The island life is sometimes hard to explain. So I am always pleasantly surprised if family or friends come my way to experience the laid back atmosphere here. It is even more fun if they like to dive. Annet, my friend from the Netherlands, came a few years ago to do her Padi advanced course with me. She likes the island, the diving, and me too and so she came for her 5th trip. My idea is to challenge her this time and do a different type of dive than she is used to. The Wreck El Aguila is a popular diving spot, at times there are more divers than fish. For that reason we will go to this wreck before dawn. I am not a morning person at all, so it will be a challenge for me too not to miss the alarm.
It is one of the three most important shipwreck dive sites off the coast of Roatan. According to the son of the former Mayor of Roatan, El Aquila was en route from Puerto Cortes, Honduras to Haîti with a cargo of concrete. The ship was wrecked near Utila, presumably by sabotage. For some years, El Aguila remained partly immersed. After the purchase it took 5 weeks to clean it, and to ship it from Utila (one of the other Bay Islands of Honduras) to Roatan to create an artificial reef close to the shore. Anthony’s Key Resort sunk the boat in 1997 in the perfect spot.
We set our alarm clock to 5 o’clock in the morning. Half an hour later we are at the dock. One cup of coffee to wake up and then we get on the dive boat. The night before we had our diving equipment prepared, so we’re ready to go. The boat trip is only ten minutes, it’s a magical gloomy morning.
Just before the sun rises at 6:10, we start our descent. We use the anchor line that is attached to stern of the ship at 24 meters/80 feet as a reference. Its pitch dark in gloomy waters, we can’t see anything below us. But soon we see with our dive lights at about 12 meters/40 ft. below us the layout of the El Aguila (Spanish for Eagle).
Schools Horse-eye Jacks surround us inquisitive of our bubbles and a beautiful black spotted eagle ray rises up from the sea floor as if we have woken him up from a night’s rest. The plankton are extremely active. The fish are on the hunt, their breakfast is ready. Where is my scrambled eggs? That will have to wait.
It is amazing to see how busy the reef can be when most of the island is still sleeping off the night before.
Photo lay-out wreck : mardive guide by Ignacio Gonzales
We begin our tour at the stern. The light shimmers, between dark and light. There is an interesting narrow long corridor under the ship that we plan to penetrate. Our bellies almost touch the seabed. With our heads first, we push and swim carefully through the dark at 30 meters. We enter the tunnel, a few kicks and on our left side we see internal windows looking into the immense cargo space that once held concrete. We enter the tunnel in the dark, but now slowly the light from the rising sun means we can turn off our flashlights and we can see one another. Out in the sand we see hundreds of garden eels. They come out of their tiny caves. They always move merrily up and down as if they are dancing.
The wreck is 70 meters long, it was broken in three parts from hurricane Mitch in 1998. This makes the wreck a more interesting diving experience, not your ordinary wreck. In the middle of the wreck, we swim between and under the plates. For a moment I thought I was narc’ed and thought the collapsed metal was moving, but it was just optical illusion.
Amazingly, the bow of the cargo ship is still in the same state and in the original position after all these years. The mast reaches up to 15 meters/50 ft. in depth. Just below the mast is the long time residence of a green moray eel. This morning we are in luck. The moray is behind a rail and is not yet planning to budge. We ascend to 20 meters to extend our bottom time, that way we have another 10 minutes around the bow. In the corals on the bow, we find critters such as fire worms, arrow crabs and anemones. The wall of the bow is especially beautifully with overgrown corals. At the mast Annet spots a juvenile drumfish. We cannot resist pretending to dive off the bow. Its the perfect setting for taking romantic shots a la Titanic.
That gives us a longer dive time on this deep wreck dive with shallow waters to explore. At 15 meters/50 ft. the great groupers come to check us out. The groupers are a good size between 1 and 1 ½ meters. They are Nassau, Tiger and Yellowfin groupers and they curiously swim around us.
This is one of my favorite safety stops on the island. Its a beautiful ending of a dive in the gloomy morning. The colors of the corals, the light and the activity of the fish has intensified. The boat picks us up in the shallower area off the coast of the Sandy Bay slope near to Anthony’s Key Resort.
The dawn dive at El Aguila turned out to be a perfect choice for a challenging deep wreck dive for Annet and me. Now time for some coffee and breakfast!
This article has been published in the Dutch diving magazine “Duiken” as my column (issue April 2018)