Diving Subic Bay-Part Two

I got up on Thursday morning, March 16th looking forward to the days diving. I’d requested the day before to go to Barges and San Quentin. They’re normally done together due to their proximity to one another.

I left my hotel and took a trike to Johan’s. It’s a fairly short ride. Less than 10 minutes. At Johan’s I had breakfast, then put my camera setup together. The staff at Johan’s set up my tank. I checked it over and they carried it to the boat. I put on my wetsuit. Grabbed my camera, mask, and fins and was on the boat a little after 10 AM.

The “Barges” aren’t actually barges, although they are similar in appearance. They’re actually sections of a floating dock, that were originally set up after Subic Bay was re-taken during WW II to conduct repair work. The floating dock eventually sank and is now a favorite dive site. The sections of the dock form a rough “T” and sit on a mainly sandy bottom. There is some separation of the sections. One side drops off from roughly 20 feet to around 60 feet. The other drops to over a 100 feet. My dive started at 11:08 AM and ended up being 55 minutes. Since I’ve dived this site several times I was allowed to buddy with another experienced diver and we did our own dive. It was his first time diving Barges so we ended up exploring the whole site. Maximum depth was 107 feet.

A dive on a sunken floating dock now known as the “Barges” near Grande Island, Subic Bay, Philippines.

One of the things I enjoy about diving Barges is that it seems like I often see something different. There are always schools of fish around, going in and out through seams that have opened up in the floating dock. Sweetlips, snapper, jacks, triggerfish, butterflyfish, bannerfish, nudibranchs, mantis shrimp, lionfish,… all the usual suspects! Visibility is normally better further out and this day was no exception with visibility being 40 feet plus.

Plenty of life around the Barges, a dive site in Subic Bay, Philippines.

After our surface interval we moved over to the mouth of the Subic Bay, not far from Grande Island for a dive on the San Quentin. The San Quentin is a Spanish-American War wreck that was scuttled and sank by the Spaniards in 1898 to block access by the invading American Navy. Considering that it’s almost a 120 years old now it’s actually in remarkable shape. Although the ship itself is largely deteriorated and scattered about, the boilers are virtually intact and heavily encrusted now. There are always plenty of fish around the wreck. It’s also a prime spot for nudibranchs I’ve found. It sit’s in just 50 feet of water.

Nudibranch (Phyllidiella pustulosa) photographed on the Spanish-American War wreck of the San Quentin.

My dive started at 1:35 PM and ended up being 65 minutes. Maximum depth was 50 feet. Water temperature was 81F. I came back to the boat with 50 bar/725 psi in my tank.

This dive was no exception. Plenty of fish. I photographed a batfish early on that was in the last stages of it’s juvenile phase. Still just a touch of orange along the edges. Damselfish were everywhere. I played hide and seek with a grouper that just didn’t want to pose for a photo! Nudibranchs of course. Anemonefish here and there. A couple of different hermit crabs posed for photos. A very nice dive. You see me write that a lot I suppose, but in reality I can truthfully say it almost always is. When I’m blowing bubbles I am definitely in my happy place!

A batfish in the last stages of the juvenile phase photographed on the Spanish-American War wreck of the San Quentin near the mouth of Subic Bay, Philippines.

We were back at Johan’s around 3:30. I rinsed my wetsuit, mask, and fins. Rinsed my camera setup and dried it off so I could remove the camera. Then showered and put on a dry pair of shorts and t-shirt for the ride back to the hotel. After a cold San Miguel Light. I grabbed a trike and headed back to T-Rose. Dinner at Sit-N-Bull again and an early night.

The next day was Friday. I decided to take a day off and just get ready to leave since I was flying the next day. I had breakfast at the WestPac Sailor Bar and Restaurant/VFW. It’s one of my favorite places for breakfast. I can get an American breakfast there, eggs to order, bacon, hash browns, toast, and coffee for around a 180 pesos (about $3.50). I went back to Johan’s, settled my bill, and picked up my equipment. I hung the wetsuit up at the hotel as it wasn’t completely dry. I spent some time working on photos and then ran some errands.

Saturday morning I slept in a bit. After my shower I finished packing then walked across the street to the VFW for a late breakfast. After I ate, I decided to take a trike to the bus terminal in Olongapo City rather than take a jeepney as I just didn’t want to wrestle with my bags. The going rate for a trike is 150 pesos and takes about 25 minutes or so.

I took Victory Liner from Olongapo City to Dau. The bus left at 2:20 PM and the ticket was a 140 pesos. We arrived at 3:35 PM, so only an hour and fifteen minutes away. From the bus terminal, I took a trike to SM-Clark Mall where I hung out for a while and had a late lunch/early dinner. From SM-Clark I had a van pick me up to take me to Clark International Airport on the old Clark US Air Force Base. The van was arranged through the same guy who I’d hired to take me home from the hospital after my second angioplasty and stent the end of January. It was my first time flying out of Clark and I would later figure out that 500 pesos was too much! The ride was about 15 minutes.

I showed my itinerary to the security guard and was allowed into the terminal. I checked in and got my boarding pass, then went through security inspection. I was flying Cebu Pacific and was about 2 1/2 hours early. I took a seat in the waiting area and made a call to Kiwi Lodge (my regular hotel) in Cebu City to see if they had a room (they did). My flight boarded on time and we took off at 9:18 PM. A little less than hour later we landed at Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

My previous flights in I’d been met at the airport, either with a private shuttle to wherever I was diving, or by my friend Charles who lived in Cebu City up until late last year. This was the first time I needed to take a taxi. I took a yellow airport taxi without giving it much thought, only making sure that they would use the meter. This later turned out to be a mistake as the yellow taxi’s are twice as much as the white ones (who will also use the meter). Taxi fare ended up being 423 pesos and the ride to the hotel, with no traffic, took about 30 minutes.

After checking it, I had a quick bite to eat, then called it a night…

Next Moalboal..

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Diving Subic Bay-Part One

I’ll start with a few more details about the trip from Puerto Galera to Olongapo City and Subic Bay. I took the FSL ferry from Sabang. 230 pesos plus 20 peso tourist fee. We pulled away from the pier at 11:45 AM and were at the Batangas Ferry Terminal by 1:05 PM. Half as much time as my trip over by small bangka boat. The big ferry’s can make much better time than the smaller boats. As usual when leaving the ferry, I was approached by multiple people offering to take me to Manila by private car or taxi. They can be persistent! Usually a firm refusal works. I’ve been known to offer 200 pesos (approximate bus fare) and that will also make them go away. I just don’t see the need to hire a car usually. The trip is relatively short to Manila and since the bus is on the expressway most of the way, I wouldn’t save a significant amount of time. I boarded a bus and we departed right after 1:30 PM arriving in Cubao by 4 PM.

The bus let me out on the opposite side of EDSA from where Victory Terminal is located. Since it’s a divided and very busy road and was going to require a good 10-15 minute walk to get to, I grabbed a taxi. I just didn’t feel like maneuvering through pedestrians pulling a big bag full of dive gear and my small hard case filled with camera gear! The cab had to take a bit of a detour due to road construction, but even with tip I only spent a 100 pesos. That was $2 bucks well-spent in my book!

