We weren't sure we would be able to pull off the Belize trip this year due to my federal jury duty assignment but luck was on our side and I completed my two week obligation without any "drama". Our luck continued when we were able to book the trip on the Nekton Pilot for the Central Belize itinerary with only 8 other passengers. There were more crew members than passengers and it was a good group all around.
We flew out of Dallas Love Field again for this trip, through Houston and into Belize City. The only problem seemed to be actually getting out of Dallas. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 7AM and we had a connection in Houston at 9am. Due to various issues like fog in Houston, mechanical problems with the aircrafts radios and whatever else they could make up, we didn't get out of Love Field until 11AM. Boy am I glad I got up at 4:30AM for that...... To Continentals credit though they re-booked our Houston to Belize City flight at 3pm and upgraded us to first class. And to top it off our luggage even arrived with us in Belize City, what a deal!
We were greeted at the Belize City airport by Sebastian from Nekton and delivered to the Princess Hotel for a few hours before we could board the ship. We had a beer in the waterfront bar and had some dinner in the Hotel restaurant with two other quests, Denise and Mike who would be diving with us this week. After dinner we jumped in the van with the rest of the guests for our required grocery store stop and then onward to the Nekton Pilot. On board we met the crew, got the safety briefing, met the other guests, unpacked and got ready for a week of dive, dive, dive.
The Nekton Pilot and the Nekton Rorqual are basically the same ship. There are some minor differences. The decor was different although of the same variety and color scheme. The Pilot is older and (so I have been told) slower but as it had just come out of dry dock and remodeling, the age difference wasn't apparent. We ended up in the same cabin number 14 as we had on the Rorqual and there were so few people on board it was very quiet. The sun deck awning had been damaged in a wind storm and though ordered, the new one had not yet been received for this trip so it was a very sunny and hot sun deck without the shade. For some more photos of the ship click over to the photo album page.
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On this ship some of the crew had been together for years. Captain Ephey has been with Nekton for 12 years. They were every bit as great as the crew on the Rorqual. We enjoyed the programs after dinner each evening about sea life by each of the crew. Paul did a great job telling us all about Tunicates, Brad (filling in for Noelle) talked to us about Turtles, Alice gave some hints on Fish ID, SeaBass (Sebastian) handled the photo contest and Brad gave a preview of the video he had been working on all week. I know Keli talked about something but I cannot remember!!?? I must have been changing out the batteries in my flashlights getting ready for the night dive. Mike gave us the daily announcements each day at lunch and dinner as well as folding towels all the time. Christina kept our rooms in order and waited on us hand and foot at meals. Tom kept the engine room running and I did see him in the water quite frequently. Some of the crew were always available to chat with about the dive sites or help look up a particularly unusual creature. They were always interested in what you may have seen on your dive and what you thought of the site.
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The Pilots cook, Arminda, was great and the food was really good. I did forgo the desert most nights as after the freshly baked cookies every day I thought I was getting enough sugar. As with the Rorqual there was plenty of food whenever you wanted it and Arminda would make you something different if you didn't care for the evenings menu. It was nice sitting in the salon after the night dive and a shower with a beer and fresh popcorn while we reviewed the days pictures and downloaded our computer dive data. Though Bill and I would be there until 11pm or so we consistently left Alan and Jack still talking, drinking and looking at pictures. Breakfast was at 7am though I was often up in the salon earlier in order to get enough coffee before the morning dive. I'm not a big breakfast person but there always seemed to be plenty. One day Bill had several pancakes, sausages, a bowl of oatmeal and fruit. I stuck to the cinnamon toast and coffee.
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We were expecting rain as thunderstorms were forecast for the entire week but we only had one short bout of passing showers. The weather was warm (sometimes down right HOT) sunny and pleasant. The water temperatures were a little cooler with my computer registering 75 to 78 on night dives and 80 degrees on almost all day dives. I wore my 1.5mm wetsuit on the first dive and the 3/2mm on all subsequent dives. The beanie helped a lot at night even if it did look goofy. With the beanie on those night worms couldn't get in my ears, plus it was warm! Bill gets colder and wore his core warmer suit under his (greatly compressed) 3/2mm. He also wore his beanie a lot. And yes, he looked goofy too. Even in the 3/2mm wetsuit, diving with these steel 95's, neither one of us needed any weights and I had to keep air in my BCD to remain buoyant. The seas were like glass on a few days and just a little choppy on others. No currents or surge to speak of and the visibility was good on most dives. A couple of dives were a little murky near the surface but cleared up on the wall. The weather on the other side of the Atoll was pretty windy so we did a lot of dives off Long Cay and only made it to Tourneffe on the last day.
With only ten quests on a ship that would normally hold 34 we had an abundance of room. The divers were evenly split with five diving Nitrox and five diving air so even the dive deck was roomy. We managed 27 dives on this trip averaging an hour long. One day we even did 6 dives, a dawn dive, two before lunch and two more after lunch followed by a night dive. That was a long day and we decided five dives a day was enough. We gave up the dawn dives and so did the rest of the quests but managed night dives every night. Our deepest dive was 102 feet but most dives were in the 60 to 80 foot range. On one night dive we stayed around 25 feet for well over an hour and saw tons of activity. This trip put us up to 121 dives, over our goal of 100 dives in one year.
back row: Drew, Jo, Mike, Alan
front row: Denise, David, Jack, Me and Bill, Debbie
Something notable happened each day on this trip. On the first morning dive on Thursday at Long Caye Wall I spotted a good sized Octopus just sitting on a rock out in the open and directly in front of him a very large adult Spotted Drum. We didn't have the camera (of course) but were able to get Brad's attention and he captured a lot of video footage of the Octopus for the trip video. The afternoon before on Wednesday we were diving at Dolphin Pass and Bill and I were cruising along the ridge of the wall by ourselves when a big Eagle Ray came across from the deep water to check us out. He swooped around a few times slowly showing off his spots and his belly, coming very close. What an amazing sight. On Tuesday morning at Cathedral I spotted my second ever baby trunkfish. (saw one on the Cayman trip as well). I tried to get a picture but he was spooked by the time I got the camera from Bill. Then on Tuesdays night dive at Que Brada we spent quite some time watching a Sharp Tailed Eel go after, catch and eat a little fish. Dramatic sight to watch the fish bump move down inside the eel, just like a snake. He was not disturbed by an audience of our lights at all. On Monday at Aquarium we saw a large tan Nurse Shark, our only shark sighting of the trip. Also on Monday during the night dive at Long Caye Ridge I spotted a big (5-6 inch) pinkish Nudibranch that I have yet to positively identify. Paul believes it may have been a Caribbean Spanish Dancer. Sundays excitement was being attacked by a Squid on the night dive, at least we got pictures of this guy! Our last dives at Coral Gardens on Friday were full of all the usual suspects including Spotted Moray Eels, Southern Stingray, a big gray Trunkfish and a nice intermediate Spotted Drum.
Of course there was so much more but no way to put it all into words. We've been home less than a week and I'm ready to go again. Don't know where yet or exactly when but I'm sure we'll be off traipsing around somewhere soon. In the meantime please enjoy the photos by clicking on the photo tab at the top of this page. They are posted by dive site and day. If we didn't have the camera I've listed some of what we saw at that site.