After a shaky start at the Airport with a delayed Flight and the loss of a day at the Resort we settled in for a week of great diving in Spooky Channel and Sea Horse hunting around the Island. We will post pictures as they become available and hope that we will get some contributed by others on the trip. As time goes on I will try to caption as many as I can. Check back often and let us know what you think.
Date August 18th 9:30 pm the Adventure begins. Our plane was scheduled to takeoff at 7:00am from LAX. So with the current Airport situation we were scheduled to leave Riverside California at 3:00am. So I decided to bunk at the shop so that I wouldn't?t have to have someone drop me off at 2:30am. So with air mattress in hand I headed out to stake my place on the floor. About 1:30am the mattress was out of air! So I was up by 2:00am waiting for the rest of the group to show up for the bus. We loaded timely and headed for LAX. We wear in line, a long one, by 4:30am. This is where the fun began! After an hour in line it was decided that our group of eight of the fourteen would have Tony check us in as a group. Well he approached the computer terminal with all of our passports and tickets in hand. After swiping each passport into the machine an attendant leaned back and hit a ?button? saying ?I hope that was the right one!? Well it wasn't?t! And the adventure began! Now it was reading that two passports where on one ticket? So one of the helpful attendants said ?now you will have to get into the trouble line!? Three and half hours later and a missed flight for eight of us, we were clearing security! This after the Supervisor showed us she was no help at all, Mercedes was obnoxious, rude, and non-professional at best. She insulted my dead mother after I told her about Continental Code GG that Continental Airlines waves the weight limit on Sports equipment and SCUBA gear. Her come back was ?I know my company rules and I don?t have to follow them if I don?t want to!? Then ?If you don?t stop whining I will call your Mother? to which I responded ?Look Lady my Mother Died 12 years ago and if you can call her be my guest!? Game on!
After clearing security with all my cameras we headed for gate 60 as stated on our ticked to leave at the new time of 10:00am. Now we were told to move for boarding to gate 62 at the end. We moved there and waited until 2:00pm and told to move back to gate 60! We have now missed our connections in Houston and only eight of us were going to be in Roatan by noon! When we arrived in Huston we were told we would have to lie over and that our bags would be stored in a secure area and loaded in the morning! Well we were given vouchers for the hotel and $10.00 for dinner and $6.00 for lunch. We were headed for the hotel when we noticed our bags on the baggage carousal by luck! So now with our bags in hand off to the hotel were the cheapest meal was over $20.00! I have to ask myself what if we had not seen our bags going around unattended and the opposite of what we were told? Is this anyway to run an Airline? One that I own Stock in! As for Code GG every other counter person cleared my overweight cases with no problem, so it can be easy if desired! I must say by over weight I mean less than the old 70lbs that was allowed, and I have to take my hat off to this airlines for having that policy for SCUBA & Sports equipment it only makes sense! We would encourage everyone in this sport to write in favor of this policy to this and other airlines!
Sunday the 20th morning bright and early we are up and pulling all of our luggage to the international terminal to recheck in and re-clear security. What a why to turn a five hours of flight time into three days of travel! By 12:30pm Sunday the 20th 2006 we land in Roatan Honduras. Now to Bay Islands Beach Resort and a Dive in Spooky Channel. After unpacking, lunch, and gear set up we are off for two afternoon dives including Spooky Channel. With all my camera gear assembled and ready to go its time to start diving the first of 41 dives in the next two weeks. This was a wrap up Spooky trip and Sea Horse hunt if we get lucky. The weather was great this time of year with afternoon clouds and calm waters with just a little rain on Thursday. The water temp was in the mid eighties all week, but felt really good after two and a half days of travel! The visibility was great 100ft plus and the reef was in good shape. The hopes of a Sea Horse were high. The other half of the group had a full day of diving up on us, but we would try hard to catch up! They were happy to see us show and the resort kept close tabs on us through their contacts at the airport. With all the necessary stuff behind me its one giant stride off the back and into the blue with camera in hand. It was all very much the feeling of being home. I put a lot of macro critters in the can even on the first dive and got some missing shots of spooky that I needed to finish the up coming DVD. Now it was time to relax and get it done.
