On-board Diary: Hierro and mountains of the Sahara, September 16, 2009

Author: Jose Peñalver, Indi
Date: September 16, 2009



This morning we set sail from La Restinga on the island of El Hierro, quite a bit later than the time we usually do when we leave the harbor. The reason for this was that we had to refuel both the Ranger’s tanks and the 20 liter canisters used to supply the ROV’s generators and the oceanographic winch.

For those who don’t know, La Restinga is a small group of houses arranged in a grid with a density of scuba diving centers per inhabitant not easily surpassed elsewhere. For those who know as well.

Filling the ship’s tanks with diesel was relatively easy; filling the canisters with gasoline is another story. Together with Carlos Suárez in an old van belonging to a friend of his that threatened to throw us out on any curve, I traveled around fifteen tortuous kilometers to reach the El Pinar service station. El Pinar is a settlement where there are no scuba diving centers or a single street that is not dishearteningly steep.

After loading the canisters, leaving the service station, doing away with curves as if they had not come out right on the trip to El Pinar, and observing how Carlos stepped on the brake pedal as if it were Led Zeppelin’s drum set, we reached La Restinga again. Here, we made one dive before heading to Banco Echo.

Banco Echo ─previously known as Banco Endeavour─ is located some 160 miles to the south of the Canarian archipelago. It is part of a group of underwater mountains known as Mountains of the Sahara, and it reaches, at its highest point, some 150 meters above the surface. We are approaching a place that is basically unexplored, mile by mile, with the enthusiasm that doing pioneer work brings about.

To start off, and by way of an appetizer, a group of some six or eight Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) appeared at the ship’s bow for a good while. A little later ─exactly when they felt like it,─ they said “Hey! We’re going to split.”, and they went away with a fresh wind out of the Northeast.

Early tomorrow morning, after I prepare breakfast, I plan on hanging the binoculars around my neck and not stopping until I find an interesting bird. Rescuing the comb and shampoo can wait.