Working Vacation

By Kay H.




Seaview is scheduled for six weeks of repairs and upgrades.  The crew has been given shore leave for the next month.  A rotating schedule for the senior officers allows everyone to have 2 weeks off.   After the Seaview has docked and is officially turned over to the repair team, Lee and Chip meet with the Admiral to discuss the schedule for the boat’s makeover.  Jamieson is already there, having stopped by before leaving to visit friends and family.  He is eager to pin the admiral down on the date of their proposed fishing trip to Nelson’s cabin.  The Admiral was planning on being around the Institute the first week, working on some research projects.


Jamieson looks at Lee and Chip but says to the admiral, “I hope that these two gentlemen are not going to spend their leave time at NIMR.  I sincerely hope that I do not have to leave word with security while I am gone to ban them from the institute.  I know that you will be taking leave, since we’re going fishing for a week. Are we planning on leaving for the cabin when I get back or later?”


The Admiral smiles and says, “No Jamie, I figured that we will go after Lee and Chip get back, so at least one of us is here while O’Brien is overseeing the repair crew in case there are some problems.  The upgrades aren’t scheduled until the end of the repairs.”  He glances at Lee and Chip and smiles. “They haven’t said what their plans are, but they will be taking some time off.   Gentlemen, would like to clue your doctor and commanding officer in on your plans?  Are you scheduling separate activities?  Chip, are you going home to visit your family?  Are you going to visit your mother or friends, Lee?”


Lee glances at Chip before answering.   “No.  My mother is off researching a story and Chip’s parents are visiting his sister who is expecting a baby.  Not a good place to be at this time.” He pauses and smiles.  “You know that Seaview’s next mission is scheduled for the Conservation Institute.  It is planned as a 21-day survey as part of CI’s marine Rapid Assessment Program (RAP). The Indonesian government wants to protect the special areas of the Bird's Head peninsula and Raja Ampat islands.”  He stops and thinks for a minute.  “You know it will be hard to manage development in a sustainable way.  What a challenge this will be investigating the unique marine creatures of this area for protection.”


The Admiral waves his hand at Lee.  He is getting frustrated and says, “Captain I know all about our next mission.  What does this have with your and Chip’s plans for your leave?”


Chip says, “Admiral that is our plan.”


Doctor Jamison and Admiral Nelson exchange looks with each other, they are confused.  The Admiral finally says, “Okay, gentlemen explain what our next mission has to do with your plans?”


Lee looks excitedly at the Admiral.  “It has everything to do with it.  When I looked at the mission profile, I discovered on Kri Island a whole resort, built by divers for divers. Every bungalow has a back entrance with a private back yard and a place to hang wet suits and diving equipment.  Inside there is a table for camera - video gear.  You have a suite with all western comforts in a traditional Papuan setting.  It is located on a beautiful deep lagoon and, the dive resort is central to the most spectacular dive sites in the Raja Ampat.  This way we can spend the time diving and exploring.  As you know, scientists have only recently discovered that this area houses the world’s richest reefs systems. “


The Admiral still looks a bit confused.  So you’re saying that your vacation will be …..?””


Chip says with a smile, “The challenge was trying to take a vacation which would allow us to work at the same time and this will do it.  The reef diving will be fantastic and will also allow us to survey the area that we will dive in during the mission.”


Lee, obviously excited adds, “It is always a challenge when Jamie insists that we take leave and yet we still have so much work to do for the next mission.  This way we can do both.  While we have fun, relax and dive we also can look over the area.  This way we will learn about any potential problems that would affect the mission.  There will be Manta Rays close to our resort, so we can observe how they interact with the divers.   We will dive some of the most breathtaking reefs that are truly teeming with life, including three different types of Pygmy Seahorse.  These are all items that have been included for evaluation during the mission.  This way we will have an idea of which areas need to be investigated first. The photographs of the area will allow us to review the reefs and marine life in the area prior to our arrival.  The photograph of the reefs and marine life will help with the mission preparation during the upgrades.  So you see, we finally found away to solve Jamie’s challenge to taking leave.”


Lee and Chip quickly leave the institute.  They head home to pack for the flight the next day.   They catch a non-stop flight from Santa Barbara to Sydney Australia, which arrives, allowing them to make their connecting flight to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.   They figure that travel time each way would be 2 ½ to 3 days which would allow them 7 days for diving and would still get them home a full day before their leave was up.


While diving they planned to spend several days in the general area where Seaview was schedule for the CI’s and several days wreck diving.  There were a lot of ships wrecked during WWII.