At Victory I boarded a bus for Olongapo City. We were on our way a little after 5 PM. A little over 3 hours later I was in Olongapo. A short jeepney ride and I was checking into my hotel in Barangay Barretto 🙂 I’d messaged Jocelyn, the owner of T-Rose, while en-route and she’d confirmed that there would be a room for me when I got there.

During recent trips I’ve stayed either in T-Rose or Coffee Shop when coming here for short periods. T-Rose has a bar associated with it, but it closes early. It has a gate and the rooms surround a small courtyard with trees and plants. It has a bit of privacy and being off the main road is quieter. Only a 1000 pesos a night (around $20 bucks). It’s in a decent location also in the center of Barretto. Walking distance to restaurants, nightlife, and the beach. Coffee Shop is a restaurant frequented by many locals. It has a 3 floors of rooms and is also well located. Rooms here can be had for 1095 pesos a night (about $22 dollars a night). Coffee Shop is a bit nicer, but not quite as well located. Both places are clean and have hot water and wifi. For this stay I opted for T-Rose.

For long term accommodations, I’ve stayed at Bella Monte on Del Pilar Street and at Suzuki’s which is right on the beach. I’ve also stayed at accommodations that are managed by Two Can Bar which is on the main highway in Barrio Barretto. I spent a month at Suzuki’s while I was recovering from my angioplasty and stent placement that was done at Medical City-Clark the end of January.

Tuesday I hung out and visited with friends. I also bought a plane ticket to Cebu to leave on Saturday. I normally dive with Johan’s when I’m diving Subic. Johan has one of the oldest dive operations around Subic Bay. My friend Rick Kirkham from Frontier Scuba in Puerto Galera runs some of his advanced technical courses there, taking advantage of the many wrecks in Subic Bay, and utilizing Johan’s operation as a base. Fun dives with Johan’s are running a 1000 pesos a dive if you have your own equipment. This is pretty much the lowest rate around Subic. You can pay more though. I like Johan’s. I’ve been diving there off and on for almost a year and a half now. Nice people and a laid back atmosphere. It’s very relaxed. They normally do 2 dives a day which fits in perfectly with the way I dive now. You can find his website at http://www.johansdiveresort.com/ They have rooms available also and they’re right on the beach in Baloy.

I unpacked my gear and setup my tank. Then had breakfast there at Johan’s. One of the things I like about Johan’s is they often don’t go out until about 10 AM, depending on where they’re diving that day and who is there. The dive sites are a bit further out than they are in Puerto Galera. We’re usually back between 3 and 4 PM depending on where we dive, which is also good. A nice relaxed day of diving!

We did 2 wrecks that day. The first dive was El Capitan. El Capitan was acquired by the US Navy in early 1942 and commissioned USS Majaba in April. It was used to move cargo around the Pacific during WW II. She was struck by 2 torpedoes from a Japanese submarine at Guadalcanal in November 1942. The entire engine room and boilers were destroyed. The ship did not sink though and was towed to the mouth of the Tenaru River and beached. In January 1943 the ship was towed to Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. The hull was repaired and the ship was used as a floating barracks and material stores vessel for the remainder of the war. After that it was towed to Subic Bay, Philippines in 1946 and officially struck from the Navy Ship List. It remained in Subic Bay awaiting return to it’s original owners, but ending up sinking during a storm. El Capitan is almost 300 feet long. She lies on her port side, on a sloping bottom. The stern is at just 13 feet with the bow at 73 feet.

A diver makes his way along the coral-encrusted hull of “El Capitan” which is laying on it’s side in Subic Bay, Philippines.

Visibility can be quiet variable. Subic Bay is protected on 3 sides and has a large island (Grande Island). This means that sediment that can be washed into the bay can take a while to filter out. Visibility during rainy season can be 10 feet! Although Subic Bay has recovered a lot, it’s not completely recovered the pristine status it enjoyed prior to the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in 1993. Ash and sediment is still being washed into the bay. Having said that I still enjoy the dives in Subic. The wrecks still attract plenty of fish life and are interesting to dive on due to their historical status. Visibility on this dive was around 30 feet.

El Capitan is lying on it’s port side at the bottom of Subic Bay in the Philippines.

Johan’s uses small fast boats to move about the bay, with a canopy for shade, and GPS to help quickly pinpoint the dive sites. My dive on the El Capitan started at 11:06 AM. My maximum depth on this dive was 66 feet and I was back on the boat with 70 bar/1030 psi after a 52 minute dive. Water temperature was 80F.

Early in the dive I spotted a nice grouper peering out from the wreck… almost eating size! A blue-spotted ray swam away from where it’d been resting in the muck near the wreck. There were bannerfish, butterflyfish, grouper, and sweetlips swimming around the wreck, along with parrotfish feeding on the algae growing on the encrusting coral. The issue often, but not always of diving in Subic Bay, is the amount of silt and volcanic ash that was deposited into the bay and still gets stirred up. Muck diving has become more popular here as a result.

A grouper makes it home on El Capitan one of the many wrecks found in Subic Bay, Philippines.

After our surface interval we moved to the next dive which was on the LST (Landing Ship Tanks). These ships were designed and used during WW II to support amphibious operations by landing tanks and vehicles on the beach. At 328 feet it’s bigger than El Capitan. It’s sitting with a small list, but upright in 90-120 feet of water on the eastern side of Subic Bay. I enjoy this dive. There are plenty of fish throughout this wreck. I’ve never done a real penetration here, but there are compartments that can be accessed easily that I’ve stuck my head into to take a few photos. There are large schools of cardinalfish who make the wreck home and usually a few lionfish are about.

A photo shot looking into a compartment of an LST (Landing Ship Tanks) sunk in Subic Bay, Philippines.

My dive started at 1:12 PM. We explored mainly along the superstructure and the top of the wreck. My maximum depth on this dive was 77 feet. My dive time was 50 minutes and I was back on the boat with 50 bar/750 psi. Water temperature was again 80F.

A lionfish hunts along the side of the LST wreck in Subic Bay, Philippines.

After we were all back on the boat, we headed back to the dive center. We were back well before 3 PM. One thing they do at Johan’s is meet you as get back and take your drink order. All divers get a free drink at the end of the days diving. Sometimes I have hot tea and sometimes I have a San Miguel Light, depending on my mood!

After getting back to T-Rose, I showered and got a nap in. I had dinner that night at Sit-n-Bull Restaurant on Del Pilar Street in Barretto. This is one of my favorite restaurants and I have dinner there quite often when I’m in town. They have a wide variety of American, Mexican, Italian, and Filipino dishes. I’ve never had anything from their menu I didn’t like! Be prepared for huge portions though! A good place to go with an appetite.

After that back to the room, work on photos for bit and sleep… yes I know very boring!

In the next installment I’ll write about two of my favorite dives at Subic Bay… Barges and San Quentin… stay tuned!

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Weekend in Puerto Galera-Part Two

On Saturday morning my friend and I met at 8 AM to go look for a place to eat breakfast. I grabbed my gear and we went to Frontier first to drop that off. We ended up at the breakfast buffet at El Galleon. Only 350 pesos. I had an omelet made to order, along with the usual complements… After breakfast we walked back to Frontier Scuba. ( http://www.frontierscuba.com/ )

At Frontier we completed the normal paperwork. I confirmed with Rick that my cardiologist had cleared me to dive. He wasn’t concerned. Knowing me he knew I wouldn’t be there if my doctor hadn’t give me the OK.

