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Diving the USS Kittiwake shipwreck is a great experience.  In fact, if you have not been diving on the ship lately you are in for a real treat.

Diving the USS Kittiwake

USS Kittiwake. ASR-13. Grand Cayman

In October 2017 Tropical Storm Nate pitched the USS Kittwake on its side and up against the reef.

As a result, diving the USS Kittiwake shipwreck now provides an entirely different scuba diving experience.  Previously she rested squarely on her keel, much like she was still sailing on the surface of the sea.  However, she now looks and feels much more like a shipwreck.Shaft Alley

Furthermore, navigation in the interior of the ship is more interesting.  Likewise the feel of the ship has changed completely.  The angle of the decks, walls and ceilings challenge your orientation and gives you the sense of a “true shipwreck”.  Coral and algae continue to grow, and more fishes can be seen in and around the ship.

USS Kittiwake shipwreck

USS Kittiwake. ASR-13. Grand Cayman

If you are wreck certified, shaft alley and the lower decks offer great opportunities for exploration. With numerous entry and egress points diving the USS Kittiwake is safe and quite interesting. Furthermore, the ship provides a great opportunity for training on wreck diving and exploration.

Whether you are a recreational or beginning diver to an experienced wreck diver, diving the USS Kittiwake offers a wonderful scuba diving adventure.

 

Diving the USS Kittiwake – History

The government of Grand Cayman sank the USS Kittiwake just off Seven

Engineering Logo

Engineering Logo, USS Kittiwake. ASR-13. Grand Cayman

Mile Beach in 2011.  Previously, the ship had a 54-year career in the US Navy as a submarine rescue ship.  This ship utilized scuba divers throughout her career in the US Navy.  Now, fittingly, she serves scuba divers in the Cayman Islands.

The USS Kittiwake Shipwreck has matured gracefully since she has been sunk. Though the logo is all but gone in the engine room, mirrors are gone or broken, and the upper part of the ship trimmed to prevent hazards on the surface, the wreck maintains an elegant grace.

While diving the USS Kittiwake you will find the lower shaft alley and other areas in the lower part of the ship are a bit more difficult to USS Kittiwake shipwrecknavigate.  However, this again makes the dive a bit more alluring and challenging.  Entry into the lower portions of the ship requires a shipwreck certification and should not be entered without the requisite training.

In conclusion, I hope you can go to Grand Cayman and take the opportunity for diving the USS Kittiwake.  It will be a memorable experience.

View my complete gallery of the USS Kittiwake prior to your dives to get the most from the experience.

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Back in Maui and I cannot wait for my first Scalloped Hammerhead Shark dive off of Molokai.  We come back here each year for this dive and it is one of my favorite dives on the planet.  The rich biodiversity of this dive site, the great topography and of course, the Scalloped Hammerheads.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Sphyrna lewini, Molokai Hawaii, Mokuho’oniki Rock

I have been diving on this site now for over 10 years and it never gets old.  It is an advanced dive and the seas can be quite rough but oh, what a dive.  If you get the chance to dive here, I highly recommend it.

I dive the site with Lahaina Divers, which is the only dive operator on Maui that goes to this site.  Lahaina Divers is a great dive company, extremely professional and competent with a number of diver professionals that have been on Maui for a number of years.

Mokuhooniki Rock

Mokuhooniki rock is situated off the northeastern point of Molokai in the Pailolo Channel. The trip takes about an hour from of Lahaina Harbor.  You do a two-tank dive on the site with a surface interval of about 45 minutes.  I dive this on Nitrox to help with bottom time, especially given the short surface interval.  This will also allow you to descend to depth when needed for that perfect shot. The dive site ranges from 60 to 110 feet although at the end of the dive you could be in water that is over 150 feet.

The Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Sphyrna lewini is an amazing creature. The adult can reach up to 14 feet in length but those found around Mokuhooniki rock tend to be around 6 to 10 feet in length.   They typically can be found swimming alone or in small groups of 2 and 3s.  However, there are times when these sharks begin to gather especially towards the summer where you can see dozens swimming together on this site.

Scalloped Hammerhead

The Scalloped Hammerhead Shark tends to be a very shy shark.  The worse thing any diver can do is to swim aggressively toward the

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

Interaction – Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Sphyrna lewini, Molokai Hawaii

shark with their GoPro hoping for that amazing shot.  The result, of this behavior, is the shark will turn and swim away and deny the rest of the dive group a chance to interact with the shark.  The best way to observe most sharks is to stay still or move slowly.  The Scalloped Hammerhead is curious and if your dive group is still and chill you may well get an encounter you will never forget.  I have had these marvelous sharks circle me for over 7 minutes on on a dive.  But again, your group typically needs to be very relaxed to be able to get these sharks interact with you and the rest of your dive buddies.

I like to stay around 60 to 65 feet and look into the blue to spot the sharks.  When I see some that are close or look like they may come in close I slowly descend to their depth, typically about 80 to 90 feet.  However, these sharks can be anywhere in the water column so make sure you keep your head on a swivel.  I like to stay on the outside of  the dive group and towards Molokai on this dive.  Typically, I stay about 10  meters away from Dive Master.  This position allows me to better interact with the sharks without worrying as much about other divers behavior.  However, you will encounter sharks close to Mokuho’oniki Rock and in the middle of the channel.  So don’t worry, just keep looking and watching your dive guide.

This is amazing dive site.  Take your time and enjoy.

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Knob Hill is an interesting and very nice dive site.  It is fairly shallow about 55 to 60 feet (16 to 18 meters) and teeming with life.

Knob Hill

Knob Hill, Lanai

However, it is often not possible to dive on this site due to strong currents .  Knob Hill is just off the coast of Lanai by the Four Seasons Hotel.  Knob Hill’s name comes from a large rock formation near the surface that is supported by four columns.  This is a large dive site on the south side of Lanai that is quite exposed. While, I have been diving around Lanai for 12+ years I have only been on this site three or four times.
 

Rating = 3.86 out of 5

  • Visibility – moderate to very good
  • Access – Moderate; boat only and 45 to 50 minutes from Lahaina Harbor
  • Current – moderate strong most of time
  • Depth to 60 ft / 18 m
  • Reef health Hard / Soft Corals – Very Good
  • Marine species variety – Very Good
  • Pelagics / Mammals / Turtles / Rays – moderate to good, typical at least 1 to 3 sightings up close, sometimes many more

The only reason Knob Hill is not rated higher, is the current makes it a very difficult dive site to dive 80% of the time.  Correspondingly, if the current is mild this is an awesome site.

Knob Hill Overview

Knob Hill Reef, Steven W Smeltzer, Lanai

Knob Hill Reef

Knob Hill has a number of swim-throughs and volcanic structures, such as the “table” above that make the site quite interesting. The marine life on the site is varied and abundant. As a matter of fact, you will almost always find large schools fish. These schools typically consist of Pennant Butterflyfishes, Dascyllus, Yellow Tangs, Sea Turtles, White-tip Reef Sharks, various eels and much more. Once the boat is on the mooring at Knob Hill, the dive master make take you on several different routes around this expansive dive site. Due to the current and infrequent visits by divers, the hard coral here is quite healthy. In addition, there is a nice swim through / cave where you can frequently find White-tip Reef Sharks. Furthermore, you can also see quite a few nudibranchs on this site and rare species such as the endemic Yellow-striped Coris and Reticulated Butterflyfish.

Knob Hill, White-tip Reef Shark, Steven W Smeltzer,

White-tip Reef Shark, Profile, Triaenodon obesus, (Rüppell, 1837), mano lalakea, Lanai, Hawaii

In addition, Knob Hill has a nice swim through on the site where you can many times find White-tip Reef Sharks. In fact, this shark, in particular, was quite curious and swam with me through the swim through. He even gave me a nice profile. 🙂

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Scuba Diving Molokai can be awesome, especially at Mokuhooniki Rock. In fact, the reef is one of the most interesting that I have dove on anywhere on the planet. Specifically, the variety of marine species, the isolation and  relatively untouched environment make this a one of a kind location.  But,……we all come for the Hammerheads.

scuba diving Molokai

Mokuhooniiki Rock, Molokai

Mokuhooniki Rock or islet is located at 21 07′ 40″N, 156 42’20″W just off the North eastern coast of Molokai.  Also known as Fish Rain, this site is one of my top ten scuba diving sites in the world.

Specifically, interacting with such a variety of marine life combined with large pelagic species makes this place special.  In fact, when scuba diving Molokai Mokuhooniki Rock, you encounter Hammerhead sharks on almost every dive.  Moreover, you will also see a rich and diverse ecosystem.  To illustrate, large schools of Damsels, Butterflyfishes, along with Dolphins and Tiger Sharks inhabit these waters.  As a matter of fact, you will be hard pressed to find other more diverse dive sites.

As I stated before, the abundance and variety of marine life in such a pristine condition are exceptional.  If you are on Maui and you are an advanced diver, you simply must do this dive.

Scuba Diving Molokai – The Adventure

Scuba Diving Molokai (Steven W Smeltzer)

Spinner Dolphins Molokai Hawaii

Scuba Diving Molkai can be adventure diving at its peak.  First of all, it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to go from the harbor in Lahaina to Mokuhooniiki Rock.  Secondly, crossing the Pailolo (means crazy fishermen) channel alone can bring seasoned divers to their knees.  It can be quite rough.  This is not a beginners dive site.  In fact, even if you are an advanced rated diver it can be challenging.

Thirdly, you should be extremely comfortable exiting a moving boat and reentering a moving boat in potentially rough and choppy seas.  While, I have been on this site dozens of times and it can be like glass, it is extremely rare.  The site can also have 6+ foot waves.  I have seen divers break ribs on their reentering the boat.  While others become extremely agitated and near panic on the pick up.

I remember one dive in particular where the waves, even in the lee of the rock, were running about 8 to 10 feet.  While the boat came around to pick us up I was literally on the top of one wave.  I was literally looking down at the captain of the boat.  Who by the way, was on the top deck of a double deck dive boat.  In fact, the boat was some 5 feet or so below me in the trough of a wave.  With this in mind, I thought this is going to be a very interesting pickup.

But……what a great scuba diving site.

The Dive

When scuba diving Molokai, you enter the dive site typically in the lee of the islet on the right above.  The

Scalloped Hammerhead (Steven W Smeltzer)

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Sphyrna lewini, Molokai Hawaii, Moku Ho’oniki Rock

crew will let you know about ten minutes before it is time to enter the water.  At this point, they will begin lining you up at the back of the boat one at a time.  You will  have your mask and fins on, BC inflated. In addition, you will be holding anything you want to take into the water with you, including cameras.

If you have not entered a dive site from a moving boat before this will a bit of an adventure for you.  Think of it as channeling your inner Navy Seal.  When you are lined up at the back of the boat, the captain will swing the boat around.  When the boat points toward the islet and all divers are ready, the crew will say Divers Ready.

Dive, Dive, Dive

They will then begin counting down two minutes, one minute, etc.  When the Captain gives his ok the crew will give you a signal “Dive, Dive, Dive”.  Do NOT enter the water before the crew has given you the OK, and said “Dive, Dive, Dive”.  At this point, divers will quickly enter the water one after the other while the boat is moving.

Typically up to 8 divers may enter in 15 to 20 seconds.  You will then meet you dive guide on the surface and all begin your descent together.  You are usually on the surface no more than 30 seconds before beginning your descent.

And what a wonderful descent.  The islet will be on one side and you will see a gradual slope towards the bottom beneath you.  The

Fish Rain (Steven W Smeltzer)

Fish Rain, Molokai Hawaii

depth is about 100 to 110 feet in the channel but only about 50 to 60 where you will be dropped off.  When scuba diving Molokai, visibility is usually very good allowing you to see 100 to 150+ feet in the distance.  And at Mokuhooniiki Rock there are fish everywhere.

The dive itself is basically a half-circle around Mokuhooniiki Rock and the boat will pick you up on the other side.  Dive time is usually about 50 minutes give or take depending on depth of the dive and your air consumption.  If you dive Nitrox, this is a great spot to use it as you can get a little more time at depth when looking for the Hammerheads.  I usually hang out to the left of the group as I don’t want to have a lot of other divers close to me when I am trying to get a shot.

Getting the Shot

The Hammerheads sharks are a bit skittish.  If you or someone in your group swims rapidly towards them, they will simply move away.  While scuba diving Molokai, the key is to go slow and easy and be patient.  As you start your descent from the boat you will follow the slope down to around 50 feet and then do one of two things.  Either start swimming out into the blue and looking for the sharks, which we do many times on the first dive, or you will begin to swim around the islet.

There can be a bit of current here but usually it is not too bad.  Or if there is a ripping current it is usually going the direction of the dive once you pass the corner of the islet and it simply becomes a drift dive.  When Scuba Diving Molokai, you can see anything from dolphin, to Tiger Sharks (not often), to Greys, to Hammerheads, to a Monk seal.  You may also encounter a variety of rays and there have even been a few rare Humpback Whale sightings while on the dive (December to April).  The abundance of various fishes and eels will blow you away.  There are also many endemic species on this site so be attentive and take your time.

Getting Back on the Boat

When you surface you will stay with your dive group until the boat comes to get you.  You will need a safety sausage to go on this dive and at least one of you will inflate the sausage at the end of the dive to signal the boat.  If it is rough it is very important to stay as close together as possible while you are waiting to be picked up.  Their could be one or max two other groups in the water, so you may have to wait several minutes to be picked up.  Again be patient.

Scuba Diving Molokai (Steven W Smeltzer)

Molokai Pickup

The boat will come very close to you and throw a line out to the divers.  You have to swim to the line and grab a hold and then begin to slowly move up the line towards the boat.  You will take off your fins while you are holding on the line and have those in one hand to give to one of the crew as they help you aboard.

If you have a camera as I do, then you will give them your camera first to the crew and then take off your fins. Then you will proceed towards the boat and use a ladder to board.  Scuba diving Molokai can be quite intimidating if you have never done something like this.  However, the crew is exceptionally good at what they do.  Listen to them and do as they say and you will be fine.  Believe me this dive will be worth it.

Rinse and Repeat

Scuba Diving Molokai (Steven W Smeltzer)

Maui Flame

After you finish your first dive and complete your surface interval, you will basically repeat the same dive on your second dive.  But there is enough scuba diving Molokai to interest you no matter how many times you dive it.

After scuba diving Molokai you get to relax on the boat ride back to Lahaina and enjoy the other adventures that Maui has to offer.

Long may the Fish Rain…..the pool is open
 
 

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Overall Rating = 3.75 out of 5

Molokini Morning. Maui HawaiiMolokini Crater is one of the best dives if not the best dive on Maui. This scuba diving site is only accessible via boat and is at the remnants of an extinct volcano. The crescent of the volcano “cone” rises above the sea some 165 feet. The small island lies in the Alalakeiki Channel between the islands of Kahoolawe and Maui. The opening side of the crater faces the northwest and only a short boat ride from the Wailea side of Maui. If you are interested in some of the history around White-tip Reef Shark, Triaenodon obesus, (RÃppell, 1837), Maui Hawaii (Steven Smeltzer)Molokini Crater there is a short article written by Edward L Caum, Geology of Molokini and published in 1930. There are a couple of “plate” photographs included in the artiBlackside Hawkfish, Paracirrhites forsteri, (Bloch & Schneider, 1801), Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)cle and it is interesting to compare to the crater today. Molokini Crater has been a Marine Preserve(MLCD) since the summer of 1977 and features one of the most pristine hard coral reefs in Hawaii.

The ride from the Lahina side of the island takes about 45 minutes and if you tend to get sea sick, I would recommend driving about 45 minutes or an hour to the Wailea area where you can take a very easy boat ride to the crater.

I prefer scuba diving with Lahina Divers but you must take about a 45 minute boat ride to the Molokini crater. If you want you can use a scuba diving operator that leaves from the Wailea side of Maui. If you are staying in Wailea I would certainly recommend this, although the boats tend to be smaller and there is one operator on that side that I simply refer to as the “Scuba Nazi”. So be careful of the operator that you choose. Make sure you check out the reviews and the equipment used by each of the dive operators. The v-hull boats that leave the Wailea area can be quite cramped if the number of divers is more than 10 on the boat and on many of these there is little if any room to move around.

The Dive

  • Access – Moderate to Moderately Difficult to reach the site; boat only (You shouldFreckled Snake Eel, Callechelys lutea, Snyder 1904, Maui Hawaii (Steven Smeltzer) not take a boat from Lahaina if you get seasick – 45 minute boat ride); Much easier ride from Wailea side.
  • Depth to 125+ft
  • Visibility – good to excellent
  • Current – mild to extremely strong at the edges of the crater
  • Marine Species variety – good; normally White-tip Reef Sharks at about 110 feet on the far eastern edge of the crescent
  • Reef health – good to very good

Scuba Diving Molokini Crater is certainly the best boat dive on the island of Maui. You have to go to Lanai or Molokai to find better deep water scuba diving sites. The clarity of the water is usually quite good at Molokini and there are a several dive sites on the volcano on the outside of the crescent shape crater and on the inside of the crater.

  • Enenue – Inside eastern tip of the crescent
  • Middle Reef – Inside just to the east of the middle of the crescent and closer to the cone
  • Tako Flats – Inside on the western side of the crescent
  • Reef’s End – Far western end of the crescent
  • The Back Side – Outside or on the back of the crescent

Reef White Tipped Shark, Triaeonodon obesus, (Rüppell, 1837), Molokini Crater 110 ft (Steven Smeltzer)For inside the crater I like the Eastern edge – Enenue. At about 120 feet there is a series of overhangs that tend to house several White-tip Reef Sharks. As you are swimming down and back up after visiting the “condos” there is a good variety of marine species. You will find typical Bluestripe Butterflyfish, Chaetodon fremblii, Maui Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)butterflyfishes, wrasses, damselfishes, eels, and crustaceans all around the crater. You will also find sea turtles on a regular basis and on a very rare occasion humpback whales have been seen by scuba divers at Molokini crater.

The current can be quite strong on the outside edges of the crater, so do not go outside the crater for any reason if your group is scuba diving the “inside”. The current at the edges can take a diver quite a distance in a very short period of time. For this reason you must take a safety sausage with you on this dive and know how to use it. If you are scuba diving the inside of the crater you will rarely have much if any current and even if the seas are choppy the cone of the volcano protects the inner dive sites quite well.

High Visibility, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)In the sand flats of the crater you will often find Freckled Snake Eels, so take your time on this dive and also make sure you “look” into the distance often as you can see various types of sharks and on especially amazing dives you may even see a Humpback Whale. If you are diving in whale season (December to April/May) make sure you listen for the whale song. In February to early April I have heard literally dozens of whales singing to each other. It certainly makes the dive a lot more interesting.

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