Wednesday, June 23, 2010

SCUBA Diving Off of Waikiki

The first order of business upon arriving in Hawaii was to book myself on a dive trip through an outfit called Dive Oahu. Sadly, that trip was cancelled for some reason. The shop was able to reschedule me for a trip the following weekend though, so I did at least get to go out diving once while I was here.

It was a gorgeous day when I woke up and headed down to the harbor where they apparently keep all of the tourist-centric boat operations:
Tourist Boat Harbor

When I showed up there was nobody around from the dive shop. This is odd when you consider the fact that I myself was only about fifteen minutes early. A few minutes later, a bus pulled up and unloaded a couple dozen sailors, soldiers, airmen, and marines from the nearby bases. It turns out the company has a shuttle service that pics customers up at their hotels and whatnot and today is the day that the new students are all going out on their open water checkout dives. So it was looking like it would be a crowded boat.

As I watched them milling around, a man wearing a Dive Oahu t-shirt stopped to talk to me. He said that I was the last person that they were waiting for. Further, he explained that there were two boats going out; one loaded with students and the other with just four divers aboard. I was one of the four. Awesome!

With the staff dealing with the crowd, it took a few minutes to get all situated with all of the gear I would be using for the dive. Since most of my own personal gear is better suited for diving the cold, murky water of Northern California, I left behind everything but my dive mask. It turns out that this would be the first time I was diving in a short wetsuit. Since it's also been a couple of years since the last time I got to go diving, this meant I had no idea how much weight I was going to need to make me neutrally buoyant. Fortunately, the staff managed to size me up perfectly and it was time to head out.

Once aboard the boat, it was a short run out to the first dive site. It was a nice day and the sea was fairly calm:
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After the divemaster picked up the mooring, it was only a matter of minutes before I was fully rigged and jumping off the stern of the boat. Right away I was amazed at how natural and familiar everything was. I'll admit that I was a bit leery about diving for the first time in years, but it turns out I had no reason at all to be concerned. After a moment of checking through all of my gear to make sure everything was working, I dumped the air out of my vest and started my slow descent. Looking down, I was surprised to see that I could already make out the shipwreck on the ocean floor over a hundred feet below:
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I enjoy wreck diving. There's a ghostly quality to a shipwreck that fascinates me. Here's a school of fish I followed around while tooling around along the main deck:
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View from inside the pilothouse:
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Along the way, a couple of divers from another boat went inside the wreck:
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This meant that there were suddenly bubbles coming up out of all sorts of vents and breaches in the deck:
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As I made my way forward, I caught sight of this turtle looming over the bow railing:

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I followed him for a bit before he headed away:
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At that point I slipped over the side and descended all the way to the sea floor next to the ship's bow:
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The bottom was white sand, stark and empty. This is when the divemaster pointed to my depth guage, letting me know that I was at a depth of 120 feet and needed to come up before I gassed myself.* Oops.

I was also sucking down air pretty fast. I was more than a bit excited and taking pictures means working a little harder to hold yourself steady, so I ended up burning through my tank faster than I'd've liked. With two-thirds of my air gone, it was time to get in line and head for the surface:
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Back on the surface, we headed off to our second dive site. Along the way, we passed all sorts of folks doing touristy boat stuff:
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Once we'd arrived at the second site, the divemaster set the hook and and all we had to do was follow the line down to the anchor:
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The second dive site turned out to be the discharge end of a disused storm drain. It was a shallower dive with all sorts of interesting coral formations.

While I was submerged, I managed to take a few self portraits:
Oahu Diving Shawn

Since I was only using a low-end rental camera, I had to rely on the ambient light for my pictures. This meant that the bulk of the colors were washed out by the light-filtering effects of the seawater. I tried a couple of shots witht he flash, but it lit up the little bits floating in the water column and obscured the subjects:
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Without the flash, these same fish looked like they were just black and white. I tried obscuring the flash a bit by blocking it with my finger, but the floaties were still to bright:
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Still, even without a useful flash, I managed a few decent shots:
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Somewhere along the way, I spotted these two tiny little fish having a territorial dispute:
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I also followed this little guy around for a while:
Oahu Pufferfish
I know it makes me an asshole, but every time I see a pufferfish in the wild I try to frighten them into inflating themselves. It never seems to work and this jerk was no exception. I take comfort though, knowing that he'll likely end up as a lamp:
Aloha Stadium Swap Meet 1

Even the best things must come to an end. Back on the surface, all that was left to do was strip out of my gear, towel off, and smile contentedly all the way back to the beach.
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Once ashore I finally noticed that I'd managed to bump my ankle on something somewhere along the way:
Coral Scratch
Hopefully I'll get a chance to make at least one more dive trip while I'm in town.

*The deeper you go, the faster nitrogen builds up in your body. The more nitrogen you build up, the longer you have to decompress before you can surface and return to normal atmospheric pressure without suffering decompression sickness, also known as "the bends."

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