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October 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Turquoise Bay Resort, Roatan, Honduras

an easy, pleasant getaway

from the October, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver,

Having dived Roatan regularly for many years, I was sorely disappointed on my last trip to Fantasy Island, which was rundown and awash in sewer smells (see my Undercurrent article, August 2015). I vowed this year to find a better resort. After all, I like the convenience of Roatan, the easy diving, and the stress-less week. As it turned out, my visit to Turquoise Bay went about as well as I had hoped -- which it should on this Bay Island with plenty of resorts, dive operators and American tourists.

Saturdays never start stress-less at the Roatan airport, since it's their busy day -- three other planes had arrived in the hour before ours, and with only three immigration officers working the desk, lines were long. I had sprung for a first-class ticket, since the rates were not exorbitant, so I was among the first out of the sun and inside the terminal, although the lack of a/c offered no respite. After retrieving my luggage and meeting the person waving the Turquoise Bay sign, I joined eight others traveling with Arizona dive shop owners for the 45-minute van ride to the hotel. The turquoise waters of Turquoise Bay came into view, then, as I stepped out of the van amid the lush plants and flowers on the hotel grounds, I was entranced by the lovely sweet aroma of banana plants. It would be a fine week.

Lola is one of Subway's Dive BoatsLet me begin by saying that Roatan diving is without big fish or big surprises. It's about pretty reefs and walls, tropical fish, and little effort. We were on the Northside, where the reefs and walls are a little bit deeper than on the Southside. Off the walls, you might see larger groupers and snappers in the distance, and perhaps an occasional eagle ray. While many reefs were healthy, with good coral growth, some were draped in algae, a result of many factors, including overfishing. From the resort, there is no shore diving; the reefs are too far for a surface swim after three daily boat dives.

I took my gear down to the Subway dive shop, showed my c-cards and stowed my gear in my assigned locker. It would be on the boat in the morning, set up and ready to go. I met Osman, the divemaster, a short, middle-aged man with a bald head and a perpetual smile, who was assigned to our 35-foot boat, Lola. I told him that I might need a little more TLC than usual, since I broke my wrist four months ago, and though the cast was off, I didn't want to strain it. I would need to doff my gear in the water and climb the ladder without the weight. The crew responded well. Each time I reached the ladder, one divemaster grabbed my fins, the other pulled off my weights, and I inflated my BCD and undid the buckles. The boat captain would haul up the BCD and tank, and I climbed the ladder without straining my wrist. Talk about great service!

Some three-tank dives took all day, with lunch between dives two and three. The partially covered boat, which comfortably seats about 20 divers, had no head, but it did have adequate space to store my camera (and strobes) in a dry location. One day we headed to the West End for the first dive on El Aquila wreck, where large snappers and black groupers hung around the wheelhouse. Anthony's Key Resort sunk the 230-foot cargo ship in 1997, and the next year a hurricane broke it into three pieces. It sits at 110 fsw. After checking out the nearby reef, I surfaced to fresh fruit and a bottle of water, and we headed off to Half Moon Bay reef. While poking along the reef, I heard a rumble of what I figured was a very large boat passing overhead. Upon exiting, I provided my depth, bottom time and tank PSI to Osman and then asked the boat captain about the rumble. There was no big boat, he said; it must have been a minor earthquake! Do I get a PADI Earthquake Diver Badge?

Roatan MapThen, off to lunch at Half Moon Bay restaurant, then on to Overheat Reef, where I got nice shots of several green turtles, which I rendered in B&W since my strobes had failed (batteries last only two dives). The dive day ended with more good service: we boarded a van at Anthony's Key for a ride to our hotel, while the boat took the bumpy ride back. When we arrived, my gear was already drying in the sun. By the way, the September water was 79F-81F, and I wore a 1.5mm wetsuit, but it warmed to 82F-84F, so I eventually switched to a skin.

My favorite dive, Dolphin's Den, was over a mostly a shallow, rubble area with a swim-thru, but it was covered with macro life: pike blennies, sailfin blennies, seahorse, baby pipefish, banded clinging crabs, Pederson cleaner shrimp, banded coral shrimp, spotted cleaner shrimp, a seahorse, and lots of tiny fire worms. Among the rubble were scores of big lobsters, while grunts and other tropical paraded above. I was aided in finding critters by Osman, Jr., a younger version of his father, with a full head of hair and just as eager to help. Training to become a divemaster, he was developing his chops by helping me out. He does have a knack for finding small critters.

Turquoise Bay ResortThe 26-room Turquoise Bay Hotel is pleasant, well maintained, and quite peaceful, being 15 minutes from the nearest settlement, French Harbour. My garden-view room, 04, had a beautiful view of the bay and a nice breeze, tiled floors, two full-sized beds, a good TV, a desk and chair, a large dresser, good a/c and a nice bathroom, where hot water poured from a magnificent shower head. The balcony was great for drying my stuff, since it was always sun-drenched when I returned from the diving. Wi-Fi was faster in the hotel, where the main room had a comfortable couch and chairs.

