Solomon Islands, September 11-25, 2007
Wetpixel Expedition, led by Eric Cheng
... aboard M/V Bilikiki
-- click image to start slideshow -- music by vienna teng
I first came to the Solomon Islands by pure chance. After winning an underwater photography contest, I was awarded a complimentary trip on the M/V Bilikiki, which I took advantage of for a trip in 2004. I was totally blown away; the topography, diversity of life, boat, and crew delivered a thoroughly enjoyable diving and underwater photography experience.
Passengers: Alexis Tabah, Ssi-yan kai (Natalie), Brant Shenkarow, Pachara Koentana, Catherine Gowen, Jaxie Gowen, Cor Bosman, Julie Edwards, Don Kehoe, Douglas Seifert, Bill Rivard, Eric Cheng, Elizabeth Ann Donahue, Donald Kenneth Sutherland, Greg Riley, Alice Riley, Lawrence Chan, John Verhulst, Craig Jones, Frank Baensch
Bilikiki Staff: Frank, Ben, John, John Lee, Zedeck, Peter
catherine with the staff of the bilikiki
We spent two days at Mary Island diving Barracuda Point and the lush coral garden at the protected inlet in which the Bilikiki ties up. Although Mary Island is known primarily for its schooling jacks and huge tornadoes of barracuda, it was the beautiful inlet that caught my attention this time around. I bumped into Catherine Gowen as she surfaced from our first dive, which ended behind the boat. Excited, she exclaimed (in her wonderful Swiss-French accent), "Amazing! This is an underwater Disneyland!" Upon seeing it (again) for myself, I agreed: it is indeed a fantasy-land back there. Douglas Seifert likes to say that dive sites described as having a "coral garden" are only described as such to dupe guests into diving a crappy dive site, but I disagree. Mary Island's lush coral garden is proof otherwise!
After one dive to Barracuda Point, I snorkeled behind the Bilikiki until I could no longer handle not being underwater. I asked the crew to toss my SCUBA kit into the ocean and did my first dive without a wetsuit in five years. The dive was one that reminded me of the reasons I started diving in the first place. I had forgotten that without a wetsuit, a diver can feel every nuance of water movement on one's exposed skin. A flick of the fin results not only in the feeling of water parting around the leg, but also in the subtle pressure of a thousand little eddies circling back around. Being of east-Asian descent, my leg isn't exactly covered with a tangle of hair; I imagine that hairy guys probably enjoy diving without a wetsuit even more than I do, as the tactile stimulation of each hair being tickled by moving water is probably quite pleasurable. But I also imagine that little animals would be captured and strangled in the follicled forest, so maybe the trade-off wouldn't be worth it.
Anyway, back to the point: it may seem totally obvious that diving is something that is pleasurable, but it seems to me that most underwater photographers have forgotten. For us, the "diving" thing is usually just a way to get us in front of things we want to capture on disk.
Wreck of the Ann
The Ann was a fishing boat deliberately sunk in order to prepare for the construction of some sort of diving resort. The resort never materialized, but The wreck of the Ann has become a staple for Solomons divers. It sits upright in the water, the lowest point of its bow resting at around 100 fsw. We arrived to find relatively clear sea water, providing fantastic opportunities for bow shots. For more fun, Cor and I took Jaxie's flooded D200 housing (see below for more on gear) down to the bow to pose with it in all of its waterlogged glory (Eric attempts to use Nikon gear. :).
Also regulars in underwater photography in the Solomons are some of the local kids in the area round the Ann. One of the little guys is an excellent free-diver, and is obviously used to posing for the camera. He follows the front of the camera around no matter what orientation in which you float, and looks at the camera with a sort of half smile, half scowl. As a bonus, sometimes you get the Melanesian thumbs up sign, which is just like ours except that the rest of the fingers stay extended a bit instead of curling around into a ball.
(Leru Cut, Mirror Pond, Bat Cave)
The diving in the Solomon Islands is often compared to the diving Indonesia. Those divers who prefer to be led around
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