COCOS, CHAPTER 3: Dirty Rock and Alcyone

Over the next few days, it was hard for me to stop thinking about the magic of Manuelita. All I wanted to do was dive with more tiger sharks. But, the other divers wanted to find hammerhead cleaning stations in the deep waters surrounding the island. Fights erupted over any diver who unknowingly entered a cleaning station and spooked the hammerheads. Ed particularly chastised Robert on the dive deck in front of everyone. Ed yelled, “Maybe the rest of us would get to see hammerheads if you stopped kicking into their cleaning stations!” Robert calmly announced, “I apologize to everyone. I didn’t know I was in the cleaning stations. It will not happen again.” I approached Robert and said, “Just making eye contact with a hammerhead scares it away.” Robert nodded and continued cleaning his camera.

The panga ride to Small Dos Amigos started out clear and calm. Diego slowed as we filmed a huge waterfall while a few of the sun’s rays sprinkled through the clouds. After what felt like an hour, the island ended and we found ourselves in a storm. The wind whipped the sea. The sky ripped open as waves crested. The grey sky and the grey sea reached out to each other and we scrambled somewhere in between. I wiped my mask in my attempt to figure out which way was up. Diego stopped the panga at a small rock that barely poked through the surface. The panga heaved as we sat in silence. I announced, “Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy? At what point are we crazy, guys?” The divers remained silent as they slid into their gear and back-rolled into the maddening sea.

I pleaded with Diego, “This is insane!” Diego assured me, “It’s okay. There’s no current, I promise.” I held on a little longer and watched the waves for any signs of diver trouble. Suddenly, my stomach lurched. I realized I was better off underwater then throwing up on the surface for hours on end. I quickly slid into my gear as I huffed, “Okay, I’m ready.” Diego steered the panga back to the rock and yelled, “Go!” I back-rolled into the waves and I kicked quickly towards the other divers. After I joined them, my stomach relaxed and I looked around. Diego was right. There was no current and the visibility was excellent. The storm didn’t penetrate below the surface. Even a few hammerheads skidded by us. My fear instantly morphed into joy.

Back on the mother ship, the divers voted not to go back to either Big or Small Dos Amigos. Instead, we agreed on spending the rest of the day at Dirty Rock, which appropriately was a rock splattered in booby poop.

After back-rolling off the side of the panga, the divers rushed down to the deep, dark hammerhead cleaning stations. I stopped at around 30 feet because I noticed Robert and Annie jamming out into the open blue. I chased after them until we found ourselves in the middle of a massive school of big eye jacks that gloriously blocked out the light. At the sound of dolphin squeals, the jacks scattered and then slowly began to re-form their hive. Wherever the jacks scattered to, they eventually returned to their giant cloud through a series of interconnected underwater highways –A sort of jack network. I was fascinated by their seemingly sophisticated form of communication.

Robert, Annie, and I continued travelling with the jacks in the shallows until we were low on air. I slowly surfaced beneath a flock of boobies. As I filmed a booby from below, it plunged its beak at my camera. Another booby waddled over to me and squashed its face into my lens. I continued playing with the boobies as the panga crept up behind me. Ed questioned, “Megan, what are you doing?” I exclaimed, “You guys! I just got the best booby footage ever!” Laughter ensued as Brian announced, “It’s okay, she’s just filming her boobies.” I protested, “Not MY boobies.” Brian laughed, “Are you going to get in the boat or are you just waiting for the tigers to show up?” I tossed my fins into the panga and clambered up the ladder.

The divemasters guaranteed us that the best site for hammerheads was in fact at Alcyone. They claimed that even the great Jacques Cousteau dubbed Alycone his favorite dive site. The panga ride to the site was long, wet, and rough to say the least. When we arrived, Angelo instructed us to back roll onto the mooring line because the current was so strong. He warned that if we missed the line, we would have to abort the dive and activate our GPS. Still, it would be a long time floating out to sea before the mother ship could reach us from its position on the opposite side of the island. He repeated, “So, DON’T for any reason let go of the line.” If I wasn’t so nauseous from bobbing up and down on the panga for so long, I would have stayed put; instead, I was determined to be the first one in the water. I back-rolled onto the mooring line and quickly realized that kicking was useless. The current blew up at me from the deep. While the current held my regulator and mask in place, I hauled my body methodically down the line one hand over the other using all of my strength. I breathed hard as my arms grew weaker. I didn’t want to risk looking back at the other divers in case my regulator and mask blew off my face.

