Barbados!

After eight years at my current job, I’m moving to a new one this year (I’ll still be at the old one 20% for a while). Sometimes things just work out well, and this year I was lucky enough to be invited to an invitation-only workshop in Barbados, which, coincidentally, was scheduled for my last full-time week at my old job – what better way to spend my last week than at a workshop next to a tropical beach!

The workshop was designed with presentations in the morning and evening, but free time from 1-6pm, and was less than 50m from a beach with a nice shallow reef to snorkel on. Needless to say, everyone spent a lot of time in the water. The place wasn’t luxurious (no air conditioning in the shared rooms), but was set around a garden, with flowering trees, lizards and birds, and frogs singing and bats flying around after dark.

A Barbados Anole lizard.
A Barbados Anole lizard.
A Lesser Antillean Whistling Frog. Also known as the rum alarm since it seemed to start calling just when the rum got brought out.
A Lesser Antillean Whistling Frog. Also known as the rum alarm since it seemed to start calling just when the rum got brought out.

A small group of us also did some diving while we were there. The water was lovely and warm – 25 celcius at the surface, and the reef looked surprisingly healthy. We saw the usual tropical fish, lots of lobsters and crabs, and on night snorkels a couple of us caught sight of “The Thing”, a 4m long nocturnal segmented worm (no pictures of that, it hid again far too quickly when I shone a light on it).

The healthy-looking reef.
The healthy-looking reef.
A cute Burrfish checking us out!
A cute Burrfish checking us out!

A spotted Moray.
A spotted Moray.

The workshop was great, with a really interesting group of people, and lots of good talks. The location was great as well – a perfect way to celebrate my new job!

Sea kayaking at Abel Tasman National Park

Inspired by Pete and Tish’s recent sea kayaking adventure, we spent the day sea kayaking around the north-western coast of Abel Tasman National Park. Golden Bay Kayaks at Tata Beach, near Takaka, were great! They sorted us out with a two person kayak and all the kit, as well as telling us where to go and what to look out for. We set off around the Tata Islands and then kayaked eastwards around Abel Tasman Point and into Wainui Bay. We passed lots of shags on the way and a rare heron (according to the kayak shop owners), but these were nothing compared to the sting rays that we came upon further into the bay. In the shallow estuary entrance, these creatures could be seen at a distance of about 15 m from the kayak as huge black things. Richard steered us over to a huge one that was about 1 m across, but it got rather upset at our presence and put it’s stinging tail into an upright position and out of the water. It scared the life out of me, as I had no idea whether it was going to spit at me or whether it was just a warning! We saw lots of other sting rays, but nothing quite so large. The water in the shallows was amazingly warm. The next cool creature we saw was after we had beached the kayak near Taupo Point; this was a Gannet. It flew around the bay and then suddenly beak-dived into the water right in front of us to catch its unsuspecting prey! Amazing.

Lunch on the deserted beach.
Lunch on the deserted beach.

Once beached, we had our lunch, and then since the water was warm, went for a snorkel around Uarau Point and saw lots of mussels and chitons, a few fish and some starfish.

Rachel on the beach.
Rachel on the beach.

After our break we headed back, again exploring the shallows of Wainui Bay looking for sting rays, and then kayaking through an archway and spotting seals on the rocks. We had a second break at Little Tata Bay to enjoy the late afternoon sun, before finally heading back to return the kayak. A lovely day out!

Paddling towards the arch at Abel Tasman Point.
Paddling towards the arch at Abel Tasman Point.

A week in Mallorca (Part 2) – Alcudia peninsula

We spent the morning snorkelling in the pretty bay we found yesterday (Cala en Gossalba). This holiday was the first time that I’d been snorkelling and this bay proved to be a fascinating introduction. We saw star fish, mackeral, anemones, a sea cucumber and lots and lots of fish, some alone and others in huge shoals that hung around us for safety. We also saw quite a few jellyfish, I don’t like them very much and at any point when I thought I was becoming surrounded, I made a bid for the shallower water near the beach!

