AdventureCentral AmericaPanamaScuba

Monday, February 16: Coiba Island

This morning at 6:00AM the Yemaya lifted anchor and moved from its off Isla Ranchero and the Canal de Rancheria to a peaceful cove between Isla Jicaron and Isla Jicarita. There was a catamaran already anchored there, and I suppose we ruined their quiet secret place since shortly after we arrived they pulled anchor and sailed away.

There are so many dives we’re doing that I’m having a difficult time keeping up on my journals without constantly working on my computer between dives. And that’s no fun on a holiday. So I’ll resort to bullet point descriptions about the dives – a switch I’m sure no one will even notice.

Dive 1: Shark City

  • Immediately after our panga left the boat Eric realized he’d forgotten his camera – a sure sign that he’s tired. For the many of us a forgotten camera would be “aw, shucks. I’ll have to remember it next time.” For E, though, we’re all willing to turn the boat around to get it.
  • Deep pinnacles
  • Current so strong that I used 150 PSI just to get from the boat to the anchor line.
  • Handful of white tips
  • Loads of cleaning stations with barber fish. Perfect current and cool water, but no big sharks.
  • Finished dive going back up the line, lowest on air I’ve ever been. Computer read (at 80 ft) “3 minutes of air”, which I knew would increase as we got to the surface depth. But it was still nerve-wracking.
  • Start psi: 2880
  • End psi: 405
  • Shark City is fresh out of sharks

E’s “Woops I Forgot My Camera” look


Surgeonfish with a white-tip silhouette

As an aside, I’m loving E’s integrated air computer. I still dive with my Suunto as a backup, but this Oceanic is great.

Dive 2: Wahoo

  • I love that we went on a “Wahoo” dive. E later smirked that the wahoo is “the dumbest fish in the sea”… I didn’t point out that it’s the unofficial nickname for someone who went to UVA *g*
  • * Edited to add: Eric says he’s been misquoted and that he said “BATFISH are the dumbest fish in the sea”. I dunno. I’m pretty sure he called every Cavalier in the world a moron. *
  • Panamic Green Moray eels
  • Shovel-nosed rays, which lazily do nothing but sit on the sand and don’t move even when you push a camera into their shovelnoses
  • Schools of jack

White tip “shark”

School of rainbow runners

Reef Stingray

Panamic Green Moray

Shovelnose Guitarfish

Me taking a pic of the shovelnosed guitarfish
Photo by Eric Cheng

Between Dives
Lunch was a delicious grilled chicken with chimchirri sauce and a chocolate mousse to die for. I have no idea who taught Juan Carlos to cook, but he’s good. He’s really really good.

Photo by me with Eric Cheng‘s Luminix, which I swiped when he wasn’t looking to capture this little slice of Heaven.
The mobula rays in the cove are very active, often flapping their wings and eventually jumping through the surface. I saw one of them jump about a meter out of the water (even as I write this, hours later, they’re still jumping). There were also a shark or two splashing around the surface as they foraged for their lunch. This place is paradise. Picture yourself surrounded by tropical islands as far as you can see. Now picture these islands covered with trees and without a single structure on them. Not a one. And with mobulas flying through the air and flopping back into the water? Paradise. What I would give for a sea plane and endless money to build a remote home here. This would of course be difficult to do on a UNESCO World Heritage site, but a girl can dream.

Lunch was consequently followed (for me) with a quick power nap on a chaise lounge on deck. I’m beginning to like this life.

Dive 3:

  • Eric had been dragging all morning, so he decided to stay in and sleep while we embarked on our afternoon dive.
  • On our backroll entry into the water, I saw something shiny fall from me into the abyss. Nooooooooo!!! My Suunto computer! It had unlatched itself from my BC and fallen away. I kicked after it and quickly descended 0 to 60 feet in about 10 seconds, where I recovered it off the bottom of the sandy floor. Whew. I know it’s only my backup computer, but this Suunto has been around the world with me. I would have been sad to lose it.
  • The dive was along a long, sandy slope. A huge ray rested in the sand beneath us, and as I moved in to get a shot it swam away. Just like yesterday’s dead battery, I’m convinced the ocean gods are against me capturing a shot of the huge rays.
  • We saw in the distance a family of mobula rays, but they were so far in the blue that it was a quick sighting. After that there were a few white tips and schools and schools of jack.

