Tag Archives: underwater adventures

Diving on New Years Day

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ ).

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” πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

I ended 2017 with a 147 dives. The first 2 dives of 2018 were in the log book! πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

I hope everyone enjoys my blog πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

Until next time!

On Becoming a Scuba Instructor

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 πŸ™‚

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! πŸ™‚

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 so I could use my educational benefits to pay for the course. Eric is retired from the US Air Force and understood that I would want to use the benefits I’d earned from my service to pay for training. 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 or spoke to people in Florida, Texas, and Hawaii. In the end I decided on Hawaii πŸ™‚

I flew to the Philippines in September. I had a couple of months to kill while I waited for the IDC to start in November, so why not go diving πŸ™‚ I flew home again the last week of October for a week. Then flew to Hawaii. I arrived in Hawaii on October 31st.Β  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.Β Unsurprisingly, since I’d done my Divemaster in 2009 and had never worked as a Divemaster I was pretty rusty πŸ™‚ 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 had no problems “doing” any of the skills, but “demonstrating” is much different than “doing” πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ In the end though, it would payoff!

Classroom and Pool sessions were held at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickham 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. πŸ™‚

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 as the primary instructor with assistance from Scott. Β  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.Β Four of these courses required dives and I completed these over 2 days, December 30th and 31st

Obviously I want to be able to teach underwater photography πŸ™‚ 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.Β  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.Β  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 πŸ™‚ Next time I plan to write about one of the great wrecks to dive on here in Hawaii, the YO-257.

Until next time πŸ™‚

Bauan Divers Sanctuary

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 πŸ˜‰ ) 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! πŸ˜€

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 πŸ™‚ 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!

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Short Update

A short update for those who have wondered where I’ve been the last couple of months since I’ve not published anything since August. I’ll also write a little about things that have been going on that I didn’t cover previously.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I flew home to Texas a few months ago on July 12th. After two months at home it was time to travel somewhere that I could dive on a more regular basis (the last couple of years that has been the Philippines, but stay tuned!)… I did only 15 dives during the 2 months I was home, all of them in a 3 week period between July 29th and August 18th… great dives, but still only 15 dives! It was time to go again. In one sense I travel to dive and I dive to travel… it all fit’s together somehow πŸ™‚ After boarding a flight in Houston on September 8th I arrived back in the Philippines on September 9th. (Yes I know I’m back to being over a month behind again!)

Obviously one of the first things I did after I got home in July was to set an appointment with a cardiologist to see where my recovery from my heart attack was. In March I was cleared to dive by my cardiolgist in the Philippines who put me at 80% then. I had both nuclear and treadmill stress tests in July the week after I arrived home and met with my new doctor there to renew my prescriptions. I had a second meeting with my cardiologist on August 10th to go over the results of my tests. He told me (although I already knew this) that the tests indicated that I’d had a massive heart attack with a significant amount of scarring around the top of my heart. He also said that I was lucky to be alive but I should make a full recovery. The tests indicated that my heart function was almost back to normal! I asked him to sign a PADI Medical Statement giving me clearance to dive and he did so.

A quick synopsis of diving while I was home… I started off with a couple of dives on the Texas Clipper, a very nice wreck dive off South Padre Island in Texas. My first time diving in Texas… Although I was born and raised in Texas somehow I’d never dived there! That was July 29th. On August 10th (right after meeting with my Doctor) I headed out to Florida. On the 11th I did two dives on the Oriskany, an Essex-class aircraft carrier and the worlds largest artificial reef. After arriving back at the marina, I loaded up the car and headed east on I-10 and then south on I-75 and the Florida Turnpike. After a night in a hotel along the way, I arrived in Venice, Florida (The Shark Tooth Capitol of the World) on the 12th. I relaxed on the 13th, and did two dives on the 14th coming up with a few fossils and two sharks teeth for my efforts. From Venice I headed south to the Florida Keys and Key Largo for 2 days of diving there and then north to Palm Beach County and two more days of diving. A very nice trip. I arrived back in Texas on August 21st, taking a few moments to view the eclipse along the way while passing through Alabama.

The first week of September I applied online for my certificate of eligibility from the Veterans Administration for educational benefits. This was in preparation to attend training to become a dive instructor (I got certified over 35 years ago… maybe it’s time!). On September 8th (as I mentioned earlier) I caught an EVA Airlines flight back to the Philippines, landing in Manila on September 9th. I caught a couple of hours of the DRT (Dive, Recreation, Travel) Expo that day and was there all day on the 10th. I ended up doing 33 dives between September 14th and October 1st (good to be back!). I dived in Subic Bay with Arizona Dive Resort, at Bauan Divers Sanctuary north of Anilao, with Anilao Scuba Dive Center in Anilao, and with Frontier Scuba in Puerto Galera. I’ll be writing more on these adventures in the next couple of weeks.

My certificate of eligibility for VA Educational Benefits was received the first week of October. After a fairly thorough search and corresponding with a few different dive operations with IDC’s (Instructor Development Course’s), I decided a trip to Hawaii was in my future! πŸ™‚ I’ll be arriving in Hawaii on October 31st. My IDC starts on November 6th. I’ll be doing my training up through MSDT (Master Scuba Diver Trainer) with Dive Oahu, a PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Center. By the time I complete my training I should be ready to teach PADI courses up through Divemaster along with Emergency First Response and ten specialities. I’m really looking forward to the training and the opportunity to dive in Hawaii!

Finally, on October 10th I was privileged to attend the finals of the Miss Scuba Philippines pageant as a guest of Lourdes and Mark Lowings, the owners of Bauan Divers Sanctuary and one of the pageants sponsors. Congrats to Cindy Madduma, Miss Scuba International 2015 and the pageant director for this years pageant in the Philippines. Putting something like this together take an enormous amount of time, effort, and dedication! Great job and I know everyone enjoyed the show!

I’ve enjoyed my time in the Philippines as I always do, but I’ll be headed back to Texas on the 22nd for another short break before leaving for Hawaii.

Coming up will be posts on DRT, Subic Bay, Bauan, Anilao, and Puerto Galera so stay tuned!

Palm Beach County, Florida-Sharks and Goliath Groupers!

When I was thinking about making my Florida trip in July, I made a post on Facebook asking for recommended dive ops. I’d been looking at different shark dives and had thought about going to Guadalupe Island in Mexico for the Great White Shark dives. In the end I decided I wasn’t going to be able to afford that nor did I think that a whole week sitting in a cage was something I wanted to really do! I wanted to photograph sharks, but I also wanted to see other things. I wanted variety! In Florida I could dive wrecks, reefs, and see sharks! For those who have been following my blog, I’d done two of the nicest wrecks in Florida (or anywhere for that matter) along with some great reefs with lots of fish. I’d even dived for fossils in Venice. Now it was time for sharks!

For sharks, my friend Jen Nelligan gave a recommendation for Deep Obsession out of Lake Park in Palm Beach County. I contacted them and heard back almost immediately (like within minutes) from Ryan Walton via Facebook and Amber Boutot via email who are the co-owners. I decided to dive with Deep Obsession after seeing how responsive they were and the strong recommendations from people who had dived with them. I booked a three tank trip on the 17th. As it turned out, it was also going to be the height of the 2 month spawning season for goliath groupers!

I might add that Palm Beach County in Florida attracts divers from everywhere. I made trips there whenever I could afford it back in the 80’s when I lived in Orlando. Why here? The Gulf Stream makes it’s closest approach to the US Mainland here. The end result is warm water, nice reefs, plenty of fish, and the chance to see pelagics like sharks. In other words… great diving!

