Archive for the ‘Diving’ Category

Viewing The Ocean From Afar

May 14th, 2010 at 12:06 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

About 10 years ago, working with my college friend Dan Senie, we installed the world’s first permanently mounted WebCam in a reef system. We called it the Bonaire ReefCam, and there was a Bonaire ReefCam of some sort in operation (even two at one point) until the Fall of 2008, when Tropical Storm Omar severely damaged the Bonaire Pier ReefCam.

Over the last decade the various WebCams I have installed on Bonaire have allowed millions of people to experience Bonaire above and below water from afar via the Bonaire WebCams web site. But top-side WebCams apparently only go so far – people have really missed watching marine life under the water’s surface, and have made sure to let me know that fact.

Well, now that I’ve been home for a long enough stint (9 weeks), I have had a chance to install a brand new replacement Bonaire ReefCam. This one too shares the name of its predecessor – the Bonaire Pier ReefCam, since it is located under a pier. I installed it two days ago and it’s been working great ever since. The images you can see on the Bonaire WebCams site update internally every minute, and every 1-4 minutes for viewers (frequency depends on your membership level at the site).

Jake on the Bonaire Pier ReefCam right after it was installed

Jake seen on the Bonaire Pier ReefCam right after it was installed

Because I was installing the camera very close to land and in shallow water (it’s only 2-3 feet under water), I was able to design a very simple underwater camera system, which involved a high quality NTSC bullet camera, a couple of pieces of PVC pipe (one big, one small), clear resin, a UV filter, and about 60 feet of heavy garden hose to run the thin cable through and provide good environmental protection. Once the camera was potted, I attached it to a small two-by-four wood chunk, and then used cable and tie wraps to attach it to one of the pier pilings. I worked very hard to avoid damaging any of the orange cup corals on the piling during my installation efforts, and ran the cable and tie wraps between the small coral heads.

The Bonaire Pier ReefCam with school of silversides

The Bonaire Pier ReefCam with school of silversides

Once I verified the orientation was good, I used underwater epoxy to cement the camera and wood to the piling. This morning I went back for a quick snorkel inspection and I was pleased to find that the epoxy had set very well – I wasn’t sure it would because it was very soupy when I applied it (and the small bit of surge at the time didn’t help) – I ended up wearing a fair bit of the epoxy during the application attempt.

Close-up of the Bonaire Pier ReefCam - not pretty but very functional

Close-up of the Bonaire Pier ReefCam - not pretty at the moment but very functional

The end result is not particularly attractive at the moment, but marine growth should cover up most of the epoxy and wood in the coming months.  As long as the lens is kept clean, it will work just fine.

Below are a few more photos related to the new Bonaire Pier ReefCam, and you can find larger versions of all of the photos in this post on my Flickr pages.

The pier at Eden Beach on which the Bonaire Pier ReefCam is mounted. It is on the second piling from the left, under where these people are sitting. The garden hose protected cable goes under the pier into the gray box on the Eden Beach sign, and from there, the signal goes into a small server room where it is digitized and uploaded every minute.

The pier at Eden Beach on which the Bonaire Pier ReefCam is mounted. It is on the second piling from the left, under where these people are sitting. The garden hose protected cable goes under the pier into the gray box on the Eden Beach sign, and from there, the signal goes into a small server room where it is digitized and uploaded every minute.

Silversides on the Bonaire Pier ReefCam

Silversides on the Bonaire Pier ReefCam

A happy parrotfish poses with the Bonaire Pier ReefCam

A happy parrotfish poses with the Bonaire Pier ReefCam

 

Bas Gets Certified – As a Diver

December 3rd, 2009 at 9:57 am (AST) by Jake Richter

I had a nice father-son afternoon yesterday here on Bonaire. I took Bas for his final certification dive to upgrade his PADI Jr. Scuba Diver certification to a Jr. Open Water Diver certification. The big difference between the two certifications is that as a Jr. Scuba Diver he must dive with a divemaster or instructor (like myself), whereas as a Jr. Open Water Diver, he can dive with any other certified Open Water Diver (like his mom), and he can dive a little deeper (40 ft. vs. 60 ft.). So, congratulations Bas!