The dining room boasted a magnificent African-style painting of Honduran women, as well as a mahogany screen that covered the doors to the pool area. The pool area, replete with a tiled mosaic of horses running through the water, sported comfortable chairs and lounges adjacent to a covered patio. Before dinner, guests gathered in the bar next to the dining room, which had a good selection of wines, uncommon in Roatan. I might add that a pregnant donkey and her unborn mule's sire wander the property freely, and when I clucked at him, he wandered up to me. As I stroked his nose, he tried to nip me. So, be forewarned.

One two-tank day, we took a 90-minute boat ride to Roatan's East End and Pigeon Cay. During an easy drift dive on Morat Reef, we saw a six-foot nurse shark resting in the open, among small groupers, grunts, sergeant majors, fairy basslets and other typical reef fish. Because it is a marine sanctuary, lots of lobsters hung under ledges, and I photographed a full-grown pipefish. Our drift ended at the moored diveboat, making it an effortless dive.

Turquoise Bay Resort RatingFor the next dive, we motored to Pigeon Cay Reef, where Osman, Jr. and I found heavy string tied to a broken piece of coral, apparently used as a boat anchor. For 15 minutes I carefully I removed it from corals and gorgonians while he rolled it up into a ball. We surfaced into a rain storm, but it passed quickly. Then on to Pigeon Cay, where another Subway crew had arrived to prepare lunch: fresh grilled tuna, mahi-mahi, and grilled pork chops, along with steamed vegetables, fresh fruit, salad, and beans, topped off with a tasty cake covered with dolce-de-leche frosting. After lunch, we started wading to the boat, but the tide had come in, so I, the shortest of nine divers, had to swim the last 15 feet, to some divers' unwelcomed jibes. The boat ride home with rain threatening us on all sides was bumpy, but all in all, it was a great trip.

The Arizona divers were a bit of an unskilled bunch. Some swam vertically, their fins stirring up the bottom, which we photographers did not appreciate. One diver paid little attention to his relationship to others and twice dropped on top of me while I was setting up for a shot. He seemed to think that this was somehow my fault, though I was nearly flat on the sand both times. Several were fairly new to diving (I hope), and some always returned to the boat with as little as 300 PSI, and after shallow dives, two older divers ignored making a safety stop. Sure, you can get away with that most of the time, but even on nitrox, I'm a conservative diver, aware of the seriousness of any misstep, especially for aging divers.

Turquoise Bay ResortThe well-prepared food was plentiful. Breakfasts were fresh fruit and then fresh-made omelets, toast, jelly/jam, and cold or hot cereal. Dinners were sometimes buffet-style and sometimes made to order. One night we had steak and lobster as well as steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes. Most other nights it was a choice of chicken or pork (and sometimes fish, freshly caught) and vegetables, rice, beans, and potatoes. Usually, the meat was grilled, but once they made superb fried chicken, the least greasy I have ever eaten. Desserts ranged from ice cream to cheesy pies (not cheese cake, but somewhat similar) or cakes. I rarely eat lunch on dive trips, but the buffet lunches here measured up well to the dinner menu. By the way, one of those Arizona couples -- seems like they had just hooked up -- missed a few dinners and never made an appearance in the afternoons, either on the dive boat or beach. I guess they were shy.

I like to make annual trips to Roatan, so I expect to return to Turquoise Bay and Subway's Cadillac service. They went to places requested if the conditions were suitable. They were concerned about diver safety while ensuring a good experience for the divers. To wit: I was the only diver on one afternoon boat dive and still got the same service. I felt quite pampered, I must say. And, I suspect you will too: it's a very pleasant hotel, fine staff, good food, and a dive operator who makes it easy for you.

-- PS

Our undercover diver's bio: "I started diving in 1999 because I was sure the world would end in 2000, so I figured, 'Why not, I could only drown.' Later, I committed the heinous crime of taking up underwater photography, and, obsessed with capturing critter behavior, I've buzzed around the Caribbean, where I've made most of my very many dives (I've also dived in the Philippines). Underwater photography has helped my fish, critter and coral/sponge ID skills, so now when I'm asked, 'What is that?' I no longer have to say, 'I dunno.'"

Kosrae and Yap, MicronesiaDiver's Compass: Turquoise Bay: $1355 for a week of single occupancy, EANx, all meals and airport transfers. . . . Most people tipped the crew about $10/dive, but I tend to tip more: $100 each for the divemaster and boat captain, $80 for the guide assigned to me, $50 for dive shop personnel not on the boat, and $60 for hotel staff. . . . During my six full days, I made 16 dives, averaging a bit more than an hour each, and often returned with more than 1500 psi. . . . They offer a shark dive in 70 fsw with loads of current; the cost is $140, cash only . . . Wi-Fi can be spotty; however, it was great to edit my photos in my room or stay in touch with my family via email or Facebook. . . .horseback riding on the beach is available, and they offer a variety of trips -- "rainforest" zipline, monkey/sloth tours, etc. -- but getting to the West End takes maybe 45 minutes (too much for me, so I just dived and relaxed) . . . Any Roatan resident who violates marine sanctuary rules may participate in a program to learn a trade that supports the sanctuary; if they again violate the laws, they are jailed for ten years. The rules are helping larger animals return to the Marine Park. They accept donations. www.turquoisebayresort.com

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