Rainy season is finally over! We’ve been able to get out to Ulong Channel again, one of the funnest dive sites here where a ripping current tosses you down a channel like a roller coaster ride. The sun has been shining, we’ve been hanging out in our pool, all has been good. Saturday, my only full day off from yoga training, we signed up for a full day of diving, excited to go enjoy the nice weather. Only the morning arrived and we woke up to the sound of pouring rain. Not just a little raincloud over us either. Our view from the roof was completely obliterated by dark, grey skies.

We stared out the window from bed for a few moments, listening sleepily to the pelting rain, before we decided to call in and cancel. Diving in the rain is no problem. You’re going to be wet either way, so it really doesn’t matter what is happening above the surface. What sucks in the rain is being on the boat. Especially here where they use speed boats, creating cold wind on your wet skin and the raindrops turn into daggers. Theres a reason all the dive guides here wear thick neoprene jackets between dives.

I called the dive shop and said in simple, broken English for the Japanese lady’s benefit, “Cancel diving today for Fletch” (they still haven’t remembered my name). The lady said to hold and then disappeared almost long enough for me to fall back asleep, then came back and said there would be a cancelation fee. We had expected as much and asked what the fee was. “100 percent.” I looked at Fletch for a moment and then told the lady we’d call her back. Should we pay $130 to lay in bed all day? Or to go diving? I bundled up in sweatpants and a fleece jacket under my raincoat and we headed out the door.

We stopped at the donut shop for breakfast - they have a good homemade clam chowder that’s perfect for a rainy day - and drove over to Day Dream. Their big boat might not have been so bad in the rain, it has a nice little sheltered area, but when there aren’t enough divers to fill it up, they charter it out and take one of their smaller boats. Today we would be on the really small boat, the one with only three benches across the hull, and a back rest only on the last row. The back row was already claimed by the four Japanese guests, so Fletch and I got the front row, ready to be rained on. Fletch grabbed us extra rain jackets from the shop and I draped mine over myself like a blanket. The ride out to Ngemelis area was cold and wet.

We arrived at Blue Corner and I got ready as quickly as I could, certain that the water was going to be warmer than the rain. We back-rolled off the little boat and my muscles relaxed as the warmth greeted me. Normally I am cold in the water. Not today though. The water was a wonderful escape. It might as well have been a bath tub.

We swam with the current which was fairly strong, passing more and more reef sharks as we neared the corner, and in no time at all, we were ready to find a spot to hook into. Blue Corner is nothing short of a spectacle. You hook onto the corner of the reef, right before it drops off into the depths of the ocean, and hang there suspended above the coral, watching in awe as dozens, sometimes even hundreds of sharks swim around. Sometimes they swim by so closely that you could swear they were asking for a back scratch.

There’s a grey reef shark at Blue Corner who we call Lefty because he’s missing his right pectoral fin. Whether a bigger fish attacked him or an illegal Chinese fishing boat got to him we don’t know. Maybe he used to live in China and then moved to Palau when he heard about the shark sanctuary. Anyway, he's been doing well for himself despite the handicap. He was struggling in the heavy current that day though, throwing all his effort into swimming on his side against it. Most sharks just streamline themselves and can sit there motionless while the current rushes around them. It’s amazing to watch. Lefty was swimming as hard as he could with his one fin until he reached the end of the line of divers hooked along the reef, and then he’d turn upwards and return to his starting point and repeat the process all over again. I still think he was making his way down the line waiting for someone to pet him, maybe even rub his fin stump.

Our guide motioned to us to unhook all to soon, and we went to explore the plateau. A Japanese couple made up the other two in our group and I looked up just in time to see the guy tangle himself up in a bit of coral. He had one of those ridiculously large knives strapped to his calf, and a line connecting a harassment stick to it, which he had been wrapping around his calf, but now it was all tangled up in the coral. I laughed. Giant knife strapped to calf with line attaching harassment stick wrapped around it: probably not a good idea. In fact just ditch the giant knife. There’s absolutely no reason you will ever need more than maybe a two-inch blade under water. You may think it looks cool, but getting wrapped up in the coral because you don’t actually know how to fin properly does not look cool.

