Friday, August 31, 2007

My First Dives on Tinian

No, that's not a mermaid on the front of the Aquajet boat, it's Bev. You probably know her better as our Canon wrist accessory model, and yes she was on the job on this dive as well. This past Sunday, I went with Ken, Crystal, Eric, Dixie, Bev, Greg, the captain from the USS Bonneyman and one of his crewmembers and Atsuko. It was a perfect day to go to Tinian as the water was as close to flat as it ever gets around here. I was a bit apprehensive about taking the trip, as I'm very prone to getting sea sick, but Crystal promised she would give me a little blue pill that would take care of that problem for me. It could have been a Tic Tac for all I know, but I didn't get seasick, so I was happy - thanks Crystal.

We were all hoping to see dolphins on the trip over, but no such luck, all we got was flying fish. The trip went fairly quickly though and then we were at the Tinian Grotto. The first thing I noticed was that the visibility in the water seemed so much more clear than what I usually experience on Saipan. I don't know if it's always that way, or if it was just because of the conditions on this particular day, but it was amazing. I was the first one to roll off the boat and as soon as I did I saw this guy. This huge stingray was just sitting on the bottom and didn't seem to care that we were there. He was very accomodating and let us take all the pictures we wanted. Very cool seeing something like that up close and personal on a day dive!

Unlike the Saipan Grotto, the Tinian Grotto is completely underwater. You drop down through a hole that is probably about 6' wide and maybe 15' long and it opens up into an underwater cavern that is much smaller than the Saipan Grotto, but similar in many respects. The walls are lined with purple and pink fine lace coral, and the ground is covered with small stones and rocks. Aside from the first opening we went in, it also has a big wide open mouth facing out to the open ocean and then it has another opening on the backside with ridges and rock outcroppings. And just like the Grotto on Saipan we managed to find Halgerda guahan and malesso nudibranchs in this one too. There must be something they like about places called Grotto. Either that or they just prefer caves and caverns.

This little fire or electric oyster is one of the first things I saw in a hole inside the Grotto. You usually find them tucked way back in where they are protected. When they are open and your light hits them, it looks like there is an electric current in the opening, very cool to see. I was looking on the outside wall of the Grotto when I saw this nudibranch egg ribbon. The ones I've seen from Halgerda guahan and malesso on Saipan were more of a tan color, but this one was a bright white, so I was a little stumped as to what may have laid it, until I looked a couple inches away and saw the suspect. Sure enough, it was Halgerda guahan, but why was the egg ribbon snow white on Tinian when it is tan colored on Saipan? Difference in diet? I don't know, but it will now be one of the questions that I'll be looking for answers to. Greg actually managed to spot a Halgerda malesso over on another part of the Grotto, so it was a good nudibranch day. And then Bev decided to try getting the Canon gig once again by being the perfect Canon wrist accessory model. It was kind of funny, as I was snapping away taking pictures of her camera floating on her wrist, Crystal was trying to get her attention and warn her that I was taking more of these pictures. Fortunately I got a few good ones before Crystal got her attention. But seriously, Bev got some amazing pictures on this dive and I encourage you to go check them out on her blog. Well except for the picture she has of some kind of a shiny object just breaking the surface of the water, that one you would be well advised to ignore.

After diving the Tinian Grotto, we went to the military dump site. Not nearly as impressive, because it's....well it's a junk yard. Yup, old military vehicle wheels, chasis and axles mainly, but you occasionally see a nudibranch crawling around on it. Not a whole lot of coral has grown on it surprisingly though. I did manage to find a few other things to take some pictures of though. This octopus wasn't being very shy around me at all, so we spent a good 15 minutes together, him going up and down, me just snapping away with my camera. And right before my battery died in my camera, I discovered this very cool scorpion fish. He was just sitting there posing for me as pretty as could be. So I made sure to point him out to our official Canon wrist accessory model so she could get some good shots of him too. It was a great day of diving in the waters of Tinian and it won't be the last for me. I was totally impressed with the Aquajet dive boat owned by Scott and Atsuko Eck, and would highly recommend it. A 2 tank dive to Tinian was only $50, which I think is quite a good deal. And Scott doesn't have one price for tourists and one for locals, he charges everybody what he has to in order to cover his costs. Great diving, great friends and great pictures, what more could you ask for?


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Special Thank You's

Now I know you've already seen a picture of the hat and plaque that Commander Mike Taylor of the USS Ford gave me for taking him diving, but it happens to fit in with my post today, so you're just going to have to look at it again. And plus I'm really, really, really proud of them! He certainly didn't have to go out of his way to have that plaque made and to find someone that could actually find the radio station to drop them off to me, but he did - that's just the kind of guy he is. I don't do what I do for money, I refuse to accept any actually. I do it because I love it, and I love having a chance to give back to the men and women who serve our country. To me that is thanks enough all by itself. But then when someone goes out of their way to express to you just how much they appreciated it, it means the world.

Now I certainly hope I don't embarass him, as that is certainly not my intention, but Commander Mike also has an amazing mother in law. I got an e-mail from Marie Cunningham yesterday, and I was so impressed that she would take the time to write me, I thought I'd share it with you as well.

"As his MILD (Mother-in-law-Dearest) I truly appreciate your outstanding report on our SILD (Son-in-law-Dearest), Cmdr M.J.Taylor. This had been a very different tour for this great man! It has been a rewarding and enjoyable tour for him. He does his job very well and is really appreciated by his crew for sure. I wish that all our servicemen were afforded a opportunity to have a tour such as this and if a different world, it would be possible. Again, thank you for making this port call one he will remember.

