Friday, May 13, 2011

Útila - Day 6

Ah, the last day of diving!

Today started a little later than usual so I got an extra 15 mins of much needed sleep. After breakfast we loaded up the Miss U and headed to our first dive site called "Halliburton" which was an old cargo ship that was sunk in 1995. The wreck was in about 100 feet of water which meant we would only have about 30 mins of bottom time. Unfortunately there were already two other dive boats there which meant it was going to be crowded. We descended as a group and reached the wheel house at about 80 feet. We were greeted with a good sized lion fish guarding the door. We then headed to the captains quarters directly below the wheel house where we saw a huge snapper. We took the staircase down into the cargo hold which by now was full of silt kicked up by the close to 30 other divers in the water. After that we took a trip around the outside of the boat and found a huge moray eel under the starboard bow. By this then it was time to head back to the surface.

Since we were so close to town we headed to the dock and took a walk up the street to a place called the Jade Seahorse. What we found was something unbelievable. The "backyard" of this place was FULL of pathways, bridges and sculptures created with recycled material. Everything you can think of. Glass bottles, wine bottles, shells, driftwood, tile, glass, was amazing. And of course I didn't have my camera. a couple of the other folks in our group had cameras and I'm hoping to be able to share some of their images. We spent about 45 mins walking around the grounds and then headed back to the boat.

Once on board we headed to our final dive spot called "Ted's Point". There were other boats on the mooring so we had to use another buoy a little ways away. We geared up and jumped into the 85 degree water and headed for our submerged destination for the last time.

The initial part of the dive had me wondering if this was how it would end. There were some fish and coral, but it was the same old stuff we had seen all week. I really wanted to see the elusive spotted eagle ray and this was my last chance. It wasn't looking good. After a long kick we finally reached and area where things started to pick up. We spotted a file fish (which looks kind of like a halibut), a barracuda and another large tarpon. But I had a problem. Because it took us so long to get there I only had about 500 psi of air left in my tank. Normally at that point I would head to the surface. Through hand signals I let my guy Reuben know that I was low on air. He was kind enough to offer his extra regulator to me to extend the dive and allow me to still have some emergency air. And good thing he did. After about 5 mins we heard someone banging on their tank. Sound travels very well underwater so the 30 or so divers all headed toward one of our group that was kicking pretty hard toward the deep.

At first I didn't see anything, then there they were. Three spotted eagle rays had graced us with their presence. The divers all lined up and and jockeyed for position to see the show. I tried to get a video but divers underneath me were sending bubbles in front of my camera. Then I noticed one of the rays was doing a fly by in front of the crowd, I quickly took off in the same direction behind the crowd. My hope was that once she passed the grandstand she would hang a right back toward the reef. I was right. She came in right underneath me and I held the shutter lever on the camera down. The best of the few images I got is below. After chasing down the ray I took glance at my gauge and saw a whopping 200 psi of precious air remaining. I quickly headed back the boat extremely happy with the dive that started out so poorly.

We climbed aboard the Miss U for the last time and headed back toward Utopia for a well deserved beer and a delicious lunch of fish tacos. As we've done every day we are hanging out in the Dive Bar and sharing stories and pictures of the day. Tonight is party night, however I have a feeling that most of the group will be in bed before 9:30. We get to sleep in tomorrow till 8, woohoo! A bittersweet end to diving but by the end of tomorrow I will be very ready to get home, sleep in my own bed and be with those I love.

The Miss U

The lion fish guarding the wheel house

Huge snapper

The wreck

My gauge at 95 feet

5-6 foot moray surrounded by kicked up sand from the cluster of divers

File fish

Spotted eagle ray

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Útila - Day 5

Wow, what a day!

I'd love to show you some pictures of our night dive from last night, but alas I had camera problems again. My strobe wouldn't fire and on a night dive that just won't do. Silver lining though: since every dive I've been on without my camera has been great I knew we were in for a treat.

With 20 divers in pitch black water, things can become a cluster. Everywhere you look light beams cut through the water. Flashing lights and glow sticks marked the divers. We immediately spotted tons of lobster and lots of sleeping parrot fish. Some of the group saw some huge crabs and even tarpon. The highlight for me was seeing 4/5 hermit crabs fighting for one damn nice looking shell. After close to an hour we headed back to where we thought the boat was and were very lucky to see an octopus. I'd show you a picture, but, yeah. I did reach another milestone, a new longest dive: 101 minutes!

Got back for dinner late and had another GIANT piece of tuna that was delicious. Had a couple nightcaps and headed to bed hoping my camera issues would be resolved in the morning.

After breakfast I switched out the batteries in everything, we loaded up into shuttle and headed to the Miss U. Since the wind had really died down we headed toward the east side of the island for the first time. Our first site was "Little Bight". The main draw of this site was a sea horse about 5" long. After the seas horse we headed across a large sandy area that was full of Garden Eels. These little guys look like grass but when you get close they zip into the sand. About halfway through across the sandy area we ran into a bunch of squid. This encounter was one of the coolest experiences I've had diving to date. These things were so interested in us, as much as we were in them. There was two lines of creatures, one of squid, one of human, staring at each other. Very cool.

