Trip Report December 24-31, 2017 Palau Trip Report

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Dan

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Summary
This is a 7-day (24-31 December, 2017) liveaboard trip around southern Palau with Palau Aggressor II. The itinerary, as shown in Table 1, includes 25 dives on 22 dive sites. Figure 1 shows the dive sites we visited (marked by red dots). We did 2 dives on the popular German Channel (manta cleaning station), Blue Corner (pelagic congregation site) and Turtle Cove. The most impressive dive to me was seeing red snapper spawning in Shark City on the last day of diving. In all 9 liveaboards trips I have been in, this liveaboard trip is right at the top 2 best liveaboard trips I have done in my 13 years of diving.

Table 1
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Figure 1

Background
A quick browse of Palau geographic location, I learnt that it is about 500 miles north of Raja Ampat, where I spent 2 weeks of diving in November, a month before this trip to Palau. Figure 2, courtesy of Google Earth, shows where Palau is located in Western Pacific, about 7.3° N and 134.5°E or 7.8° N and 4.5°E of Raja Ampat. I expected the water temperature of Palau would be about the same as Raja Ampat, about 82-84 °F (28-29 °C). So, I brought a 3mm full and 2mm shorty wetsuits. The water temperature turned out to be as expected and I ended up wearing the 2mm shorty wetsuit in the second half of the trip.

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Figure 2

The Liveaboard
Palau Aggressor II is a double-hulled, 106-foot long yacht with 9 staterooms for up to 18 divers. It runs by 6 crews (captain, engineer, chef, stewardess, skiff pilot, and divemaster) whom most of them also did their share of dive guiding. On this trip, we have 15 divers, so we have a bit of elbow room in the skiff.

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The boat layout is very functional for divers. The staterooms, dive gear and skiff docking stations are on lower deck. Galley, dinning, and entertainment areas are on the upper deck. The roof of the upper deck is a sundeck with open air sitting area and hummocks for people to relax in between diving.

Eight staterooms are identical with queen bed (lower) and single bed (upper) bunk-style, private head and shower, plenty of closet space for 2 divers and wide port-hole window. Additional 9th stateroom has single bed on the lower bunk with the rest pretty much the same as the other cabins and window on the door facing the diver facility. The stewardess did a great job of keeping our cabin cleaned and orderly.

Diving facility where dive gear, camera, battery charging and dive briefing stations are located in the lower deck, behind the staterooms. The skiff sits on the lower deck on a cradle, which is connected to hydraulic-powered rail, capable of lifting the full-load skiff off the water and sliding the skiff up to the same level as the lower deck, so to get on /off the skiff is a matter of walking to the stern of the boat and stepping over the port gate of the skiff, no stair. More detail info about the yacht can be found here: Liveaboard Scuba Dive Yachts Vacations & Trips | Aggressor Fleet

Setting up your dive rig and handling it was a breeze. Once you kit up your BCD and reg on an tank on your assigned station in the diving facility, the crew would take your gear to the skiff and place it to another assigned station on the skiff (mine was station #9). It stayed there for the whole trip. The crew would refill the air or nitrox directly on to your tank after each dives right on the spot where your tank is stationed on the skiff. There are shelves, next to the tank station to store your mask, fins, etc. When you are ready to go diving, you just don your wetsuit, listen to the dive briefing and walk to the skiff as everything else already set up and ready to go on the skiff. No need to haul your gear in / out the skiff before and after each dives. Even your camera rig will be brought to the skiff once it is ready to go.

For water entry, the divers were divided into 2 groups. Group 1 would sit on the port and starboard sides of the skiff and back roll together off the skiff with the lead guide. Once group 1 divers were away from the skiff side & descent, group 2 divers would do the same as group 1 and enter the water together with the tail guide. Group 1 and 2 then gathered at the bottom and finned to the dive sites.

