Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mergulho em Abrolhos 2: My dives 1000 and 1001, Aug 4, 2010

This continues my saga of arranging diving in Abrolhos from here:

The diving off Caravelas was to me, disappointing. As you've seen if you've visited the link above, I arrived there Saturday night, discovered there were no liveaboard dive trips going to Abrolhos that week, but I could come back Monday (closed Sunday) and get on a day trip to the islands Tuesday which was really for whale watching and snorkeling, but I could be assigned a dive guide (monitor) and be taken on one dive there.

But as it happened, the boat to Abrolhos on Tuesday broke down in one engine and turned back halfway to the islands. It at least got to an area where there were a lot of whales, and we spent an hour with them. But I returned to Caravelas at mid day still without having got wet with diving. The company that had to abort the trip (Horizonte Aberto) offered all its passengers to come back next day and return for free, and many did, and those staying at my pousada said the snorkeling at Abrolhos was great, good vis and lots of fish. But I had booked the diving the following day (and already paid an advance to book the boat) so I was given a complete refund. When I said that I was going to Parcel das Paredes the lady at Horizonte Aberto said, that's good! That's also a good dive site, you'll enjoy it.
So next day I was looking forward to it as I hoofed it down to the pier (everything is in walking distance in Caravelas, or jogging, as I most often got about if I needed to use the Internet or grab a bite). Rodrigo and Mauricio, a divemaster I'd met whom I was aware would be accompanying us, were loading the boat, which they called a tototo after the sound the engine makes as it chugs to its destination.
Rodrigo had said we were diving under the auspices of Apecatu, the dive center which had a house on the wharf where we had gone the day before for me to try on a wetsuit and BCD. They had taken 3 regulators from there and they were loading these and our tanks from the deck of a liveaboard, the Titan, onto the tototo tied alongside. There was a lot of gear lying about on the liveaboard and I asked if they were taking spares. As people who dive with me know, I always pack a spare dive bag with at least one extra kit. Even when training I take along a spare tank, and I have o-rings in my dive bag. Also, I pay regularly to have my regs serviced, but despite that they sometimes develop leaks, so it's always good to have a spare, and I try to see that I have at least one handy when diving.
So later I discovered there were problems with the equipment. The low pressure inflator connections had corroded on all the regs and were hard to clip into place, though Rodrigo was able to do it. When we started diving I discovered my depth gauge didn't work, so I had a look at Rodrigo's computer, 51 feet (our max depth that dive). Back on board when I asked for another reg I was told that none of the depth gauges worked on any of them and in any event they had brought no spares, so I had to do both dives without a depth gauge.  Rodrigo assured me we wouldn't go over 14 or 15 meters.
On that first dive, Rodrigo had an interesting rig, no BCD (he had rigged an air bladder around his waste for buoyancy control) and he had a harness to carry his tanks side-mounted. He explained the advantages, for diving in caves and wrecks for example, but on the first dive he carried two tanks, each with just 100 bar. This was strange, why not bring full tanks? 
This turned out to be doubly odd because for the last dive, the valve on Rodrigo's tank was faulty and spewed air when turned on, so we couldn't use that tank, and he had brought no others. Fortunately the first dive had been shallow and short and I had consumed just 70 bar, so my first tank still had 130. I noticed when he was testing the valve that his tank had just 150 bar anyway, so I suggested he use my first one, which is how we barely scrounged tanks for two dives.
We were diving in Parcel das Paredes, an area with chamaraos, or mushroom formations Rodrigo said were similar to those in Abrolhos. The boatman whom Rodrigo had hired, who was a very nice fellow, used no means of navigation that I could discern; that is, he had no compass, nor GPS. He steered seemingly by instinct, but one thing I noticed, when we arrived at the site, we still had land just visible on the horizon.
I took over steerage on the return trip because my companions were sleeping in the tiny cabin and the boatman was pulling in a fish on the line he'd trailed aft, and once I got the till, he just left me with it. The one time he took the till back was to get between the waves that marked the safe passage on the return to the river, so that had to be done in daylight for sure.
When I was steering on the return trip, the boatman indicated the direction through knowledge known only to him, so I put my compass on the top of the cabin and navigated according to that, which was between 320-330 degrees. I had noticed on the way out that the boatman had gone southerly and then easterly.The return compass heading gives me a fix on about where we were, more or less 150 degrees from the mouth of the river at Barra, and it took us about 3 hours to get out there going not many knots in the tototo, and a little over two hours to get back. The first and last hours were in the river and its brown water as it entered the sea.
The shoals we dived both had names the boatman knew. The first place was called Pedra de Leste, and the second Sequeiro do Sol. I got Mauricio to write that down for me/