I got my dive gear set up and my camera equipment assembled. Much quicker than the day before! Frontier does the heavy lifting for all their guests. Once my tank was set up it was taken to the boat. I took my mask, fins, and camera equipment, along with a dry bag for a towel, drinking water, and my cell phone. My friend was set up with rental gear. By 9:15 AM we were all on the boat and on our way. The boat ride to Verde Island is usually around 30-45 minutes depending on weather.

Upon arrival we geared up and then entered the water. Harry was our guide on this trip. We were first in. It was myself, my friend from Mermaids, and another photographer who turned out to be a retired US Navy Captain. The other group (of 3) was from the US Embassy and were being guided by Rick. My dive started at 9:51 AM.

We were diving the Pinnacle at Verde Island which is one of my favorite dives anywhere in the Philippines. There wasn’t much current this first dive. In September when I’d dived Verde Island for the first time, the first dive was into a ripping current… I had to swim so hard to make it over to the pinnacle that I thought I was going to suck all the air out of my tank before the dive even got started! During that dive we finally made it around to the backside and out of the current and we actually ended up with a 45 minute dive with a maximum depth of 106 feet.

As it had been the day before at Monkey Beach, the water temperature was a bit cooler than it’d been in August and September. About 5 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. Technically it is winter in the Philippines which means water temperature can drop into the high 70’s. My friends who dive in California are laughing at this I’m sure! (when I lived in California I wore a dry suit whether it was summer or winter as temperatures seemed to always be in the 50’s no matter what time of year it was!)

Drifting down over the edge at the Pinnacle at Verde Island.

Since it’s a pinnacle, we’re basically talking about a wall dive. One of the things I love about Verde is that it’s always swarming with fish! Anthia’s, butterfly fish, schools of jacks, snapper, angelfish, cardinalfish, soldierfish, grouper… all the usual suspects! Also the visibility tends to be better as well. On this day visibility was easily 50-60 feet. The corals are in great shape here. Here and there were anemones with their accompanying clownfish. Moray eels peeking out from small crevices. Nudibranchs in various places. It really is one of my favorite places to dive! The first dive ended up being 45 minutes with a maximum depth of 89 feet.

Nudibranch (Glossodoris atromarginata) photographed at Verde Island.

When we popped up at the end of the dive the seas had gotten a bit rougher. The boat came to us. The method is for the group to line up behind the dive guide making it easier and safer for the boat to approach. No one wants to bonked on the head by the outrigger on a bangka boat! When we are close enough we grab onto a line that is rigged alongside to hold on too while waiting to get back on the boat. The usual procedure is to hand up cameras first. Then fins. When it’s your turn pull yourself to the ladder and climb out. Once you’re back on the boat, the boatman assists with removing the rest of your gear.

Group waiting in the water at Verde Island as the boat maneuvers for pickup

Once all the divers were retrieved, we approached Verde Island and anchored in a small cove for our surface interval. We spent an hour relaxing, then pulled anchor and went back out to the pinnacle. This time we approached it from the other side.

We felt a bit of current at the beginning of the 2nd dive, which started at 12:09 PM. I spotted some really large sweetlips and a big grouper below and drifted down to try and get a shot. The dive was going well, then we made the turn and the current picked up considerably! I was kicking hard and thinking to myself that this was perhaps not the best situation for my second day back in the water! I knew I’d lost a fair amount of conditioning over the previous months. In the back of mind was a small doubt that in spite of passing my exercise stress test with flying colors, the strain was going to be too much.

As I always do in situations of stress, I focused on my breathing and keeping it under control. Probably this is just a combination of my military and martial arts training and experience. I switched from the frog kick that I normally use to a flutter kick. The frog kick is good for conserving energy. Kick and coast, kick and coast… but in a heavy current there is no “coast”! If you aren’t kicking constantly you aren’t making headway! I was breathing very deeply and was very aware of my heart pounding in my chest! Then we made the turn and we were out of the current. I continued to breath deeply and gradually felt my heartbeat returning to normal. The telltale chest pain I was waiting for, never materialized. I would later joke on the boat that if I were going to have another heart attack, that would have been the time!

We continued on with the dive and as in the previous dive, I was again impressed with the numbers of fish, the beautiful corals, and the visibility that easily exceeded over 60 feet! I found numerous subjects to photograph, including scorpionfish, nudibranchs, and a white-eyed moray. Another beautiful dive at what is probably one of the top dive spots in the Philippines!

Tasseled Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis oxycephala) photographed during a dive at Verde Island.

Upon our return to Sabang we waded ashore with our fins, masks, and camera’s (if we’re photographers). If it were high tide, the boats would come all the way in to the shore in front of the dive operation, but we often had to wade out and back to embark and disembark the boat. As I mentioned earlier, the staff took care of the heavy lifting (as they do pretty much everywhere I’ve dived in the Philippines) and would bring the tanks in later. Leaving the BCD’s on the tanks allowed them to wear one tank on their back while leaving the hands free. Years ago, while shore diving in Japan, we were surveying a new spot that had a very steep and rocky entry to get down to the water. As we were hiking down with our gear from where we’d left the truck, I jokingly had said, “If we were in the Philippines we could get someone to carry our tanks down for 20 pesos!” Which got a laugh from everyone in the group who had been to the Philippines. A tip of 20 pesos or so for a porter to carry your gear or bags is pretty common at airports and ferry terminals. I’m not quite as young as I used to be, so I really appreciate these guys who do the heavy lifting and go out of their way to make sure everyone is enjoying their vacation. I know they really appreciate a guest who leave money in the tip box for them!

We went back to our hotel room at Mermaids and got cleaned up. I downloaded photos and then took a nap. I met my friend later for dinner and we opted for Hemingway’s. I had the chicken curry which was quite good and my friend had a steak. Hemingway’s is on the quite end of Sabang, just 15 yards or so past Frontier Scuba. We had a nice view of the water. I was beat and we made it an early night.

The next morning we met again for breakfast and decided on the breakfast buffet at El Galleon again. The food really was quite good there! After breakfast we walked to Frontier to get ready for our first dive of the day which turned out to be the Alma Jane wreck and one of my favorite dives in Puerto Galera! Its a former Filipino freighter and was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef. It’s very open and all the doors and hatches have been removed making it a very safe wreck to enter.

The Alma Jane is so close to the dive operations on Sabang, that you start gearing up as soon as the boat leaves. There was a Japanese photographer in the group and we were the first ones over the side. There was some mild current so we went straight down to the wreck which sits in about a 100 feet of water. We were joined by the rest of the group which included the same 3 divers from the US Embassy that had dived Verde Island with us the day before.

This is really a nice dive with schools of batfish hovering around the wreck, large sweetlips, schools of snapper, cardinalfish, and soldierfish. I spotted a nice nudibranch right on the gunwales of the ship and a couple more inside. At one point I switched to video and got some nice footage of divers in our group entering the hold of the ship (the video is posted on Instagram @underwater.adventures). Towards the end of the dive we discovered, not one, but two painted frogfishes! That was a really nice way to end the dive. My computer started flashing at me and it was time to go up. My maximum depth was 95 feet and I ended with a 35 minute dive. I had just over 70 bar still in my tank, a bit over a 1000 psi.

