For our loyal readers who were hoping for another harrowing tale of rogue waves, torrential squalls, vicious squid and life-threatening mechanical problems, skip this post. When I last blogged, I was happily ensconced stern-tied to the Waterfront Restaurant wharf, and I haven’t moved since. I have, however, been having lots of fun both on land and sea, the former hanging out with locals, fellow yachties, and Kiwi tourists, and the latter mostly 50’-120’ below sea level. While taking guided scuba tours may seem somewhat pedestrian compared to our normal blog fare, I welcomed the chance to do something dangerous with a professional chaperone, if you will, looking over my shoulder at all times.
While I did my first diving back in 1974 while crewing on a yacht in the Bahamas, I was first certified in 2002 through the Sandusky YMCA course taught by my good friend, Jim Heckelman. I will never forget our November “Open Water” dive in the Gibsonburg quarry. It was a crisp, cold, fall Ohio day, most of the leaves were off the trees, and my wife, two kids and I were going diving. Yeah, right! We saw carp, catfish, a submerged school bus, a phone booth, and assorted debris, but it was still fun and visibility was good. I immediately bought two tanks and all the necessary accessories, but never got around to taking another dive until arriving in Tahiti 17 years later.
Diving in the South Pacific is reputed to be the best in the world. I slightly exaggerated my consent form in Papeete, as it asked if I had done scuba in the past year, and the number of dives I had logged. I checked “Yes, and 20 dives,” fearing that the unembellished responses would have relegated me to lessons in the hotel pool. While I was obviously clueless on how to hook my buoyancy control vest and regulator onto the tank, the dive masters kindly assisted me, and made sure someone responsible never got less than 5’ away from me underwater. I didn’t fool anyone, and exhausted my air supply long before the rest of my group was ready to surface. That was embarrassing, but I was undeterred.
We took several more dives in Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Fiji. On Niue, a remote island between Tahiti and Tonga, my son encouraged me to get my “Advanced Adventurer” certification so I could go below 40 meters. We couldn’t do deep dives together otherwise, so after 7 great lessons with my patient, attractive, 25 year-old South African instructor, Roxy, including cave dives, night dives, and a 30 meter plunge where she had me do math problems to see if I had nitrogen narcosis (I didn’t), I was newly certified.
With Travis off touring Santo Island, I have gone scuba diving four mornings thus far. I have a routine, and it’s so easy. I wake up around 0630, and walk five minutes to my go-to breakfast place near Big Blue Dive Center, the Jungle Café, which has an outdoor patio on the street where they serve great “pain chocolate,” cappuccino, sausage, and world-class pancakes with whipped cream and lots of butter. I have it all, and it helps me sink like a rock so I don’t have to carry so much lead in my buoyancy control vest. After doing two morning dives, we’re back at the shop by 1230, just in time for lunch at Pad Thai Restaurant, also just steps away from Big Blue, where I always order their eponymous specialty.
But enough about food, this blog is about diving. The two most spectacular were the “Semley,” a medium-sized freighter resting in between 30-50 meters of water, and the “Cathedral,” a cave dive that ends in a huge dome with light shining in from above. On the wreck, we follow the dive boat’s mooring line down into nothing but deep blue sea, and at about 20 meters (66’) the entire hull of a ghostly ship emerges. The water is so clear, one can easily see the surface at that depth, but watching your bubbles rise makes you realize the level to which you have descended. My dive master, Lewacky, is probably over 50, but was assigned to me because we were closer in age than any of the 20-somethings at Big Blue. “Lew” led me through a labyrinth of coral-lined passages and stairways in the wreck, using flashlight sometimes to see, and as we swam inside the bow, my dive computer registered 42 meters (138’). A few times the passages were so tight, my tank caught the top of them, but I just exhaled slightly and dropped down a few inches to clear. My dive master peeked back at me every ten seconds and flashed the “OK?” sign, to which I responded affirmatively. My one pervasive thought was, “If something goes wrong down here, I’m screwed,” but Roxy’s fine teaching, and Lew’s attentiveness, saw me through with no problems.
The “Cathedral” was not as challenging as the “Semley,” but incredibly dramatic. It has a wide passage terminating into a spectacular dome. The light filters down through the canyon sides and reflects off the multi-colored coral. I could’ve stayed down there all day enjoying the view, but we had to surface after only ten minutes.
We have to leave Vanuatu for Thursday Island, Australia, in a few days, where we hope to experience further scuba adventures. Once we get into the Indian Ocean, Cocos Keeling, a remote outpost a thousand miles from anyplace, is also an intriguing venue. I just hope they have nice places for breakfast.