Lost divers in Malpelo.
You have the right to kill… as long as you are in the arms of the Colombian authorities.
We arrived as usual after a very windy and bumpy sea crossing from Puerto Mutis, Panama to Malpelo, Colombia.
As usual, we tied up on the mooring at Altar de Virginia, a dive site on the northeast side of Malpelo that provides shelter from the wind (when it blows in the right direction). Weather had calmed down and conditions looked good, just a bit murky in the water.
As it was bumpy on the way in, we had decided to postpone setting up the dive gear and I had yet to give a briefing on how to dive Malpelo. (For those of you who don’t know Malpelo, it is a serious dive destination—the briefing needs to be clear and the divers, attentive.) Just when I was on my way to gather our guests for the briefing, a guest asked me, “Who is that in the water?” Our skiff was also out there, so at first I thought it was Juan, my colleague, checking the dive site and the visibility. It was not Juan. It was Peter Morse, a lost diver from the Colombian dive boat Maria Patricia. Lost since around 4:30 pm the day before, and it was about 7:30 am when we spotted him…
On the northernmost tip of the Philippines, not very far away from Taiwan, there is a group of 10 islands—only the largest three are inhabited—called Batanes islands. It’s known to be a weather-swept place, where all the typhoons pass through. The indigenous people are called Ivatan and have their own language and, I would say, their own culture as well.
I have traveled around in the Philippines and been to quite a number of provinces; this place is extremely different from any other I have seen, in terms of its people, landscape, and environment.
This year has been, as always, a lot of traveling around and a lot of navigation in the seas. After a monthlong visit to Sweden, I found myself in the shipyard in Ensenada, helping to put the finishing touches to Nautilus Belle Amie, a new live-aboard vessel. A crazy project with so many challenges to solve, we had day and night shifts—sometimes I worked both—with around 60 people more or less climbing on top of each other just to finish everything before the deadline. I was on the first trips to Revillagigedo and they were not without problems; the boat turned out very well later on, though.
It is early morning on the Pacific, outside of Baja California. I am navigating towards Islas Revillagigedo, having just finished our last dive at Isla Guadalupe. It is a 16-day repositioning trip, ending our season with the great white sharks in Guadalupe and starting the season in Socorro (as it is most popularly called, although Socorro is just one of the four islands in the Revillagigedo archipelago) diving with giant mantas, dolphins, and 11 species of sharks. From January through April, we also get to see humpback whales underwater.
When a 5-knot current flattens your hair and drags your bubbles behind you, forget about taking photos. Just hang on for dear life.
We made an expedition to the Socorro Islands in the month of July to find out what is out there when all the other liveaboards are not around. It felt like the old times—we were by ourselves! No other boats! On this trip there were only 5 divers plus me as a guide, not 20 or 25 divers like when I was working here before. This is the way to approach nature! And with divers who know how to dive! I can focus on being a guide as opposed to what is happening more and more nowadays on the bigger liveaboards—dive guides are trying to keep divers alive because of bad dive instructors giving away licenses and letting people believe they are divers, or because divers were told that these islands were just like the Caribbean or Thailand… The boat was smaller though—60 feet but still quite roomy.
In my line of work, boobies are a common sight. And these are not the kind that get men excited and women reacting in varying degrees of envy, depending on the size and the quality of work done on the object of interest. I am talking about the cross-eyed winged creatures that are known for their lack of intellect and consequent inability to handle new situations. I think they are descended from the now extinct dodo birds. They certainly exhibit the same mannerisms, and even look a little bit like those duds.
Granted, their cross-eyed look gives them the advantage of cuteness. You might even find their vomiting antics funny if you’re not the one cleaning up the deck of a boat. And, as long as you are not the target of their surprisingly accurate poop missiles, you will still find them likeable.
Last week my wife and I had an opportunity to be like any other normal couple. We did mundane tasks and ran errands, which included a trip to Costco on a Sunday.
We were on our way back to our Ford Exploder when someone tapped me on the back and asked me if I was who I was. Uh, yes…?
This is my second year working in Malpelo. I really have come to like this place! It is far away and one of the most remote and isolated dive destinations in the world. This year was even sharkier than last year. In my 3 months of being here I have had 4 bait balls, encounters with the unique congregations of hundreds (up to 500!) of silky sharks that are almost all females… I don’t know why.