Nudibranch (Nembrotha chamberlaini) photographed during a dive on the Alma Jane wreck at Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines.

I was feeling a bit cold by the end of this dive. The water temperature was 73 degrees Fahrenheit! In the tropics I normally wear my 4th Element farmer john, which is equivalent to 2.5 mm and my Scubapro rash guard which has 0.5 mm neoprene in the chest. I’ve found I can get a bit chilled after a couple of dives in the winter here, especially deeper dives like this one. I was wishing I’d brought my hooded vest! Possibly after spending most of the last 17 months here, my body is “adjusting” to living in the tropics and often living with no air conditioning!

Schools of fish cluster around the wreck of the Alma Jane. The former Filipino freighter was sunk intentionally as an artificial reef in a 100 feet of water, at Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines.

After returning to Frontier we hung out at the dive shop during our surface interval, then loaded back up for the trip over to Manila Channel for our 2nd dive of the day. Our dive started at 11:15 AM. Towards the center of the channel is mainly sandy bottom. Along the sides though were some shallow walls, lots of corals, including some nice table corals. There were a lot of small fish like butterflyfish, bannerfish, lizardfish waiting for their next meal to swim by, and anemones with their clownfish. I ended up photographing 5 different species of nudibranchs on this dive so for me I felt it was quite productive! The water temperature was a little better at 75F. Maximum depth was 68 feet.

Tomato Anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus) photographed during a dive at Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines.

After we got back we ended up at El Galleon once again for lunch. My friend had the Mongolian BBQ and I had a grilled chicken salad. The food really is quite good there!

I went back to my room and took a shower and a short nap. Then went to the ATM at the local bank to get some cash. Turned out the ATM was only working for “domestic” transactions. It wouldn’t work for foreign transactions. There is another bank in Puerto Galera town so I hired a trike to take me there. They initially wanted 350 pesos to go there and back which I thought was to much. I eventually found someone that would take me for 250. That’s still a bit high. I’d asked and the locals only pay 100 pesos each way so I knew I had some room to haggle. I’ve discovered that in a lot of places in the Philippines who get a large number of tourists, that foreigners will be charged more. I’m willing to pay a little more, but not when it’s approaching double! Reality is that I live here because the cost of living is low. For a tourist on vacation it doesn’t seem like much, but for me transportation costs add up. Out in the “provinces” where they don’t see many foreigners I never really run into this. Everyone pays the same. A jeepney would have been 20 pesos, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of time looking for the bank once I got there so I opted to have someone take me straight there.

After I got back I stopped in at the Sabang Sports Bar and had a beer and watched some UFC for a while. Then I went to Vesuvio’s which is my favorite pizza place in the Philippines! They have a wood-fired brick oven and you can really taste the difference in their pizza’s! I ate there quite a bit when I was in Puerto Galera last year. A really great place to eat and it’s also great for people-watching as it’s on the main road going into Sabang that dead-ends at the pier.

Monday morning after waking up, I had breakfast at Captain Gregg’s. It’s a nice view and the ham and cheese omelet I had for breakfast was really good! After that I packed my clothes and headed to the dive shop to pack my gear. From there I went to the pier and caught the ferry back to Batangas. There I caught a bus to Cubao. After I got off the bus, I took a short taxi ride to Victory Terminal and caught a bus for Olongapo City and Subic Bay.

I’m a bit behind in my blog.. I left Puerto Galera 2 1/2 weeks ago! Since then I’ve done a bit of traveling and scuba diving around the Philippines. I’ll be writing about Subic Bay next so stay tuned!

A great time in Puerto Galera!

I had originally planned a month in Puerto Galera, but ended up extending a week. I ended up getting sick and missed 2 weeks of diving. Initially the doctor thought it was flu, but after a few days I just had chest congestion and cough so it looked more like bronchitis. I was sick for a week before getting put on a stronger anti-biotic that finally got me headed in the right direction.

I was back in the water on Tuesday the 13th. I did Secret Bay in the morning. I think I saw more seahorses than I’ve ever seen in just one dive! Secret Bay is largely sandy bottom with some coral here and there. My maximum depth for this dive was 58 feet and I did a 1 hour and 10 minutes’ dive. Water temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit. There were tons of gobies and shrimps, lionfish, hermit crabs, wrasse, damselfish, nudibranchs, and right at the end of the dive a mimic octopus! I really enjoyed this dive for all the great macro opportunities. Right at the end of the dive we found a mimic octopus! A great finish!

Seahorse photographed in Secret Bay, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Seahorse photographed in Secret Bay, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

Mimic Octopus photographed during a dive in Secret Bay, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Mimic Octopus photographed during a dive in Secret Bay, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

In the afternoon we dived La Laguna Point. This point divides Big La Laguna Beach and Small La Laguna Beach. This was a 52 minute dive to a maximum depth 92 feet. Water temperature was 84 degrees Fahrenheit. We worked our way up to shallower water where we found a coral slope at about 65 feet. Some nice corals and the usual suspects, damselfish, anthia’s, lionfish, sweetlips, cardinalfish, angelfish, bannerfish… you get the picture! Up the slope there was a shallow wall at around 50 feet that went up to around 20 feet.

Cardinalfish photographed in Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Cardinalfish photographed in Puerto Galera, Philippines.

On Wednesday we dived Sabang Wrecks in the morning. This was a 52 minute dive with a maximum depth of 72 feet. Water temperature was recorded as a very warm 88 degrees Fahrenheit… maybe the warmest temperature I’ve recorded outside of Barracuda Lake in Coron! Sabang Wrecks include 3 wrecks of boats that were intentionally sunk to form artificial reefs. It’s possible to do all 3 wrecks in one dive and that’s what we did. Right at the beginning my guide spotted a Spiny Waspfish-Ablabys macracanthus. We found large schools of fish around every wreck. Batfish were in abundance as were damselfish, cardinalfish, and sweetlips. There was a small area of garden eels nearby and a snake eel.

Spiny Waspfish photographed during a dive at Sabang Wrecks, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Spiny Waspfish photographed during a dive at Sabang Wrecks, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

On the second wreck we saw a Broadhead Flathead, along with cardinalfish, goatfish, wrasse, damselfish and the rest of the gang! The third wreck I saw a peacock mantis shrimp but like most of his kind, he took off before I could get a photo. They almost always do, but occasionally I’ll get one that will actually hold still and let me take several photos. This happened during my last trip to Malapascua Island, this past April. For some reason the ones around Puerto Galera are much more shy. I don’t think I’ve ever succeeded in getting a photo of one here!
In the afternoon we returned to Secret Bay again. Again maximum depth was 58 feet. Water temperatures were 85 degrees this time and we ended up with a 1 hour and 3 minute dive.

A variety of fish swarm around one of the Sabang Wrecks.  Photographed during a dive in Puerto Galera, Philippines.
A variety of fish swarm around one of the Sabang Wrecks. Photographed during a dive in Puerto Galera, Philippines.

