Captivating Depths

My quests in the blue world were not without challenges, some phenomenal but mostly intriguing.  Summing it up I enjoyed every bit of these experiences, always coming home with renewed spirit and increasing admiration and love for the depths.  It meant traveling far, passing a night at the airport, spending fortune, neglecting comforts, entrusting my life to strangers and extending limits of my self-imposed modesty. Sometimes it was surprising I have gone that far. The scale of challenges is increasing. Yes, I have gone that far.

My search around the country is still on-going and few of them stand out for their mystic and charm, like sucking senses and left a diver fazed in wonder. Here are few sites that captured my heart and curiosity, it felt like I can’t get enough from my descent on its depths.

  • Pescador Island, Moalboal
    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This lowly island held surprising secrets, the phenomenal sardine’s run will stir your curiosity how  these           millions of small fish come together and synchronize for a tornado.  It is so tempting to come and be amongst in their assembly and get lost in their midst!
  • The Canyons, Puerto Galera

    Dropping at Escarceo Point, drifting fast with the currents passing field of colorful acropora corals, and race over  several drop-offs to reach the Hole in the Wall. Steadying for the entrance, I was completely surprised as I was sucked in the hole in a split second!  There, the Canyons teeming with marine life.

  • Akitsushima Maru, Coron

    All the World War II wrecks concentrated in Coron Bay gave me that rush for the penetration but Akitsushima is different. She is simply beautiful, one of the few true warships among the wrecks. We penetrated chambers, crevices, holes and square openings.  Mysterious and truly engaging, the dark and its secrets and historic value held so much attraction to me.  Its externals is teeming with fish life, remnants like broken crane, canon ball hole, artillery and funnel.  It is an advance dive due to depth and currents.

  • Monad Shoal, Malapascua

    Watching a flock of quirky thresher sharks swimming before me on early morning was one of my unforgettable underwater experience, I almost cried in amazement! I can sit at the viewing edge and watch them until they are gone. Threshers are deep inhabitants but a herd always gathers every morning at the shoal to be cleaned from parasites and algae on their bodies by wrasses, more of a symbiotic relationship as these wrasses were fed from the sharks.  Monad offer guaranteed sightings everyday on early mornings!

  • Banaug Shoal, Mantangale

    The shoal is about 22 meters depth from the surface but this underwater hill can never be outdone in terms of diversity in marine life.  The swarm of damsels, red snappers, angels, sergeants, wrasses amidst hard corals and tangling soft corals, it is always as colorful as it was. Moray eel, stone fish, leaf fish, lion fish, nudis, sea stars are just few that inhabit the small hill.  It is always tempting to go deeper to explore what’s beyond.  This may not be in the diving map but its richness can be at par with exotic dive destinations.

Have you tried diving from any of these sites? I’m still in search for sites and I know I will never exhaust them in my lifetime.  There is yet a lot of secrets to unravel right here in my home country.

NB.  All photos courtesy of Angel using Tough 8000 with PT 045 casing

Revisiting Coron…

against blue sky

Heading for Calamian 

My fascination in Coron has never been put to rest, after two trips last year I still wanted to get back for one lofty reason – to dive and exhaust the remaining wrecks in Calamian.  The excitement and challenge in exploring the monsters is nagging my subconscious.  So catching our schedules and considering the weather, Angel and I planned for a return to Coron.  And as usual there was much to attend to at work, but time management and organizing things have become an art to accommodate more important pursuits much less my dive trips.  And I did forego  other schedules – exit conference, AGAP convention in Bacolod, meeting in CO, World Food Day celeb at the office and our community Sunday assembly.  Arriving midnight from work travel and packing up for over an hour, I slept late but have to wake up early the next morning. I have to be at office for important instructions, then rush at the nearest ATM for my cash needs! 

 Sitting at the pre-departure area, I was thankful all passengers were strangers. I still wanted my out of town trips to be quiet and discreet possible.  The Lord have heard our prayers for a good weather, it was a bright sunny morning! There were few air pockets as we approached the metro, as we hover I was imagining body of waters after the flood & typhoon, of course there was none!  Well, that’s the magic of the media, those watching the tv innocently thought there’s a big flood in the metro.  This time, there wasn’t much smog I saw, it was clearer I think – maybe the typhoons and monsoon rains have washed away the pollution a bit! J Surely, there’s always a  purpose even in misfortunes, for the better.

