Our intentions were good but unforeseen events conspired and intent turned into so much wishful thinking. Finally I've found the time to make another entry. We've been back in Austin since mid-February and events have not gone exactly according to plan. I'll make a very long story as short as possible.
A week after our arrival my 95 year old mother became seriously ill. She consequently had 3 surgeries during a 2 week period. We thought it was likely the end of her incredible life but we underestimated her strength and will to live. After 5 weeks in the hospital we took her home last weekend. She doing miraculously well and we'd like to thank all our friends for their love and support during this difficult time.
When we last wrote we were about to leave Bali on the way to PNG to work on Howard and Michele Hall's new 3D IMAX movie. After a short stop over in Singapore, where we indulged ourselves dining in what we consider the best food city in the world, we flew into Port Moresby. Our plan was to fly west the next morning to Rabaul on the island of New Britain to meet the Stardancer (live-aboard), the base of operations for the film project. That plan promptly changed! The volcano that all but destroyed Rabaul in the mid-90s was throwing out so much ash the airport had to be closed. Instead we flew into Hoskins and met the ship at its home port, Max Benjamin's Walindi Plantation. We hadn't visited this lovely resort in nearly a decade. Although we didn't dive, the resort was better than ever and all the diving guests raved about their dives.
The IMAX crew all eventually arrived and a couple of days later we headed out for the south coast of New Britain to begin filming. We passed Rabaul on the way around the island and witnessed the volcano's actions. Fortunately one of the sequences Howard wanted to film was an active volcano which he thought he'd have to travel to Hawaii to film. The volcano performed brilliantly so happily and unexpectedly we got the film's first sequence in the can without getting wet. The volcano did, however, rain an incredible amount of ash on to the Stardancer. Within minutes the entire ship was totally blackened by ash, what a mess! Certainly we were glad the airline didn't try to land in those conditions.
We had a marvelous experience working with the Halls and their incredible crew on the movie, tentatively titled, "Under the Sea 3D". It's basically the sequel to their award winning "Deep Sea-3D". The film is about animal behavior and we were there for our critter finding skills. So Maurine and I spent the days, and a few nights, exploring Linden Harbor locating subjects for Howard's camera. That camera and its housing, by the way, weigh 1300 lbs. Although neutrally buoyant in water it is massive and creates plenty of resistance especially if a current is running. The crew often had to use a team of underwater scooters to manoeuvre it to the film site. We learned a great deal about movie making in general and specifically what makes for good 3D imagery. To achieve the 3D effect there needs to be content in the foreground, mid-ground (usually where the primary subject is located) and in the background. Another interesting fact is that the run-time on the film is only 3 minutes. Then the whole thing has to go to the surface for a film change. The turn around process takes about an hour. Getting wild animals to cooperate and "do there thing" in a 3 minute window is an extreme challenge. We spent a lot of time "baby sitting" the subject so that Howard could pick up where he left off filming. Even though this was the first of seven charters, and primarily a shakedown cruise for the camera and crew, Howard managed to film a number of behavioral sequences. The subjects included cuttlefish, "wonderpus" octopus, ghost pipefish, garden eels, frogfish, and a new species of lionfish. All in all a very good beginning. The crew is presently on their second charter filming in Mine Bay. Good luck to them. Look for the film to be released early next year.
While we were still in Indonesia, Mark Erdmann, who is in charge of Conservation International's marine programs for Indonesia, asked us if we'd be willing to work with him on a couple of projects. Specifically Mark wants to produce a dive guide for the Raja Ampat region which is located off the western tip of Indonesian New Guinea Island. One of CI's goals is to properly manage and promote tourism to this region. The job description as Mark explained it is for them to charter us a boat, for us to explore and chart new dive sites, and then produce a guidebook for the area. This is something we have been training to do for our entire career. We couldn't have scripted it better.
So it's "Texas, No mas!" Maurine and I are in the process of moving again. On arriving here in February we took all our household goods out of storage and set up living quarters. Now, at the end of May, we'll be putting it all away and moving to Bali. The plan, which if you know us predictably changes, is to base there for at least a couple of years. We are very excited as we will not only be doing our favorite thing, exploring and then sharing new dive sites, but we'll be learning a new language and living in a new culture. Since we've been traveling to that part of the world for 15 years the move is not unexpected and we are somewhat prepared but it will be a challenge; something that we enthusiastically embrace.
Stay tuned for more!
Burt and Maurine