The meal (breakfast, lunch & dinner) were buffet type in most of the days. Full course of dinners were served during special day (e.g., Welcome dinner and Christmas Day). The food were excellent. Special dietary meal were served to those who needed. Example of the Galley menu can be found here: Liveaboard Scuba Dive Yachts Vacations & Trips | Aggressor Fleet

The diving
We did 4 dives on the 1st day, 5 dives on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th day, 4 dives on the 5th day and 2 dives on the 6th (last) day, a total of 25 dives in 6 days. The divemaster would ring a bell 15 minutes before the scheduled dive, for donning the wetsuit and dive briefing before getting on the skiff. Typical a full 5-dives / day schedule is as follows:

05:30 – wake up
06:00 – breakfast
07:00 – dive 1
10:00 – dive 2
12:00 – lunch
13:30 – dive 3
16:30 – dive 4
18:30 – dinner
19:30 – dive 5

After each dive, when we were back on the skiff, we would get hot handkerchief to warm up & clean our face, a bottle of water, some fruits bits (pineapple, watermelon, orange, cantaloupe, honey dew, etc.) for hydration. When we were back on the liveaboard, the stewardess would welcome us with another glass of juice, hot cocoa, tea, Coca-Cola or Sprite and beach towel. Some of the fortunate few got neck massage too.

Day 1
The first day of diving was fantastic. Dive 1 in German Channel (manta cleaning station) was epic, where we saw 4 mantas, several reef sharks, schooling barracuda, and stingray blowing off sands in search of food.

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In the rest of 3 dives on the first day (in Turtle Cove, Canyons and Fernwall) we saw nudibranchs, giant clams, white-tip sharks, nurse shark, sweetlips, turtles, batfish, schooling parrotfish, grouper, anemonefish, barramundi, bigeye, yellow-mask anglefish

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After Christmas dinner, we had a dive hook briefing for 2nd day of diving in Peleliu Corner that is known for the hook-in dive to watch pelagic (schooling jackfish, barracuda, etc.) cruising in swift current.

To be continued to post 2.
 
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Dan

Dan

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Day 2
The second day, other than the Peleliu high voltage diving, was meh & long. We did 5 dives. Visibility was great (>100 ft / 30m).

In Peleliu Corner diving, we started from 100 ft (30m) deep calm water near the sloping bottom of the Peleliu Corner and slowly ascent to the ridge, ready with our hook on our free hand. As we ascent to the top of the ridge, we felt the current picking up and pushing us over the ridge. As soon as we passed the tip of the ridge, then we nailed the tip of the hook onto rock surface that looked like a good crevice to hook in. No time to mesh around and being picky at this time otherwise you’d be blown away and ended your dive if you miss the hook in.

I notice one thing different in Palau site in comparison to Raja Ampat. There were not much coral on the ridge, mostly rocks with a few patches of soft corals. In Raja Ampat it would be a bit difficult to find bare rock to hook in, as the ground would be full of soft corals and fragile hard corals.

Everyone did well in the hook-in dive of Peleliu Corner. The current was pretty swift at a time, as you see from the line and air bubble angle in the picture, below.

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Although it was a high voltage diving, unfortunately, the pelagic action was not much. We saw some reef sharks passing by & schooling fish in the blue, too far to get a good picture of them.

After Peleliu Corner, we dove in West Wall, Orange Beach, Barrack’s Point, and Turtle Cove (1st night dive of the trip). Some fish & critters that I saw were sweetlips, brown-marbled grouper, green moray being cleaned by cleaning wrasse, six-bar anglefish, turtles, giant clams, puffer, hermit crab, broken-back shrimp.

Day 3
We did another hook-in dive in the third day at different site, the popular Blue Corner. There were more pelagic action here, better than in the Peleliu Corner. We saw a lot of schooling pelagic (barracuda, jackfish, snapper, squirrelfish). Saw some tuna and sharks passing by. The current wasn’t as bad as in Peleliu Corner. Great visibility. (>100 ft / 30 m). A pleasant hook-in dive.

