Monday, June 25, 2012

Pattaya Thailand Trip, Doing the Water Park

We head back to Thailand for two weeks the day after tomorrow and I still haven’t posted on all the cool stuff we did and saw on our last trip there this past May. I do have plenty of good reasons for being so far behind though; after all, we dove the USS New York in Subic and just before that we spent a week way up north in Claveria doing a nine dive scuba expedition. So all in all, we’ve been some very busy beavers.

I do want to post a real quick one on our afternoon at the Pattaya Water Park during our last trip to Thailand last May. That is the same park where we all rode the cable down from the top of that super tall tower--they actually call it "tower jumping." I posted on that here. The water park was our next stop as soon as we arrived back down to Mother Earth at the end of our "big jumps."

Water parks have never really attracted me but being the team player that I try to be I went along with the group and "forced" myself to have fun at this one. A few days before, during the day we had rode our scooters around town getting the documentation completed for our Thai drivers licenses, Don and I had scouted out Pattaya Park, including the water park. Looking through the chain link fence into the water park area, the water  slides looked like a blast. I got it into my head that if the Thais in charge let me that I wanted to film going down the slides holding my underwater camera package. I was pretty sure that no park in the litigious good ol’ USA would ever let anyone do such a thing, but in Thailand almost anything goes, and so I figured I had a good chance of being allowed to do it.  

Anyway, that’s what the YouTube video above is mostly about—it shows Janine, Don and I sluicing down several times into the water, including me holding and aiming the camera in video right into the drink.

The first part of the clip shows the great spot we managed to get, right in the middle of the park with a perfect view directly in front of the of the slides, and of course with a great view of all the sliders. But here’s a hint, don’t try to walk barefoot over any of that tiling during the heat of the day. Hot! Hot! Hot! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!
The girls took this when they rode the overhead tram
In the vid, from 38 seconds to 2 minutes, Janine and I test the waters, so to speak, by going down the blue "baby slides." I wanted to see how it would be holding my camera in an easier situation than the tall yellow ones would surely provide. I also wanted to see what the attendant might say about me holding my camera on the slide. Actually, he couldn't have cared less. 

We finished our baby slide experience and turned around in time to catch some footage of Don flying down one of the more precipitous yellow slides. Going down feet first like he does, it’s hilarious to see how the butt of the slider becomes a huge water brake—the bigger the butt, the faster the brake, as I too would soon be able to attest to.
Don's "butt brake" in action

From 2:15 into the vid, the three of us, Janine, Don and I, step it up and head up to the top tier so we can all ride down the tall yellows. Janine and Don go off the left one while I head to the right. In front of me is a very skinny Russian sounding young fellow who with great delight and a huge grin goes down backwards. I thought that was pretty cool and told him so down in the water—funny friendly kid.

When it was my turn and I began descending I was shocked at the instant speed I picked up. And when I hit the transition hump about half way down and actually took flight I was stunned as my stomach ended up in my throat. I wasn’t expecting that and it WAS awesome! When I hit the water I too could feel how my big ol’ butt acted as an immediate speed brake. Phooosh!
My new buddy showing me the backwards way

At 3:34 I’m back at the top of a yellow slide waiting for my turn once again. This time I am determined to give it a go going down backwards if I can manage doing that while holding my camera. Turning my back to the slide and getting down on my butt is the was the most difficult part of the slide. It's a weird disquieting feeling that became all the more unnerving once the blind backward slide begins. I feel completely out of control but concentrate on keeping the camera high and aimed at something that might translate into a decent video. Once again, that hump startles the complete heck out of me, made all the more frightening because I can't see it coming—scarily exhilarating!
Starting out backwards

Hitting the water backwards provides a distinctly different kind of landing as the butt is no longer in play. Instead of digging into the water and immediately coming to a splashing stop I skid across the top of the surface a good 20 feet further—all in all, an amazing experience. And looking at the video again, I skitter across the top of the water so far that I end up well past a little kid who was just to my left, so I just about nail him.

I think next time, if I get up the nerve, I’d like to try going down a yellow slide standing up. I didn’t see any fat old men doing that so I’d probably be the first to try it, and hopefully survive as well. Watching the kids do it looks scary but incredibly thrilling. So yes, I will give it a try. (Famous last words!)
Check out the kid "surf'n" down middle yellow slide

Well, tomorrow is going to be a busy day getting ready for the trip on the following day. At the hotel where we stay at in Pattaya we have to use a cell phone to access the internet and the connection is too sketchy for downloading posts the way I like to with lots of photos and videos; so, we’ll see you when we get back after July 10. Until then….

