I flew out of Honolulu on Tuesday afternoon, January 30th (yes I’m way behind :)). I had spent most of January working on my MSDT (Master Scuba Diver Trainer) program, which certified me to teach an additional 10 specialties. I finished that up on Sunday, January 28th. Monday and Tuesday I ran around taking care of last minute errands. I mailed most of my books and instructional manuals to my friend Jason Cunningham in Guam along with some of my dive gear. I still had plenty of dive gear in the Philippines. I dropped my vehicle off at the same dealer that I purchase it from. I’d arranged for them to sell the vehicle on consignment (much cheaper to buy a vehicle to use for 3 months then sell it, than rent). I got a cab to the airport from the dealership. It was a much shorter flight to Manila than when I fly from Houston! I arrived in the evening on January 31st (after crossing the International Date Line).
On February 4th I met my friends Ron and Dennis from California at the airport. Since we were able to split the cost 3 ways we opted for a van to take us from the airport to Batangas Port (P3300/$65). There we caught the ferry to Puerto Galera.
I’d made the arrangements over a month previously. Dennis had just over 2 weeks. Ron would be in the Philippines for 5 weeks. I would stay until March 25th and then fly to Guam. We planned a week in Puerto Galera and a week in Malapascua. In Puerto Galera we would dive with Frontier and in Malapascua with Evolution.
After arriving in Sabang, we dropped off dive gear at Frontier and then headed to AAA Hotel. I’d had a few days to recover from jet lag. Ron and Dennis had not. Diving could wait until the next day.
I’ve written pretty extensively about Puerto Galera in the past so I will not rehash that now. We had a great week in Puerto Galera! Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I’ve spent a fair amount of time diving Puerto Galera. I’ve made over 80 dives there. We dived a relaxed pace that week completing 13 dives in 6 dive days including multiple dives at a few sites. Dive sites included Sinadigan Wall, Sabang Point, Hole-in-the-Wall and Canyons, Kilima Steps, Alma Jane, Sabang Wrecks, Boulders, West Escarceo, and of course a trip over to Verde Island.
I will mention one particular dive though. We were diving Canyons and got separated. Canyons is often a roller coaster of a dive due to strong currents and that day was no exception! On top of that visibility was probably not more than 30-40 feet as we’d gotten a fair amount of rain that week. I stopped to take a photo and when I looked up the rest of the group was gone! Fortunately we were already close to the end of the dive at this point. I went with the current expecting to catch up with them. I saw bubbles ascending and thought it was them but when I reached them (in the 3rd canyon) and was able to see the divers and not just their bubbles, it turned out not to be them. There’s a ship anchor, a very large one near the 3rd canyon where we normally start our ascent. With current running strong, it’s a good idea to re-group before starting the ascent. Since they were in front of me I expected either to catch them or they would be waiting there. I thought for sure they would be there waiting for me but when I arrived they were nowhere to be seen!
With me bringing up the rear they should have reached this point before me. I decided that someone must be getting low on gas and they had already started their ascent. After hanging on too the anchor long enough to scan the area, I let go and started my ascent. I lost sight of the bottom very quickly and my ascent and safety stop were in the blue. Up and down currents can happen in this area so it’s important to watch your depth.
When I reached the surface I did a 360 scan and there was no one there…nobody…. no boat… nobody… and of course the current was carrying me away from shore! Still, I wasn’t too worried. I was confident I could attract a boat as I had my Dive Alert with me and there is plenty of boat traffic in that area.
Less than a minute I saw an SMB hit the surface. Knowing that chances are better for a group than someone by themselves to be spotted, I started kicking towards it…. “against” the current I might add 😄 A few minutes later heads started popping up and it was the rest of the group! Unfortunately for me, it was up current from where I was! It may have just been a hundred yards or so but, they had been at the surface for several minutes before I reached them… did I mention it was against the current? 😀
We decided that because of the low visibility that I must have passed by them when I went to investigate the bubbles that turned out to be a different group of divers in the 3rd canyon. I’d ascended a bit letting the current carry me and they were hugging the bottom where it was likely a bit slower.I was trying to catch up after all so we could do our ascent together.
Now we’re wondering, where the boat is? I’m sure we’ve drifted well over a mile from shore by this point! We saw a boat quite a distance maybe a mile away. I warned the others that I was going to use my DiveAlert. For those who haven’t heard of them, it’s a device that attaches to your LP inflator hose and then to your BCD inflator. Your BCD works normally, but the DiveAlert can be used as a signalling device. Below the surface it makes a quacking noise. Above it’s an air horn…. a very loud one! They claim it can be heard a mile away and I can attest that it’s true!
After the first blast we could see people on the boat looking but they hadn’t spotted us. A DSMB may seem fairly large and bright, but from a mile away it really isn’t! After the second blast, the boat turned towards us and we were picked up. That was when we discovered they were looking for us! Our boat had developed engine trouble and had to be towed back. They quickly found another boat that could look for us. Lucky as we could have been out there much longer until a boat came close enough for us to signal! As it was we still drifted a good half hour before we were picked up!
Ron and Dennis flew to Cebu on the 13th. I ended up skipping Malapascua. I was sick and wasn’t going to be able to dive. As it turned out, there were issues with the weather and they were stuck in Maya for 2 days because the ferries weren’t going over to Malapascua Island. I improved a bit then felt I was relapsing. I went to Manila for a few days then went to Medical City Clark to get checked out. I was diagnosed with a bacteriological infection and apparently, my arthritis was acting up in a big way! Antibiotics and a strong pain reliever and I was feeling much better the following week.
Ron and Dennis were finishing up Malapascua at the same time I was getting checked out at Medical City Clark. Dennis headed back to the US and Ron went over to do some diving in Subic Bay.
I caught up with Ron there although I didn’t dive. He told me he’d had a great time diving with Evolution in Malapascua. I wasn’t surprised as I’ve been diving with them for years. We visited the Bureau of Immigration office in Olongapo and extended our visas. After some discussion, we headed back to Puerto Galera.
We arrived back in Puerto Galera on February 28th. It’s high season and the only rooms that were available in our price range was the opposite end of Sabang from Frontier at Reynaldo’s. We really enjoyed Reynaldo’s which had a great view, good service and a good breakfast for a very reasonable cost. We would usually sit on the balcony in the morning and have breakfast. We had a really nice view of Sabang Beach.
We stayed there until the 8th and then transferred to AAA. When we arrived back in Sabang, AAA was fully booked. Reynaldo’s became fully booked on the 8th so we didn’t really have a choice about moving (welcome to the high season… there’s a reason I recommend booking ahead of time this time of year). AAA doesn’t have the view, but then it was also substantially cheaper!
There are some really good restaurants in Puerto Galera. El Galleon Resort, home of Asia Divers, has a great breakfast buffet and we went there a few times. We often had lunch either at Tamarinds, which wasn’t far from the dive shop and had a great view, or at Papa Freds Steakhouse which had some nice lunch specials. For dinner, there was Atlantis Resort which has great food and service and Captain Greggs, which is another restaurant on the beach with a great view. Cheaper and also good was Tina’s Restaurant which was just below Reynaldo’s on the waterfront.
My personal favorite restaurant in Sabang is Vesuvio’s. They have a brick oven and make what I consider to be the best pizza in the Philippines! The restaurant used to be on the main street leading up from the pier but moved late last year. Walk up the street from the pier and turn left at the laundry, just in front of Tropicana Restaurant. Then straight a couple minutes walk at most and you will find it on the left. The kitchen is downstairs and dining is upstairs. Great selection of pizzas and they will make a custom pizza for you if you like. They also have great pasta.
We talked about going over to El Nido, but in the end, we opted to stay in Puerto Galera. One thing we had talked about doing that we had not done in February was rent motorbikes. They’re available for 500 pesos a day (around $10 bucks US). We made a visit to Tamaraw Falls and stopped and visited the ATM in Puerto Galera town on the way. The ATM at the bank in Sabang still does not accept debit or credit cards from foreign banks.
Ron left on the 12th but I decided to stay a bit longer not leaving until 18th. I took it easy and did only 11 dives. I ended up with only 24 dives this trip. Ron finished up with 50! Ron also became my first official student as a new scuba instructor. He completed his Advanced Open Water and Nitrox specialty.
As I finish this up I’m in my new apartment in Guam. I arrived on March 26th and I’ll write more about that and my plans here in my next post.
When I was living in Japan a few of us in the dive club used to always try to dive December 31st and on New Years Day. Finishing out the old year with diving and starting the New Year with diving… perhaps some people can relate 🙂
I did a couple of training dives on December 31st with Brian Mara, one of the Course Directors at Dive Oahu (See my previous blog post). We were finishing up instructor specialties in Self-Reliant and DPV. Although I’d been in Hawaii for 2 months, it was the first time I’d gotten out on Dive Oahu’s boat, Anger Management. Anger Management is a 46 foot, Newton Dive Special. At 16 feet at the beam and with over 500 square feet of deck space there is plenty of room. It uses an open transom design making it very easy to enter and exit the water. There are plenty of snacks, soda’s, water, and hot cocoa or hot tea available to refuel with between dives.
Since I was doing training I’d left my camera behind that day. After we got back to the dock, I mentioned to Brian I would like to do a couple of dives on New Years Day and he told me no problem he’d get me on the boat. Later in the evening I received an email that I was booked for 7 AM. One of the nice things about doing instructor training with Dive Oahu is that we can go out on the boat whenever there is an opening and there usually is. I’d been so wrapped up getting ready for my instructor exam that I’d not taken advantage of this previously.
On New Years Day I was at the dock about 6:45 AM. I dropped off my equipment at the boat, then went and parked my vehicle. We waited for a few people who were running late (they had called) so the boat didn’t get underway until after 7:30. Once everyone arrived there was a final roll call, followed by the boat brief. As we left the harbor I looked to my left and could see the sun peaking up over Diamond Head. It was looking like a beautiful day with just a few clouds in the sky. We arrived at the first dive site about 15 minutes later.
I ended up with Chris Massie who helped out during my IDC while working on his IDC Staff Instructor certification. There were 4 people in our group. He gave a thorough dive brief as we headed to the dive site which was only about 15 minutes away. I’d neglected to inquire what dive site the day before and realized I had the wrong lens for the first dive. We were diving a wreck and I had setup with a 60 mm macro lens so although I got plenty of shots of life around the wreck, I don’t have any wide-angel shots of the wreck itself (Next time 🙂 ).
