Thursday, April 29, 2010

Decisions, decisions

So I just quit my job a few days ago and I have an unexpectedly long 3 months before I start my new job. Now that some of the excitement has worn off, I am considering which dive spots I should hit during my break. Right now I am thinking of either (1) a few days each in Bali and Anilao or (2) a longer trip to just Bali. I have been to Bali several times but have never dove there, and the more I research Bali, the more attractive it looks as a diving destination.

I hope to also squeeze in a long weekend or two doing some tech dives in the South China Sea.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Anilao Pics

I have uploaded the pictures from my Anilao trip. They are at the following links:

Anilao pics
Slugs and flatworms. The ones from Anilao are numbered 33 to 86.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Anilao Trip Report

I just spent 4 nights at Acacia Resort in Anilao. Anilao is south of Manila, about 3 hours' drive in normal traffic. The resort fits about 30 people and is quite a new resort (opened in 2008). Like all the other resorts in Anilao, Acacia does mostly weekend business from Manila. It's best to come during the weekdays - I was the only guest for the first day and one of a handful of guests on the second day. The rooms are simple, modern, and clean. The food is quite good and varied with a mix of local and international fare. The resort is named after a huge and ancient acacia tree that sits in the middle of the property - see pictures below. Overall, the resort is pretty, comfortable, and well equipped to handle visiting divers. The one annoying thing is that there are occasional power outages. We lost power 3 times during my stay, for not much more than an hour each time, but it can be disruptive for photographers who need to keep their equipment charged.

Diving is done from small banka boats with minimal shelter. They are crewed by 2 boatmen and one dive guide. Marlowe guided me on my 12 dives. He is patient, has a good eye, and is motivated to find interesting marine life. The macro life in Anilao is amazing - I saw more nudis than I have ever seen, by a wide margin. For context, I photographed more than 60 nudis on 12 dives (and passed on a number of others). Other interesting life includes various crabs, shrimp, octopi, scorpionfish, frogfish, etc. I did not have any luck with coleman shrimp (I was told that fire urchins are seasonal), mimic octopi, blue ring octopi, or stargazers, but I'm very happy with what I saw and photographed. I used a 60 mm lens for 7 dives and a 105 mm for 5 dives; that mix is about right for what I saw.

The dive sites are typically 15-25 min boat rides away from Acacia. Visibility ranged from 5m to 20m with an average of about 10m. Dives usually start with 20-30 min at 15-25m and end up in the shallows in a few meters of water. Most of the dives are leisurely, with little current or surge. The dives tend to be quite long (average over 60 min). The water can be quite cold from November to April. Personally, I will dive dry in the future during those months. We were getting cold after about 45 min and quite chilled during the surface intervals.

I'm very happy with my trip and intend to go back. My time there was very peaceful and laid back - but I'm not sure how it is during peak season on the weekends.

Thanks to Miko for making the arrangements and loaning me his gear.

Nudibranch Madness

Today's dives were at Dari Laut, Bethlehem, and Sand View. Dari Laut is the steel structure of a floating restaurant that was sunk many years ago. It is home to many tiny and rare nudibranchs. Bethlehem and Sand View are both sandy dives, where we spent our time moving slowly and staring at the muck. I used the 105 mm lens on all the dives. The highlights of today's dives were more nudis, whip shrimp, whip goby, and a very strange nudi threesome. A very nice end to a good week of diving.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Nudibranchs Galore

Today, we did 4 daytime dives - Sand View, Koala, Kirby's Rock, and Cathedral - a nice combination of soft/hard coral reefs and sandy mucky bottom. There are so many nudis here that it is getting a bit ridiculous. Several times today, I passed over nudis that I had already photographed so I could make time for other things. "There's a nudi. Let me clear my mask. Oh, there's another nudi. Let me check my depth. Oh, there's another nudi." Ok, I exaggerate a little, but there are a LOT of nudis here.