Monday the 21st started early with some equipment servicing and Mix checks for the Nitrox. It seemed to fall between 31% and 34% for the entire week. I concentrated on the HD video this part of the trip. We had a lot of Photophiles on both the boats we were on at the resort. The group was divided into two groups on two great dive boats. You left your weight belt on the boat so it was one thing less to carry back and forth. The dive crew would haul things by cart to the dive shop for you or the other way if asked. From the start we were seeing lots of small stuff including Arrow Blennies by the half dozen! I have never seen so many in five days of diving. The morning dive saw us at Herby?s Place for another great dive at one of Roatan?s best dives sites. The other uncommon critter we kept seeing was the Juvenal Smooth Trunkfish. No larger than a coffee bean with yellow spots it is found most of the time in Lettuce Corals and even in holes along the walls. We spotted close to a dozen of these little beauties. Also Squid in formation even during the day dives. We were still in search of the elusive Sea Horse, but none were to be found on this mornings dive at Herby?s Place and Over Heat Reef. Back to BIBR for lunch and restock our tanks on the boats. The afternoon dives start at 2:00pm and you can ask for a second tank and get dropped off on the outside of Spooky Channel and make your way back to the docks on your own. From the very out side it is maybe 1500?ft to the docks from the wall. Some divers that were not from our group and not familiar with Spooky took it a little extreme by bringing a second bottle through the channel with him. It is easily one tank dive even if you go deep; because the last part is so sallow it is like a surface swim. We did a nice site on the outside of the reef like the Bite and then got dropped off at Spooky for a nice dive through the Cathedral and then go deep and under the Front Porch Rock via the Tunnel. Lucky for me and the video I was the first through, seems some need to practice their fin control. This is why Cave Divers don?t like Split Fins unless your first and no one else is going in for a while! I got four in and was ready for a good dinner and some down time with friends. Deb and John Brethauer were able to make this trip and I really enjoy their company. Both are great divers and are working on their photography skills. We had a great bunch on this trip, with Chip and Brenda, Rod and his niece Amy, Charlie, Patti, Chris, Dave & Becky, Kevin, and Tony Wiley. It was fun watching Dave because this was his first out of states trip after being certified, all was new to him!
Monday night found a few of us going into the little community of West End to see if any shops were open and oh yah any Bars had anything to offer besides goodwill. It was pretty quiet on a Monday night off-season. We closed a couple Bars and still made it back by 11:00pm for a good seven hours of sleep before the Sun wakes us to anther beautiful day of diving in Paradise.
Tuesday the 22nd was to be another four-tank dive day including a night dive. Some made it a five-tank day, but with another week ahead of me I felt no reason to push it so hard. Another Nitrox day of Macro Critters for the lens. This time we dove deep on the what is left of the Odyssey wreck in a hundred and ten feet of blue warm water. Some in the group got down to 115?ft. Dave being one of them for his Advanced Certification with Chip. He was handed his card on the bottom with smiles from his completion of the course or Narcosis or maybe a combination of both? After 25 plus minutes on the wreck we headed for the reef with some great footage of a Green Moray Eel and a cooperative Hawksbill Turtle. At the end of our forty plus minute dive we drifted up for our safety stop and was picked up by Anthony?s Key Resorts Boat near us to give us a ride back to ours that was picking up a few that had stayed near the wreak. They all know and help each other both the Captains and Dive Masters, it was a nice thing not having to float or swim with the beast in hand. Next stop White Hole for a nice sallow wall dive and come back along the top of the reef. This one was an hour plus dive with great critters of all kinds from Black Grouper to Scorpion fish. The water clarity around the Bay Islands makes photography a joy. Add to that the wide verity Fish and Critters and I am happy I went to digital, because I would be burning a lot of film! I take way more than thirty-six shots on a single dive. I am no longer limited by film, but only my imagination, subjects, and batteries. Back on the boat with smiles and heading for lunch and new tanks for the afternoon and the night dive.
Tuesday afternoon got changed a little from the normal routine we were falling into because they were changing the night dive from Wednesday night to Tuesday. So I only loaded one of the two Nitrox tanks for only one afternoon dive planning for the night dive. We hit Gibson Bite for a fun dive with swim throughs and a Toad Fish in a hole at the bottom of a chimney with a ?Pillsbury Dough-boy? stuck in the hole by ?Chip? for a ?celebrity action shot? only to drive the fish further in the hole as to be useless for the Toad Fish picture. But it was good for a laugh or two! After an hour plus in the warm calm Caribbean water it was time to head back and get things, the Beast, ready for the night dive at Over Heat Reef. Once back I get everything ready and head for the room for a power nap, and it worked just as planned, getting up a little more rested 45min before the boat pushed away from the dock for the night dive. There was a good turnout for the night dive, enough to send out three boats to three different locations. Never a crowded dive site in the seven years I have been diving Roatan, although sometimes a boatload is more than enough divers, it?s a big ocean spread out when you can and you will enjoy the dive much more. We saw Octopus, Lobster, Basket Stares, and Squid. It was a night dive that lasted over an hour and upon surfacing we got the last of a close by light show. It was a great night dive with lots of video being shot and a good dive had by all. Another four-dive day and it was back for another very good meal at BIBR. The meal was filling and dessert was just right, then it was time to talk diving and have a few adult beverages until bedtime. Sometimes there just isn't?t enough time to have as much fun as you can have in the time allowed. If you know what I mean?
