The sea hawk, the donut, and the pelican.

The ski donut with our gear on board at Nu’u bay, Southeast Maui.

We’ve almost never deployed or collected our instruments without additional flotation of some kind. A raft helps us transport heavy and large equipment from shore, and when equipped with a dive flag, signal to others where we are. We’ve had to swim out quite far in many places – the beach at Nu’u bay is far from deep water, hydrophones needed to be distant from the boat traffic at Maliko gulch, and we needed to show where we were to the boats coming in and out of Kewalo basin.

The ‘sea hawk 300’ – our first trusty gear hauler.

Our first ‘vessel’ was the “Sea Hawk 300” – a toy inflatable boat complete with plastic oars we got for $30 (what a bargain!). Apart from its tendency to occasionally leak it was a great help, hauling equipment from the beach to dive sites and back. It even served as a real boat when Simon had a cold and followed Lauren as she snorkeled to retrieve the instruments at Electric Beach, Oahu.

We had a few problems with the sea hawk. We left the car keys inside while we were down which didn’t go well on one occasion when the waterproof plastic bag with the keys inside took flight over the side. If anyone ever finds a floating bag on a pacific beach with a new-looking Volkswagen keyfob inside (which should be in perfect working condition), its worth $370 when returned to Enterprise.

The sea hawk on that fateful day…

The line connecting the sea hawk to us was fairly thin and had the disconcerting tendency to break. This happened three times at Kahekili bay on Maui’s west coast. Luckily, each time the stiff tradewinds were blowing along shore. As soon as it was discovered that the boat was gone the drill was the same – everyone surfaced and swam to the beach, whoever got there first would dump their gear and run downwind. After running a kilometre in a full wetsuit and then walking back upwind with the sea hawk in tow several times, we upgraded the line to an anchor warp. It was hoped that the extra hassle of carrying a heavy line like that underwater would be offset by never having to retrieve the boat again. We were right about never having to retrieve the boat again, but wrong about the rope..

The sea hawk at Three Tables, Oahu.

Our deployment at La Perouse Bay, southern Maui, involved a swim of a couple of hundred metres offshore into water between 10-20 m deep. The tradewinds were fairly strong this far from shore and we could feel them constantly tugging on the sea hawk while we were underwater with the heavy line clipped to our belts. During the last survey of the day we clipped the sea hawk to one of the anchors that was already screwed into the sand. When we came back…it was gone! The line hadn’t snapped. Instead, the spring loaded swivel snap had somehow come undone – something very difficult to replicate (as we tried many times) but possible under the right conditions. We surfaced as fast as we could (which was fairly slowly, as we had equipment and an ascent rate to watch) and looked for the boat. If it was close enough we could make a dash for it, or so I thought. I will never forget the view on the surface: a wild and windswept sea, a glowing sunset over Molokini, and the sea hawk flipping over and over wave crests far in the distance, forever freed from its anchor and on its way to the deep ocean via the Lanai channel. If it made it past Lanai, Molokini, and Maui, its three independent floatation chambers may mean that sea hawk will voyage over the north pacific gyre for many years.

Local kids jump off the pier at Maliko gulch as the donut drifts by.

Both of us were rather upset. It was sunset and we had to swim back to shore with all our stuff. We had become used to the convenience that sea hawk provided. What shall we do? We swam back to the beach and discussed/commiserated on the way home. Could we find an inexpensive replacement on Maui? Craigslist was consulted and sea hawk #2 (A.K.A. ‘the donut’) was found.

The donut is actually a ski tube (or ski biscuit in NZ). Bought for the humble sum of $25, it proved its worth the first time we used it – in choppy seas on Maui’s north shore where the sharp rocks might have pierced the thinner hull of the sea hawk.

The pelican twin – our new packhorse.
Simon swims out to meet the kayak/donut trailer at Kealakekua boat ramp.

