Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SCUBA SSUDs 2013 Cozumel

Once upon a time, there were some flesh-eating zombies…

No, wait. That’s how I always started my stories when the girls asked me to tell them one.  This story is about unschooling dads (SSUDs stands for the Secret Society of Unschooling Dads) who would get together at conferences (or otherwise) to drink beer and talk about being unschooling dads. Occasionally, one or the other of those dads would joke that we should hold the next meeting in the Caribbean. Eventually, all jokes become reality. At least, this one did. One day while my family was visiting the Gold family, Jon dragged me into his office to discuss making beer-fuelled bullshit a reality.

A lengthy exploration of possibilities finally narrowed down to SCUBA, sailing, and the Caribbean. The ultimate decision was a 10-day sailing excursion in the British Virgin Islands on a 38-foot catamaran with a dive operator coming to our anchorage du jour to pick us up for diving every morning we were in the mood for it. It was a wonderful trip which I reported on, starting here.
That was 2011 and Jon was ready to turn that unique occurrence into an annual event. We didn’t manage to hold a 2012 SSUDs SCUBA vacation but Jon was ready to make 2013 a reality. A review of affordable Caribbean dive destinations led us to choose Cozumel for February 2013. Ok, plan in place! Chatting about it among various unschooling and unschooling dad resources finally resulted in a group of three of us committing to the trip: Jon Gold, instigator-in-chief, Dan Lake, newly-certified diver (the weekend just prior to our departure!), and me.

Jon Gold, Instigator-in-Chief, responsible for all photos

On Saturday, February 16th, I took the Boltbus from downtown Seattle to Portland where Dan and his family picked me up. We had a lovely dinner, then Kristin dropped Dan and me at PDX where we met Jon for our midnight flight to Cozumel. PDX to IAH. Breakfast in Texas. IAH to CZM. Customs, etc. and, by lunchtime, we’re in a cab to the lovely Hotel Cozumel and Resort, our home for the next bunch of days. After checking in and getting settled in our ocean-view room, we headed to the Dive Paradise headquarters right there at the hotel to check in for our dives which would start the next morning.

Dan the man

With all that done, we headed into town for the first of many wonderful local meals. Loads of research had provided us with a list of potential eateries in town and each one was better than the previous one. Even better, all of them were $10 or less for exquisite meals. Yum! But this trip was supposed to be about diving first, with food as an ancillary; so let’s talk about diving.
Yours truly
Monday morning we woke at 6:30 to hit the breakfast buffet in order to have time to eat, return to our room to dress in our SCUBA gear, then get over to the dock for an 8:15 boat departure. The breakfast buffet was a pleasant surprise, an extensive array of foods, including lots of fresh fruit, and an omelette station. Bellies full, we headed back to the room, changed into our dive gear, loaded our gear bags, and walked through the private tunnel under the waterfront highway out to the dock to meet out first diveboat of this trip. And Dan’s first dive ever after his checkout dives to get his Open Water Diver Certification. Cool!

Scrawled filefish

We were on a “Caribbean” (slow) boat, which was large, had sun protection, and a head, but was slow and somewhat full with more than a dozen divers, three divemasters, and a boat captain. We’d signed up to do these slow boats for our first week of diving, then the “fast” boats for our second week. It was a comfortable but long trip to our first dive site where we got our briefing by the head divemaster before dropping into the beautiful clear, warm water.
Nurse shark
All diving in Cozumel is drift diving. That means that we’d descend to our planned depth, adjust our buoyancy, then simply let the current push us along until our bottom time was used up and we had to return to the surface. At the surface, the diveboat would follow us and be ready to pick us up when we ascended. Easiest diving in the world, unless you’re a photographer who wants to stay in one place to get that perfect shot. That becomes hard work. Our first dive was at a nominal 80’. We floated alongside a beautiful reef populated by a variety of fishes with very large specimens in evidence. A lovely introduction to Cozumel diving. Soon enough, it was time to return to the surface and climb back aboard the boat.

A short, slow ride to our second dive site and an hour of surface interval before our second dive gave us all a little time to clear our palates with fresh fruit and chat about what we saw on our first dive. Eventually, we dropped in for our second dive on a shallower reef, a dive of about 60’. Another lovely float along the reef until it was time to return to the boat and return to the dock. Being on the “slow” boat turned this into about a 2:00pm return. That particular day was also a wet and chilly ride during the return but the diving was lovely. We saw lots of big specimens of a great variety of species including octopus, drum fish, groupers, scrawled filefish, and even seahorses. Big ones!

Seahorse - diver's arm to right for scale

We dragged our tired butts back to our room and hung our freshwater-cleaned dive gear on the patio to dry for the next day’s diving. We cleaned ourselves and dressed in comfy, dry shorts, and talked about which restaurant to try. Decision made, we grabbed a cab and headed away from the waterfront into the “local” part of town. Cold drinks in hand and orders placed, we continued our delighted discussion about the day’s dives which had begun during the surface interval after our first dive and continued on the return to the dock after our second dive. A perfect way to wind down after a tiring morning of diving.
Turtle dinner
With happy full bellies, we returned to our room for a much-needed siesta.

Three Amigos

Later in the evening we headed down to sit around the pool with a cold beverage and chat about the day’s diving and anticipation of tomorrow’s underwater journeys.
Tired from the day’s exertions and the previous day’s travel, we retired early to get our rest for the 6:30 wakeup on Diving Day Two.

Days two, three, and four followed in a vein similar to day one, although they were all warmer and more comfortable than day one. Early breakfast buffet, dress in SCUBA gear, get on diveboat, do two dives, return to dock, clean gear, dress in clothes and go to lunch-dinner, return for siesta, hang around pool with adult beverages, crash early for early morning the next day. Phew!
Lionfish - invasive species
Each day had its own uniqueness despite their overall similarities. Day two featured caverns and a wall at depths greater than 100’ with pelagics off in the depths, a large, free-swimming moray, and turtles. Day three had us exploring a wreck and seeing lots of large specimens. Day four provided lots of big fish of a variety of species and our first splendid toadfish, a creature unique to Cozumel. Hooray!
Splendid toadfish (file photo)

Friday, which would have been day five of diving, was, instead, a day off to sleep in late, relax, shop, and refresh ourselves for our switch to fast-boat diving for the following four days.
Saturday Morning started our second week on Cozumel and our return to an early wakeup in order to get to the dock in time to catch our fast boat. The fast boats represent a tradeoff. They’re faster than the slow boats, getting you to the dive site and back in a more timely fashion than the slow boats and holding a maximum of six divers rather than a dozen or even more like the slow boats. However, they feature no protection from the sun, have no toilet, and can be a merciless bucking bronco of a ride when the seas are not smooth. That was a significant factor on our first fast-boat day. By the time we arrived at our first dive site, everybody felt bruised and battered and one guy looked a bit greenish.
Reef crab

Once we dropped into the water, however, all discomfort was forgotten. We were back in our weightless, three-dimensional element. This marked the beginning of our next four days of diving, this time on the fast boats, ensuring us a somewhat earlier return to the hotel for cleanup and lunch-dinner. Siesta following, of course. Every day a new adventure.
Night adventures, too! Night dive photo
Eventually, our days ran out and it was time to return to the workaday world but SCUBA SSUDs 2013 Cozumel will not soon be forgotten.

Is it Irish to kiss a green Moray?


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