Bay Islands Live-Aboard Adventures
on Peter Hughes' Wind Dancer
Text and Photography by Rick Frehsee, Dec. 1997
As you approach the isthmus of Central America from the Caribbean you are apt to encounter the Islas de la Bahia, or the Bay Islands; a string of idyllic island gems that appear too beautiful to be real. This is precisely the route taken by Christopher Columbus during his fourth and final voyage to the New World in 1502. Approaching first the islands and then the coast, Columbus called the area Honduras, which means deepwater or deep sea. Today, this is the special realm of the Wind Dancer, Peter Hughes' luxury dive live-aboard. Cruising the waters of the Bay Islands of Honduras, Wind Dancer continues the Peter Hughes tradition of combining excellence in accommodations and service with the best diving areas of the world.
As revealed by Wind Dancer's sophisticated electronics, the undersea topography of this coastal region is much richer and varied than Columbus could have ever known. The oceanside of the Bay Islands is bordered by the Bartlett Trough, the second deepest abyss in the Caribbean. The three largest of the Bay Islands; Utila, Roatan and Guanaja; are the above water representation of the Bartlett ridge, an undersea extension of the Sierra de Omoa mountain range in northern Honduras. Fringing these islands is a coral reef that exhibits both an exaggerated spur and groove system and a shallow, nearly continuous wall. Dive sites along this reef take advantage of both mountainous corals and dramatic grooves, canyons and swim-throughs.
A shallow continental shelf passes beneath the island of Utila and supports the Cayos Cochinos, a related island archipelago only 12 miles from shore. Dive sites along this shelf present some of the greatest species diversity (and therefore some of the best underwater photography) in the entire Caribbean. The shelf also provides a pedestal for an interesting phenomenon known locally as seamounts; reef pinnacles that rise to within 40 to 60 feet of the surface, an oasis effect that is a focus of sea life.
Only aboard Wind Dancer, with its range and mobility, can a diver sample the total diversity of the Bay Islands. And, with the appointment and service created by Peter Hughes and delivered aboard Wind Dancer, diving adventure includes a degree of luxury and comfort seldom realized at the very best land-based resorts.
Rather than list all the features and services I experienced during a week of cruising aboard this classy live-aboard, I will describe a typical dive:
Prior to the dive, an excellent description of the undersea topography, along with a chalkboard drawing of the site, is presented by our divemaster. When my buddy and I are ready to go, we sit on the bench in front of our designated tank (always filled to not less than 3,000 psi), retrieve our personal gear from our private bin beneath the seat and walk down the stairs to the spacious dive deck level. A divemaster hands me my fins (they are stowed behind a bar on the dive deck) and then my underwater camera once I have entered the sea. The dive is performed according to each buddy team; time and depth is monitored by each individual. (If you wish, you can request the assistance of a divemaster or the photo pro in the water.) With the proper dive plan and surface interval it is possible to log five dives daily.
After the dive, I return to the dive deck via dual ladders on either side of the platform (a safety stop is performed on the Peter Hughes-designed hangbar, an ingenious solid bar that can be lowered and raised beneath the aft hull). A divemaster is always on deck to take my camera, my fins and, later on the deck, my tank. After a warm, freshwater rinse from one of two shower heads on the dive deck, a warm fluffy terry cloth towel is draped across my shoulders. My camera, which has already been rinsed, is waiting for me on the carpeted, lipped camera table centered aft on the main deck. A second camera 'soak' tank is underneath. On the table is a low pressure air gun, cotton-tipped swabs, O-ring lubricant, a camera tool kit and a bin for the daily E-6 (slide) processing run.
After drying off and stowing personal gear (my tank will be filled for the next dive) I move into the air-conditioned main salon where coffee, sodas, juice, fruit, cheese crackers and other snacks await.
The rest of the day will be more diving, wonderful meals, an elective night dive, a nighttime slide presentation and a most pleasant sleep. My cabin, below the main deck, is a masterpiece of space and air-conditioned comfort, including oversized bunk, private head, shower and sink. Details include a personal bathrobe, a hair dryer, turn-down service with a chocolate on my pillow and daily early morning room service coffee.
Next to diving, meals aboard Wind Dancer are the highlight of the day: hot breakfasts cooked to order (or fruit, cereal, juice, etc.), sumptuous and ample lunchtime buffets and an impressive four course dinner, often featuring a choice of entree, served on an elegantly set table and wonderfully prepared by Jerra Harding, a professional chef. Red or white wine is served at all dinner meals. Drinks, including alcoholic, are included in the weekly package (with the advance notice that when you begin drinking you have stopped diving for the day).
The weekly dive itinerary is highly individual, determined by a combination of weather and guest request, and adjusted periodically. Popular dive areas include both the south and north coasts of Roatan (nearly continuous walls laced with caverns), Utila and Cayos Cochinos (excellent marine life) and the seamounts between Roatan and Cochinos (reef banks and pinnacles). Highlight sites visited during my week included Valley of the Kings (south coast Roatan), a sponge-filled fantasy; Dolphins Den (north coast Roatan), a maze of caverns filled with gleaming Silversides; Toontown (Cochinos), an encyclopedia of macro marine critters; and Little Coco Seamount, a pinnacle loaded with schooling fish.
If your image of life on a live-aboard dive vessel is crowded decks, narrow corridors, tiny cabins and stingy meals, then you have never had the cruise ship calibre of product and service provided on a Peter Hughes live-aboard. Life on Wind Dancer for a maximum of 20 guests is comparable to that experienced aboard a classy private yacht. A very friendly service oriented crew is led by Captain Linda Lupi, who is both a captain and a lady in the best sense of the words. Peter Hughes has incorporated 25 years of experience into the hundreds of delightful details aboard Wind Dancer, in the pristine Bay Islands of Honduras.
For more information, contact Peter Hughes Diving, Inc., at 1390 S. Dixie Highway, Suite 1109, Coral Gables, Florida 33146, cal l (800) 9DANCER (800-923-6237), (305) 669-9391 or fax (305) 669-9475. You can visit on the Internet at www.peterhughes.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.