By Jean-Marc Claes
Even with GPS, ocean maps and other information, we still need to take a peek down into the water to see what is happening.
For instance, a steep wall might be the perfect place for larger predators, but the larger predators have no reason to be there without any fish around.
Currents may come and go, and with the currents, the abundance of fish is influenced, so diving in the same spot regularly might give a different image each time you dive.
You might need to wait a month and dive the site around a full moon to get the whole picture. So, it takes a lot of time, information and a lot of diving to get dive sites on a listing.
During the last few weeks onboard SY BLOWING BUBBLES, we had the opportunity to dive the remote island of Mona, 45 miles off the west coast of Puerto Rico.
In the middle of the passage between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, this island offers NO real shelter for boats. This makes it not a fun place to hang around unless there is perfect weather, no winds and a quiet sea. During our stay in Puerto Rico, we saw this kind of weather window, lasting about 3-4 days, so we prepared ourselves to go to Mona. During our preparations, we did a lot of research and found that most of the diving information dated back to 2017 or even before.
Needing a 12hr navigation to get there, we set out very early from Puerto Rico to be able to arrive in daylight. Arriving by 4 pm, we immediately dropped anchor and looked for a dive site around the boat.
The plateau on which Mona island is situated is a steep ocean wall going from -4000ft (1300m) up to 30ft (10m). This wall is unique, and that is why we wanted to dive there!
The wall was located about 1000ft (300m) behind the boat, so we prepared our dive gear, lowered the dinghy into the water, loaded up and left for the location of the wall. Using our portable navigation system (Navionics), we could locate the wall and find a spot to anchor our dinghy so it would stay in place and still be there after the dive, providing us with a nice ride back to SY Blowing Bubbles.
The next part, the deep water anchoring, is where the story becomes, at least to say, tricky!
Dropping an anchor deeper than 10mtr/30 feet is not as easy as it sounds. First, you need at least 3x the depth of anchor chain or suitable rope and catch a good holding that will stay secure, mainly because deep walls also have large swells.
A nice thing about scuba diving is that you can check the anchor during your descent yourself. Doing so means you can secure it better if you do not like its location. Still, during the dive, you always wonder if the dinghy will still be there when you return to the surface.
And what about your navigational skills? Going down in the deep blue sea, you still need to find the way back to the dinghy.
Sometimes you get lucky, though. We did get lucky as we came across a floating marker and could use it to attach our dinghy. On our way down, we checked the quality of the rope connecting the marker to the bottom. Although some corals had shaved the rope a little, it was strong enough to keep our dinghy in place (although attaching our sail yacht would have been another story of trust!).
The marker was positioned about 30mtr or 100ft off the side of the wall, and when reaching the wall, we saw a perfect vertical drop off, straight down into nothing, a black darkness luring from below. Quite the sight, one you do not get to see too often!
Before descending into the abyss, we marked our position on the side of the wall by using a limited inflated marker buoy, floating up from the wall side (about 3-4 meters above the reef) so we would be able to see it from many directions. Once we carefully attached the marker (watch, so you don’t damage the reef doing this, not always easy to find a piece of dead coral or rock), we started making our way down.
As the reef was west oriented, we had the late afternoon sun and its beams directed toward the reef well. It doesn’t get any better than that.
The fish life was abundant in all sizes, both colourful and plenty, which means fish bigger than your hand.
Hand-size fish (and smaller but never bigger) are becoming the only fish left to see in many dive sites. Why?? Overfishing, human consumption, we eat it all…
It took us not more than 2 minutes to understand that we were diving a very pristine and untouched reef. This dive site was an impressive balance between fish and corals, but the fish life was also very diverse. Schools of snappers, surrounded by some barracudas, big eyes and the list went on. No current at all; the world down here seemed to be at a standstill.
Was it all about getting ready for the night to come?
Karen and I generally explore the reefs to about -50mtrs/-150ft using our large 300bar/4500PSI single tanks. When diving deeper, we set up a plan after our first scouting dive and see what the possibilities are.
We are on a sailing yacht, properly equipped for remote diving (multiple compressors, ROV system and some more toys). However, we do not always have access to 100% pure oxygen for CCR (*) diving or mixing gases for (advanced) decompression procedures. So, being trained in the 1980s, using US NAVY tables, we still sometimes have to use these to plan deeper dives and decompress on air, and sitting it out the whole ride! We can put together 6 set ups for technical diving, so there is no lack of tanks and gas supply, as we work on 300bar/4500psi when filling our tanks.
Remote diving has challenges, and we do not have a full surface dive crew onboard, so we must do it all ourselves. That takes a lot of planning and preparation as we like to keep it safe and sound.
The above-described and explained system is ONLY possible when you know there is not too much current so that you can get back to the point of entry!
Remote diving and exploring new dive sites take a lot of energy, time and preparation. Are you ready for that? Remember, not every dive site will be rewarding. Some will be a boring ocean part, with no fish, no corals and no adventure! But others will be a great reward.
Are you ready to start exploring or want to learn ‘how to?’ Well, you will be welcome onboard SY Blowing Bubbles during our exploration trips to remote places, and you might end up in some serious adventure. For sure, you will have stories to tell!
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