Adventures In The Cocos Islands - Part 3

Reef hook.... Ha.... Take your "cojones" with you

By Christian Bendfeldt aka. El Buzo

That expression shared with some of the crewmembers of the boat is what best can define the conditions we found at Dirty Rock. We did this site several times over the days and again Mark's words "the only sure thing at Cocos is change" came back immediately after each back roll entry. Dirty Rock is on the north West Side of the Island very close to Wafer Bay. We did this area for some days since going to the south side would be out of the question, the conditions we faced during most of the trip where windy, rainy, sunny, windy, rainy in no particular order and during unthinkable intervals. Dirty Rock is a small pinnacle that raises from the deep and breaks into the blue skies with no vegetation and enough bird droppings on it to give it it's name. The main pinnacle drops vertically to a sandy bottom that starts at 105 feet into the abyss and then a small group of sea mounds that start at 85, 60 and 90 feet following on a north bearing. Here are three different log book entries of the same place.

Nov 5 early morning dive
95 feet - 50 min

Ready, now! Where the words out of Harold, our boat captain, while he supervised that everyone did their back roll entries on the right spot. The seas where calm, the visibility was in the high 50's, the water was in the mid 70's and the currents were forgiving. We were greeted by a cruising school of marbled mantas moving so gracefully that painfully reminded everyone how clumsy we move under water. 15 to 20 healthy specimens that ranged from 3 to 6 feet across and that where not interested in moving out of the way. While down there, I'm sure I overheard "You are the intruder, you move away, damn you diver!" With the rock at our right hand side we drifted slowly until we encountered a huge schools of Jacks. If we could have counted them I'm sure there where a thousand of them. A small group of white tips where sleeping on the bottom. Pepe, another of my Friends that joined us in this expedition, had already lost all respect for them and just laid down beside the group and started video taping them so close that one by one they started moving away just to give him space inside the sandy cave. When we saw his tape that night you couldn't believe how close you can get to them. After seeing so much pelagic life everywhere you forget all the little stuff also. Sharks are what make Cocos famous, but you wouldn't imagine how many colorful puffer fish there are. Yellow, spiny, gray, pacificblue, spotted white, spotted yellow. Small as one inch and as big as 2 feet this fish are remarkable and you get to like them (and yes I confess that I harassed them a little just to get them puffed). I'm not even mentioning lobsters since there are so many and I get so hungry about them (and you can not even think of eating them). Green pigmented Flounders, eels (green, tiger, zebra and the beautiful Snowflake) where some of the other species that you find so easily that forget how uncommon they have become in other locations. Our nitrox fills didn't prolong enough our bottom time to become satisfied with what nature was showing us, but each diver picked up by the zodiac wore a huge smile on the way back to the boat as a complementary part of their gear.

Dirty Rock
Nov 5 Late afternoon
115 feet - 42 min

The Zodiac was huffing and puffing just to get us there. The overcastted skies had dropped the surface temperature, there was a light rain and the swells were big enough to spray everyone constantly on our way there. As soon as we back rolled we notice that our mild drift was now a strong and fast current. The visibility was still around 50 feet and we had to fight our way to get to the other underwater sea mounds that lay northward of Dirty Rock. Going to these mounds a cleaning station was in progress and we where delighted by the presence of hammerheads. I can not say how many of them since we could just make up shadows beyond 50 feet but the 10 or 15 that where close, got really close. Once we spotted where the barber fish were we took again our place on this natural theater, grabbed a rock, hold our breaths and one by one, the big predators of the oceans would approach for service. My thoughts were; thank god for the "El Niņo". Mark had mentioned that it was possible that due to the high water temperatures and lousy conditions of the previous year sharks had developed lots of fungii. Being them deeper than usual the barber fish and the king angel fish had not been able to clean the out. Now it was a different story. Cleaning stations where found almost at every site and once you find them you can never get enough of these predators high above in the food chain. Their phony looking head, their menacing teeth, and their bodies covered with some kind of sleek, stealthy material make you wonder and think how perfect these creatures are. Since our check out dive I had been battling with my mask since it was leaking horribly. I don't know if I'm wearing it to tight, or too loose but did try both things and it didn't fix the problem. I'm beginning to think that I have some knew face wrinkles since my last dive trip. While clearing the mask I raised my sight just to become mesmerized by a huge yellow fin tuna that could have fed the entire boat for the week to come. This beautiful, blue and yellow fish was some 300 lbs. and moved at such a high speed that if you blink you loose. My mouth was wide open and I was amazed with such amounts of marine life that I couldn't have imagined in such vast numbers. What made me drop the regulator out of my mouth was when I saw a pod of 20 to 30 dolphins some 50 to 60 feet away from me and against the few rays of sun that were getting through. The graceful downward motion of their tails called for no mistake. Their role in this mental film was brief but it became the necessary ingredient to make it become a classic. One that I will be able to play over and over again, here in my head, for the rest of my life.

Dirty Rock
Nov 6 Noon time
89 feet - 39 min

Among the most challenging dives during the expedition. The group started fine, we did our back roll entries as we had done previously but the current was so strong that we had to fight, huff and puff, cling to rocks and literally go hand by hand against the current just to get to catch the other current that would allow us to do this dive in a clockwise manner. Half of the group got separated immediately and turned out going counterclockwise since they didn't make it. The current was hitting directly on the drop point and as soon as it hit the rock it split in half. The northerly underwater mounds had proven to be a great sighting place for hammerheads and everyone had planned in going there. The separated divers would have to go around the rock and if their air supply would last, they would get a chance on reaching the mounds. The current was so strong that as soon as I snatched the reef hook the 8-foot long silk rope could have be used as guitar string. Later comments in the boat, from people that had gone to Palau referred to this experience as the most challenging currents they have tried. Hanging there for a while was great, even if the visibility had dropped to 20-30 ft you could seen again the thousands of Jacks with their silvery color and their males willing to mate dressed in black (the male Jack changes color to a dark black during mating season). We couldn't get to the other mounds and we go to see no hammerheads this time. But just the thrill to do a superman like drift dive, or clinging against the currents among thousand of Jacks that were less than a foot away proved to be rewarding enough. And yes the reef hook could have been left of the boat, but "Cojones" you had to bring them along just to fight, drift, and dive Dirty Rock this day.

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