I used my new 105 mm macro lens for the first time today, on two dives. As expected, it was hard to autofocus in all except the brightest light. My focus light was borderline effective. The autofocus tended to hunt a lot, especially with small and moving things, like pygmy seahorses. But, it was brilliant at capturing the real tiny stuff. I actually prefer the 105 mm to the 60 mm for shooting nudis. I took the 105 mm only after discussing with my guide what to expect on the dive. The funny thing is, when I switched back to the 60 mm lens, autofocus and composition suddenly felt like a breeze. The 105 mm is a fantastic lens but it has its limitations. I am doing 2 more dives tomorrow morning with the 105 mm lens... really looking forward to it.

Highlights of today's dives were whip shrimp, pygmy seahorses, emperor shrimp, the biggest frogfish i have ever seen, and lots and lots of nudis.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Anilao Continued

Today's dives were just as crazy as last night's. On our first dive at Mainit Point, we saw at least 10 nudibranchs of different varieties. Mainit Point is a healthy sloping reef made up of lots of hard and soft coral. I've never seen so many nudibranchs in my life. The funny thing is they all seemed to be in a hurry; I've also never seen nudibranchs move so fast. We ended the day with 2 dives at Secret Bay. Secret Bay is as different from Mainit Point as can be - it is true muck diving with nothing but a crappy sandy bottom. Highlights of today's dives were millions of nudis up close, hairy squat lobster, zebra crab, xeno crab (alas, no good pictures), 3 ornate ghost pipefish, and 2 playful octopi.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Crazy Night Dive

I did one night dive in Anilao and I'm hooked. As far as crazy stuff underwater, that dive takes the cake, and I've seen some pretty crazy things underwater. There was one rock where we saw an ornate ghost pipefish, a crab, sleeping clownfish, a lionfish, and banded coral shrimp all within 2 feet of one another. Then there was the crazy octopus trying to made a fortress out of 3 seashells, which I photographed for 15 min. And how about the 6 inch long nudibranch? One of my strobes died 20 min into the dive, which made me yell %!&^!*^$%, but still, I've never had so much fun in 4m of water.

The Alma Jane

I forgot how nice a dive the Alma Jane is. The Alma Jane is a metal frame of a wreck in Sabang Bay, about 40m long and with a max depth of 30m. We saw, among other things, huge snapper, trumpetfish, common lionfish, and 3 kinds of shrimp within a 2m radius: scarlet skunk shrimp, banded coral shrimp, and my favorite, an army of peppermint shrimp. We spent 30min on the Alma Jane before scootering inland. Vis was terrible (less than 10m) but that's ok when the focus is on macro life.

This afternoon, I am transferring to Anilao. I am doing my first dive in Anilao tonight, a night dive.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Hello from Puerto Galera

Puerto Galera hasn't changed much since I was last here in May 2008. A few dive shops have changed hands. Some of the buildings in Sabang look a little different. The El Galleon looks a bit nicer and it seems like the food has improved. The diving is still the same, that is to say, still a good time. Yesterday I did 2 dives to about 45m - the first one on Sabang reef, surfacing right in the middle of Sabang bay, and the second one at Fishbowl and ending up in the Canyons. This morning, I did a 60m dive at Blackfish corner in Verde Island. The currents there are always exhilarating - at some points, I struggled to move forward with my Gavin on full pitch while kicking. We ended up on a very healthy sloping reef all the way up to 6m. Not many people dive there and as a result, the marine life is healthier than elsewhere in PG.

Visibility is not the best at the moment. The water is clear but dark below 40m or so and a bit milky above that. The water is a lot colder than I expected - 27C is colder than it sounds. I went to every shop in town to find a new wetsuit and/or hooded vest but with no luck. I guess I am just going to have to suffer through the cold this week. Note to self: apart from in the summer, dive dry in PG.

Dave has already taken off and Sam is off tomorrow for Sri Lanka. They are hosting 2 one week expeditions to the HMS Hermes, a British aircraft carrier sunk in WWII. After tomorrow's dives, I will be moving to Anilao to do some macro photography dives.