Coco Island, \”Shark Week\”…..

Dear F&F,
April 27-29, 2009

April 27
We got up at 5:00 a.m. pumped our tanks, assembled all our dive gear & are now just waiting for our divemaster Wilson Cadavid & panga. He radioed us at 6:30 a.m. that he wouldn\’t pick us up until 8:00 a.m. He said he would take us first on a \”check out\” dive. Scott informed him that he is an instructor & I am Rescue certified and that we already did our own gear check plus 2 other dives. He seemed happily surprised to hear we are on the ball, but no doubt he will watch us like a hawk the first dive. Which is fine, safety first in diving always.

Dive #1
A hammerhead showed up right away. We only saw 2 the entire dive. Sometimes the best part is right up front & sometimes at the very end. You just have to keep your eyes open. The visibility is pretty good. It was a pretty dive around an island called Manuelito, a short dinghy ride from where our boat is anchored. We had not even signed their liability waivers & they just took us. Good start. What a luxury for us to just shower & have a snack & relax, instead of pumping up our next set of tanks. They are doing that for us on their big boat. They have 16 divers going out in 2 pangas. We are going to sites where they are not. Perfecto.

Dive #2
Wilson had us sign the waivers, no problem. He explained that the dive boats bring the supplies for all the island park rangers & volunteers: food, fuel, everything they need. As well as transporting their people back & forth to the mainland. We had quite a long surface interval since Wilson wanted to take us deep again for another chance to see hammerheads on a different area of Manuelito. We did see a couple more. But the sad truth about hammerhead sharks is that they are skittish. They run away if you look directly at them, so we try to avert our gaze. They don\’t like our bubbles, so we hold our exhalation when they are close. We hid behind a rock in hopes that they will think we believe they are the \”Baddest Dudes\” on the reef. They do not lie still on the bottom like the plentiful white tip reef sharks, they swim all the time. Mostly when they see us they swim away. Scared of sharks? Mostly they are the scaredy-cats!

Wilson asks if we are \”Nitrox Certified\”. We are, a class we took over 14 year ago! But it qualifies us to get our tanks filled with a higher concentration of oxygen than regular air. This will extend our allotted bottom time & increase safety with repeated deep dives. Terrific!

NITROX IS NOT NITROUS OXIDE! Normal air you breathe & that we compress in our tanks is 79% Nitrogen & 21% Oxygen. This is EXACTLY what everyone breathes normally. The name of an enriched blend of air (higher percentage of oxygen) is called NITROX. We are using a 69% Nitrogen with 31% Oxygen mix. Rest assured his is NOT nitrous oxide! The cause of \”the bends\” is a build-up of Nitrogen in the blood & other tissues. By increasing the Oxygen percentage & decreasing the Nitrogen percentage, this risk is decreased. So we are at reduced risk of the bends. Plus the benefit of being able to stay deep, longer. Scott & I don\’t carry much oxygen on our boat so we don\’t get to fill our tanks with this O2 enriched blend. But since the dive charter boat is filling our tanks, we will take advantage of the opportunity.

Dive #3
Scott took the video all day. It is smaller for him to drag around than the still camera. More chance to get a good result with video, although more time is required in post-production to edit the raw footage into an interesting 3 minutes.

Scott set our dive computers to the correct Nitrox settings. Our dive computers which are waterproof and about the size of a large wrist watch, go with us on every dive and calculate how long and how deep we can safely go. We get about 20 extra minutes of bottom time. Fantastic! Different panga driver. I imagine the Operations Manager, Roberto has more important business to do than drive us around. It is nearly 4:00 p.m. & the sun sets behind the island peak at about 5:00 p.m. so there is not much ambient light below. At first the dive is ho hum. Tons of white tip reef sharks (aka hamsters!) as on every dive. We saw a pelagic black tip briefly at a distance. But the highlight was an Eagle Ray. Black base with white polka dots, snout like a pig. Not skittish, it let me & Scott swim very close. He filming, me trying to look as svelt as possible in dive gear. The ray was chowing down on algae clinging to rocks. He is about 4 feet wide & 3 feet long. Funny looking & could care less about us. Not interested in us like the manta rays, but did not seem to mind us being close. All the animals seem to know they are in a marine preserve so have no fear. The lobsters are out walking freely. The eels swimming about. Schools of fish of many colors & shapes. Disneyland for us. We are so stoked we get to do this for an entire week!!! Great first outing. Wilson said he\’d pick us up promptly at 7:00 a.m. since the 1st day\’s busy-ness is behind him.

April 28
We were up at 5:30 a.m. & still felt rushed & unprepared when our divemaster & dinghy driver showed up at 7:00 a.m. I had not had time to jump in the ocean for my morning wake up dip & that is important to me. Tomorrow I set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. to not feel rushed.