After my nose had been sufficiently crushed by the snorkel mask and after I had tasted enough seawater, we packed up and went to look around the Alcudia Peninsula. This area is just south of Puerto Pollenca, where we were staying, and boasts a pretty line of hills. We walked along the edge of the peninsula to a viewpoint on the northern tip and then, after looking at the magnificant views over Cap des Pinar and the Formentor peninsula, we headed to the top of one of the hills before heading back.

Richard on the Alcudia peninsula with the Formentor peninsula in the background
Looking out over the Cap des Pinar

Diving Red Sea

Ever felt like being in a huge aquarium? That’s how I felt jumping in the 28°C warm water on our first day in Sharm el Sheik (Egypt). Surrounded by millions of colorful fish, lionfish, trigger fish, bluespotted stingrays, clownfish – and we were just skin diving. I always thought there can’t be anything as great as the Great Barrier Reef. But after a week of diving in the Red Sea I have to admit that it is almost as beautiful. The difference is mainly that most dives are drift dives, the water is even more salty (I needed an extra 2 leds) and the hinterland is mostly desert and arabic hard to understand. We had 4 great days of diving even though we didn’t see any big fish besides the usual napoleons, crocodile fish etc. the coral reefs are really making up for it. A quad tour on our rest day gave us the opportunity to experience the hot and dry hinterlands meeting some beduins. Good to know that we could just jump in the water again to get rid of all the dust. 😉

Our favorite beach

At Tiran dive site

Quad tour

Coral life

Pirates of the Red Sea

Beduin woman

Ras Umm Sid

Mr. and Mrs. Clownfish

Mathias & I

Back from the dive

The biggest aquarium in the world

Pictures from the deep

The excitement on board is currently about Hybis, rather than Autosub. After our 36 hour ride South, we’re now on the Casablanca Seamount, halfway between Madeira and Morocco. The water is warm, and a lovely shade of blue, and the crew even spotted a turtle paddling by yesterday.

The seamount rises up from a depth of around 4500m all the way to just 600m below the surface, and has lots of steep slopes and cliffs to challenge the navigation and obstacle avoidance on Autosub. That’s why we’re here, plus the fact that there happens to be reasonably good mapping of the area available.

Autosub has now been on two dives here, buth pretty similar, on the flat bottom around the edge of the seamount, with a maximum depth being 4360m. The team have been testing out various parts of the navigation system and obstacle avoidance – they did a run only 4m from the bottom in this morning’s test.

In the mean time, however, Hybis has finally made it to the bottom. Yesterday evening it visited the relatively flat areas, spending about three hours gently driving over a pretty featureless muddy plain. We saw a couple of large shrimps, quite a few sea cucumbers and sea anemones, and what we think was a sea slug. We also saw about half a dozen assorted cans and bottles. 🙁

An anemone on the sea floor at a depth of 4500m!
An anemone on the sea floor at a depth of 4500m!

At the end of the dive, Hybis touched down and used its scoop to gather up a large quantity of the bottom sediment, along with a mystery object sitting on the surface. We then patiently waited the 90 minutes of so it takes to wind in 4.5km of cable to find out what we’d captured. It turned out to be less interesting than we hoped – most likely a piece of ‘clinker’, the waste product from the coal-fired boilers of the old steamships. Apparently there are trails of the stuff on old steamship routes.

Bramley, Veit and I look through the mud Hybis brought back from 4500m. Mostly we found mud! (Picture: Juhan Ernits)
Bramley, Veit and I look through the mud Hybis brought back from 4500m. Mostly we found mud! (Picture: Juhan Ernits)

Today Hybis went down again, this time on the side of the seamount. It turns out that it’s seriously steep. Most of the video looks like shots of a ski area, with rocks, and steep sediment-covered slopes. Again, we’ve seen a few shrimps, and the occasional fish, but this time there have been whip corals and crinoids on the rocks as well.

