Bay Islands Honduras Trip Report
by Nancy Barnett (aka: aviddiver.her)
http://www.aviddivers.net

09/18/2004 - 09/25/2004
Live-aboard the Bay Islands Aggressor
Overall photography friendliness:   Excellent
Camera tables/prep area:   Excellent
Camera rinse tanks:   Excellent
Charging facilities:   Excellent
Voltage:   110-120 AC
Overall Diving:   Average Caribbean


Please note: Images chosen for the trip report were chosen to complement this report.  For our  favorite images of the Bay Islands trip please see our gallery:  
Nancy's Bay Islands Gallery

The Plans Change:

We plan well in advance. Eleven months prior to departure, our friends Marilyn and Hal and we made reservations for Cayman Islands Aggressor. Unfortunately, six days before our trip, hurricane Ivan demolished Grand Cayman. From the news seeping into the internet, it was blatantly obvious Grand Cayman would not be accessible to tourists in the near future.  However, the Cayman Aggressor was undamaged so it took two more days for Aggressor to accept that they had the cancel the trip.  Aggressor agreed to transfer our trip to Bay Islands Aggressor, but because of airline connections we had to leave a day early giving us three days before departure. (That's making a really long, incredibly stressful story really short) . We flew into Roatan, Honduras to meet the Aggressor.  After loading our gear on the boat, we had lunch with the other Aggressor passengers at a nearby café. Upon talking with the couple next to us, the woman made a comment about a photo of a jaw fish with eggs. Having remembered such a photo on Digital Diver (an internet community of digital underwater photographers we frequent),  I made some inquires and discovered it was one of the other internet site regular posters (“Peaches”) and her husband!

View of the Aggressor from the Cafe
View of the Bay Islands Aggressor from the Cafe.

The Boat:

The Bay Islands Aggressor is one of the oldest ships in the Aggressor Fleet. It is 120 ft. long by 28 ft. wide. While the boat makes its own water, we needed to be a little cautious with fresh water so as not to out pace the storage and making capacity. The rooms on the main deck have a queen bed with a twin bunk over it.  Also there are two King rooms upstairs that are a little bigger and at slightly increased cost. Floor space is limited in the Queen rooms but there is a private bathroom and shower. Air-conditioning is not individually controlled but we found we could open and close the vent to control the temperature adequately. The galley is large and when we were wet sometimes so we needed a cover up at times. We found the warmest place was to sit along the wall beside the air conditioner. That way it did not blow directly on us. Dinner was seafood about every other night. They accommodate special dietary needs if you ask them in advance. The food was good according to the seafood eaters. Not being a seafood eater I found the special meals they prepared for me okay. I don’t expect a whole lot when they have to prepare something different for just a few of us. Captain Kurt, by way of a warning and apology, during the boat briefing told the 17 passengers that many guests complain that the generator and engine are noisy. To us it was rather quiet, but we are used to California live-aboards that are converted fishing boats and very noisy. Dives were done directly off of a very large comfortable swim platform on the boat's stern.  

Swim to the bow of the Aggressor
Swim to the bow of the Aggressor

The Diving:

We dove sites around Roatan, Utila and Cayos Cochinos
Quick overview of the diving:
There were usually two dives in the morning at one site, and two dives at a different site in the afternoon, then a night dive at the same afternoon site. On many dives the dive masters spent some time feeding fish and eels. We had a choice on all except one dive to follow the dive master or go on our own. We went out on our own except for a couple dives where the dive master knew where to find a specific critter. There was always one, sometimes two dive masters in the water with the 17 passengers (max. capacity 20). Most of the diving was beginner level and a few intermediate. Depths were easily kept under 100 feet. Our personal maximum was 90ft. but usually much less. Some others dove deeper especially to get right down on the wrecks. There was no significant surge and occasionally a mild current that was mostly noticeable near the surface. Several dives required a surface swim from stern to bow (120ft) to descend at the anchor line. When there was current we descended to 15 ft. and swam under the boat to the anchor.
Topography was typically flat top plateaus of varying heights. For the most part we started our dives on the sides (or walls) of the plateau and ended on the top, depending upon the depths. We saw the typical reef critters and reef formations. We saw one nurse shark, and no whale sharks (wrong season according to Capt. Kurt). Only “Peaches” saw an eagle ray. There was a rare turtle; we saw one. There were a few Moray Eels and a few other smaller types of eels. Groupers were mostly at one site over a deep wreck that were well fed by the dive masters. Other than that I saw one grouper on our last dive. Barracuda where common but not schooling in significant numbers and were rather shy.  The highlight for me was my first sea horse. We saw two this trip. We dove three wrecks.  For dive images see
our gallery: Nancy's Bay Islands Gallery. If interested there is more dive site specific information with dive images at the bottom of this report:    

The Crew:

Captain: Kurt, Steward: Randy, Cooks: Candy and Francine, Dive Masters: Nester and Eddie. Were all great. No Complaints whatsoever.

Bay Islands Crew
D.M. Eddie              Cptn. Kurt             D.M. Nester
Van Driver                Steward Randy    Cook Candy


Crew images by Scott

The Weather:

They say we had the best possible weather. It was a humid and hot 85-90 degrees but the salon and rooms had AC. Sunny every day with occasional brief thunder storms. Underwater visibility was rather poor. At times near the surface it was down to 10 feet vis. Deeper than 50 feet or so the vis improved.

Weather Image

The Side Excursions:

Mid-week there was a dusk dive in place of the night dive so we could go ashore at Utila. There was one gift shop open, two street venders and several bars. A place called the Jade Seahorse was a bar and hotel very uniquely decorated with walls of glass bottles and concrete, glass beads in concrete and beautiful tiles. Every bit of architecture was a work of art. The restrooms, both men's and women's were fascinating and well worth the half mile or so walk to the place to check out. Unfortunately after a short visit most passengers went racing back to the boat to escape the biting insects!  

The last dive day was a 2 morning dive day . Afternoon excursions were offered. Either swing through the jungle canopies on cables or take a bus tour of the island and shop a bit or stay on the boat for a massage. I got out voted 3 to 1 for fear of bug bites in the jungle so we did the bus tour. I was not disappointed however. We visited an iguana farm with hundreds of iguanas and a marine reserve with tarpon, baby turtles, lobster and conch. There were also two small white faced monkeys (not indigenous to Roatan) in a cage. Scott was allowed into the cage with the monkeys. I decided to join him to take photos of him with the monkeys. After finding his pockets empty one monkey climbed on me and tried to unzip my purse with two hands. The monkey would not have had any trouble with the zipper except I was preventing her. All the while I was trying to photograph the other monkey who was holding still. The monkey climbing on me decided she liked her image in my camera lens. Too bad the camera was not on super macro at the time. Scott managed a picture of her adoring herself.   Eventually she did get my purse unzipped , stole my chap stick and ran off. She was trying to bite the cap off and I feared she would swallow it and get sick. So, determined, I battled that monkey until I got that chap stick back. As I stepped back she rallied, jumped on me, started biting me and trying to take the chap stick back. Luckily, she did not break skin or get the chap stick back.  The shopping portion was brief and was dampened by children swarming our group in attempt to beg or swindle money.

Monkey looking into camera
Monkey by Scott

Roatan Island
Roatan Island View
Iguana
Iguana

The  Summary:

Of  six of us who compared notes,  five found the diving “okay”, but a bit bland. Keep in mind that we have all dove many other places and just prefer some of those better. Scott was the exception, he liked the diving quite well but was very disappointed with the poor visibility..  I know  many people whom return to Roatan year after year because they love it so much. Perhaps it would have excited us a bit more if the vis were better. I believe the signature dive site, Mary's Place on Roatan, would have been more dramatic with clear water. We all liked the boat and the crew very well.



The Dive Sites:

9/19/04 dives 1 and 2:   Roatan at 40 ft. Point:

Our Maximum depth 50 ft.
This is a plateau with a drop off to 90 feet.  It was loaded with critters most notably a tiny Golden eel on the first dive and a Moray Eel on the second dive who was swimming about and came within foot of my face.

Golden Eel
Golden Eel

9/19/04 dives 3 and 4: Roatan at Taviana's Wall

Our maximum depth 58 feet
This was an area of many large rock areas.  On the first dive there was a mild surface current to swim against to get to the anchor line for descent.  Here we saw our first Pedersen's Shrimp who was inside a corkscrew anemone which was also a first.  Additionally, when we crossed paths with the dive master he pointed out a Lettuce Leaf slug, again, something we had never seen before.


Lettuce Leaf Slug
Lettuce Leaf Slug

When we entered the water for our second dive we discovered the current was much stronger.  We descended diagonally under to boat swimming into the current toward the front of the boat.  Eighteen minutes into the dive we finally reached the front of the boat where we began our exploring while constantly swimming against a bit of current.  Toward the end of the dive I noticed a juvenile Spotted Drum.  We cut the dive short at 36 minutes to allow enough residual air to deal with the current at the surface if necessary.  To our surprise the surface current was now gone.

9/20/04 dive 5:  Roatan at Wreck of Aguila

Our maximum depth 86 feet but we stayed well above the wreck.
At the bow of the wreck in about 95 feet of water there several Groupers and a large Moray that are well fed by the dive masters.  The nearby reef we found un-impressive.

9/20/04 dive 6:  Roatan at Wreck of the Odyssey


Our maximum depth 71 feet.  Again, potential for deeper.
This wreck is split in half with the two pieces separated and pointing different directions.  We swam to the bow of the boat and beyond where we found a very beautiful sun drenched wall. This exquisite wall was unknown to our divemasters because they never venture off this deep wreck.

