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Bay Islands Aggressor IV – expectations, disappointments and surprises

In 2001, I spent a wonderful week at Anthony’s Key Resort in Roatan  and was looking to go back ever since. Picked BIA as I thought we’d dive south side of Roatan (where the best sites are located) more than once and would also get to dive around other islands. The trip overall was wonderful, but the diving part was quite disappointing as we did not make it to 2 out of 4 islands (official explanations were that it was too windy and broken moorings) and did not get to dive the south side once.

The Boat and the Crew
The reports and Undercurrent articles, that I read in preparation for the trip, were not uniformly positive, so I did not quite know what to expect, but the boat beat all expectations. It was large and spacious with enough room for 18 people to not to step on each other's toes. Cabins were roomy compared to Caribbean Explorer, although the upper bank was a bit too close to the ceiling IMO. We only used it as a shelf to store our bags, so it worked out fine

Dive deck is very well laid out with two large camera tables and a separate large camera rinse tank. As with most other liveaboards, you get a station for a week and your tank is filled right there. Unlimited Nitrox was available for $100 for the whole week and we took full advantage of that opportunity. The dive platform had two rinse showers and warm towels were available after every dive. Dining room also served as video and a slide show room.

Food was good and plenty of it with sweets after the 1st dive (brownies and cakes) and snacks after dive three. Meals varied from day to day and were never plain. Captain’s dinner on Thursday night featured steaks and lobsters.

The boat is manned by the crew of 6, including captain Charlie, Chef Jorgen and two divemasters. Everyone was very friendly and paid attention to even minor requests. Jorgen, the Chef, did his job so well that almost everyone was complaining of weight gain by the end of the week. Never got to see the DMs in action as we ended up diving by ourselves

The Diving

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The diving is from the boat, which provided unlimited diving freedom, but at the same time did not allow any drift diving. The trade off was that you got to dive the same site 2 or three times (boat only moved during lunch), which was excellent from the photography point of view as you could change the lens in between dives and do both wide angle and macro on the same site (and there were plenty of opportunities for both)

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Most sites would have deep walls, intermediate and shallow sections, so you had a choice even diving the same site. One of the sites we ended up diving five times and I was never bored.

It was too windy most of the week, and we could not reach either Cayos Cochinos or Seamounts (underwater pinnacles close to Cayos). The mooring at Jado Trader was broken, so no Guanaja either. We did one day at Utila (see below) and spent 4.5 days diving the north shore of Roatan. That and not doing Mary’s Place, were the biggest disappointments of the trip, but it since it was mostly due to Mother Nature doings, can’t really complain. The trade off? It was sunny all week – not a drop of rain

Keeping on with the sunny theme and looking on the bright side of things, we did dive both Roatan wrecks (Aguilar and the newly sunk Odyssey). Being obsessed wreck divers, buddy and I could have spent half of our dives on those 2 wrecks, but I don’t think the rest of the group would have appreciated that too much. So, just one dive on each. Luckily, Nitrox allowed for some longish bottom times

To my delight, the reef seemed to have even more cleaning stations that I remembered! Everywhere I looked there was a grouper or some other fish being cleaned by shrimps or wrasse. I was so happy to see them again. After my dives with the AKR, nothing else I dove since, not even the Red Sea, matched the amount and the variety of the cleaning stations that Roatan had. I spend some long minutes hovering in the water, watching the process and really-really wishing I had a housed camera with the good macro lens. Could not get too close enough with my Nikonos framer.

Nudibranches were plentiful and very willing to pose for my framer. Here’s lettuce sea slug
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Diving Highlights

It was a almost a given that my favorite dive of the week would be the wreck, although this was closely matched by the Channel and Taviana dives. I only saw Aguilar briefly while diving with AKR – most of our bottom time on that dive was spent around the wreck and on the wall adjacent to it. This time I could concentrate on the wreck entirely. Approaching the wreck, I did some stern shots. We then went inside and looked around a bit
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After Mitch, the wreck is in three pieces, which, IMO, made it way more "real". This is the middle part
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And then on to my favorite part, the bow
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Overall, a very exiting dive, wished I could do it again, but we had to move to my next highlight…

The Odyssey
This one is so newly sunk (fall 2002), it did not get coral growth yet and was instead covered by green algae so the viz inside it was not so good.

