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Cocos aboard the Okeanos Aggressor


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#1 Steve Williams

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Posted 09 August 2011 - 09:23 AM

I'm sitting in a hotel San Jose, Costa Rica and thought I'd share a couple of images from the Cocos trip. The colors may be off because of the laptop monitor (and the rum soaked haze). I'll work up a trip report when I get home but just had to share a couple. If you've never been to the Cocos, it's an amazing place.


Posted Image
Pura Vida at Alcyone by Jaw's Dad, on Flickr

Posted Image
Schooling Big Eye Trevally at Cocos by Jaw's Dad, on Flickr

Cheers
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#2 loftus

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Posted 09 August 2011 - 10:20 AM

Awesome dude! Yes Cocos is unique; need to get back there. Hope you are sitting in the hotel bar.
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#3 lemon

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Posted 09 August 2011 - 01:13 PM

great pics! look forward to seeing more. is that school of jacks taken off of dirty rock? looks like the vis improved a bit over the last few weeks. I was in cocos early july and we had some poor vis and unseasonably warm waters. still a great trip but definitely an off year for us. also, i've never seen so many octopus at cocos. they were everywhere!

#4 asmigel

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Posted 09 August 2011 - 01:45 PM

Great shots Steve!
Love love love Cocos. A very special place. Hopefully we can save some sharks here in California with AB376!

~abi

#5 Blackshaw

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Posted 09 August 2011 - 07:49 PM

Great stuff. I can't wait to hear how the 7D held up and hopefully get to see some video?

-Ed

#6 Steve Williams

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Posted 09 August 2011 - 09:08 PM

Great stuff. I can't wait to hear how the 7D held up and hopefully get to see some video?

-Ed



Thanks folks, the 7D and Nauticam rig performed flawlessly in tough conditions Ed. I had no problems at all. I managed to get a tablespoon of water in one of my YS 250s and corroded a pin off the battery on the last dive of the week. I'm getting tired of replacing the batteries on the beast. Steve Douglas shot video with his new 7D all week but I haven't seen any of the footage yet.


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#7 diggy

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Posted 09 August 2011 - 09:56 PM

Love the first one steve,

Hope to see your trip report soon

Cheers,

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#8 BDSC

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Posted 10 August 2011 - 06:36 AM

Steve-O!

Excellent shots! For some reason they look very familiar! Was I seeing the same things last week?

Sorry I didn't say goodbye yesterday. I looked for you in the airport and then found out you were on the bus headed to the hotel. It was a real pleasure meeting you and spending the week with you. Hope to do it again sometime! You really know your stuff! I think Andrew is going to order the same system you have this week. He said he learned a lot from you and Andrew is an excellent photographer so that's saying something!

Ash

Edited by BDSC, 10 August 2011 - 06:38 AM.


#9 adamhanlon

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Posted 10 August 2011 - 06:50 AM

Lovely stuff Steve!

Very jealous!

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#10 Beach Bum

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Posted 10 August 2011 - 07:11 AM

Glad to see your having a good time Steve, keep those photos coming!

Mike

#11 Steve Williams

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Posted 10 August 2011 - 02:19 PM

Thanks guys!

Ash, it was a real pleasure diving with you and your crew. :) You should think about sharing your awesome whale shark clip with the folks here to show them how it's done. Let me know when you get the trip video put together. I'd love to see it.

Just sitting here in the Admirals Club in Dallas and logged into Flickr to see that the Alcyone Hammer image I posted has gone crazy. It's made Explore and a bunch of folks who have never seen what we are privileged to see when we dive are enjoying the shot. Hopefully they will think about it when they consider protecting the ocean and it's precious sharks.

Cheers,

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#12 BDSC

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Posted 10 August 2011 - 04:31 PM

I'll try and get it up in the next few days.

#13 Steve Williams

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 09:46 PM


The pulsing throb of the Okeanos Aggressor's big diesels finally idled back letting everyone aboard know we had arrived. Lying in your bunk at three AM after the crossing from Puntarenas, it's your first clue that the thirty three hour exercise in unyielding anticipation is finally over. We had been delivered to one of the world's magical places for big animal diving, Cocos Island. Would the Hammerheads still be there? Will my equipment hold up in the tough conditions? Will I? Time to get wet and find out what
Neptune has is store.

