Mantas, Dolphins, Pilot Whales and Sharks. This week was filled with great diving, but also with a lot of music, kava and friendship.
*Due to an excess of Michaels on this trip, Cruise Director Mike will be referred to as Miguel.
This very special week celebrated the life of Lee Selisky, whose wife organized an adventure for the same group of close friends who shared Lee’s last dive trip to the Pacific aboard NAI’A in 2017, plus his sister Dawn, to pay tribute to his life and his passion for diving.
“Adventure” has been defined as when things don’t go to plan and this one had twists and turns in the beginning, with only seven of our guests ready to join us on the first day. We had a nice afternoon getting acquainted with the group, doing the checkout dive and talking about our plans for the next few days. We had an early night and arrived at Nananu-i-ra at 10am for our first dive at Pinnacles. We were joined by schooling fusiliers, snappers, barracudas and a few white tip reef sharks. Later we dived the Maze while Lorie and Mike snorkelled at Wedding Chapel and saw a world of new fish and invertebrates Mike had never seen before.
We then picked up Kathy and Joel, as well as some lost luggage and Lee, the reason why they were all here! We had a nice dinner and the friends had a lot to catch up on and Lee stories to share. And… it was Tracey’s birthday so our guests and staff sang Happy Birthday to her and we had Vili’s amazing carrot cake. Tracey didn’t even miss the chocolate!
We woke up in Vatu-i-ra to a mellow dive at Charlie’s Garden where we saw a school of Rainbow Runners, some gorgeous corals and a Star Puffer. Later Bel went back there with Mike for a snorkel session and he saw his first White Tip Reef shark, a Squid Squad and a Steephead Parrotfish. Miguel took the men to Mellow Yellow and saw four moray eels, a huge Wahoo and a lot of action on the top reef.
We had a great time at Cat’s Meow at Vuya, our next playground, spotting an Ornate Ghost Pipefish, Flabelina and other nudibranchs as well as many unicornfish and, upon surfacing, dolphins! A pod of over 100 Spinner dolphins was hanging out with Lorie, Mike, Dawn and half our crew. We joined in for the fun and headed back to NAI’A for a relaxing sunset.
After dinner, the staff sang in honour of Lee, and we made plans for the next morning dives. We were to take him to Nigali Passage and have Big Mo with us. It all went as planned, but the sharks were shy. It gave us the chance to focus on the task at hand and not get too distracted, although we did see a manta, a couple of eagle rays and many Yellowmargin Triggerfish. Mike saw many more sharks and got a little scare when his leg felt some resistance… Sly and Vernon had a good laugh at it!
In the afternoon Leslie, Harry and Michael dived with Sly at Anthias Avenue and Leslie had a very close encounter with a sea krait. Mike and Miguel snorkelled the main reef and saw a turtle, which Michael really wanted to see. After surfacing, both skiffs headed out to see what looked like dolphins, but turned out to be Pilot Whales! Tracey and Dawn joined the party and spent some time with the friendly pod. One mother and baby kept approaching the boat… what a treat! It was like someone had been sending special treats for this group.
We then sulu’d up and headed to the sun deck for sunset drinks and our colourful group photo with guests and staff who were here on Lee’s last trip. After dinner, we had our best kava party so far. These guests actually stayed up until there was no more kava! When Lee was on NAI’A, he used to sit outside with the staff listening to them sing and after hearing so much about it, Lorie, Dawn and Mike got to see it first-hand. They chose this moment to celebrate him one more time, and make sure a part of him always stays in Fiji.
The music carried on with dancing and weird animal sounds until no more guests could stay awake. Mike and Lorie were the last ones to leave the crew and say goodbye to Kava Time, and the group saw the birth of High Tide Harry.
The next morning we dived and snorkelled Jungle Jig, where Michael found abalones, Mike saw more sharks and Leslie was happy not to see any more sea kraits! Then we revisited Nigali Passage, this time with full current and everyone home.
We steamed towards Wakaya straight away and made our way there in time to do a late afternoon dive, but we got side-tracked by dozens of pilot whales. Bel woke almost everybody up to come out on the skiffs to have a closer look at and swim with them. Once again, our happy group got to see these amazing creatures and swim with them. Upon returning to NAI’A, the men left to go diving and Bel left with Lorie (who didn’t wake up earlier) and Clayton for the closest and most intimate encounter of the day. Six pilot whales just hung around close to the surface checking them out… Lorie, you are one heck of a good luck charm!
After dinner we had an informal Kava Party, but this time an earlier one. After the high tides on the previous night, the non-Fijians could not handle much more kava time!
The next morning we dived Lion’s Den and started with a beautiful Manta Ray sighting, followed by Leaf Scorpionfish, Pygmy Seahorse, two turtles and a few sharks. Mike and Miguel snorkelled the main reef and saw some sharks, giant clams and Unicornfish. The current was picking up and some clouds were getting close, so the group called for a morning off and went back to bed.
After lunch the divers headed to Blue Ridge and saw some scorpionfish, sharks and about 20 Bumphead Parrotfish. Mike snorkelled with a couple for turtles and Dawn had a little fun riding on the boat, watching birds and even saw three baby deer on the way back to NAI’A. Later High Tide and Leslie went out with Kathy to practice deploying SMBs and we all sat on the sun deck for sunset, until the rain kicked us back into the salon.
At the end of the evening we all watched a slideshow Kathy put together of photos and videos of Lee. Some happy moments with dear friends, his 2017 trip to Fiji, his trip to Saint Lucia, a touching speech and his posthumous adventures with friends who refuse to forget him or to let him go. As the end of the week approached we got more of a sense of just how special his NAI’A trip was to him. We understood more how much it meant to Lorie to be here, see the places he saw and meet the people who made this part of his journey so special.
We started our next morning with 2 gorgeous dives at E6, and the divers unanimously agreed it was the most beautiful dive of the trip. The Cathedral, the soft corals, the variety and abundance of fish around us… and a gentle current so we didn’t have to swim much. Kathy even got to see the barracudas she didn’t see at Nigali. Mike got to see more sharks, some Rockmover Wrasses and a Napoleon Wrasse. Not too shabby for his first snorkelling trip.
The group decided to stay dry for the rest of the day and visit Vatu-i-ra island instead of doing a third dive, so we went there to check out some red footed bobbies and other birds nesting. As a bonus, we saw a baby eagle ray, a baby black tip shark and a few moray eels.
We had our final dinner with the group as we headed back to Lautoka. It was an unusual week, as we knew it would be, but in a very different way than we expected. These people weren’t here to dive Fiji extensively, they were here to bring their friend to a place where he was truly happy. Lorie was here to meet the people who made her husband’s last NAI’A trip so special, and to spend time with his closest friends. We expected an emotionally charged week with ups and downs, but what we grew close to a wonderful group of people enjoying life in honour of someone they loved. We’re sure Lee would have wanted it just like this.
“Thank you to everyone on NAI’A who makes NAI’A what it is – an exceptional operation and a gateway to underwater wonders. What a fantastic crew! Thanks for an incredible life experience!”