After a couple of days of sorting out logistics, we’re finally ready to get in the water! Because the research dives we will be doing on this expedition are somewhat extreme, we don’t want to just jump right into the great depths. Instead, we need to conduct a series of shake-down dives, to make sure all of our equipment (and ourselves) are ready for the more extreme dives to come.
Our normal place for such shakedown dives at Pohnpei is Palikir Pass. Famous for being a surfing spot at other times of the year, “P-Pass” is also a convenient 10-minute boat ride through the placid lagoon from NIHCO, where we can tie the boat to a mooring line (no anchor to break coral, or hoist back into the boat) in shallow water, and then drop down as deep as 165 feet / 50 meters in the pass itself to test our gear.
Of course, testing gear is not the only benefit of doing these dives. Palikir Pass is also a spectacular dive site in its own right. As long as we avoid the peak tidal shifts (when water flows swiftly into or out of the lagoon through the pass), there is often very little current. The walls of the pass are full of gorgonian and scleractinian (sotny) corals, and a wide variety of colorful reef fishes. Out near the seaward end, we consistently find small sharks and schools of barracuda, jacks, and other fishes (particularly in the late afternoon).
It is also a very peaceful dive site. At one point on the third shakedown dive, as the late afternoon light faded towards twilight, the water at the bottom of the pass was so still and relaxing, that I was compelled to kick back in the sand and blow “air-rings”!
After the dive, we’re always in high spirits during the boat ride home. With the sun setting behind us, and rainbows against the darkening skies ahead, it’s about as magical a moment once can have!
Now that we are confident in our equipment, we’re ready to start doing some more serious dives!