Fletch and I found a red-toothed trigger fish bouncing along the bottom and looking like it was on death’s door. I pointed at it, made the sign for ‘out of air,’ and then shrugged my shoulders in a questioning manner. Fletch later explained that there’s a bird where he’s from that acts the same way to protect its nest. It plays sick a little ways away, and then when its predator gets close, it flies away in hopes that whatever is pursuing it will chase it, away from the nest.

We were admiring a large moray eel that Fletch had discovered when our guide wrote on his slate “LOST.” I looked around and sure enough, giant knife guy (who also had a giant camera he was chasing everything away with) was nowhere to be seen. We hung around for a couple of minutes before our guide called the dive. We surfaced to find giant knife guy already on the boat. Our guide had a very frustrated sounding conversation with him in Japanese.

We moved on to German Channel, the site where everyone goes to see mantas but all you ever see is other dive groups dragging their fins through the sand. Or entire groups sitting on the coral heads. I kid you not. The best way to experience it is to ignore the surrounding bad divers (which is more difficult than it sounds) and start focusing in on whatever little things you can find. Garden eels for instance. I was so lost in my own little bubble that I almost didn’t notice the manta ray that swam right past us. I couldn’t believe it! An actual manta ray at German Channel! Every dive group in the area descended onto the sand to wait and see if it would return. We waited, and waited, and slowly everyone else disappeared until we were the only group left. We were just about to start making our way as well when I saw a much smaller, very black manta ray swim off in the opposite direction. I pointed but he was already gone. our guide motioned that we should swim that way.

We swam back in the direction that we had come, the direction that the little manta had disappeared off to, and then we found him, making large circles around the dive site. Our guide wrote on his slate, “black baby.” He was indeed a baby, only about five feet across, and whereas most mantas have a white underside with some black splotches, this little guy was a black morph. Black morphs are a rarity amongst mantas, and have black undersides with some white splotches. I had never seen one before Black Baby. He was gorgeous. We sat and watched him make elegant circles around us until my computer started beeping that it was time for me to ascend. It wasn’t long before the rest of the group was following my ascent, and the current swept us towards the shallows. We were all waving our arms up and down excitedly in the dive sign for ‘manta,’ when Black Baby decided to follow us. I already had 7 minutes of deco time, and so didn’t want to risk descending below 5 meters, but Fletch finned back down to swim with the little guy, who let him get right up next to him.

We ascended, all bubbling with excitement. Our guide told us that Black Baby was only a month old. They had seen the pregnant black morph female there just a month ago.

We stopped for a lunch break. It was still cold and grey so I stripped out of my wetsuit and bundled back into my sweats and jackets. Then we headed over to New Drop Off for our final dive of the day.

We descended into the water and almost immediately there was a brutal thermocline. I looked down at my computer. It usually hovers somewhere between 28 and 29 degrees celsius. I’ve seen 28 on it when I knew it was much colder, but it’s a computer, not a thermometer, so maybe not always completely accurate. Now it was showing 26 degrees. We swam a little ways to the corner and once again pulled out our reef hooks. We hovered there and watched more schools of fish then I have ever seen at once here before. Snappers, barracudas, trevallies, spanish mackerels, sharks, tunas, not to mention countless schools of colorful reef fish, you name it, it was there. My computer dropped down to 25, colder than I have ever seen it here before, maybe not that cold for some, but brutally frigid for me. I have truly become a wuss in the cold. I started feeling brain freeze and pulled my hood on. I wondered for a moment if there was actually this spectacular of a display here, or if I was hallucinating because of the cold. It was breath-taking.

As dazzling as the scenery was, the second we got the sign to unhook, I shot up as quickly as my computer would allow (which was not nearly quick enough) to find the thermocline. It wasn’t below 6 meters and any shallower would have caused me to start my safety stop while the rest of the group was still diving. So I descended a little ways again and swam around for a couple of minutes before the sign came to ascend. The water at the surface had never felt warmer.

The cold on the ride back was overlooked due to the three amazing dives we had just had. Between Lefty, Black Baby, and the show at New Drop Off, I felt as though I was just waking up from the best dream. I had one of the best days of diving despite the crummy weather.

Oh and regarding the lack of photographic evidence, I purposefully left my camera on the boat because there's a rule that you always see the best things when you don't have a camera. This day proved no exception. But here's a picture of a black morph manta ray I pulled from Google just to show how beautiful they are. 

More photos that are actually mine coming soon!