Diving in the Somosomo Straits

As I should say from the outset, there was one purpose for our trip to Fiji and that was the clear blue waters and soft coral and multifaceted underwater life waiting for us to scuba dive in. If the events of September 11th had not happened, we would have done both sites west and north as well as the Somosomo Straits, diving with the Aggressor fleet and then moving to Taveuni to take in the unique sites to relax and find what life above water was like. This did not happen and we were faced with the dilemma of how to complete our Advanced Open Water Certification, immerse ourselves in diving and enjoy the sheer above water beauty afforded us in Fiji. Our compromise solution was the the Swiss Fiji Divers and the Maravu Plantation Resort. And we could not have asked for better.

      Starting with the always accurate and always critical observations of our diving technique and ways in which we could improve them. And, all the while, encouragement to enjoy the incomparable underwater world that is Fiji. There is good reason that Swiss Fiji Divers are listed as a five star PA establishment and linked to from the PADI web site. And we truly did need them. A side note on our experience as divers. We had successfully gotten our open water certification in June of 2000 and then promptly went on to do multiple dives both in Oahu and off the coast of the big island of Hawaii on the Kona coast. There we saw garden eels, turtles, manta rays and a wide range of other fish and coral and lava chambers that carried our initial hopes for scuba diving to new heights. You see, a year earlier we had snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef and looking down realized that those individuals with scuba tanks on their backs were having a great deal more fun than we were. OK. By the end of the Hawaii trip, we wanted nothing better than to continue this love affair with diving. The only problem was that diving in the Puget Sound of Seattle was a whole different experience. We encountered one problem after another. I am happy to say that after our visit to Fiji that our diving experiences have improved in our native region, but at the time that we made it to Fiji we were desperate to rediscover the passion for diving that we found in Hawaii.

      Our guide in this endeavor and our teacher towards our Advanced Open Water Certification was called Niko. Originally from New Zealand, we could not have asked for a better and more patient shepherd to two divers who, charitably stated, were in definite need of improvement. Our first two dives were to locations known as the Fish Factory and the Ledge. Both were absolutely beautiful with a rich range of fish and other features to excite our visual senses. Only problem was that in the first dive Fran neglected to turn on her computer and in the second dive she got in the way of my fins and moved away from me and was not staying together with her partner and worse, I was not staying with her. This, in technical diving language, is a definite no no :-). After it was forcefully pointed out to us by Dominic it never happened again. Well, there was one time. It is called the Great White Wall and we will get to that soon. Still, a couple of things grew out of these first two dives and how our Advanced Classes progressed. I was hoping to include Videography as one of my adventure dives. I had previously secured an Ikelite underwater housing for my video camera and had even experimented with it in a pool. Two points were noted by Dominic, one that Videography or photography should only become part of the scenario for a diver when they were completely comfortable with all their other equipment and, second, that adding either photographic or

videographic equipment to a dive creates drag and drag creates faster consumption of air. Did I mention that I am something of an air hog? No? Well, back in Seattle I have added steel 100 scuba tanks just because they give me more air to breathe. So, after these two dives it was quickly apparent that I would not be taking either underwater photos or video. Once I got back to Seattle I not only successfully got into Video but discovered Nitrox and that has dramatically increased my bottom time. You can check this out at the Northwest Diving Video website. Though this was a disappointment in Fiji, it also meant both Fran and I could concentrate on diving and pursuing our other diving adventure dives that were part and parcel of our Advanced Course: boat diving, drift diving, peak performance buoyancy, navigation and deep diving. Each of these proved challenging and enlightening, but the one that proved the most fun learning was drift diving. To be able to jump in the water in one location and let the current speed you along like superman past coral, fish and other features of the ocean bottom only to come up and get picked up by the boat at your new location is a lot of fun.


      The boat we used most often was a good sound vessel in which we shared many good experiences with several different divers.

       One pair were long standing divers with hundreds of dives between the two of them. They were in Fiji among other things to get married. And, as it happened, they elected to follow that the very next day with more diving. They also were photographers and videographers and were there with good advice on the issues of what was involved with shooting both stills and video. I congratulate them on their wedding and hope they have many more dives ahead of them.     




      Before I begin a detailed account of some of our more memorable dives, I would like to share some pictures of what it was like. Sometimes we used a smaller boat in which case it was possible to pull onto a relatively deserted beach and take a break from diving and have a quick snack in an idyllic setting. The dives themselves run together a bit in my own mind, with a couple of prominent exceptions. Our deep dive was to 107 feet and after a somewhat leisurely trip to the point, our mutual experience of how depth tends to muddy up your ability to respond effectively convinced us both that we were not ready for that deep a dive or deeper. Little did we know.



