Llantrisant Sub-Aqua Club
www.llantrisantdivers.com


Costa Rica Expedition 2008
Diving at Cocos Island
aboard MV Sea Hunter
 
by Peter Rees
 

     

In October/November 2008 the club ran a trip to the world famous Cocos Island in the Pacific Ocean off Costa Rica.

Sixteen club members went on the expedition and we were joined by two of our friends from Moscow; Andrei & Dave.

We travelled up to Heathrow in the early hours of Saturday 18th October to catch our flight at 06:20 bound for Madrid.

A
fter a couple of hours on the ground at Madrid airport we took off on another flight bound for San Jose airport in Costa Rica.

San Jose is the Capital city of Costa Rica and Cocos Island belongs to Costa Rica and has been designated as a marine park.


San Jose became our base whilst on the land phase of the expedition.

 
 
Map showing the location of Costa Rica and Cocos Island
     
 

...

... ...
1. Arenal Volcano 6. Cocos Island 11. Palo Verde Swampland
2. Ballena Marine Park 7. Corcovado Rainforest 12. Rincon de la Vieja Mountains
3. Braulio Carrillo Mountains 8. Irazu Volcano 13. Santa Rosa Nature Park
4. Cahuita Coastal Park 9. Manuel Antonito Coastal Park 14. Tapanti Forest
5. Chirripo Peak 10. Poaz Volcano 15. Tortuguero Coastal Park
... ... ...

Costa Rica is a relatively small country with a population of around four million and it is located in Central America where it is sandwiched between Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the north.

Because of its geographical location in the tropics and possessing both a Pacific coastline and a Caribbean coastline, Costa Rica is a country rich in flora and fauna.

Much of the country is covered with primary tropical rainforest and there is a line of high mountains containing numerous active volcanoes running up the centre of the country.

Map of Costa Rica showing the various regions

The relatively dryer, cooler air of the Pacific meets the warmer, humid air of the Caribbean over these mountain ranges and this gives rise to Costa Rica's wet climate. It is this wet climate that gives rise to the rainforests and cloudforests which provide the perfect habitat for the country's wildlife.

This mountainous topography combined with the climate makes Costa Rica one of the most beautiful and scenic countries of the world and there are numerous breathtaking vistas and waterfalls throughout the country.

All this has resulted in the designation of many national parks within Costa Rica where the flora and fauna are pritected making Costa Rica an ideal destination for wildlife enthusiasts. Cocos Island itself is one of the many national parks.

     
Salellite image showing the relative location of Cocos Island to Costa Rica mainland
     
Left to Right: Ceri Jones, Kevin Morris, Dave walker, Paul Markwell, Peter Rees, Phil Dewhurst, Andrew Pipien (front), Mark Jones, Phil Marshall,
Peter Swarfield, Huw Jones, David Rees, Dai Hughes, Andrei Rodionov, Paul Morgan (back), Gareth Jones, Lyn Eade, Gillian Berntsen.
     
The Gold Panga Team
Peter
Rees
Huw
Jones
Ceri
Jones
Kevin
Morris
Phil
Dewhurst
Lyn
Eade
Phil
Marshall
Andrei
Rodionov
Dave
Walker

The Blue Panga Team
Gareth
Jones
Gillian
Berntsen
Andrew
Pipien
Paul
Morgan
David
Rees
Mark
Jones
Peter
Swarfield
Paul
Markwell
Dai
Hughes
     

     

The Cocos Trip
by Phil the Post


Things were going well; too well.

The journey to Heathrow had been smooth, our party was the first to check in for the Madrid leg of the journey, we had boarded the plane for the second leg and here we were, waiting to take off for the ten hour flight to San Jose airport in Costa Rica.

But where were Ceri and Kevin?

Ok, so there had been a small technical hitch causing a short delay and we were all together at that point… at least I thought we were? Well, apparently not, and in the worst case scenario you could imagine, the plane took off without our missing pair.

