Snorkeling in Mi’il Channel

This morning I awoke at 0530 to get ready for my first immersion in
Yapese waters since my arrival two weeks ago. Those oceanography types
reading this (and they're a lot of you) can retract that scolding
finger right now that says “You'd BETTER get out there and get wet if
you're going to be there a month – Yap's got the best diving in the
world!” (Some will argue that Palau is the best, but more on the debate
below). The linguists would concur with my preference to be at home
going through the data, as I'm on a tight time frame and am trying to
get as much as possible (and NOT get stressed out about it). And after
all, I came to Yap to work.  But I probably should take a break,
and wat better place to take in in the ocean at one of the world's
premier reefs?

So I show up at the dock around 0645, less than a ten-minute walk from
the house. The full moon was about an hour from setting, and it was
magnificent. We picked up two other divers, and headed to Mi'il Channel,
through the center of Yap. [Notice the map says “Mill channel,” but it's actually Mi'il Channel ]

I felt alternately that I was riding through the Everglades and through
the Amazon, as our boat traveled through thick mangrove patches – a
Satawalese man named Kintu (cousin of Kensley, nephew of Lorenzo – I'm
starting to get more familiar with the geneaology of everyone here)
expertly piloted the boat through, with a cheek full of betelnut.

An aside. I was told that I didn't describe the effect of betelnut in
one of my earlier posts – well, it's definitely a different sensation
than I've ever had before. Wait a minute. [Being a scientist who wishes
to relay accurate information, Kevin goes to get betelnut to give you,
gentle readers, a truthful description]. Pepper leaf + lime + betelnut
– insert in mouth, chew, chew, chew. Well, it's a cross between (spit)
a hit of tobacco and marijuana and a very strong cup of coffee (spit).
A feeling of well-being and contentment (spit) follows almost

The other two dive masters were also chewing, and darn – I left mine at
home (spit). But better I experience my first Yap snorkel fueled with
nothing more than a good cup of Peet's.

The landscape widened as we entered bays and narrowed again as we
traversed the “German Channel,” a channel cut through the mangroves by,
uhm, Germans, during their colonial rule to get more easily to the
North tip of the island.

Here's a map – we left from Colonia and went through a channel in the
center of the island (it still looks attached in this picture but it's
not – barely)

The ride took about 15-20 minutes, and it's been years since I've been
on a small boat like that, and haven't had fun like that since I was
airboating on a river in Nebraska with my brother-in-law in the late

One idea I have never liked about scuba, though I haven't tried it so I
should disparage, is all of the STUFF needed to do it – regulators,
tanks, wet suits, etc. It's like windsurfing – lots of stuff. [I'm a
boogieboarder – all I need is my board and fins]. And then there's the
timed descent, the timed decompression, the ascent. It's a lot of work,
coupled with the fact that I have excruciating pain in my ears trying
to equalize so I've always thought that it wasn't for me. Someone
pointed out here that you don't have to equalize in scuba, as the
equipment provides you air to keep your breathing passages open. Never
thought about that one, but they're right. [Note to myself: check out
how to become a certified diver when I get back to Hawaii]

I got a good look at the Island of Rumung, the “forbidden island.”
There is no connection to any other island – no bridge. The Rumungese
do not allow anyone there, and I respect that – more on this topic in
my next blog. Back to the boat.

I had to wait until the Canadians were done suiting up, and then I entered the water.

Wow. It was very clear, and I was off. I got off on the reef side of
the boat, and for 20-30 minutes, paddled around looking at the bursts
of color all around me – suffice to say, I didn't know a single species
I was looking at, but I lost count after 40 species – it's just like
National Geographic underwater!

What I thought were hard tough corals turned out to be anenomone-like –
I didn't touch anything, but to test whether some kind of growth was
hard or soft, I waved my fins in the direction of the object and saw it
either stand firm or wave back at me with thousands of tentacles. I
cruised in large circles, keeping my eye on the boat. There was some
current, and I wanted to NOT have to get rescued because it took me far
away from where I was supposed to be.

I was unprepared for what happened next – I was swimming along, and
suddenly it got very dark ahead, and I realized I was on the edge of
the reef's dropoff, and gasped – I had the sensation of being on top of
a very tall building, and in this case, could “walk” right off the
edge, and not fall – I swam along the edge of the reef, gazing at the
abundant life attached to, swimming, and lurking at the edge. I
estimate the depth to be around 50-80 feet directly below and the depth
kept going and going down off to the side. As my dad would say, “Holy

Back on the reef, I realized there were coral communities, separated by
either die-off zones or other natural breaks, reminding me of green
zones in cities and between cities. Of course, the big draw is the
large mantas, and the dive masters took the two divers to see them some
40-60 feet below the surface. We were near their “cleaning station”
where these marvelous, peaceful behemoths swim into view, almost as on
a catwalk in a beauty contest to be cleaned of any attachments by fish
in the area. I want to see them sometime. I used to surf with mantas at
Pohoiki Bay, so I've seen them in the wild before, but I was told these
mantas are very very large ones.

Two of the guides were Palauan. I had a chance to talk to one of them
for about 20 minutes. Gordon was a very affable, softspoken man. He is
Palauan, but prefers Yap, and has been here 19 years. Palau is
completely driven by tourism (Yap only opened its doors to tourism
officially in 1989) and the dive business on Palau is intense – read
cutthroat. Other people I have talked to here don't have a high opinion
of Palau – they say that traffic is bad, tourists get ripped off,
people are only out for a buck – but those may be the sour grapes of
people who had bad experiences. I'm not here to diss Palau, but Gordon
prefers the more friendly attitude of dive companies here – indeed, at
one point during the morning, there were several boats from at least
three companies moored at the same float. Gordon probably loves his
home, but like me, has seen it change too fast and is saddened by the
hopelessness of it never being able to return to what it once was.


About kevinmroddy

I am a freelance musician
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One Response to Snorkeling in Mi’il Channel

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ahh. I'm envious! BTW, I can hook you up with scuba training — I am (trying not to be) a part owner of a dive biz that runs a boat out of portlock. And for the record, equalizing is an important part of scuba diving. Sorry. And well, yeah, there's all that *stuff*. But wouldn't you have liked to check out the rays up close? Take that “step” over the edge of the wall and drift down it a bit? Worth the effort! — tara

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