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Thread: Trip report - kona hawaii - jack's diving locker

  1. #1
    Grouper Founding Member
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    Indianapolis, Indiana

    Cool Trip report - kona hawaii - jack's diving locker

    I was in Kona Hawaii last week, and wanted to share about my trip. It’s a little wordy, but a quick read, I think.

    My wife and I made plans back in January 2018 to visit Kona for a summer vacation. I started casually looking at dive operators back in mid-April. I saw that Jack's Diving Locker (JDL) was on the island, and near where we were staying. I've seen their logo in the various dive magazines, and they get tremendously good reviews on various websites. So, I booked two days of diving for me, and an afternoon dive/snorkel trip with Mantas for my and the entire family. I'm the only diver in the family. I would have done more diving.... but that would seriously limit the time I could spend with the family, and my kids are just about grown and moving out of the house, so I wanted to spend as much quality time as I could with them on this trip.

    After perusing the JDL website, I communicated with JDL and another dive operation on the island via email, but opted for JDL, based upon their reviews and proximity. I booked the various dives communicating almost exclusively with them via email. I think I made one phone call to actually book the dives and make the reservations with my credit card. But JDL folks were always very quick to respond to my many questions. A few days before my trip, I asked them to confirm my reservations and all was good. I communicated with them at least twice to confirm that the volcanic activity on the island wasn't going to ruin any plans... and the quickly replied that there were no issues. In short - Great communication!

    I flew to Kona on a Saturday afternoon, and called them the next day on Sunday to confirm (even though I had emails) as to which location (their downtown or marina location) I should go to on Monday for diving. And to which location my family should go for the Manta snorkel - but more about that later. The young lady explained it all very well, and I opted to go to their downtown (Coconut Marketplace) location on Sunday afternoon with my family to sign all of the waivers, show them my PADI card(s), and pay all the bills. This made the next day(s) all very easy.

    The JDL downtown (coconut marketplace) location is a nice dive shop with ample parking. They have a pool for training, and all of the typical dive shop merchandise for sale.

    Monday, 11 June 2018
    I showed up at the marina JDL location at about 8:30am. They told me to show up at 8:45, but I always like to be a little bit early. Jack's marina location is a gas station, attached to a sandwich shop, attached to a boat dock and dive shop. Interesting. Anyway, I was quickly and happily greeted at the desk, and promptly escorted to a boat, and handed off to Susan the dive master for the morning. I noticed there was some shaded areas and picnic tables, but we passed those up and I went straight to the boat (which was also shaded in the morning sun). Susan introduced herself, made some quick small talk, but was busy setting up various tanks with rental BC's and regulators. She asked if she could setup my gear - and how much weight I'd want. I'm not used to folks setting up my gear, but.... OK. When I checked the setup, except for clipping in my computer console, all was good.