The ray… leaving

School of jacks


Between Dives
We had a few hours between Dive 3 and our Night Dive, and I used this time to catch up on my journal writing on deck (because it’s so beautiful out here) and some pics of the area. Andrea and Jesus went for a ride on a kayak and provided a gorgeous picture against the sunset.

Andrea y Jesus
Most of us were on deck to watch the sunset and to laugh each time another pair of mobulas jumped out of the water and flopped back on the surface. My little point and click doesn’t do it justice, but here are some shots:

Mobula ray jumping

Mobula rays – dual entry (darn that split second delay!)

Mobula ray and the sunset

Dive 4: Night Dive!
I LOVE night dives. They’re so quiet and solitary. It’s almost as if you’re completely alone in the world. E and I work perfectly together on night dives because he likes being away from everyone else and having his space to find and focus his lens on different subjects. But he also likes to have me relatively close by so he’s not completely alone. At the same time I like to be away from the moving spotlights of the rest of the crowd and I enjoy exploring while E is poised in front of one fish for long moments at a time. Plus he finds cool things that I wouldn’t normally see.

This dive was a good example of how that teamwork happens. As soon as we descended the flashlight on E’s camera went out. He’d given me one of his backups (which was a million times better than my 15-year-old primary flashlight) so we gathered on the bottom of the ocean floor to swap his dead light with the backup he’d given me. All the while I had the light from my backup positioned so he could see what he was doing, which involved all sorts of screws and bolts and maneuvering. Soon after we were on our way, he with a fresh flashlight on his camera, and me with the dead one and my little backup.

I’m not doing so good with bullet points, am I? Here’s what we saw:

  • Parrot fish
  • Little crabs
  • Moray eels (the spotted ones are my favorites)
  • Puffer fish
  • Shallow dive, so we stayed down for almost an hour. But the dive masters made us come up then. We surfaced to a sky FULL of stars and the Milky Way.

Little crab
Photo by Eric Cheng

Parrotfish teeth
Photo by Eric Cheng

Photo by Eric Cheng

Green moray
Photo by Eric Cheng

Dinner and Nightlife
Dinner was melon and prosciutto followed by shrimp pasta. This day is Pierre’s birthday so Marcelo and Juan Carlos instigated a mojito-making contest at the bar, which produced some truly delicious drinks.

Juan Carlos making mojitos

Marcelo making mojitos

Taste tests

Thailand Tsunami Story
I lost steam early – four dives in one day will do that – but I caught Ben on the back of the boat asked about his experiences as a dive master in Thailand. He was working on one of the dive boats that were out at sea when the tsunami hit Phuket, and his story was fascinating.

They were gearing up when the water turned white and active and the boat began to spin around. Curious what was happening Ben suited up, tied himself to a rope, dove in, and was promptly ejected from the swirling water 30 meters away. They pulled him back into the boat and – naturally – aborted the dive. Soon afterward they’d received news of the earthquake and possible tsunami and were ordered by the Thai Coast Guard to take refuge behind the biggest island they could find. They sat there for four hours, with little food or water, until a coast guard cutter came to pick them up. The coast guard treated them almost like prisoners, Ben said, and had them sitting on the deck of the ship in the sun without any food or water for another four hours. Eventually they made their way back to port (of which there was none) so they had to build a makeshift plank to get back on land. And then they were transported out of the ruined areas to higher ground. The divers had friends and family they’d lost in the ocean-side resorts, so not only did Ben have to fill the role of communicating with the Thai government, but he also had to be a grief and crisis manager. “Dive Master training doesn’t include natural disasters.” He said. “It was so tough. They were looking to me for guidance, but I didn’t have any. I didn’t have the phone numbers for the various consulates in my pocket.” And he’s right – none of us would be trained for something like that. But hopefully this is the worst he’ll ever see. He ended up on the Yemaya after working in Honduras and deciding that the diving is pretty poor there. So he went through a two-week tryout to secure his position here, and seems pretty happy on the staff – despite the grueling 16 hour days.

While we were talking, the nightlife on the back of the boat continued to spice up. Needlefish skimmed the surface looking for dinner, smaller fish flew out of the water to escape their predators, and huge bats flitted past as they picked and chose which fish they wanted for dinner. I looked at the massive sky of stars one last time before turning in for the night.