Friday, July 25, 2008

July 3rd, 2008: Cozumel Diving Day 5 – Punta Sur (Devil’s Throat) & Paseo del Cedral

Our last day of diving in Cozumel felt really sad to me. I was getting into a routine that I was happy in, diving early in the morning, having lunch after rinsing and hanging gear, hitting the pool or going snorkeling, leisurely dinner and hanging out some more, having some drinks or an early night in bed. It all seemed so sad to think that it was almost over and I’d be heading home to work, responsibilities, etc. These feelings, however, were tempered by the fact that we were about to head out to try and do one of the most fascinating deep dives that Cozumel has to offer – Devil’s Throat. I’ve been told that this is a “must dive” site but that it is oftentimes hard to dive because of the current.

The Devil’s Throat site is located at Punta Sur and consists of an underwater cave formation which starts in 70-80’ of water and opens up at approximately 135 feet, which is on the edge of the recreational limits. For this, and other reasons, this is considered an advanced dive that DMs will only do if they have confidence in your skills and abilities. Because of the depth and the time that you spend at depth, a longer than standard safety stop is required in order to minimize the risk of DCS. Our DM had actually planned for us to do a multilevel ascent with a stop at 70 feet for three minutes and a second stop at 15-20 feet for 6-8 minutes depending upon whether anyone had entered decompression diving.

Arriving at the site and hearing the admonitions about the site and the possible dangers, I began to get a bit worried about it. I was thoroughly convinced as to the safety of our DM and my own abilities as a diver, but the apprehension was still there. I suppose that, in one vein, it is healthy to have a small amount of fear just so long as it is not immobilizing; but I was a little nervous about it.

Splashing in, we all knew that we would be immediately descending in order to make it down towards the opening of the “Throat” without having to burn through a lot of air swimming underwater against the current. We all were in the water within a few seconds of each other, underwater and underway. Soon our DM Alex (Dorian) was giving us the signal for “swim-through” and we were heading into the Devil’s Throat. Lisa was ahead of me on the first cave, Mark, Vince and Susan behind me. Popping out at 135 feet, Alex was taking photos of each of as we exited the throat. Depth doesn’t appear to have that much effect on me, although I’ve never had to do any drills or tests to see if I suffer from Nitrogen Narcosis. I tried to use my camera at one point to take a photograph of Lisa, only to realize that none of the buttons would work, quickly remembering that my housing is only rated to 130 feet. Whoops! Realizing this, I simply stored the camera in hopes that nothing happened to it.

Soon we were lining up for the 2nd cave entry / swim through. This was more extensive and I followed behind Mark this time. Twisting up through the cave, we entered small, tight spots, gently swimming up and through them, eventually exiting at about 75 feet. I checked my camera again and found that the buttons were again working! I guess returning to a less pressurized environment allowed the buttons, o-rings, etc return to their normal working position. And, to my relief, there didn’t appear to be any water in the case.

We soon began our 1st safety stop for three minutes to allow some of the nitrogen to dissolve, removing us further from any threat of DCS and further increasing our chances of having a longer 2nd dive. Soon we were heading up to 15’ to start a longer safety stop, passing the time taking photos of each other and a school of fish that were hanging out around us. All too soon however we were back on the surface, climbing out and chattering to one another about how marvelous the dive was, waiting to get back into the water for another beautiful blue dive.

After our surface interval, we were off to Paseo del Cedral. Alex told us that this was a good site to see big critters, so I grabbed my camera and splashed in. Another drift dive and the current was ripping! We weren’t even to the bottom and we were being swept off along the reef, with little opportunity to break and take photos. As soon as we were down, we came across these massive stoplight parrot fish, just MASSIVE though. I guess that is the benefit of being in a Marine Reserve – you can just get huge. Its mouth, however, looked like a mola mola, always open. So far, big critters – check!

But soon enough we saw it – a sweet turtle hunkered down in the reef having a snack, its beautiful head tucked down into the reef, massive French angel fish at its side. Kicking hard to keep in place, I took two photographs before letting the turtle continue its lunch. Off we go down the reef, when I look up and see one of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen on a dive. This amazing turtle is swimming above us and, as if on queue, it dives down towards the bottom, swimming towards me as I am fumbling with my camera, all the while trying to think of whether I should take video or stills! Such grace that I could only aspire to, I swam along dive of it, against current for a few minutes, just in awe of the sheer magnitude of the moment.

The reefs here are beautiful. Skimming along the tops of the reef, I stay high in order to avoid a shortened dive from running out of no-Deco time, dropping down when Alex (Dorian) signaled something found – a nurse shark, lobsters, toad fish, trigger fish – heck, who am I kidding. I rode the line of deco diving (but didn’t cross) on that dive because there were just so many things to look at. Stunning sand dollars poking out of the sandy floor, Christmas tree worms, juvenile French angels, amazing corals and sponges, groupers, squirrelfish, etc. It was a beautiful dive and a really nice high note to end the week of diving on.

On the boat, I packed my gear quietly. Our DM (Alex Dorian) asked if I were okay. The answer was yes, but sad. I didn’t want to think that it was my last day of diving – it almost made me cry. I was so enjoying myself that I simply did not want to stop. It was incredibly difficult to walk off the boat and say goodbye to the crew members who we had chatted with the entire week, gotten to know, and a DM that we had shared such amazing experiences with and had become quite good friends with. It was hard, but I know I can always go back. So thank you. Thank you Mark for being a good buddy (except when you had the camera! J ), to Lisa for being an amazing friend, a happy and excited buddy and to Sue and Vince for tagging along and being enjoyable, friendly and caring buddies and newfound friends. A warm and very heart-felt thanks for Alex “Dorian” Salas who made our trip a marvelous success. Without you, it just would not have been as magical as it ended up being. Mil gracias!

Dive #73 – Thursday, 7/3/08 – Punta Sur / Devil’s Throat – Cozumel, Mexico. 9:10 AM. Max depth 132 feet, average depth 66 feet. Bottom time 34 minutes. Water temp 82°, vis approximately 50-60 feet. Surface interval – 1 hour, 9 minutes.

Dive #74 – Thursday, 7/3/08 – Paseo de Cedra – Cozumel, Mexico. 10:54 AM. Max depth 67 feet, average depth 43 feet. Bottom time 48 minutes. 500 PSI at end of dive. Water temp 83 °, vis approximately 60-75 feet.

Favorite Photo of the Day:

Turtle on the Reef

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