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This was another 5-dive day. After Blue Corner, we dove in New Drop Off, Blue Holes, Big Drop Off, Ngemelis Wall (2nd night dive of the trip). Some fish & critters that I saw were sweetlips, brown-marbled grouper, white-tip shark, gray-reef sharks, octopus, snappers, green moray, turtles, clown triggerfish, disco clams, slender grouper, freckled hawkfish, squirrelfish, slug, flatworm, spotted lionfish, nudibranchs, big eye, anemone fish, mantis, crocodile fish, broken-back shrimp. hermit crab, scorpionfish.

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Day 4
The fourth day is another epic dive day. We did another hook-in dive at Blue Corner again at half hour earlier than the day before to beat the rush-hour traffic. There were more pelagic action there this time, better than the day before. We saw a lot of schooling pelagic (barracuda, jackfish, snapper). Noticed an interesting observation, some of the big jackfish seemed to harass reef shark, poking the shark tail, keeping the shark from going to the schooling jackfish. Saw some tuna and sharks passing by. The current was pretty mild at the ridge, where I had to put some air in my BCD to keep some tension on the rope. Great visibility. (>100 ft / 30 m). A pleasant hook-in dive. There was a curious & friendly giant napoleon wrasse just swimming around the divers.

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After the first dive of the day we were greeted by 4 black-tip sharks that treated the stern of the liveaboard as their playground.

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On the 2nd dive of the day we went to German Channel again. We saw a couple mantas and grey reef sharks. It was interesting to see a grey reef shark, hovering a few feet above the sand, with mouth wide open, to let cleaning wrasse poking bugs off its teeth.

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After lunch we did a 3rd dive of the day in Barnum’s Wall. During dive briefing the lead guide, Ripon mentioned to us to be on the lookout for Zebra shark, which sometime can be seen lying on a sandy bottom. I mentioned to him that I have never seen one before and it would be great to let me know if he spotted one. As we were cruising around 100 feet deep along the wall, Ripon turned to me and pointed to the bottom and gave a shark sign (an open hand on the forehead). I could see a shark-looking fish about 2 inches long on the bottom from our level. We descent to 120 feet deep to get a better look. It was just lying there sleeping. Then I pointed to my camera and to the fish as a sign whether I can get down for a closer look. He raised his index and middle fingers (like a victory sign) and pointed to his dive computer. I interpreted it as I have 2 minutes to descend, take the dang picture and ascend to a safe level. I did as told and took the fish picture, below, at 147 feet (45m). That was the deepest depth I ever done in my 13 years of diving and may not do it again for sometime :)

To be continued to post 3.
 
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Dan

Dan

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After that deep dive, I took it easy on the next 2 dives in German Wall and German Coral Garden (the 3rd and last night dive). Some of other fish and critters we saw then were anthias, crown of thorn, giant clam, batfish, nudibranch, bigeye, long-nose hawkfish, lizardfish, anemone shrimp, cowrie, cleaning shrimp, porcelain crab, back-saddle grouper, speckled-fin grouper, puffer, and splendid red-spooner crab.

Day 5
On the 5th day we did 4 dives in Siaes Corner, Siaes Tunnel, Ulong Channel and Sandy Paradise. Siaes Corner was supposed to be another hook-in dive, but the current was not there, nor seen any schooling fish. However, we saw some bumphead parrotfish, several sharks swimming in formation, and eagle ray.

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Ulong channel has some beautiful hard corals and a couple of huge giant clam.

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Some of other fish and critters we saw then were nudibranch, white-tip shark, gray reef shark, pyramid butterflyfish, turtle, disco clam, dartfish, puffer, garden eels, leaf scorpionfish, mantis shrimp and brown-marbled grouper.

