Well, we finally broke out the air compressor and filled our own scuba tanks for the first time yesterday. It took about an hour (minus the pauses for rain) to fill two tanks for Dallas and myself (Wes and Tiff were exploring ashore), and once we figured out whose gear was  (it has been a long time), we were all set. We considered yesterday’s dive to be a simple test run of our new equipment, as it was late afternoon after a day of rain, but the visibility underwater was much better than we expected. We set off from our boat and swam over to where we had been snorkeling in the morning, near the mouth of the pass. Swimming with around 50 pounds of gear on my back was rather challenging, but as soon as we dropped down below the surface, it was magical. There were multitudes of fish of all colors and patterns feeding off the diverse coral heads. Most of the fish inside the shallow (50′ or less) reef were fairly small, but they ranged in size from around an inch to two feet. Some of the most impressive ones in my mind were those that completely blended in with their environment. Darwin (though not a diver himself) would have been impressed. Specifically, there were some that were the same shade of white as the lagoon floor that I could hardly see until they moved. There were others that were speckled brown and beige just like the coral heads. I tried several times to point them out to Dallas, but each time the elusive little suckers slipped back into hiding. Another noteworthy variety was the boxy-shaped little fish with yellow polka dots overlayed onto its purple sides and white polka dots on its black topside. We also saw a large eel menacingly peering out of its chosen territory. We were underwater for a mere 36 minutes so as to avoid being around for feeding time, but I think that both Dallas and I could have stayed there for hours.

DSC01834 The Max Air 35 in action

I would like to mention that Dallas was a very good dive-master, allowing me to explore at will while keeping me abreast of our course and timing using hand signals, which we are getting the hang of. He used a compass to track our position, and when we popped up, we were just about where he expected us to be, just a short distance from the boat. I was both impressed and relieved.

We decided to have another go at it this morning, this time using the dinghy to get out to the larger pass. Dallas maneuvered the dinghy around a landmine of coral heads in order to get close to our desired drop spot, we lodged the little mushroom anchor on the windward side of a large coral head, and set off to see what we were up against inside the pass. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical, as it was 10 minutes before high tide when currents could be strong–a risky situation when not accompanied by a dive-master who knows the site well. Dallas assured me that we would take it easy and return to shallow waters at the first sign of strong current, so off we went.

DSC01839 Dallas and dinghy are ready to go

When we came to the edge of the pass, there was an immense wall of coral that was covered with fish of every color imaginable. I would say the most common colors were black and white, but I saw many shades in between such a deep violet, iridescent periwinkle, and others only found in the very large Crayola boxes. Beyond the wall, we could see nothing but ocean. Both Dallas and I later described it as the “abyss”, and I still can’t think of a better word. At this point, instead of hand signals, Dallas and I gave each other the nonverbal “Oh my gosh” which, with a mask on your face and regulator in your mouth, can only be communicated by making one’s eyes REALLY big. We swam along the wall for a bit and came up to the busiest underwater intersection I have ever seen. (Think of downtown Manhattan at lunch hour when the crosswalk signal turns green.) There were schools of fish swimming up and down the wall simultaneously, and yet, it wasn’t chaotic at all. Quite the opposite. Everything down below feels incredibly peaceful. Anyway, after swimming almost the length of the pass, Dallas motioned for us to turn around, and we headed back over the wall and through the shallows that were dotted with large, diverse coral heads. Not only was the coral the most diverse I’d ever seen, but the organisms feeding on it were quite unique. For example, there were a couple of little yellow growths that looked like plastic trees from a Lego set. Many of the colorful coral feeders snapped shut as we swam past, reminding us that they were in fact alive. When we finally emerged from the other world of the sea, Dallas’ first words were “still skeptical?” Needless to say, I was pretty pleased that we had taken the plunge (pun intended).

DSC01844 . Back from another great dive

There are many other notable experiences from today (e.g., biking to the marae, finally finding some good pizza, hanging out with Germans on a monohull), but as it is almost 1 a.m., I think I’ll call it a night. The wind is currently gusting to 40 knots (thereabouts), so it could be a wild one!