Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hanging With the Spotted Eagle Rays

I took Randy & Dayl Duncan out on the Sunrider dive boat to check out the spotted eagle rays at the Ice Cream coral formation. Randy is a U.S. Navy diver who is on the USS Safeguard which is currently docked on Saipan. They are getting ready to pull some of the big coralheads out of the shipping channel so that military vessels can come and go easier and hopefully bringing us more military ship visits in the next year. Dayl was his fiance until last Saturday, when they tied the knot on Saipan island-style. David Sablan brought Randy in to the station last Friday morning to join us on the talk show, knowing that I would love talking with another diver. I told him about our Christmas morning dive with the spotted eagle rays and showed him the video and some pictures. He said he really wanted to get Dayl out diving somewhere that she would have a great experience, and that looked like just the ticket. She has been certified and did a few dives, but never really had a great experience, we were looking to change that. The spotted eagle rays made their appearance and got fairly close as you can see from the video, maybe a little too close for Dayl's liking.Randy was quite excited to see this big piece of ammunitition from WWII still sitting down there on the bottom. We even saw a couple smaller bullets from a rifle just sitting down there amongst the coral. Dayl seemed quite relaxed and to really enjoy herself, and why wouldn't she, she was with Randy & I.I think they both enjoyed diving the Chin Sen Mauru the most though, that was the 2nd dive of our boat dive. The were enjoying looking through all the holes and at all the old pieces of equipment on the wreck. Of course all the fish that seem to be everywhere on the wreck help add to its charm as well.Not a bad way to spend a honeymoon, and hopefully these will be the first of many dives that they will do as a couple over the years. As always, I probably had more fun than they did, just because I'm really more than half fish, but they seemed to have a good time too. Two more happy victims of Axe Murderer Tours, who hopefully will still make a dive at Lau Lau to go see some turtles up close and personal. Congratulations on your recent wedding Randy & Dayl, and may you have many more happy dives together!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lewie Discovers The Wonder of Turtles!

I took Lewie out for his first two Open Water dives Sunday afternoon. He had been certified with NAUI years ago, but hadn't done any diving since. Because I will be putting him all the way through Divemaster, I figured it would be a good idea to just have him go ahead and take the Open Water course over again to reacquainte him with all the skills and get him comfortable underwater again. I took him to Lau Lau for his first two Open Water dives because I think there's something absolutely magical about seeing turtles on dives. Lewie got to spend some quality time with a couple green sea turtles and just watch them eating the growth on the rocks. After being slightly nervous at the beginning of the dive, you could just watch him visibly relax and start to really enjoy himself underwater.
Yup, you really can get this close to the turtles and just observe them, they don't seem to mind at all as long as you don't try to touch them or make any fast or threatening moves. Even after thousands and thousands of dives, and spending thousands of hours with turtles, I still get excited every time I see one and get to spend some time with it.
Kelli has been using my first underwater camera as she hones her underwater photography skills, and I'd say she's doing an awesome job! Especially considering that the camera no longer has its flash diffuser, and that it doesn't always work the way it's supposed to. I can't wait to see the kind of shots she comes up with when she gets her new camera this week. And of course I'm very excited to be getting a new camera myself this week, so there should be some great pictures coming very soon.
I was looking under a few rocks on the way back in and I discovered this live Textile Cone mostly buried in the dirt. This is the 3rd most deadly cone shell in the world. It's very beautiful but very deadly, which is why I'm carefully holding it by the base end, and have the point end pointing away from me. I put him back after Kelli took a picture of it, and after she was giving me one of those looks asking what the heck I think I'm doing. We had a great weekend of diving, managing to get in 5 dives for the weekend, which puts me just shy of 300 for the year, not a bad year at all! I think Lewie is totally hooked on diving now, and I keep getting new students lined up every day. I may have to clone myself before too long.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Here is the video I was taking when the one spotted eagle ray decided to tickle my neck with his tail.

Christmas - Saipan Style!