Scott at the AguilaScott over the bow
Scott at the Odyssey

Trumpet Fish
Trumpet fish at the reef near Odyssey


9/20/04 dives 7 and 8:  Roatan at Eels Garden

Our maximum depth 40 feet.  Potential for more.
This is a wall with a shallow sandy area at the top that is lined with rocks.  I spent most of this the first  feeling like  a paparazzi as I chased reef fish while  battling digital shutter lag in attempt to get their photograph.

Blue Tang with cleaners
Blue Tang with Cleaners

Freckle Face
French Angel
French Angel



   

9/20/04  dive 9 (night dive):  Roatan at Eels Garden

Our maximum depth 45 feet
Swam the rocks around  the sandy plateau.  We saw two squid and two octopuses.  While attempting to photograph one of the squid it attacked my camera's focus light while giving me a gentle tap on my shutter release finger before jetting off. . I called it a “kiss” until I discovered a tiny superficial skin tear where it had apparently scratched me with the “teeth” squid have around their suckers.

Octopus

Octopus


9/21/04 dive 10:  Utila at the wreck of the Halliburton

Our maximum depth 84 feet with a potential for deeper.
This is a flat bed wreck with a tower of rooms at one end where most of the divers spent their time.  It was a good dive for macro where many of the railings are covered with Encrusting sponge housing many tiny critters.  One notable feature of this dive is the bicycle strapped to one of the rails on the tower.  Many divers were unhappy with this dive.  I believe because there was only a small area of interest where we all spent our time.  A second dive was planned here but the passengers declared a mutiny, called a vote and demanded we move on to another site.  

Halliburton Railings
Halliburton's Railings


9/21/04 dive 11, 12 and 13:  Utila at Jack Neals

Our maximum depth 70 ft with potential for deeper
Jack Neals provided plenty of variety and room to spread out.  The divers seemed satisfied with their choice to move to this site.  There are walls and pinnaces at this site.  Here I saw my first sea horse, a Longsnout Seahorse.  We also saw a moray and pipefish along with all the usual suspects.

Sea Horse
Sea Horse

9/22/04 dive 14, 15 and 16:  Utila at Cocco's Sea Mount

Our maximum depth 69 with potential for deeper
Here there are two large flat top sea mounts side by side attached by a deep saddle unique with very large barrel sponges.  This day we dove the larger of the two mounts.  They are too large to cover both mounts on a single dive.  Cocco's was one of our favorite dives of the trip.  The first dive at this site stared out a bit bland but as we swam the perimeter of the mount we started finding more surprises.  Our only turtle of the trip, schools of Atlantic Spade fish, schools of barracuda and other larger fish.  On subsequent dives there was a nurse shark tucked under a ledge.  I also spotted my first red lipped blenny.

Barrel Sponge
Barrel Sponge

Red Lipped Blenny
Red Lipped Blenny
Turtle
Turtle at Coccos
   
                                                                               

9/22/04 dive 17: Cayos Cochinos at Toon Town

Our maximum depth 45 feet with potential for more.
This dive is known for it's profusion of Blue Bell Tunicates hence “Toon Town”.  Unfortunately, this was a dusk dive in very  murky water which wasn't ideal conditions for showing off the Blue Bells.  We never found the “wall” with nudibranchs that was described in the dive briefing.  Just a gentle slope and no nudibranchs.

Blue Bells
Blue Bells by Scott


9/23/04 dive 18 and 19:  Utila at Little Cocco's Sea Mount

Our maximum depth 67 feet with potential for more.
Today we dove the smaller of the two Cocco's Sea Mounts.  All in all another pretty dive.

Brain coral with tiny fish


9/23/04 dives 20 and 21:   Roatan at Connie's Dream

Our maximum depth 61 feet.
This site has hills with sand channels running between them.  The dive masters found us another sea horse.  There were several queen Angels and trumpet fish here.

Sea Horse      Trumpet Fish
Sea Horse
                                       Trumpet Duo

9/24/04 dives 22 and 23:   Roatan at Mary's Place

Our maximum depth 80 feet with a potential and temptation for much deeper.
This was our final day of diving.  The first of these two dives was the only one Aggressor crew required we follow the dive master.  They lead us through a dramatic, deep, narrow maze of crevices which we swam through single file.  Given the depth and narrowness in a follow-the-leader situation, we were asked not to stop thus it was difficult to take any worthwhile images at this site filled with potential.  Most of the beauty requires dives of 65+ feet.  Although we were on our own the second dive, we chose not to go deeper than 65 feet due to flying the next day.  Consequently  we were still not able to explore the potential of this beautiful site.  The visibility was poor in the shallows (less than 20 feet in places).  Visibility improved below 60 feet.  This dive would have been much better done earlier in the week and with better vis.

Barracuda
Barracuda at Mary's Place


For the best of our Bay Islands dive images see our Bay Islands Gallery:   Nancy's Bay Islands Gallery


That's about it,
Nancy  (aka: aviddiver.her)
http://www.aviddivers.net