Wednesday the 23rd will be a planned three-tank dive day starting on the South Side of the Island and ending with an exciting Shark dive three miles of shore in 70ft of clear warm water. The ride around to the South Side was not too bad, although once around the West End it got bumpy and a little rock and roll, as is normal this time of year. We headed to Mary?s Place for the first dive of the day. It is a beautiful wall dive to 90ft plus and was part of our weeks Sea Horse hunt, that Deb was hell bent on finding one before the week ended, it is one of Roatan?s best dive sites. Here, Marianne's?s Best, Spooky Channel, and Herby?s Place are the best dives on the island. I think I will also have to include the Shark reef as well. At the shark dive they do a great video that is worth the cost, but I am getting ahead of myself.
We decided as a group to do Mary?s Place as a drift dive in order to see more of the wall to the east. Deb, John, Chris, Tony, and myself were first in, when you are drift diving it is good form to be ready and get in as soon as you can. We waited at the edge of the wall and mooring for over five minutes waiting for the rest of the group, burning air and blowing bubbles. Once we were all there the DM lead us over the edge and down to about ninety feet, but not before some in our group came crowding over the wall like they were afraid of getting lost, I turned around with my Video camera and almost got hit by no fewer that three people that were on top of me! Let it be said this is no reflection as to weather they were nice people, because they were, just not the best in control divers. I am sure they thought there skills were fine, but slow and in control bets bunching up on the guy with the camera because you?re afraid your going to miss something. This group was staying at the resort, but frankly were missed matched with our groups abilities. One of them asked if I could email my pictures to them. To which my answer is ?for price anything is possible? to which I was told ?that?s okay I will get my own? with no thought as to the investment in my equipment our time. Sometimes I don?t think people think, they just assume that they put the same price on others work as their own. It also goes along with the ?bump you, too bad? attitude that their group had. When you pay extra for a dive like Mary?s you should not have to put up with people so close you can?t move or take a picture without a fin, arm, or lag in your space and your shot. Having said this let me say it as plan as possible ?give people a little space? it will be there when you get there. Silting up the bottom for the person behind you is just rude and if you don?t feel capable of controlling yourself fall back or stop without destroying the dive for everyone else. Politeness works on the reef and while your diving as well, so think and try to control yourself.
Anyway back to the dive, it is one of the best in Roatan with a untouched wall with soft corals and sponges splashing there color like a spry can in the hands of a Tagger with splash of color in a tone that looks fluorescent in the tropical sun from above. You try to capture it on tape or memory card so others will see that same hue and beauty that is now in front of you for such a short time. This is what makes underwater photography so unique you have to see and shot in an ever-moving environment with constantly changing conditions in a limited amount of time. This is a showcase of your skills and a culmination of your training and practice. In other words take a lot of pictures and some will turn out pretty good! After you take the picture in a place like this you?re always scanning for the next shot and keeping an eye on your computer for the bottom time remaining. If you want to take good pictures your dive equipment is an important tool as your photo equipment. So we moved down the wall to the west nearing the end of the dive. We move over the edge of the wall into the sallow top of the reef where Stage Horn Corals reach for the light and the soft corals wave in the surge. We enjoy this part of the reef and get a good long safety stop in fifteen feet of warm sallow clear Caribbean.
We pulled into the shelter of the reef in a little bay to get out of the surge and do our surface interval where the other boat caught up to us and the jabs started flying with Chip aboard. Never a dull minute with Chip within a quarter mile of the group including Tony, Kevin, Charlie, and on this trip Dave ?the new Guy?.