This was the sight that greeted me Christmas morning as I rounded the far corner on the Ice Cream coral formation just outside of Saipan's lagoon. We went on a Christmas morning boat dive with Brad & Kathy, Brad & Jeong-ah and Angelo. That may seem like a pretty strange way to celebrate Christmas morning to some people, but to all of us, it was a magical way to celebrate it! When you're far away from family and home as most of us were, it's great to be able to hang out with some good friends and share some amazing experiences and memories. We took the Sunrider boat out to Ice Cream for our first dive. And by the way, just in case you're wondering, no my new camera didn't get here that fast, these were taken by Kelli with my first underwater camera. She is doing an amazing job with it, and I'm sure her pictures will be even more spectacular with her new camera that is on the way. But back to the dive, as soon as I rounded the backside of the Ice Cream formation, I saw this wall of white moving toward me. The wall of spotted eagle rays was higher in the water than I was, so I was looking up at their white bellies. I was just completely dumbfounded by the sheer number of these graceful and huge creatures. I had never seen so many in one place before. I started counting and got up to 45 before they started circling back on themselves. I know there were far more than 45 in that initial bunch of them, but that gives you a good idea of just how many of them there were in the water. These are not just some small fish, their wing span from tip to tip will be anywhere from 3-6' across, and I'm guessing their weight to be anwhere from 100-200 pounds. I tried to get everyones attention so they could see the same spectacle I was experiencing. Kelli saw them fairly quickly and started snapping away with her camera. You couldn't take your eyes off them, they were just so majestic! We all picked a spot to just hang out on the coral formation and let them swim back and forth over the top of us. They put on an amazing show for quite a while.
And just in case you think we only got to see them at a distance, they came in pretty close to check us out as well. No zoom was used in any of these pictures, that's just how close they were getting to us. They were so close you could see the detail of their eyes and watch as their gill slits rippled as they opened and closed. But believe it or not, they even got a little closer.
I was watching this one come right up to Kelli, but she was focusing on some others that were on the other side of her. As she turned around there it was right next to her face, so she snapped a few pictures. At one point she offered me the camera to take a few shots with. I decided to try capturing some video. I was shooting about 8 of them that were coming closer and closer. I finally locked in on one that seemed to be coming in for a collision course with me. He came right up to my face before veering away at the very last second. But as he swam away directly in front of me, his big whip tail came right for me and brushed against my throat as he swam away. I know firsthand just how much damage they can do with their whip tails. When I was a young boy I had a stingray use his tail like a sword and slash the backside of my swimsuit wide open, and that was after driving the barb on his tail all the way through my hand. We won't talk about how that happened right now, but I do believe it's in my book, so you'll have to read that if you want to hear the rest of the story. So as I felt his tail brushing against the skin of my throat, I realized that if I spooked him at all, and he gave his tail a flick, he could easily slit my throat from ear to ear. I was hoping that everybody else realized it too and just sat still and watched them. I just kept the video rolling, what else can you do? I'm sure there were scenes of the Crocodile Hunter's final moments with that stingray going through Kelli's head. She was right next to me watching. I'm not really sure how I always wind up in those situations, but somehow I seem to attract them. Here is a picture of Brad, Kathy and I at the shipwreck. You might notice that none of us have regulators in our mouths. We have evolved and learned to just suck the oxygen out of the water and therefore only carry the tanks as a back up plan, (don't we all wish!). I think everybody had an awesome time and were quite happy that they decided to spend their Christmas morning that way. Here I am just hanging out on the shipwreck on Christmas morning! If you want to hang with me, you'd better bring your gear and get ready for some serious bottom time. It really was a spectacular way to spend Christmas morning, and we all have Kathy to thank for it. It was all her idea to give a boat dive to Brad for his Christmas gift and she wanted to do it on Christmas morning. She didn't have to invite me twice to convince me, and I didn't really have to work very hard to convince Kelli either. Since both of our kids have abandoned us for Christmas this year, we just wanted to have a totally different Christmas, and we succeeded. After our dive we invited Angelo and Edz to join us for a Christmas brunch at the Hyatt, a great way to completely over indulge and spoil yourself rotten. Angelo said that they were going to be the new Josh & Sarah since our kids had abandoned us. I don't know if Angelo realizes that might be problematic considering I don't think he really considers Edz as a sister. Oh well, I'll let him figure that out. He has said he has dibs on Sarah's room now though, so I think he might be serious.

After brunch, we decided to go see a movie and watched Adam Sandler in Bedtime Stories. Certainly not a traditional Christmas by any stretch, but certainly a memorable one. I hope yours was as good!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Disappointed with Sealife Cameras!

There are those who have expressed their disappointment to me that I really haven't been blogging much ever since my camera was stolen. I admit, it did take all the joy and fun out of it for me, and I didn't really feel like just telling the diving stories without the pictures to go along with them. Up to this point, I have been saving up for my Instructor's course and all the specialty ratings that I need, so the money has all been earmarked. However it is Christmas bonus time, so I just got done ordering 2 new Canon SD 950 IS's for Kelli and I for Christmas. I got her the Canon housing, which is small and compact, and I ordered the Ikelite housing for me with the Ikelite AF35 strobe to go along with it. This is the same setup I had that was stolen, and it's an upgrade for Kelli.

I was going to order a couple Sealife DC-800's with an external strobe, one for each of us. Sealife was offering a special deal on two of them to PADI instructors, so I thought that would be a great way to go, and Sealife was trying to get their cameras in the hands of dive instructors who would be using them to teach their students. Unfortunately Sealife showed me that they really didn't care about selling cameras or taking care of customer service. It took me several weeks and about 6 e-mails before I got anyone to respond to me at all from Sealife. Then when I finally got someone to respond, she didn't go out of her way to be helpful at all and gave just the minimum information she could get away with. Sealife was also totally inflexible when it came to shipping options, and insisted it had to be shipped by Fed Ex. Fed Ex is usually a very expensive option to have something shipped to Saipan, so I asked them for a shipping quote before ordering the cameras. The lady couldn't bother to find out the information for me, and just gave me the Fed Ex website and told me to get a quote myself. I tried, but Fed Ex not only would not let me register, but would not give me a price quote. I wrote back to the lady at Sealife, but she never responded, I guess she didn't care that I couldn't get a price quote or that it would mean I wouldn't make the buy through them. I am just always blown away by examples of horrible customer service like this, and can't believe that a company can stay in business treating their potential customers that way. So no, I did not order Sealife cameras, nor will I ever order anything from them ever again after this experience. And I would warn anyone who is considering buying from Sealife that their customer service totally SUCKS!

I ordered my Canon cameras from Adorama at and have always had great luck with them and exceptional service. They make sure I always get my order in under a week, and that's saying something when it goes half way around the world. I highly endorse Canon cameras as I've had 5 of them now and absolutely love them. Buy Sealife only if you want massive hassles and to be ignored. Maybe they need a few lessons in customer service!

So with the new cameras on the way, I will start taking pictures on dives regularly and posting them here again, as well as pictures of all my new dive students. Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays, unless you're Sealife cameras, and then Bah Humbug to you!