Once I reached the end of the line, I noticed there was a clear division between the blue warm water I was in versus the blurry green water at the bottom. I hesitated, but I didn’t want to hold up the other divers. I let go of the line and kicked for the first rock, which I held onto as I shivered from the bone-chilling cold. Gradually, all of the divers joined me at the bottom. A few blurry hammerheads ghosted by us, but it wasn’t worth moving for. The marbled rays and moray eels were blurry from the current, my eyes struggled to gauge distance and I couldn’t concentrate in the cold. All I could focus on was getting the hell out of there. I signaled to Angelo that I was going up for my safety stop. He signaled back ‘okay’ and I let go of my rock and kicked for the line. As I ascended, I passed through the cold green fog back to the warm blue. The water was still and I immediately felt better. I continued to climb the line until I reached 30 feet. A flash in the corner of my eye caught my attention. In the distance, I counted at least 50 hammerheads wobbling between the sun’s rays. I watched them until bubbles from the other ascending divers blocked my view.

Back on the mother ship, I plotted how I was going to be able to dive Alcyone again. This was my second Aggressor liveaboard trip and I was determined to win my first medal for completing all of the dives. I donned my 8.5 millimeter wetsuit and packed my gear with 24 pounds of weight. After another nauseating panga ride, I back-rolled onto the line and released all of my air. Nothing happened. I was as buoyant as a booby. I flipped over and kicked as hard as I could towards the bottom, but my butt floated back up to the surface. I held on to the side of the panga as the last diver descended. “Diego!” I yelled. Diego’s head appeared above me. I handed him my fins, removed my gear, and climbed into the panga. “What’s wrong?”He asked. I quickly explained, “New plan. I need your help getting out of my wetsuit before I throw up. I can’t do it on my own in these waves.” I sat on the floor of the panga and Diego pulled my head out of the first layer. I yanked my arms out and folded it to my waist. Diego pulled as I wriggled until I was completely free of my wetsuit. As I tossed out most of my weights, I groaned as I slid back into my gear. Diego drove the panga back to the line that we had drifted away from. He urged, “Don’t let go of the line.” I back-rolled onto the line, grabbed a hold of it, and began my long climb to the bottom.

Luckily, the current wasn’t ripping quite as badly as it had the first dive. I used my left hand to hold my bikini in place while my right hand slowly pulled my body down. The last thing that I wanted was for the other divers to film me naked at the infamous Alcyone. I stopped just above the “evil green blob,” which Peter perfectly named the cold green fog that often blew through the dive sites. As I reached 60 feet, I watched the other divers below me. I didn’t see anything interesting, so I headed back up the line to my trusty 30 foot mark. A dark shadow appeared in the distance and since I was alone, I was a bit nervous about what it was that I was about to meet. Gradually, the cloud grew close enough that I could identify it. It was a massive school of enormous mullet snapper. I felt a Jacuzzi of bubbles beneath me and I looked down. Robert suddenly appeared next to me and gave me the “Are you crazy?” signal. Confused, I signaled back “No.” I glanced down and noticed that the rest of the divers were equally perplexed.

Back on the panga, Henry asked, “What happened to your suit?” I answered, “I didn’t bring enough weight with me and I couldn’t get down.” Robert questioned, “What were you thinking?” Ed assured, “I was watching you and I knew you were fine.” Brian added, “I thought we would finally get some booby footage.” Hans smiled, “You’re probably the only person who’s dived Alcyone wearing only a bikini.” I laughed, “Yeah, I can’t imagine Jacques Cousteau dived this in a bikini.” Henry shivered, “Weren’t you cold?” I laughed, “No, I was above the evil green blob.” We all voted to dive the rest of the trip at Isla Manuelita.

Categories: Travel

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5 replies »

    • When I was a kid, I would run screaming out of the water because of reef fish! I just kept trying over many years and eventually I loved it. You’ll see in the next few chapters that I injured myself on these dives and I went through a tough 6 months of recovery. I’m terrified of heights and I would never sky dive/mountain ski, so we all have our fears. I’m so happy you are enjoying my stories! I wish I could convince you to get back in the water. 🙂

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