Sunday, March 15, 2009

Palau Day 1 Dives: New Drop-Off and Blue Corner

The panga from Neco Marine arrived around 8am at the PPR dock and whisked us back to their headquarters to get sized and outfitted with diving gear. It came up that they provide free nitrox (or oxygen-enriched air) as an alternative gas for free to divers who've passed the Padi course in Nitrox. Generally, at depths less than 100', Nitrox allows you to have more bottom time and shorter surface intervals since you're exposed to less nitrogen. We decided right then and there to sign up for the Padi Enriched Air Class through Neco and were off with Nitrox tanks.

The twin 200 HP Yamaha outboards make shore-based diving in Palau feasible, but the trip from Koror, through the central lagoon and maze of rock islands out to the barrier reef still takes 45 minutes in good conditions. Once out, the character of the sea changes and the cool clear and fluorescent blues of the lagoon give way to deep, cobalty blue as the Philippine sea rises up agsint the reef.

New Drop-off: our first wall dive at the precipice where Palau's barrier reef drops 3000' straight down to the pelagic plain and a great way to kick off the trip. Sure enough we see sharks almost immediately as well as humphead wrasse and sea turtles. Very healthy-looking corals and sea anemones with the Finding Nemo fish.

In between dives the on board lunches were quite good, featuring a selection of fresh-made sandwiches or bento boxes and ice-cold Neco bottled water. Neco, it turns out, has its fingers in many different honey pots. The Name stands Ngiratkel Etpison company. The late President of Palau Ngiratkel Etpison (1925-1997) founded Neco after WWII, by selling ice candy using a scrapped Japanese generator. He also started the first tour bus company in Palau in the 1970s, the PPR, and now the Neco Group of Companies runs seemingly every second business in Palau, including our dive operator, the bottled water company, a car dealership and a real estate agency.

Blue Corner: our second dive of day 1 is the world famous dive that starts with a cruise of the wall, depending on the current. At the true point of the corner you come over the edge onto a flat, sandy plain with a large ‘coral rock.’ We see two white tips sleeping on the sand, a tumescent horny sea cucumber, and moray eels in the rock. Then the current kicks in and we roll back to the edge where you hook in and watch the action. The larger sharks and wrasse swoop back and forth in the current and a school of barracudas arrive. Pete and I suck air, or at least thing we do compared to the German zen-master divers who sip nitrox like hummingbirds. I literally run out of air during the safety stop, but after 60 minutes down. Great dive.

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