AdventureCentral AmericaPanamaScuba

Tuesday, February 17: Coiba Island

The Yemaya moved again this morning, pulling anchor at 5AM and moving to the other side of Coiba. We uprooted another sailboat; shortly after we dropped anchor they pulled up and sailed away. I would too; who wants a noisy dive boat in your pretty little cove? But there are plenty of other coves for them to escape to. This park is filled with them.

Dive 1:
I sat out the first dive – yesterday’s speedy descent of 60 feet in 10 seconds slightly bruised my eardrums. Clearing them (and blowing my nose) caused a bit of pain, and when Ben told me that the first dive would have a lot of surge I decided to take a break. When it comes to ear injuries it’s just not worth messing around. I had the thought that if I’ve permanently injured my eardrums just to save a $300 dive computer I’m going to be very pissed off. No dive computer is worth that expense – but of course I wasn’t thinking of ear injuries when I took off after it yesterday. At any rate I took some Advil and put in ear drops, and spent a quite hour catching up on journals and relaxing alone on deck, rejoicing as my ears slowly cleared. As long as the panga didn’t return with stories of playful whale sharks I was quite happy to miss the dive.

The blue panga, leaving for the dive

An upper deck all to myself

The panga came back without any whale shark sightings. They saw a few rays and a shark or two – Eric saw a black-tip and two people claimed to see a tiger shark – but overall it was an easy, gentle dive. After they returned and the wind in the cove died, I took one of the kayaks out for a gorgeous exploration of the area.

The Yemaya and my kayak, from my little cove

Toes on the rocky beach

On the kayak

Pretty leaves on the water by the cove

Paddling back to the boat

… everyone was asleep

E @ Work

Dive 2:
My ears felt much better by the time the second dive rolled around and my descent was easy and pain-free. This dive was a lovely one; with huge schools of fish and a gentle current. Off in the blue we caught a glimpse of a family of spotted eagle rays swimming by, but my photo doesn’t do them justice.

Panama Green Moray

White Tip

School of grunts

Pretty yellow bouquets

School of pacific spadefish

Two spotted eagle rays. I swear. They’re hard to see, but they’re there.

My lobster claw glove –
E gave me a “lobster high five” underwater, which made me laugh and consquently filled my mask with water

Eric, whose camera is bigger than most of the “sharks” we’ve seen

Drama On The High Seas
The Yemaya had two Dive Master/Instructors on board; our Ben and an older man named Kevan who came to Panama over ten years ago and has dived so many sites so often that he has them stored in his head (and his computer) according to GPS locations. Kevan was one of the driving forces behind pledging UNESCO over and over until Coiba was given UNESCO World Heritage Site status. No one knows Coiba like Kevan knows Coiba.

And this afternoon he left. Just got his bags, climbed aboard a panga, and asked for ride back to the mainland. I didn’t learn this until lunch when Marcelo, Kadu and I discussed why the third dive had been cancelled. I’d assumed it was because all the dives were running late and there wouldn’t be time for both a third dive and a night dive. Kadu said, “No it’s because our dive master left.”
Me: “You mean on the last dive?”
Andrea: “No. He left. Just now.”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Andrea: “The panga that left – he goes back home.”
Me: “What?!? Why?”
No one knew. And no one knew how we would continue diving for four more days when (a) we have only one dive master, and (b) the guy who knows all the dive sites has taken them all with him.

Otmar called us all together to discuss the situation and the next steps. This meeting was an important one for him to have, since almost everyone on the boat (other than myself) was invited on a “familiarization trip”; they are all in the industry and can drive customers his way. He handled the conversation well. He explained that he and Kevan had been neighbors and Kevan had convinced him of the benefits of buying the boat and refurbishing it. And, Otmar said, Kevan was right – it’s a good business to be in and a wonderful boat to own. But since the refurbishing began, he and Kevan had many disagreements and – once before – Kevan had quit but then came back again. He apparently has an unpredictable temper and a capacity to get into heated disagreements with the staff. “I don’t know the exact reason why he left,” Otmar explained. “All he said was ‘I’m leaving.’ and off he went.” And now we’re left with a new boat owner, a new captain, and a new dive master – all of whom know the islands to go to but not the dive sites to visit. We had two options: (1) go back to Panama, (2) continue traveling and treat this as an exploration adventure.

Of course we opted for #2. Before each dive we’d send a scouting mission out on one of the pangas to look for logical dive sites with fish on the fish reader. Then we’d give them a try. We’re fortunate because both set of dive groups are experienced divers – and this isn’t always common on a “Fam Trip” such as this. But everyone has their own gear, their own safety sausages, their own Dive Alerts, and most of the divers are former instructors-turned-dive-operators (this is a “Fam Trip”, so almost everyone’s from the industry). We’re in good hands with each other.

Dive 3: “Ben’s Ridge”
By dusk the winds had picked up dramatically, turning our peaceful cove into a carpet of white caps. Captain Bernardo turned the ship around the island and into another area more protected from the winds and choppy seas, and from here we did our night dive.

Sunset and whitecaps
On our panga only James, Ben and I dove, and had a quiet, gentle dive with little to see but some coral, the angry crabs inside them, and the annoying swarm of worms that crowded around our underwater lights whenever they were on. Every once in a while I’d have to switch off my light and kick away in the pitch black water just the swarm would disperse and I could dive in peace for a little while. Then I’d turn the light on again, dive for a few minutes, and then the swarm would re-gather. We decided to name the site “Ben’s Ridge”, in honor of our hard-working dive master.

As with last night’s dive, we surfaced to a sky full of stars albeit a rough water surface that made it difficult not only to get into the panga, but also to climb from the panga into the Yemaya. Once we were back on we all did our part to help Ben clean up the dive area and get things in order so he could eventually go to bed. The poor man now had twice the work, but at least he had Juan Carlos’ desserts to satisfy his endless sweet tooth for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The boat rocked and rolled with the wind and waves, which seemed appropriate to blame on Kevan since the weather had been perfect until he unprofessionally abandoned a boatful of people. But we have him to thank for bringing us together, too. As a group we felt so bonded that we pulled together all the tables to sit “family style” and enjoy our steak dinners as a happy group. The next day would have many kinks to work out, but it would be part of our ongoing adventure.

On Traveling Feb 17
I hadn’t planned to be on the road today, Feb 17, the sixth anniversary of Jon’s death. But it was my very first thought when Eric invited me: a dive trip would be the perfect way to spend this week. Jon, who died a year to the day after we received our scuba instructor certifications, told me to scatter his ashes at sea because “Whenever you dive, you’ll know I’ll be there.” So yes. Yes I’ll go diving in Panama. Of course I’ll go diving in Panama.

This evening I told Eric that tonight marked six years, and he asked, “Do you have a special tradition for today?”

I said, “No, I really don’t. But last year I was on a ship returning from Antarctica, and this year I’m here. It feels right to be away and somewhere new, so I think my tradition will be to visit a place I’ve never been before.”

And a fitting way to remember my husband with whom I discovered diving and wanderlust. For him – for me – I’ll continue the tradition of taking this heavy week in February and turning it into a reason to explore. To kayak. To swim. To photo. To watch. To learn. To dine. To dive. To live.

Eric asked, “How about the Maldives next February?”

Absolutely, yes.