After reaching the site, one of the divemasters (almost all the divemasters are actually instructors) went over to secure a line to the mooring buoy and check conditions. As it turned out it was near perfect conditions… no current and visibility was 90 feet+! Chris mentioned that there was often at least some current at this site so we felt pretty lucky!
The wreck we were diving is one of the most popular dive sites in the area. The YO-257 was a Yard Oiler of the United States Navy. She saw service in WW II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The 1390 ton vessel is a 174 feet long and 33 feet at the beam. She could carry 200,000 gallons of fuel. She was sold for scrap in 1982 and after being purchased by Atlantis Submarines Hawaii, was reefed in 1989 off the coast of Oahu near Waikiki. The ship rests upright in a 100 feet of water. She was prepared for diving by having many large access holes cut throughout. Her main deck is at 85 feet. The bow section rise abruptly with a small deck at approximately 75 feet.
There is another wreck, the San Pedro, which is near enough that you can do two wrecks in one dive, but we found so much to keep us occupied that we spent the entire dive on the YO. Dive time started at 7:58 AM. My maximum depth was 99 feet as I went to the sand, but then worked my way back up and along the side just below the level of the main deck. The wreck was alive with fish. We spotted a couple of white tip reef sharks, including one inside the wreck itself. We saw a nice size moray eel too (they’re bigger than the ones I’m used to seeing in the Philippines). We also saw a few spotted eagle rays. Those who went over to the San Pedro saw 3 turtles. Because of the depth and being on air before we knew it our computers were telling us to go up. Dive time was 31 minutes. Water temperature was 71 degrees Fahrenheit.
After everyone was back on the boat and roll was called we untied from the mooring and headed over to the second dive site. From here I could see Point Panic. We again tied up to a mooring. Where we tied up was a site called Mid-Pipe. This is the Kewalo Pipe which enters near Point Panic, only here we were much further out. Kewalo Pipe is an old drain pipe that runs south out to sea. A lot of coral has grown up around it.
Our dive started at 9:12 AM. From where we tied up we kicked over to Secret Reef. Lot’s of fish and a turtle. Boxfish, butterflyfish, soldierfish, hawkfish, a nudibranch (Jorunna funebris), all the “usual suspects” 🙂 After checking out Secret Reef we headed back to the pipe and made our way along it back towards the mooring line. There was another huge moray right at the base of the mooring line. Dive time was 42 minutes, visibility was probably 60-70 feet, water temperature was again 71 degrees, and maximum depth was 46 feet. Another nice dive 🙂
Once everyone was back on the boat, roll was again called we untied from the mooring buoy, and headed in. Back at the dock I helped switch out tanks as the boat got ready for the next group. It had been a great morning 🙂
I ended 2017 with a 147 dives. The first 2 dives of 2018 were in the log book! 🙂 All in all it was a great start to the New Year! I’ve a feeling I will do a lot more dives in 2018 🙂
I hope everyone enjoys my blog 🙂 If you do, why not take the time to subscribe so you never miss a post? Just hit the button at the top of the page. It will only take a few moments 🙂
When I originally travelled to the Philippines in October 2015 I planned to travel around the country for maybe 6 months and then move on to other parts of Asia for maybe another 6 months. After that I had a tentative plan to move to Guam and use it as a base to dive Micronesia. “Life” as they say, doesn’t always work out as planned 🙂
I ended up spending 18 of the next 24 months in the Philippines. I would complete over 230 dives in those 18 months (at present I’ve made around 400 dives in the Philippines). I visited and dived in Moalboal, Subic Bay, Boracay, Malapascua Island, Puerto Galera, El Nido, Dauin, Apo Island, Panglao Island, Cabilao Island, Bauan, and Anilao. A few of these places I visited multiple times (read about many of them here on my blog). Along the way I made a lot of great memories! 🙂
During my time in the Philippines in addition to the occasional trip home I had the opportunity to travel to one of my dream destinations. In June 2017 I traveled to the world-famous Chuuk Lagoon! (read about it here on my blog) I booked my trip to Chuuk through Micronesia Divers Association, based in Guam. To reach Chuuk, I needed to travel through Guam and it seemed a good time to check things out and find out if moving there was something I still wanted to do.
Initially it looked like maybe Guam was going to be a bit expensive for me. The prices on everything were a bit shocking at first. It makes sense when you consider how almost everything is imported… but still! I thought maybe I could afford to live there, but there wouldn’t be a lot left over to travel as much as I like. I was going to have to think some more.
During the week I was in Chuuk I had several conversations with Jason Cunningham and Greg Snell who both worked as part-time instructors at MDA. I eventually approached Eric McClure, who is the Course Director there, who told me “no problem” if I wanted to contract with them to teach. He understood that I would do my IDC somewhere else as their program wasn’t yet approved by the Veterans Administration. I’m fortunate to have educational benefits that I earned through my military service to pay for the course. Eric is retired from the US Air Force and understood that I would want to use those benefits. By the time I left Guam I certainly had a lot of food for thought!
The truth is that for a whole lot of reasons, I’d always said that I wasn’t that interested in becoming an instructor. I just wanted to dive! I think part of my concern was that I never wanted to reach a point where I would stop enjoying diving. I was worried that if it became a “job”, that some of the fun would go out of it for me.
I let all this percolate in my brain when I went back to the Philippines. In the end I decided that life is what we make of it. As much as I enjoyed scuba diving, why not share that with others? I decided that I could teach part-time and make enough money to live in Guam while still being able to travel and dive regularly. In July I went home to Texas and while there started to do a serious search for a place to do my IDC (Instructor Development Course). I corresponded with or spoke to people in Florida, Texas, and Hawaii.
I also did some diving of course, making a weekend trip to South Texas to dive the Texas Clipper, and another trip out to Florida. I made a decision in late August to do My IDC in Hawaii. I had a couple of months to kill while I waited for the IDC to start in November, so why not go diving 🙂 On September 8th I flew back to the Philippines. I flew home again the last week of October for a week. Then flew to Hawaii. I arrived in Hawaii on October 31st. I initially stayed at a hostel. By the end of the week I’d found a studio apartment in Waikiki and purchased a used vehicle to drive for the 3 months I planned to be in Hawaii. I reasoned that I could sell the vehicle when I left and recoup some of my money at least and this would be much cheaper than renting a vehicle. Renting from one of the “Rent-a-Wreck” places was going to cost me over $2K! I bought a used 95 Toyota RAV4 for $1200 with the opportunity to recoup all, or at least a good chunk of it. Much better! My IDC officially started on November 6th.
The IDC I eventually chose was with Dive Oahu which is based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickham. Training was primarily with Course Director Scott Wilson with assistance from Course Director Brian Mara and Master Instructor Joshua Childress. Chris Massie who was doing his IDC Staff course was a big help also. Unsurprisingly, since I’d done my Divemaster in 2009 and had never worked as a Divemaster I was pretty rusty 🙂 Obviously not when it came to diving, but when it came to “demonstration” quality skills (trust me it’s a LOT different than just doing it) I definitely needed to brush up! I also was quite rusty on Dive Theory so I spent a lot of time over the next several weeks reviewing that.
One thing I discovered the first night in the pool was in spite of what people might think… it gets COLD in Hawaii! With temperatures in the 70’s in the evening, after 4 hours in the water I discovered I did not have enough exposure protection! For a typical 1 hour dive I would have been fine, but water is a very good conductor of heat and I was shivering long before the end of the first pool session! I’d brought what I normally wear for diving in the tropics/semi-tropics. This gave me the equivalent of 2 1/2 mm from the waist down, my arms, shoulders and upper chest, and 5mm for remainder of my torso. After another 4 hour pool session and an open water training dive that approached 5 hours in the water I decided enough was enough! Less than a week after starting my course I bought a 5mm wetsuit. After the next pool session I was more than happy I did as it proved to be more than adequate 🙂
Over the next 5 1/2 weeks we drilled and practiced in the pool, in open water, and in the classroom. We did classroom work in dive theory which included physics, physiology, dive equipment, decompression theory, diving environment, and dive skills. In the pool we learned not only how to demonstrate and teach, but also how to catch problems and mitigate risks when teaching students underwater.
The focus of the IDC is really on teaching and in every classroom session, pool session, and open water session we would be given assignments to teach. Scott and Brian proved to be tough graders and after every presentation we would receive constructive criticism and feedback on ways to improve. They would always start off with what we did well, but we knew the rest was coming 🙂 The result was constant improvement as we moved through the course. I have to say that it was work. Some of it I enjoyed, but not all it was fun 🙂 In the end though, it would payoff!
Classroom and Pool sessions were held at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam which I could make in 20-25 minutes depending on traffic. If I left too late it could take an hour or more during rush hour! Open water training was conducted either at Kaka’ako Beach Park (known locally as Point Panic) which is near Waikiki, or Kahe Point Beach Park, (locally called Electric Beach because of it’s proximity to a power plant). Since I’m staying in Waikiki Point Panic is quite convenient for me. Electric Beach takes about 35 minutes for me to drive too from Waikiki (early morning no traffic)
The first 3 weeks are actually the PADI Assistant Instructor course. We finished this up on November 26th. In addition to Assistant Instructor we were also certified as Peak Performance Buoyancy Instructors, Project Aware Instructors, and as AWARE Coral Conservation Specialty Instructors.
The Open Water Scuba Instructor portion started on November 27th and was officially over on December 15th. Our Instructor Exam took place over two days, December 16th and 17th. All the hard work paid off in the end. Preparation is key in many things and passing the PADI Instructor Exam is no exception.
The exam was held at a local high school which also had a swimming pool for the pool/confined water portion of the exam. The classroom had a number of tables with two chairs at each. Brian Phillips, one of my classmates in the IDC and I sat together. Scott Wilson our Course Director was there also to assist, along with Course Directors from other dive operations. Course Directors were not directly involved with their own students though. Ross Neil, the examiner from PADI, gave a briefing on how the exam would proceed over the next 2 days. First would be written tests on PADI Standards and Practices. Then another written test on Dive Theory. After finishing the written exams, we would have a break to prepare knowledge presentations. The “classroom” part of teaching. This would be followed by another break while we got ready to teach our confined water/pool assignment. We also had to demonstrate skills. That would be the first day. The second day we would meet at E-Beach where we would teach open water skills and perform rescue skills for grade.
