Remembering the USS Arizona and the Mighty Mo

The USS Arizona Memorial is a national monument honoring those who served in the Pacific Theatre during and after the Japanese naval assault on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The memorial structure is built on and directly over the rusted remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona. This is the final resting place of 1,177 Americans killed when a bomb penetrated the deck above the ship’s munitions magazine during the Japanese air attack on Battleship Row.

The loss of life on the Arizona represents more than half of all the Americans killed on December 7, 1941. It also represents the greatest number of casualties on any American warship in history.

Now a garden setting

If you have not been to the memorial lately, you will be much impressed with the park like setting at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center.

While at the Center, be sure to see the 23-minute film and audio tour that brings that fateful morning at Pearl Harbor to life.

Well done

The exhibits at the Center are designed to pull visitors deftly into that specific moment in history, as they relive the politics and events leading up to the Japanese attack.

The presentations are poignant – be prepared for a holistic experience you will not forget.

A solemn journey

When their background education is refreshed, visitors board a launch operated by the Navy and are ferried across the harbor to the waiting memorial. It is a short and quiet ride.

After pulling alongside the monument, passengers disembark and walk up to the cenotaph resting on the Arizona.

At the far end of the memorial, look for the Wall of Honor with the names of those that gave their lives on the ill-fated Arizona. They are now resting beneath your feet.

Visitors speak in whispers, tears are visible, eyes are cast downward into the entombing water, and minds imagine the confusion and utter chaos of that December morning so long ago. It all seems surreal to the observers who now stand in the gentle Hawaiian breeze – safely atop the remains of the Arizona.

The ultimate sacrifice

One can only wonder what life might have held in store for the one-thousand plus soldiers and sailors below – if they had not been aboard the Arizona on that fateful day. Had they lived, what famous Americans might they have fathered for our generation, what greatness might they have achieved? America moved forward, one-thousand heroes remain at their post.

The tears of the Arizona

Seventy-five years later, oil still seeps from the sunken battleship. It randomly appears on the water’s surface – then like a spirit – it floats slowly away. Observers have named the oil manifestations “the tears of the Arizona.”

Be sure to visit the USS Arizona Memorial

Save a day during your vacation on Oahu and take your family to see the USS Arizona Memorial. For some, it is an awakening and first time realization about the many Americans that have sacrificed everything to keep our nation free.

The USS Missouri

The Arizona Memorial is now symbolically guarded by the ever-vigilant USS Missouri battleship. “Big Mo,” is permanently docked in Pearl – just up-harbor from the Arizona. The Missouri fought in and survived WWII and her deck was the historic site of the official surrender of Japan in 1945. It seems fitting that a battleship that participated in ending the war in the Pacific, should rest near the dreadnought that was the earliest casualty of the conflict.

The great Missouri went on to fight in Korea, and Operation Desert Storm. She was decommissioned in 1992, and took up her post as silent sentinel for the Arizona in 1999.

The USS Missouri has the distinction of being the last active battleship in the world.

If you go

The USS Arizona Memorial is located in Pearl Harbor, which is two miles west of the Honolulu International Airport.

Look *here* for more information about the USS Arizona Memorial, and *here* for the USS Missouri Memorial.

Heroes are still being interred on the USS Arizona. This video explains – http://youtu.be/MgE2KiPd3xg

Happy travels – Remember our troops, not only today, but always.

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Ahoy Matey! Mystic Seaport Welcomes Seamen and Landlubbers Aboard

We love Connecticut. It is a beautiful state that is teeming with interesting tourist attractions. Today, we focus on the historic maritime coast of the Constitution state in “Mystic Country.”

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The seaside towns and villages of Mystic Country run 30-miles along Long Island Sound, starting at the town of Old Lyme and ending at the border of Rhode Island to the east. Our story begins with a visit to famous Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut.

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The Mystic Seaport sign proclaims, “The Museum of America and the Sea.” The catchphrase was well chosen because Mystic Seaport is an exciting playground for maritime historians, boaters of every persuasion, kids of all ages, and folks who just love the sea.

