Friday, July 20, 2012

So far away, but still close to home; meeting men from Michigan in Cozumel

I never cease to be amazed by the truly small world we live in.
All of my five trips to Cozumel to scuba dive have been solo trips. I have a deal with my wife, who is Latin, that if she flies off to see her mother, I get to go diving. While the diving is always fantastic, my topside time can get a little lonely until I start making connections with other travelers on the island.
This year, things were never lonely since I met a friendly father and son pair on our first day of diving.
Minutes after I said good morning to Jeff Bullis aboard our Dive With Martin dive boat, I discovered we had much in common.
We are both from Michigan. They are from Kalamazoo.
He grew up in Rochester Hills, the city bordering Shelby Township, which is where I live.
And they were staying at the Casa Mexicana hotel, just as I was, and they were on the same floor, only three doors down!
What are the odds of that?
It turns out that Tim, Jeff's youngest son, had purchased the diving trip for his dad for Father's Day. Pretty nice gift if you ask me. Their presence made my trip even more fun since I had a couple of guys to hang out with. They arrived on the same day and would be leaving on the same day. We had dinner a couple of nights together and walked around the city of San Miguel, the largest (really the only) city in Cozumel. We dived two of our three days together (they missed the pilot whales) and did a night dive together.
Here is my interview with Jeff and Tim as we prepared for our night dive:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Chasing pilot whales in Cozumel

As promised, here is some video of our dive boat chasing short-finned pilot whales on Friday, July 13 after a great set of morning dives in Cozumel, Mexico.
Many thanks to Wayne LeJeune, who captured the pilot whales on video. Wayne happened to have his underwater video camera nearby and recorded this chance encounter. My previous post contains video of the LeJeune family commenting about our fantastic experience. It also contains some facts that I dug up about pilot whales.
Also, many thanks to the captain and crew of our Dive With Martin dive boat. They went out of their way and no doubt burned up extra liters of fuel so that all aboard could enjoy this close encounter.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Family discusses pilot whales sighting in Cozumel

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, one of the highlights of my recent scuba diving trip to Cozumel, Mexico, was running into a pod of pilot whales at the conclusion of morning diving.
One of my dive buddies on the trip, Wayne LeJeune of Lafayette, Louisiana, shot video of the whales swimming alongside, underneath and around our dive boat and surfacing for air.
Wayne promises to send his video to me shortly, and when he does, I will post it here.
I interviewed Wayne, his wife, Lisa, and his daughter Jessica about our unique sighting shortly after we were dropped off at the pier. All of us were still tingling with excitement.
As it turns out, my video was somewhat corrupted, so I was unable to do much editing, but I was still able to piece something together. You can feel the excitement of the sighting on the faces of the LeJeune family. Here is that video:
After doing some research online, I've come to the conclusion that what we saw were short-finned pilot whales. According to the website, a Convention on Migratory Species website, there is also a long-finned pilot whale species, but they generally stick to colder waters. According to Wikipedia, pilot whales are among the largest of the oceanic dolphins, exceeded in size only by the killer whale. Pilot whales are primarily squid eaters, but will feed on fish as well. They are also highly social and studies suggest that both males and females remain in their mothers’ pods, an unusual trait among mammals, also found in certain killer whale communities. Short-finned pilot whales are also one of the few mammal species where females go through menopause and post-reproductive females may contribute to the survival of younger members of their pods.
Both species live in groups of 10-30 but some groups may number 100 or more. According to the CMS website, short-finned pilot whales appear to be generally nomadic, with no fixed migrations, but some north-south movements are related to prey movemens or incursions of warm water.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My interview from Cozumel, Mexico, with Dive With Martin dive master

Unfortunately, I am back home from another fantastic trip to Cozumel, Mexico, one of the top dive destinations on earth.
Today, I've posted an interview I did with Miguel Estrella, a dive master with Dive With Martin in Coz.
I've done about 50+ dives in Cozumel and a large chunk of them were with with Miguel, an extremely nice man and an excellent dive master.
He has been a dive master in Cozumel for 28 years, the last 5-6 years with Dive With Martin.
We did this interview on a surface interval between dives on Saturday, July 14. Miguel also shot underwater video of a couple of our dives that day. He plans on getting me a copy of those dives in the next couple of weeks. Come on Miguel, I'm counting on you! Here is the interview:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Last dives in Coz