Marie Cunningham"

He obviously forwarded her my blog post about him so she got to read about our little Sunday morning adventure. I'm sure that his family back home appreciates seeing what he is up to and that he's being taken care of. But for this very sweet lady to go out of her way to send me, a complete stranger, an e-mail thanking me just blew me away. What an awesome thing to do. And how lucky is Commander Mike to have a mother in law who thinks so highly of him? It just let's me know there are still some 24 k gold people out there.

Then I also got an e-mail yesterday from OSSN Stephen Ware. If you read my previous post, you know that he was on gate duty the day that I picked Commander Mike up for his dive. I'll be honest, I really enjoyed taking the Commander and his Lt. out diving and sightseeing, but not just because he was the Captain of the ship, because he was a truly great guy. But I have just as much fun taking out everyday crewmembers as well, so that's why I offered to take Stephen and some of his friends out Monday afternoon. Here is Stephen's e-mail.

"Thank you so much for the Dive on Tuesday. I am sorry it took me so long to write to thank you for the once in a life time dive. We departed Saipan on Tuesday and have just arrived in Guam. Thanks to you, I have fallen in love with Saipan and I will never forget my experiences there. As a Sailor I do not make a lot of money and your thoughtfulness to include the crew and myself in your favorite dive spot has really made my year. I don’t think I have ever had more fun then when I went out on a day’s trip around the Island and the Grotto with you.

Thank you so very much for taking the time to show us around, show us how to dive and to just take the time to take a few Sailors out on some R&R. It really shows your love of the Island and of diving to take time out of your life, family and busy schedule to take Sailors out to experience sights that we might otherwise never be able to see. I cannot wait to come back to Saipan and believe me, if the crew gets any say in where we go next year, Saipan will be at the top of that list!

I just want you to know that word of our dive with you has spread like wildfire on the ship and there are many a jealous Sailor. I can’t think of anyone else kind enough to take their time out of their day to take a few crewmembers out like you did, and show them the ropes of diving. Thank you once again! If you ever start to stream your show on the internet, let us know, as you will always have a fan base on Ford!

Thank you again and I look forward to diving into your blogspot and reading more about what you do and where you dive. Thank you so much!

With Sincere Thanks and Admiration,
OSSN Stephen R. Ware, USN
USS Ford FFG-54"

I sent Stephen an e-mail thanking him for his very nice e-mail and let him know I wrote a blog about my afternoon with the 3 of them, and he wrote back again.

"Hi Harry,

Thank you for the reply and informing me of the article. While I am “patiently” waiting for the website to load as our internet is extremely sloooowwww, I would just like to say that Guam pales in comparison to the Saipan you showed me. It feels like a whole other world when in reality it is just a scant 90 miles or so away.

Youll be glad to know that you started a big trend here on the ship, lots of people are now going diving. I guess the three of us spread enough stories about our dive to make others want to go dive themselves. I just wish we were in Saipan to help the economy rather then add to Guam’s.

Thank you again for the tour and if there is anything we can get you from the ship’s store, a hat, coins, belt buckles, you name it…we would love to send to something. Just let us know what you are into so we know what to send.

Thanks again!
Stephen"

Stephen certainly didn't have to go out of his way to send me those 2 e-mails, it's not like he didn't thank me enough on Monday. If I had a buck for every time that I was thanked those two days, I could buy a couple rounds of drinks for everybody at the next meeting of Marianas Dive. But I did appreciate Commander Mike's gestures, and I also appreciated the e-mails from Marie Cunningham, and OSSN Stephen Ware. It let's me know that I made a difference to someone on those 2 particular days, and really, what more could anyone ask for?

This is what the Marianas Dive group is trying to accomplish. We want other divers, military men & women and whoever else we can attract to fall in love with the diving in the Marianas as much as we have. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but I think we're off to a pretty good start. What about you? Are you ready to get plugged in and see what you can do to help us in our vision? Marianas Dive will be meeting next Wednesday, September 5th at 6:30 pm at Oleai Beach Bar & Grill. If you want to be part of something exciting and make a difference, we'll see you then. (Unless you're still Brad in Korea at that point, because you still haven't arrived on Saipan yet, but not to worry, we'll be expecting you the next day!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

USS Ford Crew Tours

Meet OSSN Stephen Ware of the USS Ford. Stephen was on gate duty when I went to pick up Commander Taylor for his Sunday morning dive. I was chatting with Stephen since I showed up early and he mentioned that he'd love to go diving, so I offered to take him and a couple of his friends out Monday afternoon. He brought along HM3 Jacob Moody, and GSMFR Joshua Smith. This was each of their first dives ever, so I took them out one at a time and watched them like a hawk in the water. Afterwards each of them was going on and on about how cool they thought it was and what an awesome experience it was. I'm hoping that each of them caught the dive bug and will now pursue it and become dive bums as well. Stephen got to see this green sea turtle outside of the Grotto, how cool is that for your first dive? Turtles are just my all time favorite, and every time I see one I just become an official ocean critter myself. This is GSMFR Joshua Smith. He didn't get to see any turtles on his dive and the one we saw earlier wasn't considerate enough to stick around for us. I was able to show Joshua a Red Lionfish up close and personal though. It's not that common to see one this size at the Grotto, so it was a very good sighting. I always like to get very close when taking a picture of something like this so I can get good color and clarity, Joshua didn't seem to feel that same need. Lionfish don't ever seem to be in any hurry to get anywhere, they just kind of float on the currents and ride them back and forth, which usually makes for some very nice pictures.

