Sunday, April 2, 2017

Whytecliff Park 23/03/2017

Heather and I went out to Whytecliff Park with Wendy for an afternoon dive for her company. It was a very very nice day, but the visibility again was very bad. We ended up trying for a while, but really called it due to visibility. Again, a very nice day to get out, and especially get away from the office!

Britannia Beach 19/03/2017

Heather and I decided to do our first cold-water dive after Cozumel at Britannia Beach. Unfortunately we called the dive on visibility. It was really bad. I had not called a dive on vis in as long as I could remember. We did see a few interesting things, a tanner crab for one thing. But it was a nice day and we got a great coffee from the Galileo Coffee company. So it was not a total loss!

Cozumel 07-14/03/2017

Heather surprised me with a birthday trip to Cozumel this year. I had heard a lot about it from divers that I knew, and was looking forward to relaxing, diving and being somewhere warm! Cozumel didn't disappoint.

If you don't want to further, here was the video compilation. It turned out pretty well.

And here are all the photos: Google Album link. Enjoy, or read on for more details.

When we got up to leave, this was the view when we left.

Winter had not let up its icy grip on us, that's for sure. The flight to Cancun was pretty long, with a stop-over in Calgary but we did get treated to some spectacular mountain scenery.

In Calgary, we got to ride their "futuristic" mini-cab (it reminded me of "Johnny Cab" from the old Total Recall movie). I'm glad that we didn't walk to our gate, because the new terminal was so big, it would have taken us 20 minutes. No wonder they needed this...

Landing in Cancun had us picking up the Ado bus to Playa Del Carmen, and hooking up with the ferry across to Cozumel. Our plane was delayed, the bus was delayed, and we missed the ferry, so a long day became even longer. The ferry ride was not pleasant as it was dark, and extremely rough. But we made it!

 We walked down to our hotel, and finally arrived at our destination. Hey, no snow!

In the morning, we were happy to meet some of our new neighbors. We looked forward to some sun bathing just like them.

And after a good nights sleep, the view was quite a bit different. We realized we were in for a relaxing, wonderful time.

Hotel Cozumel didn't have a beach per say (there were no real beaches on this side of the island) but the waterfront area had sand, palm trees, hammocks, chairs, drinks as well as the dive shop we would be using. Also, you could do a shore dive right there. Talk about convenient! The strange devices with scuba cylinders were tourist underwater scooter things. We took some time to try out some of the amenities.

After relaxing and exploring some, we did a check out dive off the front of the hotel. Tropical water sure was nice.

We were pleased to see quite a lot of fish even in front of the hotel. We saw conchs, various reef fish, urchins, and anemones.

After a relaxing paddle around, we walked up the main strip. We checked out the Chedraui (the local store), and had a drink at Senor Frogs (we had to do one super touristy thing!). On the way, we passed the Thirsty Cougar and actually ran into one of Heather's friends. Small world! After that, we ended up at Guido's for dinner. Guido's had been recommended to us, and it didn't disappoint. Who knew that we'd find some of the best Italian food in Mexico?

The next day had two ocean dives with Dive Paradise. Do I look like I'm on vacation?

Heather's friend had given some recommendations on where not to dive, so when they asked on the boat I was prepared. The first dive site mentioned was on that list. So I spoke up and put in my vote for something else. We ended up diving Paso de Cedral, and it was good. Mind you I didn't have much to compare it to, so everything was good in my mind. I did believe that the health of the reef was good, and better than what I had seen in Florida. It was about the same as what I remembered from Hawaii. Right off the bat, there was a turtle. A great start!

Every dive was a drift dive almost. That made it a challenge to take photos and video. But you could tuck yourself into the lee of a coral or rock formation if you were on the ball. I got a good look at a colorful giant anemone while doing this.

Then not long after, we happened on a resting nurse shark under a ledge. Another great find.

I was very impressed with the large-leaf hanging vine green algae. It was very cool and I had never seen something like it before.

On the first dive, I must have been very excited because I seemed to suck through my gas. Still, it was a 50 minute dive at an average of 12 meters on an Aluminum 80. When I checked my SAC rate later, it was 17 liters per minute which was about normal for me. I realized that I'd just have to accept that everyone else seemed to not be breathing, hah.

On the second dive at Chankanaab Reef, we did see an eagle ray way in the distance. Another great find. Other groups throughout the trip saw more of them, but I was just happy to see one. Look carefully.

The schooling reef fish made for good photo subjects.

I couldn't resist a selfie.

After hearing about the spiny lobsters, I came across the first of many. They were truly huge and very impressive. Delicious looking too! Wasn't that always the case: you see one new cool thing, and go "wow" and then you see a dozen. Still, it was a good problem to have.

I found this strange bottom-dwelling fish that I believe was a whitespotted toadfish.

This was my second turtle, grazing away on the bottom.

From this point, I will have to digress and just do highlights. My picture dates were all messed up, making it hard to do a proper chronology. Also, a lot of my memories were a bit jumbled.

I went on a very good twilight as well as a night dive where I saw more spiny lobsters, as well as doing a fairly lengthy swim through. We didn't cover it in the dive briefing, and there was a large degree of trust in the dive master to know where we were going. Not exactly the best situation. There were a lot of openings to the sides, but it reminded me about how much trust is placed in dive masters on recreational dives. Still it was quite fun.

Before the night dive, we took a break on a nearby dock. The sunset was amazing.

The beginning of the night dive was quite bright, but it darkened quickly. I was very glad to have a 1200 lumen Sola dive light along. The wide beam illuminated things very very well. There was a free-swimming goldentail moray eel which was amazing. It reminded me of wolf eels back home.

I know that we came across two toad fishes camouflaged on the bottom, but when I reviewed my video I must have missed them somehow. However, I did redeem myself in getting a good picture of a lionfish. In Florida, on my first warm-water dive, I had turned off my GoPro instead of turning it on, so I had no video of the lionfish we saw. Lionfish were not good for the reef obviously, but they sure were pretty.

Another highlight of the night dive were hunting sharptail eels. They would twist and turn and burrow into nooks in the reef going after small fish. Very cool.

We had a full moon and you could see it from 40 feet down.

We paused for a bit and hid our lights and observed the same underwater phosphorescence that you could see back home by agitating the water in front of you. Our dive guide also found a "cockroach of the sea" or a "spanish slipper lobster". I didn't get any good images of it, but here is a photo from Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link. It was hidden way back in a crack.

The last two boat dives I did were at Palancar Gardens and another reef. Palancar was one of the non-recommended dive sites, but we had some new divers on the boat so I was game. I was pleasantly surprised. Palancar Gardens was a lot of coral pillars that you swam around and between. I would imagine you'd get tired of it quickly, but for one dive I had a good time. There were a lot of gorgonian-style corals that really reminded me of what I had seen in Egmont.

In the end, it was just a really nice dive. I also saw some really huge porcupine fish, and two final unique things. One was a lettuce sea slug. It was so small that I had no idea what the dive guide was pointing at. But it was there (very small). The last thing was another ray, hiding under the sand.

I forgot to mention about the king crabs too. There were lots of them as well.

Heather and I did two shore dives in front of Hotel Cozumel, and quite a bit of snorkeling. I was very impressed with all the things that we saw. Here was Heather posing for a picture.

One of the high-lights were the magnificent urchins. When I saw the first one, I started asking dive guides and other divers about it. No one seemed to know what it was really, so I ended up having to look it up on the good old Internet. I should have realized it was a kind of urchin by its shape.

There really were too many things to go over. A very cool sponge.

A moray.

A neat red heart urchin. At first we thought it was some kind of sand dollar.

Interesting coral.

A flat fish.

Some kind of hunting predatory fish near the surface.

There were tonnes of urchins in holes in the reef, as well as pretty damsel fishes.

A pretty anemone.

Trumpet fish.

And really Christmas tree worms.

And just lots and lots of pretty reef fish.

It was a bit of a challenge near the shore due to the surge, but it was still fun. Here was me doing some snorkel exploring.

One funny thing was the underwater scooters that you could rent. A dive guide would strap you in and basically run you up and down a line underwater. We stuck to our regular fin-power thank you very much!

The rest of the trip was just pure vacation.

And a few more new neighbors.

Soon however, it was time to go home. Even the view from the sky was beautiful. Farewell for now!