I was able to slip into scuba gear on Sunday. Dave and I signed up for the “Esmerelda” tour off of Ambergris Caye. According to the divemaster, Esmerelda is unique for its coral formations and wildlife – there are a bunch of finger-like protrusions that we swam over. During our two dives we were at 70 and 60ft, respectively, but the crevices went down much deeper.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m a novice recreational diver. Prior to Belize I had nine dives under my belt, and that includes the four certification dives that I took at Square Lake near Stillwater, Minnesota. I did four dives in Cozumel, which was similiar to the conditions I was expecting on Sunday, in terms of depth, visibility and temperature. And I most recently dove in the shallow, murkey, cold water of Rosario Beach in northern Washington State. That dive was in July of 2011, so it had been over a year since the last time I used scuba gear.
To prepare I reviewed my scuba textbook on the morning of the dive: buddy communication, basic breathing advice, air density at pressure, nitrogen narcosis and the bends, equipment, and dive tables. I looked up my old dives to remember how much weight to use on my belt. At 8:30am I gathered my c-card, fins, mask, snorkel and sunscreen, and Dave I rode down to Frenchie’s Dive Shop on Front Street.
We checked in with little fuss; Frenchie’s was thorough and professional in the information they gathered before assigning us gear. We put our BCDs and regulators on the tanks they gave us, tested the air flow and checked tank pressure. Then we boarded the boat and rode for 25 minutes out to the first dive site. About five minutes from our site, the boat stopped and the divemaster went over The Rules – descend with our buddy, meet at the bottom, then follow him. If you start to run low on air, ascend 10-15 feet, but stay with the group until the end of the tour if possible. Never go deeper or in front of him. Don’t touch nothin.
The dive staff helped us into our gear, then we did rolling entries into the water. I situated my mask and regulator, found my buddy and then we started down.
I have no photos for this trip. My underwater camera only has a depth of 23ft, and we were diving 70ft. I didn’t even bring it with. There was also no videographer/photographer with the dive staff, so no photos. Which is a shame because we saw some crazy awesome wildlife. As a concilation prize, I’ve linked to images from wikipedia or other sites that have pictures of the animals I saw.
One of the first things we saw as we descended were a bunch of very large nurse sharks. They were dark-colored and moved through the water with the slow grace that only a shark has. We were surrounded by fish of all sizes, shapes and colors. The reef rose up not too far from where we started. During the descent I felt a calm surround me and the magic of breathing underwater was as brilliant as I remembered from previous dives.
We had a small group – only eight of us altogether – and everyone was diving like the certified open water divers we were - everyone equalized well, there was no hyperventilators or trouble with buoyancy. There were also no braggerts or daredevils, which makes everything easy and happy.
We started by diving between two “fingers” of the reef. A morey eel came out to greet us, and not too long after we saw our first spotted eagle ray. We swam over a wall of the reef and saw a green turtle! We had nurse sharks with us at every turn, and saw huge parrotfish, angelfish and grouper. And then the gem of the dive: We saw Great A’Tuin.
Okay – it wasn’t A’Tuin (I didn’t see the elephants, that’s how I know), but it was the biggest damn loggerhead turtle that I have ever seen in my life. It was about the same length as me (I’m 5’7″) and its head was bigger than mine. I didn’t even spare us a glance as it glided by and over the reef. We continued on and when we ascended I still had 900 psi left in my tank – not bad for not having dove in over a year!
After the first dive we came into dock at San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, which is just north of Caye Caulker where we’ve been staying. Dave and I had some soda and juice at the Tacklebox bar while the dive staff switched in fresh tanks. After being on the surface for about 30 minutes, everyone lumbered back onto the boat and we rode about five minutes to our next site. It was pretty similar to the first, and not quite as good. We saw a couple more spotted eagle rays and the nurse sharks again, but I found the more interesting thing to be the landscape itself. We were stuck at 60ft for this dive, but the reef was much deeper than that, and I wanted to go down there! I wanted to explore the walls of the reef, and ever since I was a little tot swimming in the pool I’ve had a fascination with touching the bottom, which was not on the menu for this dive *pout*.
On the ride home we had a dolphin encounter! The captain spotted three dolphins and slowed the boat to a crawl. The dolphins started playing in front of the prow and jumping out of the water. Bonus!
I want more! I’ll have to check with Frenchie’s to see what other dives they have going out this week.