We joined our friends Seb and Mary at the Belmar Apartments a mile or from our home here, suited up, and went in for our dive. We swam out on the surface for about 100 yards to an orange buoy and then did our descent without reference, which was one of the exercises Bas still needed to do. He and I then performed the additional exercises he still needed to complete to finalize his certification, and we then enjoyed the underwater scenery, including a myriad of fish, crustaceans, an eel and even a seahorse that Seb and Mary had found on a prior dive.

Some of the photos are below, with the rest on my Flickr page.

Bas entering the water to go diving

Bas entering the water to go diving

School of grunts

School of grunts

Male peacock flounder

Male peacock flounder

Bas explores the underwater world of Bonaire

Bas explores the underwater world of Bonaire

Fish eyes

Fish eyes

A flamingo tongue snail on a soft coral

A flamingo tongue snail on a soft coral

Surreal white seahorse with flamingo tongue in background

Surreal white seahorse with flamingo tongue in background

A sharp tailed eel plays peek-a-boo

A sharp tailed eel plays peek-a-boo

 

Jake & Bas Appear in Florida Travel + Life

July 17th, 2008 at 12:19 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Cover of May/June 2008 issue of Florida Travel + Life MagazineWe discovered recently that two of The Traveling Richters, namely myself and Bas, had our picture in a recent issue of Florida Travel + Life magazine. It was in the May/June 2008 issue (cover pictured at right).

The occasion of our inclusion was an article on page 107 by publisher Carolyn Pascal about Kids Sea Camp, a program which we first participated in during its inception in Curacao some years back with our friend Margo (the owner of the Kids Sea Camp program). Most recently, we spent Thanksgiving week in 2007 with Margo at Kids Sea Camp in Fiji. Carolyn Pascal (another long time participant) was there and snapped a picture of Bas and myself coming out of the water after a nice shore dive – a dive on which Bas, aged 10 at the time, saw his first ever shark while diving.

Below is a photo of the article page – that’s Bas and me in the upper right corner.

Jake & Bas in Fiji for Kids Sea Camp in Florida Travel + Life magazine

 

Diving With Sharks in Fiji

December 6th, 2007 at 2:02 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Day 42 of our Pacific Journey – Diving With Sharks

Friday, November 30, 2007

Getting Our Days Straight

So I finally got around to counting days on the calendar and my previous entry below marked as Day 40, should have really been Day 38 (or technically Day 37 due to the fact we crossed the International Date Line, but I’m not going to deal with that issue). That makes this day I am chronicling about next – November 30th, our 42nd day of travel and excitement.

I need to mention I would have had this posted in a more timely fashion except for the fact that our somewhat pricey but decent Internet connection at the Outrigger On The Lagoon in Fiji went dead on the 30th at 11am, and as of when we left for the airport at 6pm on December 4th, had still not come back to life. So here we are almost a week late, again. Sigh.

Back to our story…

A Diving (for Sharks) We Go…

Linda and I awoke around 5:45am this morning, and at 6:20am, Luci, a nice Fijian woman, showed up to take charge of our young ones. Neither Bas nor Krystyana were inclined to join Linda and I on our great adventure today, and in retrospect, it’s probably a good thing too, as the challenges of our journey would have exceeded their physical limits.

Map of the Beqa Lagoon - Our dive site, Bistro, is the left-most flag above centerOur great adventure was going on a pair of shark feeding dives in the Beqa Lagoon.

Beqa is a small island atoll located due south of the Pacific Harbor area. The atoll forms a natural lagoon which is reportedly a great place for diving.

Another detour here – when people, especially non-divers, hear that someone is going shark diving, they get all sorts of images, typically ones derived from having read or seen Peter Benchley’s epic, Jaws. Those images involve menacing and calculating sharks looking to sneak up on hapless divers, ready to bite them in half, with blood and carnage everywhere. The reality is that dives where sharks are regular fed by trained feeders are quite safe, and for divers the biggest rush is how cool all the sharks are, and not “I hope I don’t get eaten”. And Peter Benchley himself realized this too, well after the hysteria and fear his works had induced. In the years before his death in 2006 he attempted to fix some of the damage Jaws did to the perception of sharks by working to protect them.

