Friday, June 22, 2012

Claveria diving 3.4, Last Dive, We dive the Pyramids

Our fifth and last day of diving provided a rather unpleasant surprise when we unloaded our last four supposedly full tanks and discovered that one of our large 100s did not get re-filled at the Terra Rika like we thought it did. It was the 100 that I had used when we dove the beach. It had only 1700 lbs in it which meant that one of our dives on that final fifth day would have to be necessarily abbreviated.
Always the problem solver, Don proposed a solution to our dilemma. His idea to maximize our final dive was that I would dive with a full tank while he used the half filled one. Then, whenever we moved from site to site he would go off his tank and swimming above and behind me in trail, he would breathe off my buddy regulator. It sounds easy and it actually is, but it does take a little practice to do it smoothly.
So that’s what we did on our very last dive which we decided to make in a spot that we had never been to before, and that was down and around the two pyramidal shaped rocks at Claveria Bay’s western point. These rocks are iconic; when seen in photos they ARE Claveria.
Iconic rocks of Claveria Bay by NealKelvin
We had been told that the area to the east of the Claveria Rocks, on the bay side of the rocks, is a fish sanctuary. Even though I was skeptical that such a real sanctuary full of unmolested fish actually existed, at least other than in name only, I still wanted to go and check it out so we could say we did. Don agreed and diving that area became the plan for our final dive, that and the fact that we would breathe the first half of the dive using my tank alone until we both had about the same amount of air left in both our tanks.

Boatman Willie and his son took us out to the Claveria rocks, careful to drop us off on the western side to keep the boat out of the declared sanctuary area. Don went in fully geared and then I dropped in where he assisted me into my own scuba gear on the surface. Once we were both checked out and good to go gear-wise off we went. Or did we?


While still in the boat Don suggested we stay on the surface and make our way over to the rocks before submerging. So, as soon as he gave me the okay on my equipment and I did the same for him, I turned over on my back, and looking over my shoulder began to use my flippers to power over to the larger outer rock. I noticed a powerful current fighting me hard but I mostly overcame it by kicking harder and faster.
Sea squirts on the bottom of an overhang of rock
I was within ten feet of the rock looking back expecting to see Don nearby in the water; but no, the current had prevented him from making any headway whatsoever. In fact, he and the boat were even further away from the rock than they were before he started. At that point he decided to let the boat drag him over to my location with him holding onto an outrigger. I’ll give him credit for being able to do that, because although I seem to have more stamina and power using my flippers, I am completely unable to use my hands and shoulders to hold on to the outriggers, especially when there any kinds of waves or current to deal with. I guess all these years in the gym keeping my heart in shape on the cardio machines have paid off.

The rest of the dive came off exactly as planned. For the first 20 minutes after submerging at the base of the pyramidal rocks Don held onto the top of my tank by gripping the manifold connection while we moved to each new site with the two of us breathing from my tank. On occasion I held my console turned up so he could read it and know when our tanks held about equal air.
See the scorpion fish? Its center left head down. 
It turned out to be no big deal; it worked like a champ. Sharing my full tank for twenty minutes completely saved our final dive and allowed us to check out an area we otherwise would not have been able to see. It even lasted a decent length of time, giving us almost 50 minutes of scuba time. Not bad at all.

I doubt if we ever dive Claveria’s sanctuary again, at least not on the bay side of the pyramid rocks. There are some fish over there but nothing remarkable, and what I didn’t like about the area on that side of the rocks is that the seafloor there is uniformly mucky and silty.

In the embedded video entitled “our last day of diving” the first segment provides a look at the geologic features right around the base of the pyramidal rocks. Fish or no fish, diving next to soaring sheer sided rocks that tower many tens of feet above is thrilling and that’s what is going on in the first 45 seconds.

The area directly around the base of the pyramids is actually somewhat noteworthy and worth a dive or two. On our way into the bay we swam between the pyramid shaped rocks and a smaller rock barely jutting from the water. It wasn’t exactly thrilling but the view of water and perpendicular stone enclosing us on two sides was interesting nonetheless.   

Once we made it through the rocks and officially passed into the bay, we turned right angling sharply to the bottom where we found a shallow cave, more like a deep overhang really.  In the video above Don uses his spotlight to light up the inside for my video taking and a lot of fish are seen swimming in schools around us. The only thing that detracts from it is the thick silty muck in there. I did my best to keep from stirring it up but once it happens there’s nothing to be done except to go.

Exploring the sanctuary area we came across a few large coral lump formations which we checked out but really nothing struck us as all that exciting. Again, the mostly silty mucky nature of the area detracts from the experience; so, a half hour into the dive when Don gave me the go ahead to head back to the other side of the pyramid rocks I was eager to get on with it.
Sweet lips
I took lead and Don followed me back out of the bay’s sanctuary side where I used “seat of my pants” dead reckoning to take us back towards the boat by going around the smaller outside rock. In no time at all I had us at the outer pyramid where I immediately began enjoying the much cleaner non-muck-covered towering rock faces. The water there was deep, the currents delightfully in our direction, while the sea-life was active and begging to be observed and photographed.

With all that going on I lost track of my situation, paying more attention to what I was photographing than what was on my dive console. Finally, I took a casual glance at the computer and was surprised to see that I had drifted down to 65 feet. The depth itself didn’t bother me so much as the information that I had only a few minutes left at that current depth, mostly due to the tissue loading that I had already been subjected to during our earlier dive of the day.

‘Whoa! How did I get down here?’ I asked myself as I pushed off and began to slowly ascend. While doing so I looked up and saw Don beckoning me concernedly to come back up but of course I was already ahead of him.
Amazing scorpion fish. See it?
Up on the boat after the dive I took the camera out of the underwater housing and took some video footage on the way back into the lagoon which I include as the last half of my YouTube clip above. At the very beginning just after taking it out of the plastic housing I still had time (barely) to pan back at the pyramidal rocks to show where the dive took place.  Watching the video just now again makes me wish I was back there about to make another dive. We still have lots of areas left to explore in the Claveria area. Hopefully, we'll get the chance to make it back up there again someday. 

Well, I still have a few outstanding photos I want to post so I'll put them below. Enjoy!
Does this look like the face of a fish?
Large coral lump perched overhanging a gorgonian



















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