Sometimes however, the distance between shore and where we want to put our equipment is just too far to swim. We have a permit to do our work in the marine reserve at Kealakekua bay on the Big Island, about 2 km from the nearest shore access. Although almost no-one swims, hundreds of kayakers make the trip every day to view the monument in the place where Captain Cook was killed and to snorkel the reef.  We were tempted to use a kayak. But to rent or buy? The going rate for a double kayak is around $60 a day. We would need one here and at two other locations, so we would end up spending at least $300, which was roughly how much used double kayaks were going for on Craigslist. To cut a long story short we bought one – the “Pelican apex 13 twin”. Whether or not we save money depends on whether or not we can sell it in a couple of weeks!

Launching the pelican kayak and its donut trailer at Kealakekua Bay. Local guy Daniel (right) helped us a lot.

Regardless, it works very well after a few quick mods (there were no porthole lids, so some real estate signs were sacrificed). The one exception was when we tried to take our scuba gear on board with us. With the tanks in the footwells, the centre of gravity is dangerously high. If you neatly put your mask away in the foot pocket of your fin (which sinks), its impossible to find everything on the bottom when the kayak tips over and spills all your gear! Luckily this occurred in a shallow safe place during our ‘sea

The kayak fits very well atop our rented Avalon.

trial’ deployment at Puuhonua o Honaunau (Place of Refuge) Bay and a short swim to the car (to get a spare mask) meant that we recovered everything. We now tow the donut (with our dive gear inside) behind the kayak as a kind of trailer, which works very well. Needless to say we get quite a few comments from the other kayakers.

Success at Kealakekua bay!

Maui Wowie

Hello Maui!

We have just recovered gear from our third site (out of four) on Maui, and are falling in love with this island all over again.  It is so striking how different each of the Hawaiian Islands is from one another, both above and below water.  Our previous stay on Maui was focused in Lahaina, which is one of the main tourist centers.  This time we are visiting much more of the island and finding all kinds of fascinating and wonderful things.

Haleakala Crater at dusk

Maui doesn’t have free range chickens in the same numbers as Kauai, but there are a few.  It boasts many other introduced land critters that run wild including goats and mongoose.  We visited the most recent lava flow (~1790) which terminates at La Perouse Bayfor our second dive site, and found a stark, mostly black landscape.  However, continue driving down the road and the sides of the large volcano are becoming steeply eroded into dramatic valleys, just like those that we hiked through on Oahu and Kauai.

Sunset from Haleakala over the clouds

The highest peak here is Haleakala Crater, which is 10,033 feet at the summit.  We spent a pleasant evening at the top, warmly ensconced in many layers of fleece, with a picnic.  We watched the sunset over the clouds and stayed around to see the sky change colors from light pink to orange to dramatic red and purple… and finally dark dark blue.  The subsequent star show was incredible.

Simon photographing the sunset
Evening picnic on the mountain
Sunset picnic atop Haleakala
Friendly turtles abound in the waters around Maui

The water is bluer here and the visibility is an improvement over Kauai, although this could be entirely due to the weather.  We are finding more coral, and more invertebrates are popping up on our overnight time lapse cameras too. The number of turtles here is very high – we jokingly refer to one bay we visited as “turtle dumptruck bay”. There are so many turtles in such a small location that at times it seems that they had been dumped in the water there!

Lunchtime- green sea turtle hunting for algae

When we visited most recently the water was rather murky, but we still enjoyed the experience with our friend and UCSD supercomputer guru John Helly.

Simon checking out another Scripps graduate student experiment- herbivore exclusion cages at Kahekili

Each of our dive sites has had its own unique attributes.  The first, Kahekili, is a site regularly visited by Scripps graduate students, and some of our friends have long term experiments running there.  It was fun to leave our equipment next to theirs for a few days!  Last time we visited this site we were shown an unusual individual – a giant frogfish. Extremely hard to make out due to their almost perfect camouflage, the frog eluded us on this visit (although we know he’s there – divers see him year round in the same approximate location).

The triton shell at La Perouse Bay

Our second site was at the end of the lava field, and had black sand with young, healthy looking corals and a huge array of fish. A large number of peacock grouper (‘Roi’ in Hawaiian) were seen, as was a large triton conch. The conch was a good sign – they are usually quickly taken as the shells are worth hundreds in the tourist trade. A large milkfish – about a metre long – came by to inspect our work.