And more drama was to come.......At San Jose airport Peter Rees’s luggage was missing, taken off the plane by mistake instead of Ceri’s and Ceri’s luggage had been shipped instead.......That first night started with uncertainty.......Would Cerri and Kevin catch tomorrow’s flight? Was Peter’s missing baggage just a mix up?...... In true Llantrisant SAC style we left the situation in the lap of the Gods and went for a Chinese meal followed by several beers and bed.

The day after Ceri and Kev arrived together with Peter’s luggage. The reason they had missed the flight was because; during our stop-over in Madrid airport following the announcement of the delay they had gone back to the bar and… well, enough said.

Meanwhile, Andre and Dave, the remaining members of our party who had travelled from Moscow via Madrid and Miami had also arrived.

San Jose, capital of Costa Rica, the city where shopkeepers work behind metal bars and razor wire adorns the walls; it’s vibrant by day and wild by night - Very wild!

I had no complaints about our Hotel. The Colonial Hotel is situated just off town centre. It has a swimming pool and the rooms are adequate with ceiling fans, comfy beds, en-suite, and a television.

Breakfast was served from 07:00 and though basic – rice, beans with scrambled egg, toast and jam with real Costa Rican coffee - there was plenty of it.

The manager had also offered to store our surplus baggage whilst we were away at Cocos which was a great help.

In the evenings we enjoyed good food at an Argentinean restaurant or Don Wang's Chinese restaurant which were right opposite our hotel or we joined the locals to eat simple but adequate food at one of the many soda bars that are part of the city scene.

During our first few days in San Jose we visited museums, took day trips to see coffee plantations, volcanoes, waterfalls and wildlife parks and had a particularly fascinating river trip where we saw small crocodiles, monkeys, numerous birds and lizards.

But for me, Wednesday morning couldn’t come quickly enough; the coach arrived at 10-00am, was quickly loaded and we were soon on our way to Puntareinas to meet the Sea Hunter.

Rudy the transfer guide (he didn’t need a microphone) talked us through the three hour journey to Puntarenas giving us interesting facts about Costa Rica before finally hard selling us a zip wire trip which we would take as part of our return journey.

Because of the tides, Sea Hunter was anchored in the bay, so we transferred via a smaller boat, down river, passing pelicans, terns and frigate birds and seeing the fishing fleet featured on a recent Blue Planet programme.

M.V. Sea Hunter. I haven’t been on many liveaboards but this one was luxurious. I won’t bore you with details as there are plenty of images elsewhere on this site. It’s sufficient to say that our every whim seemed to be catered for, even down to sea sickness tablets which most of us took advantage of and boy were we glad we did.
The crossing from Puntarenas to Cocos takes about 36 hours. "It can be a bit of a rough crossing" our smooth talking dive guide, a Columbian gent– "Call me Wilson like Tom Hank’s football" – told us and he wasn’t far wrong. I wasn’t the only one kissing the deck when we finally dropped anchor just off Manuelita Bay at Cocos Island.

In the meantime we’d experienced excellent onboard hospitality: three delicious meals per day, unlimited soft drinks and beer, a superb coffee machine, three biscuit barrels that never seemed to empty and a bowl of candies that would have put Willy Wonka to shame.

There was a wide screen television and 100s of dvds, a computer room and a library; so, plenty to take our mind off that crossing.

We’d assembled our kit en-route, on a dive deck that had seating and lockers marked with our names – yes, the operation was that slick – and checked that all was working.

That first morning, the pangas – the two smaller boats carried on top deck during the crossing had been lowered into the water using the hydraulic arm; our BCDs and regs complete with bottles had been transferred and they would stay on the pangas for the duration of the trip.

We had been divided into two dive teams by the D.O. The Gold Panga Team and the Blue Panga Team. So called because of the colour of the flag each panga was flying.

We changed into our wetsuits then listened to a briefing from the dive guide. The shake down dive was on the Coral Garden site at Manuelita inner. This required a short ride in the pangas to the dive site. Within minutes we rolled backwards off the Pangas into 8 metres of clear warm water.

On that first dive we saw white tip reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, spiny lobsters, moray eels, turtles and many colourful reef fish. Wilson and the other dive guide Leo used their experience to point out the different species. And through the week the dives just got better and better.