    We were setup on the newly painted Diver 2 boat. Sporting a fresh coat of grey paint, a sharks mouth and eyeball on the bow, and a huge stormtrooper figure on the roof of the helm, it was a pretty cool looking boat. And then Captain Bob brought out the 50-caliber machine gun. Yeah, no kidding. He had what appeared to be a 50-cal deck gun on the front of the boat. Obviously it was a fake gun, but it looked cool. Unfortunately, we didn’t put to sea with the gun in place…. The coast guard may frown upon that.
    Captain Bob and Susan provided a through boat and dive briefing, and we were on our way to the first dive site.
    High Rock was the first dive site.
    I was diving with Susan, two young teen boys and their Dad, and another guy - Chad. The teens appeared to be relatively new divers, as it took them several minutes to descend the 30 or so feet. I remember being a new diver, so a few extra minutes on the surface waiting for them to get down didn’t bother me.
    The dive site was a couple of large coral heads. Susan lead the two boys and their dad around the reef. Chad followed the group, and I pulled up the rear, but sort of did my own thing – same ocean type diving. Susan was fine with that. Depths ranged from 30 to 50 feet.
    Oh! I forgot to tell you about how we entered the water. So easy. Walk to the stern of the boat, sit down on a half-transom thing, put on your fins and mask, and Captain Bob brought my BC and tank to me, and helped me in. Stand up, one step into the water. Couldn’t be easier.
    This was my first dive in Hawaii…. Since 2007. So, some of the fish are obviously different that was is found in the Caribbean. Some are the same. It had been a few months since I’d been underwater so I spent the first few minutes brushing the rust off my skills and exploring the nooks and crannies of the reef. Being volcanic rock – very porous - there were LOTs of places for urchins to hang out. I’m happy to report the reef looked to be in outstanding condition. I like diving slowly and looking for small things. I found a few cleaner shrimp and let them clean the ends of my fingers, a moray poking his head out – didn’t let him get near my fingers, and a few other things. But, just generally enjoying being back in the water again. At one point, I turned around and didn’t see the group – only their bubbles on the far side of a coral head – same ocean diving. But, I also saw a spotted eagle ray. 30 minutes into the dive, the two boys were low on air and headed back to the boat with their dad. Susan, Chad and I stayed. Susan was very good a pointing out small things – a couple of nudibranchs (lime green, about the size of a quarter), a juvenile dragon wrasse – that was cool – new fish to me. I went off one direction and came across the largest shell I’ve ever seen. It was a conical style shell, had to be 14 inches long. A few feet around the corner was a Crown of Thorns. Cool. I’ve never seen one of those before except on TV. A few feet to the left, another Crown of Thorns… and it was headed directly for a couple of black urchins. I got my camera out and shot several minutes of the two starting to battle. I think eventually the Crown was going to have the urchin for lunch. 65 minutes of bottom time, and it was time to head back to the boat.
    Water temp was 79 degrees at the surface, but about 76 at depth. I was wearing a 3/2 full wetsuit and a Terrapin brand Ogre style hood… and honestly was a bit cold at the end of the dive.
    Back aboard the boat, a quick rinse with WARM water at the stern, I switched my BC over to a second tank. Captian Bob walked around, handing out sandwiches and chips and cookies. Wow. That wasn’t expected. Nice snack.
    Second dive site was Turtle Heaven. It was located about 200 yards from the marina and boat dock. Intersting site, reef type stuff, that sloped from 25 feet down to 100+ in about a hundred yards. The turtles were reported to be near the coastline in 3 feet of water – which made this a favorite spot for a resident tiger shark. Never saw the tiger, but did see a turtle, a few eels, and toward the end of the dive a 6+ foot span Manta swam over top. Very cool.
    Getting out of the water and back onto the boat, the crew rinsed all of our gear for us in fresh water. Wow, that was unexpected. A three minute boat ride back to the dock, and Susan handed out a business card with the dive site names. That was nice too. No need to try to remember the names for my log book. Susan was an outstanding dive master and Captain Bob made the boat experience great. I’ve done a lot of boat diving. This experience was in the top three...
    Remember that Jack’s marina location is also a gas station and sandwhich shop? Well, I had planned to hang out for about 90 minutes or so until my family came to the shop for the afternoon dive/snorkel trip with Mantas. So, I bought a sandwhich and a drink and enjoyed 90+ minutes of peaceful relaxation at a picnic table under a sun shade next to the boat dock.
    Preparing for the afternoon Manta Dives….
    About 3:30pm a truck pulls up, I’ve finished my sandwhich and drink. A guy gets out of the truck, pulling equipment from the truck bed to the boat. He introduces himself and asks where I’m from. Indianapolis, I reply. Then he jumps directly into a trivia question about states and capitals. Ohhhh Kaaaay? I soon learn that his name is Keller. More about Keller later.
    My family arrives at about 3:45, and instantly one of the dive masters, David ?, starts helping my family get the necessary equipment – fins, wetsuits, mask, snorkel, etc. I will be diving, they will be snorkeling. In very short time, David had the entire family outfitted. I also asked to rent a 5mil wetsuit for the next two dives… I was cold on my first two dives. Sure, no problem. Don’t worry about the rental fee. Awesome.
    David is Susan’s husband, I learn, and he will be taking some of the snorkelers. Keller is the DM for some of the divers. I’m in Keller’s group. Keller takes my BC and regulator, and sets up my equipment as Susan did, with weight where I wanted it. Again, I check my gear, and all is good.
    We board the boat and head for the dive site – Garden Eel Cove – located 50 yards off the shore, adjacent to the Kona airport.
    The first dive/snorkel started around 5pm, after a lengthy but thorough and well execuited boat and dive briefing conducted by DM Keller. Very quickly we learn that Keller enjoys “groaner” jokes and telling jokes, and is generally a lot of fun. “After the first group of divers gets into the water, and we determine it’s safe, the second group of divers will get in…..” and “… don’t worry about sharks ma’am. They’re man eaters. You’re a woman.” Lots of puns, lots of good clean jokes.
    I’m in the first group of divers. We jump in, quick weight check for the whole group, I add 2 pounds due to the extra neoprene I’m wearing, and we descend. Honestly, the terrain is rather boring here. Rocks mostly. It’s really a site for the night time activities with the mantas. But, we explore farther out and deeper, and come across a field of garden eels, and a school of goat fish exactly where Keller says they’ll be. While hovering out near the eels in about 55 feet of water, we catch a glimpse of a Manta. Then two, then three. They circle about forty feet away. Very cool. Keller is chasing them around with a camera. Man, he’s full of energy. Oh, he also pointed out the “campfire circle” where lights would be placed later tonight for the Manta night dive.
    I found out later that Keller has been diving with JDL since the late 1980’s and has more than 12 thousand dives logged. Yeah, 12 thousand. He is one of the world’s experts on Mantas, and started a Manta conservation and educational organization. Impressive. I talked with Keller a bit during the break between dives. He had a lot of interesting stories and a lot of bad (groaner) jokes. I love corny jokes, and shared a few of my favorites with him. You might have also heard about Keller – he was the diver about five years ago who saw a dolphin that had been caught up in fishing line, motioned the dolphin to come to him for help, and Keller was able to cut the fishing line from the dolphin while the dolphin remained motionless for a few minutes. It’s on you tube… check it out.
    Back on the boat after this first dive with sandwiches, chips, drinks, and decompression cookies, and we wait patiently for the sun to go down. As we do, the lights that were placed in the campfire circle on the bottom 25 feet below us start to really shine. As the sun set into the water, we readied ourselves for the second dive. Everyone was given lights, and had lights attached to the back of their tanks – color coded to their respective group.
    We jump in and head immediately to the campfire circle where three mantas were already circling and feeding. The lights attract the plankton and the plankton is attracting the mantas. We (the divers from 20 different boats) all sit on the bottom, in a 50 foot diameter circle and watched the Mantas gracefully swoop in and out, eating the plankton. The Mantas ranged in size from 6 foot wingspans, up to 12 foot. Mouths that were 3 feet across and 10 inches tall. Beautiful creatures, upwards of 1000 pounds, truly awesome to watch.
    A few minutes later the snorkelers appear above us. They are hanging on to specially equipped surf boards that have light cannons embedded in them as well. So, there is light shining up from the bottom, and light shining down from above. The Manta numbers increased to about 8 animals, and they are swooping in and out, flying in loops, eating huge mouthfuls of plankton. Very, very cool indeed.
    After 40+ minutes of watching Mantas, we take a quick lap back toward the boat, some people chose to end their dive. A few of us follow Keller around for a bit longer. We spot a huge nudibranch, I find a 7-11 crab, we see an eel hunting for a late night snack, and a few other night-active creatures. Then, we made a loop back to the campfire circle to retrieve the box of lights on the bottom and headed back for the boat. What an awesome dive. My wife and family were snorkeling above me – and all said it was an experience they will remember for a long time, the highlight of their trip to Hawaii, in fact.

