Trip Report Belize on the Aggressor IV April 9-16, 2022

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scubadada

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Belize on the Aggressor IV April 9-16, 2022

Reservations:
I reserved my spot ton the Belize Aggressor IV directly with Aggressor. I made my reservations during last fall’s sale and got 25% off. I made my airline reservations directly with American Airlines, a flight from Philadelphia to Miami and then on to Belize City. I went to Belize two days early and did a tour of the New Belize River and Mayan ruins at Lamanai. I made these through Aggressor Detour, their travel agency. They included transfer to Lamanai, hotel nights, the tour, and then transfer to the Aggressor for boarding. I have used them previously, excursions have always worked perfectly, this one included. Well worth the extra time and money.

Travel: Belize dropped the Covid testing requirement about a month before my visit. Full vaccination is required or testing is still needed. Belize health insurance is required, $18, online. A Covid antigen test is still required to return to the US. The test was performed on the boat, the day prior to departure and results were emailed to the boat and printed for us within a couple hours. The cost was $80, added to the final bill. Other items added to the final bill were a $130 port fee and a $150 fuel surcharge (just implemented April 1).

I used Verifly both to and back from Belize. It made check in at both airports fast and easy, no additional forms to fill out or documents to show. Plane flights were perfect. My Miami airport return was awful, as usual. Despite Global Entry and TSA Precheck, it took me an hour and a half to clear immigration, claim and recheck my one bag, get through security, and get to my departure gate. I ended up boarding just 15 minutes before my departure. My bag missed the flight and was delivered to my home the next day.

Boat and Crew: The Belize Aggressor IV is a big boat, 138 feet in length, with a 26 foot beam. It is also quite stable. Our entire week was windy with swells and whitecaps. The boat rarely had much more than a gentle roll.

The boat takes up to 20 divers in 10 double cabins. We had 19 divers, 10 from the US and a family of 9 from Mexico City. Nine of the 10 cabins are on the main deck, along with the dive deck. The main entry/exit for the cabins was from the dive deck. There was a full size emergency hatch exit at the other end of the hall. The dive deck was well laid out and easy to use. Tanks were filled in place and there was a storage area and bin below each station. There were two large camera tables with compressed air. Fins were down on the dive platform and donned before diving

The open air lounge, restaurant, galley, and bridge were on the upper deck. There was also a sundeck with chairs, and a bar with the beer taps for the Belikin, “The Beer of Belize”.

I chose a room next to the dive deck exit, #10. I believe the room was the most spacious and had the most storage space of any liveaboard cabin I have had. Each person had under bed storage, an under bed drawer, a nightstand with 2 drawers and a cubby, and an above bed cabinet. There was also a good sized, shared closet. I couldn’t have possibly used all the space, a real luxury. The room A/C was fantastic, cooling to the set temperature. It made for very comfortable nights and days.

Safety was a major consideration. We had a detailed briefing the evening we boarded the boat. We did not leave the dock until the next morning. There was a dedicated charging station with plenty of outlets outside on the dive deck that was turned off in the middle of the night. There was a dedicated crew member who did roving night watch duties, I saw him every morning.

We had 8 crew members, all very nice, communicative, and hard working. This was true for Captain Shea, dive guide and photographer Daniel, dive guide Rocke, dive guide and engineer Simon, chef Carlos, sous chef Zander, steward Elia, and night watch Sterlyn. All the crew pitched in to accomplish all chores.

Food was not gourmet but was consistently very good. All meals came to the tables plated. Several of us had food requests, it was always perfect, without a word. Belikin beer and red and white wines were available, included in the food service.
 
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scubadada

scubadada

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Diving: It was quite windy during our entire trip, making for swells and whitecaps much of the time. The brisk wind caused the boat to swing widely and quickly at mooring. The boat would be overhead and then, poof, it was gone. It was best to catch the boat at a lull at one end of its swing or allow it to come to you. There was no way to catch it when it was moving away. The boat had a safety stop hang bar, a tag line, and two good sturdy ladders to facilitate safe boarding. The conditions somewhat limited the sites we were able to access but overall diversity was good. Here is a summary of my itinerary for the trip:

Thursday April 7 Fly from Philadelphia to Miami, to Belize. Transfer to Lamanai

Friday April 8 Tour of the New Belize River and Lamanai Mayan ruins

Saturday April 9 Transfer to Belize City, board the Belize Aggressor IV

Sunday April 10 Sail to Turneffe, 2 dives at Black Beauty. Sail to Lighthouse Reef, 2 dives, including night dive at Long Caye Ridge

Monday April 11 Two dives at Half Moon Caye Wall. Two dives, including night dive at Long Caye Wall

Tuesday April 12 Blue Hole dive and land tour of Half Moon Caye. Two dives, including night dive at Painted Wall

Wednesday April 13 Two dives at Cathedral and 2 dives, including night dive at Quebrada

Thursday April 14 Two dives at Aquarium and 2 dives at Silver Caves. Sail back to Turneffe

Friday April 15 Two dives at Amberhead South. Sail back to Belize City

Saturday April 16 Depart the Belize Aggressor IV to the airport. Fly from Belize to Miami to Philadelphia

The average water temperature was 82 degrees (80-83). I was comfortable in my full 3 mm, never broke out the hooded vest. There was generally little current, one exception was at Aquarium. Rather than switch dive directions, we dived into the current on both dives. The visibility was not stellar, perhaps partly due to the windy conditions. The visibility was about 40-60 feet.