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We arrived early so we had the streets of the historic port village to ourselves.

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Everywhere we looked there were tall ship’s masts and sails in the background of the village’s authentic 19th century homes and shops.

It was a quiet fall day, and a slight whisper of falling leaves in the breeze made the many historical settings that much more alive and imaginative. We were walking back in time, and looked forward to the experience.

The last of the whalers

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Our feet rustled through the leaf covered village green as we made our way to tour the Charles W. Morgan – a sturdy looking wooden whaleship that is now a National Historic Landmark.

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In the 19th century, there were over 2,500 wooden whaling ships in North America and now there is one. The Morgan, launched in 1841, is America’s oldest surviving commercial ship still afloat. She has resided in the Mystic Seaport since 1941.

During her more than 80-years of service, the Morgan made voyages ranging in time from nine months, to five years. It was on just such a ship that the morose Captain Ahab sailed from nearby Nantucket to seek the elusive great white whale named Moby Dick. Arrr!

Signing on to crew a whaling ship in the 19th century was the fast-track to a harsh life involving hard work and long voyages. Thankfully (for the sake of the whales), whaling was greatly curtailed with the invention of kerosene in the 1840s.

The Joseph Conrad

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From the deck of the Morgan you can see the steel-hulled Joseph Conrad. The Conrad was built in 1882 as a training ship for the Danish Merchant Marine Service. For years she sailed with a cadet crew of eighty, and all went well until 1905 when the ship was rammed by a British freighter near Copenhagen and sunk.

Sadly, 20 young cadets went down with the Conrad. However, the vessel was quickly raised, repaired, and continued her mission until 1934 when the ship was sold. The new owner privatized the ship and took her around the world for two years covering 58,000 miles.

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The Mystic Seaport gained possession of the Joseph Conrad in 1948, and it has been in the museum ever since.

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As we walked the decks, we could appreciate the vast amount of maintenance that is necessary to keep such an important maritime relic in ship-shape.

The Authentic Seaport Village

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The faithful Seafaring Village has an active shiplift – that’s the seasonal touring steamboat Sabino being readied for winter in the photo above.

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There’s also a sail and rigging loft – chandlery,

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craftsman workshops such as a shipsmith shop,

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nautical instrument shop, and a cooperage.

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There’s also a bank, drug store, school house, and a tavern.

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Be sure to visit the small catboat exhibit with its many beautiful varnished toys for grown-ups,

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and the Henry B. DuPont Preservation Shipyard to see what wonders marine craftsman can perform in the restoration of a boat or ship.

The kids will love it

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Mystic Seaport is the #1 family vacation destination in Connecticut, and for good reason. This is a place for every mood, and every taste. Kids are treated to fun seafaring experiences they could not find elsewhere. Click *here* to see the many learning opportunities available at this 19-acre maritime park.

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Fancy a sailing lesson around the harbor?

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Get all the additional information you need about Mystic Seaport by checking their website.

If you go

Mystic Seaport is easy to reach and lies betwixt New York City (134 miles) and Boston (102 miles) on I-95 – exit 90. Mystic Seaport is located right on the banks of the Mystic River that flows into nearby Long Island Sound.

Where to stay

We chose two delightful inns for our stay in the Mystic/Stonington area – appropriately, both were on the water.

The Steamboat Inn

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Strategically located in downtown Mystic, and close to the famous Mystic River Bascule Bridge,

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the Steamboat Inn is an uber-comfortable 11-room luxury hotel. Each guestroom has distinctive furnishings that are in harmony with the nautical theme.

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We were in room #2, apply named, “Mystic.” Great views of the river activity taking place just outside our windows.

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The inn projects comfort at every turn, and the delicious full complimentary breakfast served in the common room is a great way to start the day in Mystic Country.

To view all the rooms and learn more about this recommended inn click *here*.

The Inn at Stonington

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Just ten minutes from Mystic lies another village with a seafaring history, the Borough of Stonington. The Inn at Stonington is nestled into quiet Water Street with nearby upscale 18th and 19th century homes. The back of the inn is a stone’s throw from Stonington Harbor.