Back on Sea Hunter there were warm showers and clean towels… I could get used to this.

A typical day would be; first dive at 07.00 followed by breakfast; the second dive was 10-30 to 11.00am; lunch was served at 13.00, the afternoon dive was at 15.30 and sometimes there was an optional night dive at 18.00. The dinner bell was sounded at 19.30 for a three course meal, after which the choice was to watch a film or read a book or look through the camera shots taken during the day’s dives. Our meals were served by steward Javier, and were superb with lots of variety – they even catered for veggie Dai The Doc – there was enough quantity to satisfy the biggest of appetites… and we’ve got some real gannets.

Underwater currents were quite strong but not as strong as some of those we encounter in West Wales but on some sites strong enough to necessitate using a shot line to descend. It was at these sites that the hammerheads shoaled; as many as 300 – 400 and I’m not exaggerating. This is what we’d come to see and we weren’t disappointed.

For safety we were equipped with a high viz safety ‘sausage’, a loud whistle and a small torch. And each diver carried a personal EPIRB with a directional radar finder; they weren’t about to lose us! We dived using nitrox, a first for some of the group and whilst the effects of using enriched air weren’t obvious to all, bottom time was extended and personally, I didn’t surface with a headache as can sometimes be the case.

Alcyone, Submerged Rock, Big Dos Amigos, Punta Maria, Dirty Rock, Silverado, Manuelita Inner, Manuelita Outer; these were the sites we dived. There are many others, we just didn’t have time enough and relied heavily on the guidance of Wilson and Leo for where best to dive next; we were never disappointed.

The Welsh flag goes wherever we go and wherever we go in the world there’s a Welshman. So it was that one afternoon a small boat came alongside and a Welsh/American accent boomed out "Where you boys from then?" Mike, a chef from a private yacht anchored nearby comes originally from Crickhowell near Abergavenny, he goes back every year. He was more than pleased to see the Dragon fluttering in the breeze and chatted to us for a while.

Later in the week we had a visit from Cocos Island Rangers who showed us dramatic videos about illegal fishing and the work carried out by rangers to minimise the affects, though I must say here that our party picked up lots of fishing gear from the seabed and we saw too many fish with hooks and traces attached; it would seem these rangers face an uphill task.

All too soon it was time to leave. On our last night we did a night dive and managed to see the white tips in a feeding frenzy, I’ve seen the Blue Planet series where this was featured but to see it there, happening just inches away from your face is awesome. And Wilson reckons he saw a tiger shark, well I’m just glad he kept that bit of info to himself until we were safely back on board Sea Hunter.

The journey back to port was smooth, so much so that we all enjoyed it and were able to go up on deck and see events like dramatic thunderstorms happening in the distance and sea birds hunting and catching flying fish and all the time we kept a hopeful eye out for a passing whale shark. We didn’t see one. Shame really, it was the only biggy that we didn’t see on our trip.

Back on dry land the coach was waiting. We’d said our goodbyes and within an hour we were hurtling through the rain forest at speeds of up to 45 mph, on a zip wire, a unique experience for me, I’ll say no more.

Back in San Jose More trips were organised including white water rafting and visits to other volcanoes. My Costa Rica experience ended on Monday 4th November; I had commitments and needed to return early, accompanying me were Gill and Gareth (Gatch) and Lyn Eade who decided at the last minute to join us. The rest of the team stayed on in Costa Rica for another week.

Our journey was un-eventful and we arrived back in South Wales tired but safe at 21:00 Tuesday evening.

I’ll conclude here by saying that everyone got on very well together and this is probably due to the way the trip was planned and organised by our D.O. Peter Rees. Nothing was left to chance. Sea Hunter is a most luxurious craft. I took so much stuff, the majority of which was unnecessary, so much was provided. The diving was superb, the dive guides helpful and the sharks obliged us by showing up in numbers. Cocos ‘enjoys’ seven metres of rain annually; whilst we were there it was warm and humid but we didn’t get a sun tan. The island looks awesome from the sea and this is the only view we got. We had planned a visit but on the day it rained so hard that we decided against it.