I did my final dives in Cozumel yesterday.
I requested Columbia Deep, but because of the currents and poor visibility, we did Palancar Horseshoe again. Our second dive was Cedral. The current was ripping so fast it was like being on a highway. Viz was about as poor as it gets in Coz with sand filling the water column.
I will be providing more details later, but for now, I´ve to catch the flight home.
Hopefully, I will be providing some good pics, video and interviews from my wonderful time spent in this diving mecca.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Night dive in Cozumel

Friday night I did my third ever night dive in Cozumel.
Night dives are a whole different ballgame for average divers. You are really relying on your skills as a diver and your ability to control your buoyancy since your eyesight is minimalized.
The greatest joy resulting from a night dive is the whole new set of animals that come out of hiding when the sun goes down. The greatest misfortune is getting slammed into by other divers who don´t see you or don´t care and simply have to get to whatever object has been spotted before anyone else does.
On my first night dive years ago, a woman came by in a big hurry and drove me into the reef with such force that I became a human sandblaster for several seconds. She neither stopped to apologize nor change her course. She had to get there first. When I came up from the dive, I had algae all down the side of my BC.
But on to more pleasant subjects.
Night dives always get my heart racing because, well, it´s dark, but also because of the chance of seeing one of my dive favorites, the octopus. Octopi are so graceful and elegant. When they move across the face of a crevice-filled reef head, they look like liquid spilling across the surface. Just beautiful. Plus, they change colors as they try to camouflage themselves from potential predators, in this case, the divers.
Our night dive on Paradise Reef lasted about an hour in about 40 feet of water. Paradise is a beautiful reef day or night and is perfect for new divers to get a taste of the Caribbean. Though not a new diver, I tried something new on this dive. I had my camera strapped to my right wrist and my night light strapped to my left wrist. Talk about multitasking. Trying to control my buoyancy and equalize with all that stuff floating off my arms was a little bit of a job. Plus the straps inevitably found away to curl around my hoses.
The dive started out slowly, a couple of stingrays, some enormous crabs and some lobsters. I found a moray eel curled up in his nighttime home, and another one scooting across the sea bottom before finding a new hiding place. About 35 minutes went by, and no octopi. Then, suddenly, our DM found one. Several searchlights trained on the octo. It was not happy. It went from white to brown to white again. It stopped, flared out its arms. It moved quickly and flared them again. Then another diver moved in with gloves (frowned upon in Coz) and started tormenting the octo. I moved on. Then we found the sweet spot. A second octopi, a third, a fourth and a fifth. Really, really cool. One or two would have been worth the price of admission for me, but to see five of them, to observe them from about two feet away was really spectacular. Caribbean octopi are not very big, but they move and act just like larger ocean octopi.
I listened for the sound of croaking from the splendid toadfish, and ugly fish made beautiful by its blue and yellow color. They are indigenous only to Cozumel and are quite a find for photographers. I´ve spotted them before and posted them on this blog. Unfortunately, no luck on this dive. I´m also waiting to see my first squid on a Coz night dive. Maybe some day. Regardless, the five octopi made my night.
Just before surfacing, I located a spotted drumfish, another great find for photographers. For whatever reason, my search light made it start going in circles. I tried to get a pic, but couldn´t get in the proper position. I did get several shots of the octos, but they look a little overexposed. I´m really new to underwater photography and need some practice. But many thanks go out to Bruno´s Dive Shop in Clinton Township, Mich. for letting my borrow the camera. I´ll see if I can Photoshop some decent pics when I get home.
Next, my final two dives in Cozumel.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Jackpot diving day in Cozumel

