Having finally been issued our cruising permit, we sailed along the north coast of Upalu from Apia, and anchored off the northwest corner near the airport and ferry terminal. We had been noticing some issues with our radio (namely, lack of range), so when we landed Andrew took apart all the below-deck connections to check for corrosion. Test result: no problems found, so it’s probably something up the mast.
After a quick lunch, we hopped a ride with Acushnet on their bigger dinghy, and headed over to the dive shop at the Aggie Gray resort. There, we got on an even bigger boat, and headed around the west side of the island to Manono, weaving through shallow bommies at breakneck speed. Then we cut out of the reef and into some pretty serious waves; we were pretty impressed that the driver managed to keep us all mostly dry. The engine even cut out a couple of times, but we didn’t hit the rocks! We abandoned the site we’d been aiming for as it was a bit too rough, but once we got under the water at the second site, we found only mild current. Jazz had trouble clearing her ears, which had never happened to her before, and she had to force it. This was our first dive since her cold on the passage to Samoa, so she thought maybe this was related? It was a little troubling, but she got down, so all was good? And we got to explore the excellent coral formations.
We aren’t sure what these mushroom-looking guys are – some kind of sponge probably?
Two other neat looking coral formations. The more we dive in the Pacific, the more we wish we had bought a coral-identification book. One of the dive shops we visited called the thing on the right a “donut coral” – is that a real thing, and is this one? Who knows!
Seriously big, craggy coral shelves here. Very nice. Unfortunately at this point, dive two, Jazz had even worse trouble clearing her ears. She eventually got them to equalize over 24 slow minutes, going down a foot a time. She was weirded out as she’d never had trouble clearing before, but was determined not to end the dive… She had to miss this swim-through cave, though.
There were also some Giant Clams. As we’ve moved west, they’ve gotten bigger: we were seeing maybe eight-inch clams all over the Tuamotus, whereas these guys are more like eighteen.
While we’re doing critters, here’s a cushion star, a hermit crab, and a banded brittle star.
We also saw a ton of nudibranches! We think most of these are swollen phyllidia, though with the GoPro refusing to focus on small things they can be a little hard to tell apart after the fact.
It wasn’t all critters and coral, though those were pretty cool. There were also fishies! Like the blackbar damselfish guarding this particular patch of staghorn coral.
Here’s a pair of lemonpeel angelfish, which we’ve seen before, and a threespot angelfish, which we hadn’t.
In fish-that-perch-but-aren’t-actually-perch, here’s a blacktip grouper, arc-eye hawkfish, and reef lizardfish. We see tons of these three families, to the point where we often don’t remember to take their pictures unless they’re acting especially photogenic.
All three of these were new: a threespot damsel (probably), a striped large-eye bream, and a twotone dartfish.
And that was all the time we had, and that’s where the trouble started. Jazz’s ear refused to clear properly on the way up: at about twenty feet, her ears started to hurt and make a whistling noise. Despite ascending slowly, she came out of the water with her ear aching and difficulty hearing! So we were a little worried about her as we headed back to the shop to rinse our gear. We got it all done, got back to the boats, and had leftovers and (in Jazz’s case) a painkiller and an early night. There was no internet here to look up ear issues, and certainly no access to a doctor, so what else was there but to keep going and monitor it? In the morning, we sailed out of the anchorage and on to Savai’i, weaving our way through the narrow but well-marked pass through the reef.