Underwater At Last

Can you believe that we were in Hawaii for 25 days before donning a scuba tank?  We sure can’t!  The time has flown by with the odds and ends of becoming settled in a new place (or series of places, as is the case for us) and preparing for the research expedition.

Friendly turtles buzzed our dive site all day

Science Diving!

We spent two days testing most of Simon’s acoustic equipment (the stuff we didn’t test just hangs off the ship).  We packed it all in the car and planned to do a series of shore dives.  The “basic” steps were:

The SeaHawk 300 with the fly-by array and our scuba gear. Ready for deployment.
  1. Pick a good spot (we chose Three Tables on the North Shore of Oahu)
  2. Suss it out and decide where we will dive.
  3. Assemble our scuba gear, inflate our trusty Sea Hawk 300 raft, pull out and assemble the sand anchors and small hydrophones.
  4. Get all of that stuff to the beach
  5. Load everything into the Sea Hawk on the beach and pull it through the surf.
  6. Surface swim to our planned site.
  7. Tie off all of the equipment to ourselves or hold on to it, and descend

    Simon bringing the trusty Seahawk to the beach
  8. Insert sand anchors and attach small hydrophones to sand anchors.
  9. Swim back to shore with the empty Sea Hawk
  10. Take turns exiting the water and pulling the Sea Hawk out

    Simon tying one of the smaller hydrophones to a sand anchor.
  11. Exchange dive tanks and unload the array (that’s the big thing that comes in three 50 pound pieces)

    Lauren and friend.
  12. Lauren dons dive gear and walks to beach with boat.  Simon follows with the array piece by piece, assembles it on the raft and finally puts on his dive gear and joins her.
  13. Pull it all through the surf and swim back to the dive site.
  14. Get the array out of the seahawk…easier said than done when you’re swimming next to it.
  15. Descend with a line attached to the array, which loops through a sand anchor so that we can pull it down underwater (the array is buoyant).

    Towing the Seahawk back to shore
  16. Secure the floaty end of the array to sand anchors and line up the hydrophones in a nice pattern so that beamforming and cross-correlation of acoustic arrivals can show us which direction the various sounds being recorded are coming from.
  17. Return to shore

    The fly-by array deployed on the bottom in a line configuration.
  18. Rinse everything off, including us
  19. Eat shave ice

On the second day, we did the same list in reverse (except the shave ice, which always comes at the end).  I am happy to report that we successfully achieved all of the steps, nothing flooded, we in fact recorded data, and that no one stole our equipment while it was left out overnight.

Lauren working hard on driving in a sand anchor.

Steps 4-6, 10, 12 and 13 were far more challenging than they sound (and than we originally thought!)  The learning curve is steep, so we hope we are already past the hardest part!  We quickly learned the pro tip that parking near the beach was an absolute must. Simon regrets spending two hours walking back and forth between car and beach, carrying heavy stuff in the tropical climate with half a wetsuit on. Never again.

Simon faffing around with his kit.

On the ship we will be operating from a small boat.  This will be extremely luxurious because it eliminates all of the parts where we have to carry heavy things across a beach and drag a small inflatable boat through the surf!  The underwater methods will be the same, so the photos here are representative of what we’ll be doing for the next month.

Happy Birthday Simon!

Simon turned 29 for the second time on Sunday, and we enjoyed our last free day on land by going for a series of easy hikes and walks around the Waimea Arboretum.  Lauren arranged a scavenger hunt variation for Simon’s gift, which included favorite activities like hiking, waterfall swimming, shabu-shabu dinner, and of course, shave ice!

Shabu Shabu dinner!
Amazing ginger plant flowers at the Waimea arboretum.
Lauren and Simon on Simon’s birthday hike.

The Grocery Dilemma

Things never go as planned.  We worked hard on Friday/Saturday to prepare our hydrophone equipment to be ready for diving Sunday. As Simon brushed his teeth at 1:30am Sunday morning it dawned on him that a small power cable – an all important, 9-pin, submersible, irreplaceable cable that goes between the batteries and the data acquisition computer – was perhaps sitting on the lab bench in the Buckingham lab back in San Diego. Some angst, phone calls, and emails later, the cable (and a spare) were on their way from SAN to HNL, courtesy of UPS second-day air and Simon’s generous advisor who footed the $120 courier bill. With this we hope for diving…Friday.

