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March 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 34, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Kona Aggressor II, Kona, Hawaii

the most exciting moment wasn’t the manta night dive

from the March, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver:

When I searched online for the world's best dive sites, the Kona Manta Night Dive was always on the top 10 list. But which dive operator to use for it? A dive buddy I met on the Belize Aggressor III told me the manta night dive alone was "worth the price of admission," he had done it aboard the Kona Aggressor II twice and enthusiastically endorsed the boat. However, I had heard poor reviews from other Aggressor Fleet guests about this boat's all-American staff having a sense of snobbish entitlement and not being as doting as foreign-born crews, like the ones that lavished attention on me during previous Aggressor trips overseas.

Kona Aggressor IIA while back, I had read an Undercurrent article about an Aggressor boat hitting a reef at night and having to evacuate guests. For this reason, I aim for metal-hulled vessels. The Kona Aggressor II, an 81-foot-long, aluminumhulled catamaran with twin 550-HP Komatsu diesels that motors Hawaii's western coast, seemed solid. While I have bad thoughts every time I book a liveaboard, I always get to the thought of "Odds are, it'll never happen to me."

So I took a chance, booked a two-week trip to Hawaii for Christmas break, and did the famed dive on my first day aboard. It turned out to be a severe disappointment -- the dive, I mean. The crew was great. But that "it'll never happen to me" concern? Well, it made an appearance on this trip.

It seems mantas are drawn to the plankton that are drawn to the lights at the airport. So for our two afternoon dives and the night dive, the Kona Aggressor II moored at Garden Eel Cove, near Kona's airport, after lunch to secure a parking spot before other boats arrived. The traffic was chaotic on dive number four. Hanging beneath the boat for my safety stop, I watched multiple propellers passing within 15 feet overhead, the boats jockeying for position. I surfaced to find 14 boats had joined us.

After a dinner of five-spice curry salad and sautéed shrimp Kung Pao, we joined the throng. It was a one-ring circus. Huge lights placed in the center of the amphitheater were surrounded by 100-plus divers and snorkelers flailing in the dark, flashlights in hands, trying to maintain their kneeling position at 35 feet in the surge. The light show was crazy, the manta show a crashing dud. Exactly zero of them made an appearance. The only thing I saw, besides the human pandemonium, was a decorator crab and Frank, a famous local undulated moray eel with a big yellow head, hunting off the human-supplied lighting. We waited for over 30 minutes before calling it a night, and our disappointed group sulked back to the boat at depth to avoid the churning propellers. The crew tried to explain away the non-performance on the full moon, thew winter solstice, and animal unpredictability. I tried to console myself by thinking, "It's nature, not an aquarium."...

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