I think one of the things that candidates stress over is that they don’t know what they are going to be required to teach until the day of the exam. You have to literally be prepared to teach anything that your certification qualifies you to teach! Preparation really is key when it comes to passing the exam. When we received our assignments Brian and I looked at each other, chuckled and said “no problem”! In the end all the preparation we’d received from our instructors at Dive Oahu paid off! We all pretty much breezed through the I.E. 🙂
After completing the I.E. we completed Emergency First Response (CPR/First Aid) Instructor (a requirement for OWSI), and Care for Children w/AED Instructor with Brian Mara as the primary instructor with assistance from Scott.
PADI approved these along with my OWSI on December 21st.
The week between Christmas and New Years I worked with Brian Mara to complete requirements to be certified as an instructor in PADI specialties Digital Underwater Photographer, Project Aware Dive Against Debris, Self-Reliant Diver, DPV (Dive Propulsion Vehicles), and Equipment Specialist. Four of these courses required dives and I completed these over 2 days, December 30th and 31st
Obviously, I wanted to be able to teach underwater photography 🙂 That was a natural specialty for me to choose to teach. There is some controversy about diving solo, but underwater photographers often feel like they’re diving solo anyway! Why not learn to do it safely. Hence, Self-Reliant. Project Aware is an organization that is doing great work in promoting protection of our marine environment. One of their projects is “Dive Against Debris” and it’s a very concrete way that we as divers can help improve our environment. DPV just looked like it would be fun (it was) and there are some practical applications in using them I found.
Here are a few shots taken for my instructor course for Digital Underwater Photography.
I’m currently working on the Master Scuba Diver Trainer Program which will certify me to teach an additional 10 specialties. These include Boat Diver, Deep Diver, Drift Diver, Emergency Oxygen Provider, Enriched Air Diver, Night Diver, Search and Recovery, Shore, Underwater Navigation, and Wreck Diver. We are scheduled to complete this program on January 28th.
I expect to be very busy the remainder of the month, but I will try to sneak a blog post in here and there when I have time 🙂 Next time I plan to write about one of the great wrecks to dive on here in Hawaii, the YO-257.
So to start, even though I visited Anilao back in late September, I got a bit side-tracked. Easy for me to do I know 😀 I’ve been in Hawaii for over 2 months now. This is really late so I’m going to keep it short… besides it’s photo’s I think everyone wants to see anyway 😉
On September 23rd, Bauan Divers Sanctuary very kindly had one of their boats take me across to Anilao. What was a 20 minute boat ride would have likely taken an hour and a half or more. It would have involved a boat ride and a trike ride, followed by a jeepney, shifting to a second jeepney, and finally to another trike to make it to Anilao Scuba Dive Center from Bauan. I was very happy to not have to do that carrying to heavy bags stuffed with electronics, clothes, dive and photo equipment!
I dived with Anilao Scuba Dive Center again. Prices are reasonable and I like the people there. I tend to keep going back when I like a place 🙂
Weather was not the best on the 23rd so I opted to take the day off. Over the next 3 days I completed 9 dives. I started on the 24th with dives at Kirby’s Rock, Coral Garden at Sombrero Island and Matu Rock. On the 25th we dived Secret Garden, Suntree, and El Pinoy. On the 26th Secret Bay, Coral Garden, and Secret Garden again. Water temperature was mid-80’s with visibility averaging 35-40 feet.
Rather than go into detailed descriptions I’m going to publish photo’s instead this time 🙂 I am VERY far behind right now! 🙂 For more information about ASDC and Anilao I’ll refer you to my previous blog posts. Anilao Part OneAnilao Part Two
On the 27th I departed for Puerto Galera. As I did my last trip to Anilao, I opted for a trike to take myself and my bags to the bus terminal, where I caught a bus for the short trip to the port and a ferry to Puerto Galera.
I’ll try to knock out Puerto Galera quickly so I can write a bit more about Hawaii so please stay tuned 🙂
I first met Lourdes and Mark Lowings at last years DRT Show. Surprisingly they still remembered me when I walked by their booth at this years show! It was September 9th and I’d just returned to the Philippines after being home in the US for two months. DRT happened to be taking place the weekend I flew in.
While at home I’d made only 15 dives and was itching to get back in the water. The first week I was back there was a weather system passing by and conditions not the best. I opted to go spend the week at Subic Bay and Olongapo, where I often hang out in between dive trips. I have many friends in the area and it’s a popular place for expats like myself. I arrived in Olongapo the day after DRT ended as I wrote about in my last blog post.
I emailed Lourdes after arriving and negotiated a rate to visit the resort for a week, checking in on Sunday and leaving Saturday. I’d not really expected to dive that week, but towards the end of the week conditions improved and I decided to get a couple days of diving in Subic Bay. I wrote about the diving there in my previous blog piece.
Sunday morning, September 17th, I caught a trike to Victory Terminal in Olongapo. There I caught a bus to Cubao in Manila. From the Victory Terminal in Cubao, I walked a couple of blocks to the DLTB Terminal where I caught a bus to Lemery. I kept in touch with the resort via text messaging and when I arrived in Lemery, there was a driver there to pick me up. From there we had a short drive to meet a boat which was a short 10 minute ride to the resort.
I was a little blown away by the resort to be honest… much nicer than the places I normally stay! I tend to skimp when it comes to accommodations to save more money for diving. Bauan Divers Sanctuary Resort is a very picturesque place, built into the side of a hill it overlooks Balayan Bay. The resort has a total of 32 rooms. 16 suites that will sleep up to 8 people, 6 standard rooms that will sleep up too 5 people, 6 non-aircon backpacker rooms with a cold shower, 2 spa suites, and 1 instructor suite that will sleep 4. There is also a cottage with 4 showers and comfort rooms that will sleep up to 10 people. The resort is obviously very capable of accommodating large groups. There are two pavilions that are ideal for groups. They are complete with rinse tanks and places to hang gear.
When I arrived it turned out that I was the only guest in the resort! A couple of days later a group arrived from China but until then I had the place to myself. I was shown to one of the standard rooms. An absolutely beautiful room. Marble floors, beautifully decorated, and huge! Two king-size beds and one twin bed. What we call a “bathroom” or “restroom” in the US is called a “comfort room” or “CR” in the Philippines. This one had modern fittings and enclosed shower with hot water! (I stay in fan rooms with no hot water quite often to save money so a nice luxury for me 😉 ) There was also a dressing area with plenty of closet space. The resort has wifi throughout. There was a bench on the porch outside the room where you could sit, relax, and watch the sunset if you liked. A very nice room! I got unpacked and put all my batteries on charge.
The restaurant is located in a very nice pavilion complete with a bar. It appeared to be capable of easily seating a 100 people at one time. A great place to sit and watch the sunset. I was really impressed with the food there. Food was amazing and plenty of it! The first couple of days when I was there by myself I was served at the table. Once more people arrived they put out a really nice buffet. Every afternoon after the 3rd dive they would bring a snack and drink down to me. My only complaint initially when it was just me, was they were providing me with too much food! I felt surely I was gaining weight! 😀
Obviously a lot of thought and planning had gone into the resort. Everything from the multiple rinse tanks and racks for hanging gear to showers, to the swimming pool, to where we entered the water, everything was oriented towards the diver. There are two pavilions that are capable of handling different large groups. There are male and female comfort rooms and individual showers. Towels are provided. They have rental equipment and nitrox available.
Unlike in other resorts in the Philippines I’d dived where the emphasis is on boat diving, the focus at Bauan Divers Sanctuary is on shore entry. I knew before I went that I would be shore diving and I was frankly, quite curious about just how good the diving in the sanctuary would be. It turned out I was not prepared!
I’ve been diving the Philippines since 2007 and have logged almost 400 dives there. I have experienced a lot of great diving there. I have to say that Bauan Divers Sanctuary has the best “house reef” of any resort I’ve dived with! A diverse and healthy fish population and nice corals. There are multiple entry points from the resort and different routes making a number of “different” dives possible. Whether we went straight, left, or right. Sometimes we would come back to the entry point, but more often we would exit at a different spot than where we entered. Water temperatures ran around 84F and visibility averaged 40+ feet.
There are wall’s, caves, an island, an underwater pinnacle, sandy areas, and the opportunity to see something new on every dive, all from shore diving from the resort itself. Anthia’s, groupers, damselfish, pipefish, batfish, moray’s, crabs, shrimps, clams, soldierfish, squirrelfish, numerous nudibranch species, trevally, razorfish, trumpetfish, ribbon eels, butterflyfish, peacock mantis shrimp, sea turtles, filefish, hawkfish, even lobster… all the “usual suspects”! I made 3 dives a day for 3 days and never tired of the diving! On the 4th day I did my only boat dives heading south along the coast and doing boat dives in front of Dive and Trek and at Portulano House Reef. After we returned we did a 3rd dive in the sanctuary. I ended up with 12 dives in 4 dive days.
I really enjoyed the 4 days of diving with Bauan Divers Sanctuary Resort. In all I did 12 dives with them. On Friday, September 22nd I took a break and after talking with Lourdes at dinner that night she offered one of the resorts boats to take me across to Anilao. By boat it was less than 30 minutes versus a boat ride, followed by a trike, followed by a jeepney, transfer to another jeepney, then another trike. I was really appreciative of being able to take the direct route! Next morning as promised, I was taken by boat to Anilao.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let the photos speak about the diving at Bauan Divers Sanctuary 🙂 I will be back!
Next up I’ll cover my 2nd trip to Anilao this year and second time diving with Anilao Scuba Dive Center so stay tuned! I arrived in Anilao on September 23rd and left on September 27th.
I’m in Hawaii now and trying to get caught up so I can start writing about what I’m currently doing. I still have my visits to Anilao and Puerto Galera to write about. I’ll be here in Hawaii for about 2 1/2 months so stay tuned!
If you enjoy my blog why not subscribe? Just click on the subscribe button at the top of the page… it will only take a few moments!
I checked out of my hotel the next morning after DRT on September 11th and caught a cab to the bus station in Cubao. From there I got on a bus to Olongapo where I caught a jeepney to Barretto. I arrived roughly 4 hours later (traffic has been horrible in Manila) still recovering from jet lag with the 13 hour time difference.
