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    A Complete Diver's Retreat on Roatan

    Text and Photography by Rick Frehsee, Nov. 1997

    It began with the mildest of expectations. After all, this was only a routine shore dive. A short swim away was the dock and beach of our dive resort. Even then we had cheated a bit; Mark, our divemaster, had brought out one of the dive boats and tied it to the mooring at the entrance of the channel. Below, in 25 feet of water, was a white sand bottom partially covered with Turtle Grass and strewn with nuggets of coral. We followed Mark along a route that progressed in depth and distance from shore. The nuggets became boulders, the boulders became mountains of coral; then, dropping through a fissure between two huge pinnacles of coral, we entered a canyon of unbelievable proportions. The visibility was better than 100 feet yet I could not see all of this natural cathedral. I could only appreciate the dimensions when I glanced skyward. There, framed by the fringe of coral and lighted by the rays of the morning sun, were my dive buddies, looking like two tiny puppets suspended in a blue infinity.

    Where in the world can you go on a shore dive, be in 100 feet of water and be inside a reef, not on a wall? The answer is at the Bay Islands Beach Resort, on the north coast of Roatan. Spooky Channel, the resort's very dramatic and convenient shore dive, is special. A closer look at it reveals a geology that is quite distinctive and diagnostic of the formation and natural history of the Bay Islands.

    In general, this prolific reef, the southernmost section of the Great Western Barrier Reef, is the mightiest coral rampart in the Western Hemisphere and the second longest barrier reef in the world. Nearly all of the 64 species of hard or stony corals known to the Caribbean are easily found here. But it is the complete, almost encyclopedic selection of sponges that gives the reef a distinctive and glamorous look. These and the ever-present wall that falls away from the reef crest combine to offer both color and extreme verticality on nearly every dive.

    Within coral caverns and deep back along the sinewy sand grooves that bisect the reef are both small and giant cathedrals that reflect the hills and valleys of the island. In many places, particularly along the northwestern shore, the undersea topography reveals the ancient river valleys and dry river beds of the coast that were exposed for centuries during the last Ice Age. Inner walls, some descending to 80 feet or more, are actually the shoreline of an old river bed. The huge round stones that often line the inner reef are river rocks worn smooth from ancient flows. This combination of ancient geology and modern biology gives Roatan's northshore reefs an individual look and presence.

    Positioned perfectly on a wide stretch of sandy beach in front of this coral gallery is the Bay Islands Beach Resort, a complete diver's retreat. This picturesque resort is a standout in both ambiance and service. The property rests on 44 acres of rolling hillsides and panoramic waterfront at the eastern edge of Sandy Bay Village. A 20 minute ride from the new, modern Roatan International Airport, the front driveway leads from the entrance past fruit and flower trees to the resort facilities. A two story Spanish mainhouse and a series of private beach villas occupy five acres, beautifully landscaped with fruit and nut trees, hibiscus and coconut palms. All of the buildings are on 450 feet of natural sand beach facing the Caribbean Sea and Roatan's northern barrier reef. The remaining 39 acres are undeveloped island rain forest with eco-trails that lead guests up the hillside to perches nearly 600 feet high that offer panoramic views of the island.

    The mainhouse is a private mansion, complete with a dining room with cathedral ceiling and flagstone fireplace. Outside is a veranda overlooking the Caribbean. The mainhouse also contains a gift shop featuring Central American crafts and textiles. The elegant upstairs guestrooms have queen and twin beds with a great view of the sea and sunsets. The downstairs rooms are even larger and have a double and two twin beds. All rooms are air-conditioned, with private baths, tiled showers, louvered windows and ceiling fans.

    On the beach are two white villas nestled among the hibiscus trees. Elevated and connected by wooden walkways, each villa has two private guestrooms with front porches facing the sea. Each room is island decorated with a double bed, twin bed, air-conditioners, louvered windows, ceiling fan and private bath with tiled shower. On the beach are two wooden houses, also with beautiful views of the ocean and reef. The two-story beach house has two suites. The second beach house has one large divided bedroom with two double beds and a twin bed. All rooms are air-conditioned, with ceiling fans and louvered windows. A special attribute of the Bay Islands Beach Resort is that it is handicapped accessible. Five of the guestrooms and all of the general sectors of the resort, including restaurant, dive operation, pathways and dock, are wheelchair compatible. This is the only Bay Islands resort so equipped.

    Under a thatched roof on the beach is Deep Ted's Bar and Restaurant. At the end of the dock is the Starlight Deck, a second story observation platform and dockage for the resort dive boats. Also on the beach are beach chairs, a volleyball court and picnic tables. Meals are served in the dining room, on the veranda or at the beach restaurant. The kitchen offers a full menu of continental and island specialties, including vegetarian options. Coffee, iced tea and snacks are available all day.

    Dive support is complete with two mid-sized custom dive craft (full safety equipment including Dan Oxygen, a dive shop and gear storage. The flexible dive schedule offers three single tank boat trips per day. Individualized service and custom diving are realistic with a resort that caters to a maximum of 24 people per week and has a staff of 34. There is free, unlimited shore diving and one night boat dive scheduled per week.

    The Bay Islands Beach Resort dive operation is a PADI Five Star facility and will soon become the Bay Islands' first NAUI Tech facility; it is gearing up to provide nitrox fills and technical diving services.

    The area immediately accessible to the resort includes 35 moored and named dive sites as well as several special sites recently discovered just east of the resort. The dive schedule is always flexible, in keeping with the informality of small groups.

    Special sites include West End Wall, which features color and marine life; Halfmoon Bay Wall, a scalloped drop-off beginning in only 25 feet of water; Radar Reef, with huge coral formations; and, of course, the cathedral canyons of Spooky Channel.

    Special events during the week include a West End picnic day, a land crab beach cookout (seasonal) and a Friday night island buffet. Fishing, island tours, horseback riding and car rentals are easily arranged. Other add-ons include exciting mainland tours such as whitewater rafting and Copan, a major ancient Maya site.

    As flexibility is a byword with almost every phase of the operation, there is a choice of personalized packages available. Particularly appealing is the 'your own private dive boat for the week' package for groups of 12, which provides maximum service for small groups at considerable individual savings. (Obviously, 24 divers could 'own the resort for the week.') Also available are special programs for snorkelers that feature a selection of guided snorkel excursions with shore and boat snorkeling. Snorkeling lessons and an 'Introduction to Coral Reefs' course is included.

    For more information, contact the Bay Islands Beach Resort Web site at http: // Or, contact the U.S. office at 443 Coral Cove Drive, Juno Beach, Florida 33408-2179; phone (561) 624-5774, fax (561) 624-7751 or e-mail In Roatan, contact Sandy Bay, Roatan, Bay Island, Honduras; phone: 011 (504) 45-1425, fax 011 (504) 45-1855 or e-mail bibr@ns.