I recently got certified as a Divemaster, and so it was with keen anticipation that I embarked on Monday,May 25th on my first guiding job to the Blue Hole.
The evening before, Karl Pariente, the chief divemaster on board, and I, loaded Frenchie's Diving luxury liner, the Ocean Pro with with thirty tanks. We would have eight divers on board plus Karl and I. And we would be doing three dives each - one at the Blue Hole, one at Half Moon Caye and one at Long Caye.
At 5:30 a.m., I awoke, got dressed and headed out to Frenchie's. Daylight was just breaking and I was delighted to see people on the streets, even at that early hour. We fitted up the divers with their gear and at 6:00 a.m. headed out to sea.
While passing through the Caye Caulker split, Karl slowed the boat enough to introduce himself and me, and welcome the divers on board.
We passed through the channel into the deep blue waters about five minutes later. The journey to the Blue Hole would last about two hours. Fortunately for us, it was an unusually calm day and the journey started well. Half way to the Blue Hole we would pass through the Turneffe Atolls and near the Turneffe Islands. This was always a welcome passage for me as the crossing from the Caye Caulker channel to near Turneffe
can weather the best of the sea men (or women).
The boat cruised on towards Turneffe at its normal speed, about 20 miles per hour. We continued on this journey for about twenty minutes when suddenly the water in front of us was broken by a fin, and then another one, and another one, and suddenly we were surrounded by a pod of dolphins numbering literally in the hundreds!!! WHAT A SIGHT TO BEHOLD!!! In all my lifetime, and I've spent quite a few days at sea, I have never seen a sight such as this where it was literally raining dolphins everywhere you looked!!! Karl slowed down the boat and the dolphins were along the boat, in front of the boat, behind the boat,jumping ahead of the boat.....little baby dolphins, big dolphins, medium sized dolphins...just dolphins,dolphins everywhere....
This phenomenon lasted for the better part of half an hour, with the dolphins jumping, dancing, cruising,flipping and just putting on the most absolutely outstanding acrobatic show I have ever seen. If I had not seen it myself I probably would not have believed it was possible...it was so incredible!!!
We looked on with obvious delight and marvelled at how beautiful these creatures are. I even wondered out loud what would happen if I jumped in the water where they were. Wouldn't it be an absolutely incredible experience to swim with a dolphin - in the wild?
After a delay of half an hour or so, Karl increased the throttle on the boat and we continued into the Turneffe Atoll and out again on the other side, only to be greeted once again by another pod of dolphins, only not as large as the previous group!!!
At this point, I was inclined to believe that this was a migration of some sort. I have never, ever, ever seen so many dolphins all in one place at the same time. Oh, my, what a pleasurable experience!
We continued on to the Blue Hole, and after maneuvering through the coral patches, entered the Blue Hole. There was another boat there, already moored, and getting its divers ready to descend. We suited up in our SCUBA gear. Karl gave his dive briefing. (He is so good at his job). We would descend to 130' and stay there for 8 minutes, and the ascent would be to thirty feet for fifteen minutes, then the three
minute safety stop at 15'. Divers were asked to face the wall so as not to drift into the middle of the Hole, and we would dive as a group. We were still assigned buddies. Karl would lead the dive and I would follow in the rear to help the divers having trouble, if any. The signal to descend was given and down we went. Unfortunately for me, two of the divers had trouble equalizing. They were both fairly new divers,
having dove less than five times each, and so the effort to bring them down would be greater than usual. I was inclined to believe that the problem was more anxiety than an inability to equalize. I successfully brought the first diver, a female, to the 130' foot level and she melted into the crowd. The other diver, a male, could not equalize and so I coasted over along with him at the 70' level. We just barely made it to where the cave in started. Had he made it down probably 15' more, he would have been able to enjoy the stalagmites and stalagtites which are the attraction on this dive. Not to mention the eerieness of being in a black hole (yes, they call it blue, but from inside, it's black) coasting along knowing full well there is a school of Lemon sharks, a bull shark and a hammerhead shark that share the same small space
The dive continued pretty uneventful for me, although I was a slight bit peeved about being up at 70' instead of down at 130' where I was supposed to be. Right on cue a few minutes later, Karl started to ascend and so did the group of divers. We took care to make sure everyone got in from the hole and onto the 30' ledge surrounding the hole. Once all divers were accounted for, Karl ascended alone ahead of us. I took the rest of the divers on a little tour of the fringe reef. Underwater, I also shook the hand of the female I had assisted in decending. She winked at me grateful for having made it down. I felt flattered as I had assisted a diver who had paid a lot of money to get to this dive site experience the dive. It's a pity I couldn't have done it for both the new divers.