One of the nice things about Subic Bay for people who will be traveling there from out of the country, is how easy it is to reach from Manila. Take a cab from the airport (if you’re flying in) to the Victory Terminal in Cubao. Taxi should be around 300 pesos, give or take depending on traffic and route taken. If they want to negotiate a flat rate keep this in mind. It they take the toll road they will want you to pay the toll and that’s fair as it’s saving time. Sometimes taxi drivers in Manila don’t want to use the meter because they feel they aren’t getting adequately compensated because of the amount of time spent sitting in traffic. I’m not totally unsympathetic to this so take into account when negotiating or tipping. I don’t tip on negotiated rates so if the asking price is within the range I would probably tip anyway, then it’s an easy negotiation. If they know that I know what the meter rate would be it’s easier to get them to come down. Expect roughly 350 with tip plus tolls. I sometimes offer “meter plus 50 pesos” and they will pretty much always agree to that. Just some things to keep in mind while negotiating 🙂
In Cubao, hop a bus to Olongapo (205 pesos). From there you can catch a taxi or trike to where you need to go. Going rate for a trike from Victory Terminal in Olongapo to Barretto is a 150 pesos. I almost always take a trike if I have dive gear with me as it’s just too much trouble in a jeepney 🙂 A taxi/van will be around 350 pesos. So to get from the airport in Manila to Arizona would be about $15 dollars US via public transport. A bit over $20 if you take a van instead of a trike from the terminal in Olongapo. A private van to pick you up is more convenient but expect to pay at least 5000 pesos ($100 bucks). If you’re in a group though the difference may make the convenience worth it 🙂
I stayed at The Coffee Shop Restaurant and Rooftop Hotel a Filipino-owned place whom I’ve mentioned previously here in my blog. The Coffee Shop Restaurant is open 24 hours and serves good Filipino food. I’ve eaten there many a night. They’re also known for their tacos which are huge! A standard room in their Rooftop Hotel is 1095 pesos a night (little less than $22 dollars at the current exchange rate). I consider the rooms to be US standard. Rooms are clean and well-maintained. There is free wi-fi included and the rooms have cable television which include HBO and Cinemax as well news channels from the US, Discovery Channel, History Channel, etc.. I go there sometimes just to relax after I’ve been diving somewhere else in the provinces because the amenities are all there at a reasonable price.
Across the street is Arizona International Resort, an Australian-owned operation, which is beachfront on Subic Bay. I’ve spoken with the folks at the Arizona Dive Shop a few times as I have spent a lot of time in the Olongapo area the last couple of years. I eat in the resorts restaurant on a fairly regular basis when I’m in town and would occasionally stop in to chat with the guys in the dive shop. Their Economy Rooms are 1350 pesos a night (cash price) with a Standard Room going for 1550 pesos. About $27 and $31 dollars a night respectively. They do offer package deals if you are diving with them according to their website. If I were coming just to dive I’d look into that. I’ve never stayed at Arizona, as I spend time in Olongapo as much as to relax and catch up on things as to dive. Arizona does have a great reputation, though and my experience with the restaurant, bar operation and dive operations bear that out. I can say it is very convenient to stay at the same place you’re diving speaking from past experience. Since retirement though I try to save money where I can with only the occasional splurge… that leaves more money for diving 🙂
For places to eat and drink I’ve eaten in the Arizona restaurant quite often over the last couple of years when I’ve been in town. Their restaurant is one of the better ones in the area in my opinion. I eat breakfast usually at Arizona are at VFW. VFW is further down the road on the left just across from Crazy Horse Bar and next door to Sit-in-Bull Annex. I usually have dinner at Sit-in-Bull Restaurant on Del Pilar Street which is American-owned and operated and in my opinion the best restaurant in Barretto. If I don’t have dinner at Sit-n-Bull I go to Arizona and occasionally to Shamboli’s, an Italian place also American-owned which is just a few minutes walk from Arizona. For Filipino food Coffee Shop is one of the most popular. For drinks, I like Dynamite Dicks, Two Can, or Sit-n-Bull Annex. Those are the essentially “neighborhood” bars. Score Bar is on the premises at Arizona and has plenty of big screen tv’s. Arizona also has a Floating Bar when it’s not typhoon season and that is a cool place to relax too.
Now about the dive operation…. Arizona is a PADI 5 Star Resort and offers training all the way up to Instructor Development Courses and Specialty Instructor courses. They have a reputation as one of the premier dive operations in the area. I’ve run into people who have dived and taken courses with them over the last couple of years and always heard good things about them. I’d also spoken with Kent Simmonds the dive shop manager a few times. Kent is from Australia and is a very personable guy. Arizona has a strong focus on offering good training. With their great location being on Subic Bay people come from all over for training in Wreck, Deep, and EANx. With such a great reputation I decided I would do a few dives with them myself so I could form my own opinion.
The operation is quite professional with high standards. Their boats all carry oxygen onboard and their boat crews are trained in first aid/CPR and as oxygen providers. They provide hot towels after your dive to wipe your face which is a nice touch and free hot snacks, along with coffee, tea, and water on the boat during surface intervals. They go out twice a day and try to allow guests to choose the dive sites they want to dive on when conditions allow.
I’ve almost always had Filipino dive guides over the years except for a couple of times I dived with the owner of a dive operation which happened I think as much as because they were really busy as anything else. This time my guide was James Sims one of the instructors there. A companionable and down to earth guy who was very knowledgeable about the wrecks and their history. James, who is from England has been an instructor for just a year but has a 100 certifications under his belt already. He calls himself a bit of a “metalhead” and loves diving the wrecks. He did a thorough dive briefing before each dive and was quite familiar with a lot of the history surrounding the wrecks. A lot of the experience for wreck divers I think is the history of the wreck they are diving on so diving with someone who is familiar is a nice plus!
I did 5 dives with Arizona over the course of 2 days September 14th and 15th. Barges, San Quentin, and LST all dives I’ve done multiple times (Barges and San Quentin are two of my favorite dive sites in Subic). They also took me too two dive sites I’d not dived previously, Beer Barrels and the Skyraider wreck which I quite enjoyed.
The first dive on the 14th was Beer Barrels. Beer Barrels is a large structure composed of steel trusses, with large cylinders inside of it. The cylinders reminded someone of beer barrels, hence the name. The structure was alive with life including black and green frogfish, lot’s of scorpionfish, spider crabs, nudibranchs, and even a lobster! There were also the usual suspects, lots of fish life which can always be found around any large underwater structure. It’s a square profile as it sits in approximate 100 feet in open water so we were on 32% nitrox. Our dive started at 3:16 PM and was 38 minutes. My maximum depth was 97 feet. Visibility was maybe 30 feet and water temperature was 83F. This could easily become my new favorite dive site! 🙂 This was my first dive with Arizona and was a great dive! James impressed me with his ability as a spotter also. A really great start 🙂
In addition to Beer Barrels, on September 14th we also dived the Barges near Grande Island. One of my favorite dive sites in Subic Bay it was a floating dock that eventually sank after it was abandoned. The sections of the dock form a rough “T” and sit on a mainly sandy bottom. There is some separation of the sections. One side drops off from roughly 20 feet to around 60 feet. The other drops to over a 100 feet. The wreckage is a haven for a large variety of marine life. When I think about the photos I’ve taken at this site peacock mantis shrimp, nudibranchs, snapper, lionfish, pufferfish, butterflyfish, cardinalfish, all come to mind. I’m absolutely positive I’ve lost track! This dive was very typical of my previous experiences there. We did a 51 minute dive there. Visibility was typical at about 40-45 feet. Water temperature was 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
The first dive on the 15th was the LST. LST’s (Landing Ship Tanks) were a very versatile ship designed for transporting tanks and vehicles. Over a 1000 of them were built in the US during WW II. Many were later converted to use as floating repair ships, hospital ships, troop transports, or floating barracks for accommodations.
This one sits upright on a sandy slope on the eastern side of the bay in 90-118 feet of water. Our dive started at 9:40 AM and was 44 minutes diving with 32% nitrox. Maximum depth was 100 feet and water temperature was 84F. Visibility, as is often the case closer in to the shore was less than 30 feet. As always the wreck was alive with fish. We did a limited penetration and then we roamed around the exterior of the wreck looking for subjects for my camera. An enjoyable dive!
Our second dive on the 15th was the San Quentin, another of my favorites that I’ve written about before. The San Quentin was a Spanish gun boat that was scuttled at the entrance to Subic Bay in 1898 to block the American Navy from entering during the Spanish-American War. Although the ship is largely deteriorated, the stern with it’s rudders, along with the boilers and the bow are all still easily recognizable. It sits in shallow enough water to give good light and the visibility is almost always good. In the past I’ve observed that when other sites within the bay had poor visibility due to weather, San Quentin (along with Barges) was the go too site as it’s almost always good there lying as it does near the entrance to the bay. It’s close by Barges as it’s just to the southeast of Grande Island.
Our dive on San Quentin started at 11:24 AM and lasted for 61 minutes. We were diving 32% nitrox. There was tons of fish swarming around. Quite a few nudibranchs. I spent some time stalking a coral grouper with limited success. I’ve spotted everything from flying gunard’s and blue-spotted ray’s on the sand surrounding the wreck to various species of nudibranchs, and lot’s of sweetlips, jacks, and grunts around the wreck. A very nice dive and as I mentioned one of my favorites in Subic Bay. Water temperature was 85F and visibility was around 40 feet.
The third dive on the 15th was Skyraider. This was another dive site that Arizona took me to that I had not dived previously. The Douglas A-1 Bomber, known as the Skyraider, was used extensively during the Korean War. It was still being used when this one lost power and crashed just off the end of the runway on 27 April 1964.
Another deep dive with a square profile we opted for 28% nitrox. The wreck is intact and sits upright on the bottom in 118 feet of water. The wreck was alive with fish and other marine life. I spotted two different species of grouper, numerous cardinalfish, along with tiny shrimps in the cockpit. Maximum depth was 116 feet and our dive was 27 minutes. Even with nitrox you can only stretch it so long without running into deco 🙂 Water temperature was 83 degrees Fahrenheit and visibility was only about 20 feet.
Back at the shop the crew took care of washing my dive gear and hanging it up to dry. I let it hang and dry and just picked up my gear later when I came in to settle my bill. I met James later that evening at the Score Bar with a couple of guys who’d just completed their Divemaster training with Arizona for a couple of beers. It was an enjoyable experience and I’m sure I’ll be diving with them again!
On Sunday morning, September 17th, after breakfast at Arizona, I packed and checked out of my hotel. Grabbed a trike and started my journey to Bauan Divers Sanctuary who I’ll be writing about in my next blog post.
If you enjoy reading about my adventures, why not take a moment to subscribe so you never miss a post? Just click on the button at the top of the page!
