The Day Long Dive Trip from Hell

The Day Long Dive Trip from Hell

It was almost impossible for me to write hell in the title when talking about Cayos Cochinos, a set of wonderfully beautiful small islands right off the coast from La Ceiba. Cayos Cochinos is usually thought of as heaven on earth, but I guess even heaven takes a day off.

The day was planned by Audrey and Jerome for a belated birthday celebration for Audrey. What a nice present, a day diving trip to tropical islands! Audrey and Jerome promptly picked us up at 6:30am. We had a surprise for them, small slices of our homemade cheesecake. A great way to start what we thought was going to be a great day! We got to the hotel near Sambo Creek on time, but not everyone else was on time. We are used to people being late in Honduras, so we just checked out the hotel and beach. When the others finally arrived, the boat was still not ready to take us, more delays.

Finally on the water, which was not as calm as I had seen in some photos the night before, we headed for the islands. The boat captain was going like a bat out of hell which apparently the engine did not like as it stopped for a short period of time. Once he got the engine back in order, the captain then drove at an obnoxiously slow speed, that is, until he ran out of gas! But low and behold, he had more gas and we finally made it to the island where our dive shop was. You would think after the dive masters making lots of comments about our tardiness, would have been ready and raring to go, but again we had to wait for them to get things in order.

CLICK THE PHOTO BELOW FOR THE PRE-DIVE ALBUM:

Cayos Cochinos – Before the 1st Dive – May 09

I am not sure when we finally made it out for our first dive, but what is usually done is for a day of diving is after the first dive we have lunch, and afterwards we do the second dive. It went a little different on this particular day. Our first dive was nice, no problems, not much fish either, but nice coral. On the way to our second dive, oil needed to be added to the transmission of the dive boat which was having trouble getting into gear. Yes, boat problems and tardiness is the theme for the day, but I have not even started to tell you about the good stuff!

We did not stop for lunch because of the late start, so we went straight to the second dive location. We got in and had another nice dive. That was until we all popped our heads up from under the water ready to get on the boat, and there was no boat! Just a little thing that may cause fear in most divers, but in our situation we were not far from an island, so we could swim for shore if the need be. But we did not swim to shore because it would be hard to get back out if the boat showed up quickly. Also the boat could not get close to shore because of the shallow reef. Well, one of us did swim to shore, not a good thing to leave the group, but land is a safe place to be. The rest of us did not get to just float in the water waiting, we had to tread in very rough water and we had to do it for 45 minutes.

We saw a boat come from around the island and were happy to finally get picked up, but the boat went straight out to sea to another boat. Fortunately after stopping shortly at that boat, which we found out later was ours, it came in to get us. Oh yeah! A dive boat is usually moored to a line and the engine is off while divers are getting on and off, but since the water was so rough we had to keep on swimming to get to the moving boat, a bit taxing after the 45 minute treading exercise. All of us got on, except one, the one on shore. We waved Jerome to swim back over and over again, but he did not move. There was no way for the boat to go any closer to shore because of all the coral. Then the park ranger showed up. Cayos Cochinos is a national park including the reefs surrounding the islands. And the rangers here are not cute little guys wearing those odd shaped hats like in Yogi Bear, they were in military uniforms carrying AK47s. Their boat is next to ours and it was a face off…they are looking at us, we are looking at Jerome, and I have no idea what Jerome was doing, looking for seashells maybe.

Did I mention the water was rough? Yes, well, that means it made for a very seasicky wait. Jim’s skin had gone pale, which is odd after being in the sun all day. And he was not the only one feeling the effects of the motion from the ocean! One of the girl divers got sick a couple times. Finally one of the dive masters jumped in to swim to shore, Jerome seeing this puts on his fins and mask finally, and starts swimming back to the boat leaving his BCD and tank on shore. Guess he was just not going to drudge it back with him through the very dangerous coral and sea urchins. The dive master bravely put on the brand new equipment and swam back to the boat. New dive company, new gear, old dive boat drifting off to sea…not priceless.

It took a bit of time, but we finally figured out what happened to our original boat. Since the water was rough, the boat had turned itself around on the moor line. The line apparently broke getting caught in the propellers leaving the engine not able to work. The Captain and our snorkeler friend Jennifer were drifting off to sea. So after we were picked up and dropped off on the nearby island, the boat went out again to tow our original boat in.

