Adventures In The Cocos Islands - Part 2

To get to paradise you have to go through hell...

By Christian Bendfeldt aka. El Buzo

Well that was my case. Miguel is the one that normally gets seasick so he was playing it extra safe. He was using a wristband, taking some pills and staying at close quarters. Thinking myself a "macho man" I just took some pills, had breakfast and moved around the boat freely. By ten my breakfast was already feeding the fish and my green face was a common denominator with half of the boat. By lunch only half of the guest showed up and half of the once that did we also "calling the subs" as Tiller mentioned in his report. The boat was really moving and the crew just to show their support was letting everyone know that this was one of the easy crossings. By dinner only a hand full of brave divers were enjoying their dinner. That night was a mixture of determination, concentration, and denial to a situation that was really nasty. The thunderstorms that waved us good bye at Puntarenas had brought some big swells and some rain and the rocking motion of the boat was a mixed bag of ups and downs topped with a side to side motion. Contrary to the high spirits of the first night, by eight the rumbling noise of the motors where our only companions to a long, long, long, night.

A few hours later the movements where not as intense as the cocktail party we had been invited since the early hours of the afternoon and the pitch movement of the boat was no longer an interminable rollercoaster ride to hell. With nothing more than a big 1 liter container of bottled water as a companion I was able to catch some sleep and pray for this "mal de mer" to end. We had been lucky to be placed in Cabin No. 9 which is at the same foyer as the wet bar and our room was a little bigger than the other cabins. A better arrangement could not be expected and the extra space proved invaluable throughout the expedition.

The early morning sun light reminded me that our crossing was coming to an end and the god of foul weather and the witches of the secret sisterhood of the "mal de mer" had been defeated by this brave group of divers. Slowly, one by one, we started showing up with a fresh clean look after the morning shower to the mess hall. Fresh baked croissants and some fresh fruits where decorating the buffet table and a crewmember was taking orders for breakfast. The day was still gloomy and the overcast skies and light rain did put some shivers down your spine. There in the horizon, among a huge boulder of clouds you could start making up a silhouette of this mysterious and phantasmagoric island called Cocos. Dolphins! Dolphins! Was overheard on the bow of the boat dragging everyone out of what they where doing to watch the spectacle. A nice pod was acting as ambassadors and greeting us welcome to this wonder of nature. There in the bow that gloomy and mysterious feeling overwhelmed all of the present and a mental picture of "Phantom´s" Skull Island filled my mind. Among the clouds you could partially see the sharp walls plunging into the sea and the strong surf carving up the stone shores. To all the young ones out there, the "Phantom" was a comic strip character that swore to defend humanity from pirates for generations to come. He lived in a secret Island called Skull island, rode a huge white stallion, carried a couple of colt 45's on his belt and his pet was a wolf.

The boat did a slow approach to the protected waters of Chatham Bay. Half and hour later the crew had unloaded the two inflatable boats and you could start feeling the tension build up. An hour later we were ready to do a Check out dive.

Manuelita Island is the largest structure, other than Cocos, that can be considered an Island. At a north bearing from our moored position we were only few minutes away on the inflatables. Our check out dive would be on the area called the shallows.

Manuelita Shallows
72 Ft. - 55 min.

The dive was an easy gear check out dive. The protocol asked for a maximum depth of 60 ft. and a maximum time of 55 min or 500 lbs. which ever came first. We did a back roll entry from the boat to become mesmerized with the amount of sea life present. The coral formations where unspectacular, dull and colorless and dropped easily from 25 ft. to 45 ft. and the temperature was in the mid 70's. The visibility was in the 50's but you had so much to see that you didn't need to look far to complain about visibility. Grunts lined up in a military manner in groups that I had never seen before, Moorish idols wandered around turning at unison when you approached, an eel garden that extended all the way to your sight capabilities, marbles rays of up to 5 ft. across were some of the treats. Two Green turtles and hundreds of starfish that lay down on the floor like a child's painting with their sharp five extremities, almost perfect. Then without taking notice we where among the big boys. White tips in sizes from small babies to young 5 or 6 footers. Tangs, Surgeons, Bigeyes and lobsters, not even bothering in hiding away from the divers filled the little crevices, nooks or where minding their own business. Then as ghostly apparitions a small group of 5 or 6 hammerheads approached to check out the commotion. If this was our check out dive I could still be feeding the fish for another couple of days just to get here and have the chance to watch specimens of these perfect predatory machines.

Manuelita Wayward side
Counter Clockwise
98 Ft. 45 min

We were dropped in the middle of the wayward side while the other group was dropped a few meters further north. They would do the clockwise turn while we would do the counter clockwise turn. As soon as we were dropped we had to get down the sloping wall and catch the current that would take us in that direction. The diving protocol from now on would be a max depth of 120 ft. and a maximum time of 55 minutes with a recommended safety stop of 5 minutes minimum. A cleaning station was sketched during the briefing session and we only had to find the group of barber fish (a member of the butterfly fish family) stay some feet away, find a small crevice, hide and wait. After a few minutes we spotted the place, grabbed our place on this natural theater to watch the show. Some moments later a small group of hammerheads approached to be serviced and groomed by the ever-faithful barbers. The huge mass of muscle and nerve had stand still for a moment to be enjoyed in an ahh inspiring way by us mortals. After some minutes there we drifted in the current enough time just to be checked out by a 6 ft silky. This stealthy looking creature moved out with a purpose, and a purpose only, turned away after our bubbles created enough disturbance. Getting close to the end of the island where the apex was formed, we swam a moment against the current just to end up again at Manuelita Shallows among two huge schools formed by hundreds of juvenile jacks swimming among us. God didn't create divers paradise, but this was a heck of a tryout!

Manuelita Wayward side
104 Feet - 47 min

As Mark had said during all of our briefings the only sure thing about Cocos is that there is no sure thing. Change is the only constant ever present. By the afternoon our group would be doing Manuelita´s wayward side again but this time going in a clockwise manner. We were dropped in the same place as that morning and the current had picked up considerably. The current was so strong that this drift dive would become a roller coaster ride. We had been briefed again of the possibility of another cleaning station but you would have to hang on tight if you wanted to see anything. On the group, 3 of us had reef hooks that would become handy on this dive. Miguel my buddy didn't have one and by the time we got to the cleaning station he had to grab with all his strength to what latter we laughed about and called flagpole diving. Alberto (our other dive master), Mike (a guest dive master from the Turk and Caicos Aggressor) and I, hooked to the reef and started flying like kites on a nice windy afternoon. After a few minutes there Miguel signaled that he couldn't grab any more and waved good bye after signaling he would pair up with another buddy. The current was so strong that you had to face straight into the current or your facemask would be stripped away while still hanging by the reef hook. The cleaning station was declared empty after some minutes there and we declared officially the hammerheads to be no-shows that afternoon. We started drifting at an amazing speed when suddenly an up current grabbed Mike and me. So violent was our ascent that I'm sure we did 80 to 20ft in 10 seconds flat. When I think back, everything comes again in slow motion and my only response was to open the dump valve and exhale as strong as I could. I was able to swim away from the up current and regain control but I have to admit I was shaky. Still drifting along the wall I found a place where the current was a little slower and was able to cling to the wall for a while and descend again. I took some deep breaths, relaxed and regained control of myself. Mike was a little behind me and as soon as he drifted pass me I let the wall go and continued on our rollercoaster ride. We did an extended safety stop just to play it safe. Mark's words came back to me again. "At Cocos the only sure thing is that there is no sure thing. Change is the only constant ever-present"

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