Sixteen days later, two very embarrassed senior officers met the irritated gazes of the admiral and CMO.  Jamieson looked as though he had swallowed his tackle box.

Lee swallowed hard and began, “In front on the resort, Sargasso Frogfish were floating in the weeds. The reef diving was great.   There is a reef at the Northeast point of Kri Island just 5 min. from our Resort. In the current there were many schools of fish including batfish, barracuda, jacks, and snappers. Among, above, and on top of the corals are fish. Schooling fish, solitary fish, beautiful fish, ugly fish, large fish, small fish.  Some fish that are considered to be rare in many parts of the world are abundant in this area. The fish are so dense that they sometimes block the view of your dive buddy or the surface.”   Lee stopped for a minute and looked serious.  “Admiral, we will need to caution our divers about the dense fish and to keep their dive partner insight at all times.”  Then Lee continued, “We also watched mantas, mobula rays, turtles and sharks. There were Woebegone Sharks on many of our dives, lying atop perfect corals tables like a fish carefully arranged by a chef on a dinner plate.  Among the many boulders we found sleeping sharks and a giant Queensland Grouper. There was a giant clam near the top of the reef. D&W-Postlewaite.jpg (17936 bytes)We found giant clams at many of our dive sites. These clams are large enough to swallow a child.  They’re embedded in the reef and covered with soft corals, tunicates and sponges so thick they can barely close their shells.”  As he talked, he began to feel the excitement of their time on the reef.

“Sardine Reef was one of the best fish dives anywhere.  The large offshore reef has coral bommies on the slope covered with many species of dendronephya corals, sea fans, many large orange sponges and crinoids.   There was also a congregation of fish shallow near coral near at the top of the reef that is shaped strangely, like the head and neck of a monster.  The local’s have named it the "Loch Ness Monster". Along this reef we saw snappers, barracuda and other fish that often stay near the reef in this area.   Also this area is famous for five gigantic Queensland groupers, as big as small cars.  It was really strange to see them in the same dive with tiny creatures such as the pygmy seahorse, nudibranchs and small reef fish. 

Jerome-nudi200.jpg (18834 bytes)“The wreck diving and night diving off of Wai Island is worth a visit just to see its many Manta rays just off the beach and 3 WWII fighter-aircraft wrecks. The spectacular night diving was great and lasted a long time.  Between the wreck diving and night diving we observed several kinds of octopuses, Crocodile fish, Stonefish (Estuarine & Reef), Hippocampus kuda, Devil Stingers, Sea Hares, Snake Eels,  Wobbegong sharks, Bobtail squid, many uncommon kinds of Nudibranch and the list goes on………….   The Epaulette Sharks walked on the sea bottom on its fins.  We found them often on night dives in the seagrass or even on the shelf of a wall dive.  We saw Double-ended Pipefish that looked like an unusual seahorse.  It clung to the sea grass and has the exact same color and a body as sea grass and seahorse-like head.”


“Admiral this the best place for night diving, so this is the location that we must go for that part of the mission,” said Lee exuberantly.


When Lee paused, Chip continued.  “It seemed like a great idea at the time, but we forgot about the problems encountered when traveling on commercial flights to remote locations.  The flight from Santa Barbara to Sydney, Australia was on time, and we made the connecting flight to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  From Port Moresby we caught a flight to Sorong then by boat to Sorido Bay Resort near The Raja Ampat area of Northwest Papua.  Unfortunately the airlines only fly from Port Moresby four days a week and the flights to Sorong are sometimes irregular.  The Port Moresby flights are only on Monday, Wednesday or Saturday and limited flight times on the other days.  The flight from Sorong to Port Moresby was late, which caused us to have to take the late flight.  Unfortunately that flight arrived in Sydney too late to make our connection for Santa Barbara. So we then switched to a flight for Honolulu, which arrived too late for the connecting flight to Santa Barbara.  We even tried to make a flight for LA or San Francisco, and then we would rent a car and drive.  Anyway we tried to work out our travel plans, so we wouldn’t be late reporting in from leave.   The last thing that we wanted to do was call security at the institute or you, Admiral, and request help.  After all, we are the Command Staff for the Seaview and we shouldn’t be late reporting back over something as silly as airline schedules.  Think of the example that we would set for the rest of the officers and crew. We were determined to get back on time.  The only thing we could think of that would be worse than being late would be to call the institute and have the Admiral send someone over with FS1. We decided to contact Pearl and find a MAC flight for California.  So you see, we did try,” Chip ended lamely.


The Admiral just shook his head and laughed.  “The next time let’s make sure you take the flying sub.  At least you won’t have that excuse again.”