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It’s just a short walk down Water Street to the Old Lighthouse Museum constructed in 1840 at Dubois Beach.

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The lighthouse is no longer active, but the old stone building provides an excellent museum of the history of the village and surroundings.

The little Dubois beach is relatively secluded and just the sort of out-of-the-way place where busy tourists can enjoy a measure of relaxing solitude.

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You can chose from a range of bedroom types to suit your taste at the Inn at Stonington. Our room overlooked the harbor and Fisher’s Island Sound beyond. Each of the 18 classily decorated rooms reflects the ambiance of the surrounding quaint village.

We arrived at the inn just in time for the evening wine and cheese reception. Nicely selected area wines were accompanied by an ample assortment of artisan cheeses. Yummy.

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This boutique inn also provides a complimentary and substantial continental breakfast in the sitting room that overlooks the harbor.

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Tasty and filling – another good start for a day of intensive touring.

Look at the website for more information about the Inn at Stonington, availability, and pricing.

Where to eat 

This part of coastal Connecticut is noted for seafood restaurants, and you will have no trouble finding palate pleasing fare of any variety in the 80+ local restaurants.

There are four family dining facilities located right at Mystic Seaport. We were told by nearby residents that the dining facilities are all quite good, but we did not eat during our tour of the park, so cannot personally comment.

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Another place we didn’t eat, but should mention, is the famous Mystic Pizza restaurant – the inspiration for the 1988 coming-of-age movie starring Julia Roberts. It is right on busy West Main Street in downtown Mystic.

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We did enjoy some excellent, mega-portion New England fried seafood at the Seahorse Restaurant in nearby Noank. This place we do recommend. The Seahorse serves tasty full-bellied fried clams that are favored by the regulars. These clams taste a little like fried oysters, but not as pungent. Delicious!

There was also a seafood restaurant at the dock across the parking lot from the Inn at Stonington called Swooner.

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We had lunch there, and mercifully, it closed soon after our visit. Our helpful tourism contact has informed us that another restaurant named the Breakwater will open at this superb waterfront location in May 2015.

The new proprietor has a reputation for operating successful restaurants. The Breakwater will feature classic American seafood in a casual contemporary atmosphere – not fancy. Can’t wait to try it the next time we are in Connecticut.

Also for next-time, how about a day on the Ice Cream Trail meticulously organized by www.Mystic.org – a good reference website to remember.  48 sweet places to relish America’s favorite dessert. 48!

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We highly recommend Mystic Country for a quality family vacation. In addition to what you see reported here, the area is also home to the Mystic Aquarium, the Goodspeed Opera House, Gillette’s Castle, two casinos, and a submarine museum.

The reader may also be interested in the following Connecticut stories and reviews by Wayne and Judy.

Fall Colors in New England at Brainerd House

Visit to Extraordinary Gillette’s Castle

Best of Connecticut Resorts and Spas

A Storybook Christmas in Connecticut at the Tidewater Inn

A True New England Holiday Experience

A Historic Inn along the Shore of Fashionable Westport

An Intimate Bed and Breakfast on the Backroads of Connecticut

The Elegant Delamar Greenwich Harbor Hotel

The American Revolution and Curtis House Inn

Happy travels!

 

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Cruising with the Whales in Baja, Mexico

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The next time you get tired of winter, book a flight to La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. During the months of January through April, the weather in La Paz is absolutely perfect, and it is a wonderful time to take the opportunity to get up close and personal with gray whales and their calves.

Getting there

La Paz has its own airport, but the bigger Cabo San Lucas airport to the south has more flights and services.

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When we arrived in Cabo, we took a taxi for the almost three-hour scenic ride on Mexico Route 19 from Cabo to La Paz – the road was good and we zipped right along.

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It does not take long to confirm that Baja California is indeed a desert, and we found ourselves imagining that the thousands of cacti along the highway were humorous stick “characters.”

Route 19 runs parallel to the pristine sandy beaches of the Pacific for about 50 miles north of Cabo and before cutting east across the peninsula to La Paz.

