Monday, February 27, 2017

Sailing and Scuba Diving in the Bay Islands: Roatan, Guanaja, and Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

Leaving the harbour at Parrot Tree Beach Resort, Roatan, aboard Zeppelin, towing the dive tender

In 2009 Wayne and Elly Smith of Vancouver, B.C. decided to take Zeppelin, their beautiful custom built fifty foot sailboat and home for the past decade, on an adventure, which culminated in their launching their Roatan-based liveaboard business: Zeppelin Dive and Sail. (For non-divers, liveaboards are dive boats on which guests live for the duration of their dive holiday.)

Zeppelin with her kayak (mounted on the boat when in transit)

While my husband and I had stayed and dived on liveaboards, our twelve year old son had not, yet, and none of us had ever lived on a sailboat, so we were really excited about this trip. Oddly enough, even weeks after returning from the trip, all I have to do is look at all my photos to start feeling the constant sway of the boat beneath my feet. So weird.

It was my intention this trip to focus on above-water photography (in light of my lack of a decent underwater system, happily solved in time for the next trip -- stay tuned!), so not a lot of underwater pics to share here. And not a lot of words, this time, either, as I would be hard pressed to do justice to the trip by writing about it. I am going to let the pictures tell the story. (How original, for a photographer!)

We started off at the marina at Parrot Tree Beach Resort (see above), Roatan, where Zeppelin moors between expeditions, and spent the next week sailing around the Bay islands, mooring at the islands of Guanaja, Cayos Cochinos and finally back at Roatan.

Elly captaining Zeppelin

Father and son almost Titanic moment

This expedition represented the initial training voyage for experienced divemaster but new to Zeppelin, Cristina, originally from France but most recently from Nicaragua. 

Wayne teaches Zeppelin's newest crew member, divemaster Cristina, to sail

Once Zeppelin was moored we would take the dive tender to the various dive and snorkel sites. 

Zeppelin's dive tender

Diving at Guanaja. Wayne and Elly take photos throughout the week and give them to their guests at the end. I am finally, actually, in some family trip photos thanks to them! 

Fish, coral, and another family photo, bottom right, compliments of Wayne and Elly.

Wayne expounding (left). Post-dive pre-dinner snacks (right).

New Year's Eve 2016 aboard Zeppelin

Many of our meals were served on deck. Of course, on New Year's Eve we had champagne. This was actually before dinner. I don't think we ever stayed up anywhere near until midnight and New Year's Eve was no exception. Breakfasts (my favourite meal of the day) always started with fresh fruit, then a healthy home baked chocolate chip breakfast cookie and coffee, followed by a different restaurant-worthy dish each day made by Elly (with assistance from Cristina) in the galley.

Gourmet breakfast on board, by chef Elly

One of the few times we chose to set foot on land, we went out for dinner on the island of Guanaja at Mi Casa Too! nestled on a perch at the top of a long, steep-ish path from the harbour, but so worth the walk. Unlike our experience at the cute Cantina we ate at our first day on Roatan, the fish guy did show up here with his daily delivery so we all had delicious meals.

Mi Casa Too! on the island of Guanaja. On the porch, a Christmas tree made of wine bottles!
Owner Shawn takes our orders.

Next day it was back out on deck with a hook and line for our son. An avid fisherman, he was absolutely committed to catching the biggest fish possible during this trip. To this end Wayne had procured a reel and tackle for him to use. Every chance he got he had a line in the water, except at Cayos Cochinos which is a protected marine park. Unfortunately, the one really big one he hooked while trolling got away. Ultimately, he did catch one small grunt. And now we know why they're called grunts. (It grunted.)

Fishing from the deck (left), and heading off to snorkle (right)

In between dives, while Wayne was off getting tanks filled or taking care of other business, there were lots of opportunities to snorkle. Father and son have been known to snorkle for hours. On the occasion pictured above, they were gone so long that Wayne finally decided to retrieve them and the kayak with the dive tender. This was the day they were planning to do their first night dive of the trip (our son's first ever), and they needed to get to the site before the sun set. I found it surprising that they could be so absorbed in what they were doing that they didn't  notice the decreasing light, or their (I have to assume) decreasing temperatures.

Luckily they did get themselves sorted out just in time, and managed to get to the dive site with just enough light left to see what they were doing before they descended. 

Instructions from Wayne before first night dive ever

Heading off to the night dive site. They need to get there before the sun sets.

The tender approaches the night dive site at Cayos Cochinos

There is now apparently one thing our son likes even more than fishing, and that is night diving. He was positively vibrating upon his return to the mother ship where he declared that, going forward, he wants to dive only at night.

Most of the trip the weather was sunny and beautiful. But of course, as sailors, Wayne and Elly kept a constant eye on the forecast, and on the day pictured below it changed fairly drastically and quickly. As the wind picked up and dark clouds came rolling over the horizon we set sail for one of the other islands. It was very exciting, and was the one time even I, with a scopolamine  (anti-nausea) patch in place (behind my ear) since the beginning of the trip, started to feel a bit queasy on the rough water.

Very windy, choppy and cloudy as a squall approaches

Catching the wind on deck

Safe inside with the squall behind us

After the excitement as the sun sets

The one scary moment (of which we were blissfully unaware until afterwards) was when the tender suddenly surged forward and smashed one of the three windows to our bedroom (below right, you can see a dark space to the left of the window where there should be another window). It was amazing how quickly and efficiently Wayne acquired the materials to patch together a surprisingly neat and tidy makeshift window cover. I'm sure as I write this that there's once again a proper window in place. 

Inside Zeppelin: a rare indoor meal, (left) and our guest room (right)

Zeppelin's flag at sunset

So how was living on a sailboat? I think I can speak for my whole family when I say we loved it. Honestly, the only time I felt at all claustrophobic was when we were packing to leave. It was a hot, humid hot day with no breeze, we were wearing travel clothes (ie. long pants -- what was I thinking? -- next time I'll stick the pants in my carry on and wear shorts until the last possible moment like every other even slightly experienced traveller does), and I kept bumping my head on the low ceilings because I was stressing out, because I hate packing, and because the spectre of the long trip back away from this magical place was looming in an alarming (to me) way. The rest of the time it was all good.

I'm going to wrap up on a technical note. In case you're wondering, usually (ie. professionally), I would be loathe to succumb to using the high-contrast-image-rescuing technique of HDR (high dynamic range) photography which can make photos look very unnatural. However, in the case of holiday images that I will never be submitting for publication, and because I did not, of course, bring lighting with me, I decided HDR was the way to go. What the heck. It's kind of fake (at least the way I did it), but fun. So that's what's going on with some of the more unusual looking photos (above) that were taken of impossibly contrasty scenes.  

If you'd like to experience Zeppelin Dive and Sail just click on the hyperlink in the first paragraph to go to their website. Tell Wayne, Elly and Cristina we say hi! And if you need corporate, industrial, portrait or commercial photography drop me a line (not  fishing line...ha-ha).