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SCUBA-L  December 2007, Week 2

SCUBA-L December 2007, Week 2

Subject:

Hawaii Trip Report

From:

"Huntzinger, Hugh A Mr CIV USA AMC" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scuba diving discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 13 Dec 2007 10:41:41 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (238 lines)

Hi All, 

For Thanksgiving, Margaret & I burned a quarter million of my Frequent
Flier miles and took a trip from NJ out to Hawaii.  We had been there
briefly two years ago (part of a cancelled cruise), so this was the
first trip "to" Hawaii proper.  All in all, this was a trip that
happened to include some diving, not really a 'Dive' Trip, so we were
weighted down pretty heavily in checked baggage, because in addition to
dive gear and UW camera, we had our daypacks, hiking boots & poles for
hiking, plus my land camera setup, nice clothing for meals out, etc,
etc.  

Getting there:
It was supposed to be nice and relaxed (had 'paid' for 1st Class) but
unfortunately, a baggage handler on our first leg decided that our jet's
cargo door needed widening, so our first flight was cancelled and we
were rebooked & stuffed onto a small Embraer jet, which did get us to
MSP for our second flight in time...barely...although our luggage didn't
make the connection.  Arrived in Honolulu on schedule and after killing
a few hours layover, connected to Kauai, arriving at around 9PM local
time, making for a ~20 hour travel day.  Even though our checked baggage
made the next flight on Northwest and were only ~4 hours behind us, they
arrived 20 hours later (4pm), because NW doesn't have any baggage
handlers on duty in Honolulu until mid-morning, so they held the bags
for roughly a half day before they finally handed them off to Hawaiian
Air for the last flight leg.  Thank-you NorthWest. 

Kauai:
We had some good tips from our next store neighbor goes there annually.
We had chosen to be down south in Po'ipu in anticipation of Winter
weather, as well as a geographic compromise between going North (via
East) and West to the Canyon.  Our topside touring ended up having a lot
less "beach time" than I had been expecting (Margaret caught a cold),
but included several of the local historical sights, plus the hiking
gear was used for poking around Waimea Canyon and a few of its more
scenic overlooks...quite impressive.  For diving, I used a nice small
6-pack type outfit operating out of Port Allen called 'Bubbles Below'.
A basic boat, but everything was in order and  a nice touch was that
their freshwater rinse was passed through their engine manifold, so it
was a hot water :-)  I'd go out with them again, as it was a competent,
down-to-earth group without self-promotional hype.    Spotted my first
Hawaiian Turkeyfish and started to have some headaches with the strobe
system on my Nikonos.  Also visited a site whose name translated to
"House of the Turtles", which was a area with offshore freshwater
springs, which increases algae growth and attracts Green Turtles.  There
were probably close to a dozen huge Green Sea Turtles present, each one
with a shell 5'-6' long.   

Overall, Kauai made a good impression, and although there's a huge
construction project right down in the Po'ipu area that makes traffic a
mess and noisy during daytime hours, we'd use the Koloa Landing Cottages
again...it was quite roomy for under $200/night, and having a kitchen
came in handy on days that we had extra-early starts as we could cook
our own breakfast, make sandwiches for hiking excursions, etc.  

One thing I didn't get to is that the place we stayed, Koloa Landing
Cottages, is the water access literally right across the street is the
Koloa Landing boat ramp.  This site was used by 19th Century Whaling
Ships but today is a popular & easy snorkel & shore dive site with few
(if any) boats using it.  I did do a quick visit and overheared
snorkelers near shore pointing out to each other about multiple turtles
that were in the water below them, but testing the waters there will
have to wait for the next trip.


