The four largest pieces of live rock came from Livestockusa. http://www.livestockusa.org

It was called Deepwater Vava’u rock and supposedly from Vanatu but if you’re interested, it is, sadly, no longer available.  I say ‘sadly’ because in spite of its ‘deepwater’ designation and purpose as base rock, the stuff was really quite nice; uniquely shaped, not overly dense, and it actually had quite a bit of life on it. Originally, I was informed that it probably wouldn’t arrive until after I returned to CT in early September, but it got there just a little ahead of me.  It was also uncured, meaning that poor Ray not only had to pick it up (it was drop shipped to the nearest airport; in my case Laguardia Airport in NYC), but he also had to get a couple of new Brute trash cans and little skimmers to begin the conditioning process.  This was about the time that the idea of ‘cooking’ rock became really popular, at least on the reef boards.  Briefly, cooking live rock means curing it over several months in the dark (usually) and most often in an unheated garage, using continually changed saltwater until it is virtually starved of most life, both good and bad.  In my opinion, the sole purpose of cooking rock is to either become or remain single.  If you’re that anal about releasing a pest into your tank, go with the dry stuff. Over time, it’ll become ‘live’ and you won’t cause neighborhood gossip over the strange things you’ve been doing in your garage for the past several weeks.  Your local police department will no doubt, thank you too.  As for me, I preferred to go with the real thing at the time.  However, if the dry rock then looked as good as it does now, that’s almost certainly what I would’ve done. It’s what I will do should I ever need rock in the future.

But getting back to the matter at hand, once I DID return to CT and saw the tank again, I became every bit as depressed as when I left it.  Not that it changed at all. But just the reality of coming face to face with it again and foreseeing the amount of work that lie ahead really sent me spiraling back into the darkness.  I didn’t even attend MACNA that year, which was in Pittsburg, not too seriously far from home.  But why would I?  They were only going to have a whole bunch of exciting new products, jaw dropping frags, and wonderful speakers there; all telling me in no uncertain terms that it would be quite some time before most of this would be beneficial to my situation. So I just stayed home.

My little snit wasn’t quite as bad as it had been before though because as the new rock cured, I did busy myself by removing a lot more of the old rock and tossing it.  This is where ‘cooking’ might have really come in handy if I wanted to save it or sell it, but the recollection of just how virulent the wipeout had been completely banished any thoughts of that.  Then one day I ventured out to a nearby LFS named Greenwich Aquaria to pick up something I can’t remember now when I glanced at their display tank.  Yeah, lush and healthy blah-blah-blah, but what particularly caught my eye was the way they had done their rockwork; it was columnbular, with a great deal of room between the structures and although the corals were fairly young right now, you could see that it wouldn’t be long before they would fill in to make an awesome, yet totally natural looking display. This is what I wanted! And they even used Sfiligoi lighting!!!

Just the sight of this and I found myself encouraged again.  Now that I’d

finished separating the old live rock that I was keeping versus the stuff I was getting rid of (a ratio of 15/85, generously), I began preparing the barebottom of the tank by siphoning out the decade of accumulated grunge.  This, I’d say, amounted to more than 15 lbs of pure sand and gravel.  I found that to be amazing and would’ve no doubt been valuable as seed to another reef keeper just starting out but once again I was so afraid of introducing something horrible into their tank, even after all this time, I felt better just dumping it.  From then on, it was a waiting game for the new rock to finish cycling.

Now, do you remember a little while back I mentioned how I had six return stands drilled though the bottom of the tank and how I considered them the bane of its existence?  That’s not because they’re just a pain to disguise or keep clean.  It’s because there are no shut off valves and disconnects built into the flex tubing underneath.  They just go directly into the sump and have been doing that faithfully since the day the system was set up.  My fear, of course, is the day they decide NOT to do that; at least not without a leak because THAT, if not attended to, could easily drain every drop off water I’ve got in the tank right onto the floor. Quite naturally, I figured this might be a good time to address this too.  But every knowledgeable person I spoke to couldn’t guarantee me a solid fix unless I was ready to get rid of the fish, empty the tank, and basically start from scratch.  I opted to leave things alone.  Why? Because, believe it or not, I just couldn’t go through another round of losses just yet.  Not the fish.  I mean, not only had many of them been with me for several years already, but they’d survived the crash.  THIS was how I was going to reward them?  My Purple Tang, for instance, was at least 7 years old at this point and has had a touch of HLLE for every one of them.  No one would ever purchase that guy. Nor would anyone buy my one eyed Male Bartletts Anthias.  And most importantly, what would become of Attilla; my Sohal that came to me as a 4” juvie and was now a 14” showstopper? No way was I ever going to give up Attilla, even if I could find some place that wouldn’t mind housing a fish that large with an onboard scalpel and occasional attitude problem.

Will I regret this some day?  Of course!  Tempting the Reefing Gods almost always invites disaster. But since I know the decision was made with the best of intentions, I also believe that should the worst ever happen, I’ll have both the strength and resolve to not only accept it, but to move forward gracefully and at peace. After all, I think we can all agree that my emotional stability has, so far, certainly spoken for itself.

[Update:  A little more than a year later, Attilla finally died.  Not of anything related to the crash; just the Gods havin’ fun.]

The new live rock finished its cycle by mid-November and was immediately added to the tank. The ninety-pounder took three of us since we were slowly lowering it 36” onto a bare acrylic floor.  Once that was in place, we arranged the three other big rocks until I was satisfied (well, I just told everyone I was satisfied, knowing full well I was going to rearrange them myself again later).  I then added as much of the older stuff around these four ‘bases’ as I could and still maintain the intent of the columns.  Again, the new rock was truly great looking but, of course, turned out to be a pathetically small beginning. In hindsight, I should’ve ordered at least two more fairly large base rocks.  But since I didn’t want to go through another two-month cycling period, I looked for someplace closer where I’d hoped their rock might be at least partially cured.  My two LFS’s came up pretty empty at this point so I tried an old friend who had actually provided me with some of the older rock I already had: Dr. Mac.  And he was now shipping out of northern Maryland. So I ordered a couple hundred pounds of his larger procured Tonga Fusion Rock (which is also no longer available), and after curing it a little more at home, continued designing what was now turning out to be four separate ‘bommies’ or separate underwater islands.

As you can probably tell, I have a pretty good bit of patience when it comes to this kind of thing.  But what even I have a hard time with is ‘shop work’, such as drilling and inserting acrylic rods into rocks for the sake of stability.  There’s nothing at all wrong with doing that if it’s your thing and you’re good at it.  But I am not, so I once again I went the old-fashioned route and stacked them in the tank until I was satisfied. This is why I tend to lean towards rock that is porous and has the kind of shapes that lend themselves to interlocking.  Of course, a big negative is that free stacking DOES prevent you from fashioning tall columns, archways, and several of the other gravity defying structures that serious aquascapists like to build these days.  And, it could also come crashing down.  But I have never had this happen and found if you simply take your time, it is possible to construct a rock design that both looks good and is more than capable of maintaining its integrity without your having to throw on a hardhat and safety googles.  The one exception I would make here is anyplace prone to earthquakes, especially within larger tanks.  I mean, tempting the Gods is one thing, taunting them is quite another. But as always, the choice is ultimately yours.