Back to our adventure. To get to where our dive was to occur, we had to drive more or less west for well over an hour to a place called Pacific Harbor, and hook up with Aqua-Trek, a dive shop which does a two-tank (two dives, one scuba tank per dive, hence two tank) dive trip south to the Beqa Lagoon three times a week – Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

Sign for Aqua-Trel Diving to Beqa IslandWe arrived at Aqua-Trek around 8am in our AVIS rental car, checked in, set up our gear on board the Aqua Sport dive boat, and watched (and smelled) days old fish parts and chum being loaded on board. Just before 9am, we and our seven other dive companions were off to the Bistro dive site. One couple was from Vancouver and traveling about the world for a while. Another was a younger couple from San Francisco on a six month world tour. There were two Japanese guys, vaguely reminiscent of Hiro and Ando from the series Heroes, and a young Australian guy who was in Suva on business and managed to work the dive into his schedule.

It was a very short boat ride, perhaps 15-20 minutes, and we found two other dive boats already there – apparently Friday was the day that the Aqua-Trek dive shop ran the shark dive for two resorts located in the Beqa Lagoon as well, so that put us at around 30 divers for the dive, plus a half dozen or so divemasters and handlers.

Entering The Watery Depths

After a briefing where it was explained that we’d be watching the first feeding at a depth of around 30 meters, we all made our way into the water. The current was ripping, and I lost track of Linda for a while as I struggled to get down to the target area – I finally saw her behind me, swimming for all she was worth trying to make headway into the current. We helped each other over a ridge and finally made it to the feeding area, breathing hard. Good thing they gave us generous fills on our tanks (for our fellow divers, tanks were filled to around 3400 psi).

We joined other divers along a rope that had been set up to mark off the viewing area, and watched as ever-increasing numbers of fish of many species mobbed the diver who was dispensing the yummy fish parts. Among the fish we saw were a variety of fusiliers, giant trevally, rainbow runners, butterfly fish, smaller jacks, groupers, and more. And then Linda started hitting me to get my attention – a tiger shark had appeared to our right and was regally swimming through the parting hordes of smaller fish to scope things out. The tiger shark was a female as evidenced by the lack of claspers, a clasper being a shark penis – and most male sharks have two of those, incidentally. She was also around 12 feet long. A big lady indeed! This was a major rush for us, as tiger sharks are rarely seen by people, especially in non-threatening situations. Their name stems from the white tiger-marking-like patterns on their backs.

Here the tiger shark is only a yard away from me - she was hugeIt should be noted that tiger sharks are the second most dangerous shark (to man) in the world, but mostly to surfers, not divers. And this tiger shark had been acclimated to divers and being fed (and even touched), so we were not in any real danger at any time. However, just in case, a number of the dive guides had aluminum prods (looked a bit like walking canes) which were used to keep sharks away from the paying divers. They must have been doing a good job because we don’t think any divers were lost on our dives.

At one point during the feeding a male nurse shark got in the way of the tiger shark and was almost bitten in half for his insolence.

The tiger shark stayed with us for the entire dive, getting as close as a couple of feet away – I was glad I had my camera system equipped with a wide angle lens – both to capture the full shark even at that distance, as well as a barrier between myself and the shark, just in case this was the one time the tiger shark decided the nearby blond diver might make a good snack.

This was our second tiger shark view on this Pacific journey of ours – but the first was behind glass, however, at the Maui Ocean Center a few weeks ago (more on that at some later point). Much better and cooler to see it in real life right in front of us. There’s also no question that the tiger shark was the queen of these here waters. Where she swam, most other fish rapidly made way for her (except for the stupid nurse shark, and he certainly did not get in the tiger shark’s way again).

As the food ran out, and we were getting close to having to do a decompression dive, we were ushered to head up to the boat. The tiger shark was still prowling about as well, making our handlers a bit jumpy. However, ascending was not quite that simple for me. As I tried to get up from my kneeling position, I found that one of my fins had gotten lodged in under a rock and I could not extract the fin – I was effectively stuck at 80 feet under water. Linda tried to help, but it required the assistance of one of the dive guides to finally dislodge it (and it ended up breaking the rock too). Mind you, I wasn’t too nervous, as I knew I could always take the fin off and either leave it there, or at least have better leverage to get it out without my foot in the fin, but it was nice having the additional assistance. We finally managed to ascend to do our safety stop and then got back on board the boat for a decent surface interval.

