After getting off the plane before noon, on Thursday night we did a shore dive at Black Rock with Extended Horizons in Lahaina. At the office we met Erik, the owner, and then headed to the parking garage of the Sheraton with our guide. Our guide was Keith--a nice mix of professionalism and humor. Myself, Scot, Dana, and a couple that were recently certified made a nice small group. Slipping into our gear without the drysuits left us feeling almost naked, and walking into the crystal clear blue warm water under a black sky filled with stars was incredible. So easy! The highlights were a HUGE turtle sleeping on the bottom right after we dropped down. Even better was seeing green moray eels that were not shy at all, but came out and swum along beside us for a while. Large, thick bodies that rippled with strength, and those so-ugly-they-are-cute faces. Lots of other things to see, but overall the location wasn't amazing; it was shallow (max 30 ft), and a lot of the life we hoped to see didn't make an appearance. But it was a very nice and easy reintroduction to the warm water! When we surfaced, there was a small swim to the exit point, and lying on my back looking up at a black sky and stars raised goosebumps on my skin. The two things together--warm caressing water and the out of reach heavens--were simply astounding.
The next morning it was up early and down to the dock to go out with Extended Horizons again. They do a great pre-dive brief, and naturalist Maren showed us photos of many things to look for; this really helped! We hit Wash Rock, then Cathedrals 1. The ease and joy of diving in clear, warm, blue water... wow. People ask what visibility was; all I can say is, "Really f'ing good," considering I'm used to measuring it in single digit feet! It was on these dives that I got to use a camera I'd borrowed from a friend. Having that to fiddle with took my mind off the usual obsessing I do about my own systems when I'm diving. Don't get me wrong, awareness and vigilance is a good thing, but my mind goes into overdrive, overanalyzes, and as a result creates a twinge of anxiety and keeps it alive through a feedback loop. I have to work at relaxing, when really it should be relaxing. Having the camera short circuited the feedback loop, and once my obsessive brain focused on finding a critter, the rest of my brain simply directed my body to do what it already knows how to do, and I found myself hovering with ease, making minor adjustments in position without thought, and overall being more aware of and in tune with my surroundings.
The highlights: as we approached Cathedrals 1, Scot gave a sharp whistle and pointed behind the boat. A pod of spinner dolphins were skimming along the coast. As Captain Victoria spun the boat around to a stop she yelled out, "Mask and fins! In the water NOW! You've got 60 seconds before they are here!" The pod turned toward the boat, and the water churned with sleek dark bodies arcing up and out. They split around the boat. There were perhaps 30 seen at one time at the surface; for every one we saw there were multiples underwater. Pods can be as large as 150! Around the boat many of them leapt out of the water doing impressive acrobatics.
The most beautiful thing I've ever seen: these creatures free in their own home. One thing diving has done is make it very likely I will never go to an aquarium again, at least not comfortably.
Due to increased comfort and body changes, weights are still in flux and I was overweighted on most dives. Regardless, buoyancy was really good, resulting in that beautiful feeling of effortless floating, taking only the slightest of fin kicks to get moving. Slow breathing, just a bit more in or out to move up or down. Now and then I arrived at this wonderful place of calm bliss, a totally zen moment--all the more stunning considering you are in a most unnatural environment.
Saturday it was up at 4am in order to pick Dana up at 4:30 and arrive in Kikei to go out with B&B Scuba. Good thing we left early; an auto accident closed the road and we had to make a little detour. We arrived in good time, got on the boat and set out for Molokini and Red Hill. The boat had a different vibe; I admit at first it felt kinda like the old boy's club. Maybe it was just me, but I sensed, moreso than in my experience to date, a vibe about me being a big girl. But once we got underway--and I think once Dana and I proved that we knew our stuff--things smoothed out. They gave me a DUI weight vest to dive with. SO much better than those damn weight belts.
Diver Dave was our guide, and he had the bleached hair and dark tan of a guy who had spent his whole life in the water and in the sun, and he blended in like a fish once in the water, too. Thanks to him I have added "hang loose" to my cache of underwater hand signals, for that was his response to almost everything. He communicated a lot, and also was more interactive. This further took me out of my focus on self, and into my environment. He would pick up rocks and shells and hand them to us--or at least Dana and I. He'd get us in real close for a look at something. He was hot to spot great stuff for photographs, and he spied things on the sandy bottom I'd never have discerned.
As we talked about our cold water diving at home (including showing my computer w/ dives from the last few weeks on it in 47 degree water), the guys warmed, including the two younger guys who were getting certified. By the surface interval we were talking about gear, dive spot wish lists, etc.
On both of those dives I was the last one on the boat, and on our last dive I had a fair amount of air remaining so Dave took me on an extra tour around. That was pretty awesome -- going from the fat chick they looked at with a bit of an "Oh boy," to the diver with the most time in the water.
Being born as a diver in the PNW makes a difference. When trip bookers ask about your certification and history, you barely get out, "I dive in the Pacific Northwest" before they say, "Oh, yeah, you're fine." While it's nice to have the boat crew handle the gear, there's a part of me that wants to beat them off of it and say, "Let me do it!" Sometimes I do. This gets respect. Having your own gear says a lot, too. It's all about ease; don't climb the ladder with your gear on, just drop it here and we'll hand it up. I declined that except the very last dive of our trip because Dave was practically hauling it off of me before I could say no. One could get used to that.
But seriously... on Friday while I marveled at the joys of warm water diving, a part of me was also eager, already, to get back to the task of cold water diving. That was an interesting, and confirming, feeling.
Maui was nice; I'll dive it again. But if someone gave me a choice: Maui or Cozumel, I'd choose the latter. Especially now; I'm much more comfortable in the water and would be so much more able to enjoy the fast rides in the current. Maui has some nice fish, but Cozumel has amazing coral, more invertebrates, and in areas just as many fish.
In the afternoons, evenings and Sunday we explored the island with Rhonda and Ivan, and hung out cooking dinner together and doing goofy things like trying to turn Scot into Carmen Miranda. (And this occurred when we were NOT drunk... just imagine...)