As I mentioned in my last blog post, after diving Key Largo for two days I headed north. I got on the road about 2 PM. I opted to take the back roads, rather than the toll roads. I took my time and made a few stops along the way. By 5:30 PM I was pulling into the parking lot of the strip mall where Deep Obsession has a shop. Unfortunately I’d missed them and they were closed.

I walked in too Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures and Marine Life Art Gallery next door and inquired. I told the woman there I was diving with Deep Obsession the next day. She told me they were already gone for the day but were usually in the shop in the morning around 8 AM preparing to go out. I decided to take a look around the shop since I was there. I saw a very thin pair of gloves that I thought would be ideal for the shark dives. While I was paying I was asked if I had a hotel yet and when I said no she gave me a coupon for a discounted rate at Best Western!

I got back in my car and continued north up US Highway 1 until I reached the Best Western Plus in Palm Beach Gardens. At $75 dollars a night it was the second best rate I’d paid on the trip and turned out to be the nicest room! While checking in I asked for a room close to parking and downstairs because of all my gear and the desk clerk very nicely put me in a 1st floor room closest to the exit to the parking lot.

I got my things unpacked and messaged Amber that I’d arrived and would be in the next morning. Then I started setting up my camera gear. Before returning to the US I’d made a decision to upgrade my camera equipment and had starting ordering the week I came back. After a lot of research I opted for the Nikon D500. One issue was expense… which for an underwater photographer is going to be significant no matter what! By sticking with Nikon, it allowed me to use the lenses that I’d made a significant investment in already. I’d also decided to stay with Ikelite. Ikelite without a doubt makes some of the best strobes out there and I have and continue to receive good service from my DS125 and DS160. I also believe Ikelite makes a quality housing which is much less expensive than other systems. Yes I know other systems like Nauticam and Aquatica will go to 330 feet, but I don’t expect to ever dive that deep! The Ikelite is rated to 200 feet well beyond recreational depths so I don’t feel the need to pay for more safety margin I won’t use! I decided that all things considered I would be okay with Ikelite.

The first dives I’d done with the new system were on the Texas Clipper on July 29th. While familiarizing myself with the new camera I opted to use only my Kraken 5000 video light. My dives on the Oriskany in Pensacola and in Key Largo had all been done with just the camera, housing, and video light. I was still exploring exactly what my new Nikon D500 could do. I’d been getting decent results, but decided that now was the time to pull out my strobes. I got everything set up and tested to make sure it was all working. Then I went to sleep.

My alarm went off at 7 AM the next morning, Thursday, August 17th. I got up, grabbed a quick shower and dressed. I walked out to the lobby and got a cup of coffee, then walked over to the next building where breakfast was being served. After a leisurely breakfast I went back to my room and loaded everything in the car and left for the dive shop. I arrived there around 8:30 AM. Amber was there and we got all the usual paperwork out of the way including one that said I wouldn’t sue if a shark ate me… just kidding, it didn’t say that :)) After that I got directions to the boat which it turned out was only a couple blocks away.

I arrived at Lake Park Marina around 8:40 where there was a buzz of activity. The crew was loading the boat and told me to just leave my gear and tanks and they would take care of them. Those of us going out for the day just stayed out of the crews way and they took care of everything. They have a very large cooler with a top on it that was filled with fresh water. This was exclusively for cameras. Something nice to see! Once the boat was loaded I went aboard and started setting up my tank. A thorough brief was given about the boat by Scott, the Captain. We were underway shortly after 9 AM.

It was looking like another beautiful sunny day in Florida and the water was absolutely flat as we left the marina. I stood at the stern and chatted with Derek, one of the crew for the day. There wasn’t much traffic out as we made our way down the intracoastal, under the Blue Heron Bridge, past another marina, and then a left turn to the east and down the channel to the Atlantic Ocean. On the way out Autumn and Derek cut up fish and prepared a milk crate of chum that would be used to lure the sharks to us.

We pushed east towards our first dive site which Scott called Deep Ledge. Possibly because the water there approaches 150 feet deep! Plenty of sharks hang out there and the goal was to attract them up to a depth where we could have a prolonged interaction with them. Not much bottom time at a 150 feet!

Autumn and Tony gave a very thorough brief on the dive. Autumn would work with the sharks and Tony would be the safety diver. Her enthusiasm was contagious. She obviously really loves her job! For the dive we were to be completely covered. Hood, gloves, and no low top booties that would leave the ankles exposed. I’m thinking because light colored skin could be mistaken for a piece of fish and who want’s to feed one of their hands to the sharks? πŸ˜‰ This would be a bluewater dive. Everyone would enter the water and arrange ourselves around Autumn who would stay with the crate to prevent the sharks from tearing it up to get at the fish scraps! The crate would be suspended from a buoy on the surface at a depth of about 30 feet. We were cautioned not to let our depth drop to low as this could have an affect on the sharks and cause them not to come up.

We were given a warning 15 minutes before arriving at the site so we could start getting ready and everybody started gearing up. When we reached the site and given the word by Scott we started entering the water. I stepped off the dive platform, turned and Derek handed me my camera. Autumn was already doing her thing and we formed a rough circle around her, hovering in the water column. It didn’t take long for the sharks to start showing up! What followed was almost non-stop sharks for the hour! There were bull sharks, silky sharks, and sandbar sharks… sometimes only one and sometimes in two’s, three’s, and fours, but always there were sharks! It really was an amazing experience! I have many friends that do not dive (and some who do) who have communicated a fear of sharks, but I can truthfully say I never felt threatened in any way. The sharks were obviously not interested in us, but in the scraps of fish that Autumn would periodically toss from the crate into the water to the water column. Before we knew it our time was up and it was time to say goodbye to the sharks and surface. The dive started at 10:02 AM and lasted 55 minutes. Average depth was around 30 feet, but I did drop as deep as 46 feet a few times to get shots looking up. Water temperature was 84F and visibility was easily 50-60 feet…. a great dive!

Once on the boat, the crew circulated offering drinks and people chatted about the dive. A discussion ensued about the second dive and it was agreed that combining the next dive with an opportunity to see goliath groupers was something we would all like to do. Captain Scott set a course for the Bonaire.

The Esso Bonaire was a tanker built in Honduras in 1926. It was seized by the US Government when the US Customs Service discovered 55,000 lbs of marijuana aboard. The Economic Council of Palm Beach County purchased it to be sunk as an artificial reef. She was sunk 4 miles E/NE of Jupiter Inlet on 23 July 1989. She’s sitting upright on her keel in 85 feet of water.

The dive was briefed and because of current we planned a negative entry and drift down and into the wreck. This will stand out as one of my best dives! Autumn perched on the stern while we gathered behind her and she was swarmed by goliath groupers, sharks, and clouds of fish! They all wanted what was in the crate of course and she had to be quite firm with them to keep them off. After several minutes we moved off the wreck and made our depth shallower. The goliaths stayed with the wreck but the sharks stayed with us. At one point I counted 7 sharks and they were there for pretty much the entire dive! The action really was fast and furious and the dive was over much too soon! I had sharks swimming close enough to touch and I did! This dive started at 11:45 AM and lasted 58 minutes. Water temperature was again 84F and our maximum depth was 84 feet. Visibility was over 50 feet.

During the surface interval we had a light lunch. Sub sandwiches that were quite good! There were plenty of sodas and water too. The crew was good about encouraging people to stay hydrated.

The last dive of the day was a site called Shark Canyon. Shark Canyon is just a half mile south of Juno Beach Pier. We didn’t chum on this dive and we didn’t need too. What we saw here were mainly Caribbean reef sharks. We also saw some nice corals and plenty of fish. I spotted a very nice size lobster near the beginning of the dive. This was a drift dive and we went with the current. There were places we could drop out of the current and be sheltered by the reef and we made a couple of stops. There were plenty of sharks about and they weren’t shy about approaching either! I really enjoyed this dive as well. We started our dive 1:52 PM and I ended up with a 42 minute dive. Water temperature was 83F for this dive and maximum depth was 82 feet. Visibility was 40-50 feet.