The Second Dive – Amusingly, Most Divers Unaware Of Sharks

Divers lined up to watch the action, with Linda overseeing things from rightThe weather had gotten a bit sunnier, so we tried to warm up before the next dive. For this one we were going to a shallower feeding ground at only around 15 meters deep. The current was much weaker, fortunately, but even so, this time we used the descent line to get down instead of free swimming. We found the line of divers too crowded to get situated comfortably, and I had to bonk a small moray eel on the nose a few times with my camera strobes to have him give up his perch near where I was trying to kneel. Linda ended up sitting on a rock behind me. However the feeding this time was rather boring – lots of smaller fish, and no sharks, so I left the line of divers with the intention of taking some pictures of other fish in the area.

And here she is - the silvertip shark, and most of the divers are obliviousAs I managed to free myself from the other divers and started looking around, I realized that there were a fair number of sharks cruising around behind all the divers, right near me. Linda and I signaled our amusement to each other about how all the divers were focused on watching small fish, and meanwhile the big ones with big teeth were mere meters behind their backs. We ended up seeing up close (within a few feet) a sicklefin lemon shark with her entourage of bright yellow juvenile golden trevally – acting as a type of pilot fish, as well as a silvertip shark. Further off in the distance we also saw whitetip, blacktip, and bull sharks. Quite the shark menagerie, and most of the divers had no clue until the very end as they ascended in a chaotic jumble and saw sharks all around.

As we surfaced from our second dive and got comfortable on the boat, we all had a chance to share our favorite shark tales.

Once we arrived back on shore, we got cleaned up, ordered a DVD of our dive (which featured about 15 minutes of footage from our dive and another 15 minutes of filler about the dive shop and the sharks and other fish we had seen), and then set out in search of lunch.

Lunch, Low Tourism, and Traditional Song & Dance

We found that at the Oasis Restaurant at Arts Village, also in Pacific Harbor. Art Village was supposed to be a recreated old-style Fijian village with additional shops offering local handicraft, but we found it rather quiet and deserted. Another victim of the bad PR created by last year’s coup. Occupancy at the hotels in the area was also way down, just as in the Coral Coast area where we were staying.

The food at the Oasis was excellent, and reasonably priced. I had a local fish soup with some hot sauce they made for me, and Linda had a Thai salad with mango and tamarind dressing. We followed that up with spicy ginger noodles, and a ginger pork dish. Everything had incredibly fresh and crisp, not overcooked, vegetables. It was more food than we could finish, so we skipped desert. And one of the highlights of the meal was our dining companion, a calico cat which belonged to one of the staff. The cat was very friendly and reminded us of our pet family members left back at home.

After the late lunch we checked out some of the shops at Arts Village, found nothing truly worthwhile, and then made our way back to the Outrigger, arriving sometime after 4pm. Luci had taken good care of the kids, and both were in good moods, as was Luci.

Linda wants to call this image -Men in Skirts- - actually we're both wearing Fijian sulu garments, something men here in Fiji noAfter some quiet time, and room service for Bas, we had dinner at the Ivi restaurant with Krystyana while Bas went to the kids’ club. It should be noted that both Bas and I wore a sulu for our evening activities. A sulu is a type of wrap worn by Fijian men. Very comfortable, and it even has pockets. We also wore matching Hawaiian shirts we had picked up at Hilo Hattie’s in Hawaii. Here on Fiji they call them Bula shirts, incidentally.

We hooked up with Bas during the performance of the Meke – a traditional native song and dance ritual. After the Meke we were invited up to dance. I joined in in the hopes of getting Bas to participate, but he weaseled out on me.

We had a fine time, and closed the evening with the nightcap left in our room – one of the benefits of the type of bure (hut) we’re staying in here at the Outrigger. We also get a glass of champagne each with canapés earlier in the evening each night – another nice benefit we have been enjoying regularly.