Lauren enjoying a survey-snorkel near the Makai research pier

It has still been an incredibly productive week.  Although lead seems to have become as valuable as gold recently, we procured enough diving weights for ourselves and our floaty equipment from craigslist, did a snorkel-scout of dive sites (its difficult to find ideal sites for our equipment here), prepared drafts for journal submission, and completed lots of less interesting things on the computers.

Since we don’t have an epic tale of struggling down the beach with 300 pounds of acoustic-recording-stuff, swimming it out to deep water, then firmly affixing it to the bottom, we thought we’d share a different story today.

The Grocery Dilemma.

Like many young couples on a budget, we delight in visiting the grocery store.  We enjoy finding the best bargains on milk, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and meat.  (Or maybe we are just weird- but it would be kinder to not tell Simon that).  Both Simon and Lauren are fond of cooking and in general we try to make most of our meals at home.

We have been struggling since arriving in Honolulu with the fact that goods and services cost MORE in the most remote (small) city on earth. This would be understandable, except that for all practical purposes Honolulu seems at first glance to have everything that a typical American city does, and easily at hand.  So when Lauren went to the same gym we use at home (24 Hour Fitness) and was told she had to pay a premium to upgrade her membership for clubs in Hawaii, she was a little miffed.

Simon’s beloved All Bran costs $6.59 per box. At home its $3.75. The most recent array of groceries put Lauren out $27.73, and she calculates that she could get the exact same items for roughly $18.00 in San Diego.

$27.73 worth of groceries- and we were ONLY buying items that were on sale!

To try to get around this, and reduce our feelings of guilt associated with the 2000 food miles added to most supermarket products, we joined a community supported agriculture group (CSA).  This was a steal at $25 per week and everything in the box was grown or raised in Hawaii.

Our first CSA haul included a dozen eggs and a tasty homemade lilikoi (passionfruit) vinaigrette dressing

So what are we to do?  We were already savvy shoppers, but are really being pushed to our limits here in terms of coupon clipping and sale spotting.  Despite our best efforts, we are spending 50% more on food here. Even then, our meals are much less like curry and rice, pizza and salad, or that-new-recipe-Lauren-wants-to-try and much more like eclectic stir-fry or casserole-of-whatever-we-have.  (Don’t worry moms- we are still eating our fruits and veggies!)

Although I can hear your tiny violins far across the ocean, we should note that starting Wednesday morning we will be receiving free meals for 24 days on-board the ship! Understandably, this is a big deal for Simon (Diving for science, epic cruise, AND free food?!?!)

Tomorrow the start of the next phase of our adventure begins: the NOAA ship Hi’ialakai has returned from its most recent cruise and will be at Ford Island loading dock in Pearl Harbour for 6 days. We’ll need this time to load all our acoustics equipment (3 types of hydrophone systems/arrays), cameras (11) and mobile lab/offices, load Marc Lammers’ Ecological Acoustic Recorders (EARS, more hydrophones) with their mooring blocks (to be deployed in 300 m), and of course, do some diving in the meantime to make sure all our gear works! Stay tuned for more from the R/V Hi’ialakai!

Finally, we promised you a picture of a fish.  Here is a falsely named (but very cute) invertebrate, the cuttlefish, posing with Simon:

Simon and the cuttlefish. We enjoyed watching these little guys change colors and swim in formation for ten minutes!

The Two Week Hurdle

Sunset at Waikiki

Its sometimes a challenge explaining that working in paradise is not “working” in paradise. In fact, work here involves plenty of difficulties that make things more of a challenge. Luckily for us, they are far outweighed by the good stuff, and afterward are great for laughs!

The first time I moved (out of my parents house for college, when I was 18), a wise friend told me that I had to stick it out for more than two weeks.  Around two weeks, the excitement has worn off and you start to really miss things about your prior life.

Lauren working hard at the Oceanwide Science Institute office, where Simon spends most of his days.

We’re about there now.  Since there isn’t any fantastic diving to distract us yet, I am starting to take distinct notice of things like how difficult it is to get around Honolulu.  I often find myself daydreaming about our grocery store and nice kitchen accessories in San Diego.  Even more tantalizing is the memory of my beautiful, perfect, not-sagging-in-the-middle mattress with MY sheets on it!

