…In Which Jan Gets Over Her Fear of Diving

Barefoot Cay Marina
Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras

Yesterday we got company in the marina, a 47-foot Nordhavn, that Ole was dying to get aboard. Looking more like a little ship than a pleasure boat, it’s a real ocean-going trawler as opposed to our DeFever, which is billed as a coastal offshore cruiser. They’ve got dogged doors, lexan windows, bolt-down hatches, no loose furniture or knick-knacks, an engine room that looks like an operating theater, and a range of 3000 nautical miles. We’ve got comfortable sliding doors and windows, a real couch and chairs, all kinds of stuff that can fly around our salon and engine room in a real good blow, and maybe a 750-mile range.

Ole discovered that this Nordhavn, “Strickly for Fun”, had been one of the boats involved in a trans-Atlantic rally that Nordhavn sponsored a couple of years ago, written up in Passagemaker Magazine in 2004. She spent three seasons in the Mediterranean, returning trans-Atlantic to their home in Florida. He met the owner, Scott, and invited him, his wife Terri, and their friend Janet over for cocktails and a chat, after they graciously gave us a tour of their boat. So we spent yesterday cleaning and vacuuming, but truthfully, there’s no way this boat compares to theirs. Definitely apples and oranges. They’re also heading south toward Panama, with the end goal of the Galapagos. We discussed the possibility of cruising together toward the Vivorillos Cays when the weather opens up.

After a couple of days of clouds, wind, and passing squalls, today turned out to be one of those Caribbean days we thought about when we first started talking about this trip. A brief chat with Vincenzo next door got me a one-on-one scuba refresher course, and a once-in-a-lifetime dive off the wall on the south side of the island with just one other person.

As a water child by nature, I always thought I’d be a natural for scuba, and last year when I got certified, I was surprised at how uncomfortable it made me. Twice during the pool portion of my class, I inadvertently found out how much water human lungs can hold. The first set of my checkout dives were in a freshwater lake with a mud bottom, on a day when the air temperature was 68°, the water temperature was 63°, it was raining and so murky under water I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. The second checkout dives were off Pompano Beach, in 3-5 foot seas and 20 knots of wind, when getting on and off the boat was downright scary with 75 pounds of gear on. And in retrospect, I wasn’t properly weighted: the instructor, a bit flighty for my taste, had to pull on me to get me to descend, and on the ascent I just shot upward and failed to make a safety stop I never dove again after last December, and didn’t know if I wanted to.

I explained to Vincenzo my concerns about lack of confidence and difficulty with descent and buoyancy, and fear about the “remove and replace the mask” exercise. Working one-on-one with me, he was the very soul of focus and patience, and I performed all of the necessary skills just fine – even taking off the mask and putting it back on with my eyes open. (I know you divers reading this will probably think I’m a weenie –just call me Oscar Meyer). For the dive we were joined by a young Honduran doctor named Sunny – all 85 pounds of her – who was also a beginner.

Vince took us just a few hundred yards out from the marina to a place where the shelf drops from 40 to about 2000 feet deep, and in a spectacular 47 minutes of bottom time, Vince led us at an easy glide, showing us three distinct ecological zones. First was a garden of what he called “laminate” coral, which almost reminded me of the basalt flows of the Columbia basin, but in living color, with the coral forming literal waves, one growth upon other. Then we dropped down and drifted along the wall, where fire coral, sea fans, sponges, the odd crab and lobster, parrotfish, damselfish, angelfish, wrasses, snappers, and just about everything else in my “Snorkeler’s Guide to Reef Fishes of the Caribbean” showed up. The visibility wasn’t terrific – maybe just 50 to 60 feet – but just enough to get vertigo looking down at the blackness of 2000 feet then get comfort from the screaming oranges, purples, blues, greens and yellows of the wall. The last part of the dive was through a forest of colorful sea fans close enough to the surface to be affected by the wave action, hundreds of them bowing and rising in rhythm. The sea fan garden also had sponges impossible in size – three feet in diameter at least – many of them sheltering lobsters and crabs.

I declared the dive a success, and my confidence level raised by at least 100%. It just didn’t seem right to be in Roatan, one of the finest dive sites in the world, moored next to a boatful of scuba instructors, and not take advantage. I’m so thankful Ole encouraged me to do it! And if you’re ever in Roatan, look up Barefoot Divers and ask for Vincenzo!

We decided our weather window for the 185-mile crossing to the Vivorillos is tomorrow, so we’ll be taking off, joined by Strickly for Fun and a big Beneteau sailboat called Ketel Up, at 6:00 in the morning.

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