Roatan's First Black Water Dive

Accepting a dinner invitation while back in Washington recently took me to the home of Steve Zedekar, avid diver, photographer, and practical joker around marine environs, who with wild eyes and frantic gestures, related that on a recent trip to a chain of obscure American islands somewhere in the Pacific, he signed up and went on a Black Water dive.

“It was amazing! Dude, you gotta try it! You got the perfect platform and place on Roatan! You gotta do this, people want to! I’ll be there in a couple of months, just wait, we’ll do it together!” 

I pretty much had it figured out that night after all the arm-flapping that we were gonna give it a try, but I’m impatient and Steve wouldn’t be here until April.

Broaching the subject with fellow divers on my return to Roatan got me two very different reactions split pretty much 50/50. To paraphrase; “Gosh yeah!” and “No goshing way!” The middle ground was basically untrod.

After a week of getting supplies and with much rope measuring and splicing about the shop, we deemed ourselves ready. At 10:00 PM, just after moon set when the village of West End is slowing down and staggering home, six divers, Roatan’s first group of Black Water Divers, met at West End Divers shop to load up and head out for the dive.

Krill Ball

Krill Ball

Black Water Diving is just a bit different than our usual reef diving trips. The aim is to take advantage of the largest animal migration on the planet which occurs nightly and vertically, with marine zooplankton rising outta the depths to feed and socialize in the shallower and warmer waters nearer the surface. This is all about pelagic creatures, those which live in the water column of the open ocean without the need or benefit of bottom or hard substrate. A strange existence at best, and one populated with stranger residents.

Two miles off shore of Roatan we stop the boat and shut off the motor. The moon has set and the stars are amazing in their brightness. The stillness is only interrupted by the waves lapping against the hull suspended over the 4000 foot abyss, and the typical “Has anyone seen my other fin?” 

We drop six light weight anchors over the side spread evenly about the gunwale to a depth of 40 feet, and attach a 10 foot lanyard (leader) to the diver and the other end to a snap-link which slides up and down on the anchor line. As mentioned we are in thousands of feet of water in the middle of the night. The tethering system assures the diver will stay with the boat, and will be well within decompression limits after the one hour dive. High intensity lights are issued to each diver and they giant stride into the black. 

The apprehension that has built up over the last day and the boat ride out almost instantly vanishes upon hitting the water. The white ropes of the anchors hanging vertically give visual reference and keep vertigo at bay. The ropes and lanyards also offer the unforeseen benefit of perceived security. At all times you know just by the gentle tug of the lanyard that you are with the boat. This allows you to use all your concentration on finding and imaging the strangeness you come across.

On this night it was all about the small stuff. Different varieties of squid, larval eels, siphonophores, and many kinds of jellies were everywhere. The bio-luminescence was astounding with the lights off, and that was tried somewhat nervously. The anticipation of seeing something bigger is always with you, and you find yourself scanning the limits of your light waiting for the big ones. We were not fortunate enough to sight the big pelagic creatures like the White Tip Shark, Sailfish, Manta Ray, Marlin, Mako, and Tiger shark, but this is their home, and one day…. 

Roatan's First Black Water Divers - Mickey Charteris, Courtney Blankenship, Tom Thomson, Erica Morgan, Brett Kroos, and Andy Dixon

Roatan's First Black Water Divers - Mickey Charteris, Courtney Blankenship, Tom Thomson, Erica Morgan, Brett Kroos, and Andy Dixon

After an hour the anchors are slowly raised signaling the divers that time is up. Half the divers upon surfacing asked “Is something wrong?” and were amazed to find that an hour had passed. This dive came away with a 100% satisfaction rating from divers who get in hundreds of dives every year as professionals right here in the same water.

And, we are dealing with six requests to “Let’s do it again!”