 I have much time to spare, our flight was still at 3pm, so I went to the airport café (Terminal 2) and took my brunch leisurely.  After my people watching at the terminal I took a cab for Terminal 3 and waited for the counter to open.  By chance, I struck up conversation with waiting passengers for Cagayan de Oro – just like me, proud Mindanaoans!  J I waited for Angel until he called up, catching up from work.  I boarded the bus last, obviously all are looking at me.  L  I climbed up with Angel on the aircraft – a Bombardier Q300 – a small plane but I guess better than the Dornier. We were seated apart and having one near the EXIT – I learned being one I have responsibilities in case of emergencies, I was given the assignment to read the instruction card – I thought I would just lean on my seat relaxed while watching the magnificent sights below. Getting on a small plane is lot better because you get a better and clearer aerial view of the islands – at 12000ft elevation.  It was bit drizzling and there were air pockets again when we approached the Calamianes – now I found the air pockets entertaining, the feeling of the craft going up and down is exciting! J The view is splendid – the scattered islands, the calm sea, green mountains, white beaches – so serene, so laid back. I caught sight of Banana Island, the herd of cattle at the ranch, the new airport building.  We touched down smoothly at the airstrip – bit washed by the drizzle. Indeed, the Bombardier is lot better….

 Great Escape

 We took the aircon PAL Express shuttle van for the town – not jeepney anymore! Going through the roads, I was impressed that the network is almost 75% cemented, last year it was just a dirt road and it was so dusty and following another vehicle seemed like a curse!  The view was breathtaking, the country scenery felt like Bukidnon, I was pointing out to Angel the cattles grazing on the meadows with the herons picking by the side – simply beautiful!  The van dropped us at Seadive Resort past 4pm – the travel was much shorter compared last time. There’s nothing much improvement in the town proper, things are quite the same.  As soon as we got our room, it felt like we wanted to start off our adventure!  J  But have to make calls first back at work to put things in order.  WE went to the diveshop to arrange for the dive trip – the European owner attended to us:  sites, equipments, time, filling up “Dr. No” form and requested for DM Nonoy as our dive master. We brought our own gears (except mask) so everything would be intact in the crates. I found myself smiling with Akitsushima, Okikawa & Lusong Gunboat as dive site for the morrow. J I was telling Angel we’re so blessed with good weather!

 It felt good to be back in Coron, last year I was left alone for my dive after all DIY friends (Batch 9) left.  I bought the fish id at the front desk I was eyeing last time, it was just too expensive but now I found it necessary –  after more than a year.  As planned we went to Coron Bistro for our dinner, I was telling Angel I felt intrigued to try dining with them – the pizza daw is yummy!  We’re both famished already… The staff was just friendly and had our Hawaiian Pizza quick, we didn’t wait long – I commended it’s too quick.  Other diners were foreigners indeed, but the food was just great – pizza, garden salad & fruit shakes – Angel and I enjoyed it a lot.  The small pizza was large – I burped with the three slices I got! J My headache (for lack of sleep) mysteriously gone even before we had our dinner…

 Akitsushima, Okikawa & Lusong Gunboat Plus Maquinit Hot Springs

 As usual I was up earlier the next morning for the preliminaries – my contacts, setting up the uw cam and packing. We got ready for the day about 7am, and went out side the resort and had our breakfast at a carenderia – cheaper and quicker we thought. We found out DM Nonoy can’t make it with us so we had DM Jaime instead, we had one joiner – Jan, a Danish national.  The cheery weather was just too perfect for our dive!  J We were transported by a speed boat to the dive  boat and cruised for over an hour until near Manglet island – we assembled our gears on our way… 

 We had a briefing from DM Jaime before our first descend at Akitsushima, it’s a deep dive and we need to hold on to the bouy line for the descent, and must stay close to the buddy.  Again, it was hazy at first and as we go deeper we sighted fishes until we saw it – like a monster lying there! We followed DM Jaime, going inside chambers, crevice, and square-like opening. It was dark but our torches served us well. It was devoid of any equipment, just the structure now.  It was one of the few true warships among the wrecks. We went around, went outside and sighted the broken crane, hole left by canon, part when guns had been, etc.  We ascend after 35 minutes at 114 feet as deepest!  Angel and I smiled to ourselves – it’s our deepest so far. J

 On our surface interval, we cruise to next site south of Concepcion Village near the Pearl Farm. We had our lunch too which I found too early, we need to wait for another hour for our next descent.  In between I called up Gay whom I had three missed calls, as usual the first question was my location – arrrghh!  Why is it that there’s always someone who’s tracing me? 

