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Why I love Cozumel September 10, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log.
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I find Cozumel hard to beat, even after the big hurricane of 2005 ripped up the reef.

  1. Protected Marine Park -> lots o’ fish, including the fabulous spotted Eagle Ray.
  2. Currents from mild to ripping -> easy ride along the reef
  3. Reef close to the island -> more diving, less waiting
  4. Lots of dive operators -> good prices & great service. The only one I’ve used there is Blue XT Sea diving.

My experience on land has been pretty limited since I rarely left the resort, except to go diving. I’m not into late nights in bars or buying trinkets. There was very little hassling of the tourists that I saw, but I might have been insulated from it.

The worst thing I’ve seen there is the taxi hustle at the airport. If you are on a package with transportation included, you have to run a gauntlet of taxi drivers inside the small terminal to go outside and find your ride. They won’t let the tour operators inside the terminal, so the taxi drivers prey on the ignorance of arriving tourists by intercepting them before they find their hotel shuttle.

You can also drink the water there, at least on the resort. I doubt I’ll be back for a couple of years. We went there several times in a row and decided we needed a change.

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The Healthful Effects of Deep Diving September 5, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Fitness and Nutrition, Technical Diving.
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Maybe just diving in general. Mind you, I’m speaking subjectively with a sample size of one, so statistically this means absolutely nothing.

In the days leading up to last weekend’s diving, I was wondering if I was starting to get too old for the technical diving I’m doing. I’ve had issues with a torn meniscus (makes my knee a little stiff), and some days I get up and don’t feel 100%. When I left for Brockville on Saturday morning I felt OK, but I was a little edgy, and wondered if I should be diving at all, especially the 170′ fast current drift dive in dark water with limited visibility.

I’m glad I did. When I got out of the water I felt great and still feel great writing this today. What I really needed was a good dose of Adrenalin and Nitrogen Narcosis to shake off the stress of my life on the earth’s surface.

Lillie Parsons to King drift September 2, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Uncategorized.
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It Labour Day weekend in the Thousand Islands again. This is Ontario’s warmest deep diving water, where the temperatures are around 23c all the way to the bottom of the St. Lawrence river, which reaches depths well in excess of 200′.

Although everyone else drove up on Friday, I decided to drive up Saturday morning, leaving at 4;30 AM to get to the motel by 8AM to meet everyone. One of the main reasons for this is the light traffic, and true to form I hardly had to touch the pedals for the entire trip, letting the cruise control do the work for me.

We hung around for a bit and then headed to a dock that was almost directly across the highway from the motel. The boat held 8 passengers, and with 5 of us diving with technical gear, it was tight but manageable. The plan was to have 4 divers on the Daryaw, then head to the Lille Parsons where 4 technical divers would head for the bottom, while the other 4 waited out their surface interval and then started a shallower dive.

When I was loading my gear on the boat I noticed the battery in my Apeks Quantum was dead, even though it wasn’t very old, and there was no time to get another from my car. Rory lent me a spare computer to use as a bottom timer to go with my decompression tables which I used as a backup to my Shearwater Predator dive computer. Fortunately the Predator worked flawlessly as usual because Rory’s computer’s battery died as well.

For me, the difference this time was that I was the only diver who had actually done the complete dive before, although everyone had been in that part of the river before and Rory had done the same dive but a bit shallower. Our dive plan called for 1/2 hour bottom time with most ascent pressures in the 1000-1200psi range. Being the leader worried me a bit as the most difficult part of this diver is sticking together. Below 100′ the light is dim, visibility can be low (today about 20′) which are both a good recipe for narcosis.

We gathered on the upriver side of Sparrow Island, heading into the current but turning quickly to the right to land right on the Lillie Parsons. I lost 200 psi from my doubles due to a bad free-flow on my spare second stage. I resolved then to swap it for my ATX50 second stage on my recreational regulator which I did later that day. The last few times I’ve done the dive we just descended directly from the boat and I was a little surprised to see the Lillie. Leading the dive I went over the inverted hull and along the mast, which used to hang over the ledge but is now broken off, and started was I thought was a gentle descent. It was actually about 70′ per minute although it was probably enhanced by a downward current.

There was a little more light than last year, but I initially started swimming away from the wall when we reach the 170′ bottom until I noticed that current was pushing on my left shoulder. I turned right and briefly turned on my light to orient to the wall, turned and checked that everyone was with me and OK, and on we drifted.

The first 10 minutes flew by with everyone OK and I decided to do my first SPG check, but couldn’t find it. I became somewhat preoccupied with this situation, as not knowing my air supply is clearly something that could cause some discomfort. After a couple of minutes of checking I turned to look for the others and only saw 2 divers. Rory had suffered severe narcosis and ascended, ending his dive quite early. The trouble on this dive is that there’s no point searching for lost divers as the river just keeps on pushing you along, so we continued our dive confident that Rory was self-sufficient.

