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I enjoyed Cancun and got to do several dives while I was there (six in all) of varying levels of difficulty. I dove my first two-tank dive concurrently with my wife and son-in-laws resort certification single tank dive.
The first two-tank dive was a little bit of a disappointment due to the damage caused the reef from the large storms last year, much of the coral was showing signs of bleaching and there were many broken coral bits lying around. Usually the sea fans have a healthy purple color to them, the ones on the first dives were brown and looked rather ragged. There were lots of small juvenile fish, but not many large, mature fish. This first dive was on the Cancun side. We saw no rays, moray eels or other “staples” of a typical dive in the Caribbean.
The second two-tank dive was on the Cozumel side and I did it with my wife and son-in-law, which of course meant I couldn’t do the more advanced wall (deep) dive but had to stick to the shallow divemaster/instructor led dives. The coral looked healthier and there were more mature fish to be seen, but it was still not as good as I remembered from before the storms of a year ago. The highlight was a small octopus that we caught a glimpse of who was sleeping inside a coral formation (octopus are nocturnal by nature and sleep for the most part during the day.) The divemaster also showed my wife one of the small long-legged shrimp and let her hold it.
On the third two-tank dive I got to go on an advanced wreck/drift dive. The first dive was to about 80 feet deep on the C-58, the General Anaya, a sunken mine sweeper. The wreck had been a single site before the two large storms of 2005, but the first storm twisted the wreck in half and the second moved the bow about 100 yards away from the stern were it lays on its side with the bow now facing the same direction as the stern. On the stern section we did a swim through. As we swum though the upper structure (we didn’t do a penetration, we were in sight of an externally sun lit exit at all times) I couldn’t help but think back to the USS Haleakala, AE25, the first ship I was posted to when I was in the Navy. Although the two ships were totally different in purpose and design, the internal corridors where eerily similar, especially when we came upon a ladder (a set of steps) going up to an upper level and I noticed that they were identical in construction to those I used hundreds of times on the Haleakala.
Once we were done with the swim-through we followed the divemaster to the bow section. In station over the top of the bow were about a dozen greater barracudas. Since the bow was laying on its port (left) side, we didn’t do a swim-through (it also looked pretty ragged from being rolled/slammed along the bottom by the storm) we swam around the torn section behind it (to the topside, the keel was pointing back toward the stern section) and swam up to the bow sprint. We could see the current whipping material past, but we were shielded from it by the wreck, I was relieved when we retraced our path going behind the wreck instead of trying to swim across the current. However, this relief was short lived.
Once we got back to the section of the hull where it had been torn in half, we pointed into the current and started the swim to a reef that was several hundred yards away (at least it seemed that far in the current) we were moving on a diagonal to the current so we weren’t directly fighting it, but it was a bit of a workout for a 50 year old. We got to the reef structure and immediately saw a small sea turtle (about 2-3 foot shell size) who allowed us to photograph it and then nonchalantly swam away. We also saw a batfish (who uses two large, fleshy looking fins located on its top and bottom sides to move through the water) and a small nurse shark. This was the healthiest reef ( at 50 feet deep or so) with the largest fish and best looking coral. At one point we came up over a coral head and in a current-protected area saw a school of thousands of yellow-striped grunts that allowed us to swim in amongst them showing little fear of us.
The second dive was a drift dive over a reef. Again, the coral on this dive (at about 50 feet) was in much better condition that at the other sites and there were more mature fish and healthy coral and sea fans.
Overall the dives were fair to good, however, I have to give AquaWorld some negative feedback, my son-in-laws primary stage on his regulator gave out at 20 feet down and stopped giving air, even though his SPG (submergible pressure guage) indicated he had 500 PSI in his tank. This wouldn’t have been a real problem if the dive masters assistant had been where he should have been to provide a spare air (octo) but instead my son-in-law was basically by himself , luckily we were only in 20 feet of water at the time and he had just exhaled out all his breath, he basically did a free ascent to the surface, but I don’t think he remembered to try to blow out all the way up. Had he not just done a complete exhale, he might have severely injured himself from a lung over-expansion injury. Usually first (or primary) stage failure, especially of this type, is due to allowing saltwater to get into the first stage causing the corrosion of the components and possible buildup of salt crystals which can jam air pathways in the internals of the regulator. Once on the surface the regulator breathed OK and the tank indicate 1000 PSI. My son-in-law also experienced dump valve failure on his rented BCD on his second dive, another failure that shows lack of proper equipment maintenance. Since he was only in 20-30 feet of water, again, it wasn’t a big issue, but had he been a more experienced, certified diver and the condition occurred at 80 or 90 feet down, it may have resulted in an uncontrolled ascent and possible DCS (decompression sickness) hit.
These types of problems are why I am a strong supporter of owning at least your own regulator and BCD where you know the stuff is maintained properly.
I watched the divemaster on one of my dives take my BCD/regulator assembly from the expended tank and place it on the full tank for my second dive. I went over to record the pressure for my log and when I turned on the tank valve, could hear the distinct hiss of a air leak through the o-ring seal of the tank, when he did the pressure check he appearently hadn’t heard it. I pointed this out and he removed my rig to replace the o-ring on the tank valve. While he went to get a new o-ring, he just left my regulator lying where it was in a splash area from the forward motion of the boat through the waves, with the dust cap off. I went over and replaced the dust cap on the regulator myself. On another dive where I had let them rig the second tank, they had neglected to remove the masking tape they used to cover the tank valve opening and had just put my rig over the top of it, why it didn’t leak like a sieve I don’t know, if they did this all the time, it could also explain the failure of my son-in-laws regulator as sections of the masking tape would plug up the filter on the intake port.
We also took a sub-sea and snorkel tour with the entire group of us (4) trooping over to Paradise Island. The sub-sea adventure is little more than a more sea-worthy version of the old Nautilus ride at Disneyland. My major complaint was that the seating was designed by the same folks who designed the windows for airplanes, if you where five foot tall it was perfect, otherwise it required you to crane your neck uncomfortably for the entire tour to see out. They also went too fast, I understand having to maintain steerage, but they seemed to rush it a bit. The snorkel tour which followed was more like the coral 500 race as the guide seemed more interested in getting finished with his part of it rather than allowing us a leisurely snorkel through the reef.
The best thing we did with Aquaworld was the fishing trip my son-in-law and I took with them. Of course of the 6 hour fishing trip, probably an hour and a half was spent getting out and back and another hour was spent watching the Captain and his Mates catch the bait. However, even though we only fished for 3 hours out of the 6, we (there were 5 of us on the charter) caught 25 amberjack with the smallest at a bout 10-15 pounds the largest at about 30) and two Rock fish (one at about 10 pounds the second at 30 pounds). Needless to say, had we had a complete 6 hours of just fishing, I probably wouldn’t have been able to raise my arms. I was a little disappointed to hear we couldn’t get any of the meat because of the warmth of the water causing certain types of poisonous algae to be present and certain parasites to be in the fish (he showed us some worms he had removed from one of the fish.) I can’t really imagine the water temps being that radically different (lower) in the months with “r”s in them that far south, but supposedly it was an issue. The Captain said they gave the fish to poor who would spend days preparing the meat to make it edible. With our catch we must have fed 10-15 families if what he said was the truth and I have no reason to doubt him.