Fortunately for me, there is very little time to ponder on these niceties because there is more than enough to do here!  We are both writing like crazy trying to get drafts of our most recent work to coauthors before we get on the research cruise.

Simon’s screen, heavy with matlab code

Simon is attempting, with similar desperation, to write enough code so that when the acoustic data starts pouring in, we can make some sense of it. When we do need a break, we try to spend it outside enjoying the island.

We spent most of Saturday taking advantage of the empty office and getting work done.  We walked the two miles to the beach in time for sunset, and made good use of my travel hammock.  We had a three mile hike through town to get home, past famous Bailey’s.  We stopped at the beginning for dinner at a highly recommended spot, Ono Hawaiian Foods, where we shared a platter.

Hammock time after a long day
Our Kalua Pork “platter” at ono’s. By far the best thing was the dark purple sweet potato!

We continued walking, feeling not quite full, when we smelled something amazing!  We stopped for second dinner at Glad Yakitori. This was my first yakitori experience ever and I LOVED it.  And just in case that wasn’t enough, we got some Yogurtland for dessert before we made it to our house 🙂

Well worth the wait, this was some of the best chicken we’d ever had
Want some aloha-wear? Go straight to Bailey’s, where you can choose from 15,000 new and used shirts ranging in price from $19.99 to $4,000

Clearly, this luxury was too good to last. On Sunday, we went on a hike with a coworker.  She assured us that it would be very easy and mellow since she was bringing her 12-year-old niece along, who isn’t particularly accustomed to hiking.  I should have realized we were in trouble when the guys in the group pulled out special boots- soft, water repellant shells with steel spikes on the bottom for traction.

Apparently in Hawaii “hiking” means “Tough Mudder” and/or “Boot Camp for the Marines,” because that’s about what we got.  I think we only walked 4 or 5 miles total, but it took nearly four hours.  The trail started out fine, meandering along a stream and crossing it periodically.  It was raining on and off, but warm enough that we didn’t mind not having raincoats.

There were fresh water crawfish in the river- we didn’t have a bag or we would have kept some for dinner!

We were hiking up the Palolo Valley to a waterfall, and the jungle was very beautiful and green.  Eventually we moved away from the stream and began climbing. The trail then continued along the edge of one of the canyon walls.

We made it! Looking cheerful at the waterfall, blissfully denying the fact that we have to go back the way we came

Imagine, if you will, a standard sidewalk.  Then take away half of its width.  Tilt it on a 20 degree angle towards a sheer drop off.  Take away half of the width again.  And coat it with the slipperiest substance you can think of.  This is what we walked on for the rest of the trek.  You’ll have to trust me, because we were too busy clinging on for dear life to take photos.

Lauren trying desperately to remove some of the layers of mud she accumulated on the way to the waterfall
Let’s just say we were seriously coated in mud

Ultimately everyone in our party slid down the cliff face at least once (we won’t say how many times Lauren did it), and the most experienced hiker in the group slipped down 20 feet!  He couldn’t get back up to the trail, so continued down to the river and met us at the waterfall.

The waterfall was beautiful, and we all made it out without injury.  Our host apologized repeatedly, saying that the hike has NEVER been that slippery before.  If my shoes weren’t still wet from cleaning all the mud off, I’d laugh too 🙂

Really, it was a beautiful spot to have lunch. And I earned that sandwich

Tomorrow we pick up a new rental car and begin shopping and testing equipment for the research cruise!  There is so much preparation for our 24 days at sea, and loading the ship begins on the 25th.  We want to have all of our gear tested, dried, and boxed up before then.  They provide food, but we also need to shop for a month’s worth of toiletries each (we are in separate male and female quarters), and backup rope, line, clips, and other goodies in case any of our gear fails and needs a fix on the ship.  Simon insists that he must continue eating All-Bran on the ship, so we need that too apparently. Hopefully we will be underwater this weekend, and our next post will have a photo of a fish!

This lightweight hammock is one of the coolest gifts my husband has ever given me. It even makes up for some of the tougher ‘adventures’ he drags me through

The most remote city on earth

Honolulu from Diamond Head crater. Waikiki is at centre.

