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This was a very low-budget tripÖ probably around to 2/3 of the cost was the diving/gratuities. A travel tip: my friend Ken and I live in Seattle, but by driving 1.5 hours north to Bellingham we got tickets on Alaska/Horizon that were under $300 each, round trip. When we got there, we stayed with his relatives, and borrowed their car. I had a few nice meals, but nothing particularly memorable.
I got a multi-day dive package with Aaronís Dive Shop and another with Kaimana Divers. I thought that using two might allow me to see more dive sites (this turned out to be true). Also, I figured if one of the shops sucked at least half my diving would still be good (this was moot). Plus Iím indecisive. I picked Aaronís based on the recommendation of Kenís brother in law, and picked Kaimana based on some of Gabe Scottiís posts in this forum. Of course, I also checked out their reviews on Yelp and some other sites, including this one, as well as researching at least Ĺ dozen other shops.
I was happy with both shops. A few miscellaneous/general comments: Both shops will meet you at the shop, the harbor, or pick you up. The dive boats/sites were not crowded. Although we shared some boats, the instructor to student ratio for my groups was between 1:1 and 1:5. I have small lungs, so Iím used to getting shorted on my bottom time by a heavier-breathing buddy. On this trip I didnít have a buddy, so I was always paired either with the dive instructor or another diver with much more experience, so I got to use up most of my air on most of my dives. Iím an amateur UW photographer, but I didnít feel rushed or corralled. I stayed within a reasonable perimeter and was left alone, other than when instructors pointed out unusual sea life. There were only three negatives: (1) the coral is not as nice as the other places Iíve been diving, (2) because it was winter, there are fewer accessible sites, so I repeated a few sites (I did 14 dives in 5 days), and (3) the divers in Oahu seemed more hands-on than Iím used to. I saw divers and instructors (keep in mind that most of my dive boats included people from multiple shops) touching critters, standing on the bottom stirring up sand, and that sort of thing. Personally, Iím okay with getting fewer photos if it means disturbing the wildlife less. It wasnít severe enough that I felt I should say something, but I guess Iíve had ďdonít touch, donít touch, donít touchĒ drilled into me to the point that I feel guilty sometimes just for using a strobe and take many of my photos from an upside-down position.
Okay, now some specifics about the two shops.
Aaronís has an actual dive shop (stuff for sale, repairs, etc). I never met the owner. There seem to be a half-dozen or more employees. I went out on dives with several different instructors, all of whom were good. On my first dive I discovered that air was leaking slowly into my BC. I dealt with it that day by just dumping the air periodically. Because Aaronís does repairs, when we got back I asked if they could check it out. The manager said taking it apart was too complicated to do so quickly, and there might be problems getting parts. I was leaving, a little disappointed, thinking I might have to use a rental BC for the rest of the trip. Then the boat driver (Scotty something) pulled me aside and suggested that I leave it with him and go get lunch. I did, and when I got back to the shop he was gone. It seems he just lubricated the part on the BC that was sticking, and when I used it the next morning it worked perfectly. I really appreciated both that he went out of his way to take care of me and that he fixed it for free (I tried to pay but was turned down, so I tipped extra the next time I dove with them).
The other thing that impressed me about Aaronís was the last dive I did on Oahu, a pair of night dives off a boat. There were a dozen things that went wrong, any one of which could have ruined the night, but the instructors (Chris Knight and his significant other; I canít recall her name) saved the night. First, I misunderstand the directions, so I was waiting several blocks away with my gear and no car. When the boat was supposed to leave they called my cell, figured out where I was, and retrieved me in the van. We were going to dive the Mahi wreck, but when Iíd tried to dive there that morning the current was too severe. I was not excited about doing it at night, both because of the current and the short bottom time. The instructors revised their plan, and we dove two different sections of the second site instead, a good idea. Near the end of the first dive, my light went dim. By the time I was on the line ascending it crapped out completely. One of the instructors stayed with me on the line sharing hers while my computer plodded through a safety stop. I learned that the shop failed to tell her/Chris that Iíd needed lights in the first place, and a couple other diversí lights died too, but theyíd come so well prepared that we still had just enough working lights for the second dive. Finally, most seriously, it turned out that one of the divers with us that night hadnít been diving in many years, and she was a complete mess. Among other things, she didnít bring or ask for a prescription mask so she couldnít read her gauges, she lost multiple pieces of equipment, she was non-compliant with instructions, she kept letting go of the ropes and drifting, and at one point she began making an uncontrolled ascent (fortunately, one of the instructors grabbed her and at least slowed her down, and very fortunately we weren't deep on the Mahi!). The instructors kept their cool, handled the situation like professionals, and managed to deliver two really enjoyable dives for the rest of us. When the two instructors, one other diver, and I were in the van on our way back to the shop, we started talking about the situation. Rather than venting about the woman, the instructors focused on ďHow could I have communicated better with that diver ?Ē and ďHow could I have made the situation safer?Ē I found that remarkable.
I did the other half of my dives with Kaimana Divers, which is hidden in a warehouse area, clearly not expecting walk-ins. My first two trips were with Drew. He has excellent eyes (particularly for frogfish and nudibranches, and one dive he found two dragon eels). On the second trip the only customers with Drew were my friend Ken, who was trying a Discover Scuba dive, and me. It was Kenís second time doing Discover Scuba, and, unlike his first experience, they made it really enjoyable for him.
I had four more dives with Drew scheduled for Sunday, but it turned out he was going to a couple of sites Iíd already seen, including one site Iíd seen twice. I was planning to make the best of it when I got a call from the owner, Gabe. He offered that instead of going out again with Drew, I could go with him on a special dive on a fabulous boat to a couple of sites known for having sharks. I agreed immediately. Sunday morning I was nervous , not because of the sharks (that was the attraction!), not because it would be my first time diving Nitrox and doing back-to-back deep dives, and not because the Apex conference meant half the streets were closed and I was late. My worry was that I seemed to be the least experienced diver on the trip by a significant margin, the only non-local, and I didnít want to be the weakest link. Anyway, the dives ended up being spectacular, and I couldnít thank Gabe enough for giving me the chance to have that experience. The next day all the other customers backed out of my last trip out with Gabe, but instead of cancelling he found a friend who was taking out a couple of divers and we went with them. He showed me how to customize some settings on my camera, took me on two great dives, and I got some of the best photos Iíve taken.
Okay, regarding Oahu. The area is very focused on wrecks (boats and planes), presumably because the coral is not very impressive (as compared to the Virgin Islands, Cozumel, New Caledonia, etc). However, the fish and other critters are diverse, some are unique, and many are so accustomed to having divers around that they arenít as skittish as some other places. Iíd hoped to do some shore dives, but I didnít have a buddy and it sounded like thatís not done as commonly as books/websites Iíd seen suggested.
Highlights of the trip included about a half-dozen different kinds of eels, a wreck dive during which I descended into a school of more than a dozen spotted eagle rays that hung out with us for the whole dive, friendly turtles that almost posed for the photos, and the sharks (multiple whitetip reef shark, including a baby, and Galapagos sharks, including two that looked pure white, like albinos or something). Also, I was very pleased with the results from my new Canon S90.
Iíve never done this before, but Iíll try to upload some photos with this post. Most were taken with a Canon S90 (with the Canon housing), some with a Canon D10 (no housing, max depth 33, or if youíre a dope like me more like 50). If the photos donít come through or if you have questions about either camera, the dive shops, or whatever, feel free to contact me.
Great report, and it sounds like you had a good time. FYI- the shark you have labelled as a "Galapagos Shark" is instead a sandbar shark. The difference lies in that tall dorsal fin pushed slightly forward on the shark. Where did you see the sharks?
thank you so much for your positive comments and feedback provided in your trip report. A diver here in Hawaii out on the boat with us today mentioned your SB post to me out of the blue. He was saying how we had received some high praise from a diver named Emily, and said that he was happy to be diving with me. It was an absolute pleasure to hear that; and especially when praise is received for dives conducted under challenging conditions. I passed on your comments and thanks to Captain Scotty also, and to my wife Macy, all of whom you mentioned in your feedback.
With regards to your comment on dealing with diver issues during dives and reviewing the situation after the fact to seek out ways that things could have been done better: This is something that I love to do, and thank you for highlighting it. I never would have expected someone to notice or comment on that. I actually maintain a written journal of things that I see go wrong on dives, whether I'm leading them or someone else, to provide myself with a broad spectrum of examples of "error chains", and I keep notes on what tools, methodologies, best practices and good habits work to prevent or solve the problems and keep error chains from developing further. It's a great mental exercise, and one that I find myself doing on the drive back to the shop after every dive charter. It always puts more tools in my Instructor toolbox. Sorry to geek out here, but I am fascinated by the human thought processes and real-world logistics involved with diving and dive charters, and with the concepts and real-world practice of minimizing risk, eliminating chances for error and error chains, and learning to recognize potential problems before they actually become a "Problem". I think most dive professionals do this also, but I am trying to capture it in an organized fashion and hone these lessons into usable tools. What you saw was a part of that process. I started doing this when I took part in several Alaskan cross-country arctic expeditions, as snow-machine logistical support and arctic survival guide for Serum Run expeditions. (Serum Run - Iditarod Trail Nenana to Nome) If you think organizing a dive charter is hard, try going across 800 miles of Alaska wilderness in 20 days with 14 dog-teams and snow-mobile transports, in the dead of winter at 40 below! It is a true exercise in logistics, organization and safety, and there are definite, in-your-face, inescapable consequences to failure. Lessons learned under those conditions have served me well.
I feel true pride when I read in your comment that we were able to turn a recognizably potentially uncomfortable night out on the boat into two really enjoyable dives for you. That makes me feel that my work in this direction not only pays off in terms of successful diving logistics and safety, but that it is also a noticeably more comfortable diving experience for divers cognizant enough to see everything that is going on during the charter, both in and out of the water.
I will strive to continue to deliver this level of service on charters that I run, and I encourage this methodology in other dive professionals who I train in our shop. I hope that we have the chance to provide you with great diving again in the future.
Chris Knight, PADI MSDT
Aaron's Dive Shop
Kailua, Hawaii firstname.lastname@example.org
PS, thanks for the great photos as well; keep up with the UW photography! I would enjoy seeing more of your pictures.
Smellzlikefish: Thanks for the correction on the shark ID. I hadn’t looked it up yet, just named the file in the short term based on what someone said, but I can see that you’re right. Also, after reading about their temperaments, I’m glad to hear it was a Sandbar not a Galapagos.
Koozemani: All over, like Gabe said. I believe I saw 10+ sites. The dives off Hawaii Kai were probably my favorite overall dives, other than the dives with the sharks.
Chris: My pleasure. I appreciate people who do their jobs well and who care about doing their jobs well, so I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for mentioning my post to Captain Scotty and Macy. I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and they deserve it too. I also had fun diving with Ryan (and listening to GirlTalk in the van), but I had to stop writing at some point. My report was like a lot of things I do: a little late, a lot wordy, but precise. Did you get my emails with a few photos from the night dives? I sent them a couple of weeks ago.
Gabe: Thanks again. If I’m out your way again I’ll definitely get in touch.