After about 10 minutes with the squid we continued on and found a good size eel having lunch. We turned around and made the trek back to the boat for some water, fruit and muffins and a bit of a rest before our 2nd dive, "Madeline's".

The first part of the dive was pretty non-eventful which made sense because my camera was working. Bit as soon as we made our turn things changed rapidly. So many fish about 30 feet. Cow fish, giant angel fish, ocean trigger fish and needlefish. About halfway back to the boat my dive buddy Ted and guide Reuben got my attention. They were swimming fast so I quickly caught up. What I saw was the tail of a large fish that looked a lot like a shark. I couldn't tell as it was moving fast and effortlessly away from us. Reuben cut him off and the fish headed right toward me. At this point I think a 5' shark is headed right toward me. He made a turn right in front of me and I instantly recognized it as a tarpon who apparently was posing for a great shot! After that excitement we kicked back to the boat and completed the dive.

For lunch we headed to a small island called "Parrot Key". The restaurant is owned by our boat captains family. I had barracuda fish and chips which was pretty good. After lunch we took a stroll down main street which was actually a path way. The island has 400-700 locals (depending on the season). It's amazing to me that people actually live here for their whole lives. Everyone was very nice and welcomed us to see where and how they live. Definitely put some perspective on how different things can be.

After our tour we jumped on the Miss U and headed back to Utopia where we cleaned up and headed to the bar for an afternoon of showing pictures and reliving the days awesome dives. Our trip is half over and tomorrow will be our last day of diving. It will be sad to leave the this place but I am missing the kiddos and loved ones back home.

Enjoy the photos!

Sunset on the way to the night dive

Sea horsey!


Squid looking at us looking at them

Jim the squid whisperer

Green eel having lunch

Cow fish

My new desktop

Ocean trigger fish

Flamingo tongue

Tarpon! (not a shark)

Trunk fish

Útila - Day 4

Hola para Utopia Resort.

Closed down the "Dive Bar" again last night and had my first full night of sleep. The boat just needed a battery and the rain never came so after breakfast we headed out to our first dive site of the day called "Duppy Waters" (Duppy means ghost apparently). Neat site that was another wall but it had tons of little chutes and canyons. We quickly descended to 80 feet and were on our way.

About 5 mins into the dive I noticed two large angel fish were hovering above our dive guide Reuben. As I watched them i realized that one of them was "eating" his exhaust bubbles as they floated to the surface. Reuben said he has never seen that before. After about 30 mins along the wall we cruised up a chute to shallower waters where Reuben and I spotted a sea slug (or maybe a worm) that was rolling and contorting across a sandy patch or ocean floor. It was so weird to see this thing scoot along. It got to the other side and did a few more barrel rolls before finally stopping at the base of a small rock formation. Since I am still new to diving and i use way toomkuch air by this time I had to head back to the boat.

We then motored to our next dive site called "West End" (where we were headed yesterday before the boat died). After an hour on the surface we geared up and got back in the water. This site had much better visibility than the last. We only went down to about 60 feet for this dive which was another wall that bottomed out about 90 feet. We quickly found a couple lobster under some rocks and and tons of brightly colored fish were everywhere. After grabbing a few pictures of coral and the little fish we see everywhere Reuben grabbed my attention to point out a baby turtle. I grabbed my camera and was greeted with a "change battery pack" message. We followed the turtle for at least 15 mins. I could've snapped some amazing photos as I was less than 5 feet from the little bugger. Oh well, im sure that will happen many kore times before we leave. Shortly after the turtle we headed to shallower water and finished off a great 57 minute dive, My longest dive to date!

We loaded up and headed back to the resort for lunch. I'm writing this from a hammock and plan on doing a bunch of nothing until tonight's nighttime boat dive. I'm hoping to get some awesome pictures tonight, as long as my battery holds up that is. Until tomorrow...

Bubble-eating fishies

More fan coral

Don't know what this is, but I'm calling it the venus flytrap sponge

Purty colors

These little fish are EVERYWHERE. And not afraid to get all up in your face.

Last photo before my battery died. Meh.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Útila - Day 3

Another beautiful day here in paradise!

Dinner last night was amazing again. Afterward, almost the entire group went to sleep. Debbie, one of the owners, Chef Peter and the bartender Matt joined me at the bar for a few night caps. They are all really great people. It was really interesting to find out how this place was started and built. They actually floated all the wood over from Honduras, stacked it in piles and let it dry for two weeks before building. Also heard some great stories about the three years the resort has been here, like how the first week they opened the U.S. put out a travel warning for Honduras. We shut the bar down around 10 and turned in.

Day 3 started with banana pancakes, eggs and bacon. It was too windy again for the resort dock so we motored through the jungle to the Miss U.

