Scuba Club Cozumel - Three Weeks in August

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Posted by jlyle on August 26, 2009 at 17:59:06:

I knew something was up when I saw George's face; he was grinning from ear to ear. He, Jayne, and Cathy had just returned from a shore dive in front of the hotel. He simply smiled and said, "Cathy found a frogfish." What? No way! I've been fooled before, so I was very suspicious; we've seen just three frogfish in Cozumel over twenty years of diving. The next day, George led me on a wild goose chase, but finally led me to the location. Sure enough, a tiny, yellow frogfish the size of a nickel, was tucked into the base of a feather hydroid.

Long lure frogfish (Antennarius multiocellatus)

In this picture, you can see the lure. Check out the fin that looks like a little "hand."

August 1 – 22, 2009. After last year's fantastic, three-week trip to Cozumel, we decided to return once again for three weeks, to see if it was as wonderful as we remembered. It was! We had great weather, fantastic diving, and a fun time with our friends. We saw turtles, big green morays, and nurse sharks on nearly every dive and found some new and unusual critters. I took lots of pictures. Buen provecho.

Scuba Club Cozumel is a semi-all-inclusive hotel: room, meals, diving; it’s located a short walk south of downtown San Miguel on the water. A dedicated dive resort for divers, SCC has been our favorite getaway on Cozumel Island for many years. The ambience of Spanish tile architecture is appealing to those of us who hate cookie-cutter hotels. The staff members are gracious, friendly, and attentive to your needs without being intrusive. Unlimited shore diving is included in the price – take a tank and go diving whenever you want on the house reef. The dive boats are reasonably fast, with marine heads, oxygen, radios, and shade. Tanks are the ubiquitous Al-80’s, filled to 3000 psi. Nitrox is pumped from a new membrane system and is available for extra cost. Food is great and varied: buffet breakfast, diver special lunches or order off the menu, and choice of three entrees for dinner. Eat, sleep, dive – it doesn’t get much better than this. Oh, they also have free internet connection available in your room. (No phones or TVs in the rooms – IMHO, a good thing on vacation.)

Hammocks on the water:

Getting there – a minor adventure.

We were scheduled to leave LAX at 5:25 am, but after we boarded the plane, the captain announced there was a problem with one of the "black boxes" and they had a mechanic working on the problem. Later, much later, the captain came on the intercom and said the instrument appeared to be broken and they were "looking for a replacement." (Hey! How about the plane sitting on the runway next to us? Anyone got a screwdriver?) The next message was to deplane and go to the counter to try and get on another flight. Given that we had to change planes in Houston and only had an hour and 20 minute layover, it wasn't good news. As luck would have it, after everyone had gotten off the plane, they cleaned the contacts, reattached the wires to the black box and it was working again. So, back on board for everyone, quickly, clear the aisles, hurry, push the throttle to the dash, and let's go. We were airborne an hour late and chances for making our connection weren't looking good. I must have good karma because they put us into a gate only a few steps away from the connecting flight to Cozumel. Forget karma; the automated walkway malfunctioned a few feet from the plane's exit! So close, yet so far away. Once again, the Fates intervened and the ground crew was able to coax the infernal machine up to the plane. We raced to the departure gate to find our plane had already boarded but the doors were still open; we made it to our seats in the nick of time. Of course we spent the next two hours wondering if our luggage was on the plane… Yes! The bags arrived in San Miguel on the same plane we were on. Don't you just love flying?

As we waited in line to get through immigration at the airport in San Miguel, we spotted Betsy; her plane from Manchester, England, had arrived a few minutes before ours - kisses and hugs all around.

Gathering our luggage, we shoved the bags through the x-ray machine, pushed the button in customs, got green lights, elbowed our way though the timeshare salesmen waiting outside, bought our van tickets, and arrived at Scuba Club with big grins on our faces. Sofia spoke those wonderful words, "welcome home," and we both collapsed.

[By the way, for you old Cozumel hands, they no longer have a traffic light at customs, just a green or red light. I liked the ambience of the traffic light better.]

We weren't too tired to do a long shore dive before dinner. We opted not to take the cameras and it was hard to figure out what to do with my hands. We saw the usual little stuff and breathed enough pressurized air to rejuvenate our souls.


Sunday, Scuba II with Jesús – La Francesa & Yucab.

Betsy, Deborah, and I were joined by Mel, Juanita, Chris and Walt. We went to La Francesa Reef for the first dive and Yucab (aka Yocab) for the second. La Francesa is a moderate profile reef, consisting of several parallel reefs with overhangs providing protection from the current. A turtle, nurse shark, grouper, and big green moray were highlights of the dive; a quartet of critters destined to be spotted on nearly all of our deep dives this year. Yucab is a lower profile reef with many colorful reef fish.

