"This will be the last time I'm doing this," I thought, as I spun the combination lock dial and swung open my locker near the lower rinse tanks at Scubaclub Cozumel. It was Tuesday, my last day of diving, and the good weather had returned.
I liked the lower rinse tanks because there is a nice shower right there, and after your morning dives you can get everything off and cleaned up including yourself, at least enough to go have lunch. Food, of course is very important for divers, especially those engaged in activities as arduous as drift diving. It is a fact that on a typical drift dive you will burn as many calories as PSI of compressed air you breathe from your tank. Since on a normal dive you'll consume around 2500 PSI, that's as many calories as you have depleted and must restore. Really.
Cedral Wall was a ripping drift dive and as soon as we dropped onto the abruptly sloping contour of rubble reef and sand patches I knew I was going to have to have a big lunch.
Instead of the massive block and buttress structures of the more southern reefs, Cedral Wall featured small rocks and ledges with outcroppings of coral that formed a habitat for a huge population of fish. For the second day in a row the reef was fairly bustling with a variety of Angels, Parrots, Grunts, Spotted Drums, Wrasse, Filefish, and Butterflies. There were many juveniles wriggling around the bases of coral and sponges, never venturing far from their holes.
The sloping shoulder of this wall angles down at about 60 degrees for around 60 yards from the crest, and then plummets straight down. I wandered over toward the drop off but Nestor motioned me to come back to where the group was near the reef about half way up the shoulder. A good soldier, I obeyed and abandoned my quest to look straight down into the vacant blue depths one last time.
The first part of this dive was very fast, and the reef was like on a conveyor belt rolling along beneath us so fast that if you wanted to take a picture you had to see the shot coming, ready yourself, and then shoot as it was closest to you. You didn't get two chances.
Later in the dive the current slackened just in time for us to gather around a young sea turtle who was feeding on a sponge. Unperturbed by the sudden company, he continued snapping off morsels and I took pictures. Here he is.
Soon after out of the corner of my eye I noticed a huge fish moving directly toward me from the left. It was the biggest Grouper I'd ever seen, and he veered off at the last minute and took up a position in the middle of the circle we'd somehow formed above the reef. The grouper swam up to Nestor and halted about two feet away. Nestor made some hand motion that the Grouper ignored, and then it abruptly swam away out into deeper water.
Here's the video.
When we ascended after our safety stop I was with Nestor and one other diver. I stayed with Nestor because he had shot a marker bag to the surface and that was how the boat was going to find us. Nevertheless, as we rose to within 10 feet of the surface I spotted a group of about 8 divers on the surface and swam toward them, thinking they were in our group. Not. Instead, when I hit the surface I realized that I didn't know any of them, and I also noticed that one of the diver's had lost his tank, which had apparently fallen off his BC due to a too-loose tank band. His bottle was bobbing just behind him tethered to him only by the low pressure inflator hose. Scary. I got out of there fast. Looking around I'd found our boat about 50 yards to the south picking up the last divers from our group, so I beat it in that direction and gave a little blast from my whistle so they wouldn't drive off without seeing me.
On the boat Nestor asked me, "where'd you go, buddy?" I laughed and said I was just happy to get on the right boat.
Next, we stopped near the bouy marking the resting place of the Felipe, and I asked if we were going to dive the wreck again. "No," came the reply, we were there to do an opposite direction, north to south, drift dive on Chankanaab Reef.
Just offshore of the Chankanaab Park, this reef is a macro photographer's dream. Formed of low slabs of rock and coral, there were countless small attactions, mostly beautiful sponges, antler coral, and fish. One fish, not so small, that swam pst us was a fairly large barracuda. Here he is. I tried not to look too shiny in the dappled sunlight, but he ignored me, so far as I could tell.
We cruised along the west side of the low reef, that jutted up only about 15 feet from the sand bottom. There were numerous overhangs creating refuge for large schools of grunts. As we cruised along the edge of the reef I found myself secretly enjoying my 36% nitrox blend. Sweet air.
On the way back toward town you could see the big cruise ships gathered around every available deep draft dock, and some where waiting offshore. Easter Week must be a busy time in Cozumel.
There are a lot of very good places for divers to stay in Cozumel, and Scubaclub is one of them. Another that I'd like to try someday is Caribe Blu. Here it is from the water. A nice cozy place.
The one day I walked into town while the ships were in port the scene reminded me of the raucous pirate shenanigans that must have characterized Caribbean ports 300 years ago.
Horse-drawn carriages coursed up and down the main road along the water, and taxi cabs blasted out of side streets faster than seemed prudent given the fact that the roads were awash with tourists, some of them decidedly unsteady. Forget it Jake, it's Mexico.
As a final and unexpected treat, as I was returning my weights to the dive shop counter, I looked right and saw Ray Simon, from Scuba Center in Camp Pendleton, CA, whose group I had joined on a Channel Islands trip last June. What's more, many of the divers on this trip with him were people I'd dived with last summer.
What are the odds of running into people on a remote island off the Yucatan Peninsula that you dove with off the California coast? Apparently, not vanishingly remote. So we had a lot of fun together that day, and I saw them off on their day of morning dives after I'd gotten all packed up to leave Wednesday morning.
As the boats receded to the south, I turned and headed back up to my room to bring the last of my things down for the cab ride to the airport, stealing one last look at the hammocks at the water's edge.