Still searching for my gauge I got Matt’s attention and tried to get him to find it for me. He admitted after the dive that he was too narced to understand my signals. I started to think about what I should do and decided to ascend early if I didn’t find it soon. I was breathing at a nice, slow, steady rate and expected that my air consumption was about what I’d calculated on my dive plan. Right after that we hit an outcropping of rocks and an upward current and I found myself at 120′ with Matt and Rob well above me. They seemed to be in a controlled ascent and doing all right and I couldn’t get their attention, so I continued the dive solo, dropping back to 150′ to make sure I stayed on the wall instead of in the lee of an island which was where they ended up.

As I was doing this I reached back to my left hand first stage and traced the line to my pressure gauge. It had come unclipped somehow so I clipped it where it was supposed to go, and having satisfied myself I had plenty of air left I continued until I hit the 30 minute mark and started my ascent. The ascent and decompression were uneventful. I didn’t see all the wreckage of the King but saw various bits and pieces which looked to me like the wreck. The current was light for the decompression, which lasted about 35 minutes, and I amused myself by feeding Zebra Mussels to the Gobies.

After I surface the dive boat was there with all the others waiting for me and I saw I was in the exact spot I had intended to be, over a mile from the starting point, and almost directly in front of the cross marking the site of the King. So all in all it was an excellent dive, and other than the group ascending at different times we all stayed within our plans. Tech diving teams often have a rule that if one member aborts, everyone else does too. Rightly or wrongly we don’t tend to do that, letting each member decide if they want to leave early unless they signal they want the group to ascend for safety reasons.

Cozumel 2011 Day 9 – Tormentos Reef March 16, 2011

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Feb 24, 2011 and my last dive of the trip. Tormentos is further North than most of my dives but South of San Juan and Cantarell where I had been the previous week. Pedro had asked us what we hadn’t seen yet. I didn’t mention Toadfish, although I’d thought about it, and was glad to see one finally on this final dive.

It was well hidden but I managed to get a decent close-up by dumping air from my BC and anchoring my fins on the bottom where it looked like I wouldn’t do any damage to the reef. Only its head was exposed. I love how you can see the transparent cover on the right eye.

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Tormentos Reef - Cozumel Splendid Toadfish

Pedro found a tiny Pipefish that I didn’t photograph. It was probably about 7-8cm long. The most curious part of the dive was when Pedro and I were looking under a ledge, a fairly large fish, something like a Triggerfish, peeked under as well. Just recently I thought that he might have been trained to by divers spearing Lion Fish to pick up the pieces, because he followed us around for about 20 minutes, even after Pedro gave him a poke int the side. We saw a huge Black Grouper and a bunch of Stingrays near the end of the dive, and a Spotted Moray Eel. I saw a brittle Starfish for the first time there as well, but won’t embarrass myself by posting the picture with only half of it in the frame.

That's a Moray

The 5 minute safety stop was off the reef, and fish of various types were swimming around us eating invisible morsels. A few small jellyfish floated by. Stingrays on sand well below us swam around. One came up about half way to us before dive-bombing back to the bottom.

Reluctantly, after 63 minutes dive time, we climbed back on the boat. A fantastic end to a fantastic trip.

 

 

Cozumel 2011 Day 9 – Santa Rosa Wall March 15, 2011

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This dive was moderately deep maxing at 89′ and had fairly tight and twisty swim-throughs.

Santa Rosa Wall - Spotted Drum

Cozumel 2011 Day 8 – Punta Tunich March 14, 2011

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Dive two of the day was much closer to town, and today was typical where the further North you go the stronger the currents. It was a wonderful dive with lots of fish around, especially under ledges sheltered from the current. These were great to duck behind to stop and look at things and perhaps take a photo or two.

One ledge had hundreds of small fish called Glassy Sweepers, although I didn’t know that at the time. I asked Pedro when we got back on the boat and I thought he said “Glass Slipper”. As I was getting closer to them, a big black Grouper swam out – too close to get a good picture. I suppose he considered the school his personal lunch buffet. I think though, that the next picture was the best of the trip as it has a kind of dreamy quality. Must be the eyes.

Glassy Sweepers at Punta Tunch

At one point Christine thumbed the dive and gave a curious dog paddling signal, which turned out to be an indication of having trouble with the current. Pedro helped her get things under control. She didn’t have a lot of experience in strong currents and we went over some techniques after the dive like ducking behind ledges, dropping close to the reef, and streamlining.

We also saw one of the nicest groupings of the ubiquitous juvenile Spotted Drum with two larger ones and a smaller one in the background.

 

This Green Moray didn’t have its own hole to live in and had to make do in its crevice.