As they’ve done on every boat I’ve dived with in Florida, roll was called after each dive. Nothing was left to chance in that respect! On the way back in I decided that I would stay and dive another day. The diving was that good! Before reaching the dock I went below and changed into dry clothes. When we arrived back at the dock, I took my camera and the crew assured me that they would take care of my gear and have my tanks filled for the next days diving. The next days diving had a departure time of 10 AM and I was asked to be at the shop around 9 AM to do paperwork. I said goodbye and headed to the car.

After getting back to the hotel I showered and rinsed my camera gear again. I put my batteries on charge and then started going through photos as I’d promised a shark photo to my friends and after picking one sent it out to them. I went out to Burger King for dinner later and then headed back to the hotel. I caught up on Facebook and then went to sleep.

I was up about 8 AM. I got dressed and went to breakfast. After breakfast I went back to the room and installed freshly charged batteries to my strobes and camera. Once everything was set up to my satisfaction I put everything in the car and headed to the dive shop. I was there about 9:15. Once I’d finished my paperwork, I headed over to the marina. My gear was on the boat and my tanks had been filled. I was ready for another great day of diving!

Everything from the day before pretty much repeated itself. Autumn and Tony were leading the dives. They were both very professional in their briefs as they’d been the day before. The first dive of the morning was North Double Ledges. The dive started at 10:26 AM. This was another drift dive. As in the previous day, there were loads of tropical fish. Only a couple of sharks, but that was to be expected almost as the day before had focused on sharks so they took us to sites where we would see the maximum number. I was diving air and my maximum depth was 85 feet. Sooner than I would have liked my computer was telling me it was time to surface. Most of the group was on nitrox, but as I was thinking about sending up my SMB I noticed one of the other divers in the group pulling his out. I did my ascent with him and his friend. Dive time was 37 minutes.

The second dive was at a site called The Corridors. Tony did a very thorough dive brief. This was another drift dive. In “The Corridors”, there are four wrecks and two rock piles so there was plenty to see. How much we got to see was going to depend on air and our computers.

This dive starts about a mile northeast of Lake Worth Inlet. The first wreck is the Mitzpah. She’s an old Greek luxury liner sitting in 86 feet of water. She was cleaned up for diving and has had all the doors and hatches removed and cleaned up for diving before being sunk as an artificial reef way back in 1968 making it the oldest artificial reef in Palm Beach County. We found several goliath groupers there. I managed to fight the current long enough to get some photos then drifted along the bottom to the end of the wreck and up to the deck. There were plenty of fish, but I was ready to go as I was watching my no-deco limit approach. I’d spent most of the time allotted for this wreck photographing the goliath groupers.

After a few minutes we started towards the second wreck in the lineup, the PC-1174, and old patrol craft. It’s heavily deteriorated and I spent almost no time there as by then my computer was starting to flash at me to go up. I grabbed a couple of shots and drifted as I started to go up. Nearby is an old rock pile.

I saw the next wreck, the Amarilys, as I drifted by. I looked down and saw another goliath grouper. This is a 441 foot long banana freighter that was blown ashore in a hurricane in 1965. The upper deck and helm were removed, but the lower deck, including the engines is still there. It was towed to the present site in 1968 and sunk in 85 feet of water as an artificial reef. Beyond that was is a sunken barge and then a pile of old concrete. I would have liked to explore it, but it was time to go up.

I sent up my SMB and after completing my safety stop surfaced. Captain Scott was nearby and came over to pick me up. My dive started at 12:16 PM and lasted 38 minutes. Water temperature was 84F and maximum depth was 85 feet once again. I estimated visibility at 50 feet plus.

Once back at the dock the crew unloaded my gear for me and I stowed it in my car. Then met a few of the other divers for a late lunch.

On Saturday morning I headed to Ft Myers to visit an old friend and his family. After spending the night I left Sunday afternoon, stopping in Orlando to have dinner with my step-son. From there I drove to Tallahassee where I stopped for the night. I got home to Texas late on Monday night.

After surviving Hurricane Harvey over the weekend I’m in the planning stages now for my next dive trip. I’m expecting to return to Dauin where my friend Mark Gormley, from Australia is very close to completion of a new dive resort. Beachfront at the Marine Sanctuary… It doesn’t get better than that! Stay tuned!

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El Nido, Philippines

After returning to the Philippines from my trip to Chuuk in Micronesia I started thinking about my next trip. I knew I would be headed back to the US on July 12th so I decided I would pick a destination in the Philippines. I’d been thinking about going to El Nido again ever since my buddy Ron from California had told me what a good time he had there. I had not been there since 2009 so I decided another trip was in order!

After a web search, I emailed three different dive operations to ask about rates. One criteria of course will be price, but I also want to see how responsive they are to email. This can be an indication about the service that I will receive. If I don’t have a personal recommendation then I will just pick and hope for the best. Normally it works out! Oliver Bachmann, one of the owners of Tabanka Divers, got back to me the same afternoon and offered me a great off-season rate! For diving I paid 3000 pesos a day for 3 dives a day, tanks, weights, boat, and a guide, and including lunch! At current exchange rates that’s less than $20 bucks a dive! I was also able to get a fan room in OG’s Pension House, which is above the dive shop. That was 800 pesos a night, which equates to around $16 dollars. I bought tickets for my flight through Cebu Pacific which is usually the cheapest way to fly in the Philippines.

I traveled by bus to Manila and as I normally do, stayed in a hotel overnight in Cubao. The next morning I took a cab to the airport. At 6:30 AM on Wednesday, June 21st the traffic was relatively light for Manila. Checking in online is the only way to go. Although I had my boarding pass on my phone, they still printed a boarding pass for me when I checked my bag.

The flight to Puerto Princesa was routine arriving at 11:45 AM. Transportation from the airport to El Nido was offered by the flight crew during the flight for 600 pesos. I along with other passengers opted to take advantage. We waited just outside the terminal for about 30 minutes before boarding a van to leave the airport. We were then taken to a parking lot just off the airport property where we boarded a different van. From there we went to the transportation terminal. There we waited another half hour for other passengers to join us before finally heading to El Nido shortly after 1 PM. Late June is the beginning of rainy season and we would have rain off and on on the road north to El Nido. We arrived around 7 PM, so about 6 hours for the trip.

It was rainy and already getting dark when the van arrived in El Nido at the transportation terminal where a trike took me too Tabanka Divers. Joy and Chris were waiting. Joy is the secretary and her husband Chris is one of the divemasters and guides. I got my gear unpacked and then checked in to my room upstairs.

After a good nights sleep (it rained off and on) I went downstairs to the shop. I was assigned a mesh gear bag for my gear. Each day the shop would load tanks and everyone’s gear on the boat. I opted to setup and break down my own gear. This was done on the boat. The shop would wash it and hang it up each day. Each day we went out in the morning and did 3 dives, breaking for lunch after the second dive. The boat usually left around 8:30 or so and we were usually making the first dive before 9:30 but it depended on how long it took to get Coast Guard clearance to depart and how far the first dive site was. The first dive of the day was always the deepest dive followed by more moderate depths. Every dive except one though was more than 60 feet deep.

One thing that was a bit annoying was that boats in El Nido are not allowed to go out until they are given clearance by the Coast Guard. Someone actually comes through each day and clears them. They also require all passengers to be in life vests before they can depart (of course the vests came off pretty quickly once we were out). I’ve not run in too this anywhere else in the Philippines! This was relatively minor though in the overall scheme of things.

