It's like they were made for each other...
Previously we have chronicled our new compressor and the fact that we have dedicated it to filling scuba tanks with Nitrox. (For those of you who are going to learn all about scuba diving, and diving with nitrox on your upcoming trip here to Roatan, Nitrox is an air mixture that has 11% more oxygen in it than normal, and it's all covered in that class you are anticipating.)
Well outta the blue Bugs comes up with "How about a staff nitrox dive at the point Saturday?" After the general astonishment wore off, the roster filled and eight of us were on the board.
"The Point", or "Texas" is a large area of about 300 acres just off the western most tip of Roatan that is generally considered to be "The" dive site in these parts. The island seems to slowly sink into the abyss as it extends westward underwater. Currents running down either side of the island converge and sweep across the area, scouring some parts while providing nutrient rich waters to other areas which encourages phenomenal growth of sponges and coral. Converging currents also attract larger schooling fish like Permit and Jacks along with groupers, snappers, and barracuda. Nassau groupers, and the oceanic triggerfish use this area as a rookery, and it is said that if you wanna see a Hammerhead shark, this is the place early in the morning.
It is as if the dive site Texas and Nitrox were made for each other. Nitrox gives us the ability to extend our bottom times far beyond those of normal air. This site is a contour sort of dive in as much as we follow the contour of the island at around 80 feet deep (24,000 mm!) where there is some amazing stuff to see, and it is just a cool dive. At 80 feet deep while breathing air we can stay at depth for 24 minutes before we are obligated to start ascending. Switch your breathing gas to 32% Nitrox and you can stay down at our most beautiful dive location almost twice as long at 43 minutes!
This dive finds me paired up with one of my frequent dive buddies over the last 8 years, the legend himself, Mickey Charteris. Given the clout Mickey has with the brass at the dive shop, and the fact that I also have high friends in places, the silver-tongued devil has finagled to have the two of us dropped off at the spot where the dive is usually coming to an end. We gear up, jump in and listen to the boat take off as we descend.
I have dove here a lot, and Mickey is actually the discoverer, and has the dubious honor of providing the site its name. The story goes something like this; during a dive with a DMT way back in "the day" Mickey and his dive buddy got caught in a current and were blown across our now favorite dive-site. Mickey, a South African, raised on the largest continent on the planet, home to the top 5 Big game animals, location of the world's largest desert, and the origins of mankind, surfaced to exclaim "Everything's bigger here, just like Texas!"
Our dive starts just west of "The Big Sponge". If you haven't been there, you must because this is so aptly named. It is a giant barrel sponge perhaps five feet in diameter and over six feet tall, and it is the sponge to which all others are compared. Age estimates put it far in excess of a millennia, and upon observation there can only be one thought; "That's a Big Sponge". This is also the area where "air" divers start to run out of bottom time, and typically near the end of the Texas dive.
However this is the start of our dive, and we find ourselves someplace we have not been before. We proceed northwesterly through virgin territory for us. This area normally sees a lot of current, in some areas the tube and barrel sponges grow almost horizontally like alpine trees on a windswept ridge. The current brings nutrients and we come across five more barrel sponges of notable size and everything is just ...bigger.
To our surprise we find an area occupied by sargassum trigger fish, arguably the sexiest fish in the ocean. A very finicky fish, it must have coral heads spaced just so on white sand valleys to even consider residence. Previously thought to only be in one spot a hundred yards away, we seem to have found a second population which will bear further observation.
We swim along walls 30 feet tall bordering valleys bisecting the site laterally as the bottom progressively gets deeper, this is all new to us, and we end up on what appears to be the end of the island. We are at about 100 feet deep on top of a cliff with a spectacular view overlooking the black abyss.
Even with Nitrox a tank only holds so much air and surface we must, but we know we have left a lot of unexplored area behind. We are definitely gonna have to figure out how to talk Bugs into this again.