Hawaii, December 2014Downey Duck







Kona, The Big Island, aboard the Kona Aggressor

Bill and I spent a week in a Kona condo, then boarded the Kona Aggressor for a week of diving, mostly at sites the day boats can’t get to.

Swells were forecast to pick up, so we did the manta night dive the first night. What a blast! We started our dive about 20 minutes after the day boats, so the mantas were already on site; it was lit up like the movie The Abyss, with so many lights. We picked our spots, held on dearly in the surge, and shined our lights straight up. We were advised before the dive to take off snorkels and it quickly became clear why—the mantas practically bush the top of your head as they swirl by to scoop up the plankton. If you lie on your back, it’s really crazy; everybody got smacked once or twice by accident as they mantas nearly collided. We headed back to our boat after everyone else had left, and some of the mantas followed us. Awesome dive!

The schedule was five dives each day (except two on the final day), starting with breakfast at a reasonable 7am (coffee, toast, and cereal were available earlier), dive, snack, dive, buffet lunch, dive, snack, dive, sit-down dinner, night dive. Food was good to excellent; Mike tried his best to accommodate all the special requests with purchases from Costco and a couple natural food stores.

The crew was one of the best, if not the best, we’ve ever encountered. They worked well together; there were a couple fairly new, very enthusiastic crew members, and because they rotated dives, they weren’t burned out. We could go off on our own or follow the designated guide, who would bring the group back to the boat after about 45 minutes, then go off in a different direction for another 15 minutes; everyone followed the guide, at least until we were back under the boat the first time. Guides usually got out of the water after an hour; we could stay in longer unless the boat was scheduled to move.

There are a lot of endemic fish in Hawaii and the crew showed us pictures of two or three before most dives. The hunt for those fish in particular made the dive more fun. We saw a hammerhead on two different dives, one of which came back to check us out for several minutes. A couple eagle rays also flew by us. We saw a mother and baby humpback whales on the surface, but unfortunately never heard any underwater.

The boat is very comfortable. All the cabins are on the main level except for the quad on the upper deck. Our cabin had a double bed with a single berth above, handy for storage. The sink was in the same room as the beds and had a decent amount of sink area; the shower was a decent size with Costco-size shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles. There were two drawers under the sink and one large drawer under the bed, but no place to hang anything, so we pretty much lived out of our carry-ons. The quad room had two sets of single bunk beds and several drawers and closets. It would be fine for friends. This trip there was a couple using it, as the boat was short 3 of its normal 14 passengers. The combination sitting/dining room was adequate. The large galley was quite open so the chef could interact with the guests.

The dive deck was on the main level, with facing rows running from starboard to port. Each dive station had a tank and a bin. The bins held large containers of drinking water, (not a problem for us because we could put small items on the fairly empty camera table), our wetsuits were hung right above our station, and fins went down to the lower entry level. Once geared up, we had to go down about 4 steps backwards, then jump off the boat. There were two ladders for climbing up and they were on a 45 degree angle, something we had never seen before, and a little tricky in swells. Good balance practice, though.

People always say there’s no coral in Hawaii, but that’s not true. There’s lot of healthy, low growing hard coral with plenty of places for small fish to hide. The only soft coral I saw were some whip corals, many with gobies living on them. There are lava tubes to swim through, and some areas have warm water flowing out. Even though the water was 79 degrees and I was wearing a 7mm wetsuit and hood, I sometimes got cold. Most were wearing 5mm suits; some did ok, while others were really cold. Multiple dives will do that.

Other than the manta dive, other favorite sites included Driftwood, Manuka Bay and Paradise Pinnacle. It wasn’t necessarily the wide variety of fish or the surprise hammerhead that made the dive, but the interesting topography; how many places can you dive inside an old crater? A few of the endemic fish we spotted were the psychedelic wrasse, the chocolate dip chromis, Hawaiian longfin anthias, and the domino damselfish—there were lots more. We also saw a couple small turtles and pillow lava. Eels are plentiful, including the dragon moray and viper moray.

Our last night dive was the “Pelagic Magic” dive. The boat went off shore about 3 miles, then drifted with the current. Three lines were hung. We jumped in, picked a line, and floated along, looking for weird little critters coming up from the deep to feed. And we saw quite a few! Some of us let go of the lines because it was easier to look at things and my arm was getting jerked around too much. I just had to remember to look for the boat once in a while and kick back to it. What most of us thought would be good for a 20 minute dive ended up lasting over 40 minutes. Fun, for sure.

Anyone who does every dive receives an Ironman certificate. One lady did it, with much shivering and encouragement from the rest of us.   

This trip exceeded our expectations and we’re looking forward to doing it again in the future.