A shrimp swims past the steep slopes of the side of the seamount, in this video image from Hybis.
A shrimp swims past the steep slopes of the side of the seamount.

Hybis has two horizontal thrusters for mobility, but relies on the cable from the ship to move any serious distances, and to keep it from hitting the bottom and stirring up the sediment. That’s pretty much fine for flat bottoms, but the vehicle has had quite an exciting time on the cliffs of the seamount. At one point Hybis touched down to try to collect a bucket full of samples. Unfortunately, the cable then pulled it off the rock and over a small cliff. Apparently it went completely upside down in the process! It still seems to be OK, although one of its lights has become detached.

I’ve included a couple of pictures from Hybis in this report. Sorry the quality is so poor – they are photographs of the live video from the vehicle.

Cromhall diving

Later in the year a trip to France is planned to do the usual sitting around in cafes thinking of good reasons not to do anything else all day. This is a difficult task and a well balanced team is needed if results are to be achieved smoothly. To make sure that this years effort would not turn out to be suboptimal Andrew organised a meet-up at Cromhall followed by a Bar-B-Q at his place so we could make sure that this years team has a good chance of achieving the goal. There is nothing worse that having a good cafe visit ruined by an over enthusiastic team member suggesting a dive.

At Cromhall Andrew found that his rebreather was leaking from several places. Steve found that his drysuit most defiantly wasn’t. Toby showed that continuing with a dive because there was plenty of gas left was not an option. And I demonstrated the use of a piece of kit that had been lashed together with bungee and cable ties in ten minutes but was wholly inappropriate for the situation. Unfortunately we were all shown up by Andrew R who turned up without any dive gear because it was to much effort to put it in the car. He is not coming on the trip to France but he has set the benchmark for the rest of us. Long cafe stops look to be assured.

cromhall_surface

After the dive we all departed for the Bar-B-Q which went well and no small furry animals were put on the griddle.

pigs_shot2

Rainforest meets Reef

I had dreamed of visiting Daintree for years. It looked so idyllic, with tropical rainforest right next to the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, it’s far to hot and humid to climb, but it seemed like a great place to relax after a month on the road.

I wasn’t disappointed. Daintree Eco Lodge was luxurious. The rain forest was alive with bird and insect sounds. It was very hot and humid, bur that gave us a good excuse to do not much except relax and take it all in.

The reef trip on Poseidon was fantastic. We took an introductory diving course and did two dives as well as some snorkelling, seeing the most amazing fish and coral. Sorry no pictures of the diving, but there is a rather sexy picture of me in a stinger suit – it’s stinger season right now so better to look like a telly tubby and be safe. 😉

I would have liked to have seen more, but we were out of time… 🙁

Here is a collection of shots from the three days we had there.

Visit Manly, it’s very… well… Manly

Manly is a suburb of Sydney, at the northern end of the harbour. Apparently it’s named that because when Captain Cook sailed past, the people he saw on the beach looked particularly manly. They still are.

Fringed Wobegon Shark
Fringed Wobegon Shark

Manly has a gorgeous surf beach, but also (supposedly) some pretty decent diving. Sadly, I picked a day when conditions really weren’t at their best. The first dive was in between 1 and 3 metres visibility. We were hunting for Weedy Sea Dragons, but the bit of the bay they like had the worst visibility so we didn’t try for long. Instead we had a nice tour of the area, saw some fringed wobegon sharks (that’s the front end of one in the picture), a rather shy octopus and two huge schools of fish. At one point we were all in our own little holes in the fish school, with all of them swirling around us. Very nice, but the pictures don’t do it justice.

The second dive was more of the same. Worse visibility meant the pictures are barely worth showing. On the other hand, it was 31 degrees and sunny. If you’re wondering where the English summer is, it’s enjoying a fine winter in Australia!