February, 2011 Utila Trip Report
Boy there is nothing like 20 inches of snow to take me right back to my last dive trip, so I guess this is a good time to put this month’s newsletter out. Last month, Team Manta left the sub zero Wisconsin weather for the sunny warmth of Utila in Honduras. We had a phenomenal time with horseback riding, cave exploration, and of course, diving.
If you are a regular newsletter reader, you know that Utila is one of the Bay Islands of Honduras in Central America. We were able to make it to the island in three hops, Chicago to Atlanta, Atlanta to Roatan, and finally Roatan to Utila in a very tiny plane. As this was the first time diving in Utila for our group, we were very happy to discover that Utila does not have nearly the no-see-um population that we have come to dread when on Roatan or Guanaja.
Mike and I were busy with lots of teaching. Kathryn Elliott completed her open water certification while on the trip, and in addition, along with her husband, Chris, she earned the SDI Advanced Adventure diver certification. Jerry and Sheryl Brandes completed their SDI Advanced diver certification, earning specialties in Marine Ecosystems, Deep diver, and Night diver. Congratulations to all of them.
Utila Lodge, an all inclusive dive resort, has 8 double occupancy rooms that are literally over the water. Each night we were lulled to sleep with the gentle splashing of water at the shore. Each morning, fresh brewed coffee was brought to our rooms so before heading to breakfast we would sit and gaze out at the beautiful ocean, sunrise bouncing off the waves, inviting us to jump in and commune with her denizens. The lodge offered a varied menu, including omelets to order each morning and a selection of native and American favorites for lunch and dinner. Water and iced tea were available 24/7. The bar, ably (wo)manned by Queen Ann, was fully stocked and offered daily drink specials. On Friday night the lodge hosted karaoke night, drawing in a talented group of local singers. Team Manta was well represented by Phil Hardin, Neal Skrenes, Kathryn Elliott and Boomer Bain. We learned that country music is quite popular on the island!
We had exclusive use of Utila Lodge’s spacious dive boat and our divemaster, Josh and boat captain, Willie were very accommodating to the divers in our group who need extra help with gear and getting in and out of the boat. The dives were usually 50-60ft max depth, but divers were able to go deeper, or shallower as was their preference on the sloping reef. The boat was usually moored in 30-40ft of water, allowing us to make extra long and interesting safety stops. I especially liked to see some of the more unusual or uncommon creatures and fish, such as sea horse, cryptic teardrop crab, leopard toadfish, upside down jellyfish, and some especially beautiful (if not all that uncommon) blue bell tunicates. One morning, our dive boat was accompanied by a large pod of spinner dolphins. They swam right up to the boat, drafted off the bow and then swam out a ways to wow us by leaping out to the water in synchronized groups. Two night dives were included in our package, the second one, to “Moon Hole” was spectacular. This site was a 40ft sand bottom surrounded by a ring of coral. Josh pointed out many nocturnal fish, such a small mushroom scorpoinfish and a very photogenic octopus.
We attended a presentation about the whale sharks, but alas, we didn’t see any this trip. When the weather is cooperative, they can take you out to look for “boils” in the water, a sign that whale sharks are in the area, feeding. If they are lucky enough to spot one, guests are allowed to jump out with snorkeling gear for a closer look.
Some in our group took advantage of an afternoon off to do some island touring on horseback. The guide, Sterling, was a first rate naturalist, identifying many of the native fauna and explaining their medicinal uses. A sidebar to this trip was a cave tour, with added commentary by Team Manta’s own geologist, Boomer Bain. The cave had many examples of a formation called “dragon’s teeth.” We even got to swim in an underground pool.
If you are looking for a casual, friendly place to spend a week relaxing and diving, Utila Lodge is your ticket. We packed many adventures into our week at Utila Lodge, yet managed to return to the frozen tundra renewed and refreshed. Besides, we have a lot of great memories to sustain us until our next adventure.
In Other News..................
For More pictures from Utila, check out this Youtube video.
Get into underwater video. Manta Divers has a great deal on cameras and housings. Check out the Snapper