Before I left I spoke to the oldest member of our party Phil.(The Flute) Marshall, 78 years young who, fair play, did nearly all of the dives and took part in most of the other activities. I asked him what he fancied doing next. He had no hesitation. "I fancy a go at that there sky diving" and he paused then added "Before I get too old".

Thank you Llantrisant Divers and thank you Peter Rees. It was the trip of a lifetime.

Phil the Post.
     

Some useful links to web sites about Costa Rica and Cocos Island.

Just click on the icon to visit the site:
useful information about MV Sea Hunter
Costa Rica Tourism Info
Wikipedia - Costa Rica
Wikipedia - Cocos Island

The Costa Rica Gallery

This gallery contains a selection of photos taken during our stay in Costa Rica.
They reflect some of the places we visited and some of the things we did and saw
while we were there, including some of the wildlife we encountered.


San Jose

Downtown San Jose

Costa Rica's National Theatre

The Hotel Del Rey

Our base in San Jose - The Hotel Colonial

The pool at the Colonial Hotel

Enjoying breakfast at the Colonial

Making plans

A coffee plantation

Ripening coffee on the bush

The Poaz Volcano

The Arenal Volcano

Tropical Rainforest

Cloudforest

La Paz Waterfall

Heliconium

Yellow Cana Lily

An Orchid

Heliconius Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Violet Sabrewing - Hummingbird

Green Hermit - Hummingbird

Keel Billed Toucan

Scarlet Macaw

Green and Black Poison Arrow Frog

Red Eyed Tree Frog

Vine Snake

A Big Croc - (Crocodylus Acutus)

Two Toed Sloth

Forest Racoons

Phil Dewhurst on the zip wire

Phil the Flute on the zip wire

Dave Walker

Lyn Eade

White Water Rafting

Shooting the Rapids

Paddle Forward!

Stop Paddling!

Sunset over San Jose

After the rain

The Cocos Island Gallery

We spent ten days aboard the Sea Hunter travelling to Cocos Island which is 350 miles southwest of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean. The crossing there and back was thirty six hours each way.

Most of the time at Cocos Island was spent anchored off the island in the northern bays of Chatham and Wafer. From here we travelled to the various dive sites in the two pangas. Many of the dive sites we visited can be seen on the map (right).

The crew of Sea Hunter looked after us during this time and they ran a very professional operation.

The Sea Hunter Crew


Wilson - The Boss

Leo - Dive Guide

Luis - Skipper

Pata - Engineer

Dennis - Gold Panga

Jon - Blue Panga

Javier - Steward

Luis - Chef

Marcos - Cook
 
MV Sea Hunter
 
Cocos Island viewed from the north
 

Welcome to Cocos Island

The ranger station in Wafer Bay

Part of Manuelita looking towards the channel

One of the many waterfalls on the island

Blue and Gold Snappers

Whipper Snappers

Leather Bass

Bigscale Soldierfish

Bicolour Parrotfish

Flag Cabrilla

Mexican Hogfish

King Angelfish

Mexican Hogfish (mature)

Moorish Idols

Guineafowl Puffer

Coral Hawkfish

Frog Fish

Spotted Box Fish

Red Lipped Batfish

Green Turtle

A Tiger Snake Eel

Close up view

Finespotted Moray Eel

Marble Ray

Slipper Lobster

Reef Lobster

Crown of Thorns

Tubastrea Corals

Horse Eye Jacks

All swimming in the same direction

A massive shoal

Sometimes they block out the light

Whitetip Reef Shark

These were everywhere!

Active at night

Usually asleep during the day

Nice set of teeth

They sleep with their eyes open!

Blacktip Shark

Silvertip Shark

Scalloped Hammerhead

Cocos is famous for these creatures


They come to the sea mounts to be cleaned


Sometimes they come quite close to divers

This is what we came to see!

Hundreds of 'em!

The end of another day

A glorious Cocos sunset

 
Copyright 2002 - Llantrisant Sub-Aqua Club. All rights reserved.