MY GUIDE WAS WAITING patiently and his local knowledge and, perhaps, much younger eyes, paid off. He pointed towards a smallish fish resting in a crack in the wall, a red-lipped goby.
I’ve seen these before, but never managed to get a decent shot of one. They’re appropriately named, with a vivid red pout, and camouflage that means you can easily pass them by.
It had been a fine last dive, topped off by the arrival of a shoal of amberjack, recognisable by the “slash” marking through their eye. This marking has been turned into a hand sign – a finger making a slashing action across the eye – by the dive-guides to indicate these powerful predators. It’s a truism in biology that good numbers of predators indicate a healthy and thriving eco-system.
I hadn’t been sure what to expect on this trip. When I arrived in the port town of Palau (nope, another place), the heavens had opened and seemed intent on remaining agape for some time to come. The occasional rumble of thunder and a stiff breeze hadn’t helped.
Next morning, bleary-eyed and a little under-caffeinated, I had met Vinny and Stephanie, the other owner of Nautilus.
We picked out some kit for me and made our way to the harbour, which was packed with smart yachts belonging to the well-heeled who make this stretch of coastline their nautical playground.
As we pulled out on the centre’s well-appointed boat, Vinny noted my dome-port and we chatted about the photography options for the week, suggesting that shooting macro might be the way to go, at least for the next few days with the drop in visibility caused by recent storms.
“After tomorrow it’ll get better,” he said. “The wind will swing round.”
We dived off a small rocky islet near the island of Spargi, a well-sheltered site that was a favourite of the guides. It turned out to be a townhall-sized edifice that rose from the 30m seabed to 5-6m below the surface.
Cracks in the rock held anemones and all manner of life that scuttled out of my torchlight. As we dropped to the lowest point of the dive, three large grouper lazily swam away into the gloom. We slowly circled the rock, rising to our safety stop. It was all a little gloomy, and the rain was still pounding the choppy sea as we surfaced.
Vinny proved to be a man of his word. As we left Palau and headed east past the Capo d’Orso the next day, the sun was lifting itself over the skyline and the natural sculpture of the Roccio dell Orso (Bear Rock). It was still windy but not troublingly so, and we would be able to dive with ease.
The site, Cala d’Orso, was great for nudibranchs. The bright violet of white-tipped and purple nudis was easy to spot, as were the white-bodied migrating aeolids, with their red- and blue-tipped cerrata (the projections that cover many nudibranchs’ bodies).
Damselfish were everywhere, though keeping closer to the gaps between the jumble of rocks were shoals of the juveniles, with the electric-blue stripes that they would lose as they reached adulthood.