August 2, 2000
Jonathan Bird - Director of Photography
Tom, Christine and I got up really early today. We were on Kwajalein, since Tom and I had to pick up Christine and see Cliff off. We caught the first flight to Roi so we could go diving. The crew up on Roi knew we were coming, so I expected to see them ready to go as soon as we arrived.
Our plane touched down on the tarmac at Roi, and we exited out into the humidity and bright sun. Even at 7:00 AM the sun is hot! Tom took off to go and get the golf cart, while Christine and I rounded up her luggage. We took a few pictures of the airport and I pointed out such notable island features as ALTAIR, the radar which is so powerful that it screws up dive computers, televisions and marine radios. Tom arrived with the cart and we hauled back to the rooms.
I grabbed a couple of Christine's bags and headed to the room. Inserting the key and throwing the door open, I saw a shape in Cliff's bed. "Wait a minute....we sent Cliff home yesterday. What the...?" Brian Greene turned over and awoke in great surprise. "Hey, who invited him in here??" I asked to nobody in particular. He got up and headed into the bathroom while I cut through into Gator and Mark's room. They were both out like lights. "Hey, get up you lazy bastards! Ya call yourselves explorers?" In actuality, this was the first time on the trip that I was up before them, so I had to make a great show of it. Soon we were up and heading towards the boat for our day of exciting diving.
Today the recompression chamber on Kwaj was unavailable due to scheduled maintenance, and officials from Kwajalein Atoll requested that scuba diving be limited to 50 feet depth or less. Consequently, we headed out to find a shallow coral head in the lagoon to get some footage of the local reef life. Out in the lagoon the bottom is around 200 feet deep, and periodically there are areas where the coral has grown upward toward the light in a dome-shaped tower. On Kwaj they call them coral heads, but Australians know these formations as "bommies." We knew there were several nice coral heads located south of Roi-Namur Island and headed out in that direction. (We saw a bunch of them from the air flying up from Kwaj, but we didn't have the GPS to mark them.)
When we arrived at a coral head, I would throw on my mask and jump in to size it up. We turned down a couple of coral heads, looking for one which was absolutely perfect. Finally we found one that was about 100 feet across with a drop off of about 45 degrees. The top of the reef was only 8 feet deep! We had outfitted the rebreathers with a 60% orifice and blended 50% nitrox for shallow diving. With this combination, we were breathing about 40% nitrox and the rebreathers produced nearly no bubbles to frighten the fish. Off of the coral head, gray and white tip reef sharks were patrolling the waters.
On the reef itself, there were many crinoids, small Tridacna clams, imperial angelfish, parrotfish and numerous other colorful fish. I spent the first 20 minutes sitting still on the side of the bommie waiting for a curious Gray reef shark to get close enough for a still photo. After waiting that long I got two exposures. One was OK, and the other wasn't. Then I went back to the boat for the video camera.
I filmed the shallow reefs with the sparkling light dancing on the coral. I found a great crinoid with a school of tiny fish taking refuge in it's arms and I spent a while filming that. After that, just about everyone had left the water. Tom and I spent a few minutes getting shots of him swimming over the reef and looking at things. After about 1 1/2 hours we ended the dive and climbed back into the boat for some lunch.
The second dive was a quest to see GIANT Tridacna clams. We headed over to sand island, a spot which has a very appropriate name. The island is no more than a bunch of sand which has collected on a coral head. Nothing grows there. But for some reason, the reefs around this island sport some incredibly large Tridacna clams. We thought it would make a pretty neat segment to see a diver next to a clam the size of a suitcase. Christine was jeglagged from her trip and decided to sit the dive out. She went down below and stretched out for a nap in the bunk while the rest of us donned our gear for another trip to the reef.
Within 3 minutes of getting in the water, Mark had already located 3 clams. We found 3 more as we explored the reef. If only it were always this easy!! The reef was exceptionally pretty here and we saw a variety of interesting creatures, including a few species of coral we had not seen elsewhere. The occasional reef shark cruised by to check us out, and schools of colorful fish flitted about around us as we silently made our way through them.
Overall, a very exciting and interesting day. Gator was in reef heaven, but frustrated that he couldn't get close enough to the fish. When you're as big as Gator, even a rebreather won't let you sneak up on the fish! Next we need camouflaged wetsuits with countershading.
Tomorrow we have a day of surface photography planned to document all the ruins around Roi. It's going to be HOT!! I can hardly wait.