Cozumel 2011 Day 8 – Columbia Deep March 13, 2011

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Feb 23, 2011. This dive has nice coral formations to drift by and swim-throughs, and there were just the three of us plus Pedro under water with Mago chasing on top. The high point in the dive, unsuitable for photography unfortunately, were two Nurse Sharks swimming around (most of them we see are sleeping). We also so the usual assortment of Turtles, big Grouper, and Lion Fish.

At 118′ this was the second deepest dive of the trip, and I had to decompress for a couple of minutes to make my computer happy, and took a 5 minute additional safety stop just because I like being in the water.

Columbia Deep - School Swimming Against Current

 

Cozumel 2011 Day 7 – Columbia Shallow March 11, 2011

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log.
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I had marked this reef in my log book as one of my favourites. We had a shortened surface interval of 48 minutes as this dive maxes out at 30’. We didn’t go to the beach this time and simply tied of on a buoy about a half mile from the beach.  There were too many shallow reefs to attempt a landing. That arrangement was fine with me, but Christine asked the next day to land on the beach so she could sunbathe. Since I would end up in hospital if took in a lot of direct sun it didn’t matter to me.

It’s a nice thing that Blue XT Sea doesn’t mind long dives (even though Pedro always announces 60 minutes as the limit) as I was under for 75 minutes this time. There is lots of life on this reef, although I remember it being a bit less turbid the last time I visited it. Still, it’s a great dive and we saw several Yellow Stingrays, A Juvenile Spotted Drum, and several turtles. There were also lots of lobsters hiding under ledges.

Yellow Stingray - Columbia Shallow

Some things I didn’t see on any other dive including a Sand Diver (although I saw one when I was snorkeling of the beach at the hotel) and Flamingo Tongue Snails.

Sand Diver

Flamingo Tongue Snail

We also saw a decent sized Nurse Shark sleeping in a crevice. This one had a Remora (or something along those lines) snoozing along with it.

Nurse Shark

Cozumel 2011 Day 6 – La Francesa March 9, 2011

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As we were heading to the dive site Sheri was having trouble with her computer. It was stuck in navigation mode (it having a built-in compass) and she couldn’t get it back to dive mode. As it was air-integrated, that meant she had no submersible pressure gauge, leaving her unable to dive. Pedro tried for a minute but gave up as he had no experience with that kind of computer. He and Mago were busily pulling out the spare reg and trying to figure out if they could attach it to the “Air 2” style inflator hose, while I played with the computer. First I tried every button and nothing happened. Then I tried holding each one down for several seconds and still nothing happened. Finally I tried combinations of buttons and hit the jackpot when I pressed the left and right button at the same time. It popped back into the correct mode, they changed back to her own regulator, and we went for our dive.

This spot, the “French Lady” in English, also had lots of swim throughs but was shallower than Palancar Caves with a maximum depth of 74’. Most of these have considerably less marine life that the reefs that they penetrate, but this time we saw some lobsters and crabs hiding withing. A small Nurse Shark slept under a ledge and passed by a huge Green Moray which I didn’t photograph.

Sleeping Nurse Shark

Huge is hard to convey in photographs anyway without some reference object. I would have had a hard time convincing one of the other divers to hold his or her hand near its mouth to make for a better-scaled photo. We also saw lots of blue tangs around, far more than any other dive in Cozumel.

La Francesa has never been my favourite reef, but sometime I just go with the flow and let others decide where to dive.

Cozumel 2011 Day 6 – Palancar Caves March 8, 2011

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Lee and Sheri had been diving all weekend,  while I spent quality time with my non-diving wife, and so Sheri’s experience doubled as a result and she was a better diver for it. We were also joined by Glenn and his daughter Christine – both good divers. They were with me for the rest of the week and continued on after I left.

Our maximum depth for this popular spot was 102’, but a good part of the dive was shallow so I had 54 minutes of bottom time and wasn’t far from the reef even on the safety stop as some of the Coral heads were as shallow as 20’ at the end, although the visibility dropped to 30-40’. The dive log shows that I had a small deco obligation for part of the dive but it cleared quite early.

Dive Log from Shearwater Predator

We saw various forms of wildlife including several turtles, crabs and lobster. Palancar Caves is also known for its swim-throughs and we conquered several on the dive. Both Glenn and Christine had recently done cavern certifications and their buoyancy was excellent and they frog kicked for the most part, so I didn’t mind following them through the narrow passageways. They were kind enough to offer to let me go ahead of them so I could see better, as they were concerned they were churning up the environment, which they weren’t.

During the surface interval I ran into Blanca, who worked for Blue XT Sea on my last visit but had established her own outfit “Blue Project” in the interim. Her boat was parked in the same spot as ours so I went over and said hello. I also found out that Arturo had gone free-lance, and have seen references to him working with Blanca on their web site.