Day 62: Utila

Utila Travel Blog

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buddy check
 

In hindsight maybe we shouldn't have gone to that beach party last night. Not that it wasn't fun, on the contrary, but the beers we'd had there had been the proverbial last straw. After all my criticism towards the irresponsible partying going on at Cross Creek, I had made the same mistake and had to pay the price now, as I felt I was not fit enough to dive today.

The best remedy to dehydration is water, and purified water is sold by the gallon on this island. By the time I got to the diving school I had finished my first gallon and was starting my next. It did cause that I had to pee every five minutes (not really beneficial to diving either) but at least my hangover was waning.

Ken on the other hand was in far worse shape than I was.

taking the plunge
It is common knowledge that the Irish know how to drink, but the morning after is significantly less legendary. Boy was he struggling.


The water did wonders though, and an hour later both of us felt top fit again. Today we would be doing the three dives we had chosen as introduction to the various other PADI courses that exist. So you could choose from a deep dive, a wreck dive, dive photography, naturalisation (in other words, take an encyclopaedia down with you and identify the fish you see) or a night dive.

Right in front of the coast of Utila lies a wreck at 30 metres depth, which we could visit as both a deep dive and wreck dive. So we did a nice two-in-one here.

all ok


The wreck, the HSS Halliburton, was sunk six years earlier for the sole purpose of diving (diving is big business here). In the six years that the ship has been at the bottom some coral has started to grow on the deck, and several large crabs and fish have found a new home in the ship's cabin and hold.


The biggest disadvantage I have with diving are my ears. I have always had trouble with my ears in planes, and for that reason I always averted diving because I thought I wouldn't be able to do it with my ears. Well, by now I know I can dive, but equalising my ears takes a lot longer than with most people. The pressure doubles in the first ten metres, and it is this ten metres that trouble me the most.

ready to go
On average it takes me 5 to 8 minutes to descend to 10 metres, whereas most people can descend to 10 metres in less than 2 minutes. Not to worry though, I have adapted my diving and during those first 10 minutes I always make sure I hover above the others and follow their bubbles.

However, when you are doing a vertical descend to 30 metres, this can be less fun for the others. It took me a lot of effort to descend down to the wreck (undoubtedly last night's drinking also contributed to my troubles) and in total it took me 17 minutes to get down to the bottom. Officially you are not supposed to stay at such depth for more than 20 minutes, but as I had spent a long time hovering at 15 metres, I could stay a little longer at the bottom. (A dive computer would have been great at this moment, as I had a lot of problems keeping my head clear to calculate the time I could spend down here).

diving in Utila

At depths like these other factors come at play as well. The amount of nitrogen in your body increases, which has an anaesthetic effect. Another word for nitrogen is laughing gas, so you can imagine how you feel when you get 'the bends'. Normally you don't experience the effects of nitrogen until you go deeper than 30 metres, but some people do get the bends at shallower depths.

To demonstrate the effects of the nitrogen Tim wanted us to do some simple maths at the bottom, and see how long it would take us to solve it. When I arrived at the bottom I saw Ken writing on an underwater writing pad like crazy. However, when I received the sum in front of me, I didn't want to do it. I was in a bad mood because it had taken me such a long time to descend, and I didn't want to waste any more time with a stupid test.

Nice little video of the Halliburton dive I found on Youtube. Didn't get to hear any Peter Gabriel on my dive though :-)
And besides, I simply couldn't remember just how you calculate the multiplication of 461 times 12528. For Tim this was proof I was suffering from nitrogen narcosis, but I persisted that I simply wasn't in the mood for tests. However, I did definitely notice how it is more difficult to think clearly at such a depth.


But the wreck, that was just fantastic. It was like the opening scene of Titanic, a silhouette of a ship against the blue background, with coral and anemones growing on the deck. On the deck we also encountered a bicycle, which was locked to the handrail. I had a vision of Amsterdam, but later I heard the real story behind the bicycle. Apparently Nord, the Honduran captain of the diving boat of the BICD, had once bought a bike and after a week he was very dissatisfied with it. When he couldn't sell it, he took it with him during one of the dives and attached it to the ship. Now the bike too is covered in tiny plants and anemones, and soon it will be part of the reef.


The second dive we did was a multi-level dive. The idea behind such a dive is that instead of diving to one depth, you plan your dive ahead with several depths, by which you can increase your total underwater time. The basic rule is the deeper you dive, the less time you can spend at the bottom. The maximum time you can spend at 30 metres is 20 minutes, however, if you only spend 15 minutes at this depth, and you then ascend to 15 metres, you can spend up to half an hour at this depth before having to worry about decompression sickness.

These days a diving computer is standard equipment for a diver, but if you don't have a computer, then you can calculate your maximum underwater time manually, by using a special planner wheel. The one we used was much more accurate than the standard diving slate which is part of the standard open water course, but for some reason PADI still refuses to change this.


Actually, the wreck dive we had just done had also been multi-level (starting at 30 metres to circle the ship's hull, then up to the main deck at 22 metres, and then the bridge at 17 metres) so we got plenty of practice to calculate the nitrogen residue in our blood and plan our next dive.

The dive itself was not much different than most dives we had done, with the exception being that Ken and I had to keep an eye on the depths and times, in order to stick to our dive plan. It was a wonderful dive, with lots of fish this time.


In the evening we had the last dive of our course, a night dive. Just like the multi-level dive this is the one dive most people choose for their advanced open water course. A separate night dive is usually much more expensive than a normal dive, so all the more reason to include it in the course. The downside of such a popular dive was that there were five more people joining us. So far Ken and I had done all our dives together with an instructor, which was really lucky as a normal diving class consists of 4 people to an instructor. And now all of a sudden there were seven of us with one instructor!

During a night dive you don't see as much, as it is completely dark, so you swim much closer to each other than during a normal day dive, which caused us bumping into each other all the time. Every time the instructor (Tim had already done 4 dives today, so he had let another instructor lead this dive) pointed at a fish or another animal, everybody was so busy bumping into each other that it had disappeared before anyone had actually seen it.

I didn't like it. At one point I had my nose in someone's fin, so I went back a little, only to find my fins nearly kicking off someone else's mask. So I tried to go up a little, only to find someone else was there already. This really ruined the experience for me, which was a pity, because at night the ocean looks so different. All of a sudden there is fluorescent coral, glowing fish, and a lot of animals you don't see very often during the day, like the infamous Moray eel, or an octopus. Especially the latter was really cool, as it was just huge.


So in the end I was glad to have done it, but if I would ever do a night dive again, I would make sure there isn't such a big group.

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buddy check
buddy check
taking the plunge
taking the plunge
all ok
all ok
ready to go
ready to go
diving in Utila
diving in Utila
Nice little video of the Hallibur…
Utila
photo by: Yoshu