Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dive Number 2, North Reef

We’ve come back as we promised ourselves we would. Unfortunately, we are about as prepared as we were last week in terms of preselecting a dive location. In fact, we have discovered it is not that easy to get your hands on a map of the reserve and all of the dive locations. We have been advised by our good friend and marine biologist, Dr Roger Grace, that there are fabulous sponge gardens to the west of North Reef. “Didn’t you get there?” he shook his head when we told him about our fabulous dive, “you went the wrong way – it’s better if you head west.” Well, that was our interpretation anyway!

Finding North Reef was easy – the water looked nearly as clear as the first dive – so far, so good. We anchored and took a GPS reading – we’ll need that as it appears that North Reef is fast becoming our favourite GIB dive spot (100% so far this year!). We confidently descend. It looks familiar – the kelp covered reef is below us. The water is not as clear, but we hadn’t anticipated it would be, so we’re not disappointed. Surge is tossing the kelp from side to side in a slow-motion dance, not dissimilar to a ballet movement. I’m watching the gentle bend of the thick stalks, the swish and final flick of the frond tips as they turn to repeat the motion in the other direction. The fact that we’ve noticed the kelp’s motion may alert you to the very definite, unmistakable absence of sea life. Or more specifically, fish. They seem nonexistent. Where have they gone? Never mind, we are off in search of sponges....we look...we swim....we look....we swim....get the picture?

Eventually we turn and decide the best option is a second dive on North Reef. It is nothing at all like the first dive - the visibility is poor, and although we find a few leatherjackets, red moki and snapper, we are not even excited by the crayfish waving their antennae enticingly from their cracks. We photographed a drab-looking grey finger sponge, more out of duty than passion and didn’t discover till the next day that is was a lovely pink colour in the photograph. Communication was difficult – we were both trying to decide whether to abort the dive, or jolly the other along. We were cold.

What one of us didn’t know was that the other had no idea where the boat was. A quick pop to the surface didn’t help. “This way!” He confidently pointed once submerged. After swimming a 100 metres in that direction, we found...nothing. No boat. Another quick trip to the surface resulted in a new direction to follow. Another 100 meters and there it wasn’t! We resorted to surfacing anyway. About 100 metres away from our little inflatable boat, which was only visible by the dive flag we had sensibly rigged up before heading underwater.

We never get lost underwater. We have a very successful partnership and working relationship, which works because neither of us tries to do the other’s job. We both know our limitations. The same is true for our approach to navigational duties. Land-based navigation is strictly a female domain, and especially in the case of shopping malls. Underwater is a completely different story it’s a purely a male domain. One of us may have had a very short diving career (i.e. 1 dive) had it not been for navigationally-gifted dive buddies.

We’re still scratching our heads. Even on the surface, we can’t figure out where we went, or where we went wrong for that matter. But as it wasn’t a particularly good dive, we don’t really need to know. We‘re unlikely to be repeating it in a hurry and won’t suggest it to other people. But still, we remain troubled by our complete lack of navigational skill. And the concrete evidence of ineptness is worrying. Where is that GPS when you need it? Oh yes, it was on the boat!

Monday, January 12, 2009

What is a giant boarfish anyway?

These are the giants of the boarfish family (Pentacerotidae) - they can reach 1 metre in length, although ours were only half that size. They usually live at depths of 30-150 metres, and even deeper. Which confirms ours was a lucky encounter. Our yellow spotted one is in fact the male of the species, the striped one is either female or juvenile.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dive Number 1, North Reef, Goat Island Bay

We’re doing it. We are actually heading out of the driveway with the inflatable boat and trailer following behind. It’s taken us a couple of hours to make sure we have all the necessary bits and bobs. But I’ve squeezed into my wetsuit – it’s quite a flattering fit actually! Even if the rubber is straining at the seams! We’ll need to check out the buoyancy. Two pairs of fins, check; two dive mask, check; two regulators, tanks and buoyancy compensators. We must be ready to go. It takes us 90 minutes from the time we leave home to get to the water. That’ll have to come down.

Launching the boat at Leigh turned into a waiting game and a quick social visit with a fellow diver on the dock made us even later. We’ll do that in 60 minutes next time, we assure ourselves. My bum seems to have lost all that extra padding as we bounce our way up and down swells, and I know I will be a centimetre shorter due to vertebral compression. But hey, this is fun.We have decided to dive North Reef which we’ve heard good things about. It’s not accessible by shore and is a little exposed. We were not so prepared that we brought a GPS location for the reef, although we did bring the handheld GPS! We located the reef by watching some birds working a small area of water in the vicinity and the water was clear enough to see the reef top in about 8-9 metres.

After we check my buoyancy, we don our gear and start the dive and immediately find ourselves surrounded by a school of 30-40 kingfish. Nice start. And the rest didn’t let us down. We really had no idea where to go, but traversing the west side of the reef towards the open ocean we soon find ourselves in a perfect ecklonia kelp garden.

Why is it perfect? The kelp was not so dense as to obscure the sponge and invertebrate rocky platform beneath, nor the plentiful crayfish that had begun to emerge from their rocky hiding places. I should mention that it is now 6:00 pm, two hours since we left home! Never mind, the sun is still shining and we're enjoying that interesting time of the evening when fish are active.

We descend to 18 metres and soon bump into a school of giant boarfish. There are at least 10, some of which have a bright yellow spotted appearance. We gesticulate wildly to each other and later decide they must be mating and the yellow ones might be females. We’ve heard that they come into the shallow water to breed in summer.

As the boarfish tire of us and swim away, we turn to find a grisly old snapper following us around. He’s fat, thick-chested, with a swollen nose and chin, and his tail and fins have a distinctive white stripe on them. He’s ageing in a very human way we decide. As North Reef is so far away from the shore, it’s likely he doesn't encounter many divers. From the way he follows us around the reef, it seems he is either very interested in our presence, our perhaps more interested in our departure. Nevertheless we find him alarmingly ugly and extraordinarily charming and we are happy to have a third dive buddy for the remainder of the dive.

We are enjoying the spectacle of unbroken finger sponges growing amongst the kelp, when we spot a school of trevally, then a school of kawhai and finally the kingfish return. We turn and head back – we can’t afford to get lost on our first dive. As well as our new friend, other snapper and red moki swim by. We eventually begin our ascent surrounded by a school of trevally. We get back into the boat, an hour after we left it, and marvel at the stillness of the evening. The low sun is reflected on the glassy water surface and we see the yellow-green flash of kingfish swimming close to the surface. We’re enthralled. We’re hooked. We’ll be back.