I stayed for 5 dive days and did 15 dives at 11 different dive sites. Visibility was very good all five days, averaging 50 feet or more.

South Entalula- This was my first dive on Thursday, June 22nd. My dive started at 9:48 AM. This is a flat reef that begins in about 12-13 feet of water and drops to over 90 feet. Corals were in good shape. I spotted schools of fusilier’s, batfish, nudibranchs, angelfish, lionfish, lizardfish, anemonefish, parrotfish, and gobies. My dive time was 50 minutes and maximum depth was 94 feet.

South Miniloc-Lot’s of corals. It’s a flat reef with sloping sides. The top of the reef is around 15 feet. It slopes off to over a 140 feet. I did 2 dives here. The first dive was my second dive on the first day. That dive was 38 minutes (a beginner in the group) and had a maximum depth of 55 feet. Again the corals here were in good shape. I spotted, parrotfish, damselfish, cleaner wrasse, angelfish, blue-ribbon eel’s, bream, and the highlight of the dive was the large schools of snapper. Water temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

This was the third dive on Saturday, June 24th. This dive started at 1:44 PM and lasted 63 minutes. Blue-ribbon eel, butterflyfish, groupers, and moorish idol’s were all spotted during this dive. More of the same from the previous dive including a large school of snapper. There was also a large school of sweepers and small schools of fusiliers on this dive. Trumpetfish, a boxfish, and a few nudibranchs of course! Towards the end of the dive we spotted a turtle and I got some shots along with about a minute of video. Maximum depth was 64 feet and water temperature 84F.

Twin Rocks-This dive site is on the north side of Miniloc. It slopes from about 40 feet to around 70 feet with a sandy bottom. Large number of table corals and sponges. Lot’s of groupers on this dive. This was the third dive on the first day. The dive started at 3:36 PM and lasted 58 minutes. Maximum depth was 63 feet and water temperature was 81F. I spotted a snub-nose grouper near the beginning of the dive. Then a blacktip grouper and a coral grouper. There were schools of fusiliers flitting around. Another blacktip grouper. A variety of bream, and a leopard coral grouper. A small group of 3 nudibranchs, Chromodoris willani. Another coral grouper hiding under a table coral. Two nudibranchs near each other, Chromodoris annae. Damselfish, lionfish, anemonefish, and another nudibranch, Phyllidiella nigra. A Titan triggerfish with two cleaner wrasse working him over, damselfish, and more anemonefish. My maximum depth was 63 feet. Water temperature was 81 Fahrenheit.

Dilumacad Island AKA Helicopter Island-. My first dive on Friday, June 23rd. The dive started at 9:40 AM and was 49 minutes with a maximum depth of 97 feet. Water temperature was 83 Fahrenheit. Right at the beginning I saw a school of catfish, a fairly common sight. There was a nice anemone out in the sand with saddleback anemonefish and a porcelain crab. I saw a couple of blue-spotted rays during the dive. Nice corals, including a lot of lettuce corals. Schools of fusiliers that seemed to be everywhere in El Nido. Nudibranchs, whip corals, squirrelfish, blacktip grouper, moorish idol’s, emperor’s, and damselfish were all spotted on this dive.

It also turned out to be my last dive in El Nido as it was the third dive of the day on Monday, June 26th. The dive started at 1:47 PM and lasted 63 minutes. As before there were schools of fusiliers flitting around, anemones with anemonefish, and lot’s of nice hard corals. I spotted a blue-spotted ray, lots of damselfish, a trumpetfish, grouper, and more anemones and anemonefish. There was a snake eel buried in the sand with just it’s head sticking out, wrasse, juvenile sweetlips, and a really nice scorpionfish. Maximum depth was 76 feet and water temperature was 84F.

North Rock-Depths from 40-100 feet. This was my second dive on Friday, June 23rd. The dive started at 11:43 AM and lasted 43 minutes. Maximum depth was 85 feet and water temperature was 83F. There are some beautiful table corals here. Lot’s of damselfish, anemonefish, grouper, and schools of yellow-tailed fusilier’s were all spotted on this dive. Also cardinalfish, squirrelfish, and some really nice soft corals. There were nudibranchs, lionfish, decorator crabs, and ambon shrimp. Some nice swim-throughs that were huge rocks set close together and covered in corals. Right at the end a yellow boxfish. I really enjoyed this dive!

NatNat-Sloping reef to a sandy bottom with beautiful corals and plenty of fish. This was my third dive on Friday, June 23rd. The dive started at 1:57 PM and lasted 61 minutes. Right at the beginning we saw a Dendritic Jawfish-Opistognathus dendriticus. Commensal shrimp perched on an anemone followed by a devil scorpionfish. Out on the sand we found a nudibranch Chromodoris geometrica and a number of pipefish. There were grouper and schools of fusiliers. I spotted another nudibranch, Thorunna halourga. Next was a tiny Harlequin crab Lissocarcinus orbicularis on a sea cucumber. More commensal shrimp, this time on soft corals. Then a banded boxer coral shrimp hiding underneath a table coral along with cardinalfish. In a sandy patch I spotted a shrimpgoby with an alpheid shrimp. There were small schools of bream, various anemones with anemonefish, and at the end a trumpetfish. Maximum depth was 74 feet and water temperature was 85F.

It was also my third dive on Sunday, June 25th. The dive started at 1:50 PM and lasted 55 minutes. Damselfish, two nudibranchs, Risbecia tryoni a chocolate grouper, another nudibranch, Phyllidiella pustulosa, a small blue-ribbon eel, lionfish, commensal shrimp, goatfish, and yet another nudibranch, Phyllidia ocellata. Then two more nudibranchs, a Phyllidiella pustulosa and a Hypselodoris bullockii. Filefish, butterlyfish, damselfish, wrasse, and ending with a scorpionfish. A very enjoyable dive! Maximum depth was 67 feet and water temperature was 87F.

Popolcan-Sloping reef from 15 to over a 100 feet. This was my first dive on Saturday, June 24th. My dive started at 9:32 AM for 56 minutes. Nice corals here. Lot’s of wrasse and damselfish. I spotted a toby near the beginning of the dive. Clams here and there, grouper, and a nudibranch, followed by a pufferfish. Snapper, lionfish, and anemonefish. Schools of bream, a filefish, more anemonefish, and near the end of the dive a beautiful nudibranch, Ardeadoris egretta, one of my favorite nudibranchs. White with a yellow edge on the margin of the mantle.

This was the nudibranch I’d pointed at a picture in the shop when I made my first trip to El Nido and said, “I want a photo of that one”! I did spot just one during that trip and was told how lucky I was, as they’re not common. It was the only one I saw on that trip and this turned out to be the only time on this trip that I saw one too, so I feel pretty lucky! πŸ™‚ My maximum depth was 105 feet and water temperature was 85F.

Paglugaban-Sloping reef with rocks. The top of the reef is in about 25 feet of water and slopes to over 95 feet. The corals were in nice shape, as they were everywhere I dived in El Nido. There were damselfish, and I would spot 4 different species of nudibranchs during the dive. Lionfish and pufferfish, all the usual suspects were around! There were some nice swim-throughs as well. This was my second dive on Saturday, June 24th. The dive started at 11:36 AM and lasted 55 minutes. My maximum depth was 69 feet and water temperature was 84F.