Posted Image
Cocos land-0011.jpg by Jaw's Dad, on Flickr

The Island
Isla de Coco is a small verdant spectacularly beautiful green island whose waters are home to some of the largest schools of Scalloped Hammer heads left in the world. It rises abruptly from the seafloor to about 2100 ft above sea level and your first glimpse lets you know you're someplace special. Its vertical cliffs spout stunning waterfalls filled from the 250 inches of rain a year that fall on the island. In this primordial place you half expect a dinosaur to poke her head out of the canopy munching on the strange looking vegetation that covers everything. The rocks and pinnacles just offshore, all around the island are the hot dive spots. Their names are famous among divers the world over; Alcyone, Dirty Rock, Manuelita. Cocos is a World Heritage site and a Costa Rican National Park. Three rangers are the only island inhabitants and will come out to your boat when you arrive. The parks fees are based on days of diving and a whole list of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo they will be happy to explain to you. My fee was $256 USD for the seven days we spent there. Some of the park rules have been changed recently affecting how the boats can dive the island. The dive operators are no longer allowed to drop on baitballs, for example. There is a new limit to night diving; three per week and only one night dive is allowed in the popular Manuelita shallow area where the schools of White tips chase sleeping fish under your lights.

The Boat

The Okeanos is an older boat, built in 1972, that has been refurbished many times to meet the needs of divers. At 110 feet she is adequate for the 19 divers we had aboard. The cabins are on the small side of some folk's expectations with a regular bed and twin bunk above. The dive deck is very well laid out with lots of room and storage for your gear. All the diving is done from two twenty-two foot RIBs with tank racks down the center. It can be a long kidney pounding run to Alcyone from the anchorage, especially in rough seas and driving rain, but it's worth the ride. (Hint; experienced divers try to sit in the back of the boat) The food was fine and plentiful, with breakfast and lunch served buffet style and a sit down dinner around the big table provided everyone an opportunity to tell the dive stories of the day. Beer and wine were included, a benefit I enjoyed and the water on board was fine. For some reason I have yet to understand, dive boats love to serve fish and seafood. Four of the dinners included Sea bass or some other ocean inhabitant. I'm firmly in the camp that thinks its bad karma to eat your photo subjects so they whipped me up some chicken.

The Diving

Posted Image
Hammerhead Dance by Jaw's Dad, on Flickr


Every dive on Cocos had a surprise in store for us. I looked to my left one afternoon at 60 ft and found myself swimming 4 feet from a whale shark. If you're lucky enough to see the large schools of Hammerheads they will only be overhead a short while. Your head is constantly on a swivel when diving the Cocos. We were there during the rainy season which increased the chance of seeing large numbers of sharks but also made for very tough shooting conditions. Squall lines came and went with regularity providing a soft rain but limiting the available light. Shooting conditions varied greatly throughout a single dive. The cloud cover and visibility would change constantly. I took almost as many images shooting into the blue to get my aperture right for a blue background as I did shooting subjects and I still missed pretty often. The big stuff is there because the current brings in food so most dives have a little water movement involved. Three of the spots we dove have lines to pull yourself down into the current. A couple of spots have some interesting vertical swirls that can catch you off guard and spin you off into the blue if you're not paying attention. There were only a couple of dives that required pulling yourself along the bottom to get to a hole where you could hide out and let the water flow over you.

In addition to the hammerheads I'd come to shoot, we saw large Galapagos sharks, a few Tigers but always at a distance, huge schools of Big Eye Trevally and big Marbled rays are common. On one memorable safety stop, floating in the blue, a school of around fifty Silky sharks came right through us in loose formation, simply mind blowing. When diving the Cocos, never turn your camera off until you're back on the boat and it better be up and ready to fire when you hit the water.

Posted Image
Schooling Big Eye Trevally at Cocos by Jaw's Dad, on Flickr



The main action revolves around finding a Hammer cleaning station where the butterfly fish wait to clear parasites off the big sharks. The best option I found was to find a hidey hole close by and wait. The sharks really don't like your bubbles and will spinoff well before you can get a shot if they see you.

Posted Image
Scalloped Hammerhead by Jaw's Dad, on Flickr

The shallow dives in the afternoon were a surprise too. Black and orange frogfish were fun to shoot and we even found a pair of Harlequin shrimp munching on a sea star at Manuelita. Sometimes the guides are even surprised. My new friend and dive buddy Linda found a small white frogfish descending off Small Dos Amigos that the guide had never seen.