More photos from this day, including lots of shark shots can be found here.
Thus ends Day 42 of our Pacific Journey.

 

From Tahiti To Cruise

October 29th, 2007 at 10:38 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Day 5 of our Pacific Journey – October 24, 2007

Jet lag is still an issue, apparently, as most of us awoke far too early, with the sun. However, that gave me ample time to return our rental vehicle by 7:15am, get a ride back to the hotel, and have breakfast with Linda and Bas. Krystyana, as a virtual teenager at age 12, apparently does not experience jet lag in the same fashion the rest of us do, and was still asleep.

Bas was all twitchy, as 10 year old boys are likely to be after waking up, and went exploring. While checking out the koi and other fish in the water feature next to the restaurant, he had an encounter with an arachnid. It was a non-contact encounter, fortunately, as the spider was rather large – larger than any other we had ever seen in nature, easily measuring five inches across (leg tip to leg tip). The spider seemed to be rather content with just hanging out, so we took pictures (check link at bottom of this post for some of those).

Jake Goes Plongée (Diving)

After breakfast, Bas and Linda went swimming, and I packed my gear bag to go diving with Eleuthera Plongée, a dive operation recommended by the tour desk at the hotel. They forgot to pick me up at first, so a reminder call was necessary to get the requisite ride to the dive shop, and we arrived there just before 9am. There were seven other divers ready to go out, and we loaded up on a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) equipped with a powerful Yamaha 225 HP outboard, and off we went.

The dive site we went to was called La Zélée – no idea what that means – located off the end of a breakwater outside Papeete. There was a sizable (and regular) amount of garbage floating on the surface of the water as we neared Papeete. Made me glad I had my tetanus booster and typhoid vaccinations just before we embarked on our trip.

Once at the site we entered as two groups. A smaller group went in for a dive at 40m (132ft), while a larger group (myself included) had a target depth of 20m (66ft). The waters were a bit rough where we tied off, and it was a good thing I got in the water quickly, else breakfast and I would have met again.

The water temperature was a chilly 79 degrees Fahrenheit (this time of year the water is around 85 degrees back home on Bonaire).

I should also note that I opted to take my Olympus SW770 camera in the PT-035 housing, not wanting to commit the time necessary to set up and tear down my more complicated DSLR housing and lighting. The result was that while I got photos of my dive, they were poorly lit, and due to slow focus, only a few of my photos were even remotely presentable (again, see link at bottom of this post).

One of my first observations once underwater was that there was hard coral as far as the eye could see, although not nearly as many fish as I would have expected for that much coral. My second observation was that I had forgotten how well trained Bonaire’s divers are, as my European co-divers here in Tahiti horrified me with their complete disregard for the fragility of coral. Their hands – gloved and ungloved – were grabbing live coral for support at every turn, and one clumsy diver even managed to topple an entire stand of branching coral with his fins. I turned to the divemasters accompanying us, and found they were not a whole lot better, unfortunately. So I just bit my tongue and tried to look away as the coral reef diver transgressions continued.

At the bottom where we gathered to start our dive were the heads of several large fish, presumably left there by fishermen cleaning their catch. I understood that spear fishing was a common sport out here as well, all of which might explain why there were less fish around than an ecosystem like this expanse of quite healthy hard coral should be able to support.

Our next featured “guest” on the dive was a large moray eel being cleaned by small fish, but other than the moray, and a shark we saw later, all the fish we saw were small – a foot or shorter. The reefs themselves were splendid – more coral species than I could remotely identify, and the fish I saw were brilliant in color and diverse in shape. Missing, however, were invertebrates of any sort. For the uninitiated, invertebrates are creatures without back bones/spines, and include critters like star fish, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, octopi, and others. I only saw one sea urchin, a Crown of Thorns (a type of sea start which devours live coral), and a number of the same type of yellow tunicate. I saw no crabs or crustaceans of any kind, nor any soft corals. Again, this was a surprise, because an extensive reef system like this one should support a broad range of creatures and life. Perhaps one of the readers of this blog who understands Pacific marine ecologies will comment.