Dilumacad Island/Tunnel-The island has a tunnel on the north side at a depth of about 30-40 feet. This was the first dive on Sunday, June 25th. We were in the water at 9:21 AM and had a 54 minute dive. We did a dive on a wall outside the tunnel to a depth of 105 feet first and then worked our way back to shallower depths. There were large rock formations underwater with gave a few mini-walls to explore. Three different species of nudibranchs, Hypselodoris bullockii, Phyllidia elegans, and Chromodoris annae were spotted along with an octopus, a peacock mantis shrimp, and a juvenile sweetlips. We also saw banded pipefish, grouper, and a decorator crab. After exploring the area outside it was time for the tunnel.

The tunnel qualifies as a cavern dive as surface light is not completely lost, but you do need a light! There are openings in the middle that let light in to a fairly large cavern there. Lot’s of fish inside. A school of sweepers. Soldierfish and squirrelfish and even a couple of sweetlips. There was a lionfish loitering around the exit on the other side. Just outside was a cowrie with the mantle extruded and covering the shell. On the way back through we found an electric clam. A nudibranch up on the ceiling, a Chromodoris fidelis near the exit, and crawling along the bottom along the wall was a devil scorpionfish. Just outside another nudibranch, a Halgerda batangas. A very nice dive!

Paradise Beach-Sloping reef 3-70 feet. Some nice corals patches with large sandy areas. This was my second dive on Sunday, June 25th. The dive started at 11:31 AM and lasted 65 minutes. Shrimpgobies with shrimp, with a pair of sea moths to start out. An anemone with ambon shrimp, clams, more gobies, schools of bream, anemone’s with anemonefish, goatfish sifting through the sand, hermit crabs, and juvenile pufferfish. Lot’s of life! Maximum depth was 62 feet and water temperature was 87F.

It was my first dive of the day on Monday, June 26th, the last dive day. Dive started at 9:12 AM and lasted 54 minutes. Similar to the first dive. On this one spotted a mantis shrimp hiding in it’s hole, anemone’s with anemonefish, moorish idols, cardinalfish, and a nice size flounder. Schools of fusliers, and a sea snake on the hunt. A stingray buried in the sand, and a few nice corals. Maximum depth was 69 feet and water temperature was 87F.

Denise Reef-Beautiful coral garden that slopes down to a sandy bottom. This was my second dive on the last day. The dive started at 11:27 AM and lasted for 58 minutes. Lot’s of nice hard corals, damselfish, yellow boxfish, butterflyfish, a nudibranch, Phyllidia varicosa, schools of fusiliers, a toby, and a pufferfish. A pair of nudibranchs, Risbecia tryoni, engaged in mating, another Phyllidia varicosa, anemone’s with anemonefish, and yet another nudibranch, Phyllidiella nigra. Schools of fusiliers, butterflyfish, lionfish, gobies, and flounder out in the sandy area. Another great dive! Maximum depth was 74 feet and water temperature was 83F.

I think 4-5 days is about right for El Nido and will give you the opportunity to dive all the top dive sites there. Three dives a day also seemed like a good pace.

El Nido seemed drastically different to me from the sleepy little town I remember from my last trip there in 2009. There has been a lot of construction. In 2009 I only remember 3 dive ops. Now there are well over a dozen. Tourism is big business here with lots of tours (island hopping, snorkeling, etc…), souvenir shops, and some really great restaurants.

There were 3 restaurants that stand out in my memory… one because it was so bad and two because they were so good. I ate at Squido’s the first night I was in El Nido. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, but the service was terrible and so was the food. I won’t eat there again.

The second night Joy recommended Artcafe which turned out to be really good. Artcafe is really in to locally grown and produced food I had the El Nido Salad which is a combination of fresh greens, mango, and nuts with a homemade dressing. Very tasty! They also have live music in the evening and a great 2nd floor balcony you can sit on. I also had breakfast my last morning. Great omelette and really nice, locally grown, coffee. Also very good.

The other restaurant that stands out is Pinche’s. This is a Mexican restaurant that is right on the beach. The food was so good there that I had dinner there twice while I was in El Nido. Great homemade chips and salsa, excellent fish tacos, and amazing chicken enchilada’s! The service was really good too. It was so good I asked to speak to the manager (turned out to be the owner) the first time I went in. Turned out the owner was from El Paso, Texas which explained everything to me! He was using his grandmother’s recipe’s which also explained the great taste. I’ve been going to the Philippines for 10 years and this is the absolute best Mexican food I’ve had there! I’m from Texas and I know good Mexican food when I taste it. Great food, great service, and great location on the beach!

After breakfast on the 27th I grabbed some cash from the ATM and settled my bill at Tabanka Divers. Then a trike to the transportation terminal, followed by a long (almost 6 hour) ride back to Puerto Princesa. I stayed at Grandma’s Home Bed and Breakfast for 2 nights. Because of the rainy weather my gear wasn’t quite dried out so I hung it on the balcony there. The place was gated and had security cameras and someone awake to watch over everything 24 hours a day so it was a very secure place to stay. Made the trip to the famous Underground River on the 28th and flew back to Manila on the 29th. A very nice trip!

So now I am just over a week behind… amazing I know! πŸ™‚ Next I’ll be writing about my trip to South Padre Island where I dived the Texas Clipper on July 29th. I’ll be leaving tomorrow to head to Florida where I will be diving the worlds largest artificial reef, the USS Oriskany CV-34 on Friday, August 11th. Stay tuned!

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Anilao-Part Two

I covered getting to Anilao and the Anilao Scuba Dive Center in Part One, along with my first dive there. I’m running a bit behind (as usual it seems) due to not finishing up before I left on a trip to Chuuk (via Guam) on June 3rd. That trip which I’ll cover once I’m finished with Anilao, included being on a boat with no internet for 6 days! (Somehow I survived!) After my trip to Chuuk, I made a second trip leaving on June 21st, to El Nido on the island of Palawan here in the Philippines. A place that had internet, but not always the “best” connection. At the end of this blog post will be a small gallery of select photos from my dives in Anilao.

So to continue where I left off in Part One…

On Saturday May 13th I was up about 7 AM. I’d put all my batteries on charge the night before. I got dressed and wandered out to the dining room where I discovered the coffee pot. I’m really not a morning person and definitely need my coffee when I get up! Having a coffee pot set up where I can just help myself was a definite plus! After breakfast, I went back to my room and set my camera up with fully charged batteries. Then went out and checked on my equipment and made sure everything was on the boat. The boatmen would set up my tank every day, but I’m diving with it so I always check. This was pretty much the pattern every morning that I was there.

The first dive of the day was Secret Bay which is a good 30 minute boat ride. Secret Bay is mainly a sandy bottom with a shallow slope. It’s an easy dive. The reason people come here is simple… the critters! Frogfish, nudibranchs, mimic octopus, wonderpus, scorpionfish, shrimps, bobbit worms, have all been spotted here. People travel from all over the world to dive here and for good reason!

We started our dive at 9:40 AM and ended at 10:40 AM for a 60 minute dive. Water temperature was 83F and maximum depth was 67 feet. Vishal Girisagar who is from India, but lives and works in Singapore was diving with us again. He was on the night dive the previous evening also (sorry I left you out of Part One) πŸ™‚ We would dive together for a few days before he headed back to his job in Singapore.

The beginning of the dive started with a tiny nudibranch, no bigger than my finger nail. Then an anemone with saddleback anemonefish. Next a fire urchin with a zebra crab crawling on it. There were the usual lizardfish everywhere and they are normally easy to photograph, depending on their camouflage and being still to escape detection until they’re ready to pounce. I used my snoot to photograph a coral gobie on coral. A red parrotfish and then another nudibranch. I spotted a devil scorpionfish, that although not uncommon, isn’t something I see on every dive either! The last one I recall was in Puerto Galera last September! A nice productive dive.