Big Island, Kona:
After five days (too short), we flew over to Kona on the Big Island.
There's even more places to drive over here and explore with a quick
visit and we probably did somewhere around 700 miles of driving over the
next week.  Now that we've done the basic exploring of the whole island,
I think we would stay more local next time.  The Big Island has fewer
"nice sand" beaches (which makes sense, due to relative age), but free
public shore access was surprisingly common (take that NJ and FL) and
frequently were nice gems with free facilities...pavilion with picnic
tables, restrooms, BBQ grills, etc.  Unfortunately, many of these were
in various states of closure due to damage from their Oct 2006
earthquake.  It does have a lot of historical sites, such as Pu'uhonua o
Honauau('Place of Refuge'), Kaloko-Honokohau, and Pu'ukohola Heiau.

Except for an overnight at the Dolphin Bay Hotel in Hilo (very basic,
but good; also had a kitchen) for a morning helicopter flight out to the
active lava fields, we spent our nights at the Mango Sunset B&B, which
is a coffee farm at the 2000ft elevation mark on the hill above the city
of Kona.  Owners Hans & Marsha are quite pleasant and the B&B has a dive
gear rinsedown/shower area and equipment drying rack in their
out-building, as Hans is a former Los Angeles County Dive Instructor and
continues to dive locally.  I think for a future trip, I'd try to make
arrangements with Hans beforehand to borrow/rent his tanks and to pick
his brains for shore diving locations, as Hawaii dive operations are all
$100+/day, yet many "boat" sites are apparently little more than paying
a boat to take you to a shore dive site.  

Downtown Kona:  we found parking downtown to be a pain.  Pay lot rates
shoot up at ~5pm to soak the dinner crowd.  There are a few free parking
lots, but not enough.     

Diving:  I ended up being short on time for being selective for picking
a dive op, so I ended up going with "Kona Honu Divers" because I
specifically wanted to get in on the Manta Night Dive, which they 
prominently feature.  While the Manta Night Dive was fun & highly
recommended, I don't think that I'd  use Kona Honu again as my dive op. 

The staff was mostly fine, and indeed, there was evidence of some very
good & deep experience on the staff, although there was the "kid who
needs work" DM stereotype as well as a flamboyant cheerleader stereotype
as well.  Its just that I found couple of things that just were
downright irritating. 

The first was their "hurry up and wait" treatment of their customers. 
The typical routine was that at the designated meeting time, the crew
would take their first roll call,  --> and then <-- start to set up the
pile of dive gear.  With over half of the customers using their 
rental equipment, this all could have been set up long beforehand, but
it was apparently more convenient for them to have their customers stand
around on their dock for a half hour (longer if you showed up early) all
twiddling our thumbs while the staff set up all the gear.  I didn't ask
what their excuse was because it doesn't matter to me, because I proably
won't be going back. 

The second irritant was that they had stuffed two dozen customers onto a
Newton 46, but didn't have prices that were dramatically lower to
reflect this cattle car.  They do try to prevent it from being too bad
of a herd underwater by using multiple DM guides leading around groups
of 6 or 7, but with 
an AM boat that I was on having three groups (& DM for each), plus there
was a fourth group of an  instructor with students, it all made for very
slow loads on & off even if you don't mind having lead group dives.
Relative to above and below, the smallest irritant, but between this and
the first one, a lot of time was wasted for just a couple of dives.   

An illustration of the problems caused by these first two factors is
that despite having the earliest meeting time (3pm) for the 2-tanker
twilight & night Manta dive, we were invariably the last boat to return
(8:20pm).  Yes, 5+ hours required to do two <1hr dives at a site that's
only 15 minutes away.  At least their "block the customers from getting
off the boat while we mention our tip jar" speech from the diveboat's
Cheerleader after we had docked was mercifully short after the night
dive.  

The third strike was short fills.  They prominantly point out that they
use HP80's, but the highest pressure I saw out of four tanks used on
different days was only 3200psi @ ambient air, which meant that it
immediately dropped to 3000psi within 2-3 minutes in the 77F water.  As
such, while the label claims its an 80, basic physics say that with the
tank being ~15% short of full, its really only a 68 cubic foot tank.
Perhaps it was a subtle way to force a "1 hour max" bottom time policy,
but had they not wasted a half hour on the pier and more time with full
boats, they wouldn't need such limits.  I suspect that they would argue
that the tanks had 3500psi in them when they were filled, which is quite
possible if you're  being sloppy and doing hot fills.  I kept my mouth
shut when they generously told one customer that they were upgrading him
to an HP100 because of his air consumption, since with their use of
short fills, 85% of an HP100 basically meant that they were simply
giving him their equivalent of what they should have been giving
everyone, namely a *full* 80.  