Black sand and patch reefs at La Perouse
The windsurfing show on the North Shore- here sailors take advantage of both wind and waves, and the result is spectacular

The third site, Maliko bay on the north side, is in one of the only bays sheltered from the ripping trade winds that draw windsurfers and kiters from around the world to the north shore. Maliko bay is a little west of a famous surf location – a reef break known as ‘Jaws‘, which is said to break only when the swell is larger than 5 metres. Luckily for us it has been calm on the north side the last few days! A sign by a boat ramp proudly proclaims that the area is part of the “People’s Reclaimed Republic of Hawaii”, drawing attention to the United State’s overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the desire of some of the locals to create a new country. We were a little nervous about working here, but everyone we talked to was extremely friendly and curious about what we were doing.  They only seemed a little disappointed that we didn’t exit the water with bags full of fish and lobsters to share!

The road to Nu’u, along the remote southeast coast of Maui
Patchwork asphalt – we still can’t quite figure out how this happened
Views along the way- from above, Molokini Crater is dwarfed by Kahoolawe Island

We checked out our fourth site today, a remote southeast location called Nu’u bay.  It is a long and somewhat arduous road to get there, but the views and isolation are completely worth it.  A narrow band of asphalt winds along the lower reaches of Haleakala, with black cliffs cascading into blue sea on the other side.

Simon insists that our Honda Odyssey can offroad with the best of them. It proved itself yet again on the gravel access to Nu’u Bay today

Eventually the road turns to patchwork and finally dirt, then we go through a gate (which is never locked), navigate a rocky trail, and walk the rest of the way down to the beach.  The water seems extremely clear and the dramatic lava rock formations on shore appear to continue underwater. We are both so excited to get in the water here tomorrow and see what this isolated little bay has inside.

At the Republic of Hawaii (Maliko Bay), we had a fan club hoping we would come back with fish and lobsters to eat

In addition to hosting a sizable group of Hawaiian Nation advocates, there are some notable names that have taken up residence nearby.  We hear that Jean-Michel Cousteau comes around periodically to snorkel and check out the reefs.  Alice Cooper runs a nightly radio show on one of the local stations and somebody from Fleetwood Mac runs a tavern named “Fleetwoods” in town. Although Maui is more developed than Kauai, it still seems to be a haven for the well-heeled.

Fall diving in Kauai

There are so many turtles around Kauai.

We’re on Kauai! We arrived a little over a week ago and it has been a very full schedule since then. Our hydrophones are currently in the water for the third and final time on this island. Retrieval will take place on Friday, pack up Saturday, and it will all be flown to Maui on Sunday where this whole shebang will repeat itself.

Arriving at Lihue we were relieved to find that all our stuff made it here safely. Although Go! Mokulele airlines were very accommodating to us regarding our 15 checked bags, they were also very thorough, giving us little leeway on the ‘max 50 lbs per bag’ rule. Next to our tickets ($80 pp), the $400 in excess baggage fees were quite an eye opener.

The end of the road – anticlockwise around Kauai (the island has no ring road).

We’re staying in Princeville, a golf-course-and-condo type place on the north shore right next to Hanalei bay. I’ve been to all four main Hawaiian Islands now and it’s still a toss-up between here and the Big Island, but for now I can certainly say Kauai’s north shore is one of the nicest places I’ve been to in the state. Rural, little development, friendly people, and stunning scenery make this place stand out. The condition of the environment is made clear when one snorkels the fore-reef at night. Rock lobster can be seen moving about the top of the reef and can be caught easily. We hope this area stays as it is – we hear the locals talking often about big-money developers moving in and destroying the wetlands.