We stopped only once for a bite to eat in the small town of Todos Santos on the Pacific side of the peninsula. We ate at La Coronela restaurant in the Hotel California. We dined in the hotel’s comfortable courtyard, the food was excellent – and the beer was ice cold.

 The city of La Paz

La Paz is a city on the Sea of Cortez with some 200,000 residents, but much of the tourist activity is near the water where La Paz’s flavor takes on the vibe of a prosperous seaside village.

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Traffic wasn’t bad coming into town along the shore and picturesque La Paz Malecón, so we reached our hotel in short order.

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The Hyatt Place is a new hotel in the exclusive Costa Baja area of La Paz.  It’s right in front of a marina that is home to magnificent yachts from around the world. The hotel rooms are spacious and modern, and each booking comes with a tasty hot breakfast with eggs your way, pancakes, fruit, juice, coffee, etc.

Our videographer friend Richard Williams was on the trip, and put together a creative film clip about the Hyatt. See it *here*

Up in the morning

It was breakfast at sunrise and into a van for the 170-mile drive across the Peninsula, to the Pacific side and Puerto Lopez Mateo.

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The journey took about 3.5 hours, with a brief stop for a delicious lunch (we had fresh fish) in the small town of Constitucion.

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When we arrived at the whale watching dock in Puerto Lopez Mateo, we were anxious to don our life vests, board our boat, and be introduced to the mighty gray whales that were waiting for us in the inlet.

About the whales

Every year,  traveling at speeds of about 5 miles per hour, 10 to 15 thousand gray whales make their way from the freezing waters of Alaska’s Bering Sea along the Pacific Coast of America to the warm waters of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. It is here that the female grays bear their calves.

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There are only three places in the world where gray whales give birth, and all of them are in Baja, Mexico. After birthing, the mothers and their offspring stay in the safety of the lagoons for several weeks in order for the mothers to teach their newborns to feed, swim, and socialize with other whales.

The male grays leave Baja first, and by April the majority of the whales are on their 5,000+ mile trek back to Alaska.

An organized adventure

State and federal licenses are necessary to go whale watching in Baja. Your tour company will instruct you on how to obtain them.

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Only guides who have been tested and certified in the nuances of protecting the whales can lead a tour that intends to get close enough to touch the gentle giants.

Our tour boat, like all the others in the fleet, had to pass a passenger safety inspection.

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There is a limit to the number of boats that can congregate in a given area, which assures that the whales are not threatened, and have ample room to maneuver.

About our tour boat

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The whale encounter boats are called “pangas,” and are 22-feet long. They are specifically designed for the purpose of whale watching.

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Jose, from the Cortez Club, led our tour and helped us into an uber-clean panga that easily and comfortably seated the eight people in our group. The quiet outboard motor moved us briskly along the placid water of the lagoon as we searched for whales.

The weather was a pleasant and dry 78 degrees, and when we stopped to visit with some grays, there was just a slight chop on the water.

Calling the whales

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Jose advised that by slapping the water on the side of the boat we would attract whales, and sure enough it took just minutes of splashing before a 50 foot long, 70,000 pound gray whale, accompanied by her calf, decided to play.

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The photo above shows a baby whale approaching a neighboring panga.

At first, it was a bit disconcerting to watch this shallowly submerged creature, the size of a school bus, bearing down on the center of what felt like our quickly shrinking panga.

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However, in every case, the breathing bus slowed to a glide as it neared the boat. At that point, the whales cruised closely along-side, and we quickly comprehended they were encouraging a friendly pat on the head.

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As they approach, the whales might do a shallow dive under the boat only to appear on the other side spouting plumes of water high into the air – what fun for them!

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Be sure to keep your camera lens protected for the duration of these momentary monsoons.

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Sometimes, mom will hang back and watch her calf interact with the excited guests, but most of the time she is right there in the thick of the action – getting her own strokes.

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During these encounters, there is no doubt in any passengers mind that these are highly intelligent mammals that fully comprehend their enormous power and prowess.

What a thrill

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It is all very exhilarating, and any concerns of personal safety are quickly dispelled as everyone lunges to get in a back slap, head pat, or a chin tickle on the gigantic mama whale or her frolicking 20-foot calf.

