Saturday, July 16, 2011

Claveria Scuba Expedition, The beginning of the end

Saturday afternoon and we have but one dive left in our Claveria scuba expedition; we are sad but excited.
(Above: view from the boat on the way out of the lagoon.)

We want to get in at least one dive down the coast to a spot where the locals, mostly fishermen, are telling us about whenever we ask if they know of places where there are lots of fish. If there isn’t so much great underwater sightseeing right there around the lagoon I’m sure we arrange a dive down that way much sooner, especially after the great things we end up seeing there in our final dive.

(Photo left: A colorful nudibranch and above it some kind of seasquirt.)
Don does “his thing” and makes a deal with a local boatman to take us. I think all together, including the tip from me, we pay 500 pesos, almost $12. I am MORE than willing to pay them the extra 200 pesos after the help they give me in getting in, out, and then back in the boat again. I ALWAYS need extra assistance with the wreck that my body has become.

The two boat guys have their little outrigger pulled up into the shallows just off the beach near our pavilion. With my tank already strapped on I simply back up to the side of the boat, unbuckle it and let them put my BCD and tank aboard. (Below: Colorful sealife clinging to the side of island's base wall.)

Don, on the other hand, hates to take off his gear during transport to and from a dive. At least he, with his freakish strength, is able to actually pull himself up into the little bangka. Watching him, he's awkward to say the least, but VERY entertaining. He pulls his whole body up, gear and all, onto an outrigger support and then slowly crawls on his hands and knees to the edge of the boat. I have to counterbalance by leaning away from him to keep the boat from tipping. At last he makes it in. All that just to keep from having to shed his gear for the ride out. I HAD to chuckle.

“How in the hell did you just DO that Man!” I marvel.

I couldn’t do that in a million years, nor could I have done it even back in my heyday. His strength never ceases to amaze. (Below: beautiful seastar on side of seawall.)

Check out the embedded YouTube video below. I start filming just as we pass through the lagoon’s channel. The eastern side of the lagoon’s “gate” is seen first and I continue to pan across the front of the boat until the western side of the “gate” is in view.

In the clip Don apparently signals me to pan around one more time, I think asking me to film the view of the lagoon from that aspect. I should ask him what he wanted there I suppose. At the time, it was impossible to hear each other over the boat’s banging two-stroke motor. It sounds more like a ½ stroke! What a racket! It’s all you can hear in the video.

(photo right: feathery life forms on seawall. What are they?)

The coastline is gorgeous. Hills, covered thickly with verdant foliage rise like miniature mountains straight out of the sea. Where we are heading the hill's vertical prominence at the very edge of the shore is what makes the diving so interesting since their verticality continues far beneath the waves as well.

In the last fourteen seconds of the video the very bow of the boat points directly at the spot we are heading for. It’s the two tiny islands just out from the far point of land. THAT is the place where we egress the boat for just over an hour of some of the best diving yet, as can be seen in the two videos below.

But first, just getting out of the little bangka is an adventure in itself. Don surprises us all when he simply throws himself sideways into the drink from his perch to my front. He doesn’t even go on regulator; he pulls his mask on, grips his snorkel in his teeth and before we know what his plan is, SPLASH! (Below: Beautiful delicate pinkish gorgonian.)

As for me, I do it a little more deliberately. First I jump in with my mask and snorkel only. Then I have my fins passed into the water one at a time as I put each one on. So far so good. The next thing I need is my tank already attached to my BCD vest. The boat guy struggles to lift it then drops it over the side next to me in the water.

I expect it to bob straight back up to the surface, but it doesn’t!

‘What the…?’ xxx xxx(Below: Delightfully hued soft coral in a sea of other clinging colorful creatures.)

Then I remember that I FORGOT to put some air into my BCD to make it buoyant! Cursing my absentmindedness, I take a breath and dive down to find it. The boat has drifted a bit away from it but happily its still buoyant enough to keep it from sinking too far or quickly. I only have to go down a few feet to retrieve it. I pull it back up with me and there’s Don, wondering what the heck I'm up to. (Below: small blue gorgonian.)

With one hand on the floaty part of an outrigger and the other clutching the top of my BCD, I ask him, “Hey man, can you shoot a little air into my BCD? I forgot to do it in up in the boat and I can’t reach the inflator."

He does so and now the BCD and tank easily float allowing me to quickly pull into the shoulder straps, velcro on the bellyband and snap together the buckles of the two holding straps. Faster than its taken to write this I’m in my gear and ready to dive. With a thumbs down and an okay to Don, down I go.

The water is way too deep for the boat guys to drip anchor there and too far away from the little rocky island to moor; just the same, they are able to keep it floating in the exact same spot for the hour and a half we stay there. But now, thinking back on it, once I was in the water I think they ended up pulling the boat close enough to the island to drop an anchor on it.

But none of that concerns me as I submerge and almost imperceptibly begin descending. I still have to take my time because of my stuffy head. For once, Don and I don’t have much of a dive plan. Basically the idea is to keep each other in sight, no more than a few seconds of swimming from each other. Of course how far that is will depend on currents and visibility. Ten feet down and we have our answer: clear water with hardly a hint of a current, so everything looks great.