Tank fills were good, averaging 3007 psi (2864-3096. Nitrox was 27-28% due to a problem with the membrane system. Parts had been ordered 2 weeks earlier but had not yet made it to Belize. They did not charge for nitrox for the week, usually $100. The nitrox mix did not affect the dive profiles as the shallows on the way back to the boat were generally in the range of 20-35 feet or so. With the exception of the Blue Hole, the average maximum depth was 78 feet (64-105). The mean average depth was only 39 feet (30-49). My average dive time was 61 minutes (51-65). The boat had a loose maximum dive time of 60 minutes.

As far as I was concerned, the Blue Hole dive was a waste of otherwise good dive time. Everyone was required to dive together with a lead guide and a cleanup guide at the rear. We dived with 24% nitrox with a planned depth of 135 feet. The visibility was poor, it was dark, and the water was filled with flailing divers. The stalactites at depth were old and worn, there was no sea life. We spent little time at depth before ascending. I hit 1 minute of NDL on my Teric at a GF high of 95 and 4 minutes of NDL on my VT3, running DSAT. It is extremely likely that divers exceeded NDLs with some of the more conservative computers. We did nearly 15 minutes in the shallows at safety stop depth at the end of the dive, plenty of time to clear any deco obligation. The land tour of Half Mood Caye was quite nice, especially the bird observation tower. We saw many nesting Red Footed Boobies and a large number of Frigatebirds.

The average reef dive started off by descending along the wall and then returning in the shallows. There was a guide in the water on all dives. Our group of 4 generally went off in the opposite direction as the guide and we often saw no or only a few divers. The reefs were generally in pretty good shape. Though Stoney Coral Tissue Loss Disease has been reported in Belize, I saw no evidence of it on this trip.

The sea life on the walls was not particularly prolific, Reef Sharks and Eagle Rays were seen fairly frequently. Green and occasional Loggerhead Turtles were seen. Sea life was considerably denser in the shallows and included most of the usual Caribbean reef fish, quite a few Green Morays including many free swimming, and some lobster, crab, and shrimp. I don’t want to appear overly critical, I believe I have been spoiled by all my home diving in Boynton Beach, Jupiter, and West Palm, Florida

So, a very good boat and crew and good diving. I would recommend the Belize Aggressor IV to others.

Sorry, photos to follow, I'm behind :(
 
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scubadada

scubadada

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Night before returning home, from the BA IV
 

drrich2

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Great stuff! Excellent report. A few follow up observations:

I made my reservations during last fall’s sale and got 25% off.
Before the pandemic, Aggressor tended to have once-a-year sales for 30%+ off. With the huge losses the live-aboard industry suffered during the pandemic, I wonder how pricing and sales will be going forward.
did a tour of the New Belize River and Mayan ruins at Lamanai.
Glad you got to do that. Years ago on a cruise ship stop my wife, a friend and I did a ship excursion, a boat tour up New River (we saw crocodiles, and bats on the underside of a tree) to Lamanai, where we walked through the rainforest (I recall huge ferns) and visited 3 Mayan ruins; Mask Temple, Tall Temple and Jaguar Temple (they let us climb atop the first 2). Amidst the rainforest it was a striking experience. Recommended.
My Miami airport return was awful, as usual. Despite Global Entry and TSA Precheck, it took me an hour and a half to clear immigration, claim and recheck my one bag, get through security, and get to my departure gate.
I'm worry to hear Miami airport is chronically awful. Last Feb. I missed my flight (thankfully got booked on a later one) for similar reasons. Global Entry is great for getting through Customs faster, but if you're stuck at the baggage carousel waiting for your checked baggage with everyone else (just so you can take and turn it back in for your connecting flight! Can these people not figure out how to X-ray and scan it themselves?!?!?), you may lose the advantage.
There was a full size emergency hatch exit at the other end of the hall.

Safety was a major consideration.

There was a dedicated crew member who did roving night watch duties, I saw him every morning.
Appreciate the details; in the wake of the Conception disaster, details like that may be the 'swing vote' that encourages more people to book operations with a good 2nd exit option and strong safety practices.

Do they still do a baited reef shark dive with a perforated plastic bucket of dead lion fish? That happened when I dove with them back in 2015, but I don't read of it in other reports, so maybe it's not an ongoing thing?
 
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scubadada

scubadada

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Great stuff! Excellent report. A few follow up observations:


Before the pandemic, Aggressor tended to have once-a-year sales for 30%+ off. With the huge losses the live-aboard industry suffered during the pandemic, I wonder how pricing and sales will be going forward.