 

      The very next day, Friday, we experienced one of the most famous dive sites in the Somosomo Straits: The Great White Wall. One element of diving that you quickly hear about is the awesome beauty and amazing experiences associated with doing wall dives. This one, being our first, was no exception. We began the dive by entering a wide cave, big enough for one diver to pass through at a time. It went from approximately forty feet to eighty feet. Niko went first, then Fran and then myself. As I exited at the other end I was faced with intense cobalt blue blue waters. When I turned around I was stunned to see a sheer wall that went up as far as the eye could see and down as far as the eye could see. On the wall were soft coral flowers that were usually looked upon as white, but to my pink Seavision lenses in my mask, were a lovely shade of iridescent lavender. Mind you, soft coral of this type needs strong current to bloom and it had that. The flowers were thrashing back and forth in the current. It was at this point that I looked at my dive computer and realized I was at ninety three feet. I got positively buoyant and went neutral at about eighty feet. As I did so, I spotted Fran who was slowly heading down and down. Niko and I saw this at about the same time, but I reached her first at 117 feet and tapped her on the shoulder and pointed upward. We got up to about seventy feet and she started heading along the side of the wall, but I pointed up to where Niko was waiting for us at the entrance of much smaller tunnel. This tunnel exited at the top of the reef at about thirty four feet. Here we saw a lot of very beautiful fish. The dive was a bit short in length, 18 minutes, due to the depth we had been at and probably due to my own excitement at Fran's fascination with the wall. What she was experiencing was something called Nitrogen Narcosis. It is more or less being high on nitrogen. Not dangerous except that it makes you do very counter productive things like not looking at your instruments and slowly flowing down very beautiful walls. When I talked with Fran later she indicated that she had looked at her computer, but her first reaction on seeing 118 feet was that it must be wrong. She must be reading the wrong thing. Still, this without a doubt, was the most awe inspiring dive that I have done so far. I will get Fran a T-Shirt saying 'I Have Nitrogen Narcosis What's Your Excuse' one of these days.



      Other dives that come to mind as memorable and worth noting are a dive site known as Jerry's Jelly. It was at this site that we spotted a White Tip Shark. I am not sure what I expected from my first encounter with a shark, but it was not particularly big and it was not particularly menacing in any way, shape or form. Where before I had voiced the opinion that I had no desire to see a shark, it is now my feeling that I would love to do so. We also saw a black and white sea snake, whose head was stuck in a hole. Niko gave it a tug so we could see just how big it was, about four and a half feet long in just the portion sticking out of the hole. What I was not aware of until later was that these particular snakes are four times more poisonous than cobras. Only, they are not at all aggressive and their mouths are extremely tiny so the chances of being bitten are very remote. However, if you do get bit, there is so recourse. Say hello to your maker. At this site we also saw large mackerels and other fish. At many of the sites there were schools of small very blue and very beautiful fish.








      Our final dive also comes in as one of our more memorable. This was also our navigation dive. After we took care of those requirements, we spent the remainder of the time touring a site known as the Cabbage Patch. It has this name because of a large hillock of extremely ancient hard coral that look like huge green cabbages. This is a very precious site and very fragile. It was with the greatest awe that we carefully made sure that we were neutrally or positively buoyant and floated well above, taking all in. At one point, Niko slipped in close to the coral and brushed some soft coral with his hands and we watched in surprise and wonder as the coral changed from a dark purple, if memory serves, to a bleached white in color. It was a truly amazing end to so many dives over the course of six days. Other points we saw included Sam's Point, Annie's Bomme, Jack's Place and more. Again, I cannot say more nice things about Swiss Fiji Divers and the experience we had while diving with them.






      And, in the end, we were able to successfully get our Advanced Open Water Certification. The permanent cards will be coming from Australia sometime in the next 90 days. In the mean time since returning to Seattle we have already made two dives in Puget Sound in our dry suits, chasing flounders, cruising over sea stars the size of trash can lids and other assorted aspects of cold water diving. And western Washington has its own walls we look forward to descending along sometime in the near future.

     

Our last dive was twenty four hours before the flight out from Taveuni back to the wider world, a necessary limitation against the possibility of decompression illness. That gave us time to explore more of Fijian culture. Not that we had not been doing that all along.





In the succeeding months after returning from Fiji to Seattle, our cold water diving has taken a dramatic upswing, including getting our Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty and pursuing Enriched Air Specialty (Nitrox), diving Edmond's Underwater Park and Seacrest in West Seattle. The picture on the left is from that location during our training to improve our buoyancy skills. It was not much after this that I began filming in the Pacific Northwest. You can see some of the results by visiting my Northwest Diving Video Page.