Return to NAI'A

Vanuatu: Critters, Coolidge and Culture
Date: June 12-22, 2004
Destination: Vanuatu
Guest Host: Paul Humann
Returning Passengers: Rob Mougey & Darcy Charlier, Dick & Judy Spann, Fontaine & Judy Richardson, Michael Hofman & Janet Moyer, Jim Stringer, Mindy Cooper-Smith, Dan Wile, Barbara Mousel

Underwater photographs by Jim Stringer
Topside photographs by Rob Mougey, Michael Hofman, Kevin Green, Liz & Josh

Motolava Village: traditional "kastom" dancers, painted to look like banded sea snakes; boy in dug-out canoe.

Porcelain crab, Neopetrolisthes oshimai.

Twelve return passengers and two NAI'A newbies joined Paul Humann on an adventure-filled 10-day mission to find Vanuatu's finest underwater and topside sights and sounds, with the help of Aquamarine's Kevin Green as our local guide / translator / haggler / pie finder. From bat-filled caves to kastom dancing, from unique water music to the mother-of-all wreck dives, from current-swept sea mounts with mind-blowing visibility to muck dives at the foot of a waterfall Vanuatu had something for everyone.

If it's small stuff you were after, Vanuatu had them by the bucket load. There was an impossible variety of nudibranchs and flatworms, plus twin-spot gobies, frogfish and juvenile leaf fish. Add to that the flame angels, yellow-masked angels, schools of pyramid butterflyfish and a juvenile ribbon eel. Moving up the scale were oriental sweetlips, leopard sharks, and banded sea snakes (one even joined us in the skiff!) The night dives were wonderful -- Spanish dancers, tent-feeding octopus, hunting lionfish, nudibranchs laying eggs, turtles on the rampage, a pair of small-pouch pygmy pipehorses, one granddaddy lionfish hunting some unsuspecting cardinalfish, and the occasional appearance of nautilus.

"The Lady" at her final resting place: 125' down, inside the enormous wreck of the S.S.President Coolidge. The ship rests on her port side, making this relic appear sideways as the diver approaches.

Al Knoblock's seastar collection.   Paul Humann gets Sereana dancing.

One of the ubiquitous reef cuttlefish .

The S.S. President Coolidge held our attention for a whole day and night, with its vast interiors just begging to be explored. First stop was the obligatory 'Lady' deep inside at 125'. Then came the medical supply room and the cargo hold - filled with jeeps and bulldozers, as well as resident spadefish and flashlight fish. There was also plenty on the outside of the wreck too, enough to keep a photographer (Paul) distracted dive after dive. The artificial reef at the deco stop was also a joy -- hard corals and anemones crammed together in such a concentration that the surrounding profusion of small, colourful fish would completely fill the viewfinder.

Topside, we were treated to gorgeous island scenery, complete with waterfalls and regular rainbows. The villagers at Motolava got us all stomping our feet in ever-increasing intensity, and the women at Tolav village filled our ears with their unique water music.

One of the nautilus spotted on night dives.   Pair of Risbecia tryoni nudibranchs.

Tolav Village: women slap and splash the water in unison to create truly unique music.

Guest host, author and photographer, Paul Humann had everyone counting polyp tentacles on anything that resembled coral after his informative invertebrate slide show series. Rob Mougey and Darcy Charlier came back for their second Vanuatu exploration, NAI'A-style, armed with plastic fish and epic luggage tales. Kathy Knoblock was out on "probation" to join us for her first NAI'A experience, toting nailpolish for all, while husband Al kept everyone entertained with constant one-liners and a great new look involving seastars and suction caps. Dick Spann helped out in the camera room, and wife Judy moved into the digital world, leaving her RS feeling dry and abandoned. Dan Wile made sure the NAI'A boys didn't get rusty at jamming and drinking kava while they were away from Fiji, and he learned a few choice phrases in Fijian while he was at it. Michael Hofman and Janet Moyer both came to blows with the seat lid while driving the porcelain bus ... and Michael also managed to lose a mask in 6' of water with a sandy bottom -- how is that even possible? Fontaine and Judy Richardson got top marks at kastom dancing, Barbara Mousel provided the no-nonsense wit, and Jim Stringer shot some fabulous underwater photos (some posted here). But it was Mindy Cooper-Smith who waited until the last dive of the trip - while everybody else was drying their gear and sipping cocktails - to finally find the seahorses (with a little help from NAI'A's Richie).

Judy Spann & Darcy Charlier make the social blunder of showing up wearing the same outfit.   Red Cliff Falls.

Unknown octopus.


Vanuatu! Nautilus! Great people! Great crew! What else could you ask for? We'll be back.
Al & Kathy Knoblock, Littleton CO

Thanks so much for wonderful trip and hospitality! Great crew, great guests, great diving!
Mike Hofman & Janet Moyer, San Francisco CA

We had a wonderful time as always. We can’t wait for our next trip with all of you.
Fontaine & Judy Richarson, Carisle MA

Jim Stringer.

Kathy Knoblock gets busy.

Michael Hofman & Janet Moyer.

Kevin Green - Vanuatu guru.

Market produce and packaging, Port Vila.

Judy & Dick Spann.

Judy & Fontaine Richardson.

Barbara Mousel.

Amphiprion melanopus anemonefish.

Notodoris minor nudibranch.

Gymnodoris ceylonica nudibranch.


Mndy Cooper-Smith.

Kathy Knoblock & Rob Mougey.

Paul Humann & Rob Barrel.

Dan Wile.