September 2000 Roatan Trip Report
Text and images Copyright (C) 2000 David M. Read
All pictures are hyperlinks. Click on any picture to see a larger version.
A view from the Key at
Anthony's Key Resort.
|This trip started off as sort of a wildcat trip to Anthony's Key Resort (AKR from here on), but it
ended up being a pretty large bunch of people, some of whom were virtual friends, some of
whom were new to us. The group consisted of myself, my wife Annemarie (aka Yellow
Tail), my son Dylan, Kevin Gill (aka Blue Largo), Suzuki Richardson (aka
Spritely_Mermaid). John Easley (aka Divemaster_John), Miguel / Muga, Jim & Lori, and
Tim Schrader (aka TexasTim). We also met some other guests at AKR who spent a lot of
time with our group (Early & Chris, from Raleigh, NC). Some of the group had
been to AKR before, but most of us had not, so it was a good week of exploring &
getting to know the place.
Getting There & Back
Getting there was easier than the last time
we flew to Roatan, a trip that saw us detoured through El Salvador. This time, Taca
departed Houston more or less on time, and we arrived on Roatan within a few minutes of
schedule. The AKR staff people met us there and positively blazed us through
customs. I handed the AKR person all of my family's passports, customs papers, and
return tickets, and they handled the rest. The only thing I had to do for myself was
to grab my luggage off the carousel and move it over to a counter where the AKR people
tagged it for delivery to the resort. I did not have to talk to customs people,
endure any sort of search (not even the common "red light / green light"
system), or drag bags around the airport. The AKR staff loaded everything onto a
truck and took it to the resort, and later vectored our bags to our cabin. Wow.
The return trip to the USA was not as painless, but that was hardly the fault of AKR or
Taca. Hurricane Keith was in charge of our travel plans, and he dictated a 3+ hour
delay leaving Roatan. Oh well. Otherwise, the return flight was as easy as the
outbound leg. AKR staff collected our bags in the morning and took them to the
airport. They had already confirmed our flight and paid the departure tax (we had to
supply the cash for that, of course), and returned all of our documents & tickets to
us. All we had to do was check our bags in with Taca and wait for an airplane.
OK, note to self: do not go to Roatan in any month that ends in "ber."
Last time around it was mid-November, and the rainy season was in full force, with storms
costing us several days of diving. This time around, Hurricane Keith and his
associated weather rained on us virtually every day, and the runoff from the storms
hammered the visibility in the water.
Inside our cabin at AKR. The door on the left led to the deck; the door on the right
led to the bathroom.
The spacious shared deck of rooms 42-45
Palm trees line the walking paths on the Key.
|AKR has several different classes of rooms, including 'Hill Superior,'
'Key Superior,' and 'Key Deluxe.' We were staying in a 'Key Superior' room.
Beware: not all Key Superior rooms have air conditioning! In general that would not
have been a problem for me, but Roatan's humidity is off the end of whatever scale you
care to use, and by the end of the week I was dying for the feeling of being dry. An
air-conditioned room would also have been sealed better against the constant barrage of
Our cabana was "quant." Some would say
"rustic." The entire cabin was built from pressure-treated wood, and had a
great airy feel. The lack of air conditioning was addressed by the presence of a
large oscillating fan, along with a slatted blind system on three of the cabin's four
walls. With the blinds wide open, air flow through the room was phenomenal.
Inside the cabin, we had all the comforts of home, including running water, a shower,
AC power (120 volt, 60 cycle, just like home!), a sink, and plenty of shelving &
closet space for our stuff. Every cabin has either a private patio or at least a
patio shared with another cabin. One group of cabins on the seaward side of the
island shares a giant patio among 4 rooms.
The Key itself is a small island, maybe 100 yards in diameter, separated from
"mainland" Roatan by about 100 feet. A water taxi takes you back and forth from
Roatan to the Key, covering the channel much faster than you could walk the same distance
on land. I had feared the taxi being a pain, but it was actually pretty fast &
convenient, and after a day or so it seemed perfectly normal.
AKR's kitchen is a fantastic operation. The "usual" kitchen was under
renovation, so we ate all of our meals (except two) at the Roatan Institute for Marine
Sciences (RIMS), which is where the dolphins live. Basically, we sat in the same
location every meal, looking out over the main dolphin pens. The dolphins jumped,
splashed, and generally cavorted while we ate. Chairs that looked out over the pen
were in high demand.
