Saturday, February 20, 2010
The Belize Trip Day 5 - August 5, 2009: The Blue Hole
Since nothing particularly eventful happened on Day 4, I figured I would skip right over to Day 5, for our dive to the world famous Blue Hole. During the last Ice Age, when sea levels were lower, the Blue Hole was a cave complex. With the end of the Ice Age, sea levels rose and the cave structure collapsed and filled with sea water to a depth of some 480 feet. Consequently, seen from above, the Blue Hole looks like a dark blue dot in the Caribbean Sea surrounded by a coral atoll.
The early part of the morning was spent getting to the Blue Hole. In the photo above, Captain James and First Mate Marnie stand near the front of the Sundancer II leading the way like proper ship officers.
In this photo, the Sundancer II is just starting to enter the Blue Hole. You can make out the darker water in the middle and part of the surrounding atoll in the background. Below is a closeup of part of the atoll.
For me, the Blue Hole was going to be my most exciting dive yet because I would be descending deeper than I ever had before, to a depth of some 145 feet. The reason for diving to such a depth is because that is where the large stalactites from the old cave complex that once existed, and which form the main attraction for the Blue Hole, are to be found.
Most of the passengers participated in the dive. One of the older men refused to go because he had been there before. In fact, he had even objected to having the Blue Hole on the itinerary at all, claiming that there was really nothing to see there. Tara did not go either. Though her confidence under the water was starting to improve and she did not have any more mask flooding incidents, she felt she was not ready to dive to such a depth. However, she continued to improve markedly for the remainder of the trip, and I think given a few more days she could have handled the Blue Hole. The crew members who would be accompanying us on the dive were Marnie and John.
So, one by one, we did our giant strides in the water. If memory serves, I was the last to go in. As I submerged, I looked down and saw the rest of the group descending below me. Within a couple of minutes, I hit the thermocline and for the first time on the trip, I felt cold underwater. It took a moment for me to adjust to it. As we continued to descend, it grew darker and darker. We all had our underwater flash lights on, and we trained our beams on the walls as we continued on down.
After a few minutes, I can't remember how long, we reached 145 feet and saw the stalactites. There were two really large ones hanging from an outcrop. I swam up close to them and noted the tiny shells embedded in them. Below us, the hole would continue for another 340 feet or so. From what I was told, by Marnie I think, the water at the bottom of the hole was like a toxic slurry. The hole itself was slowly filling up from sediment that has been and continues to settle on the bottom, until one day it will eventually be filled up.
We spent about three minutes at our maximum depth and then we began to make our ascent to the surface. When we hit the thermocline on the way up, it was like suddenly entering a warm bath. It felt really good.
Before we could return to the Sundancer II, we had to do two safety stops instead of the usual one because of the depth we were at. The first stop, if I recall, was at about 25 feet, where we rested on a sandy portion of the atoll. Because it was a 5 minute safety stop instead of the usual 3 minutes, it felt like an eternity to me. I was a bit anxious about running low on air and I kept monitoring my air supply on my LPG while making a conscious effort to breathe very slowly. At one point, I tried making a smiley face in the sand to help pass the time, but it quickly dissipated. After the 5 minutes passed, we ascended a bit further, to 15 feet, for our second safety stop for 3 minutes. We had to hover in the water instead of using the Sundancer's hang bar, because the boat needed to be in the open water so that the hang bar would not damage the atoll or get stuck.
When I finally boarded the boat again, I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I had successfully dove deeper than I ever had before. I still had to the buoyancy part of the Advanced Open Water course the next day. But my confidence in myself had grown and I knew I could handle it.
However, had I known that there was a possibility that there could be sharks in the Blue Hole, I might have felt a lot more nervous about going in there. Below is a short Youtube video that gives you an idea of what the Blue Hole is like if you have never been there. The diver who shot the video got some footage of sharks. What Larry told me was that sometimes sharks enter the Blue Hole during high tide and then get stuck in there during low tide, so they swim around in circles near the surface until the tide gets high enough for them to escape. Luckily, there were none in there on our excursion. While I was eager to see sharks during my dives, the Blue Hole, being a relatively enclosed place, was not the sort of venue where I would want to be in close proximity to them.