In a little over an hour we were headed for the next sight called Marry Ann?s Favorite. This was to be our best hope of seeing a Sea Horse. We drifted west along a slopping wall with cuts and valleys with streams of sand that dropped over the edge into the deep. The sponges and corals were bright and colorful. The area had Smooth Trunkfish juveniles hiding in the Lettuce Leaf Corals. This was a long leisurely dive that did not take much effort. The average depth was about 45ft to 50ft to be in the thick of the reef life. We spotted a number of squid and schools of fish, but were alert to finding the elusive Sea Horse. Toward the end of the dive the DM was moving in toward the sallow and there was a number of squid in the sallow water above a cut. After getting the squid I looked down into the cut at a small patch lattice coral in the sand and there was a Yellow Sea Horse with its tail wrapped around the coral. By this time Deb & John had run out of bottom time being on air and using Suunto Computers, which are very conservative. This was the trip and where was Deb who was on the quest to capture an image of the little sea creature. I found out later that she was already aboard the boat saying ?no one had better find a blanking Sea Horse? and what did I say as soon as I hit the surface ?I got it? only to hear ?you better not have?, what is a guy supposed to do?
Back on board and heading for lunch at the Shark Dive docks and a long enough surface intervals to enjoy the 70ft Shark Dive. The resort brought over new tanks by van including my Nitrox tank I had set up that morning. While we eat the dive crew switched out the tanks and set up the gear for the dive. We finished lunch and went to the briefing on the deck. This is more a Shark Swim than a feed and it makes it unique among the ones I have done. This year they?re asking you not to use lights or strobes on your cameras as they sometimes excite the sharks with the electrical field that is emitted. I have been hit by a Caribbean Gray Reef shark in the Bahamas while videoing with my lights on. It happens and you have to be ready and understand that you have to keep alert around sharks at all times. We load up on our boats and head due south to the reef that runs perpendicular to the shoreline and is the only one that can make that claim. The site is three miles out and can get a little choppy, so you need to be ready to go as soon as the DM gives the word. They want you to go down the mooring line to the reef below and line up along a reef wall that is about 10ft high and drops onto the sand and rubble bottom. I went down videoing the group and watching the sharks start to show up one by one until about one for every diver was o n site, about sixteen or more at one point. This is fun and has become more interactive with the sharks and the DM as well as the divers. The DM motioned me out to get a better angle of the sharks and group and I settled into a great spot on the bottom to the east of the group. The sharks were swimming by the group and me close enough to touch, but it?s not advised as they can turn on their tails and bite you before you knew it. These are beautiful, powerful, and muscular wild animals that can be deadly if you look like pry. The dive last about 30 minutes or more and is action pack guaranteed to get your adrenalin pumping. With the camera rolling I move out with the group among the sharks for a swim with sharks and divers going in every directions. Then we move back to the coral head wall and line back up for the feed part of the dive. Now the DM is banging the bucket of chum on the bottom exciting the sharks to move I n close and become more frenzied. The DM now points at Deb and motions her out to him, where she reluctantly goes with her eyes as big as dinner plates. With sharks swarming around her and the DM hitting the bucket and bumping into her she starts to worry about her camera so she clutches it to her chest to protect it as she gets bumped all over. The DM had just sent her back to the line, when a big Gray came in for the bucket and the DM pushed her away only to have her turn on her tail and bite his wrist catching the edge of his chain mail glove and his computer band to sink two teeth into his arm. Time to open the bucket and send the sharks on their way. It is over in seconds as soon as they get their chum they are gone for the most part. Leaving only the divers and a big Green Moray Eel with smiles on their faces. We take a few last shoots and head for the boat with very little air left as well as bottom time. After getting back on the boat I learned that Tony using the AGA Mask to narrate the video had run out of air completely two thirds into the dive and that John who had the other one had trouble clearing his ears and didn't?t even get down until Deb was heading back to the lineup. This is always an exciting dive made for the forming and telling of lots of dive stories at Ted?s Beach Bar.
Now it was back to the dock to drop off those that wanted to ride the vans back to the resort. After dropping everyone that wanted to go via the road, we pushed of for our trip around to the north side with a good day of diving behind us. I have settled in with the new camera and housing, although there is still much to master, with all the new controls and setting that are all assessable on the Blue Fins exterior. This portion of the trip is video intensive with only a dive or two with the still camera. I have a passion for both, but tend to lean towards the images of the still camera because it seems more of a challenge to master. When dealing with underwater photography it seems that time is the master and your dive skills are the tools that either make or break your shot. Well we had a pleasant ride back to the resort in time to wash or gear and get ready for another good meal with friends. The stories would be flying for sure and there will be the shark video from the shark dive concession. They always do a fine job on the video and the owner brought them to use with tells of past adventures. It was a great day and fun night of review and reflection.
