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Dive 5: Cedar Pass~ “Am I seeing things or did that fish just change colors?”

Dive Time: 50min     Max Depth: 52ft

Cedar Pass was like Paradise Reef, but with an upgrade. It was just as delightfully brilliant with cheerful colors and even more active of a dive with a great deal of aquatic traffic. The visibility was so astoundingly clear, that the only tell-tale sign you were in water were the bubbles…aside from the fish swimming aside you. But anyway. There were parrot fish, tangs, and filefish bouncing around all over the place leaping from coral to coral. With the intense clarity, you’d think they were in the air flying around like peculiar looking sparrows.

Gently gliding over the low lying coral, I saw a small cluster of fish trying to look busy above some orange and fleshy looking anemones. There was an interesting black fish that caught my eye. Once he noticed that he was being watched, he politely excused himself and swam away from the group. As I followed him, his black coloring seemed to have slipped off as if he had bodypaint on that was melting. Next thing I knew, I was staring at silvery-blue scales. What the hell?! Did a fish just change colors in front of me?! Or am I actually experiencing nitrogen narcosis at a mere 40 ft? Fortunately, I have a tendency to be susceptible to attention deficit disorder on occasion while diving, because all it took was someone finding an enormous moray eel to distract me from my hypochondria. That sucker was HUGE!!! It was basically an aquatic anaconda with a less attractive grill and an unsightly brownish pea-green coloring that he was not pulling off at all. Looks like Ursula lost one of her pets.

We crossed a stretch of sand to get from one part of the reef to the other. As I glanced to my left, I saw a barracuda within 5 feet of me and freaked out. Let’s just say I sucked up a bit of my tank trying to give him a comfortable distance of “personal space”. As I kicked myself far enough away from him, I saw Bill, one of the gentlemen in our diving group, pointing to the barracuda and then swimming right up to him with his camera. The needle-toothed fish appeared to be more lost in thought than developing a taste for homosapiens, so Bill was in no danger.

As we swam to the deeper part of the reef these mysterious bubbles started coming out of the coral. I had never seen that before. Coral breathing air? Maybe some sort of critter under the sand stirring things up? Then I looked ahead into a crevice within the reef and saw other divers swimming within the cavities under the reef. That answered my questions. As I exhaled as much air as I could from my lungs to lower myself on the side of the reef for a better view of things, I noticed the Dive Master and Bruce seemed to be actively investigating something in the underside of the reef. I look over to the Boy who signals me by taking one hand flat with fingers together and stationing it on top of his head. “SHARK!”

All of a sudden everyone is fighting against the current to get to hole at the top of the reef looking into the crevice. I didn’t care if I went through the rest of the air in my tank. I wasn’t getting out of the water till I saw that shark! After putting as much thrust as I could into my outdated fins to station myself between colliding divers, I peered into the hole. There was a nurse shark sleeping against the coral, as we so rudely stared down at him during his daytime snooze.

Each time the story is told, the nurse shark apparently gets bigger. The traditional phenomenon of most fish tales I guess. Later that night we were looking at a giant fish chart on the hotel wall and one of the divers in our group told us about a fish, called the bar jack, that changes color while feeding. So that confirms that I was not in fact hallucinating.

Dive 6: Paradise Reef~ ”Yup! Back to Paradise. But this time at night!”

Dive Time: 56min     Max Depth: 38ft

Now I thought that I would be a bit more experienced before I had attempted my first night dive. But from what Bruce and everyone else was telling us, we felt inclined to try it out. Now I didn’t know what to think. How dark was it going to be down there? Will it be hard to stay close to everyone? Will an octopus pull some ninja moves from the darkness behind me and attached itself to my face trying to wrestle with my over my regulator? (If you can’t tell I tend to have an overactive imagination) What actually happened was I had the best dive of my life! (Pending further dives of course)

We rolled backwards off the side of this tiny little boat into the darkness equipped with little handheld LED flashlights. As we descended into the water, the Dive Master was already at the bottom so we could have some perspective as to how deep we were going down. Once I descended near the reef and realized that it wasn’t completely pitched black, I got psyched! Right off the bat I started going off on my own scavenger hunt trying to be the first one to find something cool for Bruce to film with his searchlight equipped camera. Unlike the first boat dive off of Tormentos Reef, I found it much easier to keep track of everyone standing out in the darkness with their tubes of light. So I felt free to wander off on my own and explore the shadows of the reef. Apparently this freaked out the Boy seeing me always go off on my own. (Guess he might’ve had some concerns about nighttime ninja octopuses as well)

It was all a game to me. Octopus near the brain coral- 200 points. Splendid toadfish in the small crevice- 325 points. Larger Octopus exiting stage left- 275 points. Squid! 500 points. (My scoring methods can be considered subjective) There were crabs out for an evening stroll. A few eels, one of which was fittingly situated in an elongated tube coral. Another barracuda was discovered in deep contemplation until he was blinded by the stage production light Bruce brought down with us for his camera.

“If James Cameron is missing one…we may have found it”

Just as there are gnats on land to provide a certain degree of annoyance, on this dive we had these silly little worms that were attracted to our lights and swarmed us. Eric, one of our more adventurous divers who was adding to his 870+ dives that night, attempted to rid himself of the nuisance by directing all the worms attracted by his flashlight over to the sea anemones who proceed to eat them! This is one of the cool things about diving with pros, you learn all kinds of tricks.