Amazing, incredible, awesome diving this morning in Cozumel! There are so many things to write about that I don´t know where to begin. So I won´t save the best for last, I will make it first.
After completing two awesome dives, we piled into the dive boat for the long ride home. In front of us we saw several boats in a circle, and inside their circle was a circle of snorkelers. Was someone hurt? No, everyone was watching a pod of pilot whales!
We quickly joined in the fun and began chasing them.Soon, we were surrounded by pilot whales. They were swimming alongside the boat, under the boat and surfacing all around us. I was tingling with excitement! The dive boat captain, perched about eight feet above us, could follow the whales and announced where the next one might be surfacing. It was a sight to see. Six divers and three crew members from the Dive With Martin dive shop jumping up and down and screaming whenever we saw one about to surface. They looked like dolphins to me, but our dive master, David, said they were pilot whales, which look similar but are a little bigger. David said that normally pilot whales swim away from passing boats, but today, for some reason, they decided to play with us! And all on Friday the 13th! The family that I dove with today, Wayne, Lisa and their daughter Jessica from Louisiana, shot video of the whale pod, and Wayne promises to send me the video. Wayne, I will hold you to it and look forward to seeing it! I started to scramble for my Flip video camera, but it was already wrapped up in my dry bag, and to search for it would have meant I might miss the whales. I was too excited to avert my attention from the whales. To see the dive crew so excited about the whales told me that this was a rare sight to see. I feel very lucky to have seen it, and I am still tingling an hour after the event.
Our first dive today was on Palancar Bricks, one of four dive sites on the Palancar Reef. This segment is named Bricks because a ship hauling bricks to build houses on the island was lost in a storm. As the boat was sinking, those aboard started dumping bricks off the boat in an attempt to save the boat. But it didn´t matter. The craft when down anyway. I asked David if this is where a diver can see COZUMEL spelled out in bricks on the bottom is the sea. He said it was the place, I did not see it on the dive. I was also introduced to an 89-year-old diver from Utah. What an inspiration! He walked to the dive boat with two canes but was like a fish in the water. I sure hope I can still dive when I´m his age. I thought he was the grandfather of one of the dive masters at first, so I told him that he speaks wonderful English.
¨I should because I was born and raised in Utah,¨ he told me. Boy did I feel like an idiot.
¨Wait until I tell me wife this one,¨ he joked.
Our dive lasted about 50 minutes, with a max depth of 90 feet. Once again, as is the case with many deep Coz dives, 10-story plus coral reef walls full of a variety of colorful species of coral stand as giant intimidating monoliths that can only be looked upon with awe. We did a variety of swimthroughs and saw more lobster the size of small dogs. I also saw my first lionfish of the tip, three of them unfortunately. While the first one we saw was quite large, the second one was a baby, the size of a silver dollar or smaller. Dive master Lucio held it in the palm of his hand and showed it to me. At that size they are not yet dangerous. And was discussed in my previous entry, they are not indigenous to Coz and are not welcome. Lucio begin hitting the lionfish with a metal clip-on in an attempt to kill it. When the lionfish grew dazed, it fell out of Lucio´s hand and he couldn´t find it. Suddenly, it reappeared, and a fish swam up and ate it! That was good to see. Lionfish have no natural predators in the Caribbean, but it appears some are getting a taste for them, at least while they are still small. DM David reported that while lionfish have become a real problem for Coz in the last couple of years, the local government has been allowing liberal spearing of the fish in an attempt to eradicate them. He said that appears to be working since there are less sightings of them. But they spawn every four days and thousands of eggs, so the job is far from over.
Our second dive was on Delila reef, one of my favorites thanks to its color and multitude of pelagic life. We spent 56 minutes on the reef with a max depth of 58 feet. And the dive didn´t disappoint! Right off the bat, a stingray, a little larger than a dinner plate, swam by in front of me. Moments later, I saw my first nurse shark of the trip, a large specimen which I could see the tail from one hole in the coral and its head in another hole.I tried getting pics of both. An array of beautiful reef fish coated the top of the formation. Just a feast for the eyes. After seeing more giant lobster, I saw my first moray eel of the trip, spotted by Lucio´s keen eye. It was a little fella, hiding in a hole in the coral. He let me get up real close and take a picture. Thanks bud. Two more nurse sharks swam by my path and a hawksbill turtle. As we started our ascent, I pointed out another large nurse swimming below and alerted Wayne and Lucio. It was a great way to end the dive, which would have been the highlight of the day if not for the pilot whales.
Tonight, the K-zoo boys, Jeff and Tim, and I have lined up a night dive. Those are always exciting because a whole new array of wildlife emerges at nighttime. I will have that report for you tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