The second dive of the day was at Secret Garden. After we left Secret Bay we made our way around Mainit Point and then briefly pulled into shore and dropped off one of the boatmen. Then we went and did the dive which started at 11:50 AM and was a 60 minute dive. Water temperature was 80F and the maximum depth was 60 feet. Near the beginning of the dive I discovered and entire family of squat shrimp living on a rock just underneath and to the side of an anemone. The anemone also was inhabited by a few False Clown Anemonefish Amphiprion ocellaris I saw a couple of different white-eyed morays during the dive. Lionfish and a flying gunard. There was a blue-spotted ray searching through the sand and rubble. I got a photograph of a Thumbprint Emperor, so called because of the dark blotch on it’s side. Towards the end of the dive we discovered a nice outcropping of coral with an anemone and anemonefish, and underneath a Yellowmargin Moray-Cymnothorax flavimarginatus with a cleaner shrimp working on him! Right next to them was a banded boxer coral shrimp. I spent quite a bit of time there photographing the moray and the shrimp as it moved around the morays head and body. The end of the dive Carlo spotted a mantis shrimp and I grabbed a few photos of it as well.

After the dive we headed back to where we’d dropped the boatman. While we were gone he built a fire and cooked up a barbecue lunch which was quite good (I suspect he just heated it up, but it was still good)!

After lunch we headed back towards ASDC and stopped at Matu Point where we had done the night dive the previous evening. This time we dived the other side. We started our dive at 2:17 PM and again did a 60 minute dive. Water temperature was 83F and maximum depth was 58 feet. There were an abundance of cardinalfish and I spotted a juvenile Harlequin Sweetlips near the beginning and played hide and seek with it for a few minutes trying to get a photo! I then spotted a nudibranch, a Chromodoris kuniei Then our guide pointed out an orangutan crab hiding in bubble coral. It’s called this because of it’s orange color, and long hairy legs. Next was a scorpionfish, then another nudibranch.

One of the reasons I love photographing nudibranchs is the sheer variety. There are over 3000 species of nudibranchs in the world! Anilao has over 400 different species, giving it top honors for variety of nudibranch species for dive destinations in the Philippines! This is another reason so many photographers travel here! So, having said that, I try to do identifications when I can… Sometimes I’m just not going to find it right away though! When I’m writing I’ll include the identification if I have it.

Continuing on with the dive, we were running into some current and made our way around some rocks. Perched there on the side of one was a blenny hiding in what appeared to be a small barrel sponge or coral attached to the rock. It was poking it’s head out occasionally and looking around. At the end of the dive we discovered another small commensal shrimp hiding in bubble coral. Another productive dive!

Afterwards we headed back to ASDC. I downloaded photos, put my batteries on charge, and took a nap! Later I worked on photos from Dauin and my blog piece on my visit there. After dinner I made it an early night!

The first dive on May 14th was at Sunview (a lot of dive sites are named after the resort they are in front of or near too). Sunview is near Sunview Resort. . We started our dive at 9:40 AM. This site is a sandy bottom with scattered coral. Right at the beginning I photographed a Nembrotha chamberlaini. Then a white-eyed moray (Siderea thysoidea). Another nudibranch I’m still working on identifying, one I’d not photographed before so I was happy! Next Carlo showed me a small crab crawling in the branches of a Zygophylax coral colony. I stopped to photograph a beautiful gorgonian fan coral. Not sure of the species, but very similar to a Siphonogorgia godeffroyi with wine red branches and white polyps. Carlo spotted yet another nudibranch I’m still trying to identify, then a box crab Calappa calappa. Next was a pygmy seahorse Hippocampus bargibanti. Carlo spotted a tiny nudibranch, Flabellina rubrolineata feeding on a Eudendrium hydroid. Right at the end of the dive I photographed a commensal shrimp Periclimenes holthuisi crawling across a species of coral I’ve not identified. Our maximum depth was 70 feet. Water temperature was 81F. We were up at 10:24 AM for a 44 minute dive. This dive we ended up calling because we were fighting heavy current and decided it was better to call the dive early than get swept away. We signaled the boat and they came and picked us up.

The second dive was at Koala (in front of Koala Resort). That dive started at 11:24 AM and was a 45 minute dive. Koala has a sloping bottom with some scattered boulders and a variety of soft corals. Lot’s of fish, including anemonefish and some nice anemone’s. Water temperature was 82F and maximum depth was 90 feet. This dive as had the earlier dive that morning at Sunview had current also, although not as bad as it’d been earlier.

ASDC House Reef was the third dive of the day, although it’s more of a rocky slope to a sandy bottom than a reef. We were in the water 2:24 PM (after lunch). It was a 47 minute dive. Water temperature was 82F and maximum depth was 77 feet.

On May 15th, the first dive was Twin Rocks which is known as a good dive site for nudibranchs. We started at 10:01 and had a 51 minute dive. The dive started out with a nudibranch (of course). A Chromodoris annae. Next another possible (still unidentified) Chromodoris that was tinier than my finger nail! Next a Nembrotha chamberlaini, a nudibranch that is quite common in the Philippines that I’ve photographed many times. After that a Chromodoris albonares, another species that I’d not photographed previously. Then a group of three Chromodoris willani, two of them in the act of mating. I spent almost 4 minutes photographing them from different angles. One is posted in my Instagram @underwater.adventures When I left them Carlo had found what seemed almost too good to be true… 3 nudibranchs of different species all lined up next to each other! The largest was a Phyllidia ocellata. Next to it was a Phyllidia carlsonhoffi… and next to that one a small nudibranch that also resembles a Phyllidia, but which I’ve not been able to identify yet. The next species was Chromodoris fidelis, then another species of nudibranch I’m still trying to identify! I finished up the dive with some shots of corals, butterflyfish, damselfish, bannerfishWater, the “usual suspects”… Right at the end of the dive yet another nudibranch which I can’t identify! Eleven different species of nudibranchs in just one dive! Almost half of them species I haven’t identified yet! Who knows? They still are finding new species in the Philippines! πŸ™‚ Water temperature was 83F and maximum depth was 67 feet. There was some mild current, but not too bad.

The second dive was another one at SunView. The dive started at 12:12 PM and was a 60 minute dive. I spotted a helmut gunard Dactyloptena orientalis at the beginning of the dive. There were wrasse, a pufferfish, butterlyfish, and a lionfish. A tiny nudibranch… probabaly Glossodoris. A commensal shrimp Periclimenes holthuisi with eggs. Another nudibranch, possibly a Cuthona. I photographed a beautiful Divaricate Tree Coral Dendronephthya (Roxasia). A pipefish, another nudibranch (unidentified), more tree corals, and a sea fan with a pygmy seahorse.

The third dive on May 15th was a night dive not far from Anilao Pier. We entered the water at 6:29 PM and did a 67 minute dive. There were lot’s of cardinalfish and gobies during this dive as there often are during the day also. Near the beginning we spotted an octopus which seem to always be more commonly seen at night. Next was a Philinopsis reticulata.

Crabs are always out and about at night. There are thousands of species of crabs so identification is often spotty at best! I spotted an unidentified species of porcelain crab with an anemone. Another crab, much larger (also unidentified) was next. It seemed quite ready to attack me if I got to close!

Next Carlo spotted a stargazer which are always cool to see. After that I spotted a tiny juvenile lionfish, maybe 3 inches long. An anemone with a family of anemonefish. A flat crab at the base of an anemone forcing a scallop open with it’s claws. I came across a blackspotted sole next. Then a small shortfin lionfish Dendrochirus brachypterus.

I found another small crab with very elongated arms, like a squat lobster, but much thinner pincers. Unable to identify. “Unable to identify” seems to happen quite often in Anilao!