 DM Jaime take out 1 kilo weight from me – so now I only have 2 kilos weights – an improvement I guess!  leaf like nudiWe had our briefing again and geared up for Taiei Maru – an auxiliary oil tanker of the Imperial Japanese Navy.  It sits almost level and had maximum depth of 85 feet.  This time, Rommel was tasked to lead and DM Jaime at the back watching and following us. But there was much to see in Taiei – going through chambers, the deck, and inner part of the ship.  Penetrating the wreck is exciting – going down a hole, square-like opening and dark passageway.  It felt so free floating, flapping fins must be with care not to touch anything and without disturbing the silts.  The fish life is more abundant here and fortunately, we spotted the lone sea turtle but swam away so quickly. Oversized grouper, giant humphead parrotfish, lionfish, puffers, lot of nudis, giant clams, super big nudi swimming, fusiliers, sweet lips and lot more –  it was simply beautiful!  We ascend after 45 minutes with big smiles…patterned nudi

 We cruised for our last dive – now I always go for three dives, lesser than that is somewhat bitin. Actually the third site is a wish granted – I snorkeled twice on this site and once found divers enjoying photography while I was just on the surface. I was hoping to dive here as relaxation being too shallow – the maximum depth is only 12 meters.  We descend again after an hour interval, but instead of going through the wreck we swam to the surrounding marine life. I guess we need to follow the DM – a basic rule for safety.  We spotted trash and stumbled upon a fishing line, but don’t have the equipment for cutting, Angel picked up some but wasn’t able to take all – our DM is getting far already.  The environmentalist in us is hurting…  There was hard corals, basket sponge but didn’t find any sea fan or star feather.  After the safety stop, Angel and I chose to stay longer and explored around while Rommel and Jan ascend ahead.   It felt so liberating just swimming and floating amongst underwater life – the little mermaid in me is rejoicing!

 We cruised back to town feeling so pleased of our escape from the upland J.  As we got back at the resort, we arranged for the morrow’s hopping but after we canvassed outside. J  It was so tiring and as planned we headed for Maquinit Hot Springs after haggling for the round trip fare.  It was so relaxing but had to leave sooner as we were famished already. 

 To reward ourselves for a full day, we had dinner at the resort with their special menu for the day – mackerel in tartar sauce and crème caramel for dessert – yum!  But I guess I was too exhausted because after I laid my back on the bed I drift off to sleep…  Zzzzzzzzzzzz….

  Hopping Around

 We attended mass the next morning at the St. Augustine Church and waited almost 9am for our boat, Rommel happened to be our host for the day – the weather is so perfect!  We had our first stop at Twin Lagoon to catch up with low tide, we remembered  Sohoton as we got to the area  – rock islets covered with vegetations.  When I first came here, I was so fascinated with the inner lagoon.  The water level was just on the opening so we need to skin dive to go the other side but my snorkel was kaput.  We swam up in the inner lagoon but didn’t stay much long.

 We went next to Banol Beach – a beautiful white sand beach, we stayed longer here.  The immaculate white sands look so peaceful and idyllic and there were no people when we got there.  We leisurely took our lunch at the beach hut, Rommel entertained us with his stories. J  It felt so luxurious I felt so spoiled! I keep looking up the limestone cliffs as we dipped in the turquoise waters…

 skin diving!Another highlight was our next stop at Skeleton Wreck, I felt that familiar rush to skin dive the wreck. Angel and I geared up for our exploratory skin diving, the visibility was just too good. We splashed unto the water, swimming and diving like kids.  We took turns as we need to handle the cam steady enough for the photos. J

 We chose Siete Pecados as our last site, we wanted to see again the rich marine life in the sanctuary. But our spot was not good enough, instead of the colorful corals I saw rubbles and dead corals. But large banded angelfish came near our boat with other juveniles. They were so friendly it came near my hand perhaps looking fro food.  We played with the angelfish for awhile and swam coyly near the boat, Angel practicing to swim properly. J  Finally, we cruised back to the resort to wind up our leisure for the day.

 We bought wreck stickers, have our logbooks stamped at the diveshop and updated our logbooks.  We had our dinner again at the resort, every end of the day we’re so famished but sorry the food wasn’t yummy enough for our taste – Angel and I agreed on that, we remembered our faves at Margie’s and Bigby’s!  After packing up, Angel bid bye and left to catch with his boat back home….

 Towards Home Again

 Wake up earlier the next morning for final packing up, had my breakfast about 7am.  I need to be ready as the van will leave for the airport at 8am.  I turned over my key and was thankful that the driver helped me with my gear bag  to the van – truly there are angels around me.  I checked in and got the chance to buy something for pasalubong at the shop, I even got the chance to have some photos at the airport.

