FEBRUARY 1, 2015- It’s February 1 and it’s the kind of perfect Roatan weather we remembered from last year – brilliant blue skies and pleasant 80 degree heat. Yesterday it poured all day but at least it was warm enough to wander around with umbrellas and we were wearing shorts and tee shirts, not parkas and snow boots.
We grab our snorkels and fins and head down to Scuba Roatan for a refresher on the diving skills we learned last year.
Our dive master is Chip Allen, a big teddy bear of a Kentuckian with a voice as rich and soothing as Jim Beam bourbon. We review the fundamentals under the dock in Half Moon Bay where we spot a juvenile lionfish (they are an invasive species and will sting if you touch them), a big lobster and grunts. We are declared ready for open water and hop in the boat bound for Melissa’s Reef.
What a difference a year makes – or maybe it’s just Chip’s ‘Darlin’ assurances – but the fear and anxiety that gripped me for the first few dives last year is gone. I feel totally comfortable until we descend and my ears object to the pressure. I keep swallowing and moving my jaw and the pressure eases.
The reef is alive with fish – the types you might see in aquariums, such as blue tangs, parrotfish and sergeant majors and various coral types, such as barrel coral and pillar coral. Things get more exciting as Chip leads through narrow channels through the coral which puts my buoyancy skills to the test and we go to the edge of the ‘wall’ –a spectacular drop to seemingly infinity where the water is a deep, electric blue. As a fairly novice diver, I’m not to dive deeper than 60 feet and when I check my handy new dive computer after the dive, I have stayed within those parameters and gone to 58 feet.
We stick close to the reef and one of my biggest apprehensions about diving comes to life – below me is a large moray eel, about four or five feet long with a face that looks like a prehistoric dinosaur’s or that critter from Alien. If I spotted one of these slithery green things on land, it would be the stuff of nightmares. But on the reef, it’s like I’m an observer in a large, peaceful aquarium and I admire its sinewy green beauty as it glides along. As we head back to the boat, Chip points down and I have my second moray eel sighting of the day – this one is tucked into the reef and only his bright green head is poking out.
I undo my weight belt, shrug out of my BCD and hand them to boat driver Ander. We scramble back in the boat and I’m shivering in the breeze and my mouth is dry and tastes like salty brine, but I’m happy. I did it!