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  • Dive House - Fiesta Americana, Cozumal Reef
    by Rick Frehsee

    Underwater Adventures in Fun-Filled Cozumel

    DIVE HOUSE/FIESTA AMERICANA COZUMEL REEF

    TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICK FREHSEE



    Juan Leca and I are riding in an underwater version of a tropical wind storm. Its a bad day for Cozumel; the current is really trucking and horizontal visibility has been reduced to only 100 feet! We are scooting past the rich reef scenery at better than a three knot clip. Below us the seafans and rope sponges quiver in the sub-sea wind. Whirlpools of sand rise in the water column next to the mammoth pinnacles and coral heads. The feeling echoes those images of astronauts and space vehicles floating over the curved surface of a rotating earth. Even to experienced divers, this jetting across the reef is quite a rush better than a ride at Disneyland. But, its not really the best day for an underwater photographer.

    I decide to give up trying to take those wide angle panoramas we all have grown to love. Believing in the school of thought that when presented with lemons, one should make lemonade, Juan and I surface, I switch to a close-up lens and go critter hunting. The captain aboard Dive House III suggests Yucab Reef; Juan agrees, knowing we will find fish and invertebrates galore.

    Yucab (or Yocab) is a mid-reef complex adjacent to a miniwall. Tucked in ledges and niches along the reef are the bewhiskered, pugnacious faces of Splendid Toadfish, photogenic bottom dwellers that are almost a Cozumel exclusive. There are two kinds of toadfish those that pose for pictures and those that dont. Juan finds three or four toadfish in the first 20 minutes of our dive, but they all refuse to come out and play. Strike two for the underwater photographer.

    Just when I think the morning is going to be a photo-bust, Juan finds a scorpionfish perched atop a sponge and coral mound. What might be considered an average subject is made special by the setting. More than a foot long and more reddish than brown, our scorpionfish poses perfectly for a picture. Later, after developing the film, it was confirmed the best picture of a scorpionfish I have taken in years. And, the shot came from the final minutes of our dive (57 minutes on nitrox). Underwater photography is like that: You never know where or when you will get the next great shot.

    The very next day, underwater conditions have improved greatly and we resume our plan of adventure diving. Cozumels nearly continuous 20 mile wall is now bathed in crystalline visibility. On an average day here the view is spectacular, on a great day it is nearly unbelievable. Today we head out to our favorite secret spot, a place we call Tormentos Deep. Now, through the viewfinder of a wide angle lens, a rich, sponge covered wall becomes an underwater fantasy. Its as if we are diving in air; only our bubbles reveal it is really water.

    That afternoon Dive House III runs to Barracuda Reef, the last of Cozumels coral ramparts at the far northern end of the island. Like the far southern end of the reef, this is not a spot for casual sport divers or the faint of heart. Here, the prevailing current is away from shore. Our small group of very experienced divers takes the dive seriously and prepares accordingly. There are two divemasters, one in the water trailing a current line with an attached surface buoy, the other on the surface watching us from above. The captain, when not maneuvering, is on the deck, ready to help divers in and out of the water. We all carry a divers sausage an inflatable tube that can be seen easily on the horizon should we surface a distance from the boat.

    The bottom here is a reef ridge in about 85 feet of water; at the oceanside of the ridge is an escarpment that plunges vertically to unseen depths. Within the maze of coral encrusted ledges are several Hawksbill Turtles snoozing in the sand. One huge turtle lifts his head and pushes off the bottom. Joining the divers in the current, he stays with us for several minutes before returning to the reef. During our slow return to the surface, I marvel that we are only an hour and 20 minutes away, via jet, from the U.S. mainland.

    Juan Leca, with his partner Evelyn LaPlante, are the owners and hands-on managers of Dive House, a 10 year veteran operation at the beautiful Fiesta Americana Cozumel Reef Hotel in San Miguel.

    Dive House is exceptional for many good reasons. First, and most obvious, is the fleet of modern custom dive boats and the courteous, professional staff. Next is the diversification of activities and diver interests. The Dive House Experienced Dive Program (EDP) segregates divers according to experience level. New divers will be grouped together and can anticipate a slow paced, fun introduction, improving their skills while accompanied by one of Dive Houses highly qualified divemasters. Intermediate divers will enjoy new sites and longer bottom times. Advanced divers will visit Cozumels most exotic sites and enjoy the companionship of an experienced group. There is also a Select Diver fast boat option designed specifically for a maximum of six advanced divers.

    Dive Houses instructional program is exceptionally well developed and professional. Several Cozumel-experienced certified dive instructors offer a complete educational program that runs the gamut of course offerings from entry level to advanced and specialty training. In-water instruction is logistically a breeze steps away from the dive shop is an entry ladder and platform. A short swim away is a decorated patch reef. Crystal clear water laps the shoreline.

    The Dive House Experienced Diver Program and the Instructional Program have been fine-tuned with the help and consultation of Ken Knezick, president of Island Dreams Travel, one of the very best dive travel wholesalers in the business.

    Contact Dive House/Fiesta Americana Cozumel Reef at Island Dreams Travel, (800) 346-6116 or (713) 973-9300, fax (713) 973-8585 or e-mail info@islan dream.com. The Web page can be found at www.islandream.com.