On Thursday we did Montani in the morning. Another 1 hour and 3 minute dive with a maximum depth of 61 feet. Water temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Montani is mainly sandy bottom with scattered coral outcroppings and coral rubble. It’s in front of Montani Dive Resort. Lots of macro opportunities here.

It was this dive I was reminded of the importance of tethering gear. Towards the end of the dive, I glanced down and saw that my focus light that had been mounted on the top of my Fantasea housing (I was using my Canon G16 on this dive) was gone! It appears that the attachment does not hold very well. I knew it hadn’t been lost very long, but I also realized that it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack! I signaled Myrene, my guide. I showed her that my light had fallen off and motioned to go back. We were spread out about 10 feet apart as we went back along our line of travel. Within a minute she spotted it! I was really happy about this as the light is fairly new. Only six months old. I made sure it was tethered after that.

In the afternoon we did a dive that the guide called the “Mini-Reef” which was almost directly in front of the dive shop. This was a 47 minute dive with a maximum depth of 91 feet. Water temperature was 84 degrees. That was a great dive with lots of fish and a turtle at the end came swimming right past me!
Friday I took a day off and slept in. Then worked on finishing up my blog post on DRT from the previous weekend and editing photos.

Saturday for the morning dive, we again went to Secret Bay. This dive ended up being exactly one hour with a maximum depth of 54 feet and water temperatures of 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Lot’s of the same including a devil scorpionfish!

Devil Scorpionfish photographed in Secret Bay, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Devil Scorpionfish photographed in Secret Bay, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

We had a really amazing dive in the afternoon at Sabang Point. Started with a white-eyed moray, then a nice little juvenile warty frogfish. Lots of the usual suspects, beautiful corals. I kept an eye out for nesting triggerfish, but nesting season is well over now! Dive time was 47 minutes with a maximum depth of 70 feet Water temperature was a bit cooler at 82 degrees Fahrenheit. I noticed a thermocline at around 60 feet with markedly cooler water.

Warty Frogfish (Antennarius maculatus) photographed on a dive at Sabang Point, Puerto Galera, Philippines on September 17th, 2016.
Warty Frogfish (Antennarius maculatus) photographed on a dive at Sabang Point, Puerto Galera, Philippines on September 17th, 2016.

On Sunday the 18th, I only did the afternoon dive. My friend Zee Malota from Australia was in town with a couple of other friends and he came over to meet me at Frontier Scuba and we did a dive at Hole-in-the-Wall. This would be a 50 minute dive to a maximum depth of 81 feet. Water temperatures was 83 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a huge rock with a hole through which you can swim. It’s just wide enough for one diver to fit through. It’s at a depth of around 40 feet. Up on top I found a nice scorpionfish. The rest of the “usual suspects” were there in abundance also.

Scorpionfish photographed during a dive at Hole-in-the-Wall, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Scorpionfish photographed during a dive at Hole-in-the-Wall, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

Right at the end of this dive while we were doing our safety stop, I found a camera. From looking at the photos on the camera we figured the camera had been underwater for around a week and the owner was likely Japanese. I’ve already tweeted about this and I’m having a friend translate into Japanese a notice that I can circulate online and hopefully find the owner. If you believe you are the owner of this camera, please contact me with a description and we’ll work on arrangements to get it back to you.

The following 3 days I did 3 dives a day. I had originally expected to do around 40 dives in a month. This would have been a nice relaxed 2 dives a day/5 day a week pace. Missing over 2 weeks of diving had put me behind. I reset my goal to 30 dives as Rick gives his best dive rate to those who do at least 30 dives. I needed 9 dives to get to 30! I wanted my last dive day to be Wednesday so that my gear would have time to dry out before departing Puerto Galera on Friday.

On Monday we started with Kilima Step. I ended up doing a 50 minute dive to a maximum depth of 74 feet. It has many different levels or steps. Essentially a series of walls that drops down to 75 feet or so. You can work your way back up with the last step being around 15 feet. A really nice dive. Lot’s of beautiful coral’s on this dive. I spent a lot of time stalking fish, trying to get a photo, which anyone who has tried it knows is not always so easy!

The second dive of the morning was at Coral Cove. 49 minutes with a maximum depth of 86 feet. Coral Cove is one of my favorites and not far from another one of my favorites, Sinandigan Wall. Coral Cove is a sloping reef that terminates at a small wall at around 65 feet. A really nice dive. Lot’s of macro opportunities. Nudibranchs, peacock mantis shrimp, moray’s, cuttlefish. Nice corals, whip corals, sea fans. Lot’s of color!

The third and last dive of the day was another dive at La Laguna Point. 48 minutes with a maximum depth of 72 feet. This dive was also a milestone of sorts as it was my 100th dive in the Philippines since arriving last year in October. 100 dives in 11 months is not to bad I think for a “non-professional”. At one point I spotted two triggerfish. Much smaller than the one the one that chased us last month, but I kept an eye on them anyway, especially when one appeared to follow me briefly! I know nesting season is well over now, but the image of large Titan Triggerfish snapping at my fins is not one I’ll soon forget! Towards the end I was able to photograph two Jorunna funebris mating. Behavior is what we love to photograph!

Tuesday we started with Sinandigan Wall. 52 minutes to a depth of 83 feet. I made two dives here during my time in Puerto Galera. Both great dives. Lot’s of nudibranchs on this dive!

The second dive was Dungon Beach. Rick told me he’d spotted a manta ray there…. 7 years ago! Nice dive. 52 minutes again and a maximum depth of 80 feet. There is a wall that starts around 40 feet going down to around 80 feet. Lot’s of places for nudibranchs, lionfish, moray’s, and scorpionfish.

The last dive was on the St Christopher. 51 minutes, 81 feet. The St Christopher is a former liveaboard dive boat sunk off the end of El Galleon pier in 1995. My second dive on this wreck. Lot’s of fish and we finish up on the reef in front of Small La Laguna Beach.

My last dive day was Wednesday the 21st, exactly 5 weeks after arriving in Puerto Galera. We went to Verde Island for two dives. I’d heard about Verde for years, but this would be the first time I dived there. It was actually a pretty quick trip. Only about 40 minutes.

Verde Island is essentially a pinnacle that barely sticks out of the water. After being briefed we back rolled into the water. The boatman handed me my camera and we began descending as we headed toward the pinnacle. My camera is a Nikon D300 in an Ikelite Housing with dual Ikelite sub-strobes. I also have a Light and Motion Sola 1200 focus light mounted on top. For this dive I’d chosen to go wide and had my Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye Zoom lens mounted on the Nikon.

It became apparent very quickly that we were in a fairly heavy current. I was kicking as hard as I could, and pushing a large DSLR in a housing with two large strobes… I was just barely making headway and became concerned I was going to suck all the air out of my tank and end up with a 15 minute dive!

We started making our way to the other side of the pinnacle. We worked our way down as we went around the pinnacle to escape the current. At my deepest point I was a 106 feet. Then we started working our way up the pinnacle. What an amazing place! We surrounded by CLOUDS of fish! Anthias, damselfish, wrasse, jacks, angelfish, butterflyfish. Visibility was easily 75-80 feet, the best visibility the whole trip!