Next a nudibranch, appears to be a Flabellina. Crawling along the bottom I saw a hinge-beak prawn. Then I discovered two octopus very near to each other… one had found a home in what looked like an old plastic 2 liter soda bottle with the top had the top cut off. The bottle was obviously a bit worse for wear! Nearby was another octopus that was a bit luckier. It had found a large and intact glass jar. After taking a few photos, I found a large blue anemone with saddleback anemonefish and a porcelain crab. I snapped a few photos then went back to the octopus.

My light was attracting a lot of krill that were so thick, they were often interfering with my photos! The octopus was taking full advantage and appeared to be snatching krill with it’s tentacles and pulling them in! I photographed a bit and shot some video. By this time we’d been down for over an hour and it was time to go up and have dinner! Water temperature was 82F. Maximum depth for this dive was 16 feet. Yes I had almost half the air I started with still in my tank!

On May 16th, my last dive day of this visit to Anilao, the first dive was again at Secret Bay. We got a bit of a late start. We hit the water and started our dive at exactly 10 AM. This ended up being a great dive, one of the best of the trip. At the beginning of the dive Carlo showed me a skeleton shrimp, Caprellidae. Then a nudibranch, Flabellina macassarana. Another nudibranch referred to in one of my nudibranch books as Doto sp.7, found only in the Philippines. More skeleton shrimp. Next a shrimp on a starfish, Periclimenes soror. After that a tiny decorator crab no bigger than a thumbnail on a whip coral. Two nudibranchs engaged in mating, these referred to as Godiva sp.3 in my reference books. Next I photographed a goby sitting on top of a sponge.

Then the jackpot, a Giant Frogfish Antennarius commersoni. It was easily 12 inches. This one was white in color and from a distance was almost indistinguishable from large white rocks strewn around the bottom in that area. This frogfish had developed some large scab-like patches and warty areas. It had blended in quite well! About 20 yards away and up the slope a little, another photographer was working on a subject. They finished up about the time I finished photographing the Giant Frogfish and motioned for us to come over. To my surprise it was another frogfish! This one the Hairy Variation of the Striped or Striated Frogfish Antennarius striatus. It was the first time I had seen one so I was pretty happy about it. As we headed back towards the boat I spotted a Pteraeolidia ianthina. A very productive dive!

The second dive we went to El Pinoy (in front of El Pinoy Resort). We were in the water at 12:36. El Pinoy, like several other dive spots, has a sandy bottom and scattered coral outcroppings. Right at the beginning of the dive I spotted a helmut gunard Dactyloptena orientalis. They tend to be shy and not easy to approach. There were plenty of wrasse in the area. We found a couple of yellow blennies playing hide and seek with us. A juvenile devil scorpionfish followed by an octopus. Another scorpionfish and then a pipefish and a blue-spotted stingray. Finished up the dive working around a nice coral outcropping with plenty of wrasse, damselfish, anthia’s, and anemones. A good dive! We ended with 57 minutes. Water temperature was 82F and maximum depth was 61 feet.

The last dive on May 16th (and this visit to Anilao) was a shore dive. We entered in front of ASDC and worked our way down the rocky slope and then paralleled the shore until we reached the sandy area we had spent more time at during the boat dive. Then we worked our way back along the rocky slope at a shallower depth and exited where we entered at. The dive started at 3:47 PM and was 63 minutes. The dive started with a cleaner wrasse working on a butterflyfish. I came across some soft corals with Periclimenes holthuisi. Then more soft corals with ambonian shrimp Thor amboinensis that hold their tail almost vertically. I spied a small nudibranch a Flabellina. Bubble coral with commensal shrimp, then a beautiful leaf scorpionfish . Next came a lionfish and a nudibranch (unidentified). Next were a pair of coleman shrimp Periclimenes colemani on a fire urchin. More ambonian shrimp Thor amboinensis with soft corals and more Periclimenes holthuisi. Carlo found a spiny devilfish Inimicus didactylus. After that another nudibranch… same species at the last which I’ve not identified yet and Pontoniinae shrimp Allopontonia iaini on a fire urchin. As we neared the end of the dive I spotted a small white-eyed moray. A very nice dive to finish up with! Water temperature was 83F and maximum depth was 57 feet.

After the last dive on May 16th I rinsed everything well and hung everything up. Usually I took care of my own gear while I was there, although they would set up the tank and put it on the boat. I’m fine with someone else doing the “heavy lifting”… my back isn’t as young as it used to be! All the gear would be taken inside each night and secured, then brought back out in the morning. When I checked my gear the next morning after breakfast my wetsuit and booties weren’t quite dry so I gave it a bit of time while I packed everything else. My camera housing, lights, strobe, compass, etc… go into a hard pelican case. The other gear goes into a dive bag which also has room for my clothes. My laptop, my camera (a Canon G16 so it’s small), my dive computer, and odds and ends that I keep on my person while traveling go into a small backpack.

I’d arranged the day before to have a trike pick me up to take me all the way to the bus terminal. Sometimes I just don’t want to deal with a crowded jeepney and my bags! I paid him 600 pesos (around $12 dollars US). We left around 10 AM. Traffic was quite bad that day due to road construction. We didn’t reach the terminal until nearly noon! I found a bus heading to Cubao in Manila. The bus conductor loaded my dive bag and pelican case underneath. We had about 20 minutes before they were leaving so I went and grabbed some food from a vendor and a bottle of water. The bus pulled out about 12:30 and 2 hours later I was checking into my hotel in Cubao.

I’m back to being a month behind and two dive destinations… but who knows? Maybe I’ll catch up soon πŸ™‚ The beginning of June I traveled to Guam, where I’d booked a trip to Chuuk with a group from Micronesian Dive Association. From Guam we flew to Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia, home of the world famous Chuuk Lagoon. Here is found the largest concentration of wrecks in the world! This was thanks to Operation Hailstone during WW II and the US Navy’s decimation of the Japanese ships that were there. In my next blog post I’ll be writing about that trip so I hope you’ll stay tuned! Later in June, after returning to the Philippines I made a trip to El Nido on the island of Palawan, a trip I returned from just last week. I’ll be writing about El Nido once I’ve finished Chuuk.

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Anilao-Part One

After returning from Cebu I debated where to go next. It can be difficult to choose in the Philippines because there is just so much great diving here! I also toyed with the idea of going to Malaysia, but ultimately I’ve decided to put that off. I had to wait until the 9th so I could renew my visa. I’ll talk about that in another blog post. For those who are contemplating visiting the Philippines for longer than 30 days, I’ll outline the process.

After renewing my visa on the 9th, I decided on Anilao and started doing some research. I’ve dived Anilao twice before, the last time being a year ago. I wanted a place that was reasonably priced and relatively easy to get to via public transportation. Ultimately I decided on Anilao Scuba Dive Center. ASDC is an all-inclusive resort. Accommodations, meals (served family style), 3 boat dives a day with guide, and marine park fees are all included in the price.

The problem in Anilao for most foreigners or others who might be diving during the week, is pricing. Unlike other areas I’ve dived in the Philippines, the price for diving in most resorts in Anilao is for the boat and dive guide. That cost is divided by the divers on the boat. The more divers, the lower the price. On a weekend at a popular resort you could dive quite cheaply, but if you are by yourself or diving during the week and you are the only diver, it can be prohibitively expensive! At 4500 pesos a day it’s the best price in Anilao that I’ve found for single divers. For someone like myself who usually travels alone, it’s a very good deal! I did do a few dives by myself and did not pay extra. Gina explained she is able to do this because she owns her boats and therefore controls her costs. Apparently many of the resorts hire boats and crews to support their dive operations which means they don’t have control of that part of their operational costs.

