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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Belize Aggressor III - September 2010, Part One

Todd and I had a lovely trip to Belize!  We had visited Belize once before, in 2008, and had horrible weather, so we were hoping for better weather.  Plus, we were meeting up with some friends that we had traveled with before, on the Turks & Caicos Aggressor II.
Image Credit: The Aggressor Fleet

Getting There
We left Baltimore painfully early on Saturday, September 4.  Our plane was initially supposed to leave around 8am and we were supposed to go directly to Houston.  Instead, that Houston flight was canceled and we had to take a small jet at 6:50am to Cleveland and then a plane to Houston.  That meant we woke up at 3:30am to get ready to go to the airport.  The airport and the flights were pretty uneventful (besides the fact that I forgot to pack our Bonine stash, remembered in the car, and managed to grab some in BWI).

Once we arrived in Houston, we enjoyed a lunch at Pappadeaux.  I'm jealous of whoever has Pappadeaux near them, because they rock.  After lunch, we headed to the gate and on the way ran into our friend Bill!!  He was waiting for his sister, Terry, his brother-in-law, Nick, and his friend, Gary.  All of them had been in Turks & Caicos with us in 2008.  Once we got to the gate, we met Stefan, who is not in our group, but happened to be the only other person booked on the boat.  It was very nice to have a boat with an 18 passenger capacity with only 7 guests!

We had an uneventful flight, but then madness and chaos ensued in Belize City.  My bag was very late coming off the plane, so we were at the very end of the line to get through customs.  There was no real line, though, just a mass of people trying to get up to one or two customs officials, who seemed to give every single person the third degree.

We finally sort of reached the front of the line and we were pulled aside to have our luggage searched.  We had four bags piled high on a luggage cart, and of course, the customs officials felt that they had to search the one on the bottom.  My dive bag.  They poked around my BC and dive equipment, asking what things were.  They forced Todd to open all of his camera equipment, asking what things where and WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THIS?  First, they accused him of bringing it in to sell.  Then, when he insisted he wasn't in Belize to sell photography equipment, they insisted he was secretly shooting a documentary film.  Dude, I wish.  They were rude and arrogant and it was not a "Welcome to our country" type of moment.  I was hot and annoyed, but couldn't yell at them, so I had to satisfy my anger by throwing my bags around when asked to open them.  Finally, they let us leave the airport.

Off we went to the pier and the Belize Aggressor III!
The dock in Belize City

How It Worked
Scuba diving liveaboards are a lot of fun.  The motto of the Aggressor Fleet is "Eat, Sleep, Dive" and that is really what we did.  Once we were on the ship, we unpacked our dive equipment on the dive deck first.  We each had our own locker, hanging space for wetsuits, and a tank.  We put our equipment on our tank and kept the same tank all week.  Once the dive is complete, the crew will come by and refill the tank with more air and we're ready for the next dive!  It's very, very cool.  We had lots of room to spread out because there were so few people on the ship, so that was really nice.
Todd and Bill on the Dive Deck before a dive.

Terry listens to the dive briefing

Once that was done, I unpacked my clothes (I never feel comfortable until I'm unpacked) and Todd put his camera together.  We had a lovely dinner prepared by Chef Yanis, and I went to bed pretty early because I was really tired from the long day of travel.

Bill shows the "Sleep" part of Eat, Sleep, Dive

Sunday, we were knee-deep in Eat, Sleep, Dive and each daily schedule went like this (at least for me):
6:30am:  Alarm, wake up.  Todd was typically up by about 5:30, and he would go up and get his camera and our equipment ready for the day.  That meant I could spread out in the bed for the last hour each morning! (yay!)
7:00am: Breakfast!
8:00am: Morning dive.  This was usually a totally new dive site each day.
10:30am: Second morning dive.  Usually, this was the same dive site as the 8am dive.
12:00pm: Lunch!
12:45pm: Nap time!
2:00pm: First afternoon dive, usually at a new dive site.
4:30pm: Second afternoon dive, a little dusky.
6:00pm: Dinner!
8:00pm: Night dive, usually at the same place as the 2pm and 4:30pm dive.
I jump into the water (Captain Marc on the left, Todd on the right)

The Diving
Our first dive was at a site called Sandy Slope, which was very close to Turneffe Island Lodge, where we had stayed in 2008.  This was supposed to be a nice and easy checkout dive, but things were looking a bit green from the top of the boat.  The tide was going out from the mangroves at Turneffe Atoll, and boy was it GREEN.  We jumped in the water and I was sick with disappointment.  We had a maximum of about 20 feet of visibility, green tinted water, with a one knot current or so.  Turtle grass, other organic debris, and tons of jellyfish were floating by in the current.  We swam with the current, which was a bad idea, but I went with it anyway.  At 100 feet, suddenly it was clear and the temperature dropped (it was 88 degrees on the surface, well above coral bleaching temperatures).  The current disappeared, and things were about normal.  However, you can't stay at 100 feet for a long time, so as we ascended, we had to get back to the boat, and we had to fight against a pretty strong current to get there.  We made it, but it was rough.  I was upset, thinking this would be the way all of the dives were going to be.