Towards the end of our dive we did see a sizable (approximately eight foot long) white tipped reef shark, and I managed to get a photo of it from a distance. It did not want to hang out too close to us, alas – it probably knew how grabby my fellow divers were. Due to the distance of the shark from us, the image was rather blue, so I had to enhance it and convert to black and white to show better contrast, as you will see when you peruse the photos in the Gallery for this day.

We ended the dive after about 45 minutes, had a three minute safety stop, and made our way back to the dive shop. I made it back to the hotel by 11:40am, just in time to pack everything up and have lunch. Krystyana was just waking up.

Lunch was at Le Carre, the nicer restaurant at the hotel Linda and I dined at last night. Lunch was also included as part of our American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts package at the hotel, a nice bonus. Food was good on the whole, and I ended up with Kangaroo and lobster. The former tasted a lot like beef. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for desserts (except for Bas, whose lunch was a dessert), as we had to meet Center “Lily”, our van driver, for a transfer to the cruise ship at 2pm.

A Cruisin’ We Will Go…

After a smooth check-out (and yes, we would recommend the Le Meridien as a place to stay in Tahiti), we were taken into the heart of Papeete to the cruise ship pier. Docked were two vessels – the Paul Gauguin (Regent Cruise Lines) and the Pacific Princess (Princess Cruise Lines). The latter was our destination for an 11-night cruise to Hawaii, by way of Moorea, Bora Bora, and Kiritimati (known as the Christmas Atoll).

The Pacific Princess is a relatively small cruise ship as modern cruise ships go. On our present voyage there are only 669 other passengers on board, and half again as many crew. Contrast that to today’s mega cruise ships which hold thousands of passengers (I think I’ve heard numbers as high as 5,000 for the newest mega ships).

We were checked in by 2:30pm, and left our luggage with the handlers to get scanned and loaded on board. We had booked two connecting state rooms on the 8th level of the ship – both mini-suites (that was all that was left for connecting rooms when we booked – darn), one with two small separate beds (they call them “doubles”, but they sure look like “singles” to me), and the other with the two beds already put together to form a king bed, courtesy of our cabin steward Reynaldo from the Philippines (he said to call him “Rey”).

Rey brought us a welcome glass of welcome champagne, and we then scouted out the facilities on the ship.

There’s a salt-water pool on the 9th floor, along with the requisite pool bar. The 9th floor also features the Panorama Buffet (the vessel’s buffet dining facility), the Lotus Spa, an Internet room (with eight dedicated systems, plus WiFi, all for the paltry sum of only 50 cents a minute or so for a connection), and a games room stocked with a variety of board and card games.

The 10th floor features a running track (above the pool area), a library, and a lounge. Also on the 10th floor are two specialty restaurants, Sterling Steakhouse Grill and Sabatini’s (Italian food) for which there is an additional per person cover charge, with reservations highly recommended.

The 11th floor has two sun decks, and a golf driving “range” (a net set up about 15 feet from where you swing).

Heading down, there are staterooms on the 8th, 7th, 6th, and 4th floors. The 7th floor also has a Laundromat (which we put to good use today), and the 4th floor features the reception area and medical center in addition to staterooms, or, as the comedian on the boat suggested, “cabins” – a contraction of the word “cabinets”, as the cabins are smaller than cabinets.

The 5th floor is where most of the action happens, though. Starting aft, there’s the Club Restaurant, where table service dining can be had for three meals a day. At night it is fixed seating, and there are two seatings (we’re booked for the 6pm seating at table 34). Dinners also entail a “smart casual” dress code – buttoned shirts (polos okay) for men, and no denim. We also have two “formal” nights scheduled, for which they encourage the wearing (and rental) of tuxedos and formal gowns. We’ll punt on those and do the best we can with what we brought.

Forward of the Club Restaurant are the various gift shops, as well as the display of original art reproductions (an oxymoron, if you ask me) which will be auctioned off during the week. This is apparently a big thing on cruises now, as captive audiences will obviously buy anything presented to them when boredom sets in. For those wanting to donate funds to the cruise ship operators coffers in another way, forward of the gift shops is the ship’s casino, featuring five table games (roulette, several black jack tables, and a three card poker table), and lots of slot machines. It’s on par for size with the casino at Bonaire’s Divi Flamingo Resort, which is the smallest casino I had ever seen previous to this one on board.