After the dive I told Tom-Tom, my guide, that I’d just had easily a top 5 dive in the Philippines! To put that in perspective, I’ve been coming to the Philippines for over 9 years now with 300 plus dives here. I’ve dived all over the country…. Malapascua Island, Southern Leyte, Dauin, Apo Island, Tubbataha, Bohol, Moalboal, Puerto Princessa, El Nido, Coron, and Boracay. Top 5 is pretty sensational! With the depth and the hard current at the beginning we ended up with a 45 minute dive, although I did have 50 bar (735 psi) left in my tank. After surfacing we drifted while the boat came over and picked us up.

Verde Island, Philippines
Verde Island, Philippines

The second dive was actually a bit easier. We approached from the other side and missed the current this time. Only 68 feet for this dive. As before, huge schools of fish. I also saw several batfish and a few lionfish along with trumpetfish. I took my smaller photo setup for this dive. A Canon G16 in a Fantasea Housing with an Inon S-2000 strobe. I moved my Sola 1200 focus light from the Ikelite Housing to the Fantasea Housing. With this setup, in addition to some wider shots, I was also able to get some macro. We discovered several nudibranch during the course of the dive and I worked to get some individual fish shots. After another amazing dive. We headed back to Sabang.

Verde Island, Philippines
Verde Island, Philippines

Although I was back in time to do the afternoon dive that normally went out between 2 and 2:30 PM, I was exhausted after fighting the current. I’d already spoken to Rick the day before and he had offered to take me out on a night dive. Matthew who had just gotten his certification and was building experience fast was invited to go with us to do his first night dive. Rick told us to be back at 6 PM. I headed back to my apartment. I grabbed my laundry bag and dropped off laundry, then went back to my apartment for a nap!

I was back at the dive shop around 5:30. I opened my housing. Changed the port and the lens to my Nikkor 60mm. I’d put all the batteries on charge upon our return from Verde Island. After getting everything set up. We started gearing up. About 6:15 the boat left and we went just off Sabang Beach to dive Sabang Wrecks.

This was a really nice dive. I love night diving. Soldierfish, rainbow runners, Banded Coral Shrimp, pipefish, moray eels, snake eels, lionfish, blue-spotted ray… a great finish to my 5 weeks diving Puerto Galera!

Banded boxer coral shrimp photographed during a night dive on Sabang Wrecks, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Banded boxer coral shrimp photographed during a night dive on Sabang Wrecks, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

Blue-spotted Ray photographed during a night dive on Sabang Wrecks, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Blue-spotted Ray photographed during a night dive on Sabang Wrecks, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

The next day was a rest day. I mostly worked on photos in the morning. I spent the afternoon at the dive shop packing my gear.

After that I had a massage (something I did fairly often in Puerto Galera as a 1 hour massage was only 400 pesos. I normally would tip a 100 pesos, so barely $10 dollars with tip!) I picked up my laundry. Had dinner and went back to working on photos and working on my writing a bit.

I was up at 8 AM on Friday morning. Took a shower. Packed the few things I had in my apartment and went and checked out. I went by a souvenir shop to pick up some souvenirs for friends and then stopped and had breakfast. After that I went to the dive shop and finished packing my bag. I dropped some pesos in the tip box and two of the boys from the shop took a bag each and we headed down the beach to the pier. At the pier I paid for my ticket. They were already loading and a little after 10:30 AM the boat was on it’s way to Batangas.

At the pier I got on one of the waiting buses to Cubao in Manila. I’d planned to take a taxi from Cubao to Monumento to catch a bus to Batangas where I stay when I’m not on a dive trip (my brother has an apartment in San Fernando). The traffic was horrendous and it had started raining. In the end I paid the cab driver 2500 pesos to just take me and skip the bus. A little over $50 bucks.

A few final notes on expenses in Puerto Galera.
My electric ended up being 3750 pesos, about $80 dollars for a little over 5 weeks. My rent was 16500 pesos a month and it was prorated for the extra week. 20,350 pesos for just over 5 weeks. Around $438 dollars. Round it to around $520 to account for fluctuations in the exchange rate for accommodations for the whole time I was there. I paid a total of 100 pesos for drinking water while I was there. A 20 liter jug was 50 pesos and I went through two of them. I paid 200 pesos deposit for the jug which I got back when I returned it. I paid a 165 pesos for laundry while I was there. There was a minimum of 3 kilos that I never seemed to quite get too as I’d not brought that many clothes. I’d do laundry about once a week. Wash/dry/fold for about $3.50 a week.

The big expense for me was food as I opted not to cook. This was an option. I needed to only pay a deposit for the gas. I had a two burner stove and a refrigerator. They also provided pots, pans, dishes, utensils, etc… I just didn’t want to bother with it. I typically paid around 200 pesos for breakfast. You could pay 500 pesos depending on where you wanted to eat. Anything on the beach was of course more expensive.

I found a pretty amazing pizza place and probably tried every pizza on the menu while I was there in addition to some great pasta. I could get dinner for under 500 pesos. You could also pay several hundred or over a 1000 pesos if you wanted a steak in a place with a view! Or you could eat fried rice (enough for two normally) for a 150 pesos. Just depends on what your tastes and budget was. I typically probably spent about 500-600 pesos a day, but I usually only ate once a day while I was there with a few snacks thrown in.

My budget ended up being:
$520 Accommodations
$450 Food
$650 Diving (x30) including tips
$400 Misc (massages, souvenirs, transportation to from Manila, etc..)

Around $2000 dollars. Throw in round trip airfare from the US and it’s possible to spend a month in Puerto Galera for around $3000-$3500 dollars depending on where you are traveling from. The big savings was in accommodations. A one month stay can be much cheaper than a one week stay, depending on where you stay. Probably the other place I saved is that I stayed out of the bars. I stopped drinking several months ago so found no reason to go bar hopping. If you like to go out for drinks after a day of diving (I certainly have in the past and will again in the future I’m sure once I hit my goal weight), then less massage’s and more drinking!

I really enjoyed my time in Puerto Galera and am sure I’ll be diving there again in the future!

DRT Show-Manila

I attended the DRT (Dive, Recreation, and Travel) Expo at SM MegaMall in Manila this past weekend. Normal admission was 200 pesos, but you could save that simply by registering online ahead of time which I did.

In an effort to get the word out about the show they had also encouraged people to share the flyer and tag six of their friends on Facebook. My Facebook friend Isabella Maffei from Italy had tagged me in a promotion to win a free dry bag. They said they had 50 dry bags to hand out even though I thought I had no chance of winning I did the same (I only tagged people in the Philippines that I thought might have the chance to actually attend). I was quite surprised when I was contacted by the show and informed that I too had won a free dry bag!

I attended all 3 days. On Friday as I was standing in line to register I ran into my friend Evie Go. Evie is a very accomplished photographer and had a photo that was entered in the show. I met Evie as a result of the Philippine Paradise Divers sub-forum at www.scubaboard.com I discovered this forum when I was planning my second trip to the Philippines in 2007. The members were quite helpful in offering their expertise and advice as I planned that trip. I later met many of them in person during the many trips to the Philippines that followed. Believe it or not it was members of this group that suggested that we all join Facebook and have our own group page there. I’ve tried to give back to that group by posting about some of my adventures in the Philippines there.

