Monday, September 12, 2016

Solitary Islands: Diving Day 2

Diving again today, with more sharks hanging around again. Love the sharks here. Meet up time was half past seven, as the day before. Geared up at the dive centre, hopped on to the boat and zoomed out to the South Solitary Island again (one with a light house on it).
Arrived and geared up for another dive. This time there where only eight of us, as compared to the twelve of yesterday. Four older guys and four of us younger ones. One of us was doing his Advanced Open Water diving, a certificate I would dearly like to complete some day, too. I have now been on a few dives where initially the centres are reluctant to take me deeper than 18 metres, as they should be. But considering we were splitting up in to three groups and I was more on the level on the trainee for the advanced dives, I tagged along with them. Down we went, this time no problems on my side. Somebody from another group had to few weights on, so our guide gave him a couple more. Whilst all that was being done the rest of us were hanging around the bottom watching some sharks hanging around. Once our guide had rejoined us we were of. First of all through the manta archway again (no mantas, though) and then down to 30 metres where the guide asked the trainee a couple of questions. In that depth I was hanging around watching more sharks lazily swimming past. Close to where we were on the ground an organization had put up a shark tracking beacon. Whenever a shark that has been tagged passes the beacon records it and every couple of month it is retrieved and the data is logged. 
Further along the dive we had the ever present Grey Nurse Sharks hanging around, some looking rather fat with what I guess is shark pups. One came up behind the other two and surprised them but just carried on swimming. Along the way we saw a few woebegone, a lion fish, sea cucumbers, clown fish with a stone fish lying in wait next to the anemone and a plethora of fish around one rock. Diving this close to a wavy surface is rather interesting, as you are going the direction you want to, the next minute the waves going back in to the sea are pushing you the other way. The data of the dives is thus. Maximum depth: 29 metres. Time in: 0905. Bottom time: 58 minutes. Pressure Start/Finish: 240/50 bar.
Then an hour of rest with tea and cookies. The temperature was a lot warmer than yesterday, so I didn't freeze nearly as bad.
Then back in for more searching of animals and admiring underwater scenery. This time around I went with the group of the older people, but stuck more to myself. Nothing against older people diving, I have met many a forty to seventy year old person diving which have been great people, but so far all of the ones I have met that don't seem to give a sh**t about their surrounding are in that age group. One of them was with us again, and instead of balancing himself in the water properly and floating along with a few kick of the flippers he was pulling himself along the ground with his hands, scraping the flippers behind him and ripping up anemones from the ground and causing general mayhem. That will probably go on as long until he grabs a stone fish or hits a sea urchin. On this dive we saw the always present sharks, a lot more woebegone (which probably counts to the sharks), clown fish, a trigger fish (haven't seen that many of them here) and the whales making a general racket around the reef. Don't mind hearing them at the least, as they do make a wonderful sound and if you don't like it, it is easy to block out. Just wish they were a bit more visible. Along the way I was left with 120 bar when the others had nearly used up all theirs, so I got a bit more private diving with the guide. Had a look around and found another woebegone. Met up with both the other groups, said hi and then carried on looking around. Once the air was nearly used up, up we went to the boat. Diving data of this dive. Maximum depth: 15 metres. Time in: 1113. Bottom time: 55 minutes. Pressure Start/Finish: 220/60 bar. 

On the way back we saw a heap of whales heading south. They are probably the ones making all the noise underwater. I guess there are a lot of mums going down with their calf's and teaching them a lot along the way. Another fun day diving, would have probably booked in another day, but no dives taking place tomorrow. Instead I'll be looking forward to a journey to Sydney.  

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Solitary Island - Grey Nurse Sharks

Woho, diving again.
On the way up the East Coast a couple of months ago I stopped by in Coffs Harbour, which is where I then subsequently took my first of many whale watching trips. Staying at the hostel at that time, I had heard that they have a nursery out in the sea for Grey Nurse Sharks. As you nearly have a guarantee of seeing the large predators out at the Solitary Island, I made sure that I would stop on the way back down the coast. So here I am and today was my first of a few dives. Originally I had also booked in for last Friday, but the weather had turned out to be bad, so it had to be cancelled. Sunday saw us heading out to the island in the boat provided by the dive centre I was going out with (Jetty Dive Coffs Harbour). Previously all of us guest, trainees, etc. (all in all 12 people I think) had gotten our gear at their base and loaded it all on to their boat.
On the way to the island we passed a shoal of fish being bothered by sea birds, but no whales, dolphins or other mammals were spotted. We arrived at the island and moored up to one of the lines provided there. Gear on and then we all dropped in to the water. We had a total of three or four dive guides with us, so the groups were held comfortably small. Before we could proceed down, I noticed a slight hissing coming from my tank, so back to the boat, O-ring changed and all good again. Bit luckier than Johanna in Egypt a couple of year ago I remember, she ended up sitting on the boat for one hour while the rest of us went down. 
Anyway, down we went. Nearly immediately the silhouettes of sharks could be spotted hanging around the reef. Woho, after over forty dives on which I had “only” seen two sharks I see half a dozen in the first couple of minuets. And whilst Grey Nurse Sharks are probably not as impressive as hammerhead sharks, they are still spectacular animals. All in all on that entire dive we saw probably around two dozen sharks. Also saw a woebegone, some lion fish, a nudibranch and heard whales calling close to the end of the dive. We dived through an archway, through gorges and across some corals. And whilst the corals aren't as impressive or colourful as the ones in the Red Sea or the Great Barrier Reef, there was always the presence of a top predator around. Toward the end of the dive, the guide and me made one of the sharks fell rather uncomfortable and he had a surprise for me. We were travelling along one of the gorges when the presence of a shark was seen lurking around half way. He was swimming towards us and I got a front row view of the bottom of it's mouth. He thought about going left of me, saw the guide behind me, (probably) panicked and turned around so fast his tail cracked in the water. The guide (Vicky) later mentioned that it is the equivalent of a sonic boom underwater. I for one didn't know what the heck was going on, just that a shark had sped up from cruising speed to racing in the opposite direction.
The first dive ended with me having been down for 50 minutes, a maximum depth of 25.4 metres time in 0923 and having 50 bar left of pressure after starting with 240 bar.
One hour later we were back in, to see more of the underwater world. On this dive we didn't see as many sharks, but I myself still counted seven whilst the dive guide spotted nine. The whale calls were a lot more prevalent throughout the dive and I was hoping to see a giant shadow hovering across us. At one point I did, so I turned upwards expectantly. Wow, it was the boat (gruml). Carried on the dive more relaxed than last time, I didn't take the GoPro with me this time (purposefully) as once I have the camera with me I don't relax as easily. The things we saw were the Grey Nurse Sharks, two turtles (a loggerhead and a sea turtle), a stone fish, a small moraine eel, some bat fish in the distance and a large amount of other types of fish.
The data of the dives is thus. Max. depth: 15.6m. Duration: 51 min. Time in: 1110. Start/Remaining pressure: 220/60

Then on the way back we saw some whales and a lone dolphin hoping the waves. Back on shore we cleaned all the gear we had used, some people wrote their logbooks (mine is in Germany, argg) and I went back to the hostel for a rest. Will be back tomorrow with more diving.