Just before sunset, with the excitement of the morning’s excursion still fresh, we returned to the boat ramp for another voyage. But this time, instead of dolphins, we were off to see manta rays in the wild.
Unlike earlier in the day, the boat was now full. And our crew had also changed, with Russ now our captain, and Dwayne, Brian and Vicki looking after us in the water. For the dolphin trek, the only specialist equipment needed had been snorkels, masks and fins. But we were about to lie almost motionless in the ocean at night, for an extended period, so a wetsuit was also provided this time around.
(As I’ve explained in other blogs, being a Ses and only 3½ inches tall, they don’t make any of this stuff small enough for me, so I had to make do without. But from what Rich, Sue and Lori told me afterwards, it still got pretty chilly, even with the wetsuit.)
The dive site near Kona airport reminded me of snorkelling Molokini, off Maui, the previous week. There were boats everywhere and loads of activity in the water. As the sun sank below the horizon, we were ushered into the water. There we joined seven other people around a contraption that looked like a surfboard surrounded by a framework of pvc pipes. A series of holes had been cut into the surfboard, into which Brian, our personal guide, placed several heavy-duty spotlights, aimed down into the water.
I was impressed how Brian managed to tow ten adult humans (plus three Ses) over to a spot above ‘the campfire’, a cluster of high-powered lights, set on the seabed. The aim of the lights was to attract plankton, which in turn would – hopefully – attract the rays.
Within a couple of minutes, Rich excitedly mumbled something unintelligible through his snorkel. A thrill quickly passed along the board.
Out of the blackness, a monstrous, diamond shape, six feet across, appeared just a few feet below us. From its head, two great fleshy blades protruded forwards, scooping plankton into a cavernous mouth. The unique shaped of a manta ray gracefully flew slowly beneath us. And I nearly exploded with excitement!
Over the next forty or fifty minutes, a total of three different rays (we were later told) came to feed on the plankton gathered in the beams of our lights. They’d appear out of the pitch darkness like grey ghosts. They’d glide, bank and roll beneath and around us. Then they’d once again fade away into the inky black water.
It was the most surreal and wonderful experience. One I hope to repeat one day.
Thanks to Neptune Charlie’s and our two crews, we had the most amazing day. One I will never, ever forget. I mean, how often am I going to get the chance to swim with wild dolphins and wild manta rays in less than twelve hours?!
Disclaimer: Hanging onto a surfboard, face down in the ocean at night isn’t really conducive to high quality images. Hopefully, the videos and captures from Rich’s underwater point-and-shot will nonetheless give you an idea of the incredible adventure we had that night.
And if that’s not enough for you, there are now three Jaspa’s Journey novels to enjoy as ebooks! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!
Below are a few images of our excursion taken by professional photographer E. Ryan Leinbach of Ocean Wings Hawaii: