Blue Hole Day

Ah, the day many a diver waits for when visiting Belize: Blue Hole Day. The Blue Hole is one of, if not THE, most iconic dive sites in Belize. Unlike most of the reef diving that goes on around here, the Blue Hole is a flooded cenote way out in the Lighthouse Reef. It is 1000 feet across and 150 meters deep, was made famous by Jacques Cousteau, and is now a marine reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite its fame, the Blue Hole received mixed reviews from many divers I encountered, mostly due to the fact that it is just a deep blue hole without the “prettiness” of the reef. But I’ve been diving the reef in Belize and Utila for thirty-odd dives now, so welcomed something different. I was curious what I would think but had an inkling I would dig it.
The Blue Hole, arial view. Image credit http://www.atlasobscura.com

I celebrated Blue Hole Day on Long Caye with my friends at Huracan Diving, where I stayed for a week. Upon waking up at 6am with that same “it’s my birthday!” feeling of holiday specialness, I was immediately confronted by a dilemma: my blue bikini was still wet from hanging outside in the rain. I could of course wear my dry pink bikini but that would be so off theme for Blue Hole Day! I shared my problem with Jerome and Ryan over first breakfast (more on this later) and both voted there actually was no dilemma because whatever I wore was going to get wet on the boat anyway. I took that as two votes for blue. 😛

Yay for Blue Hole Day! (note the bikini choice)
Yum… no better way to start the day than first breakfast!

Huracan Diving on Long Caye is in the unusual situation of being located very close to the Blue Hole, within the same reef in fact. Most people stay further away in Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye and must get up very early then take a two-plus hour boat ride to get to Blue Hole, usually arriving about 8am, followed by two dives at Half Moon Caye (these people always rave about). It’s a huge day trip! But at Huracan we were was just fifteen minutes away and took multiple trips to nearby Half Moon Caye on different days, so we could take it easy. We got up at a reasonable hour, had first breakfast, departed Long Caye at 7am, and were the first ones at Blue Hole by a long shot. Diving early and without crowds is always better, especially when there is silt that can be kicked up and destroy visibility. As my friend Nick would say, winning!

This is why Long Caye kicks everyone else’s butt on Blue Hole Day and diving Lighthouse Reef anytime.

Our divemaster Jerome briefed us once we anchored at the south side inside the Blue Hole. From the boat we could just barely see the reef edge that is so distinct in arial photos. We went over our dive plan with particular interest paid to going deep; to reach the stalactites we would be maxing out the depth limits for recreational diving so received reminders on maintaining neutral buoyancy at depth, ascent path and timing, the possibility of additional safety stops if needed, and awareness of possible nitrogen narcosis.

What’s inside the hole. Source: Google Images

Down we went, equalizing like normal down to the edge of the reef at about 30 feet. From there it was a sheer drop down. We regrouped, then descended into the dark blue. It was an easy sinking descent to our max depth of 43 meters, a new personal record for me. At that depth, we reached the stalactite overhang. Approaching them, my mind began to race with excitement, wondering if I was tinged with narcosis, but I slowed my breathing and calmed down. From there we saw reef sharks lazily swimming beneath us. We wove in between the stalactites, encrusted with sea life, and I knew for certain then and there I was going to adore cenote diving for sure. Happily, I did flips for the camera, perhaps a little narked out after all. (And yes, I did notice shortly after the flips that my backup second stage had come loose and fixed it…) The whole ambiance was one of adventure and otherworldliness. I loved it.

The deeper you dive the more quickly you use up your air supply, so on a deep dive you can only spend a little time down at depth then take the majority of your time slowly and safely ascending. We spent about ten minutes from jumping off the boat, descending, and swimming the stalactites before beginning our twenty-five minute ascent. On the slow way up we worked our way out of decomp, saw more reef sharks, and enjoyed the view of the blue deep. We took our normal safety stop at fifteen feet at the top reef, and all was well. As we returned to the boat and got ready to depart, a second boat just arrived from Caye Caukler was just being briefed. We were in and out before anyone else.

A little deeper than we’re *technically* supposed to go…

Another glorious thing about Blue Hole Day at Huracan? Double breakfasts! One at 6am beforehand and one at 9am upon returning. I was psyched after a great dive, quick boat ride home, hot shower, and clean clothes that continued my fashion theme. The gang gathered for second breakfast (including pancakes with nutella+chunky peanut butter for me!) and a log book debrief. We were pretty happy after a great morning of diving.

Log bookin’ it up with the gang over second breakfast.

After the adventure of the morning I took it easy for the rest of the day. To add to the happy times we had stew chicken with rice and beans for lunch! Afterwards, Ryan and I spent the afternoon kayaking, snorkelling, having fun with his new GoPro video camera, and scaring the bejesus out of Christmas tree worms and the spots off Flamingo Tongues (two of my favorite creatures!) at the shallow reef just off the coast near the Long Caye west dock. That night we ate shrimp, drank Belikin, and I finally got my first win against Ryan in Rummikub. Heart Blue Hole Day!

Happy blue diver.
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