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Incredible Cocos


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#1 NWDiver

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Posted 11 September 2006 - 08:25 PM

Cost Rica

When we booked our trip to Costa Rica and Cocos Island we knew we where in for an adventure but the reality far exceeded our expectations. Tropical, exotic, exciting, and incredible hardly do this country justice. Cocos Island is prehistoric, verdant, raw and it makes the Hawaiian Islands look like a wasteland. In a one mile stretch we counted 14, +100ft waterfalls along its sheer cliff sides. In two weeks we witnessed nature’s wonders including hammerhead sharks in the hundreds, a whaleshark, humming birds, monkeys, and an active volcano provide providing an astounding light show as we dined on a gourmet dinner.

A special note of appreciation goes to Alan of Undersea Hunter who arranged all our tours and transfers. Thanks to his expertise and planning, everything happened in a flawless manner. The tours were fantastic, the hotels exceeded our expectations and transfers were seamless, (in fact all the drivers were there waiting for us.) We cannot thank Alan enough.

The Undersea Hunter
This is a well known operation with an informative website. Its excellent reputation is well-deserved and we look forward to diving with them again. Once aboard it is the standard live-aboard routine, crew intro, briefing and then set up your gear as you don’t know what the weather will be like on the way out. The boat is comfortable and well designed for its purpose. There were eight crew members and on our trip 12 divers. The salon is comfortable with a flat screen TV and all the associated AV gear. We had cabin #6 with a comfortable double bed and bunk above. There was plenty of room for personal effects. The ride out took 33hrs arriving early in the morning. It was a bit rough and we were happy to have the Scopolamine patches. The meals served were lightly attended as most just rode it out in their cabins.
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The Dive Operation
The diving is done from two 24foot pangas. They are stable, roomy, fast and given the sometimes rough weather allowed us to dive spots you could not get to in a zodiac. Once you set up your gear on the Undersea Hunter, the crew moves it to the pangas on arrival at Cocos and that’s were it stays. On the Undersea Hunter you have a seat/locker to store misc dive gear in. There is plenty of room on the rear deck for donning wetsuits along with a fresh water shower and hose for rinsing of gear. As usual, the 1st dive briefing is the standard long CYA but after that they are brief and to the point. One interesting note, they do not enforce a “first drink is your last dive policy” they treat you like an adult but do retain the right to not take you out. The dive guides Edward and Wilson stayed with a team two days then switched so there could be no grumbling about one or the other being better at finding things.
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Dives go at 8am, 10:30, 2:30 and 6pm. This is subject to change due to conditions. In fact the Spanish contingent preferred to dive first then eat breakfast, so dive time was moved to 7am, breakfast at 8:30. Due to dive depths, I would say Nitrox is a must. There were a small group that went thru certification on the way out and finished up during their first couple of dives upon arrival. I would strongly suggest doing this prior to departure.

Most dive sites where no more than a 15-20 minute ride. Due to the weather and sometimes low viz, the routine was to gear up just before arriving at the site; roll in, no air in BC, preferably with cameras in hand, drop directly to 60-70fsw, regroup and then head for the 1st cleaning station. I would suggest glove/s for all and for photographers I found the reef hook beneficial at a couple of sites. Most sites have 2-3 cleaning stations. You drop in on the most likely, stay if action is good or move on to the next. Dives 1&2 tended to be in the 70-100fsw range and we found you really had to watch the computer. There is no Deco diving but we regularly pushed the limits of our computers. Of course you can run whatever profile you are comfortable as long as you let the DM know.

The Diving Experience
We purposely choose the rainy season as it is reported to have better Hammerhead action and we were not disappointed. Out of 10 days it rained 70% of the time. With run off from the island, sometimes pounding rain and heavy overcast the viz could really vary from 15-30 ft at some sites to 70ft at others. In general I would give it a hazy 40ft average. Water temps ran a consistent 77 degrees but in some of the thermoclines it would drop to a chilly 65-68. I was very happy in my 5mm suit and glad for the protection it provided hiding among the urchin littered rocks that could have some decent surge as you stalked the hammerheads. Julie who gets chilled in anything less than 80 degrees wore her 7mm with hood and 5mm gloves and booties.

The Hammerhead action started out a little slow then finished with a bang. Of course it always seems the other Team sees the best stuff but in the end it all equals out. Yes they saw a bait ball with dolphins, tuna and black tips going at it but we saw a whaleshark!
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Over the course of the week we dove most all of the sites and the reality is you never, never know what to expect. Vaunted sites turn out to be a bust on one dive while others that you have low expectations for produce incredible action! This is a truly an area where you cannot afford to miss a dive. Two members of our group opted out of one dive the whole trip, and of course that is when the whaleshark showed up. Highlights included:
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Alcyon: fantastic hammer schools and dozens of white tips sleeping in a pile. Some serious thermo clines and watch your computer. Heavy current requiring descent on anchor line.
Small & Big Dos Amigos: again great schools of hammers and one of the spots you seemed to be able to get a little closer to them. Be prepared for surge. Lots of it.
Silverado: we saw two of the largest sharks we have ever seen. One of the Silvertips was as big as some of the Great Whites we saw in Guadalupe. Viz poor both days. Of course, this is also home to the Red Lip Bat Fish.
Dirty Rock: Incredible schools. Some where so large that I thought we were coming up on another Seamount, as others have said one you are inside the schools you can see nothing else.
Manulita: Of course one of the highlights is the highly touted “White Tip Night Dive” and it completely deserves its star status. An amazing and exhilarating experience. Be prepared to swim and the stronger your light the better.