Our first dive was at a place called Blackish Point. There was no mooring at this spot so I got to experience my first "drift" dive. Since the boat isn't stationary when you are done with the dive you surface and the boat comes and picks you up. The site was interesting with a deck of about 30 feet with a wall that went down to 70 feet. The wall had multiple caves and overhangs where fish were hanging out. The dive was pretty uneventful but we did see a friendly turtle and a midnight parrot fish that was about 3 feet long.

We got back on the boat and headed to our next destination. Along the way I started to get a little queasy from the massive amount of diesel fumes spewing off the back of the boat. After a 25 minute motor we stopped at the next site where we were planning on drift diving again. One of our group decided to check the prop and was immediately swept away by the current. It's amazing how fast she got about 50 yards away. The captain went to start the boat to go get her and it wouldn't start. After a few minutes Reuben grabbed a life ring and headed out to get the prop checker who was now at least 100 yards away. We were now dead in the water and drifting toward shore. Luckily for the swimmers another nearby dive boat went and picked them up. Our captain Sydney was able to get his Dad to come out and tow us back to the dock before we ran aground. They think it is a battery issue, hopefully it will be up and running again soon.

In the afternoon a couple people went on a shore dive while the rest of us lounged and napped. We have a night dive planned for 6pm then dinner. There is talk of a large storm coming in tonight into tomorrow so that in combo with the boat situation may mean an evening of drinks and a morning of sleeping in. Both sound good to me.

Turtle friend

Getting towed in

Lots of fan coral

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Útila Day 2

After a somewhat restless night of sleep, I woke up about 7am local time and headed down for a breakfast of French toast, eggs and bacon expertly prepared by Chef Paul. The wind had kicked up quite a bit since last night so we couldn't use the resort dock. Instead we loaded into the resort shuttle (another pickup truck) and drove about 10 mins through the jungle to a protected dock. All 20 of us loaded onto our dive boat for the week, the Miss U.

Our first dive spot was calm led "The Maze". A wall started about 40 ft and dropped off from there. I haven't been on a real dive with my own gear since September of 2009, but after getting in the water it all came back pretty quick. I had my new underwater camera with me but the battery ran out in about 5 mins. Turned out to be a pretty uneventful dive though so I didn't mind. We did see a pretty good sized turtle but he wanted nothing to do with us.

After that quick 30 min refresher we headed to our next spot "Ragged Cay (Key)" which was a similar wall but it was located off a small island. This dive was MUCH BETTER, which made me miss my camera. We saw a couple huge crab, a large green eel, 3 lionfish (on of which was gigantic) and a dead shark of some kind. The shark was about 2-3 feet long and not hard to spot since it was upside-down in about 20 ft of water. I wasn't sure it was dead but the guys behind us saw a wound in its chest. Another couple saw a spotted eagle ray right before we got back to the boat but I missed it.

We then headed back to the resort for lunch. Some of the group are planning a couple shore dives but since it is still pretty windy I've opted for diving into a few cocktails. For dinner tonight I've chosen the red snapper in a coconut dill sauce (I think that is what she said). Here a decouple pictures from our first dive before my camera croaked:

My dive buddy and roommate Ted

Dive guide Reuben and the wall

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Utila - Day 1 (travel)

Welcome to another edition of Drake goes SCUBA diving. This time I'm traveling to an island off the coast of Honduras called Útila. A very small island located north of the more well-known Roatan.

My day started at home at 3:15am. I met up with a few of our group and car pooled down to LAX. Our first flight was 3.5 hours to
Houston where we literally walked from one plane to another and then flew 2 hours into Roatan. There we went through customs (where the only thing the customs agent said to me was "next") grabbed our gear and then boarded a 20 seat double-prop puddle jumper for the 20 min flight to Útila. Once we arrived at the VERY small airport we jumped in the back of a pickup truck and headed to the town's main dock.

Once there we realized 4 bags were missing (guess who had a missing bag?). So the plane FLEW BACK TO ROATAN AND GOT THEM. One of our new dive masters Frederico was nice enough to show us to a local bar where we had a few beers while we waited for our bags. One of the guys from our group who stayed at the boat was apparently asked by a local female if he was in need of a friend. He politely declined.

Once we got all of our bags we finally headed to the resort, which is pretty amazing. It is owned by 7 girlfriends from the U.S., two of which live onsite and run the place. The staff is very friendly and I think we will have a great time. We got our room assignments, had a quick dive orientation and then were offered a choice of seared ahi tuna or chicken parm for dinner from
Chef Paul (also from the U.S.). I went with the tuna which was amazing. I was told the chicken was delicious as well.

As I write this it is POURING down rain outside. Hoping that subsides for our 8am boat dive tomorrow! Pictures to come...

Our plane to Útila

Airport shuttle

The bar we waited at. This is the main road in town.

Dive briefing

Shot from the dock downtown