The food itself was plentiful and excellent. Breakfasts were a fixed-menu sort of
deal, where you could select whatever you liked, from eggs to omelets to french toast.
I highly recommend the french toast, as they use coconut milk instead of dairy milk
in the recipe. Yum! Lunches were variable, but included cold cuts, soups,
burgers...basically what you'd expect for lunch. Dinners, on the other hand, were
clearly where the cooking staff spent their time. Every night gave us at least two main
entrees to pick from, with the ever-present option of "combo." The choices
were so appetizing that I went the combo route more often than not. Choices included
steak, roast pork, grouper (two times at least), snapper, chicken, and BBQ ribs.
Soup was a common side dish, and the soups were, as a rule, outstanding. Dessert
accompanied every dinner, and was always excellent. The "Tres Leches" cake
was my favorite, but the peach flan and key lime pie were tasty as well.
The Dive Operation
AKR's dive operation occupies quite a bit of the waterfront on the channel. The
dock has room for many boats, which is a good thing. The arrival of the first two
Pro 42 boats left the dock a bit crowded, since the dock had to serve the 2 Pro 42s as
well as the existing 4 or 5 Pro 48s and two of the older wood boats. There was also
space for smaller craft, including a small outboard boat and a ~35-foot fishing boat.
We did all but one of our dives from a Pro 42, the "Sabrina." Fast,
spacious, and well-designed, it was plenty comfortable for the 11 divers we had on board.
It had a small camera table and a small rinse bucket, both of which were insufficient for
our group (most of the dives saw 9 camera setups along for the ride!), but in an 'average'
group they would probably be OK. Entry was via giant stride off the back, between
the two aluminum ladders, and exit was via those ladders.
Our DM, Ricardo, was quite pleasant, and generally good. He was not too great at
finding stuff to show us, but he also didn't hassle us too much about dive profiles or
habits. My only complaint about the dive op was the scheduling, which I think is
driven by ignorance of computer profiles. A typical first dive was "80 feet for
30 minutes." If you're diving tables, that's a reasonable limit. However, the
reality was that we'd do 90 for 15 and then ascend slowly to the reef top, which was
usually at 15 to 20 feet. I found myself reaching the reef top 30 minutes into the
dive with 3 or 4 "green pixels" still to go on y computer, and 1500 PSI left in
my tank. At that point, I'd prefer to spend another 30 or 45 minutes before exiting,
but that wasn't the schedule. Again, Ricardo did not press us too hard to get out
early, and frequently he left us to our own devices, but I would rather see the dive op
schedule the dives to plan for this sort of dive, rather than leaving the customers and
DMs to try to shoehorn everything in to the existing schedule.
AKR only does 1-tank dives as a matter of course, although the extended trips
(Barbareta and Cayos Cochinos) run 3 tanks, and the Wednesday picnic at Tapyana Beach goes
for 2. Mostly this is OK, although a 2-tank morning would sure make more sense in terms of
scheduling and boat movement.
After our last trip, I was skeptical about Roatan diving. But so many of my
friends love the place that I was up for giving it another chance. At this point, I
have to say that I "reserve judgement" pending next summer's Big Trip. Visibility was not what I had
expected, running 50 to 60 feet on most dives, with a couple as high as 80-90 feet, and
one as low as 30 feet. There were various explanations for this, including runoff from the
rains, some strange tidal effects, etc., but all I can say is that general vis was poor,
and there was quite a bit of particulate crud in the water.
I also had a hard time with photography in Roatan's waters, although many divers
wouldn't care about this. The problem was this: the topography and coral growth, in
general, weren't too hot for wide angle work, which is my favorite style these days. There
was plenty of coral, and it all looked plenty healthy (with the exception of this strange
red algae carpeting small sections of the reef), but big coral formations and/or sponges
that reach out into blue water were hard to come by. I two days worth of diving
trying to find cool formations for WA shots, mostly without luck. The bright spot was the
presence of hawksbill turtles on a couple of our early dives. It's hard to take a
boring picture of a turtle, IMO!
Oh well, so I switched to macro. Actually, I would have been forced to switch to
macro anyway, as the battery pack for my WA strobe died. :( Macro is not my
favorite kind of work, though, and I'm not very good at it. I spent the rest of trip
hunting for macro subjects...The best part was the presence of arrow blennies, something I
knew to be present on Roatan, and a subject I had been looking forward to finding for a
while. Roatan did not disappoint, and I shot plenty of arrow blenny frames. We
also managed to see a seahorse, along with many different crabs: arow crabs, king crabs
(also known as spider crabs), neck crabs and cryptic teardrop crabs, too! Lobsters
The dolphins jumped for us!
