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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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August 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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CoCo View Resort, Roatan, Honduras

Forty years old, and still no better outpost for Caribbean diving

from the August, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver:

After a week of diving at CoCoView, I now know why so many divers are proud to call themselves "CoCo Nuts" and return to this dive resort time after time. The explanation begins in the "Front Yard," the nickname for the house reef, which remains fine diving since the resort opened up 40 years ago.

The Rooms on Stilts at CoCo ViewYou start with a leisurely walk from the cafeteria doorstep along a well-worn sandy trail to the water, then take an underwater path through gradually sloping eelgrass beds. About 50 yards out, a small free-standing dock in five feet of water is handy for holding a camera or checking gear. Fifty yards more and you reach the edge of a sloping sand wall. Going down in 80-degree water, I scared off a southern stingray as I kicked over to purple-tipped and corkscrew anemones protecting pistol shrimp, which emanated a sharp pistol-like "pop" when provoked by a tickle. One corkscrew anemone held Pedersen cleaner shrimp willing to give a manicure. Then a small eagle ray swam past while my dive buddy checked out a six-foot swimming moray eel -- and this was just in the first couple minutes.

A few feet farther down, I could see the looming shadow of the Prince Albert, a 140- foot tanker/ tramp freighter sitting at 65 feet since 1985. Now encrusted with corals and anemones (purple- tipped and pale varieties), the wreck is home to schools of Creole and yellow cleaner wrasse, four-eyed butterflyfish, parrotfish, French and queen angels, and a school of Bermuda chub. A five-foot barracuda hung off the bow. In the ship's open hold, a huge green moray lay so docile I thought it was dead. When I got within arm's reach, I noticed its gills were barely moving. On return from exploring the holds, it was gone. I dropped down to watch a scurrying smooth box crab, a strange creature that looks like half a colander with legs coming out the sides. Above, I was surprised to see my buddy following a cruising eagle ray. Great image.

We had arrived at the Roatan airport in the early afternoon, moved quickly through customs, boarded a bus for a half-hour drive, then went aboard a shuttle boat for a quick ride through a mangrove-lined lagoon to the resort. The first question asked on arrival was "How many of you have been here before?" Those who raised their hands were promptly dismissed and ran off to get into the water, less than an hour after passing through customs. Newbies were required to take a checkout dive with an instructor, then listen to an introductory talk explaining that the maximum depth was 130 feet and dive times were an hour, a limit that is largely a courtesy to divers waiting up top (I only made one dive out of 20 that lasted less than an hour). This orientation to the geography of the Front Yard is important, because when the boat is returning to the resort after dives, divers may jump in a few hundred yards from shore to mosey back underwater.

CoCo View is situated on a large sandbar just off the coast of Roatan Island, about midway down the second-largest barrier reef in the world. Now in its 40th year, CoCo View is a well-maintained "seasoned" resort, with 29 rooms adjacent to or over the water on pilings. All have a small fridge, air conditioning (I didn't need it for 80-degree nights in April), a large jug of water, a coffeemaker and coffee, showers with reliable hot water (solar heated), a hammock for snoozing, and good daily maid service. One can also rent a three-bedroom villa or private homes down the narrow beach.

Staffed with excellent and polished divemasters accustomed to giving personal attention to scores of divers weekly, the dive operation is well organized. Upon returning from a dive, I walked out the back of my assigned boat onto the dock, and after a few steps, I was in my boat's storage and drying shed, with drying racks, rinse tanks for cameras and suits, and my own locker. Leave your checked cylinder at your locker, and you'll find it set up on the boat in the morning. Tanks were aluminum 80s (and 60s and 100s), and the rental equipment was fairly new.

I dived with four excellent divemasters -- Gringo, Robert, Raul and Manny -- who kicked along slowly and found plenty of interesting critters. Some of the divemasters have been there 20 years and seemed to be very happy with their jobs, still willing to go the extra mile to satisfy customers. Many repeat divers request their favorite divemasters upon return.

