The soft speaking French-accented fellow in a red woolen sailing night-watch hat, which will soon become an international trademark for undersea adventure, arrives once again on his boat, The Calypso, a floating laboratory complete with underwater television gear. His goal is to learn island survival and film a series of documentaries that bring the exciting world beneath the sea to viewers who may never have a chance to experience such wonders.
Over fifty years later, Ramon Zapata, Jr. still carries on his father’s name and legendary lifework. Quality, not quantity, is the focus of RZ Explorers, which is the title of the Zapata family's dive operation. While many dive shop operators depart the dock at the same time daily and go to the same open areas with as many as 25 divers per dive master, RZ limits its guests to a maximum of eight per dive master as his father did.
Currently, RZ operates two boats one with an eight-person capacity and the other supports 15. A third boat which holds up to 12 people, launches in the near future. Guests decide where the boats go and how long they stay, providing for complete flexibility and customized water experiences.
Ramon and his dive masters can take you back to 1977 where a 40-passenger Convair airplane was blown up and sunken for the movie, “Survive 11”. Another dive that you don’t want to miss is the wreck of the C-53 Felipe Xicotencatl, a mine-sweeper that sank in the year 2000. The ship was donated to the Mexican government in 1962 and was used as a gun boat scouring the coast for illegal drugs and arms, a troop transport, and finally, as a training vessel for Naval academy cadets. The ghostly 184-foot long, 33-foot at the beam ship retired after 55 years of duty and now rests at 80 feet below the surface. RZ transforms these heaps of metal encrusted with marine life back to the life with historical tales, enhancing your diving experience.
Back on dry land or in between dives, RZ refreshes divers with tropical treats, including mangoes, oranges, bananas, and fresh-baked pan dulce, which is also served at the Coffee Press, the family’s very own coffee shop. Ramon’s wife and nephew run this business which is a favorite hangout for locals and tourists. The fruit, pastries, and juices are treats that past islander residents devised during their rests on the boats; healthful treats that energize you and not zap your vim and vigor. Informal entertainment and informing education are traditions provided by Ramon, culled from the wisdom of the isle's founding fathers.
Beneath the sea I float in fascination. The sea creatures are as curious about me as I am about them. I find a world where God threw away all the rules of nature and went wild with His imagination. Normal colors of nature such as browns, greens, and tans are cast away like buckets of leftover paint and replaced by electric blue, glow-in-the-dark green, and candy apple, splashing a permanence on all the sea life.
My schedule and worries drift; silence surrounds my deep breathing replacing the sounds of the modern world. A butterfly fish mermerizes for a couple of minutes, but in actuality is half an hour! I follow it with amazement and deceivement extra “eyes” on its tail, allow it to confuse predators, thus escaping the Fresh Catch Special of the Day.
“Plants” that are actually animals and “animals” that are actually plants keep me in awesome wonder. A shark nestles below and I amaze my friends with a close-up shot of a creature so feared. I reassure them that it’s just a nurse shark and all it may do is give a giant hickey but a close friend responds with, “I don’t care. If I were that close to a shark, the water would suddenly turn brown and murky, if you know what I mean!”
It's time to shut off the television, close the travel guides, and shake off the wishful thinking. This is my dream; everything else awaits. Now it’s time to make your dreams come true! When Jacques Cousteau explored
By Lena Hunt Mabra, Cozumel Correspondent.