Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cozumel Third Day: Columbia Bricks

At 6:30am Sunday I was astonished to see the ocean even calmer than the day before. It was almost completely still; you could just hear the faint sound of water lapping at the pier, which amounted to the greatest commotion Mother Nature was in the mood to stir upon the face of the Caribbean Sea.

What I didn't know at the time was that in 24 hours a fairly angry Norte would be blowing into Cozumel, and the still sea surface would be transformed to a chaotic jumble of whitecaps and chop.

As we rode south past the Fiesta Americana Hotel on the Reef Star I couldn't believe the saturated sapphire and azure tones of the sea beneath its glassy surface. Sunlight glinted sharply off the bow wave and sparkled in the foam we left in our wake. It was a perfect day to go diving.

We stopped (you don't anchor for drift dives) just north of Punta Sur at Columbia Reef. This is one reef further south than Palancar Gardens where we dove Saturday. Once again our DM, Nestor, led us down onto unthinkably massive rock and coral towers and monoliths jutting vertically out of the sand but also perched at the edge of the drop off, so that the effect of descending into that world was as though parachuting into a large city with tall, irregular buildings built upon the edge of a cliff.

As we swam deeper down the face of the huge towers we dodged among overhangs and into valleys whose sand floor caught the bright sun at 90 feet and made it clear and bright as day.

Visibility was probably 100 feet or so.

As we had the day before, we swam through labrynthine passageways and tunnels all somehow connected in an impossible maze that Nestor no doubt has completely memorized. My compass was no help; you could only go through the holes and arches that honeycombed the reef, and where you exited relative to entry was a complete mystery.

The scale of this place is unimaginable. It's like walking into New York City when you've never seen anything bigger than Lodi.

Again, at the end of the winding swimthroughs we would be spit out onto bright white sand berms peaking just to the west before plummeting vertically to the depths. From there we could see more huge outcroppings which would be the beginning of our next maze.

At one point I decided to turn onto my back and look up the entire length of these monoliths to the sea surface, and they were so massive and tall that they almost disappeared into the haze and only the bright sun streaming across their ramparts marked their outline.

The current picked up, and I was watching out to sea when I realized that I'd missed the exit for the next series of tunnels. You really can't swim against the current on a drift dive at 70 feet and expect to have any air left after 5 minutes. So I shrugged and contented myself with following the little bubble streams filtering up from the roof of the structure the rest were passing through. I ended up happy about this because I was able to get some nice sunny photos. As i swam over the edge of the reef I looked down onto the sand and watched the other divers squirting out of the rock 20 feet below me. I rejoined them, but it was really time to begin ascending so we all headed east toward the sandy flats and put the monster reef behind us.

Magically, the boat appeared precisely when and where we surfaced, though it must have been a mile from where they put us in.

After almost an hour boat ride back to the north we slowed just off the Villablanca Hotel. We would do a drift dive along the sand and patch reef shoulder of the Villablanca Wall. Once again the current was fairly ripping and I assumed my customary seated position while the ocean carried me along the reef. One of the divers turned on her back and amused herself by kicking against the current on her back. She was getting nowhere, but that was the whole point. I have a video of this which will eventually appear here.

Highlights of this dive, once I tired of hovering motioinless, were the two tiny seahorses we saw, the Yellow Stingray and another shadowy turtle off in the blue beyond.

In the afternoon we got back on the Reef Star for a special dive on the wreck of the Felipe Xicotencatl, a sunken minesweeper in about 80 feet of water west of the Fiesta Americana Hotel.

Dropping down onto this ship created an eeire feeling; it looked like a ghost ship. When I got there there were already people inside, and their bubbles streamed in tiny rivulets up out of the rusty hull and superstructure of the ship.

I was the only one on the boat who refused to penetrate the wreck. I'm sure it was safe, and everyone came out just fine, but

I was more than content to putter around the outside, now and then passing a hole in the side through which i could see the other divers like aquarium attractions inside the wrecked ship.

Actually, the outer hull and superstructure of the Felipe was alive with sponges and marine life that I set to photographing, and before I knew it the others were streaming happily out of the side of the boat. We waved at each other and I joined them. Here's a shot of Nestor just after they came out. The others were low on air and began their ascents but I still had some air left so Nestor showed me around and pointed out the tiniest brittle stars I've ever seen.

Here's a video of the approach to the Felipe.

Strangely, at this point on the coastline of Cozumel the current goes north to south which is opposite of what we'd been getting out on the reefs. This same opposite current took us north to south on Chankanaab Reef two days later. Chankanaab is a macro photographer's dream, but more about that in Tuesday's Cedral Wall/Chankanaab report.

On our return to the dock the sun was low in the sky. It had been a whole day of diving, interspersed with eating and lounging in the sun. If I'd looked to the north I might have seen the dark clouds forming that would engulf us the next day, however, when I went to sleep I just assumed that Monday would be a perfect day like every day is in Cozumel.

Well, Monday did end up pretty good despite the blustery Norte. in fact, we escaped San Miguel just a half hour before an intense downpour hit the town which we viewed safely from the stern of the Reef Star on our way south to Palancar Caves. That report is next.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its cool that we can watch ya'll getting on and off the boats. We're waiting for you to put up a message for us in view of the webcam.

Alot of people are really enjoying your blog.