Evie told me another member of our group from scubaboard, Penn De Los Santos was speaking right then. Penn is a well known underwater photographer here in the Philippines and does some amazing work. I’d planned on being there for his talk, but traffic had been worse than expected and I was running late. I thought I had missed his talk, because there was another speaker on stage when I got there, but realized later that I’d gone to the wrong end of the exhibit hall! I ran into him later in the day and was able to make his talk on the last day of the show.

I also ran into Jag Garcia, another PPD’er from scubaboard. He’s also an underwater photographer and had an entry in the show. We walked around together and caught up a bit. Although we are friends on facebook and so have a general idea of what’s going on in each other’s life, we’d not seen each other in person since 2010! While walking around, he introduced me too Miguel Zulueta who is a Tech Diving Instructor here in the Philippines and also happens to be Jag’s instructor. He’s a very enthusiastic guy with a real passion for diving. He invited me to come give tech diving a try when I’m finished diving Puerto Galera and I might just take him up on it!

Posing for a photo with my friend and fellow underwater photographer, Jag Garcia.
Posing for a photo with my friend and fellow underwater photographer, Jag Garcia.

Over the course of the weekend I attended several seminars and talks and had some great conversations with people about diving and underwater photography. Some highlights of the first day were Dennis Corpuz sharing techniques on “How to Make a Perfect Black Background”, Howard and Michelle Hall on “Making Underwater IMAX Movies”, a really fascinating Marine Conservation seminar by Steven Surina on “Shark/Human Interaction” and last but certainly not least, “Creating with Different Light Techniques” by Isabella Maffei which I really enjoyed.

I met Isabella Maffei for the first time in person although we’ve been friends on Facebook for a couple of years. I sat with her and Evie during Dennis’s presentation.

Posing for a photo with Isabella Maffei and Evie Go at DRT 2016.
Posing for a photo with Isabella Maffei and Evie Go at DRT 2016.

I also met Cindy Madduma who is Miss Scuba International 2015 and chatted with her for a few minutes. She DOES dive and recently earned her Rescue Diver certification. She’s a very sweet girl and a great ambassador for the sport!

Posing for a photo with Miss Scuba International 2015, Cindy Madduma from the Philippines.
Posing for a photo with Miss Scuba International 2015, Cindy Madduma from the Philippines.

The second day I attended seminars with Mike Bartick, “Anilao Nudibranch World Record”, “Shooting Wide Angle-A Path to Freedom” by Beth Watson, and a presentation by Nu Parnupong on “South Africa-Diving in the Wild Coast”. I love nudibranchs, I’m always looking to pick up new techniques for underwater photography, and South Africa is one of my dream trips so it was a great afternoon for me!

I also ran into James Loyola, another friend from scubaboard whom I’ve not seen in years and we chatted for a few minutes.

Posing with my friend James Loyola who I ran into while we were both checking out the photo gallery.
Posing with my friend James Loyola who I ran into while we were both checking out the photo gallery.

I met Lucky Manzano who in addition to being an underwater photographer, is also an actor in the Philippines. It was quite fascinating watching him get swarmed by the girls! I got my picture taken with him mainly for the benefit of my Filipina friends!

Posing for a photo with Philippines movie star and underwater photographer, Luis "Lucky" Manzano.
Posing for a photo with Philippines movie star and underwater photographer, Luis “Lucky” Manzano.

An additional highlight of the show was the appearance of actual mermaids who were happy to pose for photos!

Posing with a mermaid at DRT-Manila 2016
Posing with a mermaid at DRT-Manila 2016

On the 3rd and last day, I was able to attend another seminar with Isabella Maffei on “The Secrets of A Good Composition with Lighting”. I’m really impressed with her work and her passion for creating amazing photographs! I also watched an interesting seminar with Alex Tyrrell on “Capturing Shots Animals with Eggs/Mating-Cracking the Egg Shot”. From there I went to Penn De Los Santos seminar, “Ordinary to Extraordinary” which was very well received and gave some great insights into the creative process. The last seminar of the day was “Marine Biodiversity Conservation through Social Media” by Dr. AA Yaptinchay who gave another interesting talk addressing how social media has been utilized to enhance Marine Conservation.

The great thing about these talks is that is that you are learning how other photographers shoot and also getting ideas to improve your own work. Although I had extensive training and experience in photography from my days as a US Navy Photographer, working as a Cameraman Specialist at Cape Canaveral, and later as a Photo Lab manager and Certified Photographic Consultant, it doesn’t mean we aren’t still learning. I started back in the days of film. I’ve spent a lot of time adapting to new technology over the years. Underwater photography I have learned mostly on my own. I’ve had a few tips given to me here and there and read books to give me ideas and I’ve dived a lot with a camera (one of the things that Penn really encourages). The show was a great opportunity to “talk shop” with other photographers and a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us with an interest in recording the underwater world!

The rest of the time was spent wandering around and talking to people representing the many dive-related products and resorts at the show. It was a great weekend!

2nd week in Puerto Galera

Thursday the 25th was a nice day. We dived Alma Jane which is one of my favorite dives in Puerto Galera. The Alma Jane is an old Filipino freighter that was scuttled in 2003. An 80 ton ship, at 30 meters (98 feet) long and 10 meters (33 feet) tall, it’s a really nice size. It’s a very open wreck and easy to penetrate the cargo holds. It sits in more or less a 100 feet of water.

Schools of snappers, squirrelfish, schools of batfish are all-around the wreck. Lot’s of cardinalfish inside, I spotted a couple of lionfish. Really nice dive. This was my deepest dive of this trip so far at a 101 feet.

A school of snapper follow a squirrelfish around the hull of the Alma Jane in Puerto Galera, Philippines. Photo taken on August 25th, 2016.
A school of snapper follow a squirrelfish around the hull of the Alma Jane in Puerto Galera, Philippines. Photo taken on August 25th, 2016.

We worked our way along the bottom towards the bow and then came up the port side and over the rail amidships. We then worked our way through the cargo holds forward, then up and out and back down the starboard side before departing the wreck amidships and heading towards shallower water.

As we left the mostly sandy area around the wreck we found plenty of coral. The “usual suspects” were out. I spotted a banded boxer coral shrimp and later my guide pointed out a white-eyed moray. At the end of the dive we spotted 2 different turtles who didn’t seemed bothered by our presence at all! They looked like they’d been around enough to ignore having their photo taken. We ended up with a 58 minute dive.

Hawksbill Turtle photographed in Puerto Galera, Philippines on August 25th, 2016.
Hawksbill Turtle photographed in Puerto Galera, Philippines on August 25th, 2016.

My second dive of the day we went to Manila Channel. We dropped into the water over a sandy area. Right at the beginning of the dive as we were just starting our descent, I saw my guide make a quick motion to grab a 20 peso note that was floating in the water. I thought lucky for her. When we reached the bottom I glanced down and saw a 1 peso coin. I thought cool! Then I spotted a 5 peso coin and then another 1 peso coin. I thought about showing her what I’d found but decided it could wait until we were on the boat. I tucked the coins into the pocket on my harness and continued with the dive.