Joshua was also the one who was down with me when I spotted the Japanese dive guide feeding the sharks once again. Fortunately he didn't really see what was going on, so he didn't know about it until after our dive. But he did get to see the sharks swimming around instead of just laying in their usual spot. And finally this is HM3 Jacob Moody. Jacob was the one who said he was the most nervous about being in deep water, but once he went under it was like he belonged down there. You would have never known he hadn't been diving for years and years. The rest of his family are all divers, and he is the only one who hadn't gotten into it yet. I think we can now consider him to have gotten his feet wet and caught the diving bug. While I was down with Jacob, I found a Halgerda guahan nudibranch that had just laid another egg ribbon, so I showed it to him and started taking a bunch of pictures of it. A few minutes later, Jacob motioned me over and showed me this. Jacob actually managed to find two of them mating! Again, just further proof that I somehow inspire these nudibranchs to multiply. But how cool was it than in just one short dive I had actually trained Jacob to be my seeing eye diver and spot nudibranchs for me! Then a few feet away on another rock, there were two more of them crawling around on the red algae. So it was a very cool dive for Jacob as well, who also got to see the Red Lionfish and a shark. Here are three sailors who all experienced their first dive ever in the Grotto. Definitely a day for them to remember hopefully! After that I took them to Bird Island, Suicide Cliff and Bonzai Cliff. Then Stephen wanted to thank me by buying me a drink and dinner, so we finished up our day at Oleai Beach Bar & Grill. Welcome to one of my every day's in paradise guys!

Axe Murderer Tours No More?

I had the distinct pleasure of taking Commander Mike Taylor of the USS Ford and one of his officers, Combat Systems Officer - Lieutenant James Carsner, out on a dive in the Grotto and little sight seeing tour of the north end of the island Sunday morning. I got a call Saturday night from Becky Castro who was part of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce greeting committee that greets the ships and the sailors when they come in. She said the captain would like to go for a dive and asked if I could take him out the next morning. I was already scheduled to do a boat dive to Tinian that afternoon, but that still left the morning wide open, so of course I said yes.

I told them I'd pick them up at the ship at 8 am the next morning. Of course I'm always early for everything, so I decided to take a picture of the ship as I was waiting for them. It was at that point that a guy with a gun told me that no pictures were allowed, you don't usually argue in those situations. I went up and talked to the guards, they said it was the captains orders that no pictures were to be taken of the ship, and that I would have to get his permission before taking any. I said that shouldn't be a problem since I was supposed to be taking him diving in a few minutes. Sure enough, Captain Mike Taylor was an awesome guy, and told me I was welcome to use my picture, that I could have a tour or anything else I wanted. I was happy just having my picture. So since I only had time to take the Commander and his officer on one dive, of course it had to be the Grotto. Unfortunately none of my pictures of them underwater really turned out that great, guess I was having an off day. But they both said they had a blast and loved diving the Grotto. As long as I can make someones day like that, I'm happy as a clam. They got to see sharks, and a few other cool fish and they both came back without any visible blood, so I considered the dive a success! Since of course I considered this an official Axe Murderer Tour, I had to take Mike & James to the scenic spots on the north end of Saipan. I get to call them Mike and James since I'm not military, and was really just their dive buddy, and of course I mean no disrespect to either of them by that. They were both awesome and we had a great time together. Our first stop was just down the road from the Grotto, the Bird Island lookout. I think they were both just a tad jealous that I live somewhere like this and get to see these things any old time I feel like it. Sorry guys, but you're always welcome to come back and join Axe Murderer Tours in your retirement if you'd like!

Next I took them up to Suicide Cliff, but I forgot to take any pictures of them up there. What do you expect, it's not like I'm a real tour guide! Now you see why I can't charge for my services. Oh well, they seemed to enjoy the view and read some of the inscriptions on the monuments. Here you see Commander Mike at the railing at Bonzai Cliff. Personally I think he'd make an awesome addition to Axe Murderer Tours, and he is starting to think about retirement. I didn't say he was going to retire, I just said he was thinking about it. And finally we stopped at the Last Command Post at Marpi. Here you see Captain Mike checking out all the old military hardware. I'm thinking he was feeling like a kid in a candy store. I think most of these guys have bullets and hydraulic fluid flowing through their veins, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. I am very thankful for our service men and women, and love having a chance to give back to them whenever the opportunity presents itself. See what I mean about a kid in a candy store? Something tells me that Commander Mike Taylor is a very cool guy, and one who I would love serving under if I was in the Navy. I hope he enjoyed his tour half as much as I enjoyed giving it to him. All good things must come to and end though, and this is where I left Mike & James.It's certainly one visit that I won't forget anytime soon, or ever for that matter, Captain Mike saw to that. He had a hat and a plaque delivered to me before they left for Guam, as a momento of their time with me. What a touching thing to do! I can honestly say that's the first time I've ever been given a plaque of appreciation for my efforts. Little do they know I'd be diving anyway, and I probably have more fun than they do, but still. The smile on my face when Becky Castro dropped these off to me had to be huge, I was blown away. And then I read the inscription on the plaque. How do you argue with a ships Commander? If he says the name of your tour company is now Hatchet Murder Tours Inc. instead of Axe Murderer Tours, and he actually puts it on a plaque, I think you have to just go with it. So now Commander Mike Taylor joins the official history and lore of Hatchet Murder Tours Inc. and gets credit with giving it it's new name. Therefore let it be known that from this point forward, my fictitious tour company shall be known as Hatchet Murder Tours Inc. as officially dubbed by Commander Mike Taylor of the USS Ford. I can't thank you enough Mike, and I will forever proudly display my plaque in my office to remind me of our very cool morning together.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Results!!!!