We went to the bow first, which was not nearly as photo friendly as the Aguilar. Then swam the length of the ship inside the cargo holds (all wide opened) and to the stern. That was a bit more interesting as it had multileveled superstructure with multiple windows and doors

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We did the whole day there and the macro life there was awesome. I called one of the sites The X-Mas Tree Capital of the World. X-mas threes were everywhere covering all available surfaces. I counted up to 15 pairs on a single brain coral. This was the first time I saw X-max tree attached to the fan. X-mas trees were not the only creatures attached to fans – lots of flamingo tongues followed suit. There were also lots of blue tunicles
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The Channel
On day 4, diving North shore of Roatan, I thought we were having the most boring dive of the trip until we got to the channel/cavern that the DM described at his dive briefing. Since we chose to dive on our own, we found the channel at exactly the same time as the rest of our group led by DM exited it and went on with their dive – that way we had it all to ourselves. We loved that place so much, we went there on the second dive and spent all dive playing with light and little fishes in there.

At the entrance, there were numerous silversides sparkling in the sunlight and creating such a surreal picture. There were some spots that were quite dark, other than the few rays of light coming from the cracks high above. And then there were spots that had so much light coming from above, you appeared to be suspended in that light - me thinks I am really going to like cave diving when I finally try it, because I just loved that dive!

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Now that I think of it, that probably was my favorite dive of the week

Taviana Bay
We dove this site three times in the middle of the week and twice again on the last day when the Captain determined we would not be able to dive Mary’s place. The site had a deeper wall ~60 to 100 ft, and a shallow seciton.

If there was any site worth diving five times (other than the wrecks and the channel of course), I would agree that this was the one. When we were gearing up for our first dive on this site, the returning divers mentioned seeing couple of turtles and little stingrays. I noted where they have been seen and we headed in that direction. I kept looking for a turtle and not finding anything. Then saw a couple of French angels and decided to take a picture. As I approached, one started swimming away and I followed. Guess where it led me – directly to the turtle. From my angle of view it appeared that the fish was kissing the turtle. Have a picture to prove it too ;-)) – not the best quality

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Night Dives
Roatan is truly one of the best places to take macro pictures, and the night time is the best time to do so. I cherish every minute of every night dive for the feeling of peace and solitude that I envelops me as I dive. I like being away from all the people and their lights – my model light provides all the light I need and lets me concentrate on finding small things.
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Scary Encounters
On another dive at Taviana site, once I ran out of film, I had seen the largest barracuda I’ve ever seen so far – he was my size and going in circles around me. First time I felt a bit uneasy underwater and kind of trying to stay closer to my buddy

But the honor of scariest encounter of the week goes to my boyfriend. While we were exploring the shallow site one afternoon (20-30ft), he noticed the old rusty wreckage sticking out of the water almost on top of shallow wall that separated deeper water from the lagoon and decided to get to it to snap some picas. At the same time, on our first dive on that site, I noticed half dead piece of coral that served as an apartment building for numerous tiny blennies and was determined to get to it with a 1:1 framer. With the site being shallow and the boat being right there, we decided to split up. Tom went to see if he could find a channel in the wall to get some pics of the wreckage and I went looking for that piece of coral.

My dive was very productive as the roll of film spent on that coral resulted in few cute blenny portraits (below one was cropped from a larger frame)
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Having shot my roll I was coming back to boat when I ran into one person from the group who was looking around in somewhat concerned way. Than I ran into my boyfriend who made a shark sign and pointed to his chest – I got the story when we got back into the boat

Tom found shallow channel leading to the wreckage and, having taken few pics, was going back into the blue water swimming on the surface trying to avoid the razor sharp edges of the dead reef. Suddenly, about 20 feet from him he saw a large shark that was charging straight at him and was demonstrating all the movements that sharks do when they see a nice lunch in front of them. He realized that floating at the surface he looked like a big turtle and that shark would not come this shallow unless he wanted to eat. In the next instant he blew the air out of his BC and descended to the bottom. Few seconds passed, the shark got within about 15 ft of him and them turned around and left. I guess Tom was quite surprised by this encounter, to put it mildly, since he did not take a picture.

Once on the boat we looked in the books to see which one it was – bull shark. Captain said that the bull shark in that area was an extremely rare event.

Only about 6 people from 18 person team decided to do a night dive on that site… and even then we stayed right under the boat and never shut down our strobe lights

Last Dive
Since by the time of our last dive, we did the shallow part of Taviana 4 times, we decided to dive the deeper wall as I wanted to do some WA shots.
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I have done a few shots and was swimming along with the last 3 frames left playing the trip back in my mind and thinking that I really wished I saw a ray that trip. The next second I glanced into the blue water and guess who was there – a spotted eagle ray, flying gracefully through the blue water. My underwater wishes were never answered as promptly before

I went into the blue like crazy, but did not really have to as the ray came closer to us. I took couple of shots before realizing I had wrong settings. I slowed down to change the settings and the ray slowed down as well to let me catch up.

That was the perfect end of the wonderful trip
- too bad the ray pics did not quite turn out.

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