Yap reminds me of my youth. I had a lot of fun and experienced a lot of things …many I wouldn’t have if not for a fair amount of risk taking. But those risks pale in comparison to Bill Acker’s, the owner and operator of Manta Ray Bay Resort. Bill came to Yap some 30 odd years ago with the Peace Corps and he never left. A proud Texas Longhorn, Bill fell in love with the people of the island. Warm and soft spoken, the people of Yap also took to Bill. He pioneered the diving in Yap. Together with his friends, they discovered the dive sites, marked them, and set about starting Yap Divers and getting MRBR of the ground. Bill is burly man with a Southern Texas draw, and as our generous host, he was always willing to answer any question we had…even the silly one about whether I could jump off the mast of the boat into the water 50 feet below. He said, “sure Mark!” For the record…I’m just not that brave anymore and I wasn’t sure if my insurance covers “dumb-ass” so I passed. Bill’s Texas demeanor and big grinning smile was appreciated by all the guests. He still loves to dive and made it out with the guests to splash in. There is something else I love about Bill…he buys me beer. He likes to mix the light and dark beer and calls it a Texas Two Step…I just keep saying thank you and that made for a fun week.
Diving here is often summed up as just manta diving and I’ll be the first to tell you that’s a good enough reason to get here. The mantas are present almost all year round. Circling their cleaning station and feeding spot at a site called Stammtisch. The German word loosely means the table reserved for the “locals.” It’s often a round table around where a tavern’s regulars have an informal get together. It is here where the mantas do their daily get together and dance. Being in only 20 feet of water, the dive can easily turn into a two hour love affair. Swooping in just above your head, the mantas move in and out of sight in the hazy waters of the lagoon in graceful formations. Visibility isn’t perfect at Stammtisch, I won’t lie to you. However, it’s good enough for great photo ops and after all, the stuff in the water is the reason the mantas are there at Stammtisch in the first place.
Yap Diving Tip #1 – Ask for an early boat for best manta encounters. They are wild animals but our experience was that an 8am boat had more success than a 9am or 10am departure. Tide schedules can affect boat departures but earlier, the better.
Like I said, the mantas are a good enough reason to come here but Yap is much more than manta diving. The shark action at Vertigo is some of the best Black and White Tip Reef Shark action I’ve seen. The site is sometimes used as a shark feed site so the sharks know arriving boats could mean a free snack so they gather around. Feed or not, they are there. Obviously, snacks bring all the shark kiddies out to play. Shark feeds carry their fair share of controversy and I understand the arguments on both sides of the isle. I’m not a big fan of teaching sharks to associate people with food. After all, they are wild animals and accidents happen. MRBR does things a little different and I’m grateful. On request, MRBR will lowers a box with some fish scraps in it. I will be the first to admit It brings in the sharks a little closer for us videographers and I love shooting sharks…the closer the better. Most photographers I know live for the close-up shot. MRBR doesn’t give the sharks the food until everyone is out of the water. That makes a lot more sense to me as associating the boat, rather than people, with food seems the smarter option.
Reef structure in Yap is varied from sloping to vertical walls. Water temperatures 82-84 degrees. Visibility can range from 80 feet to 200 plus. Some sites such as Yap Caverns are filled with beautifully lit swim through passages, crevices, and critter hiding spots. The sunbeams find their way through the gaps creating spectacular shafts of light and twinkles on the sand floor. Plan on a three tank dive when going here as it is on the Southern most point of the island.
Yap Diving Tip #2 – If you can catch the tide and wind conditions right, try and arrange an incoming tide dive into the mouth of Mil Chanel. It’s a fun zippy ride into the lagoon with warm water, awesome viz, and great structure to behold. If it’s in the morning, you will have a good chance of seeing the mantas come in to the channel as well.
Remember how we said nothing would go wrong on this trip? Well, the camera gods were not so nice to me. My battery died just as we came across a pair of mating cuttlefish. Luckily, there was still some battery left in Stacy’s GoPro and we managed to get in a few minutes of video to share. We watched them mate while flashing wild patterns on their skin and then they would separate and she would lay her eggs delicately in the coral. She would lay several and then return to the male, who was keeping a watchful eye, and mate again. We spent the entire dive watching and a few PSI more then we ought to have.
Just when we were about to head for the surface, I realized I had dropped the red color correction filter for her GoPro somewhere. I spent a few hundred more PSI more looking for it while Stacy headed to the surface. She was not amused by my carelessness. No luck finding the filter…two strikes. Rats. Time to head to the surface and take the wrath of Stacy. I was hoping the mating cuttlefish put her in a good mood. In the end, she let me live as long as she got to use my brand new GoPro. Deal!
We dived everyday in Yap. We would choose a boat we wanted to go on based on its itinerary. Mantas in the morning and walls in the afternoon or sloping coral and drift. There is even a site for macro and Mandarin fish. Yap has a lot to offer a diver. Many people just spend three days here to see the mantas but I would encourage you to make it a full week. There is plenty to see. A two week adventure to Yap/Palau or Yap/Chuuk is worth the time. There is enough to see in both places and the diving is diverse enough.
Diving in Yap Tip #3 – Make sure you visit a variety of the dive sites on the South (caverns), West (walls), and East (sloping reefs) sides of the island. Don’t just go out to Stammtisch each day. Pick your boat and itinerary. Enjoy all Yap has to offer.
The Diving Operation:
We were diving with Yap Divers, MRBR’s in house diver operation. So let me tell you a little about them. Each day they bring your gear on the dive boat and set it up for you and at the end of the day, disassemble, wash, and return it to your locker. Works for me! Lit rinse tanks are there for the do it yourselfers as well as fresh showers and outdoor racks. Individual lockers are inside and covered. The large dive shop has individual camera tables for photogs including compressed air, magnifying work lights, dual power charging, and lockable storage. It’s well thought out and convenient.
They offer up to 6 boats and various daily itineraries to chose from. Boat capacities range from 6 seats to 20 seats. The larger capacity boats are used for large groups wanting to dive together or special requests for three or four tank dive days. It is more normal to have 6 to 8 divers per boat; The perfect number for socializing and getting to know your new friends for the week.
Eating at MRBR is great. Enjoying a meal on the ship/restaurant Mnuw (pronounced men-new) in the open air is refreshing, especially when accompanied by one of their signature in-house microbrews. Freddie is the transplanted German brewmaster crafting the Stone Money Brewing Company’s light and dark beers. Served cold, it’s a great way to end a dive day. Happy hour starts at 4 with a blast of the ship’s cannon. It’s hard to miss. Fresh fish is served daily as well as other dishes. The pizza oven churns out slices from home…thick or thin…they don’t judge in Yap. As much as we may like eating in, eating out is part of the reason we travel.
There are a few options available but the two I would recommend are Oasis and Moonrise. Oasis is just down the street and offers good food at competitive prices. The Japanese breakfast with its generous fish fillet along with egg and rice is delicious. The noodle soups are the best bargain on the menu. Moonrise is on the other side of the island and a 7 dollar cab ride. Call first to be sure they are open and then plan on spending a few hours on the beach enjoying the view as local dishes are served up. It’s rustic but that’s how things go on Yap. Head out after your morning two tank dive and let the cab driver know when to pick you up or the restaurant can call them back if you don’t mind the wait.
Betel Nut –
When a local smiles at you in Yap, you will most likely be looking at a very red stained set of teeth. It looks like blood…it looks disturbing…well…it’s kinda gross. But that didn’t stop Stacy from trying the strangle combination of betel nut, leaf, and slack lime that the Yapese, and many other cultures, chew on all day long…you go girl!
The acera nut is small and green in color. After biting the nut in half, slack lime is poured on the open halves. This starts a chemical reaction that turns the juice of the nut red. A leaf is wrapped around the concoction and inserted into the mouth between the cheek and gums. Some folks get more creative in how they prepare their chew. Some break off a piece of a cigarette and wrap it in the leaf. Others soak in vodka. It doesn’t take long to realize everyone from children to the dive guides and from waitresses to business owners all chew the Betel Nut. She just had to try…I took a pass.
In Stacy’s words, “it made my ears burn and gave me a short lived sense of euphoria and then some nausea.” She said it tastes bitter, it was hard to chew and evidently a uniquely acquired taste. Some things are best left to the locals. Oh sign me up please!
A big night in a little town
Brad is a modern day drifter of sorts. A digital vagabond. He does his money making thing using a laptop wherever he goes. I don’t know about these things…some cross between web site optimization and blogging. Throw in design, photography, and business consulting and I think I may kinda sorta understand what he does. But none of that is relevant really. What you need to know is Brad is one of those guys who you just like being around. Charismatic with a winning California smile. He left the rat race for the open, sandy, pot-filled road where you just have to slow down and enjoy the ride. Brad invited us out on our last night to a local spot, Chacham, to dance and have some drinks. We accepted and jumped into a “cab” for the ride to the spot. The cab was a pickup truck and we were all in the back. Oh goodie! It has been years since I road in the back of a pickup truck down a bumpy dirt road. The driver took us down the rutted road, I swear, trying to bounce us out. Clinging onto the wheel well and a spare tire, we took turns pulling each other back down onto the truck bed. Someone clamored out the window to join us. It was insane and so much fun. Brad just kept smiling through the entire ordeal…snapping off photos now and again. The bright flash in our eyes only adding to the moment…and terror.
The night was memorable. Lots of dancing…again from a two piece band. Many of the employees from MRBR joined us and showed us their lighter side. It was just great. Rain began to fall and everyone just kept on having a good time. It was really an island spirit kind of night…literally and figuratively. And then came the ride home…take all the previous terror and add a few drinks and a warm rain. Don’t get me wrong…go out with the locals! Dance the night away…laugh hysterically, and enjoy the company. IMHO, it’s the only way to end your visit. We will miss you Yap but we will be back…you can count on it.
More info on Yap can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yap
Manta Ray Bay Resort and Spa can be found at http://www.mantaray.com
Booking can be made at http://www.deepblueadventures.com