The waters skirting the leeward side of Hawaii’s Big Island offer a wealth of diving opportunities from coral reefs sprinkled with an array of colorful tropical fish to dramatic lava tubes and big animal encounters with dolphins and giant manta rays. Doing it by sea via a full service live-aboard dive yacht like the Kona Aggressor II on Hawaii’s Kona Coast is one way of doing it.
Aggressor Fleet’s Kona Aggressor II is a testament to knowing how to do something right. Not only is it Hawaii’s premier liveaboard dive yacht, it represents the region’s longest running operation. Where others have failed in two years of operation or less, the Aggressor Fleet has remained in operation in Hawaii for more than 24 years.
Built in 1995, the Kona Aggressor II differs form the majority of boats in the Aggressor fleet because, rather than a monohull, it is a custom built 80-foot catamaran, similar to her big sister, the Palau Aggressor II.
The catamaran design places all five of the deluxe, double occupancy guest staterooms on the main deck, along with both salon and dining area, so there’s no “going below.” At first, I thought this arrangement with the cabins on both side of the salon would affect privacy, but after the first night it became clear that it didn’t.
Being up top has its perks – like a nice size 3 by 3-foot window instead of a porthole for drinking in the scenery. Other than that, the accommodations are what you expect to find on an Aggressor boat: a bunking arrangement that places one queen size mattress below, plus a single upper berth; vanity with sink and hair dryer; individual AC climate control; TV/DVD; private bathroom with shower; and modest storage space for clothing and belongings. Remember, this is life on a boat, so you don’t need to pack a lot of clothing.
The boat’s one quad cabin features two full-sized berths, along with two single berths, plus all the amenities of the deluxe cabins. If it’s just you and your spouse, or a friend, then the quad might be the best deal on the boat, as the rate is cheaper than the deluxe cabins.
The Kona Aggressor II was the first live-aboard to receive a Five Star rating by the Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA) as a barrier-free live-aboard, complete with HSA certified staff instructors, electric incline lift and shower stalls with seats. Some of the cabins have extra-wide doors to accommodate wheelchairs.
The centrally-located salon and dining area is certainly spacious enough to kick back in between dives, read a book, or watch a movie. Because the boat operates close to the Kona coast, cell phones will work form the boat, and at normal US domestic rates. I consider this to be both a blessing and a curse.
Of the various live-aboards I’ve enjoyed over the years – including several Aggressor boats – one of the features of the Kona Aggressor that most stands out is the food. The meals prepared by the on-board chef were spectacular. We are talking first-rate from morning to evening. The day starts with items such as blueberry pancakes, fresh fruit and eggs (done your specifications), chased with coffee from Kona’s own hillside plantations. It ends with a mouthwatering list of dinner entrées like Ahi tuna with a wasabi bur blanc, cilantro-garlic roasted chicken breast with sautéed garlic broccoli and jasmine rice, or roasted pork loin with a maple pan au jus.
Most meals are set up buffet style, with dining inside the salon at two long tables, while some of the lunches and snacks (there is always something to eat) are served up top on the sun deck.
The dive deck is always a marvel of efficiency and convenience on Aggressor boats. The company created and refined the dive deck that has become the benchmark others aspire to. Each dive station includes cavernous under-bench storage; the camera table is well-protected from the wind and dripping wetsuits, and there is ample storage space below. A dunk tank by each ladder is reserved for photo gear, and there are freshwater showers on the swim step with warm towels waiting by the ladder at the end of each dive.
Each diver is issued one 80 cf aluminum tank, which is all that is needed, as the boat is fitted with two E-150 Bauer air compressors and a Kaeser SM-11 Nitrox rotary screw compressor, all with cascade storage. This setup makes it fast and easy to top off tanks between dives. Nitrox is optional for $100 for the week. In my mind, it’s money well spent, because having invested a good deal of money to get aboard, you’ll want to get the most safe bottom time as possible.
With the exception of annual dry dock schedule, which takes the vessel off line for three to four weeks, the Kona Aggressor II operates year-round, as diving in Kona is equally good across the seasons, though there is greater likelihood of seeing humpback and pilot whales in the winter.
Weekly schedules generally include of 5.5 days of diving, which takes place along a 50-mile plus stretch of the Big Island’s western Kailua-Kona Coast. Sheltered from prevailing winds and swell, this region of the island offers more than 80 named dive sites. The average depth for most of these is 30-80 ft / 9-24 m, beyond that depth most coral growth has run out, so you’re not missing much down there.
As a matter of policy, your max depth is limited to 110 ft / 33.5 m, dive times on the other hand, as long as it doesn’t involve decompression, are up to you. Most of mine ranged between 55 – 65 minutes. Reporting your max depths and times are required post dive, but don’t expect the crew to check your computers.
Divers have lots of choices, and environmental conditions are suitable for just about any experience level. Currents are nearly non-existent on most sites; however there can be some surge close to the shoreline when oceanic ground swells are present.
Counting the night dives, which are offered after dinner, one could easily log up to 28 dives by the time you step off the boat. To forgo any – especially the night manta dive – would be a mistake. See Manta Concert Here:
To me, the crew on a live-aboard dive yacht can make or break a boat no matter where it is, or how fancy it might be. During my stay, the Kona Aggressor II’s six-person crew ran as smoothly as the proverbial well-oiled machine. Everything from guest services, keeping the staterooms immaculate, preparation of all daily meals to managing dive operations was given their full attention. In addition to their general job description, the crew appeared to take additional pride in the underwater environment, which was evident by their enthusiasm with guests every time we got in the water. For my first time diving the Big Island, the Kona Aggressor II was a great platform to experience some of the best Kona had to offer.
To find out more about the Kona Aggressor II’s rates and seasonal schedules, visit www.aggressor.com/kona.