Looking about, the good visibility provides an immediate thrill. We are fairly close to the precipitous coastline, perhaps less than 60 feet away, just the same, staring down I can see that the bottom is a LONG way beneath me. Even closer than the shore though is the island. Seeing it rise from the seafloor like a fat roughhewn pillar, I am drawn to it like a moth to a flame; but hopefully not to the same effect of course.

Suddenly I see another diver in the water heading over to the island. At first I assume it's my dive partner, but then after a double take I realize it’s one of the boatmen. He sees that I’m looking at him and he motions for me to come over. At that I put my camera on video, press the on button and start filming.

Once I realize it’s not Don I’m looking at, I take a closer look at the guy. Much to my surprise he’s trailing an airline. The rubber tube he's breathing from looks to be clipped to the small of his back to a lanyard where it then runs up his back to his mouth. Controlling the length of it by coiling and uncoiling it with his hands, he still manages to use his hands to swim as well. In the first video below he’s not that deep yet, less than 25 feet; but then I remember that he’s NOT on scuba. At that, I’m VERY impressed.

I can’t imagine trying to suck in enough air through a small rubber tube that would allow me to swim and operate at depth. Then I remember while still up in the boat
that they had started up a little gas driven engine in on the deck at the very point of the bow. At the time I didn't even realize that it was an air pump.

In the two videos of the diver kid, notice that he seems unable to stay continuously at depth; every so often he has to go back to the surface, probably to get a full breath. I suspect that the pump is not quite able to push enough air to allow him to remain at depth comfortably.

This is evident right off the bat. In the first clip he beckons urgently for me to come over. When he sees I’m on the way he points into the deep crevice running up the side of the submerged part of the island, but then can’t seem to wait for me and kicks hard for the surface.

I see why he’s called me over. That humongous vertical crack in the base of the island is a fantastic feature. It goes so deep into the rock that at first I can’t make out the back wall. I begin to think it might actually be the entrance to a very tall cave. That would have been really cool, but I soon see that essentially it’s a chimney going from the seafloor all the way up to the top of the rock.

Aside from that awesome geologic aspect it’s the life forms in and around it that electrify me. The soaring cleft is chock full of a variety of busily swimming fish, and for the first time in all my Claveria dives I see various samples of gorgonians growing from the side of cliff faces. No matter how many times I get to see those things I have to stop and admire their sublime perfection. They truly are exquisite. Whenever I see one I’m sure that God MUST love best the creatures of the deep.

In the video below, the kid goes in after Don to point out something inside the
colossal crevice. Quickly, I pan over to my depth gauge to show that he is easily managing a depth of 45 feet. I didn’t know until later but the kid wants Don to spear some fish for him. The problem is that the fish he points out are two of the most fabulous in there, a very large pair of batfish. I had seen them in there a few minutes earlier, seemingly at play. I greatly enjoyed the sight of them swooping after one another, their muscularly thick triangular bodies effortlessly darting about. Their shape reminds me of US Air Force B2 Bombers, but they rip and soar through the water more like Navy F18 Hornets.

Shortly after shooting the footage of the kid swimming high above me, Don comes out
of the crevice and swims down to me where I wait on the sandy bottom. I’m puzzled because he acts so upset. He points at the kid high above us, shaking his head all the while. I find out after the dive that the guy persistently wants Don to spear the batfish, something Don equally persistently refuses to do. He tells me an hour
later up at the pavilion that there was no way he was ever going to kill the ONLY TWO fish of that type we had seen in all our hours in Claveria waters. I was proud of him! Now, if only the people frequenting the lagoon area would start thinking along those lines. THAT would be awesome.

The dive continues and we see several more amazing and interesting things. That will be in the next post, the last one about our wonderful dives there in Claveria.


Ed said...

The first video was a duplicate of the third but I was able to watch the one you were referring too on your YouTube site.

That Filipino sucking air through 45+ feet of rubber tubing was amazing. I'm surprised as comfortable and easy as he made that look, he didn't have a spear gun and shoot his own fish all the time.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Thanks. Good catch. I embedded the correct video there now.

The lad sucking air through the tube wasn't planning on going out that day or he would have had his speargun. Don had to loan him the mask so he could go down with us. I thought the guy was just going to snorkel; I didn't know they had the air pump.

Watching how easy he went deep provided the final clue as to why virtually all large fish and lobster are missing. With that setup they can get to anything at almost any depth. I was going to write about it, but what's the use? Most of the people don't think any further out than the nose on their face. All I can do is shrug in disgust.

Angie said...

Such a great article it was which the next thing I need is my tank already attached to my BCD vest. The boat guy struggles to lift it then drops it over the side next to me in the water. Thanks for sharing this article.

Mitch said...

Wow! The underwater is really a wonderful sight. Those sea creature's that surely you'll gonna love to see whenever you'll go for a scuba diving.