Met a guy today who is a retired engineer. Steve worked for, built up and partially still owns a company where he designed a machine that purifies water. Not the domestic kind you attach to your sink, the industrial kind that cleans oil out of the Gulf of Mexico. He says the machines are expensive – uh, yes, I imagine so – and previous to the oil spill they didn’t sell well. Until BP bought 200,000 of them.
Now he owns a dive shop in Playa – the Geofish – where he hangs out when he’s not gallivanting around the world, diving and figuring out what he wants to do next. His sons – Morgan and Maxden - run the shop. Morgan’s also an engineer and Max has a degree in international business and they live between Playa and Colorado. All these guys are great, smart, friendly and good divers.
This morning I get to the shop and see the usual general mélange of international divers, a pair of boys from the Netherlands, an experienced diver, Frank, from Quebec and 2 newly certified older women, Dawn and Charlene, who are signing up for their 7th dive. Frank has a massive dive knife strapped to his calf that reaches from his knee to his ankle so Dawn and Charlene, who have no gear whatsoever, ask him about it. He launches into this tale about a woman in his open water certification group many years ago who died because her gear tangled on some rocks and she panicked. She took her gear off and her regulator out of her mouth and tried to get away and she drowned.
Dawn and Charlene are getting paler as Frank goes on and on very seriously with no humor whatsoever about how this woman had a full tank of air but she panicked and couldn’t cut herself free because she wasn’t carrying a knife like this (cue the giant knife that he draws dramatically from the sheath) as the girls clutch each other and back up slightly until Max steps in between them and says “Seriously Frank? Stop scaring the ladies.” And herds them away.
Minutes later we’re getting the dive briefing and someone asks if we’ll see sharks. I had emailed the same question and Max told them what he told me, that bull sharks have been sighted in one of the dive sites because a huge school of mullet is passing through this area. Frank pipes up “Bull sharks? Did you know that bull sharks are responsible for 90% of all shark attacks on humans?” The girls, predictably, gasp as they reconsider whether this is their day for diving and Max just shakes his head and says “Seriously, Frank? Shut up.”
All of us and Seriously Frank lug our stuff out to the boat, which is docked just off shore. The surf is all choppy and rough – possible backwash from Hurricane Richard? – and the boat is small but it's a short ride to the dive site. We get under the water for the first dive and Dawn and Charlene are like newborn horses, all floppy arms and legs and gear flying around. Good divers are very streamlined with smooth movements, these girls flailed all their limbs about, got turned helplessly upside down by the current, thunked onto the bottom of the ocean because they couldn’t control their buoyancy, tangled their hoses in their BCs and swam into everyone. Sometimes divers like that drive me mad but these two were trying so hard and just couldn’t seem to get the hang of it. It was almost cute.
I’d be drifting along and see something race by out of the corner of my eye, and there’s Charlene caught in the current on her back waving her arms around as Morgan or Max tries to catch her before she runs into a shelf of corral and crushes 100 years worth of growth. Dawn couldn’t see well enough to read her air gauge so Charlene would paddle over to her, sometimes sideways, and try to read it for her. Adorable.
The two Dutch boys were similarly crazy divers but fortunately, Seriously Frank was a good diver and I’m a decent diver so we just floated above the fray and tried to keep from getting kicked in the head. The first dive had nothing interesting but we’d been in the water 5 minutes on the second dive and we saw a big black seahorse (caballito del mar)! Morgan had commented that he liked my tattoo but we probably wouldn’t see one as they are rare in this part of Mexico so it was super cool to see one. At the end of the second dive it was only Morgan, the two Dutch boys and I as the others had gone a different route and all of a sudden we are swimming through a GIANT school of fish. Thousands and thousands of fish maybe 5-8” long whirling and zipping around us like colored streamers. I’ve never seen a school that big. And I immediately thought, these are the mullet Max talked about and the frantic agitated way they are moving must mean there’s a shark around here somewhere.
We had just finished our 3 minute safety stop when the mullet absorbed us and I knew there was no way we were leaving until we saw that shark. Sure enough, the school parted a few minutes later and there was the bull shark (Tiburon!) lazing his way along the bottom, 8 feet long, and giantly fat. I probably couldn’t put my arms around his middle, that’s how full of fish he was. We waved, he flicked his tail, we all did the geeky stuff divers do when they see something cool and then we came up and bragged about it on the boat to all the divers that didn’t see it.
Seriously Frank didn’t get to see the shark. He was disappointed.