Dive #1
We went a 15 minute dinghy ride to a rock called \”Dirty Rock\”. Named because of the bird doo-doo all over it. There was pretty good hammerhead action although the water was pretty hazy & they were hard to see. I wore my new warmer suit, although when we went shallower I was too hot to kick hard comfortably. Never saw water temp below 78 degrees & that was only very deep. We are diving Nitrox all the time now. A higher percentage of oxygen which allows us to stay at depth longer. Our computers calculate the profile automatically when we input the mix of our air fill.

Dive #2
\”Alcyone\” (discovered by Jacques Cousteau) an underwater pinnacle, top height 85 feet. We went down to about 110 ft. Saw just a couple of hammerhead sharks, lots of white tip reef sharks, several marbled rays, one mobula & a turtle. A school of shiny jacks a 10 inch long silvery fish).

Dive #3 Wilson gives us a choice to go to a shallow spot or the same site as #2. We choose the deeper one with shark potential. There is less current so less animals seen. Not that exciting. I wore my old 5 mm suit & am still plenty warm. Not getting benefit of hypothermia yet. Tomorrow I will choose a shallower dive in the afternoon.

April 29
Early downpour, so we delayed the first dive 1 hour.
Dive #1
The water is very warm at shallow depths – too warm for the sharks. They like it a bit cooler & it does get a bit cooler below 75 feet. \”Cool\” is a relative term though & I have not yet seen it less than 78 degrees. Mostly it is 82-84 degrees. There are plenty of other interesting fish, rays, eels, lobsters, etc. But the sharks are the highlight. We saw 5 Galapagos sharks that are all grey (9-10 ft long) & quite girthy (about 2 1/2 ft diameter). We also had many dolphins swimming above us & 1 that came in for a closer look. It is always a thrill to see dolphins above or below. Hopefully Scott got some great video footage of all.

We went onboard \”Sea Hunter\” during the surface interval & Roberto gave us a tour of their boat. The owner (not onboard) is a well known underwater photographer whose work Scott is familiar with, an Israeli, Avi Klapfer. The divers are a mix of Americans, Hispanics & Italians. Two guys from Chicago were very friendly, one offered to cook for us, in order to join our program. He said he is a 2-star Michelin chef, sounds good to me! It was nice to rub shoulders with the fellow divers.
We have a 2nd down pour. The visibility below is not so great when the sun is not shining, but we will definitely dive again rain or shine. Early this morning the rain came hard but passed quickly. This time it is sticking around for a while.

Dive #2
We snuck in a 2nd dive during a lull in the rain. The dinghy ride to the dive site took more than twice as long & was 100% uncomfortable since there were big swells in our face & we had to go slow. Pounding, pounding over each wave. Poor Scott trying to not bash his video camera got the brunt of it. I was able to stand up & hold on with two hands, sort of \”posting\” my body, like a horseback rider during trotting, to minimize the slamming effect

We went to \”Alcyone\”, the site we\’d been to twice yesterday & it was productive with a couple brief hammerhead sightings plus a more lingering encounter with a Silky shark. The silky swam circles around us while we were at our 15 foot safety stop. Now before you get nervous, rest assured, he was not interested in us. He was getting \”cleaned\” by some smaller fish. His body posture was relaxed & he may have been curious about us, but Silkies are not known to be aggressive sharks. I kept eye contact & never let it out of my sight & kept my body vertical which we have been told makes us seem larger & more threatening than if we swim horizontal. Scott got some great video footage. If you know Jimmy Buffet\’s song \”Fins\” it was playing in my head the whole time.

The rain resumed as soon as we finished the dive. The dinghy ride back to our boat was smoother since we were going with the swells on the return but the rain was coming down so hard it actually hurt my head! Tons of new waterfalls sprouted & this is the reason the place is so lush & green. They tell us there are 2 kinds of weather on Cocos Island: it is raining, or it is about to rain. That was about 6 hours ago & it is still raining. So Dive #3 was canceled. The water all around the anchorage is murky brown from the island run off. The boat is lying sideways to the swell due to effect of current, so we are rocking & rolling a lot. We both took seasick medication at the first hint of symptoms. I am writing this while the meds are in full force. Otherwise writing & reading our out for me. The great part about the rain is that it has cooled down to 72 degrees. We have not been in temperatures this comfortable in over a year. Last night it was never less than 82 degrees outside & we had a heck of a time getting it cool enough indoors for sleeping.

My right ear is tender. I always have to take care to prevent ear infections with frequent swimming & diving & have been faithfully using the drying drops at the end of each day. But the right one is hurting & itching so I started antibiotic drops in it. As long as I can clear my ears when I descend it will not do any damage to keep diving, so do not intend to let it slow me down. I know it probably won\’t completely go away until I stay out of the water for about 5 days, but there is time for that soon enough. Meanwhile a codeine for the pain to sleep & we\’ll see how it goes.

I\’ve made our morning oatmeal & have my tea brewing overnight so I don\’t have to turn on the stove in the morning. Today I cooked scrambled eggs with red bell pepper & onion & although it was delicious I was cranky from being so hot in the galley right off the bat. We may be eating more cold cereal.

Scott & Cindy