fish was hooked in a fishing line and that the line itself was caught in a rock on the bottom.  Dave took a knife out of somewhere and cut the fish loose.  It swam off without even thanking us.  It looked like this (but with a lip piercing):

Butterfly Fish

We saw long Trumpet fish and Needle fish:

Makena found the smallest Sand Dollar I have ever seen.  She handed it to me to put in my pocket and I was amazed how small it was.  It was actually smaller than this one, and it did not have a hole.

We eventually settled into an area of sparse sandy knolls.  Dave gathered us together and I figured it was time for us to do our skills tests.  First we had to remove our regulators from our mouths and put it back in, without drinking a lot of yummy ocean water.  Then, we had to let the regulator fall behind us so we had to reach back and find it, and return it to our mouths.  By puffing quickly into it as you put it in your mouth, you can avoid slurping much water. No problem.
The next test involved flooding your mask and clearing it of water.  With contact lenses, there is an added difficulty of having to close your eyes during the process, but I was able to do it without much drama.  Then we had to completely remove our masks and replace it and clear it, which I was glad to get done.
The last skills involved taking off the weight belt, then the BC, and replacing them.  We also had to do the same tests at the surface on the way back. All were doable.

While we sat on the bottom, stirring up the sand, a turtle came over to us to check us out (much like sitting on the grass in a park when a dog comes by to investigate). It peered at the group of us, seemed unimpressed and moved on towards the surface.
As it swam away, I watched it, and saw something I had never seen before. Again, like a dog in a park, the turtle took a crap... and three dog-like turds floated slowly towards the bottom.  I pointed at it and when the girls and Dave saw it, they laughed.  Dave swam to the turds, and surprisingly caught one in his hand.  Right away, my mind raced with potential hazing scuba initiation rites... I tried to think about what he was possibly going to do with the turtle doo.
Jesse, the other dive instructor, had two ladies (one of which was wearing a thong) that he was doing skills tests with and they were together in a small circle.  Jesse did not see Dave as he slowly swam above him and let the turtle poo go.  It floated like a feather, slowly sinking in front of his face, missing his nose by mere inches.  Jesse lurched and immediately looked for the poopetrator, only to find his buddy Dave, smiling, doubled over in undersea laughter.  He swam over to us demanding high fives, beaming with pride.

We continued following the reef around until we came upon some caves, carved into the bottom, around 35 feet deep.  Dave went first, pointing into a dark corner.  Leslie and Makena were close behind him and soon, they too, were pointing emphatically.  I knew what was there before I saw it, so I wasn't surprised to see the Whitetip shark nestled there.  It was around 4 foot and definitely smaller than the Grey shark I saw last week. It also appeared to be napping.

Sleeping shark
Sleeping sharks

not a shark

We swam along the reef and made the turn back towards the shore, encountering a few more turtles.  Dave showed us how to swim underneath them and blow bubbles so that, timed right, they popped on the turtle's belly. I can imagine the turtle thinking " one of these days dude, I'm gonna poop on your head... just you wait."
If I had an underwater camera, I would have taken this picture:

Our air was running out so we headed to the surface, inflated our BCs, and began a slow float back to shore.  The sun was out, and there was a cool breeze.  As we got to shore, I found myself once again counting my blessings... never taking for granted the bountiful beauty of this place that I find myself living in.  The new perspective of looking at it from underwater only adds to my sense of wonder and awe. I live a pretty charmed life.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Scuba Dooba Do!

I did it!  I went scuba diving for the first time today.
Last night I watched a two-hour instructional scuba video and today we met at the beach.
After a short informational chat with the dive instructor, we suited up, put our tanks on, and walked into the ocean.
We dove at Black Sand Beach in Makena.

Black Sand Beach

 We waded out into the shallow sand so that we could put our fins on and rinse the toothpaste out our masks (it keeps the mask from fogging up).  Once fully adjusted, we floated away from the shore on our backs, so as to save the air for when we needed it.  With my weight belt holding 16 pounds of lead, I began sinking quickly until the instructor showed me how to put air into my BC, keeping me aloft.  I was fairly surprised that he hadn't shown me this on the land.
With the regulator in my mouth, I practiced breathing in long, slow breaths.  The air had no taste to it and I was able to maintain a good normal rhythm with no problem. My mask was snug and not leaky and my fins felt fine.  I was ready to go.

Since the water was warm, I did not need a wetsuit, so I just wore my rash guard and board shorts.

