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For Divers since 1975
The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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January 2022    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 48, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Maui Dreams, Dive Maui, Dive Kauai

a smorgasbord of Hawaiian diving

from the January, 2022 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver,

"What time is it?"

"4 a.m."

The Maui DiamondWhat was I thinking when I booked this 14-day trip? Ahead lay an hour's rental car drive to Maalaea marina for my 6:15 check-in for my two-tank trip aboard Maui Dreams' 45-foot Newton.

With four days on Kauai at the end of the trip and four south of Lahaina, Maui in Waialea, we were beginning on the north shore, nestled high in the green Haiku foothills, away from the tourists. We were at the Maui Tradewinds, an Airbnb with king-sized bed, full kitchen, Wi-Fi, and an outdoor hot tub where at sunset, we watched cattle egrets fly through the valley to their nightly roosts.

We were ready to dive. Yesterday, online, we filled out the Maui Dreams documents and watched the orientation video depicting how they made the boat and the experience COVID-safe. Before 5 a.m., our gracious host, Beverly Livingston, provided snacks, Hawaiian juice drinks, cereals, muffins, and (gack) almond milk. And cold cappuccinos, a necessity.

Arriving promptly at 6:00 a.m., we showed our C-cards, then we waited on the dock in the early morning sun until the crew finished their duties. I requested my partner's gear be stowed by the dive platform so she wouldn't need to walk far in her gear. We both have had back surgeries. Mine worked. Hers didn't. (Sometimes minimally invasive means minimally successful.)

Most divers were return customers, and I could see why. The Maui Diamond has twin diesels, a roomy head, hot water, oxygen, and a defibrillator. With crew and 18 divers (they divided us into three groups, each with a dive guide), the Newton was cramped, but we were experienced divers, and everyone helped each other out. After the crew set up our gear -- we use backplate and wing setups - our guide Maddy asked if I liked how she had arranged the five-foot primary hose and safe second. I did. She provided a nitrox analyzer; my tank was 29 percent, and my partner's, 31 percent.

Although the video had requested everyone to wear masks on board, the masks came off once we left the dock, and no one complained. In October, the virus seemed to be waning. The crew wiped down the railings every hour and cleaned the head several times.

After the 30 minute trip to a site known as 85, the crew sprayed de-fog into our masks and rinsed them with hot water. A quick giant stride off the stern, and I descended in clear water to the bottom at 88 feet. A few small heads of cauliflower coral (Pocillopora meandrina) were scattered over a sandy bottom, and we headed to a large rocky reef populated with Hawaiian favorites: Moorish idols, orange spine unicornfish, yellow tangs, black bar soldiers, long-nose butterflies, a long-nosed hawkfish, and blue stripe snappers brightened the dun-colored rocks. My partner spotted a whitetip reef shark relaxing in a cavern. A large yellow margin eel peered from a crack while a second whitetip circumnavigated the reef, staying near us the entire dive.

A half-hour into the dive, Maddy asked for gas and computer checks, then we went off on our own. Fifteen minutes later, and down to 500 psi, I took a three-minute safety stop, handed up my weights and fins, climbed the sturdy twin ladders, and got a warm-water face spritz - COVID protocol to wash off snot. The crew offered bags of snacks and cans of juice.

Hawaii MapWe motored slowly over to Red Hill for the second dive, and after an hour, I jumped back in. Up swept a barrage of bubbles as my safe-second burst into a free-flow that no amount of tapping, shaking, or purging would silence. I tried to use it as my primary, but after 15 minutes of peering through bubbles, I sent up my SMB.

Afterward, everyone reported seeing eagle rays and dolphins. Of course they did. My Scubapro G-250 was 30 years old (what's age got to do with it?) but had only 14 dives since Airtech Scuba in North Carolina serviced it. I tried to take this in stride, but I was bummed.

Back at the marina, Maui Dreams owner "Captain Don" said I could drop it off at their Kihei shop for repair. I was hesitant because the next day we were diving Lanai with Dive Maui (Maui Dreams wasn't going there), and I didn't fancy sucking on a rental regulator. Ultimately, I decided to trust in my three Moderna jabs.

We had post-dive lunches in Lahaina, once at the Cool Cats Café, a funky bar with craft beer, typical bar food, seafood, and Impossible Burgers. Back at the Airbnb, we spent late afternoons relaxing, then headed out for the 20-minute ride to dinner at the highly recommended Colleen's at the Cannery, with lots of locals, friendly staff, some healthy menu items, and some carnivore choices. We partook of the craft cocktail menu and Hawaiian beer before trundling back on the dark roads to our Airbnb.

After another pre-dawn drive, we were the first to arrive at Dive Maui's ramshackle shop near the Mala wharf in Lahaina for a 6:45 departure. Nichlas Holm, the manager, was setting up chairs in the parking lot for the orientation. We watched chickens peck at the dry cat food left for the feral cats. While the staff ferried our gear bags to the pier, I visited the facilities one last time. (Note to Dive Maui staff: C'mon. The appearance and cleanliness of the restroom are execrable. I won't go into detail, but damn. And the rest of the place looks like it hasn't had a facelift since Jacques Cousteau took swimming lessons. Clean the place and look like the professional operation you are.)

Rating for Maui Dreams, Dive Maui, Dive KauaiIn our skins and suits, we walked to the Mala pier, where their rigid inflatable boat was backed into the water. Our gear was set up on AL80 tanks. After we analyzed our EANx mix, Captain J. Dushane gave a quick talk on how to board the RIB, where to step and sit, and a short course in using the radio to call the Coast Guard if he and the guides were incapacitated. Oxygen, first aid, and a defibrillator were on board, as well as refillable water bottles with our names inscribed. COVID masks in place, we pushed off in perfect weather.

At the end of the 45-minute ride, we passed the exclusive Four Seasons Lanai resort and tethered to the mooring at Wash Rock. Pascal briefed us with a whiteboard, and we struggled into our gear. With three other divers beside me, getting from the center seat to the inflated tube while wearing fins took some contortion. We backrolled into the choppy, clear water.

The reef, a squat pinnacle rising to 65 feet, sported more coral than the reef off Maui. Healthy antler coral (Acropora cervicornis) flourished, but the fish were sparse. Pascal wanted us to play follow-the-leader but pointed out no critters. I checked out the Tunnel of Love with my light, looking unsuccessfully for eels. Pascal never asked for gas or computer checks; after 45 minutes, we took a safety stop and then handed up our fins, weights, and BCs. It was no dive to remember.

After an hour off-gassing, we went to one of Lanai's signature dives, Cathedrals 1, which proved worthy of the trip. From the 63-foot bottom, we toured lava tubes, an arch, and short caves before entering the cathedral with fish galore. A whitetip reef shark rested in a grotto unperturbed by our presence. Threadfin and pyramid butterflies poked around. As we exited, a school of gregarious raccoon butterflies swirled in front of my mask. A pair of endemic spotted boxfish staged a delightful mating ritual. The bright blue male with gold along his back is speckled in white spots, and the female is caramel brown covered in white spots. They danced round and round along the gravelly bottom, occasionally stopping to exchange a boxfish kiss. As I admired a white tip reef shark resting in a grotto, light beamed through the perforated wall at the far end of the cavern, reminiscent of a rose window in a great European cathedral. I relaxed and let the surge propel me out of the cavern into a school of Hawaiian sergeant majors. A Pacific trumpetfish hovered vertically in a stand of coral. After an hour of fish bliss, we surfaced under a brilliant blue sky with puffy white clouds and headed back to Maui. That night, we relocated to the Marriott AC in Wailea for some nice snorkeling at Poolenalaena Beach Park and afternoons by the pool. Notable eateries in the area vary from a crowded food truck courtyard where we lunched on poke (Hawaiian ceviche), at the South Maui Fish Company to the high-end Wailea Kitchen where we ate at the bar. Sated by the venison sandwich and salmon pasta, we walked the short distance back to the hotel.

Off to Kauai. The 45-minute interisland flight went easy, but checking in at the Sheraton Kauai at Koloa took a while as we negotiated a better room rate for our Deluxe Ocean View Room. The king-sized bed was comfy, and there was plenty of room to strew our gear around. Hotel services were either nonexistent or took longer than usual due to COVID-related staffing shortages. One week before our arrival, they emailed that the main pool was to be closed but offered a Mai-Tai and one-ounce tube of sunscreen instead. Gee.

We ate dinner twice at Brennecke's Beach Broiler, a boisterous pub with burgers and seafood. Thoroughly forgettable was Nalu's South Shore Grill; the bad food was only exceeded by the lousy service. We stopped by the farmer's market and pigged out on the Kale, Beets & Blue salad and fish tacos. Post-dive found us at the Koloa Fish Market across from the dive shop, having poke lunches. For an old-Kauai experience, try Unkos in Hanapepe town. At Sunday brunch, we were the only haoles in the place, and everyone was friendly. "Eggs with Portuguese sausage, one scoop white or brown rice, and a slice toast. No substitutions." But we came for diving.

