by Ron Youngblood

Moorish Idol

It was a dive of firsts, not that hard when the prospect of visiting the sweet mistress is still enough to make you wake up in the middle of the night, thrilling with anticipation.

The Seadiver II looked good as she trundled into her parking spot at the Kihei Boat Ramp. Steve, Billy and Paul made up the crew. Nothing like shipping out on a dive boat with three captains who are also dive masters.

The Diver slipped through the smooth waters to Reef's End on Molokini. Bill said we would be going down to 130 feet and then drifting back along the wall where Steve would pick us up.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Sometimes it is just ignorance. At any rate, the depth of the dive sounded interesting. It was only some 40 feet deeper than I had ever been. I didn't know enough to be impressed. Like always with the ERDA crews, I felt safe as houses.

Off the side in the welcome welter of bubbles I rushed the descent, popping ears and blowing in my low-volume mask to keep my eyes from bugging out.

The water was light-blue to dark blue in that kind of never-ending visibility that marks most dives at Molokini.

Moving easily, Billy's black Scubapro flippers barely seemed to move behind his dribble of bubbles.

The depth was the first first. The second first was a puhi (stout moray) wound under a small castle of coral. Billy pointed out the critter and moved on. I noticed Mr. Puhi had his head sticking out one side of his coral house. On the other side, you could see his speckled body through big holes.

Mr. Puhi wasn't the first eel I'd seen. They are very common in shallower waters around Maui. I'd heard the stories and even seen a scar or two where a diver had stuck his hand in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, Mr. Puhi was looking over there and it didn't look as if he could turn around that quickly in his coral condo.

Slowly, I stuck my hand in one of the condo's side ports, keeping a close eye on Mr. Puhi's head (the part with the teeth). I reached in and stroked the smooth, soft skin with a finger first and then with my hand. Glad to meecha, Mr. Puhi. That was the second first.

Billy was working his way along the wall, near a line of ledges. So much to look at that most of it didn't register. Billy is hanging back from the wall, pointing his big light at something in the wall.

Swim over and take a look.

I started laughing in my regulator. There was a sand-covered shelf in the wall. Standing on the shelf were two big ula (lobsters). I mean, BIG ula. They were standing side by side, facing out. Their long antennae waving in the current sweeping the wall. I started to move on. Billy still had the light trained on the big "bugs." He motioned. I looked again. Behind the ula, snuggled up against the rock, was a mano-lala-kea (white-tipped reef shark.) The mano was just a pup, snoozing away his morning.

Seeing a sleeping mano was the third first.

Totally bemused by what I'd seen, the pictures flickering through my memory, when it was time to go up, I headed off in the wrong direction, taking my time. I felt a gentle hand on an ankle. Billy had been watching. He steered me out from the wall to where Steve could pick me up.

It was a dreamy swim up to a safety stop and still more time to think and remember, a dive of first.

-- Ron Youngblood
Visit the bottom of the Sea (dive #18)