An Expedition to Chinchorro Reef

An Expedition to Chinchorro Reef

I was a teenager when my father was actively involved in underwater exploration on the Quintana Roo coastline through the club he formed called CEDAM. In Spanish it meant club of explorations and aquatic sports of Mexico.

He had a group of very enthusiastic young people heading the club, and helping him organize the expeditions to various shipwreck sites. This particular trip would take us to Chinchorro Reef, to the south of Akumal, and would take us one entire night to arrive by boat.

This trip was very exciting because my father had leased a large ferryboat. (Like the old ferryboats that went to Cozumel years ago). He took the seats out of the main cabin, and put in cots, and that is where we would camp out until we got to Chinchorro, and for the ride back. At first it seemed like a great set up, but once we experienced the heat of the closed in area, and the smell of fumes, and the rocking of the boat, some people were not in the mood to stick around below! People of all ages and backgrounds were there, but everyone on the boat was a member of CEDAM, and all were divers ready for an adventure.

We set out at dusk from Akumal, which in itself was an ordeal since all the supplies, equipment, and passengers had to be taken out to the boat on a small outboard, since the ferryboat could not come into the bay. Loading in the middle of the open sea meant we had to deal with the waves, and once we were all packed in, it was a relief!

All we had to do next was get our sleeping bags out, and cuddle up to sleep in the rocking and rolling of the boat over open ocean for over 8 hours. Some people suffered with seasickness, others a little insomnia and those ended up on the open upper deck where there was more fresh air. At my age, it was great fun, and I slept through the night.

On arrival at Chinchorro, I was so impressed by the solitude of the area, the many small atolls, and the amazing amount of reef bordering the entire area. I was told that this area was full of shipwrecks because of the shallow reef formations. My father was very excited about being able to explore these wrecks, and to salvage some of the artifacts for the CEDAM Museum. Next, we moved to one of the islands and set up camp. I learned many things about camping on this particular island.

One, you do not want to use the mangrove for a portable potty unless you want to get your feet stuck in muck, and watch small crawling critters scatter about you. And two, you do not want to be outside at dusk or dawn unless you want to be eaten alive by mosquitoes! Other than that, it was a lot of fun !

An Expedition to Chinchorro Reef

Our tents were scattered about on the small area that was sandy, and not swampy, and we set up a kitchen area that we would all take turns manning and helping out with. We had a lot of canned goods, but we had fresh seafood every day, cooked over an open fire, or in ceviche, so we really could not complain about going hungry. Some of the best lobster and fried fish that I have ever tasted was cooked on Chinchorro Reef! Also, some of the best canned hot dogs, Fried SPAM, and canned gouda cheese was also available.

In the mornings, we all headed out on small boats to the wreck sites, and there were some fish experts that would be collecting samples for an aquarium in the US. We all helped capture the fish live with special implements that we were instructed in using.

Other people on the trip were experts in underwater mapping, and we learned how to map out the area in grids, and in this way , do a systematic search of the shipwreck, and record our findings. Everyone on the trip learned something new, and we all had fun while helping the experts out in their tasks. We learned how to retrieve artifacts from the coral without damaging them, or the coral heads, and how to search in the sandy areas for loose items.

In the afternoons, some people would go out diving and to catch our dinner, and the others would just hang around the camp , take a siesta, and help with the chores. In the evenings, it was the one time we all gathered together and talked about the day, and got to know each other better. We all had a little too much sun , so the cool breeze of the evenings helped to cool everyone down, and blow the mosquitoes away. It was a week full of fun, excitement, learning, and adventure, and I will never forget it!

Laura Bush Wolfe