The Dive Maui RIB arrives"Don't throw up on the turtles; they're endangered," said Captain John. Ignoring him, the rotund gentleman from Long Island sitting next to me on Dive Kauai's roofless, heaving (as it were) Zodiac, fed the fish vigorously. I kept my gaze on the shoreline where I could see our oceanfront room at the Sheraton. The wind had been blowing hard for several days, and as great rolling swells approached the shore, they turned into six-foot breakers, churning up the bottom; visibility was 10-20 feet in a brown haze of sand. The day's first dive was to be at Fish Bowl, but Chris, the divemaster, called it off because of the ripping current. We motored east past two erupting blow holes to Tortugas and ended up in a site closer to shore with few fish and nothing going on. During the 33-minute merciful surface interval on the jouncing Zodiac, the guy next to me erupted as well. We counted six green turtles coming up for air. At Sheraton Caves, we back-rolled into the 75°F water and again found myself in a churning brume of poor visibility. We six divers met at the bottom and descended to 67 feet while Chris headed into the partially collapsed lava tubes. Several turtles made their way through the tubes to wedge themselves into niches. In one room, five enormous turtles, their shells easily three feet long, were packed side-by-side, goggling at us with their expressive eyes. After communing with us for five minutes, one swam directly underneath and accompanied us into the next room in the cavern. He followed me when I exited the tube, so I rubbed the algae off his shell. Another giant took his place when I finished, begging me to pass on the favor. I know we're not supposed to touch the turtles, but they were like puppies begging to be scratched that day. Shame on me.

After I crawled up the dinky collapsible ladder just forward of the engines, I flopped into the RIB and found myself in a compromising position with a female diver. She was a good sport about it.

Obviously, I can't blame the weather on Dive Kauai; the staff maintained a helpful and optimistic spirit while contending with disappointed divers. On our first day, we were scheduled for the "Ultimate Shore Dive" off the Koloa boat ramp. Arriving at 7:15 A.M., we found guides Ben and Brie off-loading the tanks from the company van onto the muddy ground. After they set up my gear, I had to rinse off the gunk. It would be easy to say, "Hey guys, put a freaking tarp down," but the tarps laid out by the other operators were soon caked with mud as their cadre of divers tromped back and forth.

The landing is a rutted concrete ramp slick with algae and sea glop. Fortunately, the walk was short, but donning our fins in the chop was a chore. It's a shame the vis was so bad because there were a lot of critters in what essentially seemed like a dusk dive. Once again, a turtle or two appeared in the murk. Brie found a yellow margin eel and a dwarf moray, and I discovered a zebra moray under a coral head. A small black octopus hid under a coral head while a school of blue-striped grunts finned by. Exiting, Ben took our weight belts, and we climbed the ramp.

After a healthy snack of apple juice and Nacho Doritos, we returned to the water for a redux of the first dive, although Brie found a pipefish, and I zeroed in on a small frogfish. The next day, we had scheduled a two-tank afternoon scooter dive, but Dive Kauai called it off after their morning attempt, saying the vis hadn't improved.

I can't complain about Dive Kauai's support. Elaine, the cheerful office manager, promptly issued credits for rescheduled and canceled dives. They even topped off a leaky tire on our rental car three times with one of their scuba tanks. After they told us they had no nitrox because the hospitals were using all available oxygen for COVID patients, they made a special trip to the airport to pick up a tank of O2 for partial-pressure blending. If we had known conditions limited us to shallow diving, we would have passed, but kudos to them for the effort.

All three operations answered emails quickly and refunded lost dives. In the past, I liked the big fish action off the Big Island, Hawaii, but I am looking forward to returning to Maui for more dives at Lanai, Molokini Outside, and to Molokai to look for sharks. While the weather clearly hampered Kauai, aside from the turtles, I didn't see enough to get me back.

-- D.L.

PS: Flying from the East Coast to Maui was a COVID hassle. See my blog here.

Our undercover diver's bio: DL got his Open Water certification in New York in 1987, having failed a resort course in Jamaica due to a misunderstanding about the local flora. He added C-cards in Advanced OW, Rescue, Oxygen Management, Advanced EANx, while traveling to Caribbean, Mexico, Egypt, Hawaii, PNG, Australia, Bikini, and Fiji, where he had his appendix out after a memorable 12 hour trip from Taveuni to Nadi on New Year's Day 1988. He has dived the 200 foot deep Windjammer wreck in Bonaire on air six times, earning him the nickname "Old Twitchy."

Divers CompassDiver's Compass: Many Maui dive operations have online schedules and detailed price lists, but they do not include four percent sales tax, sometimes other fees, and often include all equipment; if you bring yours ask for a discount . . . A one-tank shore dive at Maui Dreams is $129, a two-tank trip to Lanai is $219. ( . . . Dive Maui offers a one-tank shore night dive for $120 and a two-tank Molokini Back Wall dive for $255 ( . . . . . . Dive Kauai Scuba Center offers two-tank Zodiac dives and two-tank scooter diver for $195. . . . At Maui Tradewinds Airbnb, I would have preferred their Starwinds suite with its unobstructed view of the valley. Tradewinds was $279/night, Starwinds suite $399/night . . . Expect cleaning fees and taxes . . . The Sheraton Kauai Resort is within walking distance of the Koloa Landing. Rates depend on the time of year and how you book . . . For our October trip, we paid $439 for a Luxury Oceanfront King. Depending upon the season, that room can rise to $899. Rainy season is December-February. . .

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