 The plane was on time and the trip was smooth except for some turbulence when we got near the metro but I enjoyed airpockets now.  We arrived on time, got a yellow taxi for Terminal 2 and rushed to check in for my flight back home.  Thankfully I didn’t see anybody I knew at the airport, at least I don’t need to talk much. J  Waiting for our boarding I took something for lunch – expensive but I don’t have the time to get down into the café.

 Sitting on the plane on my way home, I can’t help praising God for his goodness – again He arranged all things perfectly, always.  Smiling how I am enriched with the pleasure of experiencing again nature’s wonders and sharing with my buddy Angel.  I’m looking forward for our next trip 🙂 .  We touched down smoothly at CdO airport, arrived home perfectly sane and bracing myself for full days at work ahead.  The little mermaid in me lurking back in my innermost self….

Diving in Coron Waters!

explore the wrecks!

It was a bright sunny Monday morning and after a sumptuous Filipino breakfast, I went up to the diveshop to sign up for two fun dives. I learned I’ll join a German diving instructor (Manfred), who’s on a diving trip in Coron. Jasmine (diveshop assistant), collected the gears for me, trying to find my size. Earlier, she was eyeing on me asking things like – “no physical disabilities?”, “mentally sound & healthy?” but I signed no waiver. After some preliminaries, I got into the boat. The dive master, Manong Nonoy informed me that our baon would be bread and bananas only, suggesting that I’ll just take full meal during dinner. I don’t find it a problem since I feel comfortable diving with less food intake.

We started our cruise to Akitsushima Wreck – our first dive site – at Manglet Island which took one hour and forty minutes. Blue waters, blue sunny skies, green mountains. The waves rocking our boat….

Akitsushima Wreck

A Japanese Seaplane Tender 118 m long located between Culion & BusuangaIslands, near MangletIsland. N 11*59. 218′, E 119*58. 417′

The IJN Akitsushima was a seaplane tender/carrier. The ship displaced 4724 tons, had a length of 118 metres and was 15.7 metres wide. The ship was powered by four diesel engines driving twin props, a total of 8000 shp, giving a maximum speed of 19 knots

Akitsushima was armed with 10 25 mm anti-aircraft guns, four five inch (50 cal) guns and carried one large Kanwanishi flying boat.

The Akitsushima is a very big warship laying on her port side. She was hit near the stern where the flying boat rested on the metal tracks and sank immediately. The ship was almost torn into two pieces. The flying boat disappeared. Only half of the metal on the starboard side and half of the metal on the bottom of the ship kept the stern from separating from the rest of the ship. The internal damage is impressive.

The crane used for lifting the seaplane out of the water is intact. The crane is lying on the sandy bottom and attracts schools of giant batfish and barracudas. One mounting of a 3-barreled AA (anti-aircraft) gun is still present at the front of the flying boat tracks. This is a fascinating dive where you can see giant groupers, schools of barracuda hiding under the bow, and yellow fin tuna.

Due to depth and metal hazards within, no swim throughs are allowed without wreck diver certification. Wreck divers can make an impressive penetration into the engine room to see the four engines. The gears and machinery for operating the crane are the main objects of interest for a penetration into the stern.

Max depth: 35 or 36 meters, average depth about 26 to 28 meters. Recommended certification level: Advanced Open water Diver. For penetration: PADI Wreck Diver specialty.

I wasn’t expecting to be diving at the wrecks as my certification is only for open water diver. But Divemaster Manong Nonoy who speaks Visayan as he hails from Escalante City, was kind. He told Manfred, he’ll be accompanying me as I don’t have a buddy so Manfred will be alone. The waters was bit rough, I descend through the bouy line slowly as I equalize, Manong Nonoy with me. At first it was hazy, banner fishes emerged as we continue to descend. Then the wreck appeared, like a big monster lying there. We got into the deck and I feasted with everything I saw – such rich marine life! Lion fishes, bat fish, angel fish, butterfly fish, surgeon fish, colorful anthias among others…. There was that snake-like specie in white, my first time to see such thing. Colorful sponges, hard & soft corals, feather star, nudi branches… Real amazing! Manong Nonoy signaled we go inside but I signaled back for no — I know I’m not allowed (for sure my dive instructor will disapprove). But he held my hand as we go through an entrance like crevice. Wooooooo! The walls rusty and the insides dark, he gave me the light as we penetrated on our way. I passed by a rusty wall with reefs, suddenly something moved – I examined closely and found out it’s some kind of a big clam attached to the wall. Yikes! Few critters are watching me I guess. JIn few moments we got out into the open, we didn’t spot Manfred. We ascend slowly through the bouy line equalizing again, had our safety stop before we finally surfaced…

We went down at 28m in 37 minutes, not bad…. While having our surface interval, we had lunch of bread & bananas cruising to our next dive site. Manfred was story telling until we had our second dive at Tangat Wreck.