Glad you got to do that. Years ago on a cruise ship stop my wife, a friend and I did a ship excursion, a boat tour up New River (we saw crocodiles, and bats on the underside of a tree) to Lamanai, where we walked through the rainforest (I recall huge ferns) and visited 3 Mayan ruins; Mask Temple, Tall Temple and Jaguar Temple (they let us climb atop the first 2). Amidst the rainforest it was a striking experience. Recommended.

I'm worry to hear Miami airport is chronically awful. Last Feb. I missed my flight (thankfully got booked on a later one) for similar reasons. Global Entry is great for getting through Customs faster, but if you're stuck at the baggage carousel waiting for your checked baggage with everyone else (just so you can take and turn it back in for your connecting flight! Can these people not figure out how to X-ray and scan it themselves?!?!?), you may lose the advantage.





Appreciate the details; in the wake of the Conception disaster, details like that may be the 'swing vote' that encourages more people to book operations with a good 2nd exit option and strong safety practices.

Do they still do a baited reef shark dive with a perforated plastic bucket of dead lion fish? That happened when I dove with them back in 2015, but I don't read of it in other reports, so maybe it's not an ongoing thing?
Hi Richard,

The Aggressor used to have a sale each fall with the same % discount as their anniversary, in years. Not sure when that ended, I believe I got a 34% discount on my trip to Cocos in 2017. 2021 was Aggressor's 38th anniversary, I got 25% off. The fall sale is a good time to shop for an Aggressor trip. It should be noted that there are always Aggressor specials that you can view on their website Specials and Unique Adventures | Aggressor Adventures™ Some of these deals are very attractive if they fit your needs and dates.

The day spent touring the New Belize River and the Lamanai ruins was great. Our boat driver/guide/naturalist was fantastic. On the river, we saw crocodiles, turtles, iguanas, bats, and all kinds of birds. We were taught some very interesting history during out visit to Lamanai. The site was first occupied in about 900 BC and had inhabitants for about 2,500 years. At it's peak, it had a population of around 35,000 people. We visited the Mask, High, and Jaguar Temples. There were Howler Monkeys in the trees including one mother with babies.

The Miami airport just does not run very well when it is busy and crowded. Global Entry gets you through immigration very quickly, but then you have to wait forever to claim your checked bags and recheck them. The security area is very crowded. The TSA precheck line was much, much shorter than the regular line but it still took a long time. Lastly, my connecting gate was literally miles away and took the last of my available time. I'm afraid of having a layover less than a couple hours.

I have become very conscious of safety features since the Conception and RSA I fires. I was on the RSA I for two weeks in 2016

No baited shark dive off the BA IV. We very frequently saw Reef Sharks on our dives. There were often several and they would stay with us for a short time and/or circle back later in the dive.

Take care, good diving,

Craig
 

salth2owannabe

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I'm worry to hear Miami airport is chronically awful. Last Feb. I missed my flight (thankfully got booked on a later one) for similar reasons. Global Entry is great for getting through Customs faster, but if you're stuck at the baggage carousel waiting for your checked baggage with everyone else (just so you can take and turn it back in for your connecting flight! Can these people not figure out how to X-ray and scan it themselves?!?!?), you may lose the advantage.

scubadada:
My Miami airport return was awful, as usual. Despite Global Entry and TSA Precheck, it took me an hour and a half to clear immigration, claim and recheck my one bag, get through security, and get to my departure gate.

We usually return via Houston (United), DFW (American) and occasionally Denver (Southwest or United). I don't think we have ever cleared the whole customs/re-check process in less than an hour and a half. I usually try to have about 2 1/2 hours between connections just to be safe and get to our gate before they start to board.

This last trip we flew back to Denver, picked up our luggage, took a few steps and put it right back on to a staffed airline cart and I guess they re-checked it? All I know is it made it to our final destination. I never have understood that process. They could scan it, walk the dogs past it, and/or search it and you'd never have to touch it.

Appreciate your trip report.
 

deeper thoughts

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Very informative thnx
 

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Thanks for the report! Glad you had a good trip. The Aggressor IV sounds like a really nice liveaboard. Supposedly April and May are peak months for whale sharks. Any sightings reported in the area?
 
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scubadada

scubadada

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Thanks for the report! Glad you had a good trip. The Aggressor IV sounds like a really nice liveaboard. Supposedly April and May are peak months for whale sharks. Any sightings reported in the area?
No whale sharks. I don't think Lighthouse Reef is a prime location. More like in the south, off the coast of Placencia, Gladden Spit Marine Park
 

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The stalactites at depth were old and worn.. :(
That's the thing with ancient geological, submerged things... I think you need a land cave to see fresh stalactites. :wink:
I go to Long Caye every year to dive, so we see the liveaboards out there for a few days every week. I'm tempted to go on one, but you're spot-on about the Blue Hole dive with a large group. We tend to do it as
a buddy pair and love it, but we're there before the town boats show up and screw it all up, and we're across the Hole from where you big fellas moor.

Thanks for the report... I enjoyed reading it!
 
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