This is fun of the first order, time passes quickly, and it never gets boring. Some people laugh, some scream like they are on a roller coaster, and some cry with joy over the spiritual connection they feel with these magnificent animals.

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Eventually, and probably when mom thinks that junior has had enough attention, she heads off towards open water.

Several whales gave us fluke or tail waves as they departed – maybe it was coincidental, but we choose not to think so.

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It is safe to predict, that all the thousands of people that experience this annual celebration of life and nature become life-long advocates for the complete banning of whale hunting.

These gentle denizens of the deep, who are so much more powerful than we mere mortals, deserve our ultimate respect and protection.

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We heartily recommend this adventure for anyone yearning to fully experience the beauty and grandeur of nature – on a very large scale.

For more information about whale encounters and the other wonders of La Paz, check out this website: www.en.golapaz.com/

Be sure to view our friend Richard’s film clip about our whale encounters. Click *here*.

For other exciting sea adventures, see our stories about:

Shark diving in the Bahamas

A night encounter with giant Manta Rays in Hawaii

Diving in a submarine in the Cayman Islands

Sailing the coast of Maine on a magnificent schooner

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Wherever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

Need dependable luxury transportation in San Francisco? We recommend JetStream Limousine.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Charting a Course on the Legendary “African Queen”

As we travel, we check off places that are on our Bucket List. Being film buffs, many of the things on our list are related to movies we have seen over the years.

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We recently checked off another “to do” from our list by skippering the authentic “African Queen,” the boat made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in the 1951 Academy Award Winning film of the same name.

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The “Queen” is presently docked at a destination also made famous by Bogart in the Florida Keys, Key Largo

Finding the Queen

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We happened upon the African Queen quite by accident. We were in the Keys doing research for articles about luxury resorts and “old Florida” accommodations. A list of those articles follows this story.

The Florida Keys are fun strips of coral sand islands connected by 42 bridges and the Overseas Highway, US 1. They stretch for about 120 miles south into the Atlantic Ocean below Miami, Florida.

The Keys are ripe with salty myths and legends, and stories of true adventures like the finding of millions of dollars in sunken treasure on the Atocha. There are also unusual stories like those about Ernest Hemingway’s house of many cats in Key West.

All the excitement in the Keys make them an apropos home for the iconic African Queen.

The Queen’s history

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The Queen had an interesting past long before she came to the attention of John Houston who immediately wanted her for the movie he was directing in the Belgium Congo. She was perfect for the role of the African Queen – just beat up enough to look the part, and just seaworthy enough – to run long enough – to finish the movie.

The vessel was built in 1912 in Lytham, England, where she was named the Livingstone. Her first job was to carry cargo, hunters, and missionaries on Lake Albert and the Victoria Nile in east Africa.

Houston found her in 1951. She was sufficiently worn by then, and perfect for the material role of the African Queen in his epic adventure.

In 1968 the boat was moved from Africa to the United States by a San Francisco restaurateur. He planned to charter the famous boat to tourists.

The Queen changed hands again in 1970 when she was purchased for the price of her boatyard bill, and moved to Oregon where she was successfully chartered a few months out of the year. Finally, on to Florida for an attempt at year-round chartering – that failed.

In 1982 she was born again as a tourist attraction at the Holiday Inn in Key Largo. About that time, she also made her re-entry onto the global stage and toured around the world in ports such as Sydney, New York, and London.

The news of her re-emerging travel and popularity caught the eye of Kate Hepburn who was said to be “delighted” that the old Queen had been saved, yet again.

A new life

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Finally, in 2012, on her centennial, the most recent revival of the African Queen was completed by a new operator Lance Holmquist. She needed a new boiler, her steel hull required fortification, and her engine needed rebuilding. The work was a labor of love for Lance, and the Queen now delights vintage boat and film buffs once again.

Our wish came true

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We took the helm like Bogart and Hepburn and chugged the little 30-foot boat through the canals of Key Largo and out into the open ocean. This was high-exhilaration for two old movie buffs.