And finally, in the bow of the vessel on the 5th floor is the Cabaret Lounge, where all of our sit-down evening entertainment takes place.

Having performed our own ship’s tour and seen all of the above locales, we decided we had time to disembark and take a walk around Papeete, and perhaps examine some local art and handicrafts. We set forth around 4:30pm, and quickly found that most things had already closed, or were about to close, for the day. And walking around Papeete did not do much to improve the image of the city that we had gained last night while driving through it. It was still dingy and dismal. We stopped into a few shops, mostly featuring pearls from other French Polynesian islands, and found most shop keepers to be somewhat aloof and distracted (probably because we must have been inconveniencing them by being potential customers, when all they wanted to do was close their shops so they could go home).

Our grand take for shopping were a bag of pork rinds, some postcards, two packages of temporary tattoos (for Bas, lest you wonder) and a bottle of water.

The 800-Foot Baggage Delay

As we wandered by the check-in area for the Pacific Princess on the way back to the ship, we noticed that our luggage was still sitting out, lonely and desperate to join us on board, but not getting any attention from the luggage processors who sat around sharing war stories of some sort. When we inquired as to how much longer it might take, we received non-committal answers with assurances it would be soon. We neglected to ask what scale of time “soon” related to, however. Big mistake.

At 6pm, wearing what might best be described as “dumb casual” (all of our smart casual clothes were still in our luggage, which in turn was back on the pier), we cautiously approached the Club Restaurant, and much to our surprise were actually seated (we later learned that the dress code is waived for the first night while still in port), and proceeded to have a very nice meal with excellent service.

By 8:30pm we still had no luggage, so I sauntered out to confirm our bags were still on the pier, a mere 800 feet away from us. Yep – there they were, but at least they had a handful of other bags to now keep them company. Asking at the reception desk about the potential time and date of a reunion with our bags gave us pat responses: “soon”, “should be less than a half hour”, “Why? Don’t you have them already?”, “Your flight was late” (when I mentioned we had flown in two days ago, and arrived at the boat at 2:30pm, a mere six hours prior, they all got a bit flustered, but didn’t change their lines). The only token we got for our luggage reconciliation efforts were a couple of distressed passenger kits (kits with necessary sundries, instead of kits with distressed passengers in them – we didn’t need any more of those) so the kids could brush their teeth before going to bed. We finally located a senior Purser, who told us that the cruise line had no control over the Tahitian baggage screeners and neither cruise ship staff nor us as the baggage owners could touch the bags once they were in the hands of the screening staff. Effectively, we’d get our damn bags when we got them, and it probably would be before we left port at 4am.

Resigned to our bag-less fate, we decided to lift our spirits with a tour of the Lotus Spa and proceeded to book a whole bunch of treatments we probably didn’t need, and which cost far too much, but would be wonderful to receive.

I also managed to find a port-side WiFi connection for yachties, but suffered from technical issues as I was trying to post a message in this blog, so that effort had to be deferred to the following day.

We finally received our luggage right as we were getting ready for bed, namely around 10:30pm. Not a particularly positive way to start our cruise, but we consider ourselves taught a lesson – take out a set of clothes and toiletries before entrusting your bags to Tahitian baggage screeners at a cruise ship embarkation point.

Thus ends Day 5 of The Traveling Richters’ Pacific Journey.

Photos of our day can be found here.

 

The Diving Family

October 19th, 2007 at 5:22 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

In advance of what I hope will be a trip involving a fair bit of scuba diving, I’m pleased to report that the entire Richter family is now certified to scuba dive.

Bas gets ready for a certification diveKrystyana’s certification has been updated from PADI Jr. Scuba Diver to Jr. Open Water Diver, meaning she can now dive with all other divers (but only to a maximum depth of 40 feet).

And Bas passed all his academics and confined water sessions for diving with flying colors, and also completed two of the four open water certification dives, and thus I have now certified him as a PADI Jr. Scuba Diver. That means he has to dive with a PADI Divemaster or Instructor (i.e. me), also with a maximum depth of 40 feet).