In any event, with my air consumption, I pegged on time limit more so
than air.  For example, they limit the Night Manta dive to just 45
minutes, so despite a 3100psi (surface) start pressure, I returned with
1400psi.  

And to think its a SCUBA Diving Magazine "2007 Readers Choice"
operation.  Methinks that since 75% of the divers had <50 lifetime
dives, they're not yet experienced enough to separate good operations
from a "happy" outfit with a Cheerleader (including his overt
solicitation for tips).  Otherwise, you want to be on the "First Out,
Last Back" diveboat while not getting longer dives, then Kona Honu is
for you. 

Related Dive News:
The Kona Aggressor had a little boating accident on Wednesday 21 Nov 07
while in Kona Harbor:  apparently got caught the wrong way by the wind
and drifted over the buoys and into the roped-off swimmer's area.  They
got towed off, but the entangled rope was severed, etc.  

Here's the incriminating photo:
http://www.huntzinger.com/photo/2007/hawaii/kona_aggressor_oops(11-21-07
).jpg


Volcano News:  
We had the good fortune that the Goddess Pele had a break-out while we
were there, so our doors-off chopper visit did get to see more
interesting-than-normal flows:

http://www.huntzinger.com/photo/2007/hawaii/lava_7681c.jpg 
http://www.huntzinger.com/photo/2007/hawaii/lava_7630.jpg


UW Photography:

Well, after 17 years of use, my Nikonos V crapped out.  Apparently, a
synch cord leak that caused me a seemingly-minor problem on a dive in
Kauai during the first week actually allowed some saltwater further
inside the body, where apparently some corrosion messed up the camera's
"Rewind" function, resulting in no way to get the film out without
opening the back.  I did the {"boat's head = dark room and open the
camera up under a beach towel over the head & camera"} trick to get the
film out and hopefully salvage the film, but because I'm still looking
for a new E-6 slide developer (my old one shut down), the salvaged film
is currently sitting in the can undeveloped.  

Fortunately, this happened on the day dive and before the Night Manta
dive, so I had some time to invent a klunge UW camera system for the
Mantas.  I took our little digital Point-n-Shoot and its "Snorkel"
housing and found that its tripod mount fitting was the same size/thread
as what my Ikelite strobe tray uses for mounting the Nikonos...if I
mounted it backwards, so that let me attach a strobe tray to it.  From
there, I reversed my strobe arms and used my SS-200 with the slave
strobe sensor so that I didn't need a synch cord:  aiming the Slave
Sensor properly, it would trigger off of the tiny flash inside the P&S.
I tested this all out on the twilight dive and tried to figure out what
settings to use, as the SS-200 overpowered the P&S's electronics in its
"AUTO" mode.   This experimentation continued on the Manta dive...and I
promptly found that it had excessive backscatter problems.  Fortunately,
this little P&S has a movie mode and the SS-200 a modeling light, so
while still on the dive, I fat-fingered my way through the camera's
menus to change to different settings and ended up settling on making it
into an UW video system for the night.  Here's two short clips that
resulted from the Manta Night Dive:

www.photo-hh.com/photo/manta1.avi

www.photo-hh.com/photo/manta2.avi


Homeward:
All good things must come to an end, so we made our way home the week
after Thanksgiving uneventfully.  Upon returning home, we had one day to
rush through the yardwork cleanup...raking of leaves, gutter cleaning,
etc... before we got dumped on with 4" of snow.  Brrr!


Here's hoping a happy & safe Holiday season for everyone,

 
-Hugh

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