Posted Image
Black Frogfish Beauty shot by Jaw's Dad, on Flickr

Cocos is one of the few places in the world where unbridled jubilation was a common sight on almost every dive. It's a blast to look over at your dive buddy and see her arms raised doing a Rocky imitation after a flyby by a big hammerhead.


Shooting aboard the Okeanos

In general photography aboard the Okeanos was doable but far from optimal. The boat appears to be setup for what I'll call dive tourists. They really aren't geared up to support serious photographers. While the camera table on the dive deck is huge the charging station area inside is one small side table with one set of plugs. I should have got a picture of the twenty plus devices and batteries plugged into multiple power cords and sprawling out onto the couch. There is no place inside the boat to put your housing together. Opening and changing lenses and batteries in 100% humidity is not my idea of fun. I've been spoiled by the camera rooms on other liveaboards. It's clearly an area they could improve on.

The Captain on our trip had the unenviable job of not only being the skipper, he was also the dive guide on one of the RIBs and resident photo pro. I don't ever remember seeing that situation before and it's tough to see how it can work out well. The Okeanos has lost many of the experienced crew and the Captain has his hands full training up new people. On one infuriating occasion my "dive guide" swam through a cleaning station to ask me where my buddy was, scaring off the hammers and blowing the setup. In fairness Steve Douglas and I didn't make it easy on them. My buddying up with a guy carrying lights that would illuminate Yankee Stadium was never a good idea. He was testing the new Keldans.

Posted Image
Steve Douglas and the new Keldans by Jaw's Dad, on Flickr

My strobes would ruin his clip and he scares away anything that doesn't want a suntan. We separated on the reef and the crew didn't know how to deal with it. After the first few dives we realized this was never going to work so Steve swam off on his own and I partnered with two beautiful ladies who also happened to be great divers.


Missed Opportunities

The long boat ride out provides a great opportunity for the boat to provide an overview of the diving and maybe a short history of the island. If the crew had shown some pictures of cleaning stations, for example, our group would have been better prepared. Some of our folks didn't figure it out until well into the week and a little info up front would have made a big difference.

The long ride home gives you lots of time to think and I found myself wondering why environmental organizations don't have liveaboards stuffed with their pamphlets, especially in an area as fragile and environmentally sensitive as the Cocos. They have a captive audience that just experienced firsthand how special and majestic these places are. Why not use the opportunity to connect with the people who care?

Pura Vida
Pure life is the motto of Costa Rica. Cocos is a living breathing environment that truly represents that ideal. Unfortunately, it is under tremendous pressure. The trawlers are lurking just outside the 22 mile limit to the park. Many of my friends who have experienced this special place have told me that they can see the impact shark fishing is having on the life around the island. My council is to go now. See for yourself the spectacular place, Isla de Coco. Take lots of pictures, make some astounding images. Then share them with everyone you can so the world will know what we stand to lose.

Posted Image
Pura Vida at Alcyone by Jaw's Dad, on Flickr

Cheers,
Steve

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#14 Eyematey

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 11:02 PM

"Pura Vida" is the expression and I find your trip report totally interesting also. Thanks.

#15 MikeVeitch

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 03:30 AM

Greaat report steve, glad to see the hammers are still there and a whaleshark!

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#16 Steve Williams

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 07:59 AM

Thanks Mike,
The Trevally were in a huge spawning aggregation at Dirty Rock. The black males paired up with the bright silver females circling outside the main school. I'm thinking the Whale Sharks were in to gulp down the eggs. Anybody know how often this happens?

Cheers,
Steve

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#17 tdpriest

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 08:12 AM

Nice! Thanks for sharing.

Yet another place to go (I've been saying that for years, by the way)...

Tim

:)

#18 BDSC

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 11:09 AM

Excellent trip report Steve!

Not too much I can add to that expect if any folks out there are prone to motion sickness, you need to mentally prepare yourself for the crossing. Now our crossing was really pretty smooth but there were several on board that even with them taking medication for it, they still suffered on the way. Once you are there it's no problem as the boat stays moored in a couple of different bays where there was little to no movement of the boat. I don't think anyone got sick on the return trip so that was good.

I guess the only other thing of interest that I can add to this thread can be found here!



#19 Steve Williams

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 12:41 PM

I guess the only other thing of interest that I can add to this thread can be found here!



Awesome Ash!

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#20 TheRealDrew

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 01:17 PM

Great stuff, welcome back buddy.