Roatan, Honduras - MapSpeaking of repeat divers, an older solo diver on my boat kept to himself, although he was polite and friendly. He rolled off the boat alone on each dive and disappeared for an hour. I learned that, for some years now, he arrives from his Texas home, stays the week and makes about 20 dives, goes home, then returns two weeks later. That CoCo View gives a free week to anyone who has paid for nine is a bit of incentive. I heard he has made 700 dives here, but it seems like much more to me. He said he returns because the diving is easy and the reefs are different on every dive. Now there is a true CoCo Nut.

Divers like him return for dives like Mary's Place, a wall dive featuring a large crack in the reef several meters deep that traverses down to the edge of the wall, where it makes a 90-degree turn and opens on the wall at 90 feet. Essentially, it's a cave dive without a ceiling and with 75- to 100-foot visibility. Along the way, I traveled under large purple sea fans and colorful soft corals. On the deeper parts, stands of black coral stood out. Coming up the wall, I investigated crevices full of graysby groupers and coneys, with stoplight, red-fin and princess parrotfish darting around. Manny pointed out a scorpionfish, while mid-sized Nassau and black groupers lolled around. Half a dozen curious reef squid got in the face of several divers, flashing colors to communicate with their gang.

Each morning, we departed at 8 a.m. for two morning dives, followed by lunch back at the resort, then a 2 p.m. departure for two afternoon dives. We would be back at the drying shed by 4 p.m. Divers are loaded onto four 50-foot dive boats, originally manufactured for the U.S. Navy for diving. Capable of holding 20 divers comfortably, each one has sun coverage, spacious rear dive decks, cutouts in the gunwales for side entries, and twin rear ladders. A unique feature is the interior center well forward of the engine, with a ladder for entry during heavy weather. There's also a smaller similar craft and a 45-foot boat with a 900-horsepower diesel engine to visit remote dive sites. All boats have resuscitation kits, radios (and cell phone service), camera rinse tanks, and gear storage. My boat also had music, usually Spanish rap but sometimes oldies, which got a few divers boogying. Between dives, crew offered snacks, mangos, watermelon and pineapple.

The Dive BoatsThe Front Yard makes for an easy-todo, shore-based night dive. Channel crabs and octopus, hiding during the day, appeared in droves after sunset. The Prince Albert crawled with night life. (Before leaving on the dive, which essentially starts at the cafeteria doorstep, order dinner, which will be waiting for you on return. You don't even have to get out of your wetsuit, just eat at a water's-edge table.) With the easy 24-hour access, some divers arise as early as 4 a.m. for dawn dives.

On one dive along the CoCo View wall, I spotted two dozen spawning parrotfish, spiraling upward to about 15 feet, shooting a burst of milky sperm and eggs, then repeating the process. This led to an interesting discussion at the bar with my dive group that evening: Do fish have orgasms?

It is easy to spend five hours a day underwater at this place. My dive club leader cautioned divers more than once about building up excess bottom time. Nitrox is a must, as is keeping a careful eye on your computer. I noticed that the dive staff was pumping 29 to 30 percent, not 32 percent. While one of them first tried to blame it on the heat and humidity, which made no sense, the dive operations manager later confessed they had a mechanical problem, and a repairman was scheduled in a week or two. Presumably they are pumping 32 now.

We dived Pidgeon Caye, a sand bar with a couple of palm trees in the open Caribbean toward Guanaja, an hour's journey. We anchored in five feet of water and walked ashore, where the only residents were a few small lizards. After lunch on the boat, we dived for 80 minutes on this truly pristine reef, with huge pillar corals and 150-foot visibility. Large and plentiful stands of staghorn, elkhorn, brain coral, lettuce corals and all sorts of encrusting coral were the healthiest I've seen in years. And the water was full of animals: eagle rays and stingrays, sergeant majors, dusky and cocoa damsels, schools of blue and brown chromis with indigo hamlets, reticulated filefish, ocean surgeonfish, honeycomb cowfish, horse-eyed jacks and even a cero. But no big stuff, because this area is outside Roatan's marine park.

Most reefs are covered in healthy encrusting corals, staghorn and smaller branching corals that can easily get broken with diver activity. I even saw a small stand of elkhorn near the southwest end of the Front Yard's wall. Soft corals and sea fans, especially purple sea fans, were everywhere. Sandy areas around the resort and on the top of most walls had the usual inhabitants, like stingrays, peacock flounder and even yellow-headed jawfish, where I studied males incubating eggs in their mouths. Glimmering tilefish were frequent, along with trumpetfish, rosy razorfish and various blennies. And I probably encountered more seahorses here than anywhere. On one dive, an aggressive yellow-face pike blenny attacking his image in a mirror became one of my macro photo highlights for the trip.