Esteban swims by for a closeup view.
AKR is home to the Roatan Institute of Marine Sciences, or RIMS. This is good for
divers because RIMS is the home to several dolphins, and for a fee, you can dive with the
dolphins. Both my wife and I were afraid it would be a, overpriced, cheesy
experience, but we were wrong on both points.
The Dolphin afternoon started with a short meet-and-greet session in the main dolphin
pen at RIMS. We sat on a small floating platform, our legs dangling in the water,
while Sandra (the dolphin trainer) gave us a half-hour talk about dolphin anatomy,
biology, and behavior. We rubbed, petted, and kissed the dolphins (Copan, Bonnie,
and Chichi), and they did a few dolphin tricks occasionally. Copan, it turns out, is the
dolphin who appeared in the recent remake of Flipper!
Then we boarded one of the wood dive boats and went out behind the Key, a total
3-minute ride from the docks. Gearing up with scuba, we dove down to some giant sand
flats in ~50 feet of water, and started to swim around. After a few minutes, Esteban
the dolphin showed up to greet his trainer (Elrod, who was leading the dive).
Esteban swooped in from above, surprised us from behind, and generally played with the
group for most of an hour. I had a tough time photographing him, as he moved so fast
that I couldn't easily focus, recompose the shot, and trigger before he was out of the
picture. Oh well. It was fun anyway.
The normal fee for this experience is $75, but AKR has a 'happy hour' sort of deal with
a $15 discount if you do the dive on a Monday. Then we got a 50% discount because
only one dolphin showed up for the dive (they promise 2 dolphins). I'm not sure
another dolphin would have been any more fun than just the one, but it's hard to turn down
a 50% discount! At $30 apiece, the whole experience was a total bargain. It
was easily worth the $75 list price.
Dive Log Excerpts
Looking up from Fish Den.
|Dive #1: Stovall's Serenity Strange dive. Started
out near Spooky Channel, with atrocious visibility no better than 20 feet.
Then we swam west, towards AKR, and things got better. The best sights of the dive
were grouper, both yellowfin and yellowmouth, along with some big black grouper.
Also saw several indigo hamlets.
Dive #2: Fish Den Better vis,
better dive. The highlights were still grouper, the same three from the previous
dive, along with a huge nassau grouper. Many more indigo hamlets, too.
|Dive #3: Herbie's Fantasy Best dive of the day.
We saw a large turtle, some yellowhead jawfish, tons of indigo hamlets, and more.
#4: AKR Channel Night Dive! Time and I started off at the DC-3,
which was realtively boring but covered with banded coral shrimp. Then we tried to swim
back to the dock by following the terrain. The terrain must be bowl-shaped, because
we ended up giving up after ~half an hour, and surfaced--over by the Key! During the
surface swim, we swam right over an octopus, and stayed to play with him for a while.
An octopus in AKR's channel.
The strangest part of the dive was all the tiger tails, many of which were standing
straight up in the water with a thin stream of milky-white 'smoke' coming from a pore on
the end of the tail. This had to be some sort of spawning event.
A small turtle takes a nap on the reef.
One of the many pederson cleaner shrimp we saw.
|Dive #5: Peter's Place Great dive, with lots
& lots of friendly groupers, the same 4 varieties as the Fish Den dive. The
black groupers were enormous, at least 4 to 5 feet long. I didn't know grouper were
fast, but watching a big black grouper try to escape a school of bar jacks that were
swimming alongside of him convinced me otherwise.
We also saw a small (~18 inch
carapace) turtle resting on some coral rubble towards the end of the dive.
Dive #6: Over Heat Generally awesome dive, probably my favorite
so far on this trip. Started off shallow (~30 feet) and then got deep as we went
over the wall and down a ways. We found some really cool terrain along the wall,
with some overhanging coral ledges, deepwater sea fans, and more.
The top of the reef was just as much fun as the wall. We ascended through a cut
in the reef, and popped up at around 20 feet where we hung out and looked at fish,
including dozens of redband parrotfish. We also saw another turtle, more crabs, a
peacock flounder, and 2 neck crabs on a sea plume.
|Dive #7: Front Porch Dolphin Dive! Other than
swimming with Esteban, there was still plenty to see. Live conchs, several blue parrotfish
grazing the reef, a harlequin bass, some unknown puffer (possibly a bandtail) lying in the
sand, a hog fish, lots of huge snapper, and more grouper.