I have been Googling the places we went, and I found this document
It has a map of Parcel das Paredes and Pedra de Leste is indicated as being in (or near) that chain, and Pedra de Leste is also mentioned as being in Parcel das Paredes in this document:
And finally, I found a map of the area at the bottom of this document:
and I hope they don't mind if I put it here, with credit to the makers of that site (and I'll take it down if they ask me to):
The two sites we dived were not far from one another, both essentially the same environment. The second dive was supposed to be on a wreck, but during the surface interval I was told the GPS had been dropped in water, so they wouldn't be able to find its location.
All of this could be taken in stride if the diving itself had been worth the trouble and expense, but it wasn't. There were lots of coral mushrooms, but the bottom was silt here. I stuck my hand in it to check it out and penetrated easily to my arm. The silt made the water milky, so vis was only 4 meters or so. There weren't many fish there, some angel fish, some parrots, some fusiliers, a couple of crawfish. Rodrigo pointed out the fire coral and brain coral and whip, or black coral. It was very poor diving, reminiscent of the breakwater at Abu Dhabi, on the inside, on a poor day. Each dive lasted about 40 minutes including the safety stop, and on each dive I exited the water with well over 100 bar in my tank.

In fairness I have to say I was not there in season.  Apparently in summer (winter in the northern hemisphere) water clarity there reaches 20 meters. Winter, the time I was there, was the season of whales, and there were plenty of those about. As we were about to motor back to port, I noticed spouts on the horizon and got the captain to turn the boat around and go to where the whales were playing. In the small boat we got much closer than we had the day before. There were lots of whales at play but we approached three arching out of the water in unison. They were on the move so by spotting them surfacing more than once we could anticipate where they would come up next and point the boat in that direction. They came up together like three roller coasters cresting and then sinking back gradually into the sea, and then they changed direction and came toward us. But we didn't know that until they re-emerged all together just off out bow, heading our way. That was impressive, and I just managed to get the picture at the head of this post before my camera malfunctioned (I'd just changed the batteries, but they were bad apparently). Anyway, I'll never forget the site of those three whale backs, like glistening elephants, rising together out of the water, arching, and with loud huffing, rolling back under the waves. But they must not have liked our boat because the next time we saw them they were heading away from us.

My trials continued the next morning when I got up to catch the one direct bus at 6:20 from Caravelas to Porto Seguro. Gao had said it stopped right on the road right outside the pousada.  But when it didn't come by 6:30 I asked some passersby what had become of it.  They said, not today, tomorrow.  Huh?  I walked the kilometer into town with my pack and checked at the bus station and there found the words on the schedule Secunda e Seixta.  And that's how I acquired the names for those two days of the week.  Seixta was the next day, Friday.

The next bus out of town was not until 10:00 so I went back to the pousada and rested and then returned to town around 9:00 to use the Internet.  At the station I could get a ticket only to Teixa da Freitas, the nearest transport hub on BR-101.  I already knew, having checked at the station a few days back, that I would not be able to catch the noon bus to Pto Seguro from there (I'd just miss it) and the one after was not until 5 p.m.  So I was anticipating a day just hanging out in bus stations, with an after-dark arrival in Pto Seguro.

On the bus to Teixa da Freitas I read my lonely planet more carefully.  I saw under "Getting there and away" that there were frequent buses to Eunapolis, an hour west of Pto Seguro on the BR-101, so when I arrived in Teixa da Freitas and asked for a bus to Pto Seguro and was told not for 5 hours, I then requested a ticket to Eunapolis, on a bus leaving in only an hour.  If you ask for a ticket to Pto Seguro, they don't offer you the obvious time-saving option.

The day got even better when I reached Eunaopolis and from the bus saw road signs for Arraial d'Adjuda and Troncoso.  I was thinking to go to Troncoso from Pto Seguro the following day anyway, but in Eunapolis it occurred to me that maybe I could go directly there and sleep there.  Checking Lonely Planet I found it had a central square called the Quadrado that was magic when seen at night, and also there were cheap pousadas right on the Quadrado.  

So on the spur of the moment I got the bus from Eunapolis at 6:00 and arrived at 8:00 to find a busy center square lively and brightly lit.  I asked the way to Quadrado and arrived there shortly, was ushered to a peaceful pousada on the Quadrado with wifi, and to make a long story short, it was magic just like the Lonely Planet said, and now I'm writing this over prolonged breakfast, view of the sea from the garden breakfast area, much happier than I would be in hectic Pro Seguro.  Which is where I need to head today, via the coast road and the people ferry across the river into town.

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