‘We’re leaving tomorrow’….’No you’re not!’
And so it goes, with the great Utila lie #2 (see our first Utila blog for details!). After having so much fun with the Open Water we couldn’t wait to get back in the water for the PADI Advanced Open Water course, which lets you gain additional skills expanding your diving possibilities. You undertake five additional skills which for us included a deep dive to 30m (our previous limit with Open Water being 18m), a navigational dive, a night dive, peak performance bouyancy skills and a wreck dive.
The deep dive takes you to a slightly darker, slightly nerve wracking depth of 30m, where nitrogen narcossis (othewise known as being ‘narced‘) is a possible side effect which we got to witness first hand. Kneeling in a circle, our instructor handed us a small board with the numbers 1-20 jumbled on the back. You have to touch each number in turn then touch your nose in between, while they count how long it takes you. While Sarah was a little slower at this depth (which is normal), Matt was slower back on the boat (which our instructor found hilarious), and one of our dive buddies got so stuck on #17 he couldn’t control his ‘narked’ induced fit of giggles and in the end just proceeded to pretend he found it so the instructor would stop timing him (he later admitted he had no idea where #17 and was distracted by the fact that he felt like he’d just smoked a joint and everybody turned a little bit blue).
With the deep dive out of the way we then headed off for our navigational dive, with our instructor Sam bringing his trusty spear with him in the event we should run into some lionfish which can usually be found at these depths. While they might look pretty, these guys are invasive to the area and eat the small and baby fish, endangering the natural balance of the reefs. It’s believed they were released from home aquariums in the USA during hurricanes or the likes. Sure enough not long after Sam spears one lionfish, Sarah heads off in a random direction to do her compass swim and swims straight over one of the nasty little fellas. Directing the guys back to where it’s still happily chilling out, it wasn’t long before Sam had speared it and was now swimming along with a lionfish on each spear.
The wreck dive was next up, which takes you down to the deliberately sunken Halliburton cargo ship. Sunk in 1998 to create an artificial reef and provide a site to enable divers to gain their wreck diving qualification here, the 30m long wreck is a pretty unique dive if you’ve never done this before, and floating down into the cargo hold to peer into the darkness off the doorways and windows is pretty awesome fun.
That night it was time for something neither of us had ever thought we’d do before…the night dive. Heading out on a dive boat in the complete darkness doesn’t feel like the smartest thing to do, but once you’re out there under the stars, the engine is cut and you have your dive torch in hand, things get pretty exciting. The array of sealife that you see at night is totally different to during the day. Gone are the schools of fish set against a sunny blue background, replaced with lobsters, walls of tiny shrimp with eerily glowing red eyes, spotted eels and a small octopus who happily came out to play. We even spotted a dogfish, which you can eerily hear barking in the dark.
But all things considered, one of the funnest dives of the AOW has to be the Peak Performance Buoyancy. Now we know what you’re thinking, how can that be cooler than the wreck dive or the night dive? Suffice to say trying to swim backwards and upside down through hoops underwater, knocking over weights with your regulator whilst staying just off the ground and above all watching other people try and fail to do these same things, is absolutely hilarious.
Something that you can’t pay for which we were lucky enough to experience whilst on this course, was a chance to swim with a pod of 30+ dolphins. After an exhilarating dive at the north of the island at CJ’s drop off, a wall located on the continental shelf which seems to drop into the abyss making you feel like you’re floating above a void, we were heading to our next dive site when Captain Hoover made a random turn to the right.
Jumping up the three dive instructors on board quickly rush to the front to see what it is he’s spotted. Luckily for us we were two of only seven divers on the boat (having had between 16-22 people every other day) so everybody got a great position to watch a pod of dolphins join us and match our speed, following the boat as we slowed down. Sarah asked if we could jump in with them and Captain Hoover kindly obliged, cutting the engine and letting four of us enter the water with our snorkel gear on.
Watching a pod of dolphins dive into the depths before surfacing for air and swimming right towards you is a once in a lifetime experience you just can’t describe. Being able to hear their playful squeaks even when you can’t see them is something else, and not something we’ll quickly forget.
Feeling pretty chuffed at passing our AOW course, we set about planning to leave Utila…only to be thwarted by the rapid approach of Christmas. Faced with spending Christmas day on our own in world famous murder capital San Pedro Sula or staying in Utila for a couple more days to enjoy a full roast hog Christmas dinner and secret Santa with our new found Underwater Vision family, we chose the former. Ok we didn’t, nobody would, besides, Utila is impossible to leave. Amazingly wonderful Tammy in the office sorted us out to stay an extra two nights in our private room until the ferry’s were back up and running on Boxing Day.
After watching the Christmas Eve parade with two Santa’s on ATV’s cruising up and down the main street, we headed out to grab some cheese and biscuits (of course), our secret Santa presents and a couple of bottles of wine to contribute to the pot luck dinner. With the weather having been spectacular the entire time we were on the island, we couldn’t help thinking the man in red had put the entire island on his naughty list when the heavens opened early in the morning and refused to close for the entire day.
In fact by nightfall things had picked up to almost hurricane level, with the wind and rain soaking everybody and everything. But still the party must go on, and the determination of everybody to have a good time couldn’t be dampened by any amount of rain.
Over 40 people came together to eat, drink and be merry, and the rain finally stopped once the line up for the banquet commenced at around 9pm. Secret Santa time was a blast, with Matt’s bottle of Sambuca being quickly consumed by all in dive master Katrina’s new shot glasses, and Sarah scoring an awesome little dolphin Christmas tree decoration which we’d been hunting for but unable to find. The guys at Underwater Vision made our time here awesome, and we can’t rave highly enough about the passionate Course Director Diego, a piss funny legend and all round nice guy.
We guess getting stuck on Utila isn’t always so bad after all!
Check out more reason’s why you should come to Utila on our Flickr photo page.
We’d love to give big props to the Underwater Vision Crew and in particular Tammy Cooper (Owner), Diego Frank (Course Director), Max Griffiths, (Our Open Water Instructor), Sam Vidler (Our Instructor Open Water), Maartje Smit (Instructor), Katrina Miller (Dive Master), Kallin Wilson (Dive Master) and Mani (for his mad coffee skills).