Ok, so I was a bit wound up this morning when I wrote my post about the shark feeding incident at the Grotto, and as a wise friend of mine pointed out, no blog should ever be written at 5:12 am. I admit that I was frustrated over the way the situation was handled on the previous shark feeding incident. At this point, I don't want to say too much as I don't want to jeopardize any pending case. But I would like to give credit to a couple different people who were very responsive and jumped right on this.

The first was Mike Nisperos at the Attorney General's Office. I notified Mike very early this morning. He's about the only person I know that gets almost as early a start as I do. Mike promised to follow up on it, and he was true to his word. I talked to him before I did the talkshow, so that didn't spur him on at all, he was already determined to do something about this. I couple hours later I got a call from one of his investigators asking me to come in for an interview about the incident this afternoon. They were very professional and responsive to my concerns. Where it goes from here is entirely up to them, but after having talked with them I am comfortable that they will do whatever they can. I know the Attorney General's Office has some very big issues on their plate at the moment, but their response to this situation shows that they realize the potential impact something like this could have on tourism. Hats off to Matt Gregory and Mike Nisperos for their blazing speed and response to this.

Then I also talked with Marianne Teregeyo at Fish & Wildlife about the situation this morning as well. Marianne just recently returned to the island after obtaining her college degree and is now in charge of the enforcement section. She has only been on the job for a few days, but is determined that her department will be responsive and will take any complaint seriously. I knew Marianne years ago when she was the Public Information Officer for the same department. I liked her and worked well with her then, and it seems like she's picking up right where she left off. She called me several times this morning following up on various aspects of it, and then also scheduled me for an interview with the enforcement officer she had assigned to this case.

These two people are quickly restoring my confidence that the system can work, and that we do have some people who genuinely care about their jobs and responsibilities. Yes, I jumped to some conclusions about the way things were handled the last time. Could something have been done differently after the first shark feeding incident, possibly - but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt seeing the way they responded this time around. There was also an incident over the weekend where someone saw some spearfishermen in the Managaha sanctuary. They took pictures of them and called it in to Fish & Wildlife. It is my understanding that Fish & Wildlife were also very responsive and actually caught the spearfishermen in the act. Maybe things are finally starting to change around here, and enforcement is being taken seriously.

So I probably jumped to some wrong conclusions this morning and was still caught up in the heat of the moment and outraged at what had happened. As of right now I have to say the response of our local government has knocked my socks off. Obviously I'll keep watching the case and keep you updated. The Grotto is our #1 dive attraction and deserves to be protected as such.

Shark Feeding Japanese Dive Guide Is At It Again!

Several months ago I caught a Japanese dive guide putting on a shark feeding show in the Grotto, our top dive spot on Saipan. I actually managed to get some video of him feeding the sharks, so I'll let you take a look at what he was doing before I update the story.






When this happened the last time, I notified the Department of Fish & Wildlife, Coastal Resources Management and the Attorney General's Office, since he is recklessly endangering not only other divers who don't know what is going on, but also all the unsuspecting swimmers above him in the Grotto. I'm sorry to report that to the best of my knowledge, none of them did a single thing about this. I understand that Fish & Wildlife did interview him about the incident, but they took no action against him, they just made him promise not to feed sharks in the Grotto again. It was also my understanding that the Japanese dive guide who goes by the name of Mariano and works out of Aquasmith dive shop promised he would not feed sharks in the Grotto again, since it is a sanctuary, and any harassment of the marine life is against the law.

Yesterday afternoon I had 3 navy sailors down in the Grotto and I was taking them out for a dive one at a time. I noticed the sharks over in the cave in their usual spot during the first dive, so I took Stephen down there to let him see a shark up close and personal. But on the second dive, they were gone. We went outside hole #1 and came back in through #2. I took Jacob over to the rubble patch just in front of #3, thinking the sharks might be there.

That's when I saw the idiot feeding sharks inside the Grotto once again. He had one Japanese tourist with him, and he was also using a spotter this time evidently, a free diver who was swimming above. As soon as he saw me, he tried hiding his chum bag and he got his tourist and headed for the safety stop on the rope. The tourist was obviously confused as to why the dive and the shark feeding was being cut short. I followed them up to the rope and got a few pictures. Here you can see his chum bag that contains the pieces of bloody meat hanging in front of him, and he is also still wearing his steel mesh gloves that he wears for protection. He was trying to hurry up and get them off before I got a picture of him. As soon as he got out of the water, he took his bag over to the backside of the rock and dumped the rest of the contents into the water, I'm assuming to dispose of the evidence. The one thing that I haven't mentioned so far is that there were several very small children swimming in the Grotto while all this was going on.Above you can see the Russian mother with her young daughter swimming near the rope. There was also a local guide who had a family of Japanese out swimming in the Grotto as well, they had 2 young daughters that appeared to be less than 7 years old.

When he is down there feeding the sharks, it whips them into a feeding frenzy and their behavior is drastically altered. The last time I witnessed this the sharks were quickly darting around, going right up to other divers seeing if they had any raw meat, and were even coming right up to the rope checking out the divers who were doing their safety stops there. Now let's suppose one of those little kids who were swimming happened to scratch or cut her leg getting into the water. If it was bleeding, would a shark in the middle of a feeding frenzy be able to distinguish between the bleeding cut on her leg and the bloody meat that the Japanese shark feeder was using? Personally, I think that's way too high a risk.

I gave our government the chance to do something about this problem the last time it surfaced, and they passed. Now I feel that I have no choice but to post a public warning about what is being allowed to happen in the Grotto. As long as this Japanese dive guide is allowed to continue with this risky, although very lucrative for himself, behavior, I don't believe the Grotto is a safe spot for swimmers. I can only hope that by being embarassed, it might spur our government into taking the safety of it's residents and tourists a little more seriously. This is an outrage that it ever happened in the first place, but it is abhorent that it is continuing and our government so far has decided to look the other way. This is a picture of the Japanese dive guide who is the shark feeder, he is currently sporting a beard. He drives a blue pickup truck with Cressi sub written on the back side of it, and the license plate # is ABM 016. If you see that truck in the Grotto parking lot, you should definitely think twice before going swimming. If you're as outraged that this is happening as I am, I encourage you to call the Attorney General's Office as soon as possible and express your feelings on the matter. But why stop there, I plan on letting the Governor know what I think of his variuos departments response to this situation, I suggest you do the same!

So what will happen from this point forward? Will Mariano continue feeding sharks in the Grotto because nothing will be done about it once again? Or will he be slapped so hard this time that he doesn't dare try such a thing ever again? You know I'll be watching this one closely to see what happens.

*The title and last line of this were modified after consulting with a wiser friend of mine.

Also by suggestion, here are some of the various phone numbers:
- Attorney General's Office - 670-664-2341

- Fish & Wildlife - 670-664-6000

- Coastal Resources Management Office - 670-664-8300

- Governor's Office - 670-664-2280

- Lt. Governor's Office - 670-664-2300

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Busy Weekend

I know that this will come as no surprise to anyone out there that knows me, but I pretty spent pretty much my whole weekend underwater once again, and I believe that I lead a charmed diving life. Diving like anything else is all about being in the right place at the right time, and I had several instances over the weekend where it just doesn't get much better. I went diving Saturday morning at the Grotto with Greg, we were specifically looking for nudibranchs to take pictures of. We both knew the places to look, and we didn't waste any time getting to them. Greg, who has much better eyes than I do for spotting these little guys got skunked. But I happened to stumble into this Halgerda malesso down at the bottom of the #2 hole. And the best part was, he was in a perfect spot to take his picture. I love being able to photograph them contrasted against the blue sky coming through the water, it just gives such vivid contrasts, and then when you throw in some red sponge coral, well it makes for the perfect picture. I spent probably close to a half hour with this little guy because he was on the move, so he was changing the background for the shots constantly. That means I get a much larger variety of pictures thanks to his being on the hunt. They are cool to watch because they just glide over whatever is in front of them and their foot and body just molds on top of it. I got to watch this one actually climb up over the top of this little hydroid and then go down the other side. As much fun as this is to watch, it's even more fun to take pictures of. I think I'm quickly amassing one of the largest photo archives of these guys in existence. Every time I see one of them, I'll shoot about 200 shots of it before moving on. You have to figure they're not all going to turn out, so you throw away anything that is slightly blurry or doesn't have quite the right feel to it, so you end up with maybe 100 shots that are all very nice. I'm learning that the experts like to have several different vantage points when displaying them, and having different color schemes and backgrounds is also a big plus. I'm about as happy as a pig rolling in the mud when I have a chance to just sit in one spot and take pictures of a nudibranch like this, especially when they're going out of their way to be an especially good model for me. And this was just the first dive of the weekend. I wound up taking the Captain of the USS Ford and one of his officers out diving Sunday morning, and then I took a boat trip to Tinian to dive the Tinian Grotto. So there will be more posts coming to cover those dives in the upcoming days. If your weekend was even close to as great as mine was, you've got a big smile on your face this morning! Have a great week everybody!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Phyllidiopsis sphingis

Thanks to Bill Rudman at Sea Slug Forum I now have a name and official identification for this little guy. Here is what Bill had to say about this particular nudibranch:

"Dear Harry,

This is a nice find. It's Phyllidiopsis sphingis which is known from a very few records from a few parts of the western Pacific, including Guam, Hawaii, and Madang in Papua New Guinea. If you look carefully you can see white granules scattered through the skin near the mantle edge. These are small glands but I suspect they increase the opacity of the mantle around the edge and enhance the 'blueness' and reflectivity of the border.

Best wishes, Bill Rudman"

You can go directly to the link for his comment on Sea Slug Forum. I knew that I was excited when I saw this little guy just because I had never seen anything like him before, but it's even more exciting when the experts get excited about it because it's something that there are very few records or pictures of. It's all part of why I think it's so valuable to share the information we find and gather, you just never know what piece of the puzzle you might be holding and how significant it might be.

Well, as much as I enjoy writing here and blogging, it's time for me to go to work. Yup, that's right, I can actually call diving work now since I'll be writing about it in Stars & Stripes. So...................Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work I go, with my mask and fins, and my oversize tank Hi Ho, it's off to work I go!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Writing for Stars & Stripes

I got an e-mail yesterday that equally surprised and shocked me. Since I've started writing a blog, I've heard from a lot of different people. It put me back in touch with my step brother in law (I think that's the proper term) Bill, and I've literally heard from people all over the world. A guy named DJ was reading my blog in Japan and contacted me about finding someone to take him diving on Saipan. I just find it interesting the way things work and how things come together. Anyway, DJ wrote me yesterday asking if I'd be willing to write weekly stories for Stars & Stripes to run in the Guam and Japan papers promoting diving and tourism on Saipan. Now as if that wasn't shocking enough, he told me they would actually pay me for the stories. That's like telling a seal you'll pay him to eat fish, SWEET! And get this, they don't just want my stories, but they want my pictures as well! Am I dreaming? Could this actually be happening? No, I won't be quitting my day job anytime soon, this is strictly a part time gig, but it's something I'm already doing here anyway, now I just tailor it for the military.

The cool thing is that this plays right into what we've been talking about in our Marianas Dive meetings lately. It is a way of promoting the Marianas and getting some of the military interested in visiting and spending their money here. And unlike the old MVA model of spending money to promote our islands, this doesn't cost us a thing, in fact it actually puts a little money in my pocket for air fills, and maybe even a new camera.

I think it's important to point out that this whole thing happened because I write a blog talking about diving and showing off my dive pictures. I certainly didn't do it with the thought of getting a writing gig out of it, I do it because I enjoy it and because it's a way for me to share my love of diving with others. If I hadn't been writing a blog for the last 2 1/2 months, I wouldn't have this opportunity now. So if we all network together, and get a main Marianas dive portal website going, what other opportunities may pop up as a result? At this point, I think we'd have to say none of us have any idea just what cool things may come our way as a result. But is it really worth pursuing? Well, my pictures are being published in 2 different books now and now I'll be writing weekly pieces for Stars & Stripes, so I'd say yes, it's absolutely worth pursuing and putting a little time and effort into.

Now hopefully this will result in service men and women coming over spending money in our hotels, restaurants, bars and dive shops, but I also see other possibilities. We have mentioned offering home stay programs a couple times, the bed & breakfast concept. I'm guessing there are quite a few of these guys who would love having that more affordable option open to them as well, after all, they are living on a military salary. And since they also have a hard time finding a dive shop that will answer their e-mails, rent them equipment or even be open during the day to fill their tanks or talk to about going for a dive, I think it also will open up opportunities for those willing to take these guys out for guided dives. Some of our dive masters will be able to promote their services on our diving web portal and put their contact information there. It will open up brand new opportunities for some of the dive boats. And if you're just an average every day Joe Diver like me, there will be some cool opportunities to meet new people, make new friends, and help our island economy in the process.

And I'm not just limited to being able to promote Saipan in my stories, but they also welcome stories and pictures from Rota and Tinian as well. So it looks like I may wind up doing some weekend trips for diving and picture taking to our sister islands as well for these stories. However, I'm not made of money so if the Mayor's offices would like to help fund these excursions, or if hotels can give me a break on rates, it would help me to make covering your islands more feasible as well.

For years I've said I was one of MVA's most valuable assets as I've been giving free tours to tourists and taking them diving for years. I guess it only made sense that this would be the next step, and I can't be more excited. Speaking of playing tour guide, I was making a fuel run to our generator on Mt. Topochou yesterday when I saw a couple Japanese girls walking on the road up to Topochou. I didn't think much of it when I passed them on the way up, since I didn't know if they were staying at those condominiums or what the story was. But as I was coming back down the mountain, one of the girls was laying off to the side of the really steep hill, so I stopped to see if she was ok. The other one told me she thought her friend was sick from "hot", I interpreted that as meaning she was experiencing heat stroke. Fortunately I had just bought a V-8 Splash, so I gave that to her, picked her up and put her in the truck and let her get cooled down for a few minutes. Then they asked me if I could take them up to the top of Mt. Topochou, so I told them Axe Murderer Tours at their service. I need to remember that title may scare unsuspecting Japanese girls. I smiled, and told them I'd love to take them up there. Axe Murderer Tours could now claim a couple more victims. All in a days work.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A New Nudibranch

One of the coolest things of diving is discovering some brand new to you, something you've never seen before. It doesn't mean that other people haven't seen it before, but if it's something brand new to you, it's very exciting. Such was the feeling I had Sunday morning when I came back inside the Grotto and my flashlight happened to illuminate this little guy. He was smaller than my pinky fingernail, so you would think he would be hard to spot. But when the light beam hit him, it was like he was a glow in the dark sticker, and the bluish fringe around the edges just glowed. He was on the side of a rock, and he stuck out like a sore thumb with the light shining on him. Without the light, you probably wouldn't even notice him. I don't know what this one is called yet, I have some research to do, or I just need a message from Bob Abela, or one of my other dive buddies who is more knowledgable than I.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Old Dive Pictures

It's amazing how much things change in 11 years. I gave an old computer to a friend of mine who thought he could fix it and get it working for his classroom. I told him I had some dive logs and some pictures on it that I wanted if he could recover them. Fortunately he was able to save them for me and just gave them to me this past weekend. It's always fun looking back at pictures you haven't seen for a long time and reliving memories. One of the first things I noticed was that the old 35 mm pictures that I used to take back then don't look anywhere near as good as the new digital ones I can take now. The next thing I noticed was that back then I actually used to wear a wetsuit. I don't really know why, maybe it's just because I came from Michigan and there you have to wear a wetsuit just to go in a backyard pool. Maybe it's because I saw all the tourists wearing them and figured I probably should wear one too. I'm glad that's a habit I've gotten out of. Speaking of habit's I'm glad I've gotten out of, I see that I still had hair back then. Diving with a shaved head is so much more convenient, I seriously doubt I'll ever go back to having hair. Yes, it is a choice for me. And look Mike, I even managed to find a 50 year old FAMB down there. In fact, I think that bottle is still there. I've done a few dives out near the shipwreck in the lagoon with Bruce lately. I told him about this old machine gun that was sitting on it's pivot on the sand. We have looked all over for it and haven't managed to find it yet. I think maybe he was thinking my Alzheimer's was acting up again, or that I had an overactive imagination, but now I have my old pictures to prove it was at least there 11 years ago. I'm hoping it is still out there, but so far we haven't been able to find it. This is the one I used to shoot the tourists on the submarine tour with. I have no idea how many Japanese and Chinese pictures I'm in, but if I had a dollar for every one I could probably retire.

At this point, I should probably do some damage control as something absolutely horrible happened over the weekend. There was a very old videotape that was broken, and I had hoped had molded beyond the point of being salvagable that resurfaced. It was back from my country radio days, I was in Nashville at the Country Radio Music Awards. One of the hospitality suites in the Opryland Hotel had a mini studio set up where you could do your own music video. Since I had time to kill and didn't think about the fact that this video could come back to haunt me 20 years later, I went ahead and did a music video. There was a collaboration of evil people at my house Sunday night who decided to fix the video and see if it still worked. I wasn't worried, nothing lasts for 20 years out in this humidity and climate. But then much to my horror, there it was playing on the screen. So just in case anyone approaches you offering to sell you a copy of this pirated video, it's highly overrated. I pretty much look exactly the same as I do now, but the video techniques back then weren't nearly what they are now. So just smile at the blackmailers and say no thank you, you'll be glad you did. Just some friendly advice from one dive dog to another.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Turtles!

Sunday morning I ran into Bev diving at the Grotto. The group she was with went their way, and I headed deep, I decided it was time for another natural high. Toward the end of my dive, they all came back to the rope rock as I was photographing some nudibranchs, so I pointed them out to all of them and let them get some pictures of them too. In the parking lot, Bev asked if I was going diving again in the afternoon. That's like asking the ocean if it's going to be wet later in the day. So she joined Doug and I as we dove Lau Lau in the afternoon. I think she was a bit surprised at the way we dive. We ride to Lau Lau together in the truck, put our gear on together, then he heads his direction and I head mine. I realize it's not what they teach in the courses, but it works for us.

Since Bev has been figuring out how to actually use her camera lately, I'm afraid I'm going to have to stop with the Canon wrist accessory fashion model jokes, oh well, it was fun while it lasted. I decided to try finding some cool things for her to take pictures of, so I went out to a spot where I know a Hawksbill turtle hangs out, and sure enough, he was sitting there on the edge of the coral in the picture above. We both approached slowly trying not to spook the turtle. He got up and started swimming slowly down along the deep sand finger. He wasn't in any hurry to get away and provided a lot of great photo opportunities. There is just nothing as cool as swimming alongside a turtle, getting lost in his journey as you become one yourself. This guy seems to hang out in this general vicinity at Lau Lau, so he's used to having me swim with him and take pictures. As we swam with him both taking pictures, he led us to a green sea turtle. You can see the Hawksbill turtle in the top of the picture and the green sea turtle on the sand toward the bottom of the picture. Having two turtles in the same picture was very cool for me, especially since one was a Hawksbill and the other a green sea turtle. The green came up from his napping spot and nearly ran into me. I wasn't sure whether to take pictures or try avoiding the collision. You can guess what I chose. I don't think he actually hit me, but there wasn't much space between us as he veered off just at the last moment. Nothing like a Sunday afternoon dive with the turtles. We swam with them for a while, just letting them do their thing and taking pictures. Then we wandered off in search of other cool critters. We found some, but that will have to wait for another blog.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mini-Me Diver

Connie brought me over another of her wire diver creations. She called this one cave diver on her blog, and I'll be darned if it's not almost a dead ringer for me. He has a flashlight dangling from his wrist, and it even looks just like my flashlight. You can see his weightbelt with a weight attached, and dive knife attached to his leg. He has big black fins, a camera hanging in front of him, a dive computer, a mask and a light attached to his head. When I look at the detail she puts into her wire creations I'm absolutely amazed. And this is all done by hand, painstakingly winding and shaping it just right to get the desired effect. This diver even has twin tanks on his back, I only use one but I can stay down as long as if I had 2, so I figure it counts. Then she even crafted me a little sign for Harry's World! Just how cool is that? So thanks to Connie my desk is looking more amazing than ever. And is it art that imitates life or life that imitates art? You will notice that in the first picture, my little diver dude was looking off to the left at a shell. Yes, that certainly sounds familiar. But then it got really spooky. The next time I looked the little diver was laying there on the desk staring in the fish bowl at Ralph, my pet fighting fish, but what was even more amazing was that Ralph was staring back. If there had been a nudibranch in the fishbowl, it would have just been way too Twilight Zone. But this is what convinced me that this is indeed my Mini-Me. And I swear at point I even saw him trying to get his camera into just the right position. I also have another fish on my desk, it is a Tetra that my daughter brought me, I named it Tempy, which is short for temporary. I was hoping he would die off fairly soon so that I could get another fighting fish and have them go at it next to each other in their separate bowls. But Tempy doesn't seem to understand that he was supposed to be temporary and will probably wind up outliving me. If I come in one day and Tempy is missing, and Mini-Me has a little bbq pit made with my incense sticks, I guess we'll know that art truly does imitate life, or vise versa. Does it really matter?

So thanks Connie, my desk is turning into a very cool underwater habitat even though it's perfectly dry. Unless Tempy jumps out as I'm trying to change his water and gets everything wet. It's almost like he knows his name is Tempy and what that means.

Friday, August 17, 2007

It's Friday - Almost Dive Time!

This is Don , the latest victim of Axe Murderer Tours Inc. I told him I was taking his picture just in case we lost track of him on the night dive so at least we had a picture of him. In my own defense, it was said with a half smirk on my face. He was on Saipan this past week for some work related projects and figured as long as he was here, he really should go for a couple dives. He was on Guam for quite a while, so it turns out we have mutual friends or dive buddies. So Bob arranged to have Don go diving with Doug & I while he was on Saipan. You might be wondering what kind of friends would set up their friends on a dive outing with Axe Murderer Tours, but that's a question I can't answer. Axe Murderer Tours Inc. is usually ready to oblige at a moments notice, especially if it means getting wet. So we took Don on an afternoon dive in the Grotto. We were thinking that we might have time to get in 2 afternoon dives and then a night dive as well. Only problem with that plan is that one of us spent so much time underwater on his first dive, that we didn't really have time to squeeze in 2 afternoon dives, and still get out tanks filled for a night dive. And since I'm not the kind to tattle, especially on myself, we won't mention who that inconsiderate diver was.

If you're on the full package with Axe Murderer Tours, that means that you get the deluxe treatment. No, I'm still not charging, but it's the principle of the thing. So after our Grotto dive, we took Don to Big Dipper for some ice cream. I realized that we still had another dive to do and some time to kill before we did it, so I planned accordingly, I only had a regular ice cream cone. Don decided to go for the banana split, I was just smiling.

Then after getting our tanks filled, we still had about an hour and a half to kill to let it get dark enough for a night dive, and since Don was on the deluxe tour package we had to take him to Oleai Beach Bar & Grill. We decided that even though we just had ice cream, this was going to be as close to dinner as we were going to get that day, so we ordered some chicken taquitos and french fries. Don expressed a little concern when I ordered the chicken taquitos, saying he didn't do well with Italian or Mexican food before a dive. I assured him there weren't any Mexicans cooking it therefore it couldn't really be considered Mexican, and besides he just had that banana split which should coat his stomach. It's what's called Harry logic, if you're not familiar with it, I'd be happy to explain it to you sometime. He did have to admit the taquitos were delicious, and of course the grease from the french fries and then the grease from the taquitos should have greased the skids to avoid any problems, again Harry logic.

So since I played tour guide at the Grotto, I figured it was time for Doug to earn his keep by keeping track of Don on the night dive. It doesn't matter that no one was getting paid for anything, that's not really the point. Plus I figured the banana split, chicken taquitos and french fries might be having some ill effects on Don's poor stomach, so I figured if somebody had to bring him back in early, it should be Doug. Sure enough, it wasn't long before the chicken taquitos started fighting with the banana split, and Don had to call it quits. I was happily oblivious just enjoying my night dive. Now you can see why we can't charge anything for Axe Murderer Tours. We don't usually let customer satisfaction get in the way with our own dive satisfaction, it's an unofficial motto of ours. As soon as I jumped in the water, I saw this little decorator crab, do you see him? They cover themselves with little pieces of shell, rock, whatever is handy for camouflage. They are usually very hard to spot unless you see them moving, which fortunately he was doing. This is the sort of thing you rarely ever see on a day dive though, which is one more of the reasons I love night diving so much. Next thing I saw was this Maculifera cowrie crawling along the walls in one of the swimthrough tunnels. I just sat there watching him for a while enjoying the beauty of the shell and the way he moved using his mantle and pappilae. He's still down there crawling through all his little holes and passageways, but I sure enjoyed the time we spent together. Then Doug came cruising by and showed me this auger shell with a couple other organisms attached to the outside of it, very cool looking and made for a great picture. He was on his way in because his air was running out, but I still had plenty so I was in no hurry. At this point my camera stopped working properly and I wasn't able to take anymore pictures. And wouldn't you know it, that's when I saw a 50' giant killer squid. Yeah, sorry I couldn't get any pictures of it since the camera wasn't working, but it will definitely be going into the Axe Murderer Tours official brochure to promote our tours. I think we can pretty much guarantee that you will see one on every night dive you go on with us. Are you beginning to see why we can't charge for our services? No, there was no giant squid, but wouldn't it have been cool if there was? The thing is, even the average, ordinary run of the mill stuff you see on a night dive is absolutely amazing. And as long as you're wise enough not to eat chicken taquitos after a banana split, you might even get to see them. I guess maybe I should include that information in our new brochure for Axe Murderer Tours as well. Oh well, we've got a ways to go, but we're sure having fun in the meantime. And here it is the weekend almost, time to go diving again!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Saipan Some Have Never Seen!

I have no idea what this thing is, but it was on the underside of some of the wreckage on the Chin Sen Muaru. At first I thought it was some kind of a clam or an oyster, but now that I see the pictures on the computer I don't think it is. I find so many cool and interesting things down there I'm just continually amazed. There are those people out there who think I eat, drink and breathe politics and discussing the weightier issues facing the Commonwealth. And yes, if you catch me out and about and want to discuss those things, I will usually oblige, but it's not what I want to talk about. I would much rather swap diving stories and talk about all the cool things we have discovered down there. The other one is my day job, and frankly, I usually get enough of that during the day to last me until the next day. At heart, I'm really nothing more than a dive bum! If you drilled a hole in my head and looked inside, it would be full of orange sea sponges, blue starfish, exotic & ornate sea shells, and a few nudibranchs crawling around. Seriously, that's really what's in there! If you want to see my eyes light up and sparkle, ask me what I saw diving last weekend, or about my pictures. I ran into someone yesterday at the Rotary meeting who has lived here her entire life. She commented that she thought my pictures were amazing, and she has never seen such things before. She wondered where I took them all. When I told her that each and every one of them was right here on Saipan, she was shocked. She had no idea that all these beautiful, colorful, ornate things were in the water surrounding us. That just tells me one thing, we as divers have not done a good enough job bringing back the wonders of what we see to share with those who haven't discovered the passion of diving yet. The best way to do that is through pictures. You can talk til you're blue in the face, but yet it won't come close to describing just how vivid the blue color is on this starfish. There is simply no way to capture the beauty and incredible diversity underwater without showing it for what it is using pictures. I'll let the liberals keep bashing each other over the head with their blogs, frankly I've got better things to talk about. I would much rather bring the treasures of the deep back up to share with the world on my blog. Just from some of the comments I've received, I know that I have already dramatically altered some people's perception of what is down there. They have seen things they never knew existed, and they have gone to a world they never would have gotten to any other way. That means I have accomplished what I set out to with my blog.