CoCoView, Roatan - RatingIf you make five dives a day, about the only thing else you have time for is eating. The dining room, serving buffet meals, has ample seating for the resort's 80 guests. Breakfast began at 7 a.m., with scrambled eggs, omelets, pancakes or waffles, toast, sometimes breakfast tacos, always fresh fruit and fruit juice. Lunch could be tacos, do-it-yourself fajitas, French fries, and sometimes hamburgers, hot dogs and do-ityourself salads. Dinner could be anything from potato casseroles and lasagna to steak and chicken dishes, always with as many helpings as you want. On Friday evening, we had a steak and lobster dinner, and lionfish caught during the week by those who wished to hunt them were fried up for all.

Around the full-service bar, on the other side of the dining room, guitarists cranked out Elton John, Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffett songs in the evening. One night, a blues rocker who resides on the island provided several hours of high volume entertainment that even got my dive buddy (who describes herself as a "closet drummer") involved playing drums for one set.

There are other things to do in Roatan for divers and non divers, and many adventurers take zip line tours. The day before flying home, I took an island eco-tour drive, which included climbing into large motorized dugout canoes to visit old fishing villages with stilt houses. The fishing families are remnants of the old Roatan culture that reportedly go back centuries. Our guide said that the canals, cut through the mangrove forests, may be pre-Columbian.

Having only seen a glimpse of a reef shark on our dives, my buddy wanted more, so through CoCo View we signed up for the shark dive offered by Waihuka Adventure Divers out of Coxen Hole. About two miles offshore, with 15 other divers, I traveled down a line to the bottom in 100-foot visibility. Twenty six- to seven-foot Caribbean reef sharks arrived to mingle with us, and I followed the rules of keeping my hands tucked in (no flappers!) and not touching them, even when they brushed against me. Small schools of horse-eyed jacks traveled with them, as did one large black grouper that liked to be stroked. After 10 minutes, we lined up against a coral wall about 30 feet from the bait bucket as the sharks started circling the bucket. As soon as the shark feeder opened the bucket, the grouper snatched a fish and shot away like a rocket. The sharks frenzied for a minute, then slowly dispersed. Afterward, I picked up a tooth one of them had lost.

CoCo View advertises itself as "the world's favorite dive resort" and "the most respected dive operation." While some might see that as advertising hype, I sure don't. For both experienced and beginning divers, CoCo View is surely a contender for those titles, and after 40 years it's still going strong. Put this place on your bucket list.

-- D.D.

Our Undercover Diver's Bio: "I got my dive certification at the YMCA back in the 1970s, but I didn't do much diving until I moved to Los Angeles in 1990. Then I got recertified and rapidly received certificates for technical diving and rebreathers. I've been doing about 100 openwater dives a year for the last 25 years with a good local dive group, and I've dived all around the world but certainly not everywhere. I presently have more than 1,500 openwater dives under my belt and about 200 technical/ rebreather dives, although I don't do those anymore. I just like to dive."

Divers CompassDivers Compass: Nonstop flights from Atlanta (less than three hours) and Houston (about two hours) head to Roatan on Saturdays . . . Dive packages run $1,514 to $1,775 for seven days, plus 16 percent tax, and include airport transfers, three meals daily, unlimited shore diving, two two-tank boat trips, use of sea kayaks and other amenities . . . Have plenty of US$1 bills for tipping . . . October through February can have heavy rainstorms; July through October is the most at-risk time for hurricanes . . . The U.S. State Department recommends taking a malaria prophylaxis on Roatan if you're staying for longer than a week, but the likelihood of contracting malaria is small . . . CoCo View has an on-site clinic specializing in minor dive-related problems, such as Eustachian tube dysfunction . . . Roatan has a hyperbaric chamber; donate a few bucks for its care of unfortunate divers . . . And donate also to the Marine Park, which is doing a fine job of preserving the flora and fauna . . . Websites: CoCo View Resort --; Waihuka Adventure Divers --

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