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Day 6
On the 6th (last) day we did 2 dives in Shark City and Chandelier Cave. Shark City is another popular dive site for seeing red snapper spawning. We started early around 6 am to be on the site when the current would be going out to the blue water so the fertilized snapper eggs would be carried away from the reef into the blue water. The snapper spawning happens in 3 days out of 28 day bio-cycle. That day turned out to be the perfect day to see the snapper spawning in action.

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Since it was quite early in the morning, the limited lighting would not produce a good clear video. Fortunately, such video is available in YouTube, courtesy of SCRFA (Science and Conservation of Fish Aggregation) and nicely narrated by Alfredo Barroso of SCRFA.org, as shown below:


The last dive in Chandelier Cave was also quite interesting. There were 3 limestone chambers with stalactite formation, reminding me of cenote diving in Mexico. After seeing the cave, we continued on muck diving near the exit / entrance of the caves. We saw signal goby, mandarin fish and pijama cardinal fish. The mandarin fish there were smaller than what I have seen in Indonesia, but they were not shy. They were out there, mind their own business of feeding on the coral, unafraid of the divers, unlike those in Indonesia where they tend to hide during the day and only come out at dust.

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Returning Home
On the 7th Day, we disembarked the boat after breakfast and took a land tour around Babeldaob. Later in the evening, we took 25-hour flight home from Koror to Houston through Guam, Honolulu and Los Angeles.
 
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Kevrumbo

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Great report! Lot's of fond memories for me going way back to my first visit in 1999, and my last in 2014, with numerous times in between back-to-back with Truk Lagoon.

IJN Iro Oiler Wreck not part of the dive itinerary anymore?

How bad is the holiday diver pressure on the popular divesites (especially Blue Corner/Blue Holes) and the traffic now in downtown Koror?

And it was an early morning drift dive at Peleliu watching the Black Snapper spawning above me without realizing a downcurrent pulling me over the edge of the South Point plateau. . .
 

jorgie6

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Thank you for the detailed trip report! Great photos! Brings back many fond memories. In fact , the photo I use for my profile was taken at Ulong Channel. :)
 
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Dan

Dan

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Great report! Lot's of fond memories for me going way back to my first visit in 1999, and my last in 2014, with numerous times in between back-to-back with Truk Lagoon.

IJN Iro Oiler Wreck not part of the dive itinerary anymore?

How bad is the holiday diver pressure on the popular divesites (especially Blue Corner/Blue Holes) and the traffic now in downtown Koror?

And it was an early morning drift dive at Peleliu watching the Black Snapper spawning above me without realizing a downcurrent pulling me over the edge of the South Point plateau. . .

Thanks for the kind words.

We didn’t see any wreck and spent time mostly in the south. I’m thinking of coming back in the future & stay in a dive resort & do more diving in the central part of Palau.

Blue Corner / Blue Holes were busy with 3-4 resort boat, but that was not crowded underwater. We may see another group in the distance. The only other liveaboards we saw in the south were the Rock Island Aggressor (full with Korean) & Palau Siren. The crowd was not as bad as in Raja Ampat or Komodo.

German Channel was like a zoo. When I was watching the shark & manta cleaning, a group of Korean just dropped behind us. One of them got so excited with his video camera & 2 GoPro (I guess that was his first time seeing mantas & wanted to make sure he won’t miss a thing with 3 video cameras running at the same time LOL) and slowly creeping in front of me, passing the imagery line on the sand, and blocking my view to the point of I almost whacked his head with my camera (see the guy with the blue fins, below). A lot of GoPro sticks reaching out to the mantas. What a zoo. LOL.

The traffic in downtown Koror is not bad. Compare to Kuta beach in Bali, it’s like walk in the park.

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Dan

Dan

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Thank you for the detailed trip report! Great photos! Brings back many fond memories. In fact , the photo I use for my profile was taken at Ulong Channel. :)

Thanks for the kind words.

I like Ulong Channel. It reminds me of Melissa’s Garden in Raja Ampat.

Ulong Channel
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Melissa’s Garden
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flyboy08

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Awesome, thanks for posting!
 
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