A week in Honolulu goes by very fast. Although the city is the most remote in the world (3,841 km from San Francisco, the nearest > 500,000 city), it is very easy to forget that you are in fact on a tropical island, in the middle of the pacific, with coconut palms. Honolulu is a tourist city – although the population is on the order of half a million, more than eight million tourists pass through per annum. This makes it great as a place to visit, but does it make the grade as a place to live?

Our first few days were spent in the “Polynesian Hostel”, one row of buildings behind the very pretty Waikiki beachfront road. Walk down the street and you’re faced with azure blue water, shining beaches, swaying coconut palms. The beach throngs with tourists. Harleys drive past Japanese crowds under waving palm trees. The water seethes with novice surfers, ready to nail you with their boards the moment you step in. Further out, better surfers catch obscenely long rides (we timed one at >45 seconds on one wave) on the reef break. Before arriving, neither of us were aware of the history associated with the place. Here is the birthplace of beach culture. A bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the 5-time Olympic champion, lifesaver, actor, and man who popularised the Hawaiian sport of surfing stands covered in flowers. Just slightly away from the beach, the mark of high class society is everywhere. Extremely well dressed asian tourists frequent the enormous Chanel and LV stores. Impeccable Japanese restaurants offer triple-digit sushi meals. A ‘rare hawaiian shirt’ store offers $3000 hawaiian shirts(!).

Waikiki beach, or more appropriately, “Japan”.

Waikiki hits you with the absurd and beautiful at once but our minds were somewhat occupeid with the aforementioned ‘lost keys’ issue. Fortunately the hostel has (over)compensated us and apart from Simon losing HIS keys in the rental car (another trip to the airport to retrieve them) the issue is now closed!

We’ve moved in to our flat (sublet) for the first month and things are going fairly well. The other tenant has two dogs – great company although we feel that the puppy (named ‘moose’) should more appropriately be named after some kind of weather event (tornado? hurricane?). The tendency to destroy floor-based objects is more than compensated for by the cuteness, however. We’re currently living in the Manoa valley – very close to UH Manoa, and more importantly for some of us, to Yogurtland. Since the discovery four days ago that this store is 5 minutes walk away we have been there twice.

In an effort to be frugal with research funds, Simon has decided to return the rental car after 5 days – thinking that we save $50 for every day we don’t have a car. We are certainly saving money, but Simon’s 45-minute walk to work each morning will probably wear on him and it is likely that come the end of next week we again will have wheels. As a consolation a hybrid bicycle has been purchased for Lauren, potentially negating any savings regarding the rental vehicle if the bike can’t be sold in September! A silver lining to not having a vehicle: the traffic is crazy! The highways aren’t very large and public transport is fairly poor (remind anyone of any other city?) so gridlock ensues for much of the day in central Honolulu. Elections are currently underway and there is fervent debate on the radio on whether or not a public rail project (late and over budget) should be finalized.

The Diamond Head walk is steep but worthwhile!

Simon has started work with Dr. Marc Lammers at UH/NOAA. UH appears to have some great facilities on Oahu including Coconut Island in Kaneohe bay, where Lauren and Simon met well known ocean acoustician Whitlow Au. Currently, both Simon and Lauren are ordering the last pieces of hardware required for the cruise. Shipping is a tad expensive: the shipping cost for eight 50″ sand anchors ($8 each) from Mc MasterCarr is $100! The next week should see Simon and Lauren meeting NOAA staff members associated with the bio-acoustic monitoring effort in the pacific and also the climate science group!

Small Victories- First Leg of Travel is Done!

We made it to Honolulu, and even more importantly so did all of our bags and equipment!

Thanks Art!

The journey was a true adventure, but we were really impressed with Alaska Airlines service when it came to excess baggage (for some reason, 9 x $50 bag fees = $220…) and Art’s Dodge Caravan for getting us and all of our gear checked in. Thanks to Art for driving us down!

We stayed in a hostel on Waikiki Beach for a couple of days until our rental room becomes available on July 5 (today).  It has been awesome to get to know the island and explore.  We drove around the entire eastern half of Oahu Tuesday, stopping periodically to walk on the beach and suss out potential dive sites.


Dive sites have five requirements:

This, for example, is not a good dive site. The blowhole was really cool though!
  1. Free parking near the beach
  2. Easy beach access (i.e. you don’t have to climb over giant rocks or go down 1000 steps)
  3. Relatively calm (or potential to be relatively calm)
  4. Near a gap in the reef crest that we can swim through
  5. Scientifically interesting
Aoki’s Shave Ice in Hanauma Bay did not disappoint



Good news is that we found quite a few likely spots!  We also found a number of friendly turtles, beautiful views, and delicious Hawaiian shave ice.

Pretending that we are also holiday-makers

Bad news is that the hostel subsequently lost our rental car key.  I called this a blessing in disguise, because it meant we were confined to Waikiki Beach for the 4th of July so didn’t really have any change to get work done.  Instead, we took the opportunity to pretend that we were here on holiday like everyone else.

An inflatable pool stocked with beer makes its way past the surf.

The highlight was watching crews of locals fill up enormous inflatable toys with beer coolers and swim them out through the surf to a giant flotilla of partiers.  About 60% of them made it successfully, but plenty of groups provided excellent wipe-outs for our entertainment.

Lauren picked these patriotic shave ice flavors especially for the 4th of July. It’s a creative mix of raspberry and blue raspberry

We celebrated Independence Day in high style with classy takeaway Thai food (the bill was double what we would normally pay for take-out, but we are new here and didn’t know any better) in Ala Moana Beach Park where we could hear a live concert, watch the moonrise, and most importantly enjoy the awesome fireworks show.

Today we move into our first month’s accommodation, a rental room in a house, and also move Simon’s hydrophones into a lab.  Tomorrow we are back to real ‘work.’  For this first month, that will mostly be computer based, but we’ll also be testing equipment and protocols for the research cruise in August.

Contrary to popular belief, this is the BEST time to go to the beach



And we are happy to report that the hostel is being very nice and has called a locksmith to open the car and make a new key, so we should be on our way soon 🙂


Almost ready to go!

*Some* of our gear.

The bags are packed and we leave tomorrow!  Twelve pieces of checked luggage await transport in our lounge: 8 Rubbermaid 24 gal. ‘action packers’ and 2 suitcases each. Hydrophones and associated equipment take up almost all the space. We are also taking at least 10 various cameras and their accessories, scuba gear, first aid equipment, books and notebooks, and clothes and towels. Lithium-ion batteries can only be carried on, so Simon’s bag contains $3200 worth and weighs…an amount I am not willing to state here. Through some miracle, most checked bags weigh between 48 and 52 lbs. Simon may have spent an excessive amount of time trying to extract the greatest value from the $50-a-bag checking fees imposed by Alaskan Airlines.

The last week has been a hectic one in the acoustics department – Tuesday saw us testing the Buckingham Lab’s Fly-by hydrophone array off the Scripps Pier, demonstrating deployment and retrieval to the Scripps diving safety officer, Christian McDonald. Analysis of the collected data revealed all was not well inside the flyby; the National Instruments PXI 8186 PC inside, running windows XP, was creating a strong square-wave signal on top of the ambient ocean noise we were supposed to collect… Although the problem was eventually resolved by re-installing ALL the computer hardware and desperate jiggling of cables, the root cause is still a mystery. Stay tuned to see if the Fly-by can work its magic in the northwest Hawaiian Islands! Thanks to Fernando Simonet for advice on this matter and our intern, John Bruce, for sympathy.

The Fly-by computer housing literally ‘just’ fits. If one box is going to be overweight you may as well put all the heavy stuff in there, right?

Meanwhile, Lauren was busy taking care of the permitting and dive safety side of things. A DAN Oxygen kit was sourced from the diving locker and will accompany us on all diving excursions. Permit applications to gain access to Pearl Harbour, access to NOAA’s Kewalo research facility, scientific access to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and permits for deployment of scientific equipment in some of the marine protected areas around the main Hawaiian Islands with the Division of Aquatic Resources are underway. Fingers crossed that we’ll be given the green light on all of these…

Now Lauren is working hard to clean the apartment and store our personal items to prepare for our subletters, and we are both finalizing details around San Diego.

A huge shout out and thank you to all of our friends and family that are chipping in to help us relocate for 4 months- checking mail, babysitting our fish, watering the plants, and generally keeping an eye on our subletters!