A Rock with Lots of Friends
Story and Photos by Stephani Holzwarth
Day 1, Gardner Pinnacle, 20 Sept 2004
Gardner is one of my favorite places in the NWHI. There is something about its raw energy and swirling waters full of schools of grey nenue (and the occasional gold one), silver clouds of baitfish, needlefish like dark grey arrows just under the surface, barracuda, sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, monk seals, and sharks. Big fat opihi (limpets) cling to the rock where waves slide up and down the face. The water is clear and it is just the right challenge to free dive down to the reef at 40, 50, 60 feet down. Elizabeth and I make excursions down to the reef, hovering over the scientists on scuba gear, who are trying to estimate algae, coral, and invertebrate populations, as well as fish densities. The surge pushes them around like rag dolls, somehow affecting us less as we freedive.
We find and replace the STR on scuba, and then I return with the photographers and science writer for a snorkel session. We free dive all afternoon in the warm clear water, finally getting called back to the boat by Merlyn when it was time to go. I never tire of that spot right next to the channel between the two pinnacles. Gardner has one massive pinnacle and then a smaller nicely shaped side pinnacle, where the water has worn through and created a channel. Waves crush themselves through the gap, spilling white fizzy water into the area. I like to freedive under the white bubbles and roll over like a monk seal playing, suspended in the water column, looking up at the fish trapped between me and the bubbles. The needlefish are almost invisible until the bubbles make a white background. David, Susan, Dan, Elizabeth and I snorkel in the area for almost two hours. More and more creatures show up the longer we stay. This is a gathering place, like the watering holes in Africa, the riverbanks in the Amazon. This is a piece of rock in the middle of a deep stretch of ocean and animals collect around it.
Randy is an amazing freediver, and I watch him drop down to 70 feet, and then swim low along the bottom to join two eagle rays flying across the reef. I dive down to about 10 feet above him and hang there with my camera, which of course runs out of battery power and refuses to take a picture. I mentally capture the scene in my minds eye: lean, brown, Hawaiian (in upbringing and approach to life) Randy gliding along the bottom with the eagle rays. It is a good moment, and we all have a few of our own- feeling the merging of our world and theirs.