Click the Photo Below for the After 2nd Dive Rescue at Sea Album:

Cayos Cochinos – After being rescued at sea – May 09

We were let off to relax at a little resort, Plantation Beach. A resort in Honduras usually means a low key private hotel with hopefully nice rooms, but no where near the 5 star idea you have when thinking of a resort in other parts of the world. This one was nice, right on the water, with hammocks and beer…but no open kitchen in the hours between lunch and dinner. Mind you we ate breakfast at 6:00am, had not had lunch, went on two dives and treaded water for 45 minutes in rough seas… we were hungry. One of the dive masters brought out bread and peanut butter. We either had a half or whole slice of the combo. Bowl of cereal at 6:00am, half of piece of bread with pb for lunch with 2 beers at 2:30pm…sounds like the French diet made its way to Cayos Cochinos!

Once the broken boat was safely anchored in the bay we were taxied back to the dive shop on a small boat, called a dori which are very common in the Bay Islands. It is made of wood, around 5 feet wide and 20 feet long with wood planks across the boat for seats. It has around a 60 horsepower motor on it and fortunately a cabinet in the bow to keep our belongings dry. You are probably wondering, “Why is she telling us details about this particular boat,” well that story is next.

From The last of the Happy and Jim Looking Very 70’s

Excessive tardiness, being stranded at sea and not having lunch was nothing compared to our ride back home. First, the ride from Plantation Beach to Pirates Island was a wet one, which means the sea was getting even more rough. Not only were the waves high, the wind was whipping water at us as well. I was in the back of the boat getting smacked directly in the face with heavy sprays of sea water over and over. In the spirit of making everyone laugh I stood up, shook my fist towards the heavens and yelled up in to the now dark clouds, “Is that all you got?”

From We Were Still Happy
From Although we were battered by water we were still happy…but this is the last shot before shit hit the fan!

I jest, but I should have been a bit more serious when the captain asked us if anyone really needed to get back to the mainland that night as the sea was getting rough. Jerome and Audrey needed to get back for work and their dog. Another girl had a flight the next morning. Jim and I had to make it to our landlord’s birthday party. I wish I had said something to Jim because afterwards we were both thinking to ourselves that we wanted to stay overnight on the cool little island! But instead of talking to Jim, I did ask the Captain if he could handle the ride back. He answered, “Yes!” This was the wrong answer.

The ride back did not start off too bad, but it was obviously going to be a wet one. I was able to turn my back towards the hard waves hitting me, but others could not and kept getting smacked right in the face. In one way it was funny especially when Audrey explained the similarity to the “French spa treatment” in Brittany where “therapists” through buckets of freezing water at you. That was the last of the funny because after that the swells, the word swell does not seem enough to describe the seas we were facing, the rough waves were getting bigger. They rocked our little boat towards capsizing a few times, once tumbling everyone to the right side of the boat, on top of me after plowing into the back side of a wave.

We secured our life preservers on tightly and buckled down for a hard ride home. I think the Captain was doing famously considering the situation, he said he could handle it and I believed him. Once when the boat almost tipped over, he righted it and all was safe. And then we saw lightning in the distance and it started to rain on us. We joked that the fresh water would at least rinse the salt water off our faces. I was scared, worried, but was sure raging sea could be handled by the right man. That was until our “man” asked Jerome to come to the back of the boat and announced that he suffers severely from a panic disorder and he needed to take a break. After seeing fear in all our eyes, and I am sure experiencing it himself, one of our fellow divers, Greg, spoke up to tell us he has had a lot of experience with boats. It was not a hard decision, they were voted in as our new captains. Greg got more than he planned for on this business trip down to La Ceiba. After some rough riding, our former captain had not calmed his nerves and needed to lay on the floor of the boat. I think his nerves were the only ones that were getting any attention on that boat, the rest of us were in survival mode. And then while lying on my husband’s feet, the now ex-captain asked if I could hold his hand! At first I thought he was joking, but the poor guy was not. I took his hand and held on tight because 1) I could not turn that request down to anyone, 2) it comforted me as well, and 3) Jim wouldn’t hold my hand because he was holding on to the boat for dear life.

By this time I had already started my praying, but now I told Jim he should start praying as well. I was not only worried for my life or Jim’s, but I was afraid someone on the boat would get hurt. If that heavy boat capsized there was a good chance it would hit someone on the head or trap someone underneath it. But even with this fear, I could not help seeing the humor in it all. If I was going down…I might as well laugh. I kept on calling our new captains, Lt. Dan and Forrest because with the water slapping them in their face over and over again and their can-do attitude I could not help visualizing that storm scene on the shrimp boat in Forrest Gump, a movie that was on my mind, if you got the first reference earlier in this post.

