The moment we had been waiting for: Sunday afternoon we boarded the liveaboard, The Palau Aggressor.
First order of business: getting all of our diving gear set up on the deck. Well, let’s be honest, I didn’t have the first clue how to get my gear ready on the deck; I watched and felt completely useless (but grateful). Would now be a good time to disclose that I am a rookie diver? As in, apart from my certification I have a total of four dives from two separate day excursions, one in Punta Cana two days following my open water certification back in January 2012 and then a year later during my trip to Thailand off the coast of Koh Samui. A week long trip focused on diving 4-5 times a day was a bit of a leap of faith… but I digress. In addition to setting up our dive gear we ‘checked in’ with the Captain, Scott, a young, gentle soul from Delaware. Scott asked for our PADI cards and diving experience. I lied and told him I had fourteen dives under my belt, not wanting to admit to my rookie status. That was the moment that I realized that I had forgotten my PADI card. How embarrassing. The entire trip was centered around this week of diving and I forgot my certification! Scott was good about it and looked up my certification number later that night (before we launched and lost all internet access) and didn’t make me feel like a complete tool -so kind. He also recommended that I get certified for Nitrox/Enriched Air during the week – I said yes immediately. Nitrox diving (I was told, and then formally learned during my week of studying) would allow me to dive longer with shorter safety stops (roughly 3 minutes). It also doesn’t wear out your body the same as air, which let’s you recover faster and not feel so exhausted after four dives a day.
A 6pm that evening a bell rang to announce dinner was served. We scurried up to the galley for dinner, which was delicious, as was all the food served the entire week. After dinner Scott gathered everyone around for a slide show of the rules for the week (for safety), introduced the crew, and asked everyone in the group (there were 18 of us divers/guests) to introduce themselves and tell the others where they were from and their diving experience. Most (all but four) were from the US, and many were dive masters and instructors in their own right. I felt completely out of my league, but tried to smile and make eye contact with as many people as possible – afterall these were going to be the people who were going to save me with their expertise if anything rookie-like happened to me under water this week. Best to make allies early on!;)
The agenda most days:
6-7am – Breakfast (bacon, eggs to order, cereal, fresh fruit, pastries, toast, oatmeal)
7am – debrief and first dive of the day
10:30 – second dive of the day
12 or12:30 – lunch (always delicious)
1:30 – third dive of the day
4:30 – fourth dive of the day
6:30 – dinner (always delicious)
8pm-ish – night dive (although it was an option four out of the five nights, most people declined since four dives is exhausting. I didn’t go out at night either).
As for the diving locations, this time I’m going to cheat and use the Captain’s Log below. Enjoy
On Sunday, we greeted 18 guests from various points around the globe. Upon arrival they were introduced to their cabins and then assisted as they set up their dive gear and camera equipment before dining on a tasty dinner turned out by Chef Dan. The vessel orientation and safety briefing followed dinner and then the guests were off to bed to start getting over the jet lag before beginning an amazing week of diving in Palau.
On Monday morning we departed the dock and started the week of diving at the Teshio Maru for our check-out dive where we explored the decks and holds and other parts of the ship as well as examining WWII artifacts. A variety of cool critters were spotted ranging from a few nudibranchs to a xeno crab on a long piece of whip coral. After this dive we headed to the much larger wreck of the Iro Maru where we descended to the bow to check out the coral encrusted bow gun before swimming to the king posts and from there we continued past the pilot house and a few empty holds and another set of kingposts to the stern gun before turning around and then making our way up the rear king posts to spend time checking out the anemone and anemone fish covered top. Additionally there are several Tridacna clams growing in the anemones that make for some lovely photos. After cruising thru the rock islands we returned to the PA2 for a filling lunch from Chef Dan while we moved to the German Channel area. After lunch we went for a dive at Dexters wall where we spotted a few turtles and a couple nudis. Dive four took us out to Ferns Wall where we also encountered on the dive more reef sharks and one white tip as we drifted down the sea fan and soft coral covered steep wall and in one of the many overhangs we found 4 foot long baby white tip sharks!