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Nurse shark (Ginglynostoma cirratum)

Black grouper (Myctoperca bonaci)

Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris)


Shore dive

Goldentail moray (Gymnothorax miliaris)

French grunt (Haemulin flavoineatum)

Sand diver (Synodus intermedius)

Monday, the Reef Diver with Jesús - Palancar Gardens & Paradise Reef.

Wonderous reef structure on Palancar. Lots of fish on Paradise. Ho hum, more turtles, sharks, seahorses, etc. I love this place!

Betsy in silhouette

Longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus readi)

That afternoon, we did a long shore dive in front of the hotel. There aren't any large coral or big sponges close to shore, but there are lots of really neat creatures to see in the rubble and on the artificial reefs. I pointed out a pufferfish to a passing diver and she motioned me over to show me a scorpionfish. For some reason, I thought she looked like Jenloves2dive from Scubadiving.com's forum – I knew she was on the island - so I rolled my camera over to show her my name written on the bottom. Yep, she knew me. You meet the nicest people underwater.

Spotted scorpionfish (Scorpaena plumeri)

Reef scorpionfish (Scorpaenodes caribbaeus)

After dark we were treated to a light show - thunder, lightning, and some rain. The rain cleared by dive time the next morning.

I was talking to Chris, explaining why I like living in Southern California so much. The weather is perfect nearly every day and I like that there are no bugs; "What," she said, "they can't afford housing?"

Tuesday - Reef Diver with Jesús - Palancar Bricks & Chankanaab

"Bricks" is part of the long Palancar Reef system. A boat carrying a load of bricks to the island sank here many years ago and some of the bricks are still evident on the sand beside the reef.

Lionfish have finally reached Cozumel! An invasive species from the Pacific, lionfish are not natural to the Atlantic or Caribbean and have no natural predators in those waters. They may be the descendants of released aquarium fish or may have escaped from a fish store during a hurricane in Florida; no one knows for sure, but they are here to stay. Resistance is futile! Jesús found two of the dreaded beasts and Betsy spotted one on Chankanaab.

Common lionfish (Pterois volitans)

Lionfish yawning:

Raymundo and huge Caribbean spiny lobster (Panularus argus)

School of snappers (Lutjanus sp)

Wednesday - Reef Diver with Jesús - Palancar Caves & Tormentos.

We found great conditions on our dives, light currents and great visibility.

Midnight parrotfish (Scarus coelestinus)

Smooth trunkfish (Lactophrys triqueter)

Deborah and seahorse

Shore dive with Betsy.

Yellowhead jawfish (Opistognathus aurifrons) brooding eggs in its mouth

Banded coral shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)

Thursday - Reef Diver with Jesús – El Paso del Cedral Dropoff and Paradise Reef (north).

We had a strong current on the wall, big turtle, couple of nurse sharks at the end, finished at Cedral Reef…schools of fish, barracuda. Paradise was a slow drift, looking for small stuff.

One photographer was harassing a seahorse; the DM made it clear that sort of behavior wasn't going to be tolerated and refused to have him on the same boat the next morning. Good for the dive master!

Horseeye jacks (Caranx latus)

Queen angelfish (Holocanthus ciliaris)

Yellowfin grouper – red variation (Mycteroperca venennosa)

Scrawled filefish (Aluterus scriptus)

Friday. Reef Diver with Jesús – Dalila and Villa Blanca.

Betsy, Mel, Juanita, Chris, Walt, Dave & Mike joined our group. On Dalila, we found a moderate current with little fish activity for this site. A large turtle was eating and oblivious to the photographers. A couple of nurse sharks were resting under ledges. Villablanca – we found one seahorse and were carried gently along the reef in a very mild current. We only covered three cables (there are seven undersea cables connecting the island to the mainland. On previous trips, we've done all seven cables, but only in a stronger current.)

Shore dive with Betsy – I found a seahorse out in the rubble in front of the hotel.

Betsy and hawksbill

…and seahorse


Giant barrel sponge (Xestospongia muta)

Erect rope sponge (Amphimedon compressa)


Saturday – Reef diver with Jesús – Colombia Deep & San Francisco.

Colombia had great visibility, sunshine, and a moderate current - two turtles and a shark. San Francisco had big, big groupers, a sign that the park is healthy and being protected.

Social featherduster worms (Bispira brunnea)

White spotted filefish (Cantherhines macrocerus) The pair couldn't seem to agree on which way to go.

Black grouper (M. bonaci)

Shore dive.

Yellowline arrow crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis)

Rough box crab (Calapa gallus)

Sponge brittle stars (Ophiothrix suensonii)

The group arrived today! El Grupo Lyle, 2009.

Longsnout seahorse (H. reidi)

I introduced myself to Tammy and Angus. I first met Tammy online, over on scubaboard.com, when she posted a question about going to Cozumel. On my recommendation, she and Angus joined us! Nice people.

Bonnie Pelnar's photo workshop group arrived, too! Lot's of old and new faces.

Sunday- Reef Cat with Jesús – Bolones de Chankanaab & Chankanaab

Today, I dove with twenty-three of my closest friends. We started with Bolones (no submarine on Sunday) and then moved over to Chankanaab Reef itself for the second dive. There was little fish action at Bolones, but I did get to chase a hamlet.

I slipped on my bootie and felt something in the toe. Quickly removing my foot, I shook out the boot and out came a crab! It seems a land crab had crawled into my bootie overnight. Why it didn't pinch me, I will never know, but I am grateful it didn't. We swept it up into Deborah's dive bag and released it back at the hotel, unharmed.

I did a shore dive to look for the seahorse and lionfish again; didn't find either one.

Deborah and nurse shark

Spotted drum, juvenile (Equetus punctatus)

Flamingo tongues (Cyphoma gibbosum)

Monday – Reef Cat with Jesús - Palancar Horseshoe & Punta Tunich

On Punta Tunich – moderate current a school of rainbow parrots, big moray eel, school of porkfish and a bunch of other fish.

Squirrelfish (Holocentrus adscensionis)

Barred hamlet (Hypoplectrus puella)

Yellow tube sponge? (Aplysina fistularis)

Tuesday – Reef Cat with Jesús - Santa Rosa Wall & Paradise

We saw a total of four seahorses on these dives. I can remember when we never saw any in Cozumel. Either they weren't there or were well hidden.

On my shore dive, I couldn't find the seahorse, stopped to play with the lionfish, and found a West Indian Chank egg case with baby chanks!

Bearded fireworm (Hermodice carunculata)

Baby West Indian chanks (Turbinella angulata)

Peacock flounder (Bothus lunatus)

Wednesday – Reef Cat with Jesús - Paso del Cedral Drop Off & La Palma

Foureye butterflyfish (Chaetodon capistratus)

Blue chromis (Chromis cyanea)

Shore dive

Conch (Strombus sp)

Painted Elisia nudibranchs (Thuridilla picta)

Roger & Judy, Mark & Lu arrived to join the party!

Thursday – Reef Cat with Jesús - Palancar Gardens & Yocab

Mild currents, great vis., turtles, sharks, etc.

Roger (note the two cameras). Roger hates to miss anything, so he carries a wide angle dslr and a macro setup. The one strobe is a hand held slave that will fire with either camera.

French angelfish (Pomocanthus paru)

Tiger grouper (Myctoperca tigris)

Mark & friend

Friday – Reef Cat with Jesús - Colombia Deep & Colombia Shallows

This was the big group's last day, so we went far south to Colombia Deep, did a short surface interval, and limited to 1.5 hours on the Shallows. We got back in time for lunch. It was a beautiful, sunny day…flat water and fantastic visibility on the reef.

Stareye hermit crab (Dardonus venosus)

Indigo hamlet (Hypoplectrus indigo). This is one of the prettiest fish of Cozumel and one of the shyest. As soon as you get them in the camera's viewfinder, they dart away, stop, look over their shoulder as if to say, "you coming or not?" I caught this one looking.



Saturday –Observer with Jesús – Colombia & Paso del Cedral

Just our group on Colombia "normal" Reef and Paso del Cedral. We saw a lot of turtles, a big shark, one green moray, and several large midnight parrotfish.

Some of the gang waiting for the boat.

Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus)

Shore night dive

Caribbean reef squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea)

Sunday – Reef Cat with Jesús - San Francisco & Villa Blanca

My sister

Judy and hawksbill (The "football" is a float to make her video rig more buoyant.)

Spotted moray eel (Gymnothorax moringa)

I did a long shore dive, just poking around along the seawall. I found a cluster of squid eggs and noticed a few tiny, little squid – they're hatching! In this image you can see a baby squid emerging from the egg!

Monday – Reef Cat with Jesús - Palancar Caves & Tormentos

Lots of turtles, big free swimming shark, big groupers, hogfish, seahorse…

Southern stingray (Dasyatis Americana) and bar jack (Caranx rubber), hunting.

Gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus)

Spotted burrfish (Chilomycterus atinga)

My sister walked into San Miguel to do a little shopping. She found some headscarves that she liked for $3 each. She was going to ask the shop keeper for a bargain, two for five dollars, when she spotted a third scarf. Going up to the sales person, my sister proffered, "three for ten?" The shop keeper just looked at her and said, quietly, "that would be nine dollars." That's my sister!

Monday late – twilight/night dive with Martín. We did Punta Tunich (twilight) in a ripping current, lots of fish! Paradise (night) - Seahorse, Spanish lobster, grouper, crab, octopi, snail… Martín was amazing in his ability to spot interesting critters on the night dive. He was even able to locate a seahorse in the dark.

Keri Wilk (Reefnet.com) graciously identified this gastropod as Naticarius canrena the "colorful moonsnail".

Spanish lobster (Scyllarides aequimoctialis)

Octopus sp

Tuesday – Reef Cat with Jesús - Dalila & Bolones

Lots of "pairs" on these dives, two nurse sharks, two green morays in the hole, two crabs fighting.

Green moray eels (Gymnothorax funebris), showing their teeth

Slender filefish (Monacanthus tukeri)

Atlantis submarine on Bolones

Sponges on the wall

This was also the day George (Regtek), Jayne, and Cathy did a shore dive and claimed to have found the little, yellow frogfish!

Wednesday – Coral Diver with Jesús – Santa Rosa Wall & La Palma

It was Jayne's birthday and she requested Santa Rosa Wall (aka "Jayne's Happy Place"). On the first dive, I noticed a couple of water drops inside the dome port of my housing…never a good sign. I elected to leave the camera on the boat during the second dive on La Palma. Wouldn't you know it, there were two very photogenic green morays posing for the other divers. It's almost as if they knew I didn't have my camera. Those playful dolphins from last year must have tipped them off.

Later, I found a hair in the port's o-ring. Only a few drops of water got into the housing, no catastrophic flood.

French angelfish, juvenile (Pomocanthus paru)

Balloonfish (Diodon holocanthus)

Shore – George took me on a hunt for the frogfish. Jayne and Cathy already had beaten us to the site and marked it so that we could easily find it. After taking some pictures of the little fish, I noticed that there were arrow shrimp in the hydroid; we played "you can't see me;" the shrimp would hide behind a hydroid stem when I moved to take its picture, rotating away from me when I moved. Eventually I got the shot I wanted. It's amazing what you can find if you only look close enough.

Arrow shrimp (Tozeuma carolinense)

Longlure frogfish (Antennarius multiocellatus)

Jackknife (Equetus lanceolatus)

Thursday – Coral Diver with Jesús – Colombia Bricks & Colombia Shallows

I found one of the famous bricks and handed it to George. I thought it would make a great picture – before I could set up the camera for the image, George handed the brick to Cathy. OK, I'll take a picture of Cathy with the brick. Oh, no, Cathy dropped the brick before I could take the shot! Later, I told George, "When I hand you a brick, smile!"

George with brick

My brother-in-law demonstrating the proper use of a muck stick

Coney, bicolor variation (Cephalopholis fulvus)

Queen angelfish (Holocanthus ciliaris)

Blue tangs (Acanthus coeruleus)

Shore. I went back and found the frogfish to take some more pictures. A yawn! I got a picture of a frogfish yawning! Whoopie! It isn't known why frogfish yawn; some speculate that it has to do with keeping their mouth parts limber and ready to gulp any hapless fish that gets near their lure. Most of the time, frogfish just sit still and wait patiently; once in a while, they start to open their mouths, cautiously at first, only open a little, and then a full blown, mouth-wide-open yawn. I waited until a series of yawns started and was lucky to time my shutter press in sync with the fish's action.

The "money shot"

Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculates)

Banded clinging crab (Mithrax cinctimanus)

Spotted drum (Equetus punctatus)

Rough file clam (Lima scabra)

Friday was Margaret's birthday. She and Scott were unable to join us this August and we knew she was watching us on SCC's webcam as often as she could. Bonnie Pelnar loaned us some pens and we made up a whiteboard Happy Birthday, Margaret sign to place above the dive lockers for her to see. Many happy returns, Margaret.

Friday – Coral Diver with Jesús – San Clemente & Paradise Shallows

Jesús took us to a "Secret Spot" (AKA San Clemente Reef) very similar looking to Villa Blanca. Lots of big fish, spotted filefish, groupers, another green moray (ho hum). Paradise Shallows – purple crowned sea goddess!

Purple crowned sea goddess nudibranch (Chromodoris kempfi)

Smooth trunkfish (Lactophrys triqueter)

Stoplight parrotfish, terminal phase (Sparisoma viride)

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus) What Cozumel trip report is complete without a splendid toadfish picture?

Three weeks, fifty-seven dives, eighty hours underwater, and over three thousand pictures! We'll be back next August.

Camera: Olympus E-330, in an Ikelite housing, with dual Ikelite DS-125 strobes. Macro pictures were taken with a Zuiko 50mm lens, other images with a Zuiko 14-54mm. [The E-330 has a crop factor of 2, making a 50mm lens the equivalent of 100mm on an older film camera.]

Travel agent: Debbie Lanham at Maduro Dive, 800.327.6709 ext 216.

Scuba Club Cozumel - http://scubaclubcozumel.com

My webpage with lots of previous trip reports and pictures: Jim's Web Page

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