I was up early on Sunday, April 23rd. After breakfast I grabbed a trike out front and headed to the dive shop. This was the day we were going to Apo Island and I was looking forward to that!
Apo Island is considered one of the top diving and snorkeling destinations in the Philippines. It’s located about 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of Dumaguete. From Dauin it’s about a 30-45 minute boat ride. The marine habitat around the island is a marine reserve. There are over 650 documented species of fish and over 400 species of coral found here. Sport Diver Magazine listed Apo Island as one of the top 100 dive destinations in the world in 2008.
As we had the previous two mornings, after meeting at the dive shop we were transported by jeepney to the Dauin Marine Sanctuary where a boat was waiting to transport us to Apo Island. We made a stop at a convenience store on the way to purchase snacks. At Dauin our gear was loaded on the boat for us. Once all the gear was loaded and everyone was aboard, we departed for Apo Island.
The weather was beautiful and sunny as we headed across. A nice morning to be out on the water I thought! We had a large group of divers with us, probably 20 at least. There was music being played and everyone was enjoying themselves. Once we arrived there was a dive brief and then we all started gearing up.
The first dive was at Chapel Point which gets it’s name from a church overlooking the dive site. Although there were a fair number of boats there and quite a few divers, it didn’t feel crowded. My dive started at 9:44 AM. Where we dropped in was about 40 feet deep. It was a sandy area with patches of coral that sloped towards a drop-off and a very nice wall.
As I moved towards the drop-off I saw a nice anemone with a female tomato anemonefish. Even though I’ve photographed anemonefish many times I can never resist taking a few more 🙂 There were lots of anthia’s and damselfish. As I dropped down the wall I saw bigeyes, squirrelfish, and grouper. The corals were in really nice shape. There were gorgonian seafans. Lot’s of tube sponges. There were ledges and overhangs with plenty of fish underneath. Towards the end of my dive I found a nudibranch (Chromodoris magnifica) and took several photos. A very nice dive! My dive time ended up at 52 minutes with a maximum depth of 95 feet. Water temperature was 79 degrees Fahrenheit.
After everyone was back on the boat we moved to the second dive site which was Katipanan. After our surface interval and another brief, we started entering the water. My dive started at 11:55 AM. Katipanan is a gentle slope. It has lot’s of corals. Soft corals, huge brain corals, lettuce corals, and numerous fish. Lot’s of damselfish, anthia’s, butterflyfish, triggerfish, and tobies. I took a photo of a titan triggerfish chomping away and couldn’t help but remember being chased by one last August in Puerto Galera! (read about it here in my blog). I ended up with a 67 minute dive with a maximum depth of 80 feet. Water temperature was again 79 degrees.
The boat moved again, this time to Largahan. After our surface interval and our last dive brief of the day we geared up and began stepping into the water. This dive site has lots of soft corals on the shallow side. As you move deeper there are more hard coral formations, with ledges and undercuts and a fair sized wall. What was interesting about this site is the streams of bubbles coming up from the sand that are caused by geo-thermal activity. My dive started at 2:40 PM. I was one of the first in the water and took advantage of that as it was the last dive of the day. I stayed relatively shallow with my maximum depth being only 38 feet. As at the other sites, there were plenty of fish! I saw a nice grouper near the beginning of the dive but was unable to get close enough to get a decent photo. There were plenty of damselfish, anthia’s, and wrasse. I photographed a damselfish and a cleaner wrasse. A toby, a lizardfish, then a curious staghorn damselfish that stayed around for several photos.
After working the goby for several minutes, I found another lizardfish that I was able to spend some time on also. I took some photos of some of the corals, then another goby to finish up the dive. I ended up with a total dive time of 80 minutes. (No I wasn’t the last one out of the water 😉 ) Water temperature was again 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
After recovering everyone we started back to Dauin. I sat at the front of the boat and reflected a bit on the way back. The sun was descending to the west. It’s quite beautiful here! I love being out on the water. Perhaps it’s the sailor in me, but some of my best memories are out on the ocean or in it! I thought how fortunate I am to be here and doing the things that I love to do. Each day is a gift. It’s so easy to forget that sometimes! I’d had a great weekend of diving!
After arriving back at the dive shop, I rinsed my gear and let Snoopy know I was finished diving as I needed to review photos and make picks so I could make the deadline the next day. I didn’t think I’d have time to dive again and still get that done.
The next day, Monday, April 24th, I met my friend Mark for lunch. Mark suggested the Cafe Racer Diner. He told me it had the best cheeseburger he’d eaten in the Philippines! After lunch, I had to agree! We caught up a bit more on what we’d been doing and Mark talked about his plans for the dive resort that is being built at Dauin. After lunch Mark had a meeting with his architect and I went along. I believe it’s going to be a really great resort! It’s in a perfect location on the beach with the Dauin Marine Sanctuary being directly in front of it!
There will be deluxe rooms, a home for the owner, a meeting room/lounge, and a gym. There will also be standard rooms and backpackers as well. One of the things Mark is going to offer is the opportunity for experienced divers to do their own dives. From his place you can literally just walk into the water and you’re in the marine sanctuary! After a checkout dive (and a waiver of course) he’s going to let experienced divers buddy up and do their own dives at a reduced rate. This is a great idea in my opinion. I know that all of my diving in the US is done this way. All my diving in Japan was this way. All of my diving in Guam was like this as well. 99% of my diving in the Philippines has been done with a guide, because that’s the way they do it here. Of course it’s also very inexpensive to have a guide compared to the US or Australia too!
After the meeting with the architect, Mark drove me over to House Reef to pick up my gear. I introduced him to Snoopy. It turned out that although they had never met, Mark did know him by reputation. They started talking and really hit it off. By the time we left they were discussing doing some business together. I had copied my entries for the photo contest to a USB drive and took care of getting those entered while Snoopy and Mark talked.
Mark dropped me off at Gabby’s afterward. I went up to my room and started packing. After packing, I took a shower, and was on the computer for a bit, then went down and had dinner. I turned in early.
The next morning I checked out. I was in a trike at 7:30 AM on my way to the port. The trike ride was 50 pesos (around $1 dollar). All of the ferry lines were near the gate to the ferry terminal, except Ocean Jet. That turned out to be across the main street before entering the area of the gate. Once I got straightened out and had my ticket I went back to the gate where I was checked by a security guard and waived through (you have to have a ticket to get in). I paid 15 pesos for a terminal fee and 80 pesos portage fees for my dive bag. They took the big bag and I held on too my pelican case that my camera and electronics are in. I was on the ferry by 8 AM.
The ferry left at 8:30 AM and we arrived in Tagbilaran at 10:30 AM. After leaving the ferry I was directed to go around to the ticket window in the front and show my ticket. Then I had to pass through security again to get back into the terminal (no this didn’t make much sense to me either!)
While sitting in the terminal a guy walked by me who had a pelican case very similar to mine (except mine has stickers all over it). I noticed from his hat that he was a diver and we struck up a conversation. We introduced ourselves. He turned out to have just been diving in Dumaguete and was on his way to Malapascua where I’d been the week before. We chatted in the terminal while waiting for our ferry.
We were both in business class and we continued our conversation once we’d boarded. We expressed some concern to each other that our gear had made it on the ferry and I offered to step out and check. He pulled up a photo of his baggage (two big footlockers and a large bag actually). He commented that was just to make it easier to get help finding his bags, especially if there were a language barrier. Pretty smart I thought! I went outside to check and sure enough everything was there.
After that we started sharing photos that we had (mine on my smart phone and him on his small tablet). One of the first photos I saw I thought looked familiar. Turned out it had been a magazine cover! When he’d introduced himself, I thought the name sounded familiar. I had just met David Fleetham, one of the most published underwater photographers in the world! He didn’t say that by the way, I looked him up later. Here’s a guy who has had over 200 magazine covers, including the only underwater photo to ever make the cover of Life Magazine! He was a super nice guy and we spent an enjoyable couple of hours talking about photography and places we’d dived.
When we got to Cebu City we put our bags together and I watched his while he went to see if he could find the guy who was meeting him to take him to Malapascua. He came back with his driver and they picked up his cases. We walked out to the main gate, wished each other well and he got in the van to Malapascua and I got in a taxi to my hotel.
The next day I flew back to Clark. This concludes my trip to Dumaguete…. Finally! Aren’t y’all happy I’m finished? 😉
A short epilogue: Results came out a few days ago and I did not make the list of finalists in the photo contest. I wasn’t surprised. I thought my photos were fine, but nothing exceptional. It’s a very demanding contest and the competition was quite stiff. I saw some of the photos my fellow competitors were shooting and I was really impressed! What was important to me was that I had a good time doing the things that I really enjoy. I also feel that the conditions of the contest caused me to think about some things that will help me be a better photographer. Always striving to be better is a worthy goal in itself!
I chatted with my friend Mark in Australia yesterday and he and Snoopy have decided to work together on some things. Mark was quite happy about that as he would not have met Snoopy if not for me diving with him during the contest. They’re setting up an area now for Snoopy to work from right there on the beach at the Dauin Marine Sanctuary. For now Snoopy will be the instructor for anyone booking a course (Mark is an avid diver, but not an instructor). Anyone booking dives will be diving through Snoopy until they are fully operational. Snoopy will be able to book accommodations at the resort for his guests (as I mentioned earlier he has limited rooms). They will work together to fill boats for Apo Island, Oslob, and Siquijor Island trips. It’s a win/win for both of them. As of now, the fence has been completed and construction has started on 2 deluxe rooms and a home for the owner. It’s going to be hard to beat the convenience of being able to dive where you are staying! I’ve been invited to come back down and I fully expect that I will! I’m sure I’ll be writing more about his place in a future blog post!
Almost caught up! I was diving in Anilao just last week and I’ll be writing about that trip next. One of the things that people have lamented about for as long as I’ve been aware of Anilao is the way “pricing” is done there. It can be quite expensive for divers traveling alone. Well I’ve discovered a place that is quite reasonable and I’m going to write about it in my next blog post.
If you’re enjoying my blog please subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Just click on the subscribe button. It will only take a moment!
After the days diving we stripped off our gear and put it in our crates for transport back to the dive shop. We then loaded into the jeepney for the ride back. There seemed to be a bit more traffic on the way back. Once at the dive shop, I gave my camera gear a good rinse, said my goodbyes, and walked the half block to the main road. From there I waved down a trike and headed back to Gabby’s.