continuation of my backwards slide... and it continues below...
In a second I've already slipped this far from where I started... its fast!
In no time at all I hit the water at the bottom and began my slide across the surface...
Interesting view that I don't remember seeing when I actually made the slide...
I think I skipped so far on the surface because my arms were up holding the camera high...
A long way from the end of the slide and STILL on the surface... wow!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Claveria diving 3.4, Last Dive, We dive the Pyramids

Our fifth and last day of diving provided a rather unpleasant surprise when we unloaded our last four supposedly full tanks and discovered that one of our large 100s did not get re-filled at the Terra Rika like we thought it did. It was the 100 that I had used when we dove the beach. It had only 1700 lbs in it which meant that one of our dives on that final fifth day would have to be necessarily abbreviated.
Always the problem solver, Don proposed a solution to our dilemma. His idea to maximize our final dive was that I would dive with a full tank while he used the half filled one. Then, whenever we moved from site to site he would go off his tank and swimming above and behind me in trail, he would breathe off my buddy regulator. It sounds easy and it actually is, but it does take a little practice to do it smoothly.
So that’s what we did on our very last dive which we decided to make in a spot that we had never been to before, and that was down and around the two pyramidal shaped rocks at Claveria Bay’s western point. These rocks are iconic; when seen in photos they ARE Claveria.
Iconic rocks of Claveria Bay by NealKelvin
We had been told that the area to the east of the Claveria Rocks, on the bay side of the rocks, is a fish sanctuary. Even though I was skeptical that such a real sanctuary full of unmolested fish actually existed, at least other than in name only, I still wanted to go and check it out so we could say we did. Don agreed and diving that area became the plan for our final dive, that and the fact that we would breathe the first half of the dive using my tank alone until we both had about the same amount of air left in both our tanks.

Boatman Willie and his son took us out to the Claveria rocks, careful to drop us off on the western side to keep the boat out of the declared sanctuary area. Don went in fully geared and then I dropped in where he assisted me into my own scuba gear on the surface. Once we were both checked out and good to go gear-wise off we went. Or did we?

While still in the boat Don suggested we stay on the surface and make our way over to the rocks before submerging. So, as soon as he gave me the okay on my equipment and I did the same for him, I turned over on my back, and looking over my shoulder began to use my flippers to power over to the larger outer rock. I noticed a powerful current fighting me hard but I mostly overcame it by kicking harder and faster.
Sea squirts on the bottom of an overhang of rock
I was within ten feet of the rock looking back expecting to see Don nearby in the water; but no, the current had prevented him from making any headway whatsoever. In fact, he and the boat were even further away from the rock than they were before he started. At that point he decided to let the boat drag him over to my location with him holding onto an outrigger. I’ll give him credit for being able to do that, because although I seem to have more stamina and power using my flippers, I am completely unable to use my hands and shoulders to hold on to the outriggers, especially when there any kinds of waves or current to deal with. I guess all these years in the gym keeping my heart in shape on the cardio machines have paid off.

The rest of the dive came off exactly as planned. For the first 20 minutes after submerging at the base of the pyramidal rocks Don held onto the top of my tank by gripping the manifold connection while we moved to each new site with the two of us breathing from my tank. On occasion I held my console turned up so he could read it and know when our tanks held about equal air.
See the scorpion fish? Its center left head down. 
It turned out to be no big deal; it worked like a champ. Sharing my full tank for twenty minutes completely saved our final dive and allowed us to check out an area we otherwise would not have been able to see. It even lasted a decent length of time, giving us almost 50 minutes of scuba time. Not bad at all.

I doubt if we ever dive Claveria’s sanctuary again, at least not on the bay side of the pyramid rocks. There are some fish over there but nothing remarkable, and what I didn’t like about the area on that side of the rocks is that the seafloor there is uniformly mucky and silty.

In the embedded video entitled “our last day of diving” the first segment provides a look at the geologic features right around the base of the pyramidal rocks. Fish or no fish, diving next to soaring sheer sided rocks that tower many tens of feet above is thrilling and that’s what is going on in the first 45 seconds.

The area directly around the base of the pyramids is actually somewhat noteworthy and worth a dive or two. On our way into the bay we swam between the pyramid shaped rocks and a smaller rock barely jutting from the water. It wasn’t exactly thrilling but the view of water and perpendicular stone enclosing us on two sides was interesting nonetheless.   

Once we made it through the rocks and officially passed into the bay, we turned right angling sharply to the bottom where we found a shallow cave, more like a deep overhang really.  In the video above Don uses his spotlight to light up the inside for my video taking and a lot of fish are seen swimming in schools around us. The only thing that detracts from it is the thick silty muck in there. I did my best to keep from stirring it up but once it happens there’s nothing to be done except to go.