Thursday the 24th. This day was the last day for Deb, John, Kevin, and myself. Kevin was a last minute add on for the second week of the trip, but again I am getting ahead of myself. This was going to be a two-tank morning and a shore excursion in the afternoon. We headed for the Aguila wreck in 110ft of water in a semi-circle of coral that somewhat protects this wreck from pounding storms. Although it has collapsed in the mid-ship area it is in better shape than the Olympic witch has only been down a couple years. This wreck has big grouper and a Green Moray that call it home. We explored the wreck and headed for the reef and a pickup by our boat. I really like to get people going in and out of this wreck, as it is easy to penetrate and explore. This is always a fun dive and sometimes a crowded one as well as it is a very popular dive. The boat picked us up after about fifty minutes of water time and a lot of good video. Sometimes it is a shame that so much of it ends up on the cutting room floor. We were on board and heading for the Bears Den a renowned dive site made famous by a pioneer diver in Roatan years ago, it seems this was one of his favorites. It is a tunnel that dead-ends with lights in the ceiling, as the reef is porous and a couple of chimneys are on either end. If you go in with good technique you can have great visibility and a fun dive even without a light. Although this was not a problem for me as the beast has two very strong Pro lights that turn night into day. Unfortunately one light head went out and after trying to find out the problem it flooded and was sent back to Light & Motion via Tony from Roatan, no use hauling equipment that didn't?t work all over ATA territory. A couple of divers new their limitations and explored the area outside the Den. If you don?t feel comfortable going into an overhead environment then don?t, this is recreational diving and you should never do something you?re not comfortable doing. In diving you are always able to say no or call your dive without guilt for any reason what so ever! That?s the way it is, so understand your ability and make those decisions before you get yourself and maybe others in trouble.
Well another year of diving Roatan was now behind me this afternoon would be a non-diving adventure. After getting back to the dock it was time to unload my weight belt clean my equipment and let it dry as much as possible for the flight tomorrow to Belize. So with everything cleaned and drying it was time to head for the Canopy Adventure. I am not a real fan of height, but not really freaked out about it either, this was going to be interesting to say the least. So with camera in hand and pocket we loaded up for this new, for me, adventure on the island of Roatan.
As with anything else we start out signing releases so that if we plummet to the ground we can?t sue anyone. Having been on this island many times before I know enough to bring lots of Deet as not to get eaten while having fun! After putting on the harness we headed down the trail to the first station of 16 to come and 6 bridges and a rock wall to climb. Anyone who knows me would think, as I was, can I do this without injury to the trees, the guide, and myself? Next I try to take a camera everywhere I go hence ?Where the Adventure gets recorded? is a way of life for me. This was not going to be easy unless you have three hands, so I only got a few stills while waiting my turn on the platforms. The first tree was nice and easy, except I slammed into it backwards and felt the whole system shake, after being assured that it was fine and that all I had to do was make an adjustment with my technique and I would be fine. The poor guide seemed to be in a dangerous position every time I can into the next station, but I realized a camera was going to be next to impossible. Next year I will have to do a helmet cam to get all the action.
This was fun, but a little work and with the steamy jungle overhead you were sweating and that was fact. It was a good workout, but not as hard as I thought it might be, unless you judged it by how dry my clothes were. This is sturdy shoe and good shorts type of activity and I will figure out the camera thing that for sure. It was a great way to spend a couple hours and work up an appetite for diner on our last night.
We partied as long as we could with the group we were leaving behind. Kevin had made his arrangements to get his ticket to Belize and we were all packed and ready to go at 5:30am. This personal note about the air service, I have found out that there is only two flights a week between two of the worlds best dive destinations Roatan Honduras and Belize. Although they?re only ninety miles apart from Roatan to Belize City it is a half-day adventure to get it done. In the past I have missed the flight to find out ?you can?t get there from here? unless you want to spend two days on a bus after a fairy ride and maybe plane or two, so don?t miss your flight. Ours was arranged by Roatan Charters who have done a great job in the past for me. So it goes like this the flight is scheduled for 6:30am and you?re supposed to be at the airport two hours before the flight. The airport does not open until 6:00am. So you can?t even get in until 6:00am. Having done this a number of times I know the drill we get to the airport at 6:00am as it opening and check in at the ticket counter. Then they had search all our bags at a table and then give them to the counter person for check-in. Then you clear your passport control and your visa as well as making sure you have paid your airport tax and then through security. Takes about forty-five minutes, but no problem the plane is never on time! So we set and wait, this time until 10:00am, but we are told it will now be a direct flight, but as we get on the plane I notice it is a larger than normal plane for this trip. I ask the flight attendant where we are going.
Please check Belize Aggressor III for the next part of this adventure and the rest of the story.
Cotributed by Debra & John Brethauer:
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