Atlantic Ocean, Belize, Belize city, Caribbean, Cousteau, Dive Boat, drift dive, Drift Diving, Meso American Reef System, Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel, Pterois, Scuba diving, Snuba, South America, Texas Panhandle
Now, back to the cruise. Our next port stop is Belize.
If you have never been to Belize, it should be one of your Bucket list stops. But be forewarned. Belize is a beautiful country abundant with culture, beauty and nature. The diving is some of the greatest in the Yucatan, if not all of South America the Caribean. Belize City is an unsavory place that is rife with petty crime. Excursions don’t stop in the city. The port is surrounded by security fences topped with razor wire. Not entirely welcoming. Visit the zoo, go to the ruins, stay at the resorts, skip down town for the most part.
And of course, you must check out to the many islands for famous dives. Ambergris cay, caulker cay, the blue hole,
the list goes on and on. And swim with the sharks- Most of all, Dive Turneffe Atoll, about 15 nautical miles out to sea, the Atoll is an incredible reef. The Atoll, at least as we dove it, is a misnomer. In the purest sense, an atoll is a barrier reef. An island made up mostly of coral. Turneffe Atoll is totally submerged. Not by much, but it is submerged.
Interesting about the weather in the Yucatan. We all believe that because the Tropics are, well, tropical, when we are on vacation there the weather will be spectacular. As long as that vacation is not during hurricane season. And that is only occasional risk. The first week of January 2012 was not that way. In North America, a cold front was moving from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast. Guess what? That front stretched all the through Central America down to the Northern reaches of the South American Continent. As our ship was pulling into the port of Belize, the front was moving through. Now a midwinter cold front is still not the same as, say, the Yukon, or the Dakotas or even the Texas Panhandle. It was colder than normal in the Yucatan, but still quite enjoyable. On land, a muggy overcast rainy summer day. But at sea, another story.
Oh, and did I mention that super cruisers are not allowed to dock in Belize city. The Reef runs all along the coast with no breaks and is relatively shallow. As such, there is no allowance for a cruise ship to dock in a deep water, safe harbor. Ships weigh anchor 5 miles or so off shore and everyone tenders off the ship. In this case, tendering would be done in 15 foot swells.
7 am arrives, and we head down to breakfast. During breakfast, an announcement that the tenders will be delayed due to weather conditions. At 8 am muster in the theater. Announcements start getting made. Beginner Scuba, Snuba, snorkel, all the beach excursions, all the boating excursions are cancelled. The 2 tank advanced scuba dive to Tenriffe Atoll is not. The only water based excursion that is still on is the advanced dive. This is both a good thing and bad.
The good is that we still get to dive. The bad is that we have to go to Turneffe Atoll. The first challenge is to get onto the tender. If you have ever tried to get on a bobbing tender boat in high seas, that is severe enough. We have all gotten on and off a dive boat in 3’ swells- now consider 10’ swells. Add to that trying to navigate your dive gear, as well. The dive company was first rate- Hugh Parkey Dive Adventures. They have their own tender service boats to pick us up at the ship. The tender they used was a high speed tender and clearly superior the almost any tender I have been on. We have a 45 minute trip to their dive shop on their island and dive shop. Some people have to get rental gear. Everyone has to sign their waiver and have their C cards checked then switch to the dive boat. The dive boat is even nicer than the tender was. This is a deep sea dive rig. Designed to handle rough seas, ….fortunately. The captain explained that we would leave the dive harbor island. From there, we would head into an open space known as the gut. The Gut was the crossing to the mango islands. This would be the long crossing of 10 plus nautical miles in 15’ seas. Everyone had to pick a deck and stay there. It would be an 60 minute trip out. The winds were blowing. The skies were pretty forboding, but we were going to dive.
Everyone made it over without any green. When we reached the Atoll the seas calmed down to maybe 3-4 foot swells, but then again we were sitting in maybe 20 to 30 foot waters here. Essentially a submerged island was just below us acting as a wave action breaker.
The first dive was going to be a multi level dive – down to 25’ and then down the reef wall to about 90. After yesterday, I decided that I was diving heavy. Reduced my weights by 2 lbs. After Cozumel, the difference here is substantial under the boats is just as I mentioned, a submerged island- first 15 minutes we were on the “island” which was an edge filled with sand and a lot of small fish. There were a lot of small canyons leading off to the edge. We slowly worked our way across this table area towards the edge. We dropped down the bank to 90 feet. The island was similar to a table mesa. Unlike the wall in Cozumel that dropped off for hundreds of feet, this went down about 180 and leveled off. We saw some spectacular sealife as we swam around the wall. A Grouper swam by that was probably tipping in around 40-50 pounds. A lobster came to visit that looked about 8 to 10 lbs. And a Morey eel, who apparently is known locally as Maury. Maury decided to come out and greet us. And come out. And come out. And come out. Easily Maury is 10 feet long and apparently not of even temper. I never knew I could swim backwards so fast. As quick as she swam out, Maury was back in her reef caves, just a face full of teeth staring evilly out of the rock.
Breathing was much better today, about 35 minutes on the first dive.
The second location was about 10 minutes away on the other side of the atoll. It was shallower here. The same depths on the top, but the island wall only went down to about 110 feet. We were going to dive to 60. As we approached the site, off in the not great distance was one of the Aggressor Fleet Liveaboards- that is another bucket list item.
The dive was remarkably similar to the first, but there were massive amount of Lionfish here. Lionfish are beautiful to look at and delicious to eat and the only fish that are open season all the time in the MesoAmerican reef for spear fishing. Lion Fish don’t belong here. They are Pacific Native fish that accidentally were introduced to the caribbean. These little beasts are devouring the shrimp, scallops and plankton and other small fish that the coral are dependant on. This is severely damaging the reef. The other problem with Lion fish is that the breed like rabbits. With no natural predators, we are their only counter agent. So, if you ever see Lionfish on the menu for dinner, enjoy heartily, with some conch sauce..
The trip back to the ship was no less eventful. We were now in the wind and the against the tides. The swells were easily over 20 feet. By the time the return ride through the Gut was over, we had several green gills on the boat, none of which belonged to fish. The one significant negative that I could say about the dive shop was they did not have any shirts that were for “adults”.