After a shower, I went down and grabbed some food. Breakfast of course 🙂 Afterwards, I went back to my room, put all my batteries on charge, worked on photos a bit, checked Facebook, and went to sleep early.
The next morning, Saturday, April 22nd, after a good nights sleep and breakfast, I set up my camera equipment with fully charged batteries. Then went out front and waived down a trike for the ride to dive shop. There we had a repeat more or less of the day before. A small amount of socializing. Verified all our gear was back in our crate, and then we loaded up for the trip to Dauin.
The dives on the second day were boat dives and we were to visit some sites outside of the sanctuary. The sites were all close by and we started gearing up once everyone was on the boat and we took off. The first dive site was called San Miguel (maybe after the beer?). It was mainly sandy bottom with some debris and coral here and there. My dive started at 9:17 AM. Although we dropped in with guides, we became spread out fairly quickly as we found subjects to focus our attention on. At the beginning of the dive I spotted a couple of sea snails creeping along the bottom. Then I saw a sunken piece of driftwood with a few gobies on the top. I saw that as an opportunity to work with the snoot I’d just purchased for my strobe.
What a snoot does is restrict the light from your strobe to a smaller area. They’re used to highlight the subject or certain areas of the subject. I’d used them in studio photography, but never underwater. When I was in Singapore for ADEX, one of the seminars I attended talked about the use of snoots and I was intrigued by the idea. When I visited Splash in Manila I talked to Jovic about it and bought one to add to my equipment. One of the things Jovic said to me was that some of the subjects I photographed would often blend into the background. Maybe not surprising when you consider that camouflage is a tool used by both predator and prey in the ocean. A snoot could help separate the subject from the background. The goby seemed a perfect subject to practice this on! I ended up spending a good period of time there… as long as I could get away with until my computer told me it was time. This was the maximum depth of my dive at 68 feet.
As I worked my way back up the slope, I saw a squat lobster on another piece of sunken driftwood. Took a few photos, then moved towards the area where the boat was moored. It was running close to an hour at this time and I could see other divers getting back on the boat. Although we’d been a bit spread out, we had always been in sight of other divers. Depth here was maybe 15-20 feet. By the time it was clear, my safety stop was finished. My total dive time ended up at 63 minutes. Water temperature was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and as I mentioned earlier, my maximum depth was 68 feet.
The boat moved to the second dive site called Ginaman. Most of the photographers spent the surface interval chatting and sharing what they had shot with their friends. When it was time we geared up and stepped in for our second dive. This dive started at 11:33 AM. Almost immediately I discovered that a large pillar of concrete almost completely encrusted in corals with plenty of life on it in less than 15 feet of water. I took my time moving around it. First was a juvenile lionfish. After taking several photos, I moved on and discovered a seahorse moving along the base. After photographing that, I found a banded boxer coral shrimp. Then another seahorse! Then a shortfin lionfish (also a juvenile), then a juvenile filefish. A little toby, then three more shortfin lionfish! Of course there were the usual cardinalfish, wrasse, and damselfish. It was a very small area, not more than a couple of yards on a side, but it was teeming with life!
From there I moved out onto the sand and seagrass. I found a bottle with a crab dug in underneath. Commensal shrimp, there were a few fire urchins about. I found a small white sea hare. Then some coral outcroppings with Christmas Tree worms, and an anemone with saddleback anemonefish. To finish off the dive I photographed a small school of juvenile catfish. I was right underneath the boat and waiting for people to get on. They came along, feeding and swarming along the bottom as everyone who dives has seen numerous times! I thought, “why not?” and snapped a few shots! The second dive ended up being 69 minutes long with a maximum depth of only 17 feet. Water temperature was 81 degrees Fahrenheit. I ended up back on the boat with my tanks still over half full!
At this point we headed in to the beach at the marine sanctuary. I was invited to have lunch, but I opted to stay on the boat and take a nap! I think I was still recovering from my trip down from Malapascua!
After lunch, everyone started returning to the boat. For the third dive we dropped in a site called Punta. My dive started at 2:59 PM. Punta also turned out to be a sandy bottom with some coral here and there. I almost immediately discovered a waspfish! I haven’t seen them very often so I was happy to find one! The last one I’d seen was in Puerto Galera last year. I took several photos and moved on.
I spied a goby and took a few photos. As I kicked away from the goby I saw a small frogfish! As I began to work around the frogfish it occurred to me that I’d never gotten a picture of one with it’s mouth open. I’d heard that all one had to be was patient and here was an opportunity as I was in a group of people who could quite easily spend a significant amount of time photographing just one subject to get it right! After shooting several angles and checking exposures. I settled down to wait. 30 minutes later the frogfish yawned! After getting the shot from the side I knew that I was going to have to do this again at some point to get the same shot from the front. Still I was pretty happy to get the shot!
After getting that shot I started towards the guide and the other photographer curious about what they were shooting and had a crab come scuttling along. As I maneuvered for a shot, he seemed quite willing to attack me if I got to close! After taking a couple of photos I let him go! I’d spent so much time on the frogfish, that ended up being my last shot of the dive! I checked my time and it was time to head for the boat so I caught up just in time. I never did see what the other photographer was shooting! I ended up with a dive time of 62 minutes with a maximum depth of only 13 feet! Yes I had well over half a tank left again! 🙂 Water temperature was 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Not surprising it was a bit warmer given the shallow depth.
We headed back to the marine sanctuary after the dive where we offloaded and were transported back to the dive shop in Dumaguete. Again taking about an hour with traffic. At the dive shop, it was a repeat of the day before. I rinsed my camera equipment, said my goodbye’s and walked down to the main road to catch a trike to the hotel.
I grabbed a quick shower and then went to meet my friend Mark Gormley. Mark and I met the first time I came to Dumaguete in December 2009. Mark is from Australia where he’s in manufacturing. His wife Marmae is from Cebu. When he and I dived together at Dauin he showed me his lot which is beachfront at the Dauin Marine Sanctuary and talked about his plans to someday build a dive resort there. Although it’s been 7 years since we’d seen each other, we’d kept in touch via Facebook and occasionally chatting. By sheer coincidence he and his wife were in town the same time I was there. He’d messaged me a couple of weeks earlier and I’d let him know that I was going to be there so of course we made plans to get together.
Mark called me on the phone from Australia last December and talked to me for 3 hours after I got out of the hospital in Singapore following my heart attack. Mark also had gone through a heart attack a few years ago and he wanted me to know that it didn’t mean that I wouldn’t be able to dive again.
I’d been told by the cardiologist that did my first angioplasty and stent in Singapore (and I have to say also saved my life), that I shouldn’t be in denial and that I’d likely never dive again. Mark assured me that lots of people, including him, did come back to diving after a heart attack so this was not necessarily true. I was really appreciative of that at the time as although I’d put on a positive face for “Facebook”, I was quite depressed about the possibility that I wouldn’t dive again. I never knew about Mark’s heart attack as he’d never mentioned it to me when we’d chatted.
I met Mark and his wife and niece at the Hayahay which is a great local restaurant. They will let you pick out your seafood and cook it to order. They have good pizza’s too! We had an enjoyable evening catching up. Mark has spent a lot of time in the Philippines and has been coming here even longer than I have. He’s a wealth of knowledge on the Philippines and also on the local dive scene. They gave me a ride back to Gabby’s and we made plans to try and see each other again before I left. I’ll talk a bit more about the resort he’s going to open in my next post.
My next post will start with our day trip to Apo Island. I’ll be working on that tomorrow so stay tuned!
I left Malapascua Island on Wednesday, the 19th. I decided to break up the trip and spend the night in Cebu. I used the Agoda app on my phone to book again with Travelbee Business Inn. After catching the ferry over, I caught a bus from Maya to Cebu City. Bus fare was 200 pesos. The bus departed at 12:05 PM and arrived in Cebu City, North Bus Terminal at 5:15 PM. From there I caught a cab to the hotel. To find the loading area for taxis, walk out to the main road and turn right. Walk until you see the sign for the loading area. It’s not far, maybe 50 yards down the road.
After arriving at the hotel, I spent some time working on enhancing my website and getting a new Facebook page setup. I continued working on it the next morning. I got involved with that and I ended up with a much later start than I had originally planned. I thought I still had plenty of time. It turned out I was wrong!
I had checked the ferry schedules and it looked like the last ferry was at 1 PM so plenty of time I thought when I left the hotel at 11:30 AM. That turned out not to be the case. The ferry I needed to be on was leaving about the time I was leaving the hotel!
The last time I went to Dumaguete, I’d ridden the same ferry all the way to Dumaguete from Cebu City, with a stop at Tagbiliran. That has changed. Now you have to get off at Tagbiliran and catch a different ferry, In order to meet the check-in time I needed to already be there before the scheduled departure at Tagbiliran for Dumaguete. In hindsight I should have checked, but I was tired from my long trip (and getting up early that day to dive Monad Shoal), and didn’t get near as much sleep as I should have the night before. Lesson learned!
I also discovered the ticket counters for the different ferry terminals (I use Ocean Jet) are no longer inside the terminal. They are on the main road entering the pier area. On the right, just before going through the gate. I’d had the taxi drop me next to the terminal building as that was where all the ticket counters were last year.
I got on my phone and did some quick checking and found that I could get a bus to Dumaguete. I caught a taxi to the South Bus Terminal and just made the bus. This is a much less comfortable trip, but I did save quite a bit of money at least! Bus fare was only 270 pesos. The bus departed at 12:25 PM to Dumaguete via Oslob, which meant the bus went down the east coast of the island of Cebu. The bus actually drove onto a ferry and we got off while the ferry made the crossing to Negros Oriental. The ferry was not included and we had to pay an additional 70 pesos which was a bit surprising. Count on it taking 5-6 hours. As always, it depends on the bus and how many stops it makes. Because most buses in the Philippines will stop wherever they are asked to by passengers, that can mean more or less stops depending on “who” is on the bus! It ended up taking just over 5 hours to the ferry, with one stop for passengers to get off the bus so they could use the CR and grab some food. The crossing was fairly quick, less than an hour, then less than an hour to Dumaguete after that. The bus passes through the city so if your accommodations are on the northeast side of the city you can let the conductor know and they will let you out.
I enjoy taking the ferry myself and always take business class. It’s one of the few areas where I opt to pay the money. After the long bus ride the day before, I’d been looking forward to a nice relaxing ferry ride… unfortunately it wasn’t to be!