Exploring the sanctuary area we came across a few large coral lump formations which we checked out but really nothing struck us as all that exciting. Again, the mostly silty mucky nature of the area detracts from the experience; so, a half hour into the dive when Don gave me the go ahead to head back to the other side of the pyramid rocks I was eager to get on with it.
Sweet lips
I took lead and Don followed me back out of the bay’s sanctuary side where I used “seat of my pants” dead reckoning to take us back towards the boat by going around the smaller outside rock. In no time at all I had us at the outer pyramid where I immediately began enjoying the much cleaner non-muck-covered towering rock faces. The water there was deep, the currents delightfully in our direction, while the sea-life was active and begging to be observed and photographed.

With all that going on I lost track of my situation, paying more attention to what I was photographing than what was on my dive console. Finally, I took a casual glance at the computer and was surprised to see that I had drifted down to 65 feet. The depth itself didn’t bother me so much as the information that I had only a few minutes left at that current depth, mostly due to the tissue loading that I had already been subjected to during our earlier dive of the day.

‘Whoa! How did I get down here?’ I asked myself as I pushed off and began to slowly ascend. While doing so I looked up and saw Don beckoning me concernedly to come back up but of course I was already ahead of him.
Amazing scorpion fish. See it?
Up on the boat after the dive I took the camera out of the underwater housing and took some video footage on the way back into the lagoon which I include as the last half of my YouTube clip above. At the very beginning just after taking it out of the plastic housing I still had time (barely) to pan back at the pyramidal rocks to show where the dive took place.  Watching the video just now again makes me wish I was back there about to make another dive. We still have lots of areas left to explore in the Claveria area. Hopefully, we'll get the chance to make it back up there again someday. 

Well, I still have a few outstanding photos I want to post so I'll put them below. Enjoy!
Does this look like the face of a fish?
Large coral lump perched overhanging a gorgonian

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Claveria Diving 3.33, Best Photos Day 4

I already covered dive day three. That was the day we drove down to Pagudpud to refill our tanks and only had time for a short afternoon dive off Claveria Beach behind the hotel. The next day, our fourth day of diving, we got in two more dives in our new favorite spot a mile east of the lagoon. It was in that general area that all the photos below were taken. Enjoy! I sure enjoyed taking them, and I've since enjoyed viewing them--many times. Oh, and for even better viewing, try clicking on the individual photos. 
We were quite deep, well below 50 feet and drifting along side a shallow hill side when we came across this bright yellow feather star. It practically begged to have its picture taken.
I love how the flash brings out the colors on the fish. They look beautiful in the water but the extra strobe light really does them justice. For instance, the red fish in the center actually looks brown at depth.
Here's another example how the camera's flash pops the colors. Notice that the objects outside the strobe's range look drab. The deeper you get, the less color appears; thus, you MUST have a good flash and light diffuser for proper underwater photography.
What?! The dark violet blue water in the background, the orange tinged glowing sea fan and the bright pink barrel sponge, seeing them all together like this makes me want to break out my oils and paint.
I need to find out what these feathery things are. They might be a type of sea fan the way they grow out the side of cliff faces, but who knows? Delicately gorgeous.
To provide better context, here are the same feathery creatures as above only from further away. 
Couldn't resist including this orange veined gorgonian along with the delicate looking featheries.
This barrel sponge has a squished opening which might be why it had this cache of lion fish hanging out inside it. Usually when I peer inside these things I see nothing at all.
I WILL find the name of this species of fish, if only because it photographs so well. I love the shiny silvery bluish green tinge imparted in the photo. 
Here are three more of these "photogenic fish." They really know how to mug for the picture taking. The fish to the right with the yellow back and black striped front I believe is a Kleine's butterfly fish.
This is an egg ribbon for one of the most beautiful nudibranchs in existence called The Spanish Dancer. I've only managed to catch sight of one and it was washed up during a heavy storm on Mindoro. I hope to catch one actually "dancing" in the water one of these days.
Now for me, this particular scorpion fish was VERY uniquely colored. It kind of looks like a scorpion fish and a lion fish mated and had this as an offspring.
Shy little moray eel
Another photo from "the cave." This is exactly the way I remember it.
This black-spotted or dog-faced puffer is certainly aptly named. They almost look ready to bark.
This soft coral looks sort of like cauliflower
I have never seen this kind of anemone before, at least not that I can remember. I certainly don't have any other photos of it. It has a very interesting configuration and color palette. 
Without the flash photography this sea star actually only shows different shades of brown and white. 
You gotta LOVE the faces on these red-lipped blue trigger fish. The bright blue color isn't half bad either.
The puffer on the center lower left is called a Valentinni's sharpnose puffer
This mostly closed purplish lone feather star looks like a flower attached contentedly on the middle of the sheet coral.