On the last day of our Maui trip, we went on a snorkeling excursion that we had arranged only a day ahead of time. There were basically two choices of trips to take. Both went to Molokini, and the only decision was whether to then head to Lanai or to “Turtle Town”. Since one of my goals was to “swim with sea turtles”, the destination of Turtle Town was an obvious one.
We arrived at the harbor at 6:25 a.m., well in advance of the scheduled 7:00 departure time of Quicksilver, a 55-foot, 1,200-horsepower catamaran. The reasonably efficient check-in process got us out in the open water by 7:08 a.m. Twenty minutes later, we were anchored at Molokini, a crescent-shaped island that was formed by a volcanic cinder cone and is located between western Maui and the uninhabited island of Kahoolawe. The northern rim of the crater lies below sea level, causing the interior crater to be flooded. The basin is only 35 feet deep and is ideal for beginning divers and snorkelers, an underwater wall on the inner area descends to depths of 70 feet for intermediates, and expert divers on the back side of the crater can descend to depths of 350 feet.
Photo © Richard D. LeCour
During the twenty minutes it took us to motor out to Molokini, those who were interested in experiencing snuba were given a brief required safety presentation. Snuba utilizes a standard scuba compressed-air cylinder that is mounted in a specially designed raft. While the rafts can accommodate up to three 20-foot-long air lines coupled to the tank, our small adventurous group had three rafts with only two divers per raft.
The best thing is that no scuba license is required, making snuba a great way to be introduced to the underwater breathing experience. Quicksilver offered snuba on board for $49.00 for the first dive site and $39.00 for a second site. I decided to try it, reluctantly because I was worried about the expense, not the experience. Given that the interest in snuba was less than typical on this particular three-hour tour, the amount of time for snuba was extended to 30 minutes from the usual 20 minutes. That fact alone pushed me over the top to try snuba.
For me, the experience did not start out well, and went slightly downhill from there. After being fitted with a regulator harness and a 18-pound weight belt, our hoses were attached to our rafts and we plunged off the back of the boat. I discovered quickly that I could not get a proper seal on my regulator, worse when I turned my head. I was therefore forced to hold the regulator to my mouth with my right hand. I mentioned it to the tour operators, but they did not seem concerned and did not offer assistance or advice. The fact that I was a bit panicky didn’t help matters much either; it was my first time breathing underwater and I’d only even snorkeled once before in my life — six years ago.
There were a lot of new sensations to get used to and I would have been more comfortable had the “course” been a bit slower. They wanted me to immediately descend the 20 feet to the ocean floor below. Not a chance! The sound of the regulator, the bubbles flowing up into my face, the slight water leak, the fact that my entire head was underwater, my oceanic fear of sharks, the rougher-than-usual swells — all those were contributors to my discomfort. At one point, I estimate that I descended between eight and ten feet below the surface before giving up and heading back to the ocean air because I was not able to control my hyperventilating.
I knew that breathing would require more effort, but it was more difficult than I expected and I had difficulty adjusting. I found out later that our tank was only at 500 PSI while the tanks on the other rafts were still over 2000 PSI. Perhaps that made a difference, too. It didn’t help that someone else was having a similar problem conquering his own fears. While he didn’t have the problems I did with my regulator seal to compound the issue, he also couldn’t get used to breathing underwater. Unfortunately, the guides didn’t keep the rafts far enough apart during deployment, and four of the hoses got hopelessly tangled. By the time I had somewhat adjusted to the gamut of sensations, I had no more than six feet of slack left, with other divers’ hoses frequently wrapping around my legs and ankles. Not something that increased my comfort level! When I was eventually back in the boat after successfully snorkeling for about half hour after snuba, I was told that my unusually rough first experience would be at no charge.
After snorkeling at Molokini and on the way to our next destinations, at about 9:30 a.m. Quicksilver opened up the cash bar that offered $1.00 specials for beer or Mai Tais. I didn’t take them up on the offer, but by the end of the cruise there were plenty of people swaying while walking, and not always due to the motion of the ocean! We took a detour for a dolphin encounter; a dozen or so played in our bow wake. Fun, but we couldn’t swim with them, so off to Turtle Town we went. Turtle Town was actually a submerged area of rocks and coral off the Makena coast where the local green sea turtles come to get the parasites and algae on their shells picked off by tiny colorful fish. That was the second site for snorkeling; I forewent the snuba this time.
Two turtles visited while we floated on the surface, one swimming slowly about six feet directly under me. Of course, the fine is as much as $25,000 if snorkelers harass the turtles, and riding, feeding, or touching the turtle is included — so we left them alone, but the experience certainly counted toward the life goal. After twenty minutes or so of paddling in the growing swells, we retired to the catamaran, enjoyed a barbecue lunch, released my message in a bottle, and then sat back to enjoy the trip back to the island.
We docked just after noon, an exciting end to a fun week in Maui!