Of course the highlight of the trip was seeing a Whale Shark, our first. It was at Manuelita Outside and a moment we will never forget. It was so unexpected and such a surprise I almost did not believe what I was seeing swim by. All I could do was dash out of my hiding place screaming WHALE SHARK, WHALE SHARK into my regulator. It took everything I had to keep up with it and in just over a minute I burned thru 1500psi and it was well spent.
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For The Photographer
The camera area is well laid out with 110v & 240v charging stations. There is a compressed air line and the shelves for storage of housing and gear are ample but a bit small to store my DSLR with 6ft of strobe arms attached. Hand towels are even provided for drying of housing, ports, etc.

Due to the viz, I mainly used my 17-55 lens, conditions just did not lend themselves to the 10mm or even 12-24. I have to say while the diving was fantastic the photography was frustrating. The main issue is even with the 17-55 on a new D200 I struggled with getting the autofocus to take hold and shoot. Eventually I went to a “Release” setting that resulted in a lot of blurry shots but a few I would have not gotten otherwise. If you can manually focus this would be the way to go. With gray subjects in blue gray, milky water I found out how much I have yet to learn. I typically had to shoot ISO 400-600, shutter speeds in the 60-100 range and f/4.5-8. I learned I need to practice with the camera in a variety of settings in low viz conditions.

In The End
We have had to good fortune to travel some incredible places and without a doubt Costa Rica and Cocos Island vies for the top spot. Nothing I can say or have written here can truly convey what an overwhelming experience we had. This is a destination that has so much to offer and is so wild compared to your typical Caribbean diving is should not be missed. Edward, one of the dive guides, said that currently the Ocean Hunter vessels are booked up for the next two years and now we know why. If you are looking for an adventure book NOW! But, try to keep it a secret….
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Edited by NWDiver, 11 September 2006 - 08:31 PM.


#2 MikeVeitch

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Posted 11 September 2006 - 09:54 PM

Thanks for a great report Martin....

that last whale shark... DAMN!!! great shot!

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#3 loftus

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Posted 12 September 2006 - 03:30 AM

Awesome; it's time for me to get on the schedule. One question though - I have considered going in the drier season, like February, maybe not the main hammerhead season, but it would seem better viz and maybe better for photography. What do you think?
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#4 Starbuck

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Posted 12 September 2006 - 04:45 AM

Both whale sharks and the eel and king angel are fantastic!

M.
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#5 Kelpfish

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Posted 12 September 2006 - 05:04 AM

I love the whale sharks...nice.
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#6 james

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Posted 12 September 2006 - 05:43 AM

Wow, that's a great and comprehensive report - thanks. But it's not going to help me convince my wife we should go. :-) I agree the second whale shark photo is amazing - either it's a small whaleshark, or you have one big damn strobe.

Cheers
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#7 NWDiver

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Posted 12 September 2006 - 06:50 AM

Thanks all, without a doubt the as incredible as the Hammerheads are the Whaleshark turned out to be the highlight for us and my best pic. It was about 25ft and I had the Inon D2000ws on Full, probably at over 6' apart, keeping up with that whaleshark was serious work. (taken with the 17-55)

We will go back and we will go durring the dry season. The guides said often the schools are just as impressive, but you may have to go deeper and only do 3dives per day. As an amature photographer the wonderful experiance way, way, way out weighed my minor frustration in dealing with conditions beyond my macro, perfect conditions, abilities.

Edited by NWDiver, 12 September 2006 - 06:53 AM.


#8 Craig Ruaux

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Posted 12 September 2006 - 07:14 AM

First, NW Diver, thanks for a very cool report and a reminder of a great place. Did you do the submarine thing?


Second:

But it's not going to help me convince my wife we should go. :-)


What is stopping Sarah from going James? Having just been there with wife in tow, and she is a bit of a WWW, I'm sure there's nothing about the place that Sarah can't handle. Realistically, it is like the Flower Gardens in terms of depth and potential current. In fact, the current on the descent line to Alcyone was never as rip-roaring on our trip as you'll commonly get in the first 20-30 ft or so at the FG Banks.
Why would I take a perfectly good camera underwater??
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#9 NWDiver

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Posted 12 September 2006 - 07:46 AM

The sub is on the Sea Hunter and unfoturnetly the schedules of our boats did not work for us to take the sub. I was dissapointed but it was offset buy not missing 2 dives and saving some serious $$$$.