Lauren with friend

The sea conditions around Kauai aren’t influenced by the local weather. Instead, swells come from far offshore. There is no barrier reef around Kauai so what arrives via the deep ocean strikes the island directly, making for strong currents, large surf, and poor visibility. We initially planned, then abandoned, diving the West side. Not only are there no roads to take us very far there, what we can access is limited to a raging surf beach adjacent to a restricted missile test range. In the northern hemisphere summer, the northern Pacific is relatively calm while storms rage in the southern ocean. Consequently the south shore is battered by swells. In the winter the opposite is true, with swells from Aleutian storms bashing the north shore. In the fall, or right now, it can either be the best of both situations or the worst, depending on timing. Fortunately we have had the luxury of time in addition to lady luck being on our side. In the last 10 days it has been rough on the north shore then rough on the south, allowing us to first deploy and collect our hydrophones and cameras at Koloa landing in the south, then Tunnels beach in the north. Currently, swell is arriving from the south and northwest, allowing us to deploy instruments at Ahukini jetty on the east side. We hope that the conditions remain as they are until Friday, when everything comes out of the sea.

Rob, Simon and Sabrina with the hydrophones, camera, and survey equipment ready to go out at Tunnels reef.

None of us had been to Kauai before, and critical to our success here is local knowledge. The dive store owner mentioned that there was only one reliable shore-based recreational dive site on the island (Koloa) and that this time of year was ‘dicey’. Fortunately he gave us Terry Lilley’s contact details. Terry is the kind of guy you’d expect if you met someone walking around in the bush with no shoes in rural New Zealand. He is a marine biologist, running his own non-profit here in Kauai. He lives in a mobile research station by the beach and drives a battered 1994 Toyota previa. He used to own a reptile zoo in California before making the move to Hawaii eight years ago. Terry has dived more often than many biologists we know, and his observational experience is second to none. He is found underwater almost daily, and always with his HD video camera. His knowledge of the underwater regions around Kauai is incomparable – no one else has dived this island as often or as broadly across such a range of weather conditions. Finding Terry, who was very enthusiastic about helping us, has been a godsend and has allowed us to 1) deploy our instruments in the places we wanted and 2) stay alive. As a bonus, we’ve been introduced to some of Kauai’s best diving.

Lauren, Terry, Simon, and Rob at Tunnels reef.

One location has been particularly memorable. Tunnels beach is around 20 mins drive West from Hanalei. It is where Bethany Hamilton famously lost her arm in a tiger shark attack (As seen in the film ‘Soul surfer’). It appears to be a normal looking beach with a reef break offshore. Hundreds of pale tourists can be observed snorkeling just off the beach, swimming over a rocky region between waist and head-deep. Swimming out about 20 m further than that, the rock…disappears. A steep drop into deep water occurs all the

Divers exiting one of the caverns.

way along the beach. Why does the sand and rock end so abruptly? The answer lies in the positioning of the offshore reef and the winter swells. During storms, waves wash water over the outer reef, creating a ripping along-shore current that scours the underwater rock face. Currents of up to 7 kts can be experienced only 50 m from shore, even if it looks calm inside the reef. This is a dangerous place for the unwary. Even with a 4 ft swell on-shore we felt a 1 kt current pushing us along after we recovered our hydrophones. Without Terry we would never have known about the currents…and that this underwater cliff was perforated with an enormous, complicated maze of interconnected caverns that go back under the beach, under the beachside properties and under the road! In fact, much of Kauai’s underwater coastline is highly porous. Wherever we’ve dived in more exposed areas on the north shore, we’ve seen spectacular caves at around 10 – 20 m depth. There must be thousands of unexplored caverns out there.

Swimming through a cavern at Tunnels to get to our hydrophone deployment site.

During one of our rest days, Rob and I walked the Kalalau trail. Seeing as we only had one day, we figured we could do the 11 miles to Kalalau beach and back if we left before sunrise. This was both a good and a bad idea. Good because Kalalau beach was extremely beautiful and the walk took us through some spectacular terrain – reminiscent of Cape Brett for me.

Rob happy with himself at Kalalau beach.

Bad because 22 miles is around 35 km. This didn’t sound too bad until it became clear that it was virtually all up or down steep terrain. We got back at 9 pm or so and were rather sore the next day. Next time, we’ll camp at the end. The camping is so good in fact that many of the friendly campers we met seemed to be semi-permanent residents out there. With ample fresh water from the many waterfalls and an abundance of fish, prawns, and jungle fruits such as strawberry guavas and passionfruit, who wouldn’t want to stay until the park rangers come in on helicopters and drive the vagrants out? (apparently this happens more during summer).