Now with all of the excitement of the dive, I would occasionally check my air gauge to ensure I still had time left to play ghost-in-the-graveyard on the reef. As my air got low, I let the Dive Master know to see if he thought I should surface. He gave me the “OK” signal leading me to believe he felt I still had enough air to stay down a bit longer. But as my air got lower, my tank got lighter, and I became more buoyant. I was spending more time fighting to stay down than looking around for critters. I got to a point where I felt I wasn’t going to get much more out of the dive, aside from exercising my thighs to keep from floating to the top, so the Dive Master signaled me to ascend.

Now before you get to the surface, you’re required to do a Safety Stop, which is hovering at 15-20ft for 3-4 minutes to allow for the nitrogen bubbles to work themselves out of your blood stream. We were diving with dive computers that were wristwatches to indicate how deep we were in the water. Normally when you ascend, you multitask watching your dive computer on one hand for your depth and releasing air from your BCD with the other hand. On this dive I also had to negotiate a flashlight to shine with one hand on my dive computer…but that’s the same hand I’m supposed to use to release the air. And on top of that my tank was so light that I started ascending too rapidly. One look at the computer I was at 23ft. The next second I had shot up to 8ft! I still had to do my Safety Stop! Before I knew it I felt the top of my head break the surface just as my flashlight had gone out. Next thing I knew, I saw in the gleam of everyone’s light from below, my LED light was falling back down towards the reef! I instantly zipped down after it, determined not to be “THAT diver” who lost a rental light. (I still had to retain my diver cred after all) Fighting against the pressure progressively pushing against my ears and the aluminum balloon strapped to my back, I was able to snatch that damn light at about 15ft. The Dive Master witnessing the dramatics gave me his light, checked to make sure I wasn’t freaking out. (Which I wasn’t), and helped keep me in place to complete a proper Safety Stop. Once we all got back to the surface, instead of being freaked out and full of anxiety of the last few minutes of drama, I was exhilarated! Who cares if I had a made a less than graceful ascent? I had a blast through the whole thing! And I had allotted myself an extra 500 points for skillfully chasing down my flashlight.

Dive 7 & 8: Santa Rosa Wall & Columbia Wall~ “Scenic and serene”

Dive 7 Dive Time: 53min     Max Depth: 75ft

Dive 8 Dive Time: 64min     Max Depth: 53ft

The last two boat dives weren’t as action-packed as the others. They were just nice sightseeing drifts past towering reefs and spotting many of the same fish that we’ve come across on other dives. My main goal before this trip was over was to save my air long enough to have at least one dive over an hour. After days of getting more and more control over my tendency to fidget away my air supply, we had lasted a whole hour on our last dive at Columbia Wall. The Boy and I did our Safety Stop together just hanging out at 15ft when heard the Dive Master bang on his tank to get our attention while pointing to the surface. There, casually riding the waves on top of the water was a relaxed sea turtle! He just happened to be enjoying some rays while bodysurfing right above us. It was definitely the most entertaining Safety Stop we’ve had while watching the turtle, who had slowly become suspicious that he had retained an audience, dive down and swim past Bruce filming the majestic finale. Once he disappeared into the blue depths (the turtle…not Bruce), we swam to the top and climbed back onto the boat. With wetsuits dripping and mask indentations on our faces, we smilingly relived the appropriate ending to our boat dives together as a group. And yes, I did have stings on my arm too. A parting gift from my underwater nemesis.

Dive 9: Shore dive from hotel beach~ “Finishing off my fish wish list”

Dive Time: 62min

Max Depth: 23ft.

After days of diving with a group, the Boy and I thought it’d be fun to do our last dive together. Thanks to the convenient location of our hotel and the awesome onsite dive shop, we were able to waddle into the water with our gear on right from the beach. When we first arrived in Cozumel, I had a list of things I wanted to see on this trip. Parrot fish, splendid toadfish, octopuses, turtles, and lionfish. The Boy had already seen a lionfish on his training dives with Bruce, but that was still the one thing I hadn’t seen.

Now lionfish are not native to the waters of Cozumel. They’re actually a predatory nuisance. Rumor has it that the grandiose Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, which is known for its obscenely ornate and extensive collection of aquariums, are to blame for the punk rock looking fish making itself comfortable on the reefs of the Caribbean. It’s believed that when they flushed their tanks for cleaning, some of the lionfish had made a break for it into the open water. There’s even a campaign promoted by restaurants and various groups to “Save the Reef, Eat the Lionfish”. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38632799/ns/us_news-environment/t/do-your-civic-duty-eat-fish/#.T0-cYof2aSo

Despite the lionfish’s evil reputation, it’s still crazy to see one in person. On this dive we swam back to the broken pieces of the barge, and we came across a large one just chilling underneath a piece of rusted metal. With all of his zebra striped spikes, he did look like a badass of the sea. I couldn’t help but think of what a stark contrast he was to the serene blues, greens, and yellows of the graceful queen triggerfish, smiling tangs, and queen angelfish, who liked to play in the bubbles of scuba divers.

“My Bubbles!”

I could only hope that this won’t be another situation in which endangered species are pushed out of existence by the folly of us humans thinking we “know what we’re doing”. After using up the remaining pictures in our disposable underwater camera goofing off, the Boy and I decided to head for shore. Along the way, he seemed to spot something within the sand. As he got closer I saw the outline of a prickly fish expertly camouflaged against the beige granules. I recognized it as some kind of poisonous fish mentioned on the Discovery Channel. The next thing I know, I see the Boy waving his hand right in front of it. OH MY GOD! WHAT IS HE DOING?! The rock-looking beast made a dash underneath a nearby rock. That thing was later identified as a scorpion fish. And yes, it is poisonous.

The Boy & The Barge

High Traffic Area

“Sebastian is that you?”