The ride was even rougher with our new sea captains Jerome and Greg. They were unfamiliar with the boat and the waves, but I applaud their skills. Then one wave, the waves were now getting up to 7 feet high, hit us hard on the right side knocking Jerome and Jim out of the boat on the left side and flooding the whole back of the boat with water. I did not know what happened because I was keeping myself from going head over backwards into the water as well as making sure Audrey, who was almost all the way on top of me, did not get hurt nor hurt me. Once the boat was righted, I saw Jim in the water around 30 feet from the boat, I reached out to him worried to death. Then “Navy Man” Robert jumped in to try to help them. Robert, just discharged from the Navy, was getting more dive certifications. He passed rescue diving if you ask me, but not sure if it helped with him in the water too. His lack of concern about himself to try to help others so highly impressed me, especially since one of them was my Sweetie.

With that said, knocked out of his panic attack, and maybe a shot of adrenaline, our original Captain got back into action. With his help at the wheel, we got the three guys back in the boat. Fortunately, we were not too far from land and after seeing Jim in the water and the chance of capsizing had me wanting to dive in to try to swim to shore. But the decision was made to head straight to shore and not worry if we were close to our landing spot or not. The attempt almost had us in the water again, but finally we made it to land.

When we all got out we tried to pull the heavy boat in as far as we could setting the anchor in the sand hoping that would keep it safe. Then we thanked God, hugged each other and got our land legs back. After the euphoria settled down, we realized we had no idea where we were.

The clouds were dark and although you couldn’t see the sun it was about to set. Lighting was still striking, thunder boomed not too far off. Our adventure was not over yet. It was decided to walk, our motley drenched hungry tired and scared crew walked on. A bad day was not going to beat us! We probably looked like one sad group as we started our trek down the dark beach lined with even darker jungle woods.

Click Photo Below for the Making it to Land Album:

Cayos Cochinos – We made it to Land – May 09

As I mentioned earlier, there was a little cabinet in the front of the boat that kept our supplies dry, so cell phones were in working order. Calls were made to get people looking for us. They started to look for us, but we were so far down the beach they did not find us for quite awhile. Around an hour later and maybe 2 miles we saw a truck on the beach. We were saved! We loaded on the truck, but as I feared after a short while we got stuck in the sand. Does this hell day every end?

It did. Another car came through the woods on a dirt road. The final adventure of this Dive Day from Hell story was to get the truck unstuck so we could get on our way. Thank goodness it did not take long and within the next hour we were home and safe. Starving and coming down from the adrenalin rush, we were dumb founded and did not know what to do until Jim’s stomach spoke up. I could not fathom going out or even eating for that matter, so my “thank God he is still alive” man got some food and forced me to eat.

I tried to sleep a short while later, but when I was lying down with my eyes closed, the bed swayed sharply back and forth as if I was still on the boat. After I calmed myself, I finally fell asleep only to be rudely awakened quickly by a bad dream of a giant wave washing over me right there in bed. I tried sleep again, until the same exact dream came back as soon as I drifted off. After that I made Jim come to bed with me, I did not care how hot it was that night, I was going to snuggle up with the man I love for safety. And it worked.

A day of relaxation and telling the story a few hundred times was our therapy. Jim had to deal with a bruised hip and shin, and I had just one scrape, but we now can laugh and joke about it all. Some fishermen from Utila, a nearby island, that were on the water at the same time as us were not as fortunate.

Now that I scared all of you from coming down and enjoying the beautiful usually calm Caribbean Sea, what we experienced really was not a normal day. I will not make excuses, mistakes were made and it could have cost someone their life, but my philosophy is “No one is perfect and everyone deserves a second chance.” And most of all, we survived to tell about it! Coming out soon from Harper Collins, Treading, Tossed and Beach Trails, The Story of Two People’s Day in Paradise.

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~ by HenderBalz on May 22, 2009.

One Response to “The Day Long Dive Trip from Hell”

  1. Great exciting scary blog, Dawn! Thank you for sharing your cautionary tale.

    When my family went to Cayos Cochinos, luckily we had great weather and a great time. Only one dive though. I can’t remember if we carefully checked weather on the internet before going, but we did choose a guide recommended in both Lonely Planet and by several people we met. I hope he would have thought to postpone the trip if storms were coming up. Scary – I’m glad you all made it through.

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