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As we approached the Queen’s home-dock at the Marina Del Mar, adjacent the Holiday Inn, Lance gave us the final thrill when he let loose the Queen’s shrill steam whistle. There is no mistaking that sound heard so many times in many places over the last century.

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Check off one more from the Bucket List!

If you go

For more information about tickets for the daily cruises on the African Queen located at Mile Marker 100 in Key Largo, look at the website here. www.africanqueenflkeys.com

Note: The African Queen is a true relic, and she wouldn’t be “authentic” if she was spit-polished. So, don’t wear your Sunday best if you plan to board her.

You will also benefit by checking out the general visitor information about visiting the Florida Keys at www.fla-keys.com

The Keys are full of luxurious and unique places to stay. Here are three stories to read about some we have visited.

Kona Kai Resort

Little Palm Island Resort

Cheeca Lodge and Spa

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Vintage black and white photo courtesy of United Artists

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Sheraton and The Hula Kai Take Adventurers to Manta Ray Waters

Manta rays are amazing and curious creatures. People are fascinated by their opposing nature of ominous looks, and sweet dispositions.

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The Sheraton Kona Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii pays homage to these gentle giants by providing a viewing area for visitors at the resort’s Rays on the Bay restaurant.

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From the restaurant’s lookout, the magnificent and mysterious creatures can be seen gliding in the night ocean far below.

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Guests can also attend a complimentary lecture about the manta rays arranged through the resort’s front desk.

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The resort can also organize a water adventure to view the manta rays up close from a local tour boat named the Hula Kai – an opportunity we eagerly welcomed.

Swimming with the manta rays

Like whales, manta rays eat plankton. The plankton are attracted to light and that is the secret to successful manta viewing from the Hula Kai. Our excursion went like this:

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We boarded the nearby Hula Kai at sunset and moved just off shore of the Sheraton Kona.  We donned wetsuits, googles, and a snorkel provided by the concessionaire. We were given a quick course on manta watching, which is done from a horizontal position floating on one’s stomach and holding fast to a length of 3” diameter buoyant pipe – set out from the stern of the boat much like a floating rectangle.

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Soon darkness was upon us, and the Hula Kai engaged underwater illumination used to attract plankton to the site. We entered the water by ladder and positioned ourselves around the floating pipe. We looked down into the clear bay water and breathed through our snorkels.

Our bodies were made buoyant by the wetsuits, so maintaining our balance was not difficult. It did not take long before the first of six manta rays appeared from out of the shadows – and the fun began.

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Manta rays are big, but harmless to humans. They, like the whale, are filter feeders. Mantas are fish related to the shark, but have no bones, teeth, barbs, or stingers. However, they do have size – up to 2,000 pounds – which they use in a very good-natured way.

Manta rays are often given names by the crew of the Hula Kai. Each ray has distinctive “spots” that make identity possible.  The same rays tend to return for evening dining and playing with the snorkelers and divers.

For a period of about one-hour we watched these graceful giants do underwater summersaults just below us – performing like rolling acrobats with gray tops and white underbellies.

Although touching the mantas is not allowed, the creatures have no such restrictions. Frequently, one or more of the rays did a graceful roll just under a snorkeler and purposely pressed its sleek white underbelly along the length of the viewer’s body – an exciting encounter that will be remembered by anyone that experiences it.  The top of a ray feels like sandpaper, and the underside is as smooth as velvet.

Tempus fugit, so do it while you can

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For nature and adventure lovers, snorkeling with the manta rays in the back of the Hula Kai in Kailua, Kona is right up there with diving with the reef sharks in the Bahamas, and snorkeling or diving with the sting rays at Stingray City in the Caymans.

Click *here* to read our story and see pictures of the beautiful Sheraton Kona Resort on the Big Island, and *here* to check out the resort’s website. To read about all the services offered by the company that operates the Hula Kai Manta Snorkel, click *here.*

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff, shark picture by Wayne Bayliff, Manta Ray pictures courtesy of Sheraton Kona.

You can see the world with Google Maps. www.maps.google.com

We flew to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines