Over the days there were several dives that deserve special mention but I couldn't relate a narrative story between them so I'll just try to recapture them to the best of my recall, so here they come:
105 feet - 42min.
Punta Maria is on the South West End of the Island, very close to another famous site called Dos Amigos. The weather conditions to the southern part of the island had been difficult over the days and we where lucky we finally did a couple of dives on the south side. Earlier in the morning a crewmember had been to the dive site and dropped a marker line over the submerged pinnacle. The seas where high, the wind had picked up and if by any chance you loose your guide line and the currents take you away, you would have no chance of finding the site again. This pinnacle has a plateau that rises to 70 feet; a sand channel at 105 feet and a couple more pinnacles on a northwest bearing which proved to be where the action was. At the beginning the life was scarce but as soon as we moved to the other northward pinnacles, you where impressed with the amount of life. The current was ripping and the thermocline dropped the temperature to 68 F. My 3-millimeter wetsuit gave me little protection but I just moved a little up to gain some warmth. This pinnacle had more sharks swimming together than any of the previous sites. Five different species of fish schooled in huge groups, and the array of colors they presented gave you a collage picture in yellows, blues, browns, and reds. At least 150 white tips where hanging almost motionless against the current while us clumsy divers were huffing and puffing. I reached for my reef hook out of the BC pocket strapped myself to the rocky bottom, punched in a little air and flied and watched the show. Being there motionless they would approach to less than 1 ft. away. If someone asks me, I can now tell that I rub elbows (literally) with sharks, not loansharks but hundreds or white tips at Punta Maria.
101 feet - 50min
Again we were not blessed by a good visibility. At less than 30 feet you really had to open your eyes to make something out of all the marine life. With the current running in a clockwise manner and dropped on the wayward side of the island we where ready for the ride. A cleaning station was spotted and we just hang around it for some minutes, waiting for the hammerheads to show up. Once the action stopped there we continued drifting towards the apex of the island. The previous time we had done this site the current was violent, this time we could take it a little more relaxed. Once on the apex, I turned around against the current, placed the reef hook on the almost vertical wall and waited. In minutes a Group of 50+ white tips hang around just waiting for something to come down current. I felt just like one more of them. They got as close as a foot away and flying with the reef hook made me take the current very much in their same way. If the current slightly changed direction, and they moved at unison, I became one more of them. Hanging there, Miguel and Don appeared and I let go of the wall and we where literally slingshotted towards the outer blue. Getting near the Deco limits we ascended and did our safety stop. On the surface the day was still nice, and we had drifted about 1/2 mile off Manuelita. The boat was no where near until Miguel and Don spotted it another 1/2 mile into the ocean. Someone in the group had drifted further away than us. I don't know why Miguel looked under the water until he just lets us know to look below. "Guys I think we have visitors" came out of his breaking voice. A group of 12 Silky sharks were circling us, closer and closer with every pass. We blew our dive alert horns but the boat would be still 10 minutes away. The dozen silkies (yes a dozen, and I did counted them) varied from some 4 footers to a group that where way beyond 6 feet. You knew by their green menacing eyes you where being checked, over and over with each pass, each time closer and closer. Swimming "with a purpose" some got to be real curious almost bumping Miguel´s fins passing at less than 2 inches away from us and this time our hearts where pounding and our dive alerts where blowing and blowing. Any body else writing this report could have said, "yeah, it was cool". No Sir not me. One or two I wouldn't care but a dozen and some as big as us it was fearsome. Miguel got a little more nervous than we did and in the distance the boat was approaching to pick us up. With all the noise we where making other divers in the boat asked what was it all about. Before answering the only thing we really wanted was getting out of the water. Once we told them what was going on Frank, got his camera, fins and snorkel and got in the water. One or two minutes later he was back in the boat pale as we had been. Manuelita drifting and slingshotted into the blue will remain with me for some time.
South side of the Island
105 feet - 45 min
This was also an excellent dive. This pinnacle drops from a shallow part at 4-5 feet underwater, has a couple of Plateaus at 20 and 40 and a swim-through at 60 feetright in the middle of pinnacle. The falling walls drop to 120 into a sandy bottom. We went down to 105 feet and swam our way back to 60´where most of the life was concentrated. A group of King Angel Fish had established cleaning stations with some Hammerhead specials for the day. Just hanging around, clinging to a rock, waiting for the "boys" to show up was a treat. They didn't mind our bubbles and where more interested in getting cleaned than anything else. We where able to get as close as 5 feet away and the guys with video got some great footage. Submerged Rock proved to be perspiring with life. Two huge schools of yellow stripped and yellow finned snappers occupied all of the swim-through and you had to literally move them away just to get through. A huge 4-foot Dogtooth snapper was watching the entrance like a toll collector. Checking around the rock was easily done and the visibility was better than at other places. Suddenly a school of fish got disturbed and they all moved violently at unison opening up the space for a fast moving Yellow fin tuna in search of breakfast. My safety stop was done clinging to a wall on the southwestern area of the rock, delighted by all the action of the Galapagos Barnacle Blennies. With their huge eyes and big mouth they would be really scary if they got to grow more than the 1-inch length these little fish are. I don't know if it was just because we were finally doing dives at the south side of the island that this dive became memorable in my mind. But if I close my eyes the swim-through and the thousands of snappers are fresh as this morning's orange juice.
101 feet - 35 min
Finally the weather was good enough to do this famous underwater mound. Starting at 80 feet, Alcyone is a group of underwater mounds that rise from the abyss in the middle of nowhere. The seas where choppy and the ride on the zodiacs took some 20 minutes. Our captain knew how to get us there using only a group of simple alignments between reference points on land. When he was ready to drop an anchor we noticed that the Undersea Hunter had already marked the place since a Japanese film team was still working on the island after some 20 days now with them. We were briefed to descend using the line since the currents could sweep you away very easily. The visibility was very low with a max of 30 feet but we where in for a treat. We backed rolled into the water and started descending into the blue following only the line. Once on the mound we could just made up the shadowy images of a huge school of hammerheads in the distance. They would not come closer and you could just see the ones that where very close. I couldn't locate any cleaning stations so my mind was set into the reconnaissance mode. I finished pairing up with Mark, our trip director, and that turned out to be a great draw of luck. His keen eye identified over a dozen octopii in a space less than 100 square feet and hundreds of starfish could be found on the turn of your head. Zebra and gray spotted eels hiding in several crevices and we where delighted with a snake eel. Life was so rich at this mound that you just dreamed to have good visibility to let you enjoy its entire splendor. A huge group of White tips were on the sandy bottom just doing their own stuff and the Hammerheads just barely showed themselves through the muck of nutrients this waters had. We played with the octopii for a while until one became so annoyed that he sprayed his ink and fled. To make the best from the poor visibility, the little stuff where the showstoppers until our computers were putting us near deco time. This second deep dive of the day had come to an end and had left a feeling of just wanting to go back again. Divers among group 1 had the good fortune of doing their safety stop at the presence of a huge sailfish. We just had the menacing visit of a single silky some 6 feet in length that stayed through the entire safety stop until the boat showed up. Alcyone, Greek goddess of the wind, gave us a glimpse of its beauty and reminded us mortals the power and grandeur of nature.
40 feet - 45 min.
While getting ready for the diving someone spotted a huge pod of dolphins just playing near where the boat was moored. We geared up a headed towards them. We had the intention of watching them before heading for our dive site. Shy as they can be, some of us just slid carefully into the water but as soon as we got in they just swam faster and further away. However the huge pod of Dolphins where replaced by the open water ever curious silky sharks. Another group of 10 of them gathered immediately around the few of us that where floating in the water and their piercing eyes penetrated our bodies with each pass that they did. Fast and hydrodynamic as they can be, you can't pose any competition against any of these animals when confronting them in group. Having this time the comfort and security of being a few feet away from the boat and not ½ mile away as my last encounter with them, I started snorkeling and free diving among them. Her! What a difference a boat makes. My attitude had changed from passive and scared to active and confrontational. This time I don't know who was checking whom.
Silverado is a shallow spot southward of Chatham bay. To get there we went by a rock called Ulloa that host hundreds of Bobbie birds that where nursing their young white feathered chicks. The sights were impressive but the smell was pungent. Silverado is a rocky bottom that drops easily to 45 ft. into a sandy bottom. The protocol was easy. Just drop and hang a while at the edge of the sandy bottom. If we where patient we would be in for a treat. As soon as we back rolled a 4 foot silver tip came close to checked us out. This was the species we wanted to spot at Silverado. With their pointy nose and sleek features they are from the same Charcarias Family of the Silky, Bull, Blue and Reef sharks. Fast, aggressive but much more muscular that the silkies, the silver tips also have menacing eyes and large, much larger muscular bodies than the silkies. Hanging there, still as you could be, a group of 5 or 6 Silver tips just came closer and closer with every pass. One was as big as an ocean Kayak and only during this dive I felt the need for looking behind my back. Hammerheads are menacing muscled predators also but seeing them in such vast numbers and at almost every dive you loose a little respect for them over the week. White tips you've lost respect for them after the second dive but these silver sleek beauties were intimidating and their barrel size chest and pointy features looked more like a great white and scarier to me than anything else we encountered during the week. After a while they disappeared as fast as they had appeared, and I decided to move and explore. The rest of the divers that stayed in the area had the luck of videotaping an eagle ray. I missed it because of my impatience but was delighted to find a huge school of surgeons intermingling with a school of triggers. Being the third dive of the day my body was shivering from all the diving during he week but the grin of satisfaction couldn't be wiped off our faces, no matter what.
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