I put my face in the water and practiced breathing through my regulator.  It felt like snorkeling since I was at the surface, and I am used to being able to breath through my snorkel.  The weirdness began when I went below the surface and I could still breath.  My brain was surprised and I had to convince it to be calm and go with the flow.  As I let some air out of my BC (buoyancy compensator), I began to slowly sink towards the bottom.  I looked around and saw Makena going down, leaving a trail of bubbles in her wake.  We followed the instructor around as we got used to the breathing and as I got so close to the bottom I scraped my foot on a coral, scratching it. I figured out that there was an equilibrium (called neutral buoyancy) which allowed you to stay where you wanted, without floating or sinking.  Soon after, I began cruising along the bottom, checking out the reef and generally feeling like Aquaman.

Not me... but you get the idea

We swam around along the bottom, through the reef, taking it all in.  I saw plenty of fish, such as Boxfish, Triggerfish, Manini, Goatfish, Needlefish and Parrotfish.  The reef was bustling with marine life and Makena pointed out a large Moray Eel which we all took a good look at.  It's head was the size of my hand and it's teeth were sharp and plentiful.

Spotted Moray Eel

An eel is my nemesis (only because it is my name spelled backwards).

As we went deeper, past the reef, we entered an area of sparse, grassy sand.  There were few fish here and there, but not much exciting to see.  I equalized my ears and found a new level of comfort, cruising along with the group.  I looked up at the surface, then down at my depth gauge, noticing we were at our deepest yet, at 36 feet.  I panned around at the infinite blueness surrounding us, and even though visibility was very good, I found that you could only see so far. Large shapes, like other divers begin to blur at 30 feet or so.
There were a few times when I looked behind me, thinking and hoping that I would not see this:

I never saw this

The sounds of the breathing and the bubbling was louder than I thought it would be, but when we entered a reef zone with lots of fish, you could plainly here the crunching of the coral by the Parrotfish.  I thought about diving during whale season and hearing the whales squealing away, since I have always been able to while snorkeling.  It must be even louder and clearer so deep.

As we were swimming along, a turtle coasted by in front of us and pretty much everyone in our group pointed at it at the same time.  It seemed a new perspective to me, as I have seen many turtles from the surface.  The way it just glided effortlessly, all but ignoring us, seemed elegant and standoffish.  It was a fairly big Green Sea turtle, around 300 pounds, I'd guess.  It looked a lot like this (but bigger):

Am I not turtlely enough for the turtle club?

At one point, I wished I had a compass, since I had lost my sense of direction and I could not even guess which way was the way back to the shore.  The only way I could think of was to go to the surface and take a look (which was obviously out of the question).  I chose to simply follow the group, trusting that the instructor knew his way.

He did.  Almost an hour had passed (I think) when things began to look familiar, and I knew we were getting closer to shore.  I looked over at Makena, gave her a shaka, and was surprised to see that she looked a lot like a scuba diving cat (since she is small).


As we got out of the water, my weight belt felt heavier, and I tried to stand in the loose sand, balancing the tank on my back.  I trudged up the beach with a shit-eating grin on my face, proud of my accomplishment and looking forward to the next dive (which will be tomorrow).
I'm hoping to see a Whale Shark, sunken treasure and a scuba diving wombat.
If I do, there will be pictures.

I should probably get an underwater camera.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wasn't last week Shark Week?

It was a glorious, sunny afternoon Sunday, and I found myself at Makena Landing, one of my favorite snorkeling spots. My friends were scuba diving and I was hanging behind with their kids, swimming and snorkeling, like usual.  We often find and follow around Sea Turtles, catch Brittle Stars and Pencil Urchins, and generally have fun exploring the marine life we can see and reach.
I got my mask and snorkel with my fins and headed toward the beach with three kids and a boogie board.  Makena, who is ten, is a strong swimmer (and getting scuba certified herself) swims alongside me while I pull Tobin (6) and Tyler (5) behind us, as they hang on the boogie board.  The boys wear goggles and keep their faces in the water long enough to see most of the action.

About 50 or so feet from shore, as it gets a little too deep to stand, I push us off keeping the reef to our right as we begin our turtle search.  Makena was on my left, a bit behind me. I noticed a big, grey shape behind her as I looked over to see if she was ok, thinking right away that it was a scuba diver or another snorkeler. As I focused, I clearly saw it was a shark, about my size cruising slowly past us, turning towards the shallows.  I took another good look just to make sure I wasn't imagining it.  It looked like this:

My brain sent me mixed messages all at once.  I looked again, as the shark was swimming away, trying to figure out what kind of shark it was.  It was not a Blacktip or Whitetip, and definitely not a Tiger.  I decided it was probably a Grey Reef Shark, which some part of my brain informed me it was relatively harmless and nothing to be scared of.  Another part of my brain, which watched a lot of Discovery shows during Shark Week, told me to flee.  I poked my head out of the water right as Tobin did.  I looked at him and asked "Did you just see that?"
"The shark... yeah," he replied nonchalantly.
"It was big," I heard myself say, adding "like my size."
"Yeah," said Tobin.
I started turning around towards shore, thinking about postponing the boogie board turtle tour, causing both Tyler and Makena to ask where we were going.
"I just saw a really big shark" I said.
"So, aren't we gonna find turtles?" asked Tyler.
I couldn't think of anything to say and I didn't want to freak out the kids, who seemed fine, but my body was taking us back to the beach and I couldn't seem to fight it.
"I forgot to ask your mom something," was all that I came up with.
My mind's eye replayed the shark footage, just to make sure I wasn't imagining things.
This time I saw this:

A hungry Grey Reef Shark.