Our second dive at Sandy Slope was better.  Still current, but a lot less, and it was clearer.  We started to see some critters, but my brand new mask was fogging, despite the fact that I'd already scrubbed the coating off that was supposed to make it fog.  The boat moved to Front Porch (right outside of the Turneffe Island Lodge and a dive site we'd dove before), and the vis was much, much better.  My mask was still fogging for the 2pm dive, but it was slightly better.

After the 2pm dive on Sunday, Todd started to feel sick, so I dove the 4:30 dive without him (I buddied up with Nick), and I got to spend some quality time with a couple of reef squid.  Getting back on the boat after that one was scary, though.  The wind had picked up quite a bit and the boat was BOUNCING.  It's scary to be in the water trying to get close to a boat to get on it, when you're watching the dive deck fly up in the air and then back down again.  I hung onto the line behind the boat waiting for other divers to board and got hit in the neck by the rope as it flew up and down.  Ouch.  I had trouble getting my fins up to those on the dive deck, but once I'd done that, I just put all of my weight on the ladder and that kept it down in the surge.  At least my mask had stopped fogging.

Since it was so rough, we went ahead and made the 2 1/2 hour or so crossing to Lighthouse Reef.  This was a BOUNCY ride, and I was happy we'd bought the Bonine.  I holed up in the cabin with the still-sick Todd and rode it out.  Once we reached Lighthouse, everything calmed down, but during dinner we chose not to do the night dive since none of us had dove that site before.  Captain Marc agreed to schedule a dawn dive for later in the week so that we could make up the dive.

Instead of the night dive, we did a fish identification game.  Guess who won?  ME!  I know my fish :)

Painted Tunicates.  Would you have known that?

Monday, we dove at Long Caye, which had much better visibility than Turneffe had.  Aquarium and Long Caye Ridge were both pretty dive sites, and I was so excited to get to see some Spotted Eagle Rays, as it seems like we never  get to see Spotted Eagle Rays.

Tuesday...  The Great Blue Hole!  Everyone had done The Great Blue Hole in the past except for Bill.  We all agreed it was great to do, so everyone except Stefan and Terry went down into the hole.  Basically, the Blue Hole was once a dry cavern when sea levels were much lower.  As the ice caps melted, the sea level rose.  The weight of the water above the ceiling of the cavern collapsed the roof into a perfect circle.  It's about 400 feet deep, and at about 130 feet you can see stalactites coming from the ceiling from when the cave was dry.  It's a huge deal only because Jacques Cousteau made a big deal out of it.  Otherwise, it looks more interesting from the air than from the surface or from underwater.  Still, it's something all scuba divers should do once, and now we've done it twice!  Todd and I went to 140 feet, which sets a new record for us.

Me, checking out a stalactite in The Great Blue Hole (140 feet)

After The Blue Hole, the Aggressor parked near Half Moon Caye and we took a small motorboat to the beach at Half Moon Caye.  We walked along there to see the Frigate Birds and Red Footed Booby Birds that nest on the island, and explored around.  We had lunch (Cheeseburgers in Paradise) back on the beach.  It was HOT!  Then, we headed back to the boat.

Bill and I at Half Moon Caye
Red Footed Booby at Half Moon Caye
Half Moon Caye, with the Aggressor in the Background
Todd photographs the Red Footed Boobies
Todd enjoys Cheeseburgers in Paradise

For the afternoon dives, we dove at Half Moon Caye, which is beautiful.  Some of the best diving anywhere.  That's where the night dive was as well. 

Todd, Me, Bill, Terry, Nick and Gary at Half Moon Caye

... To Be Continued in Part Two!


marathonmaiden said...

belize aggressor. awesome name! definitely looks like an amazing trip. very peaceful and yet wayyyyyyy exciting and active.

Kovas Palubinskas said...

I've heard nothing but good things about the Aggressors. Looks like an amazing trip.

Marlene said...

Oh wow, what an adventure! Love the ics - so beautiful! That's a lot of diving in one day!

Hubs and I had planed to take a Scuba lesson on our honeymoon but I panicked reading the waiver. lol. I will have to try to face that fear one of these days!

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