Cozumel - March 12, 2002 - March 19, 2002

My daughter, Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten and I made our second trip to Cozumel.  Our travel and diving reservations were made through Middle Tennessee Swim and Scuba with BayAdventures providing travel agent services.  We flew via Continental Airlines out of Nashville with a connection in each direction in Houston.  My number came up this trip; I had to go through the full personal and luggage inspection (both checked and unchecked).  It took about 15 minutes to complete; the advice to arrive 2-3 hours prior to departure time is to be heeded, I'd say.  Anyway, the flight down was uneventful.  Coming back, we missed the Houston/Nashville connection and had to take a later flight.  It appeared that, in Immigration, a lot of folks ahead of us were using birth certificates/driver's license type documentation.  Get a passport.  Also, with a passport for my daughter, there were no requests for documentation from my wife giving permission for her to travel with one parent.

We checked into the Costa Club and completed a shore dive  off their dock to check weighting. Current near shore was surprisingly strong.  Diving was set up through Dive Paradise using their fast boat, 2 dive, option for five days of diving.  We prefer those, fast out and fast in with small groups.  

The Costa Club was fine - clean, efficient housekeeping staff, satisfactory food.  We have used Dive Paradise before and found their service to be as consistently excellent as always.  Boats were on time and the divemasters and boat captain quite competent and interested in their customers. We both asked to set up our own gear; they will do it for you but we prefer checking everything ourselves from the beginning.  The Costa Club pier has lockers, we used them and found them to be a great relief from lugging a lot of gear around. 

If you haven't used the small boats before, they are fast, wet, and tend to pound in any seaway.  Take a dry bag to keep things, well, dry - such as a dry pullover for the surface interval, etc.  There is far more room per diver for setup than the large boats.  Backroll entries are de rigeur with fast unloading and descents recommended.

Elizabeth used a Diva LX, US Divers Cousteau/Micra Adj reg, 2/3mm full wetsuit, Cressi Focus mask, Stinger computer, and Scubapro graphite twinjet fins.  I dove a Ranger, Oceanic Alpha 7/CDX reg, 3mm full wetsuit, OceanMaster Z2 mask with Prescription Dive Mask custom lenses corrected for myopia, reading, and astigamtism, and a Mares Surveyor computer.  Our camera gear was a Motormarine IIEX with 16mm wide angle YS60/TTL strobe.  We could have used a 3T macro lens but conditions and our experience suggested not to - the current was pretty swift and would have made setting up a macro shot without having to grab something (at least for me) pretty difficult.  I generally did not take the camera down on the first, deeper dives.  The current was swift and I don't like swimming against current.

There are plenty of trip reports up describing the dive sites as well as numerous commercially available resources describing Cozumel diving.  I'll hit a few of the high points.  On Santa Rosa Wall for our first dive, Elizabeth saw a 10 foot nurse shark free-swimming, a bit unusual during the day, I think.  On Palancar Caves, we saw a large Spotted Eagle Ray, with a nifty turtle on Cedral and the signature Splendid Toadfish on Paradise.  Juvenile and adult Spotted Drum were seen on several sites as were eels of various shapes and sizes.  The coral was great, healthy and plentiful, very little sign of bleaching, if any, or diver damage.  I've got a few of the pictures we took up below.  We also saw several seahorses on one shallow dive but I could not get into a satisfactory position to shoot.

Royal Gold 100 was used for all photos.  Foto Omega in downtown San Miguel developed the prints.

Neat turtle, swam right out the side of the coral overhang I was swimming by.  MMIIEX/16mm I spotted the tail end of this guy from the other side of the coral structure.
Yes, there is a juvenile Spotted Drum in this picture. Lots of angelfish of various types on every dive.
Phalanx of lobsters Grumpy Splendid Toadfish

Several observations - on the first dive, a couple of divers followed the Nurse Shark down to, by their account, 110-120 feet.  They found that they needed to ascend very quickly on the second dive to avoid deco.  The divemasters recommend a maximum depth/bottom time based on PADI RDP tables but will let folks who appear to be competent use computers and do their own profile, within reason.  One can get into trouble or find a second dive shortened if care isn't taken in watching nitrogen loading as surface intervals are only 50-60 minutes maximum.  Given the greater diversity of life at the shallower depths, we prefer not to go too deep and to gain bottom time as a result.  Elizabeth and I also extend safety stops to at least 5 minutes and stop for periods at greater depths on ascents from deeper dives.

There were two diver deaths while we were in Cozumel.  The first, on the 12th, occurred on a night dive - we were told about this by a family who dove off the same boat we were on several days and who were on the boat for the night dive.  The diver had a history of heart problems, with at least one previous heart attack.  She was 60 years old, had one attack at depth, swallowed a lot of water on the way up and had a second attack on the surface.  CPR failed.  The second, on the 15th, I believe, occurred on a dive on Santa Rosa Wall.  Our boat, after our first dive nearby, turned into shore; we could see CPR being performed on a diver on another boat.  We headed back out to assist in recovery of divers still in the water but weren't needed for this.  We returned to the dock in time to see the medics packing up their gear.  The victim was 74 and is thought to have suffered a heart attack after experiencing chest pains at depth and surfacing very quickly.  Again, CPR failed.  It was a sad, sobering experience. The family who told us about the first incident described the chaotic conditions of attempting to recall and retrieve divers, get a headcount so no one was left in the water at night, while crew administered CPR to the victim.  Such incidents affect more people in terms of safety than the victim - issues of personal health and fitness to dive should be taken very seriously, in my humble opinion.

The current was much stronger than we recall from last summer.  Santa Rosa and Palancar provided fast rides, Paradise was pretty calm  Water temperatures were invariably 79 degrees at depth, air temps varied between the lower and upper 80's; no rain fell while we were there. Visibility always exceeded 70 feet or so, sometimes by quite a bit.  One day provided a very rough ride - the wind had picked up and we encountered 2 foot and larger swells, by my rough estimate.  My rear was really sore.  It was one of those days when the safety tubes were useful, too, to avoid other boats coming too close while we waited for our pickup.  The rough conditions had made bubble tracking difficult.

Some non-diving activities - we generally dive two dives in the morning and take the afternoons off.  We went horseback riding at Palmitas and got a good look at the jungle and some Mayan structures as well as several cenotes.  We also drove to the San Gervasio Mayan ruins.  It was a well excavated site with many structures over a wide area.  Not as massive as Chichén Itzá but quite well presented.  We also drove back to the little town of Cedral where there are the ruins of an old mission church and a interesting contemporary chapel.  The park at Punta del Sur was neat, too.  We walked north for about a mile to really nice cove (my daughter remarked it looked like something off the Travel Channel, I agree) opposite the point where the salt marsh can empty into the cove. 

The Mexican Federal Government appears to be putting some real money into San Miguel.  The area around the square is being converted to pedestrian walkways and there is a general sense of things being "fixed up."  The Punta Langosta shopping center is open at the town pier for cruise ships - Carlo's and Charley's has moved there.  The south pier also seems to be getting a shopping area.  Quite a few cruise ships called.  There were four Princess Lines boats at the south pier on the 20th.  It's easy to feel smug about the passengers but I think that is arrogant.  The folks in Cozumel deserve a good living and to the extent that the tourist trade will help, that's a good thing.  The dive sites, with the exception of Santa Rosa, were not crowded while we were there.

We had dinner at Guido's our last night with a large group from our home town who had just arrived - very nice place to eat with a number of vegetarian selections (our family is veggie). 

The weather was great and the diving fantastic; the deaths were very sad and instructive of some of the risks to recreational diving that cannot be glossed over.  I think our next trip will be to the lower Keys in June.