Today couldn’t have come soon enough. After all of the cleaning and organizing and running around procuring equipment and supplies, the official start date for the excavation—and the diving, in particular—finally arrived. Emilio met the team at the marina with our diving boat, Arqua’s 7.3-meter-long Bombard Explorer DB730 inflatable boat powered by a 200 hp Evinrude outboard motor. We loaded our gear and selves into the boat and headed out to the site.
Staci Willis, Laura White, and Neil Puckett—the A&M contingent—waiting at the marina (photo by M. Polzer).
Our other vessel is Soneya, a small boat owned by Pedro Sanchez. Pedro has worked with us since the initial excavation season in 2008 and has been a hardy, dependable member of our team. His primary role is to moor Soneya over the site and run the air compressor that powers our airlifts, as well as the generator for the underwater light we use for film work. We also use Soneya to transport large equipment to and from the site. During the initial site-clearing period, before we begin airlifting, we use the compressor on Pedro’s boat to provide fill air for the large lift bags we use to move the more sizeable boulders. Unfortunately, this past Friday, the equipment rental company delivered the wrong compressor to the harbor, one that didn’t fit in the compressor sump in Soneya’s stern cockpit. They informed us that they wouldn’t have one of the correct size until mid-week at the earliest. So, for now, Pedro remains in port.
The only ‘work’ we performed today was to establish the mooring line and buoy for our surface vessels. The main purposes of the dives were to allow everyone to check out their gear and to orient the new members to the excavation site, as well as the Roman site to the north and the Bajo environs in general. The windy weather over the weekend had stirred up choppy seas, and there was still a good deal of sediment suspended in the water column that made the visibility somewhat poor. Of course, much like art, visibility is in the eye of the beholder and relative to the particular conditions and environment to which one is accustomed. Some of our team have dived mostly in murky lakes, so to them the visibility was remarkable. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by all my previous years working in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey, where the water clarity is pretty close to perfect.
Annotated view of Isla Grosa, El Farallón, and Bajo de la Campana (photo by M. Polzer).
When we arrived at the site, we found half a dozen or more moonfish (as they are known here) floating at the surface with their dorsal fin flopping out of the water. These unique creatures are, in fact, ocean sunfish, of the family Molidae, and can only be described as odd, even ugly…but adorably so. They look like only half a fish, since their bodies come to an end just behind their dorsal and anal fins. Apparently, their behavior at the surface is meant to attract the attention of gulls or other seabirds (of which there plenty at the Bajo, since their nesting grounds are located on nearby Isla Grosa), which dig worms and other pesky parasites out of the molid’s skin. We typically will see one or two moonfish each season, but never so many at the same time. This was an auspicious beginning to our season, and hopefully one that bodes well for the whole of the summer. In any case, the diving got underway, and on the scheduled date, which is always a positive start.
Photograph of a molid, or ocean sunfish, in an aquarium (photo from Wikipedia.com).
Xavier Nieto, the director of Arqua, joins the team for his first dive on the Bajo. (L–R) Laura White, Staci Willis, Kiko Bañuelos, Xavier Nieto, Emilio Peñuelas, Juan Pinedo, and José Lajara (photo by M. Polzer).
The dive team arrives at the site. El Farallón rock, Isla Grosa, and La Manga are visible in the distance. (L-R) José Lajara, Kiko Bañuelos, Emilio Peñuelas, Enrique Aragon, Javier Pandozi, and Mark Polzer (photo by L. White).