As we approached the shallows, I thought about what I'd do if the shark came back for another appearance. I could throw Tyler or Tobin at least 10 feet, creating a suitable distraction, or at least an appetizer. I trudged up onto the sand as I pulled off my fins and headed over to where my friends were getting all suited up for their Scuba adventure.
I went over and said aloud, so that they could all hear me, "I just saw a really big reef shark... like as big as me."
"Cool," someone replied.
"Was it a Black-tip?" asked the dive instructor.
"No... it was a Grey... but it was big," I said.
"Cool," someone said again.
"I never saw a shark that big in the water before... it kinda freaked me out," I blurted out.
"They are harmless, they won't bother you," said the dive instructor.

I looked over at the kids, who were obviously waiting for me to continue the snorkel tour.
So I did.  But as we were swimming around, I kept looking over my shoulder, scanning the blue depths for the shark.  We never saw it again.
We did however find this fish sitting on the bottom, and we followed him around for fifteen minutes, watching him "fly" around, as he fanned and unfanned his wings.

Flying Gurnard

Later, when I described it to the dive instructor, he told me it was a Flying Gurnard, and that it was rare to see.  When I got home and googled it, I came across this article:

Previous Ocean Watch columnOcean WatchNext Ocean Watch column

Monday, December 11, 2000

Gurnards may not
fly but do walk

Hawaii's flying gurnard is also called a helmet
gurnard because of its armorlike head bones.

FLYING gurnards. I haven't heard about or seen one of these unusual fish in years, but lately they're popping up all over the place.
In the last two months, I've received two emails from mainland readers about flying gurnards. One wanted to know if these fish are poisonous (no); the other spotted one while snorkeling in Kahaluu Bay on the Big Island. Then I saw a tiny one, labeled a jet gurnard, in an aquarium store.
Finally, last week, while walking down the sidewalk in the Ala Wai Boat Harbor, I ran into a fellow boat owner. "Want to see an interesting fish?" she asked.
We rushed to the place she saw it, and surprisingly, the fish was still there, strutting like an aquatic peacock. Yep. It was a flying gurnard.
The first thing people ask about flying gurnards is, Can they fly?
People once thought these fish could leap from the water and glide over the ocean's surface like flying fish. But flying gurnards are heavy bottom fish that can neither leap from the water nor fly over it. Their enormous pectoral fins, however, do look like wings. When the fish spreads these fin-wings fully, they form a near circle around the creature's narrow body.
Such a display has nothing to do with flight. Rather, it's a defensive ploy. The extended fins make the fish look bigger and more formidable to potential predators. That's why, when alarmed, a flying gurnard will display its magnificent wings and walk in circles. If that fails to scare off a predator, this bulky fish will dart away with surprising speed.
When not alarmed, the flying gurnard folds its fins like a fan and tucks them next to its body.
Whether open or closed, the pectoral fins of the gurnard have another function. The leading edge of each fin bears several short spines that are partly free of confining membranes. This allows the spines to move like fingers. If you watch a gurnard carefully, you can see these little fingers scrape and probe the sea floor in search of shellfish, worms, mantis shrimp and fish.
AS if wings with fingers aren't enough weird features for a fish, this one also has legs. The pelvic fins beneath the flying gurnard's body also bear short, movable spines that walk the fish forward or backward.
And there's more. Flying gurnards talk. Well, they make sounds anyway.
The word gurnard (which I spelled wrong in my Nov. 6 column) comes from a French term meaning to grunt. The fish makes grunting sounds, for reasons unknown, by rubbing parts of its jawbones together.
Of the seven species of flying gurnards in the world, Hawaii hosts only one. Look for them, up to 15 inches long, on sandy bottoms in Waikiki waters and around Magic Island. But look hard. These speckled brown, white and sometimes blue fish can blend well with the ocean floor.
If you see one of these rare and beautiful creatures, try sharing the find, like my neighbor did for me. You'll likely make someone's day.

After we snorkeled and swam for hours, we had a bbq dinner as we dried off in the setting sun.
Right before sunset, the kids and I walked up the "steps to nowhere" to see the view from the top.

The Steps to Nowhere

Hailey, the little blond, stayed behind when we went snokeling.