Tuesday began at German channel! Here we all gathered at the cleaning station in about 65-70ft of water waiting for a giant manta or two to show up for their morning cleaning! As on cue we were treated to 45 minutes of an amazing site of a 15ft+ Manta being cleaned and joined by a smaller 8ft juvenile also wanting some cleaning action! Also we saw some turtle as well as several patrolling reef and black tip sharks. A drift into the channel provided beautiful hard corals as well as several white tip sharks. Our second dive brought us to the big and beautiful cavern of the Blue Holes were we found a few nudis and a disco clam, while the suns beams shine brightly through the holes. On the outside we drifted along the wall where we saw several turtles, a barramundi grouper being cleaned, a friendly napoleon wrasse, passing grey reef sharks and a big school of barracuda. Dive three was out to New Drop Off which is similar to Blue Corner only a bit smaller. The same Cast of characters are found here as well but not in the vast numbers but the presence of turtles all over the dive site make up for it. Also found were a few flounders and a nice school of blue lined snappers. Dive four out to Turtle Cove turned up a turtle as soon as we dropped in, followed by several more as we drifted down a soft coral covered wall, our best dive for soft coral. A few xeno crab, whip coral shrimp, and whip coral gobies were found.
On Wednesday we headed south to Peleliu to start the day with a trip on the Peleliu Cut The current wasnt much but sharks were everywhere along the wall. Turtles were seen several times well. Schooling barracudas joined us as well and an eagle ray ambled by as well ended our amazing dive. After the dive we strapped on our shoes and headed ashore to check out the island of Peleliu. We saw some old rusty tanks from WW2, checked out the interesting museum, wandered around Bloody Nose Ridge and even spent a bit of time poking around in 1000 man cave. Our next dive at Orange beach was a welcome relief from the heat of the island. We slowly drifted over a pristine hard coral garden which stretched for acres and acres. Next up was another amazing hard coral dive at Barracks Point, with the addition of a Tridacna clam and more turtles than we could count. The night dive was at German coral garden where we found some very interesting creatures of the night such as a very well camouflaged crocodile fish, a flounder and some very cool looking nudis.
Early Thursday morning we had breakfast then hopped on the skiff back to German channel. As we dropped in and made our way to the cleaning station we spotted a baby leopard shark sleeping in the sand. We took some nice photos and moved along, as we approached the cleaning station there was a big feather tail ray laying in the sand next to the cleaning station then 30 seconds later a huge Manta appeared from the depths of the blue and stuck around for a while before taking off. A couple minutes later a baby manta cruises right over our heads to say hello while two big one swim at a distance. Lets not forget the tons of fish and sharks cruising back and forth the channel. Our next dive brought us to Blue corner and it was packed with fish! Sharks everywhere, schooling snappers, jacks, and barracudas. The Napoleon wrasse were there, as usual, and were a popular subject for our photographers. The third dive of the day was at Canyons where we found several nudis and lots of turtles as we explored the box canyons that zigzagged along the reef and on the reef we stumbled across a 3 crocodile fish! Barnums Wall wrapped up our day of diving with an easy drift down the wall which turned up a very large turtle, the biggest one weve seen all week.
Friday morning we headed to Ulong for our first dive Siaes Corner for some great shark action, a bumphead parrot fish, and a huge school of orange spine unicorn fish. Our second dive took us to Ulong Channel. The current was in the process of switching so we dropped in on the giant clams and drifted down the channel from the inside out, very interesting way to see the famous channel. Dive three was at Sandy Paradise for some amazing coral formations including big tabletop hard corals. Lots of cool critters to check out along the way including nudis, leaf scorpion fish, pipefish, an octopus, a dog tooth tuna, sleeping white tips in the sand patches, and a solitary grey reef shark on the prowl. Our last reef dive of the week was at Ulong Coral Garden. Another site covered in hard coral as far as you can see.
On Saturday morning we went for a swim and a snorkel at Jellyfish Lake where we swam with the millions of mesmerizing jellyfish. Upon returning to the skiff, the driver took us on a tour through the Rock Islands before meeting up with the big boat in Koror. Our last dive was at nearby Chandelier Caves where we explored the four chambers and interesting stalagtite formations inside surfacing for a breath or two in the air pockets along the way. On the reef just outside the cave entrance we watched mandarin fish scurrying around along with pajama cardinal fish between the shallow corals for the rest of the dive.
We said farewell on Sunday morning and helped our guests with transfers to their hotels and flights. It was yet another wonderful week aboard the Palau Aggressor II with fantastic guests that we look forward to diving again with soon!
Needless to say the diving was glorious. Some of the best diving in the world, I’m told. It was like swimming in an aquarium with something cool and colourful to see everywhere you looked. We saw lots of Nemos (ie. anemonefish or clown fish), sharks, turtles (my favourite), manta rays, corals of every shape and colour, and tons of fish of every shape and colour. It was glorious. And sure enough, as the week went on, I became more and more comfortable under water. An expert diver I shall be.