Really have to get back to work now...

#10 Arnon_Ayal

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Posted 12 September 2006 - 12:07 PM

Great report, the last image is great.
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#11 james

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Posted 12 September 2006 - 12:23 PM

Craig - it's the WWW part that's why I think she won't like it. She almost killed me for taking her to the Coronados w/ "only" a 7mm wetsuit.

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#12 MikeVeitch

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Posted 12 September 2006 - 02:06 PM

i went to Cocos in early July and expected to freeze, had hood and gloves and everything.... and it was 81!!!! perfect.... no hood, no gloves...

:lol:

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#13 Drew

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Posted 13 September 2006 - 04:04 AM

James, 2 words... dry suit. Or is it one word? Works wonders for even the most WWW.

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#14 wagsy

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Posted 13 September 2006 - 04:29 AM

Cool pics, like all the white tips.....

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#15 NWDiver

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Posted 13 September 2006 - 08:32 AM

Julie is the ultimate WWW, thus the 7mm suit that she wore in Bonaire! With the 7mm suit, 5mm boots, hood and gloves she was very comfortable.

#16 John Bantin

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Posted 13 September 2006 - 08:47 AM

I showed my wife the first roll of film back from the processors after my first trip some years ago. It had hammerheads in close-up, white-tip reef sharks, turtles, eagle rays anda whale shark, all from one dive!
There was no consoling her - so I had to PAY (not often done by me) for a second trip and take her. I've now been five times in all. Cocos always delivers and CCR makes it easy!
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#17 oneyellowtang

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Posted 01 January 2007 - 09:10 PM

Did Cocos (& Malpelo) last May with the Sea Hunter. Truly an amazing 12 days...

So much so that I'm going back this year (July - Cocos & Malpelo) again.

One thing - I started the week w/the 12-24 on my D200. I was also frustrated a bit by the tough conditions (and the constant "hunting" of the lens). I switched to the 10.5 and I found it a bit easer to get the shots... (the extra stop definitely helped w/the low light conditions).

If you want a tough shot - I did the submarine down to 700ft - because of the glass dome (and very low light) on the sub it was virtually impossible to get a shot without shooting completely manual. It was a great experience though...

#18 giftie

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Posted 05 April 2007 - 01:28 AM

...humm...I did Cocos & Malpelo too with Undersea Hunter (in 2005) and I was impressed by Cocos but much less positive on the diveplanning and the crew. A dutch guy that works in Singapore actually got touched by a propeller going in [the panga guy had just put the thing into gear and the small quick of the propeller did make a small cut, nothing serious but...], very often the panga guys literally did not have a clue where the divers were [we are not talking about you wondering of on your own...] and were on the other side of the small island and out of sight while the divers were grouped very close to where we entered the water [probably why they give you those radio beacons]. The dive planning was rubbish, wrong place and wrong time [the dive guides kept saying well you know in Cocos everything can change in a minute, which translates into: we don't really have a clue about the sites or what we can see...]. More often than not they would take us swimming against a mask ripping current around a pinnacle [what's the point of this may I ask?] and after 30/40min of trying to impersonate the hammerheads we would just run out of air and surface. Lot's of complains (not only mine) on the dive operations. Except for 1 dive guide who was more aware of photographer's needs, the rest [including an italian divemaster that usually is in the office] were rubbish and the all thing reminded me of the "cattle diving" operations that one finds in Egypt.
Reading the recent report it seems that things have improved somewhat which is a good thing but I am still wary of doing it again with Undersea Hunter.
PS: I will skip Malpelo next time, it is not worth the time you spend getting there and the marine life is nothing compared with Cocos, it is basically a been there, done that kind of thing.
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#19 NWDiver

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Posted 05 April 2007 - 06:19 AM

We have done about a dozen liveaboards now with a variety of carriers. For Cocos our guides were Edward and Wilson and we found them to be very good. Panga drivers were also excellent. I think our group was pretty experienced so even though the conditions were sometimes challenging drops and accents were usually done as a group in good order. I found them to be very aware of what photographers were looking for. We did not have a lot of still guys on our trip and both guides would come to me and say "Martin follow me on the white tip night dive" or point out good holes to sit in while waiting for hammerheads. They also understood my habit of separating myself a little from the group to get better interactions.

I think another issue with many "big animal" sites is the experience is colored by what you see, if action is great other issues seem to be passed over.

Edited by NWDiver, 05 April 2007 - 06:20 AM.


#20 Scuba_SI

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Posted 05 April 2007 - 06:26 AM

I think another issue with many "big animal" sites is the experience is colored by what you see, if action is great other issues seem to be passed over.


Very tue, if your guide lets you have space and time on your own and you see something big, then they are great! They respect your needs and you are grateful for that.

If you are left to your own devices and you see nothing then they are incompetent, unsafe and useless!

Getting hit by a prop is totally unacceptable though, i hope he got a free trip or some compensation out of it.

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