I’d used the Agoda app again to book a room at Gabby’s Bed and Breakfast. As has happened to me before, it turned out to be cheaper to book online than to book in person! After getting off the bus, I had a trike transport me with my bags to the hotel. The hotel turned out to be very nice. They have all day breakfast (my favorite meal, I’ve been known to eat “breakfast” 3 times a day:)). The people were friendly and it was a very laid back atmosphere. The owner definitely had an artistic bend and the rooms had a nautical/scuba diving theme. The theme of my room was lionfish and I thought given that I’m a Leo and I have photographed so many lionfish, that it was somehow appropriate 🙂
After checking in and being shown to my room, I went down to the restaurant to grab some food. I’d not eaten anything but a couple of snacks all day so I was ready to eat! I had breakfast of course 🙂 The food turned out to be really good… exceptional actually. I have to add it to one of my favorite restaurant’s in the Philippines… yes it was that good!
So, why did I change my original plan made in March of spending a couple of weeks diving in Malapascua in April? I’d planned on going back to Dumaguete eventually as it’s world-renowned for the muck diving. Before I went to Singapore I had visited the Splash UW Photo-Video store in Manila and my friend Jovic Santos who is the owner. I met Jovic last year as he is the local Ikelite dealer. He also owns a chain of stores called Stride and Stroke which focus on on outdoor sports, especially water sports and scuba diving.
I went by to visit because I’ve been thinking about upgrading my camera system and knew he would be a good person to discuss that with. It was the first time he’d seen me since I’d had my heart attack and he was really happy that I was diving again. He mentioned the yearly photo contest and that there would be 2 legs this year. The first leg was in Dumaguete and he encouraged me to participate. I thought, “why not?” and decided to plan on attending. Although I’d made tentative plans to go to Singapore, I’d really leaned towards going back to Malapascua the beginning of April. In the end I did decide to go to Singapore and had a great time so no regrets.
SEA (Small Exotic Animals) Philippines is a yearly photographic contest that is sponsored by Splash. It’s been around since 2011. It’s an amateur contest with rules that practically force you to become a better photographer! To start with, there are no enhancements… at all! No cropping, no adjustments for color or density, no removing backscatter. Everything is done with the camera so you have to get it right the first time. No coming back to fix it later!
We all take photos that when we look at them on our computer we say, “I like it the way it is” and we don’t do anything to it. Believe it or not, that doesn’t happen all the time! 🙂 The goal should be to make all our photos look that way. It’s a goal we’ll never reach (lot’s of variables in photography), but it’s still a goal worth striving for… to take a perfect photo every time. In this contest, the goal is to take a perfect photo… that makes technical proficiency a very big part of the contest. Even if you don’t win, you learn, and that is the real goal. To become a better photographer!
The first day of the contest I was up early. I charged all my batteries the night before. I took out my clothes and things I would need at the hotel. After a great breakfast, I grabbed my gear, went outside, and waived a trike over. It took a bit of work as my Visayan is pretty much non-existent (I’ve really only studied Tagalog), and the trike driver spoke very little English, but with the help of Google Maps on my smart phone I was able to explain where we needed to go. The dive shop was actually fairly close by. Maybe 5 minutes at most.
The name of the dive shop is “House Reef” and it’s owned and operated by Andre Montenegro, who goes by “Snoopy”. Someone with decades of experience who grew up right in Dumaguete. He has a BS in Civil Engineering from Silliman University in Dumaguete. Snoopy is a PADI Master Instructor. From the PADI website “PADI Master Instructors are recognized as elite scuba diving educators who, through dedication and hard work, have proven to be dive industry leaders. You earn the Master Instructor rating by exemplifying what it means to be a scuba diving professional through your teaching efforts and professional conduct.”
Snoopy is an accomplished underwater photographer. He is well known within the diving community both in the Philippines and abroad. They’ve been around for over 30 years now so obviously they’re doing something right! Snoopy also happens to be a laid-back and super nice guy 🙂
The dive shop is very modern. It has it’s own pool for training, along with office, classroom, and showroom space. There is a small bed and breakfast on the premises, but book ahead as those rooms can be booked well in advance. Convenient accommodations can be arranged nearby if they are full (they were when I visited, but I decided quite late to participate in the contest). I had a great weekend of diving with them and would have no problem recommending this dive operation to anyone looking to experience some of the better known dive destinations in the Philippines!
Jovic was at the dive shop when I arrived. He introduced me to a few of the other divers and to Snoopy. I took care of registration and then got my camera set up. My gear was put into a crate and I stored my dive bag in the shop, along with my Pelican case that I transport my camera equipment in. I’d already staged all my chargers at the hotel so I could re-charge batteries in the evening.
The shop has it’s own jeepney’s and trucks for transporting equipment and people. Once the dive gear was loaded we grabbed our camera equipment and jumped into the jeepney for the ride to Dauin. The first day of diving was in the Dauin Poblacion Marine Sanctuary. The shop is on the other side of Dumaguete so a good 45 minute ride with traffic. After arriving we were assigned a guide and we started gearing up for the first dive.
The sanctuary is mostly sandy bottom… in with a few areas of coral. There have also been areas where items have been sunk to provide mini-artificial reefs and these items have become encrusted with coral. Everything from an old car to automobile tires have been placed and they generally swarm with life. My dive started at 10:15 AM. During this first dive we followed the slope down to 90 feet where an old car was sunk. Here were two groupers chasing each other in and out of the car. This was quite entertaining to watch. This was the deepest part of the dive. After several minutes we began making our way up the slope. One of the first things we got a chance to photograph was an Ornate Ghost Pipefish. Then a juvenile white frogfish, followed shortly after by a black frogfish! A very nice dive to start my weekend. Dive time ended up at 69 minutes with a maximum depth of 91 feet. Water temperature was 79 degrees fahrenheit.
The second dive started at 12:23 and was a different area within the sanctuary. I spied a tiny hawkfish perching on top of some bubble coral, cardinalfish, and commensal shrimp dancing it’s way across the top of an anemone. A pufferfish, more cardinalfish, then two pufferfish together but different species. A lionfish, then a neon damselfish. Another frogfish and right at the end a snake eel down in it’s hole that refused to come out to have his picture taken! Dive time was 54 minutes with a maximum depth of 79 feet. Water temperature was 80 degrees on the second dive.
Once we were back ashore we had a break for lunch. There are places there on the beach where you can purchase lunch. After food and a short break we geared up for the third dive of the day.
My third dive started at 3:07 PM. The area we were diving had open structures that had been constructed of blocks and old tires to form artificial reefs. Laying in the bottom inside one of these was a reef stonefish.
There were schools of snapper moving around the structures also. We moved up the slope where we spotted plenty of gobies in the sand. A decorator crab, then a hermit crab. An anemone with a commensal shrimp. Near another area of debris and old rope we found another ornate ghost pipefish.
More cardinalfish, filefish, and near the end of the dive a seahorse making it’s way along the sand. Dive time ended up at 61 minutes with a maximum depth of 86 feet. Water temperature was again 80 degrees.
I’m going to break this up into two parts as I’ve done with other posts. I still have two more dive days in Dumaguete that I will write about next. I’m still running a month behind, but at least it’s not getting longer than that! After that I’ll be writing about my long weekend in Anilao earlier this month so stay tuned!
After a decent nights sleep, I woke up on Wednesday, March 22nd (yes my blog is over a month behind but I’m going to catch up I promise!), had breakfast, then had the desk call a taxi. The North Bus Station in Cebu City is about the same distance from Kiwi Lodge as the South Bus Station. A short ride to the bus station and then I was on a bus headed to Maya. 5 hours later we arrived at the pier in Maya.
At Maya the bus lets you out at the new pier. You’ll be asked to log in with the tourist association, then you will purchase a ticket. Price of a ticket on the ferry is a 100 pesos. When the boat was ready we were directed to the boat and someone took our tickets. Be prepared to wade through the water (usually not more than ankle deep) to a ramp to get up on the boat. About 35 minutes later we were walking off the boat at Bounty Beach.
I should add here that last year when I spent 4 weeks on Malapascua Island that I came and went 4 times. Only one of those times did the ferry go to Bounty Beach. When I was in Malapascua again a couple of weeks ago, we were also dropped off at Bounty Beach so perhaps this is something new. What was more normal last year was to go to the port and if it were low tide, a small boat would transport us for 20 pesos. Again, be prepared to get your feet wet.
I opted to stay at Purple Snapper which is under new management and ownership. I knew from having stayed there last year, that the rooms were much more inexpensive than anything I would find on the beach! When I arrived I discovered everything was in the process of being changed over, including the name which has been changed to Sharks Tail. Interestingly enough, I again ended up in the same room that I’d stayed at on my last visit when I stayed for 4 weeks last April. As I’ve said in other blog posts, I often will get the least expensive room. This usually turns out to be a fan room with no television in some places.
Unlike my last trip, the bar and kitchen were open this time, and there was water in the swimming pool! Last year the pool was empty! I met Greg, the new manager, and it sounds like they’re really going to do a lot with the place.
Although I was offered the opportunity to dive with Shark’s Tail, I opted to dive with Evolution. Nothing against Shark’s Tale, but I’ve been diving with Evolution since 2010 and don’t feel any need to go somewhere else. I’ve been very happy with their operation which I consider to be a very professional one.
I was in Malapascua again just over a week ago and have done over 80 dives with Evolution now. At present I’ve done over a 100 dives in Malapascua. I made my first dive there in October 2007. I’ve not gone every year, but I have made six trips now… there must be some reason I keep going back!
This trip I was only planning 3 dive days. I was exhausted after the long bus ride so I opted NOT to get up early for the shark dive. Instead there was trip going to Kalanggaman Island the next day and of course I signed up!
Kalanggaman Island technically is in Leyte so it’s a bit of boat ride to get there. It’s an all day trip. It leaves around 9 AM and takes an hour and a half to two hours to get there, depending on weather of course. There is an extra fee involved of course because of the long boat ride, 650 pesos, which also included lunch. There is also a Marine Fee charged by the Leyte government of 500 pesos, so yes you are paying an extra 575 pesos per dive (don’t forget lunch is included though). I always try to go to Kalanggaman every time I visit Malapascua though. The diving is just that amazing!
Kalanggaman Island is wall diving for the most part. You drop in over a sandy area, then swim over the wall and descend from there. Visibility is often well over 50 feet to as much as a 100 feet!