First day of diving in Cozumel

Up at 6 a.m. And I´m on vacation! Fortunately, it´s 7 a.m. for my body clock, but still.
Anyway, this morning was my first Caribbean diving in three years. It is great to be back. This morning was overcast and not too hot as I took my 20 minute walk along the seaboard to get to the diving pier where Dive With Martin will pick me up. This is my fourth trip to Cozumel and my fourth time with Dive With Martin. They are a very professional group and the prices are reasonable. They are always among the first dive boats on the water. We dove with Miguel, a dive master I´ve dove with before. He is a nice gentle man and an excellent dive leader. We also dove with Pasquel, a DM I´d never met. Our large group of nine would have two DMs.
On board, I met a father and son pair who hail from Kalamazoo, Michigan. So right off the bat I´m hanging with fellow Michiganders! Then I find out they are staying at the same hotel, Casa Mexicana, and are only five doors down! Small world. Looks like I´ve got some guys to hang out with.
Our first dive is on Palancar Horseshoe. It is one of several reef areas with Palancar as its first name. According to my dive log, I first dove this part of the reef in 2007, and I saw an 8-10 foot black tip shark. I still see that image in my minds eye ... turning the corner around a coral head and seeing the black tip in the distance about 30 feet out. The dive master instantly pointed with enthusiasm as the black tip slowly swam around the coral head, not a care in the world. That was awesome.
Today, no such luck. But the water was beautiful as always with about 100 feet of visibility. It is great to see how much the reefs have recovered since my last trip.There is plenty of new delicate fans and tubes and pot (is that the right name?) coral. Much of the sand from the major hurricane in 2006  or 2007 seems to be washed away.
Unfortunately, I didn´t see many large animals. We did see on hawksbill turtle, which seemed to be chasing after Tim, one of the guys from K-Zoo. There were also a couple of lobster and groupers. In recent years, Cozumel has been invaded by lionfish. But I didn´t see any on this dive. That is a good sign. But I´m bummed because I didn´t see any nurse sharks. The turtles are my favorite, but the nurse sharks are a close second.
We went to a depth of 90 feet with about 50 minutes of bottom time. I was a little nervous for my first salt water dive in three years, but when I saw that a couple of my fellow divers were more inexperienced than me I felt much better. I was one of the more experienced divers and very comfortable in my favorite dive destination again.
Our second dive was on La Francesa with a max depth of 60 feet and one hour of bottom time. I also dove this reef in 2007, but with a recorded depth of 100 feet, so perhaps it was a different section. For this dive, the current was really ripping. I felt like I was on a freeway. Cozumel is exclusively drift diving, meaning the current carries you across the reef. On the positive side, that means very little finning is required and you don´t have to work very hard to move. That means you use less energy, use less air and can have more bottom time. The down side is you move very rapidly across the reef and really have to keep a sharp eye out for critters. And if you see something and you want to swim back to get a closer look, that ´upstream´ movement takes a lot of energy and burns a lot of air. I saw two more turtles traveling together and it was funny to watch them battle the current. When the natives are struggling to maintain their direction, you know it´s ripping. I saw a couple more lobsters and three large black groupers.
Pasquel chased after a small fish that is very popular with photographers, but I was too far away from him to cut across the current and follow him. I asked him the name of the fish, but I forgot what he said it was. The first part of its name was an animal ... monkey? I can´t remember. If I see him again, I will ask him. As he, another couple and I were bobbing in the water, the last ones to be picked up, we all marveled at the current and how it would slow down and then speed up again. Sometimes, it even starts going the opposite direction! But not today.
No afternoon dive today, but the K-zoo boys and I are trying to scurry up some people for a night dive.
BTW, hopefully I will be posting some photos and video along the way. I might be able to post some pics, but the video will have to wait until I get home.
Check in next time for the result of my night dive or tomorrow´s diving. If you have any questions or comments, don´t hesitate to ask or comment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I landed in Coz and saved some $$

I arrived in Coz Wednesday afternoon at about 130 local time. It´s good to be back. I dove in Coz for three consecutive years, the last time coming in 2009. At that time, the swine flu was at its peak, and the island was practically deserted. Today, everything looks back to normal with lots of tourists.
Today, for the first time, I did the ¨bag drag¨to the main road after processing through customs at the airport. In years past, I would pre-purchase ground transportation along with my hotel and airfare.
Now that I am a Coz veteran, I decided to wing it and grab a cab when I got here. Airport officials don´t let the taxis near the airport so that they can rake it the ground transportation dollars. Today, I met a nice family from Indiana in customs and we all ¨bag dragged¨to the main road. It only took a couple of minutes. The temp was about 80, but overcast and not too bad. The end result? A $5 taxi ride that was quick and painless. Ground transportation costs about $30 (roundtrip) depending upon where your hotel is on the island. And, you have to wait in the ground trans van forever until they have collected all of their fares. After six hours worth of travel, you just want to get to your hotel, clean up and relax. So, I´m already feeling good and looking forward to my first set of dives tomorrow. And I have a couple of extra bucks for a few more cervasas! Sorry, no dictionary. I can´t remember how to spell it, only how to ask for it and drink it!
I will update you Thursday. I´m getting excited.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Heading to Cozumel!

I am heading to Cozumel on Wednesday for three days of diving! I plan on providing a daily blog of my activities, including detailed descriptions of my dives. I also hope to take some underwater shots of the wildlife and maybe some video as well.
Stay tuned.