When I caught up to her she had found two dragon sea moths. I snapped some photos then we continued the dive. We came across a small wreck. Nowhere near the size of the Alma Jane… maybe a 20 foot small boat. I spotted a good size Emperor and the batfish that seem to hang out at every wreck.

Small school of batfish on a wreck in Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Philippines. Photographed on August 25th, 2016.
Small school of batfish on a wreck in Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Philippines. Photographed on August 25th, 2016.

Although not really the time of year for nudibranchs we did spot them as we have on other dives… 3 different species. Hawkfish seemed to be in abundance (I have a fascination with the for some reason), lot’s of butterflyfish, anthia’s, damselfish, wrasse, two different species of moray eels, and coral outcroppings. Towards the end of the dive we had a lot of coral on our left and mostly sandy bottom on our right with coral outcroppings here and there. Coral Gardens can be a dive in and of itself. We just got a little taste that day.
A pair of Dragon Sea Moths crawl across the sandy bottom in the Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Philippines.  Photographed August 25th, 2016
A pair of Dragon Sea Moths crawl across the sandy bottom in the Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Philippines. Photographed August 25th, 2016

Our maximum depth was 74 feet. When we hit the surface our dive time was 1 hour and 12 minutes. We arrived to a bit of a current and swells that hadn’t been there when we descended. There was a bit of boat traffic but that’s normal with so many dive operations around.
Our bangka boat approaches us for pickup after a dive in Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Our bangka boat approaches us for pickup after a dive in Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

Back on the boat I showed the guide the 7 pesos I found. Turned out that she had tucked change in the pocket of her shorts after buying something and forgotten it was there! When we started our descent the money came out. I asked how much change as I handed her the 7 pesos and she thought for a moment and said 27 pesos. What are the odds that after that, she would get all back?!

As it turned out that was my last dive of the week. I took Friday off from diving. Saturday I was sick and Saturday night I was really sick (vomiting and diarrhea)! I went to the doctor on Monday and he prescribed Bioflu for my symptoms (which by then were severe cough, congestion, headache). I’m a bit better today, but expect it’s still going to be at least a couple of days before I can dive again.

Unfortunately not much to report this week, but I am trying to blog at least once a week just to keep up to date. I’m spending almost all my time in bed now trying to beat this flu and get healthy so I can dive again. A week from now I’m expecting to be heading to Manila for the DRT Show. That should be a fun weekend! Hopefully I will see some of you there!

First week diving in Puerto Galera

Unicornfish photographed at Sabang Point, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines
Unicornfish photographed at Sabang Point, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines

It’s been a great first week diving in Puerto Galera.  I’ve completed 10 dives so far.  Water temperatures have been running from 82-84 degrees fahrenheit.  It’s rained almost every day, but no surprise there as it’s the rainy season!  I’ve never let rain bother me.  I’m going to get wet anyway and I like to say “It doesn’t rain underwater”!

I’m pacing myself as I’m going to be here for a month.  Although I’m on track to do 40 dives as planned, I may drop that back to 30.  I’m spending a bit more for meals than I had planned (I may have to actually break down and cook!) and there are a few above water activities that I’m looking at.

I got here last Wednesday.  The weather hasn’t really been great, but Frontier Scuba has still been going out at least 3 times a day, even if I’m the only diver on the boat!  This was one of the reasons I ended up picking them.  They were not the least expensive (they were 2nd least though).  The cheapest dive op was only going out twice a day (usually) and since it’s the off-season I knew (from past experience) there would be times when I’d be the only one on the boat. Beyond those two dives a day, I had to have someone with me or it was a 150 pesos more a dive than Frontier Scuba.  That could add up to a point that I wasn’t saving any money, or not that much.  I had more flexibility with Frontier.

I don’t mind paying a little more if I think I’m getting better service and Rick impressed me with his responsiveness to emails also.  I need to do 30 dives to get Frontier’s cheapest rate (850 pesos a dive) and 3 dives a day gives me confidence that even if I want to sleep in occasionally or take a day off here and there, I can easily make 30 dives in 4 weeks.

I did my first dive on Thursday afternoon at Monkey Beach. It had been six weeks since I’d been diving!  My gills were drying out again!! Bottom time ended up being 45 minutes with a maximum depth of 78 feet.

I ended up doing 3 dives on Friday.  Montani, Lalaguna Point, and West Escarceo.  Montani is mostly a sandy bottom and is in a protected area. 54 minute dive to a maximum depth of 63 feet.  The next dive was Lalaguna Point between Big Lalaguna Beach and Small Lalaguna Beach.  A nice dive, again ending up at 45 minutes with a maximum depth this time of 78 feet. The last dive at West Escarceo ended up being a train ride as the current picked up towards the end of the dive and we called it early.  I wasn’t going to get any photos anyway at that point!

On Saturday I dived the Clam Farm (so called because Giant Clams have been transported there from around the Philippines and “planted” as a dive site).  In addition to the Giant Clams, my guide spotted a blenny near the beginning of the dive.  We also saw two sea moths and a stonefish.  Dive time was 62 minutes and maximum depth was 62 feet.  No I didn’t plan it that way!

Spotted a Giant Frogfish on the last dive of the day at “The Speedboat” which is near the St. Christopher.  The St. Christopher, which is also known as Anton’s wreck is a 65 foot live-aboard dive boat, that was sunk off the end of El Galleon pier in 1995.  Lots of the “usual suspects” as I call them at most of the dive sites here.  Nudibranchs, sweetlips, snapper, anthias, jacks, lionfish, butterflyfish, wrasse… the list goes on!  Dive time on these two wrecks was 45 minutes.  Maximum depth was 79 feet.

On Sunday I dived two of my favorites.  We went to Coral Cove for the first dive.  Nice amount of nudibranchs, a moray eel, and of course… the “usual suspects”!  Total dive time was 64 minutes. Maximum depth was 83 feet.

After our surface interval we did Sinandigan Wall which turned out to be another nice dive!  Started seeing nudibranchs almost immediately.  Lionfish and a nice size sea snake that was probably over 3 feet long. 61 minute dive time with maximum depth of 89 feet.

Monday was my birthday and I ended up deciding not to dive.

Tuesday I dived West Escarceo again.  Much nicer this time as we didn’t have to deal with the current.  Was a nice dive with plenty of the “usual suspects” to observe!

Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco) photographed at West Escarceo, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines in August 2016.
Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco) photographed at West Escarceo, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines in August 2016.

Today I dived Sabang Point.  A nice dive with a little excitement at the end.  I was taking photos when I looked up and saw my dive guide being chased by a Titan Triggerfish!  Crap!  We’d stumbled onto a nesting area!

I started swimming at an angle away from my guide as fast as I could!  We lost sight of each other rather quickly as visibility was only about 40 feet.  Fortunately I kept looking behind me because all of a sudden the triggerfish was right behind me, literally snapping at my fins as I swam as fast as I could while dumping air from my wing!  Finally after what seemed like forever, but I’m sure was less than a minute the triggerfish broke off pursuit…. I continued to watch in case he came back and broke out my SMB.  Enough for one day!  Just before I could deploy it the guide found me and had already deployed theirs.

A good first week!

Moray eel photographed at Sabang Point, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines.
Moray eel photographed at Sabang Point, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines.