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Pohnpei Trip Report

We arrived in Pohnpei shortly after midnight and were met at the airport by the representative from the Village Hotel. The first thing that you notice is that the roads are much better than in Palau. That is, of course, until you venture off the highway onto the road to the hotel. “Road” is actually an inappropriate description; it is really not much more than a dirt path that would humble many 4 wheel drive vehicles and twists and turns over roots and ruts and rubble until it terminates at the resort. Then we were led down a jungle path in the dark to our cabin. The first impression is that we are not staying at the Hilton and you get the idea that you may be going to rough it a bit when you discover that mosquito nets and bug spray are available in the room.

Awakened by the sounds of birds and possibly other creatures, I am amazed by the view. The “Sunrise” rooms are perched high atop stilts on a precipice at the top of either a very steep hill or a reasonably small mountain. The view of the ocean is nothing short of spectacular. There is a large lagoon with a couple of islands that separates us from the sea and we are literally in the midst of the jungle. The weather report is the same here every day; if you cannot see the island, it is raining…if you can see the island, it is going to rain. There are bananas growing on trees right outside the room and we share the tree tops with small birds. After checking in and a quick breakfast we head down to the boat for our first day of diving.

The boat is a panga affair with twin 60hp Yamaha engines and several cushions on the floor to soften the bumps along the way. There are no benches and no wind shield, although a canvas covering offers some protection from the sun. We are introduced to Stamp who will be our boat captain and dive guide and Billy, his assistant. After about a thirty minute ride we reach our first dive site and the anchor is set. We descend down the anchor line and are almost immediately in the midst of a hundred two to three foot barracuda. After reaching the bottom we start to cross the channel. At a depth of 90’ the divemaster signals shark and we encounter our first grey reef shark. It is quite a bit bigger than the ones we have become accustomed to in Yap and Palau and slowly patrols the edge of the reef. Again the divemaster signals shark but this time they are quite a bit below us. However, there are somewhere between 60 and 100 of them and some of them are quite large. I pay close attention to the blunt snout of the closest large shark and, as it turns in the sun, I can see the unmistakable stripes of the tiger. There were also several other large sharks in the school which may have been tiger sharks as well. In less than ten minutes of diving in Pohnpei I have seen more sharks than in 14 days of diving in Yap and Palau. We continue the dive over a somewhat naturally damaged reef and encounter three different species of nudibranchs that I have never seen before. After a surface interval the rains begin just as we enter the water for the second dive. Within a few minutes a solitary eagle ray passes by and then just a little while later we see three more floating along the wall in formation, taking turns as to which one will lead. Grey reef sharks are patrolling the outer reef along with some huge Napoleon wrasse and schools of barracuda. This reef, although not as colourful as other reef systems in the Pacific, is vibrant and healthy. We surface and it is still raining. Actually it is RAINING! Torrential downpour! Cats and Dogs! The stuff that invokes stories which become legends. Visibility is reduced to about fifteen feet on the surface and how the boat captain found the fisherman’s shelter is beyond me. We eat our lunch in the shelter and attempt to stay dry. Impossible! This is apparently the second wettest spot on earth. Somebody should tell God to put a diaper on this place…it is that wet. We set out for the third dive and once again encounter more sharks, a couple of eagle rays and plenty of Napoleon Wrasse. The divemaster points out a moray eel and lionfish both seeking shelter beneath the same coral head and, as we finish the dive the rain comes to an end. Good thing too since it is a long way back to the harbor.

Dinner is an elegant affair of steak and crab claw. Apart from the gourmet lunches at the Fiesta Hotel in Guam this is the best meal that has been enjoyed thus far. Then, too tired out from the day’s exertions it is back to the cabin and bed. It rains again at night.

For our second day of diving we are joined by a Japanese gentleman and a couple of snorkelers who had lived in Pohnpei during their tenure with the Peace Corps back in the 60’s. Since the weather was fine and the seas calm we set out for Ant Island, an atoll a couple of miles across the channel. A pod of dolphins escorted us out to the reef. We waited for the incoming tide before gearing up and dropping into the water. Again, we were met by the obligatory schools of jacks and barracuda. The current moved us along at a brisk pace and we headed towards the middle of the channel. A school of perhaps thirty grey reef sharks, some little more than a foot long others in excess of six feet, swam towards us oblivious to the flow of the current. The coral walls here are resplendent with different types or coral and huge orange sponges and once again I encounter species of nudibranchs that I had not seen before. At about the midpoint of the dive we ran into a current moving in the opposite direction and were hard pressed to make any headway against it. Then, just as we began our ascent, a solitary eagle ray humbled us even further by gracefully swimming past us against the current.

We pulled onto a beach on a completely deserted island for our lunch and toyed with sand crabs and coconuts while we enjoyed a break. Then, it was back into the channel for the changing tide. This time our dive took us to the opposite side of the channel wall and we followed a turtle down towards the bottom. The current was a little less intimidating than earlier and so we enjoyed a leisurely drift along the wall. The divemaster signaled “ray” and, coming towards us was a lone manta ray with about a ten foot wingspan. I dropped lower in the water to intercept and was rewarded with a heads-on view of the manta, mouth agape to strain sustenance from the nutrient rich water. As he approached closer he turned and swam towards me to satisfy his curiosity. This was one of the shots that I had hoped to achieve in Yap and here I was without a camera. The customary whitetips patrolled along the edge of the reef and once again we were treated to a wall of coral untouched by the hands of man.

The trip back was a bit of a challenge. The winds had picked up during the day and we were faced with four foot swells in the crossing. It made for a bumpy ride and once we reached the relative shelter of Pohnpei we were taken through the mangrove swamp to avoid the rough waters at sea. This was not like the mangrove channels in Yap where the edges of the channel are clearly discernible and it most definitely was not a Disney tour. I took it on faith that Stamp knew the way but we spent almost as much time ducking our heads as we did enjoying the magnificent scenery. Eventually we started to see signs of civilization and soon arrived back at the dock.

The chef at the Village Hotel is very good and people come from other resorts to have dinner here. I enjoyed a delicious meal of scallops dore and a couple of reasonably priced bottles of beer. And then it was off to bed. It rained all night and, since we could not see the island across the lagoon knew that it must still be raining when we awoke in the morning.

The skies were overcast with low black clouds scudding overhead when we set off in the morning and the seas were a bit rougher than usual. Within ten minutes from leaving the dock we arrived at the manta cleaning station, our first dive of the day. Stamp donned his fins, mask and snorkel to see whether there were any mantas at the cleaning station. What a novel idea, determine if there is anything for the tourists to see before getting them into the water…perhaps Manta Ray Bay Hotel should take notes. A few minutes later he returned and informed us that two mantas were going through their routine at the spa. We dropped into the water and found visibility to have been reduced to about fifty feet. Not to worry, we reached the cleaning station and one of the mantas was still there. The visibility did not matter since the manta hovered beside us only a few feet away. Even after the cleaning wrasses had moved away she stayed beside us, inching a little bit closer, apparently just as interested in us as we were in observing her. Then, a larger manta arrived and moved to the cleaning station on the other side, also just a few feet away. There we were four divers and two mantas, all within a ten foot radius, and not a camera anywhere. There were no tourists in front of the cameras, no bubbles in your shots, no divemasters moving you from your spot only to place one of their divers in the place you had just vacated, and, above all else, there were mantas. They took turns at the cleaning station, would move away and then approach from the other side. I could have taken full frontal approaches, side views, hovering just overhead, the view from behind, and close-ups of the wrasses moving in and out of their gills without ever having to zoom in; they were that close. In fact, they were so close that the wide angle lens would probably not have been able to fully accommodate them. We stayed with them for an hour and they were still there when we left. This was the dive I had hoped for in Yap.

Our surface interval took us to an abandoned Japanese seaplane station. While off-gassing we took a walk around what is left of the facility. The harbor is still pretty much intact but a few minutes’ walk into the jungle and we came across a bombed out hangar. Apparently there is still a seaplane inside the hangar but the jungle has reclaimed the area and trees and roots have covered the twisted, shattered steel making further ingress impossible. Deep holes indicate where bombs landed so many years ago.

We waited for a couple of hours for the tide to change and then set off for another channel. We were greeted by a turtle which led us to a steep wall of pristine hard corals. A gentle current took us along the wall until we reached an outcrop. Turning once again into the middle of the channel we encountered another school of perhaps thirty grey reef sharks and an enormous grouper having his gills cleaned. The current was strong here so we steered our way back to the shelter of the wall and were met by a group of humphead parrotfish trying to eat the reef one crunch at a time. At the end of the channel the incoming current brings nutrient and reduced visibility. A pair of marble sting rays rested on the bottom until they are disturbed by us. Then they careen down the sandy slope like a couple of skiers laying down first tracks in powder snow. A school of reef squid hover above us in the shallows while we are entertained by the swaying of garden eels on the sandy bottom. After an hour and a half surface interval we are back on the other side of the same wall. Again, pristine hard coral formations from the bottom of the channel to the top of the reef are the order of the day. A lone eagle ray passes by as we drift slowly with the current. A couple more eagle rays approach us but when I descend to intercept, one of them takes off for the top of the reef. The other, much more curious, circles us a couple of times before joining his companion and they both disappear into the blue. This is a calmer, gentler dive than we have experienced, perhaps a fitting end to our diving in Pohnpei.

If you are looking for a little wildness in your blue yonder then add Pohnpei to your list of dive sites. Otherwise, keep it a secret and perhaps the reefs of Pohnpei will remain unspoiled for generations of divers to come.

By the way, it rained again all night and was still raining in the morning when we awoke. Did I mention that it rains a lot here?

 

 

 

Katyk Briceño
"Amazing!!! Beautiful!!" 
 
Daniel LaFrance  
"Beautiful, akin to an underwater spiritual experience of sorts."
 
Walter Marshall   
"Whenever I watch your videos I am just taken away." 
 
Shaun Diaz   
"Well done, very well done. Mysterious, gorgeous and deeply inspiring... The best part is I am not naming any of it. It is nature in its most perfect and beautiful form." 
 
Christie Lopez  
"David...the video is beautiful and so is the music!! I love the music!!!!" 
 
Brian Dodd
"I just wanted to thank you for the moments of peace and beauty these clips brought to my hectic life."