The Tangat Wreck

A Japanese Freighter sitting upright in approximately 30 mts of water and located very close to Tangat Island in Coron Bay. N11*58. 291′, E 120*03. 707’S

The Olympia Maru was 122 metres long and almost 17 metres wide, displacing 5612 tons. The ship was originally powered by a steam engine but during 2 June to 2 August 1930, an oil two stroke six cylinder engine producing 582hp was installed. The ship was built for Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha Ltd and was owned by them right up till it sank. It was requisitioned by the Japanese Defence Forces during the War but was still owned by Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha Ltd.

A very good dive spot with a variety of marine life. Large shoals of banana fish, giant bat fish and giant puffer fish, especially around the mast, bow and stern. There are also specimen crocodile fish and scorpion fish so be careful where you put your hands. Easy penetration at the cargo rooms. It offers a good opportunity to discover wreck diving. Max depth: 28-30 meters, deck level 18-24 meters.

Manong Nonoy was again with me, we descend slowly from the bouy line as I equalize. It was bit hazy at first until we saw the wreck… We got down on the deck, filled with colorful reefs. We toured around, then we went through a square entrance just enough for a diver to penetrate – I was bit hesitant again but Manong Nonoy went first signaling me to follow. Pinnnngg! My tank bump a little bit as I went through. J So wonderful – big lion fish (first time to see one that big), sweet lips, oversize grouper, bat fish, butterfly fish, big puffer fish (looks funny), colorful nudi branches, a stonefish!, sea anemone with anemone fish & clown fish. The critter on the wall was there also, which closed when I got near! We went some stretch of the wreck. Finally, we sighted Manfred who pointed to us the stonefish – great find! We had our safety stop on the rusty ship pole covered with reefs, with anthias swimming around. So fantastic, these colorful fishes swimming around so close to my face. We finally surfaced, Manong Nonoy tagging along to assist me in taking off my gears while on waters. The tank is heavy for me and I need to be careful with my shoulders.

We went 25m in forty five minutes.As they were going for another dive for Manfred – we talk leisurely for their surface interval as we eat bananas again. Manfred wanted to find a crocodile fish and a mermaid.  Perhaps he heard about Dyesebel!   😀 We moved to East Tangat Gun Boat for a short 20 minutes dive for the two guys.

East Tangat Gunboat

This ship was a small gunboat or submarine hunter 40 meters long. Location: Inclined on the coral reef on the east side of TangatIsland. The wreck is 40 meters long, 500 gross tons, it lies listing to starboard down a sandy slope, with the stern at 22m and the top of the bow at 5 m pointing 320 degrees This dive site is good for wreck diving beginners and underwater photographers. It is also a lovely dive between deeper wreck sites. The wreck starts at only 3 meters down so even snorkelers can see the shape and explore the bow of the ship.

To make most of my time, while waiting for the guys to surface I went to snorkel near the wreck. I sighted a handful of angelfish as I got into the water. Going further, I got into a vast of coral reefs! Amazing sight – I went on to find rich marine life… Nudibranches in yellow, brown, violet; super big hard corals in white, yellow, purple, green; sea fans, and sponges. There was also a starfish, big black sea urchins, butterfly fish, fusiliers, a yellow puffer fish! I sighted also a lone hawkfish – I thought they dwell in deep waters only. Wonderful sights, I never thought I had encounter with those creatures in such shallow waters. J I was so engrossed I didn’t notice I had gone far from our boat. I swam further to catch a glimpse of the wreck, I sighted its bow end only. I swam near the boat when I notice the two divers were surfacing already.

We got all into the boat and cruised back to town, with a smile in my face I tried to etch in my hard drive up in my head all the things to scribble on in my logbook on my marine life encounters I have for the day. But while few things can be written about this experience, a lot more of these will be left unsaid or unwritten but forever impressed in my memory.

on a surface interval…

Exercises from my Dive master today:

Clearing my mask
Using his alternate air source and back to my own regulator
Diving inside a wreck, penetrating a wreck

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