    One tip – if you do this Manta dive, be sure to add about 5 extra pounds of lead to your weight to make it effortless to sit on the bottom. I added only two extra pounds, and was a bit light. I had to hold onto a large rock to stay in place. I wish I would have added 5 or 6 extra pounds for this dive.
    On the boat trip back to the marina, Keller was cracking a few more jokes, and again the crew rinsed all of our gear in fresh water.
    I made two more dives on Wednesday.
    The first dive was at “Suck ‘em up Lava Tube”. This is a site with a long (and large diameter) swim thru lava tube, and a couple of large caves. One cave is called Skull cavern or something like that, because when you get into it…. It’s huge, and no risk of getting trapped… it looks like the eye sockets of a skull. We found a baby turtle swimming in there. Exploring around the caves, I found two octopus – one large and one very small. Very cool. I like octo’s. one of my favorite animals. Depths ranged from 25 to 55 feet here. I think I had 75 minutes of bottom time.
    Second dive was at ”Honokohau” dive site, again, not far from the marina. We started the dive rather deep (as compared to the other dives I’d made during the week). The first half of the dive was 50 to 60 feet. I again kept an eye out for the resident tiger shark... never saw it. Large school of goat fish, a huge trevally fish, a few eels, and a Manta. This is also where a “great white shark” was photographed trying to eat me. You’ll have to check it out for yourself. I’m not in this video, but I have a few photos of being eaten by the shark. Check this out: I burned my tank down to about 400psi on this dive and squeeked 70 minutes here.
    In summary, the entire Jack’s Diving Locker operation is first class, top notch, A+. From the people answering the emails, helping me at the front desk, all of the dive masters, boat captains, the equipment, the boats, the food, everything. I just can’t say enough good things about Jack’s Diving Locker. If I ever make it back to Kona, I will most certainly schedule several more dives with Jacks.
    They also offer a pelagic night dive that sounds very interesting. I talked with a father-son team who had done the dive a few days before. They said it was a little scary at first, but a cool experience. Check it out on their website.
    On the last day of diving, while waiting for my car ride, it was nice to walk into the “gas station” side of Jack’s and be able to buy a huge and cold beer to drink. I call it “decompression fluid”.

    Other stuff:
    Where to eat in Kona? I recommend a trip to “Humpys” bar and grill, and “Laverns tavern”.
    What do eat in Kona? Several places offer “Moco Loco”. It’s awesome. Also, look for local bakeries and buy some “malasadas”. These are essentially home made donuts. I got some malasadas, twice. Good for breakfast, good for a snack, just good. Also, check the local fruit stands for white pineapple. It’s sweet and good.
    There are several good beaches in the southern end of Kona that are good for snorkeling. Be sure to take a snorkel with you…. And do some snorkeling when you’re not diving.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    To those in the miltary who serve, past and present, to protect my freedom, I thank you. I've had a good life so far.

  2. #2
    Grouper dkh6070's Avatar
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    Roswell, GA
    Awesome trip report. Thank for sharing. I found the dolphin video with Keller. Amazing!

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