Had she come with us, she would have made fine sharkbait.


Goofball kids above Makena Landing

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

3:00AM, lying on the sidewalk

Hawaii is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Meteor showers, like the Perseids, appear much more dramatic than in most places on the mainland, shrouded as they are in light pollution.
I feel special, and I don't take for granted the golden opportunity to witness the show. It's a late show (peaking around 2:00AM), which is fine with me, since I tend to keep vampire's hours. I get to bed before dawn.
Last night (and the night before)I found myself lying on the sidewalk in front of my cottage (on a beach towel) gazing skyward.

The yellow dot is me.

When I first moved to Maui from California, I was amazed at the night sky.
Like most people, I have been camping (Yosemite comes to mind) and I have seen a starry sky. Yet, nothing had prepared me for a Hawaiian starry sky.
As I laid on the sidewalk, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness, the stars reveal themselves slowly. After a minute or two, the sky looks like this:

click on it to enlarge it... then you'll see what I mean...

If I were to hold a quarter at arm's length, there would be nowhere to place it in front of the sky that it wouldn't be blocking some stars. It's just that busy.
About two minutes passed before I saw my first meteor.
It was bluish and it appeared directly overhead, close to the shiny dot of Venus, the brightest in the sky. The meteor was quick and lasted only a brief second.
Over the next ten minutes, I saw about a dozen more. Some were longer and yellowish, but most were short white or bluish streaks.
Many looked like this:

I watched, for another fifteen minutes, never having to wait for more than a minute to see another shooting star. At one point, I felt what I hoped was an ant crawl onto my shoulder. This signaled a good time for me to go inside and take a break, get a drink, check for ants, and google meteor showers.
My google revealed some interesting facts, such as:

Interesting facts about meteors

* Most visible meteors lie within 120 miles of an observer.
* Meteors become visible at an average height of 55 miles. Nearly all burn up before they reach an altitude of 50 miles.
* No known meteorite has been associated with a meteor shower. (That is, no shower meteor has ever survived its flight through the atmosphere and been recovered.)
* The typical bright meteor is produced by a particle with a mass less than 1 gram and with a size no larger than a pea.

The last fact made me wish I had a can of pea soup, which, sadly I did not.
So before heading back outside for round two on the sidewalk, I took a pee.

This image came up in my google and it made me think about the direction of the meteors I was viewing. Most went from the Volcano (Haleakala) towards the ocean, but there were more than a few rogue meteors like this troublemaker:

Where the hell do you think he was going, when all the other meteors were following right along in the prescribed direction? Did he bounce off of another pea?
Maybe he had a meeting or something... or he went to see the new Twilight movie.

As I settled back into the discomfort of my hard pebble strewn sidewalk, I began to think about the vastness of space, and our relative smallness. If those "peas" appeared so bright and huge only 55 miles above us, then how big were the stars that dotted the sky? Do we appear as a dot to any of the dots out there? If so, are we bright? As I pondered my significance (or insignificance), I remembered another article that had just read called "The science behind the meteor shower" which explained that the particles we see as the Perseids meteors originated from Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. As Earth runs into the particle stream in its orbit, we view the meteors as they hit Earth's atmosphere at 37 miles per second.

There were comments below the article, mostly from nutjobs.
This was, by far, the best one:

All this is garbage. Did you know this entire thing is propaganda, so we'll visit Disney World and buy stupid Toy Story crap. Let's get this straight, it's really cool to name a comet after you...great, but there are only a few people capable (allowed) to travel in space. Sure, this "behind the meteor shower" isn't about space travel, but what is it really? Science? Sure, but who really cares. None of you reading this are going to make any difference with meteor showers, comets or flying paper airplanes in space...so, go exercise, get rid of those love handles, drink some water and perhaps stop stuffing your face with Chinese buffet because it's cheap.

So... as I laid on my sidewalk, hoping that nobody would drive by (Look, it's Lee... I think he's drunk, lying on his sidewalk), I continued to pontificate as I witnessed the cosmic spectacle. I saw some doozies, and some run-of-the-mill meteors that were frankly beginning to bore me.
As one webpage said: Enjoying a meteor shower requires only comfort and patience.
I had run out of both, so I called it a night and headed into my cottage.

When I got back to my computer to blog my scintillating adventure, I noticed a picture that had come up when I did a Bing image search for HAWAII METEOR SHOWER.

This is a white hedgehog.
Perhaps his turn-ons are long walks on the beach in Hawaii and Meteor Showers.
Why else would he have come up on my search?

The next good meteor shower is right around my birthday in October. The Orionids Meteor Shower, however, is best viewed in the early morning hours (so says the science guys).
Fuck that, there will probably be people out walking their dogs, and going to work.
I can't be all laying on my sidewalk like a freak.