Undersea Hunter – August, 2006

Two days before we were scheduled to fly to Costa Rica, 24 people were arrested for plotting to blow up at least 10 airborne planes out of the U.K. These terrorists were watched for months and the plug was pulled when the plan looked to be imminent. Suddenly, no carry-on bags at all were allowed on flights out of the U.K.: U.S. flights still allowed carry-ons, but no liquids or gels of any kind—shampoo, deodorant, perfume, make-up, lip balm, etc. The TV showed long lines of people trying to get on flights and barrels of personal items thrown out. We moved some things from carry-on to check-in luggage and nervously headed for the Pittsburgh airport even earlier than normal. As it turned out, we breezed through security without having any of our bags opened and had on-time flights all the way to San Jose, where we caught a shuttle to the Best Western Irizu.

Pickup for the 2½ hour ride to Puntarenas was the next morning at 11:45am. During the ride we learned a few facts about the country from the talkative driver. We made the usual lunch stop and started getting to know our fellow travelers. When we arrived at the dock the Undersea Hunter was docked and ready for boarding. The 36 hour boat ride was fairly smooth. We arrived at Cocos Island about 4am and were fed and in the water for our first dive at 8am.

During this trip, our fourth, there was a cold green and murky thermocline that obscured the hammerhead walls. As we pretended to be rocks, we could actually see the 72 degree rippling thermocline creeping toward us; we would have to gradually move up out of reach. In spite of lower visibility we never ran out of things to photograph—hundreds of schooling white-tip sharks, various schooling fish, marbled rays, eels, turtles, eagle rays, schooling Moorish Idols, silky sharks, oceanic black tip sharks, Galapagos sharks, and a bait ball forming with black jacks and oceanic black tips darting through the school of fish. The night dive with the white tip sharks feeding was still an event, although not as frenzied as we’ve seen it before—maybe they’re eating too much! Our last dive, at Dirty Rock, was outstanding, with the hammers finally coming up close and personal—we sat in the same place for 35 minutes before moving on. No dive was below an “8” on a scale of 1-10.

This was our first trip on the Undersea Hunter; it’s a smaller boat than the Sea Hunter with less space to roam during the crossing, but still comfortable. Normal capacity is 14 divers; we had 15, with the 15th person up in the owner’s cabin. The lounge area is also the dining area so laptops, magazines, etc. had to be cleared off the tables before meals. There were two pongas; one held 7 divers and the other had 8 divers. The crew was great and dive guides David and Edward very personable and friendly. Captain Nelson took his turn driving a panga and acting as dive guide. They are very safety conscious. Everyone had an EPERB attached to their BC, along with a signaling tube, small light, and whistle in a small bag for those who did not have their own. David and Edward switched boats every couple of days and led the dives. We were expected to stay in sight and all dives were a maximum of one hour. We did three dives each day, including departure day, plus night dives. The night white-tip dives were every other night; other night dives were at sites with regular fish. Food was varied and very good. Breakfast ranged from eggs to pancakes, plus juice, fresh fruit, and cereal. Lunches and dinners were large, consisting of salad and entrée; dessert was served after dinner. Of course, a variety of snacks and fruit were offered after dives, and cookies were always available, as were coffee, soft drinks, and tea. Beer was also included, but only after your diving was done for the day. Wine was available at additional cost, but you could bring your own on board. Chef Chico cheerfully accommodated food preferences and allergies.

Our return trip started out smooth and by the time we were half way back to Puntarenas the ocean was like glass, so they stopped the boat and we jumped in and swam around for 20 minutes in 8000 foot deep water. We arrived back at the Puntarenas dock about 2am and were shuttled back to hotels or the airport after an 8am breakfast. A few of us did a canopy tree-top tour using zip lines in the afternoon.

Cocos Island is still one of the best places we’ve every dived, and we’re going back again in a couple years. More people are realizing what a treasure it is and more is slowly being done to protect it.