After a good nights sleep and breakfast at The Craic House (Evolution Dive Resorts restaurant), we had our briefing at 8:45 AM. By 9 AM everyone was on the boat and we were underway.
I always try to sit in the middle of the boat. I’m one of those people who just cannot get a tan it seems. I can get very red though! It was a nice relaxing trip. The weather was absolutely beautiful! As we were approaching the island a pod of dolphins was spotted and the boat briefly followed them. Sometimes dolphins seem to want to play and will race along in front of the boat, with occasional leaps into the air, like they are just having fun with us! Today though they seemed to have other things on their agenda so we continued on to the island.
At 10:55 we were starting our first dive. Our guide was Mette Hallum who is a dive instructor from Denmark. I actually have a photo of her from a dive on Monad Shoal last year. Right at the beginning of the dive there was an eagle ray hanging out near the mooring line and I took several photos of Mette shooting video of an eagle ray with her GoPro.
I’m never disappointed when I dive Kalanggaman. Visibility was easily 50-60 feet. Right at the beginning of the dive Mette spotted a black frogfish. I never seem to get tired of photographing frogfish! There are loads of hard and soft corals at Kalanggaman Island and they are in good shape. You can see schools of jacks and rainbow runners. Lots of wrasse and damselfish. Scorpionfish, frogfish, nudibranchs, triggerfish, parrotfish, schools of anthia’s, hawkfish sitting on coral, just waiting to swoop somewhere, coleman shrimp, anemonefish, ghost shrimp, butterflyfish,… all the “usual suspects” as I’m prone to call them. Water temperature was 78 degrees Fahrenheit and my maximum depth ended up being 88 feet. The dive ended up being 44 minutes.
During the surface interval we pulled in too shore and had lunch. After lunch we were able to get off the boat and walk around the island. There are a few basic facilities there, but no water or food. You have to bring your own. I walked around the island a bit and snapped a few photos then back to the boat. The boat pulled out again and we headed to do our second dive.
I started the second dive at 1:28 PM. We again were diving the wall, but a different area than the first dive. Pretty early in the dive Mette found an ornate ghost pipefish next to a crinoid which I took several shots of. The rest of the dive was much like the first one. Lot’s of fish, anthia’s, damselfish, more hawkfish, a couple of different white-eyed moray’s… just another awesome dive! Maximum depth on this dive was 66 feet. Water temperatures were a bit warmer at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, since we didn’t go quite as deep as the first dive. This dive was 56 minutes.
After everyone was back on board, we got underway and headed back to Malapascua Island. We arrived at Evolution Dive Resort before 5 PM. I checked out the board for dives that were scheduled for the next day. I had planned a full day of diving for the next day, but trips to Gato Island require a minimum of four divers. I’d let it be known that I really wanted to dive Gato Island and it had been put on the board before we left that morning. I was happy to see there were enough divers. I signed up to do the early morning Thresher Shark dive at Monad Shoal and also the night dive at Pipefish Bay. After dinner at Craic House, I headed back to Sharks Tale for some rest. It was going to be a long day the next day!
The big draw that Malapascua Island has for most people is thresher sharks. It’s the only place in the world where recreational divers can see them on a reliable basis. Is it a 100%? No of course not and no reputable dive operation should promise that. We’re still dealing with a wild animal and conditions, especially current can affect sightings. Having said that, I’d estimate that over 80% of the dives I’ve made on Monad Shoal, I saw thresher sharks. Another way of looking at it would be in a one month period there might be a half dozen or so days when no sharks or sighted which means you’re much more likely than not to see sharks!
Monad Shoal is an underwater island that is actually larger than Malapascua. Scientists currently believe that thresher sharks migrate to the area of Monad Shoal to utilize the services of particular species of cleaner fish that are found there. It’s about a 40 minute boat ride depending on conditions. You have to get up early to see thresher sharks. Early morning is the only time when sightings are consistent. The species that is seen here is the pelagic thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus).
Dive briefings at Evolution for the morning trip to Monad take place at 4:45 AM. The staff and boat crews are there much earlier making preparations and loading all the gear on the boat. Divers who have already been diving will grab their wetsuits. Wetsuits are always hung up separately from the gear to allow them to be at least somewhat dry from the previous days diving. It’s easier to let divers find their own wetsuit where it’s hung up. It would be difficult for the crew to know which is which since they’re hung up together, especially in the dark! Once the briefing is over everyone will be transported by small boat (it’s low tide in the morning) out to one of the large bangka boats for the trip to Monad.
I was up at 4:15 AM the next morning. I give myself enough time to wake up in the morning and get my camera gear set up. The walk to Evolution is only about 5 minutes, so not far at all. When I got there I grabbed my wetsuit and then sat and waited for the brief. The brief was given right on time at 4:45 AM. One of the rules is that if you don’t show up for the brief, then you will be charged for the dive. This is just to make sure that people don’t blow off the dive. The crew comes in early to load the boats so there is a lot of work to be done in preparation to go out. Having said that, as long as you show up, if you decide that you are not up to a dive that day, or want to call the dive for any reason, you can do so and there will be no charge.
As soon as the brief was finished, we headed to the beach where a small boat took us out to the Haldane, one of Evolutions dive bangka’s. It’s still dark outside at this point, but we can see a hint of light off to the east. Once on the boat, a boat brief is given for everyone who is on the boat for the first time. Everyone checks their boxes to double-check that there gear is all there. People are human, so things can get mis-placed, although in my experience, having dived with them for years, this is extremely rare. Always best to err on the side of caution. No one wants to get out to the dive site and not have all their equipment. The tanks are normally already set up and I double check mine. After all, I’m the one who is diving with it! After that I go and make myself a cup of coffee and sit in the back while the boat gets underway. By 5 AM we were on our way to Monad Shoal.
As we approach Monad Shoal everyone starts getting ready. People put on their wetsuits and booties, strap on dive computers, apply de-fog (or spit for all the old-school divers), and stage mask, fins, camera’s, etc… By now there is plenty of light as the sky brightens with the arrival of sunrise. Within minutes of arriving at Monad, the crew assists divers with their tanks, final checks are completed and divers start stepping into the water with a giant stride entry. I was in the first group. Our guide this morning was Alex, one of Evolution’s Filipino guides. I’ve been diving with Filipino guides for almost 10 years now and they have always impressed me with their skills. Evolution has some of the best guides I’ve had the pleasure of diving with over the years. I’ve often said that almost everything I learned about spotting, I learned from my Filipino guides!
I stepped in, was handed my camera by a crew member and then finned over to Alex while we waited for the rest of our group. Once we were all together, Alex got a final ok from everyone, then a thumbs down for descent. I dumped the air from my wing and my dive began at 5:47 AM.
The best word to describe Monad Shoal at this time of the morning is “twilight”. By now there is enough light in the sky that you can see quite well, but it is far from “bright”. The top of the shoal slopes and is at about 60 feet on the shallow side. The slope continues down to over 80 feet. Around the edge of the shoal it drops off into over 700 feet of water. Visibility runs 30-60 feet depending on time of year and conditions. Where we started our dive it was about 60 feet deep. When I started to drop, I could not initially see the bottom, but it came into view very quickly. There are permanent mooring lines attached at different places. If there is current then you can use the mooring line to descend. This morning current was almost non-existent.
For most of the dive there were no sharks… this happens sometimes. Nothing is exact when it comes to predicting when they will be there. Sometimes we see them briefly, sometimes we see them the whole dive, and occasionally the sea gods are against us and we don’t them. Still, for me there really isn’t any such thing as a “bad” dive. As I said before there is plenty of life there on the shoal. I spotted a free swimming moray early on in this particular dive. Something you rarely see in full daylight conditions. There are also the usual marine life that you would see, anemonefish, damselfish, batfish, jacks, cleaner wrasse, shrimps, crabs, etc… All the “usual suspects” that those of you who follow my blog have heard me refer to them as.
One of the “rules” agreed to by all the dive operations on Malapascua Island, is that divers will not take lights are strobes on the morning thresher shark dive. There is a concern that if that was allowed, that the sharks might be scared away, and of course no one wants that! So, although I do often see other marine life, I rarely photograph it during that dive. At that depth and under those lighting conditions everything tends to be very “blue”! Sometimes in post-processing I convert to black and white because of that, and sometimes I leave it blue. It kind of depends on how I’m feeling at the moment!
When there are no sharks, I sometimes entertain myself by photographing the other divers. I usually want a few shots of divers anyway. My background in photo-journalism drives home the point that divers are a part of the “story” here and they really are. Diving is so much better when we have someone to share the experience with! I sometimes also will take the time to look at the other life on the shoal. I spend most of though like everyone else… looking for sharks!
At Monad there are a number of observation stations that have been set up. There are concrete blocks that have been sunk there and line attached. This is to give the sharks room to approach on their own. Again, if there were no organization here, and with so many divers in the water, there could be a possibility that the sharks would go elsewhere. During the morning dive when there are so many divers there, groups are to confine themselves to areas behind the lines. If no sharks are appearing at one viewing station, then a leisurely move to another station is allowed. Just keep away from the edges and behind the area where the lines have been installed. This maximizes sighting opportunities for the majority of divers. The system must work… as I said earlier seeing sharks is easily 80%! It’s important to understand though, that sharks can approach from any direction, occasionally they even come from behind you!
This morning, as luck would have it, we just weren’t seeing sharks. It happens…. Towards the end of the dive we had returned back to the area of the mooring line and a little beyond it, when Alex spotted a thresher shark in the distance in front of us, coming towards us! The shark swam right by me and I was able to take a few still photos, then switch to video. The shark went by, circled back a couple of times, then was gone into the blue. Awesome!
Back on the boat everyone was all smiles! People were talking, the photographers were sharing their photos and video’s, and it’s just general happiness, especially from those who have traveled from half-way around the world and sometimes only have a brief few days. Does life get any better? I ended with a 43 minute dive with a maximum depth of 77 feet. Water temperature was 79 degrees Fahrenheit.
We headed back to Evolution. I gave my camera gear a quick rinse, then headed to the restaurant for breakfast. I ordered, then dried off my housing so I could remove the camera and download photos from the morning dive. By 7:35 my breakfast was in front of me. After breakfast, I relaxed until it was time for the briefing for Gato Island at 9:45 AM. By 10:00 AM we were back on the boat and headed to Gato.
To be continued…
I hope you enjoy reading my blog. If you have, don’t miss my next post! Visit the “Subcribe” page and sign up now. It only takes a moment. Lot’s more coming! 🙂