Esteban swims by for a visit. (Photo by Annemarie)
Everyone loves a cuddly dolphin!
The only chain moray I have seen while
carrying my camera.
One of the many arrow blennies we saw
in Roatan's waters.
One of the fairy basslets at Herbie's Place
One of Mandy's Garden Eels.
The yellow seahorse from Canyon Reef.
One of the many deepwater sea fans at Over Heat.
One of the jawfish at Pillar Coral.
|Dive #8: Four Sponges Your basic
wall-and-shoulder dive, starting out deep and ending up shallow. We started off
discovering an arrow blenny on the edge of the shoulder, but the light was poor enough
that I couldn't focus on it. Later we found a chain moray and some sort of tiny
green crab (or shrimp) on a gorgonian.
Dive #9: Melissa's Reef
Really fun shallow dive. Plenty more arrow blennies, plus more grouper, arrow
Dive #10: Michael's Place Went looking for yellowhead jawfish
in the sand, but didn't find any. Did find a lizardfish, a spotted drum, a
scorpionfish, and several cleaning stations. As usual, more giant grouper.
Dive #11: Over Heat Night Dive! And a great dive, too. We
started off descneding quickly due to a swarm of sea wasps at the surface, but nothing
else disturbed the plan. We saw a ton of stuff, including: lots of basket stars,
several beaded sea cucumbers, a scorpionfish, a large-eye toadfish, giant crabs, lots of
lobsters, a cryptic teardrop crab, etc.
My favorite part was the basket stars, which we 'fed' with our lights.
We also saw a sharptail ell and a spotted moray, but free-swimming, The sharptail eel
spun on its long axis, rolling upside-down as it swam. Very odd.
Dive #12: El Aguila El Aguila is AKR's "home wreck,"
and is way cool. It lies in three large pieces in ~110 feet of water, apparently
torn up by Hurricane Mitch. The sand around it is full of Garden Eels (no surprise),
then the reef starts climbing up to the surface. The wreck itself has plenty to entertain,
although not much fish life. There are swim-throughs galore, small caverns, and
plenty of structure to explore. The strangest sight is the bridge, lying upside-down
about 50 feet from the structure it had previously been attached to.
Dive #13: Herbie's Place Very cool dive, with the best vis of
the trip so far. Herbie's place has a true wall, crawling with gorgonians and sponges.
The top of the wall sits at ~15 feet, but then it drops vertically to what looked
like 150 or so. The wall teems with life, including arrow blennies in profusion,
fair basslets, harlequin bass, blue & brown chromis, damselfish, etc. A big
black grouper shadowed us for most of the dive.
Dive #14: West End Wall A pretty decent dive, with two morays,
a couple of scorpionfish, and hordes of the usual suspects.
Dive #15: Mandy's Eel Garden As the name suggests, the big
attraction is garden eels. The reef starts shallow but slopes off quickly to ~65
feet, where a large sand patch starts. The sand continues sloping to great depth,
but the eels start close to the reef. It's possible to photograph eels in as little
as 70 feet of water, lying in the sand.
We also found a shell of a dead hawksbill turtle lying in the sand at about 85 feet,
with a big bite missing from its rear end.
Dive #16: Canyon Reef On of my favorite dives this trip.
Any dive with sea horses or swim-throughs is OK with me, and this dive had them both. The
site is typical Roatan: shallow / shoulder / wall. We started off swimming east, and
found a large (~6-8") yellow seahorse at about 50 feet. Then we ran into
another group of divers who were heading west, so we turned around & headed west
When it was time to ascend from the deep part, we swam through a long narrow tunnel
that started at ~50 and rose to ~20. Very cool.
Dive #17: Pillar Coral Generally mediocre dive, but it did have
its moments. I found an adult spotted drum right off, as we swam down a shallow cut
in the coral. Later I found another neck crab, this one hiding in an azure vase sponge.
Ricardo located a colony of yellowhead jawfish, but none had eggs in the mouth. Chris
found a tiny moray in a hole.
The vis got really bad near the surface, perhaps as bad as 20 feet.
Dive Log Details
|West End Wall
|Mandy's Eel Garden
Last modified: October 10, 2000