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August 29, 2008

Mary's Place

Some dives are adrenalin-pumpers whereas others are relaxing. At the end of the Roatan trip I was at a place where I was able to relax. I knew that my equipment worked fine and my body, too, and that I would not suddenly freak underwater. I also found myself increasingly able to release all tension and hover, simply let go and enjoy the total lack of gravity. I became much better with buoyancy and had to add and drop air to my BC less and less often. I worked on the bad habit of using my left arm and hand to help manoeuver instead of using fins. With one's breathing under control and a total sense of relaxation, diving assumes a dreamlike quality that is quite addictive. Floating weightlessly becomes natural and seems the norm. I concentrated on finning and gliding with slow, fluid and deliberate movements. That not only conserves air and energy, but also keeps you from harming sea fans, sponges, and other plants.

Between the much better buoancy in seawater and my increasing diving experience, I managed to stay clear of plant life and didn't kick up silt or sand. I only layed on the bottom a couple of times, on purpose, and virtually never used my hands to push off. CoCo View does not allow the wearing of gloves, and so the temptation to touch was greatly diminished. I don't think I touched anything on purpose more than once or twice. Some plants and critters sting or burn, and so it's better to stay clear anyway.

Mary's Place is one of Roatan's most famous dive sites. It is a horseshoe-shaped fragment that broke off from the main reef, perhaps during an earthquake long ago. When that happened, a number of deep cracks and crevices formed and you can now dive through those. The cracks are narrow enough to mandate swimming through them single file and make for wonderfully dramatic scenery. At a moderate pace it takes maybe six to ten minutes to swim through the main crevice of the formation. Attendance at a special buoyancy control seminar is usually required before diving Mary's Place and the site is listed as suitable for intermediate level divers on up.

The initial drop-off was at just 25 feet or so on top of the reef plateau. We then dropped over the wall and descended to about 75 feet. I was a bit nervous as I always am with new adventures as we came upon the entrance of the main crack along the wall. It was adorned by beautiful black coral whose branches actually look orange. On divemaster Eddie's go-ahead we went in one by one. I was videotaping the entire swim-through on the SeaLife DC800 camera. Carol was right behind me with the big Olympus digital SLR. The flat, sandy bottom of the cracks was at perhaps 90 feet or so, though I never went deeper than 75 or 80. I enjoyed this dive very much. Mary's Place lived up to expectation, and then some.

The magical traverse between the otherwordly cliffs was over all too soon. At the end there are two exits, one going straight ahead and expelling the diver into the wide, blue ocean with the wall dropping away to the left and right. Divemaster Eddie suggested we take the last left turn that ascended to another exit, one that was wonderfully picturesque and led back to another exit at maybe 60 feet. When I got to the junction I wasn't quite sure which way to turn as the left turn is just feet before the main crack opens into the ocean. It is fairly narrow and goes uphill. I took that one, working my way up to the exit where we all lingered and took in the sights.

What I didn't know at the time was that Mary's Place, on Valentine's Day of 1990, was the site of an open water deep diving record. Bret Gilliam chose Mary's Place because of the near vertical wall with "abyssal drop-off depths." On a single 100 cubic-foot tank of compressed air, Gilliam reached a depth of 452 feet, performed a few math and word problems on a slate to test his alertness at that depth, and began his ascent after six minutes and 20 seconds. He did hist first deco stop at 50 feet, and an hour and 16 minute slater he surfaces none the worse for wear, having answered all the test problems on his slate correctly.

This was, incidentally, my 50th dive and I couldn't have wished for a nicer experience. Or for a better conclusion to a truly memorable week of diving at CoCo View resort on Roatan.

Posted by conradb212 at August 29, 2008 12:53 AM

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