After fifteen minutes of coasting the fringe reef, enjoying the parrot fish, the rock beauties and a small barracuda, we went up to the 15' mark and did our three minute safety stop. Once out of the water, I jumped on board and assisted Karl with bringing the equipment in. As soon as the equipment was out of the water, we changed tanks for the next dive. By the time the last diver made it on the boat, all the equipment had been changed. (Karl is soooo good at his job.)
In fact, in the ten minutes or so that Karl had gone ahead, he had managed to cut a fresh pineapple into slices. There is nothing more refreshing after a dive that something wet and sweet to take the salty taste out of your mouth. The pineapple was right on order. We exchanged dive stories with the other divers, three or four people from Austria, a couple from the United States, and a couple more from Germany and England. Some of the words used to describe the dive were "awesome", "great" and "spectacular."
Once everyone's quest for "sweet and wet" was satisfied, we loosed the boat from the moorings and headed out to Half Moon Caye. The boat that was moored at the Blue Hole when we got there - the Belize Agressor - had also already concluded its dive and was also heading in the direction of Half Moon Caye. Wanting to dive at a particular designated spot, we put on full throttle and passed the Agressor to become the first boat on our designated mooring. We later spotted the Agressor heading to another mooring in the same area.
On the ride to Half Moon Caye, which was rather calm and still, we passed several Eagle rays that could clearly be seen on the bottom of the ocean floor. The sound of the engine from the boat ruffled them enough to cause them to float off when we passed. We also spotted some jumbo sized barracudas - you know? The ones that are the best to barbecue. Mmmm! I could just envision one of them stuffed with sweet peppers, onions and garlic getting a tan over my grill!! But, I digress...
If you've ever visited this area, you will know that the Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye are in the same Atoll, so the boat ride is essentially "inside" the reef. "Outside" the reef system can be very rough and bumpy.
Our second dive spot, the Half Moon Caye Wall, is located about a half a mile or so from the southern tip of Half Moon Caye. Since the deepest dive should always be done first, the dive profile for the second dive would be at 60' for twenty minutes, then ascending the 40' for twenty five minutes. The total bottom time for this dive would be forty five minutes.
Now, I have done this dive several times before, but I continued to be equally as awed every time I do. Karl has decided to forgo this dive and so I become the chief divemaster on this second dive. We will do a drift dive - we will dive along the wall and wherever we are when forty five minutes are up or one of us runs out of air, that's where the boat will pick us up. No need to worry about navigating our way back to the boat.
Again, we (Karl and I both) do the dive briefing for the area. Where the boat is moored, there is a drop of about thirty feet to the bottom. This is where we will descend About one minute away is a small hill of corals, which forms the beginning of the wall system. A hop over the hill (another minute of dive time) and you are literally on the deep end facing a wall of coral that drops down to close to three thousand feet deep. Whew! Talk about awesome!
We descend and cross the wall and the view is spectacular (as usual). Corals and fishes of just every imaginable color and hue protrude in majestic splendor and just beckon us to come close and explore. This area is one of the most pristine and beautiful areas in marine context. There are corals from every group - brain coral, elkhorn coral, sea fans, black coral....sponges of every size, shape and color...words cannot describe the magnificence of the sea bed that calls this area it's home. There are blue and yellow angelfish, grey and yellow french angelfish, yellowtail snappers, multi-colored parrotfish, a couple of brown/grey pufferfish, two inquisitive barracudas, blue creole wrasse in schools of thousands or more, some sea horse looking fish that swim (and disguise themselves to look like) the coral twigs (I have forgotten the name)...We dove among coral patches, admiring everything individually and collectively...the serenity and pleasure that comes from diving I can only parallel to that of flying. This must be how a bird feels when it is flying overhead. We floated over, among, below, beside the coral patches....we played with a lobster, touched some king sized groupers, pointed out the black coral patches, marvelled at the depth of the hue of the deep area, took pictures inside schools of fishes, chased barracudas and delighted in the passage of a Manta Ray in the deep area. Today, I figured, was an exceptional day. After several trips to this same dive spot, this was the first time I had ever seen a Manta Ray go by. And I delighted in the sighting. I wished I could preserve the moment forever.
Forty five minutes of exploring the wall later, I gave the signal to ascend. At the fifteen foot mark, we again did a safety stop. Fortunately, in terms of diver anxiety, this dive went well.
Once inside the boat, absolutely no one could believe that forty five minutes could go by so fast. When you become so caught up in the wonder of nature, time goes by fast.
One of the divers from Europe had commented that her only previous diving experience had been in the Red Sea, and that the visibility was so poor that you literally had to hang onto your buddy to prevent separation. The visibility here was awesome (she said). Neither Karl nor I had the inclination to tell her that there was a large amount of planktons in the water today, and that it was a medium visibility day at best. Imagine if she had experienced this site on a good day!