The Magnificent Seven
by Peter Tyson
October 9, 1998
Behind every great film production is a great film production team. In the
fortnight we've been at Cocos Island shooting "Island of the Sharks," we've
spent hours clinging to unstable pangas and diving into paradise with the
film crew. Now I'd like you to meet the other half of the team, the boat
crew. The seven crewmen of the Undersea Hunter and the boat they maintain
form the foundation of our existence out here on the edge of the Americas.
As you read, pick out your man in the photo at right:
Nelson Dias (in shades in photo) is the captain of the Undersea Hunter.
Every now and then you'll hear him up in the bridge yelling into the radio
telephone, "Office, office, office, Undersea Hunter," as he communicates
with the Undersea Hunter headquarters 300 miles away on the mainland. Dias
handles all the fancy equipment up in the bridge—global-positioning and
satellite navigation systems, radars, VHF and ham radios, and fathometers.
I hear the engine of the 15-ton deck crane fire up (the crane is used to
transfer the 250-pound IMAX camera on or off of its dedicated panga), I know
I'll find Dias behind the controls.
Luis Alvarez Araya hooks up the IMAX camera while Nelson Dias operates the
Eliu Sequeira and Alvaro Delgado S. (back row, far right, and bottom row,
far right, respectively) are the Undersea Hunter's chefs. If the pangas on a
rough day at sea are the quickest way to take pounds off, dining on the
spread these guys manage to lay out three times a day is the quickest way to
put them back on, and then some. At precisely 7 o'clock every morning, the
breakfast bell mounted in the mess clangs, signaling the start of yet
another day of stuffing ourselves silly. Sequeira and Delgado are also
responsible for the upkeep of the ship's six well-appointed passenger
Jose Luis "Pepe" Monge Garcia (back row, second from left) is in charge of
everything that happens on the teak-work deck. He also drives the heavy-duty
fiberglass panga that holds the rebreather divers and the five-kilowatt
generator that powers the movie lights. When you climb aboard his panga
after a dive, you'll often find a beaming Monge, looking like a Bedouin with
his head completely wrapped in a towel against the sea spray, offering you a
glass of hot tea from his thermos.
Reiner Solano Cambronero (back row, third from left) drives the other
panga, the one that holds the IMAX camera and the film crew who take care of
it. Always ready with a smile and an instant understanding of what needs to
be done, he invariably hangs by the controls of his panga, now and then
picking up the handheld VHF radio to confirm the next move with his fellow
driver Monge. Solano is also a backup scuba diver who fills in when called
Eliu Sequeira and Alvaro Delgado S. stand before some happy diners.
Luis Alvarez Araya (back row, left) is the engineer. The 90-foot-long
Undersea Hunter can do 10 knots and boast of range of 5,000 miles only
because Alvarez keeps the twin 240-horsepower engines in tip-top shape. He
also maintains the twin 65-kilowatt main generators, the scuba compressors,
the workshop's electric welder—pretty much any power equipment on board.
(The Undersea Hunter also has a refrigerator, ice machine, coffee machine,
washer/dryer, TV, VCR, CD stereo, and slide projector.)
Peter Kragh (front row, left) is the crew's only non-Costa Rican. A Dane,
Kragh is divemaster and technical diving instructor. He's in charge of
refilling all the scuba and rebreather tanks and leading courses in advanced
diving, such as the Nitrox course he gave me. (An enriched-air mixture with
more oxygen and less nitrogen than compressed air, Nitrox lets you spend
more time on the bottom and less time worrying about possible decompression
sickness.) While Howard Hall is filming, you'll often find Kragh perched
on the bow of Monge's panga, feeding out the cable for the movie lights and
waiting his turn to dive with the sharks.
Tomorrow I head off on another excursion into the heart of Cocos Island.
Six of us will be hunting wild pigs for research while on an expected
nine-hour trek to Bahia Yglesias, a bay on the south coast that bears the
island's most dramatic waterfall. Not one of our party of six, including the
Cocos park ranger who will join us, has ever done this hike before. There
are no trails, and we will most certainly get lost. Worst of all, we will
not have a single member of the Undersea Hunter crew to look after us.