ASDC is also relatively easy to get too. I broke up my trip and spent the night in Manila, leaving there on Friday morning. The route initially, is virtually the same as going to Puerto Galera. I stayed in Cubao at Eurotel near Araneta Center. I booked my room in Cubao online as I’ve found that it’s cheaper than walking in. When I checked out I asked the hotel to hail a cab for me. I just didn’t want to deal with carrying my heavy dive bag. The day before I’d transported it 3 blocks and up and down a couple flights of stairs (crossing the walkway above the street) to get from the Victory Bus Terminal, down and over EDSA to the hotel. The taxi took me to the JAM terminal where I caught a bus to Batangas Grand Terminal. 80 pesos well spent in my opinion!

I was sitting on the bus at 7:30 AM on Friday, May 12th and it pulled out at 7:45. We arrived at the Grand Terminal in Batangas at 11:05, so just over 3 hours by bus during morning rush hour leaving Manila. Not to bad! Bus fare was a 175 pesos. Here if I were going to Puerto Galera, I would stay on the bus for another 10-15 minutes to Batangas Pier, but instead I got off. I asked which way to the jeepney’s and someone showed me the way. I walked through an area that contained shops and small eateries to the opposite side of where I got off the bus. There I caught a jeepney to Mabini. I let the driver know I needed to get off at Mabini Crossing. The fare was 37 pesos. Be ready to get asked to pay extra. The not uncommon story is that if you’re willing to pay for the empty seats, they can leave now. I just told the driver I wasn’t in a hurry and we still left within a few minutes. Possibly you might get asked to pay for an extra seat for your bag. You’re not going to get an extra seat for your bag, it’s going to be in the middle aisle, like everyone else, who aren’t paying extra by the way! If you want to pay for a seat for the bag, you can place the bag on the seat. In my experience, If I put the bag on the seat, it’s actually taking 3 seats! In the smaller jeepney’s I’ve done that when I can sit near the door. It’s easier to get in and out rather than move the bag down the aisle where everyone’s feet are!

The ride to Mabini Crossing was just over an hour. From there I caught a trike to ASDC which turned out to be about a 15 minute ride. 50 pesos is fair and if you give him 20 pesos for a tip, he’ll be pretty happy! To sum up to get to Anilao from Manila, I paid the equivalent of less than $7 dollars. The total trip took around 5 hours. Contrast that with a private driver which would be 4500 pesos from Manila, about $90 dollars at the current exchange rate! That’s a whole day of expense at ASDC! I’ll save the money on transport any day in order to have an extra day of meals, accommodations, and diving!

You can expect to shave a couple hours off your travel time by coming direct and obviously a van or car will move through traffic more quickly than a bus. I’m retired now so I tried to save money where I can, but someone who is coming with a group that can split the cost. Someone coming from half-way around the world, may see it as inconsequential compared to the overall cost of the trip. If you aren’t used to getting around in foreign countries, it will give you some peace of mind. Having said that, English is widely spoken here so it’s certainly doable!

When I came in it was around lunch time and people were eating. Gina, who is the owner stood up from the table and I told her I had emailed about diving and was expected. She asked if I’d eaten and when I told her no invited me to eat lunch first. Although the people at the table were almost done, they brought another plate and there was plenty of food. The food was all home cooked and served family style. It was Filipino food and quite good! Over the next 5 days we usually had chicken, pork, or fish, prepared a few different ways, rice of course. Always fresh fruit. Breakfast was typical Filipino breakfast. Fried egg over rice (scrambled on request), toast, with butter and jam. They had a coffee pot set up with unlimited refills which is nice. I’ve never quite gotten used to the common practice in the Philippines of charging full price for refills when I have coffee in a restaurant.

After lunch Gina showed me to my room. It turned out to be an air-conditioned room which was a surprise given what I was paying! I asked about doing a night dive and that was also no problem. I unpacked my clothes, and took out my battery chargers and put all my batteries on charge in preparation for the night dive later. I went back out and met Carlo the dive guide. He told me to be back around 5:30 PM. I also did the normal paperwork and waivers. I had been up late the night before so I headed back to my room for a nap.

I was back at the gearing up area right around 5:30. I started pulling gear out of my dive bag and we got my tank set up. This area basically consisted of a metal rack with a split bamboo platform to sit on to change and hold gear that was drying. This was convenient to the equipment room where everything was stored at night and where all the rental equipment was kept. On the other side of the rack was an area with freshwater shower stalls. Near the steps down to the small rocky beach were rinse tanks for gear.

After my nap I installed all my batteries and set up my camera gear. Carlo was the dive guide and Vishal who is from India, but lives and works in Singapore would be diving as well. I got my gear unpacked and we got my tank set up. The boat crew loaded the tank and I grabbed the rest of my gear after putting on my wetsuit. It was a little after 6 PM when we pulled away.

The dive site was Matu Point. Our dive started at 6:23 PM. The bottom here is a rocky slope. It was dark by the time we entered the water. Fairly early in the dive, Carlo pointed out a tiny coral crab. Then I spotted a dark purple nudibranch (Berthella martensi). After that we saw a moray eel out for the hunt. Unlike during the day, at night they are out of their holes and moving about. After that I found a bug-eyed crab in it’s hole, another nudibranch (Flabellina rubrolineata), and then a hermit crab. A large devil scorpionfish, and yet another species of nudibranch (a juvenile Hexabranchus sanguineus I believe). I found a large devil scorpionfish, a very nice one I thought! There were hingebeak prawns hiding among the rocks. An anemone crab came scuttling along. Right at the end Carlo found a large black seahorse and I spotted yet another scorpionfish. The dive ended at 65 minutes. Maximum depth was 41 feet and water temperature was 81 degrees Fahrenheit.

In Part Two I’ll write about the other dive sites I visited in Anilao and the things I saw and why people travel from around the world to dive here! Please stay with me I’m going to try and finish this up in the next couple of days. I fly to Guam tomorrow and from there to Chuuk where I will be diving the world famous Truk Lagoon next week. Truk Lagoon has the largest concentration of shipwrecks in the world, thanks to Operation Hailstone during WW II.

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Dumaguete and SEA Photo Contest-Part Three

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.

Okay, maybe I’ve been in the Philippines too long (selfie’s are popular here πŸ˜‰ )

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.

Apo Island near Chapel Point.

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 πŸ™‚ 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.

Tomato Anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus) photographed on a dive at Chapel Point, Apo Island, Philippines.

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.

Titan Triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens) photographed on a dive at Katipanan, Apo Island, Philippines.

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.

Staghorn Damsel (Amblyglyphidodon curacao) photographed during a dive at Largahan, Apo Island, Philippines.

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 πŸ˜‰ ) Water temperature was again 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Goby photographed at Largahan, Apo Island, Philippines.

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? πŸ˜‰

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.

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Until next time!

Dumaguete and SEA Photo Contest-Part Two

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.

The doorway to my room. Every room had a theme and I thought it was kind of cool that mine was “Lionfish” πŸ™‚

After a shower, I went down and grabbed some food. Breakfast of course πŸ™‚ 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.

Breakfast at Gabby’s. I know it might sound strange to some, but I LOVE spam and was really happy I could order it for breakfast πŸ™‚

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.

The use of a snoot highlights the subject by restricting light from the background and directing it directly where it is aimed. This results in a nice separation without a distracting background.

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!

Cardinalfish photographed in Dauin.

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!

Sea Hare photographed at Dauin.

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.

Waspfish photographed during a dive at Dauin.

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!

Frogfish yawning photographed during a dive at Dauin.

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! πŸ™‚ Water temperature was 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Not surprising it was a bit warmer given the shallow depth.

A crab photographed during a dive at Dauin. He seemed quite ready to remove one of my fingers if I got to close!

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!