Best (Safest) Dive Ops from Ambergris Caye

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cubbiegirlem

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I am making a return trip to Ambergris Caye this year and am considering diving the blue hole. I fell in love with scuba during a discover scuba course in Belize last February, and I have not stopped diving ever since. In the last 6 months, I have my AOW, have logged 30 dives and I expect to log another 15-20 before my trip to Belize. (I am going on a 10-day dive trip and I have several local dives planned throughout the summer.)

Now I know, I know... You're going to tell me not to dive the blue hole. And I may not. Rest assured it is not a decision I will make without thinking it through. My buddy and I are going on another dive trip first with an instructor we trust, who may also be offering a deep cert on the trip, so we'll consider our experience and talk to her before making our decision. I'll meticulously read all the (numerous) threads on here about the GBH, even though I already know what the majority advice will be. But if I DO ultimately decide to go, I want to make sure I go with the best and safest.

So the advice I need is: IF I do go to the BH, which dive op should I use? I will watch my computer like a hawk, I refuse to exceed 130 ft or extend bottom time and go into deco, I have a buddy who agrees, and we will thumb the dive if either of us feels uncomfortable. But I've read stories on here about dive shops refusing to let you seperate from the group, pressuring you to go into deco/dive to 150, and otherwise eschewing safety concerns. If I do dive the blue hole, I don't want to end up with a DM who I feel is unsafe. Even if everything goes according to plan, I want my buddy and I to feel free to thumb the dive at any time or stop at a shallower depth (together, or course) if either of us is uncomfortable even if the rest of the group moves on. I know there are at least a few people on here who have had enjoyable GBH experiences, so which dive ops have you used that you'd recommend? (Even if I don't dive the GBH, I'm still going diving this trip, so the advice will be helpful regardless, but I want to make sure I'm at least looking at shops that offer GBH trips... Of course maybe they all do?) I did my discovery scuba course with Chuck and Robbies, and I felt comfortable with the instructor, but they're not coming up on the PADI website search. (Anyone know what's up with that? They were a PADI shop when I was there...)

Thanks in advance for your comments.

---------- Post added August 21st, 2013 at 04:26 PM ----------

As an additional note, we have means to splurge on a reputable op (though not a private trip), and definitely would like to avoid a cattle car.
 

Downing

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You may be absolutely keen on staying on AC but if not then I can suggest Turneffe Island Resort on the atoll or even go to Placencia and use Splash Dive Center. That way you could do the Blue Hole and avoid all of those issues.
 

AWMIII

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As far as Blue Hole trips from AC.... Your choices will likely be limited by who is going. Even the shops that say that they are going frequently will book you with another shop instead. Amigos del Mar, Aqua Scuba, Ramon's, are probably the ones that go most frequently. Amigos Del Mar may go everyday at that time of the year. I know Ecologic and Island Divers go once in a while.

I have heard good things recently about Ramon's, but I have no personal experience with them. You could not pay me enough to go with Aqua Scuba. There is a reason they are priced so far below the other operators. I have been with Amigos, but my buddy thumbed the dive at 95ft. We surfaced and surface swam 200 yards to the boat with another diver who had also bailed out. I don't think any of them will force you into deco. The people who exceed the decompression limits either do not know any better or do so willingly. Many who go to the GBH do not even use a computer. Those are the ones to watch out for.


All that said, if you and your buddy train appropriately and dive your plan, and if there is no freak problem with a PFO or some other lurking health issue your largest exposure is being a witness to an accident. I view all diving that way. I am willing to help, but I will not put my safety at risk to do so. I look out for me and my buddy. That's it. Unless I am being paid to worry about the other divers, I do not do so.


I think you are much more likely to get bent doing the local dives than the Blue Hole run. So many people have dove the exact same profile on that trip. All of the shops seem to run it about the same. It is a tested series of profiles. However 80ft for a 50 minute local dive followed by 80ft for a 50 minute dive after 1hr SI is more likely to bend you. People seem to get into that profile regularly on the local dives from AC.

As far as the cattle boat comment. They are not allowed to exceed 6 divers per DM per the BTB. I also think the larger boat makes for a much more comfortable 3hr ride to the site especially if it is rough. So with whom would I go? I would bring my own gear from home or rent at home and dive either Ramon's or Amigos Del Mar and realize that you are not responsible for anyone other than you or your buddy.

---------- Post added August 22nd, 2013 at 10:16 AM ----------

If you will be in AC for a few days, get Peter Jones to do some progressively deeper dives with you in the few days leading up to your BH trip. I know he likes to teach in that manner for people going to the BH.
 

cubbiegirlem

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You may be absolutely keen on staying on AC but if not then I can suggest Turneffe Island Resort on the atoll or even go to Placencia and use Splash Dive Center. That way you could do the Blue Hole and avoid all of those issues.

Thanks, but yes. We stayed on AC last year and put a deposit on the hotel for the next year before leaving to get a returning guest discount. So we're pretty well set on AC this time, but maybe in the future!

---------- Post added August 22nd, 2013 at 12:09 PM ----------

As far as Blue Hole trips from AC.... Your choices will likely be limited by who is going. Even the shops that say that they are going frequently will book you with another shop instead. Amigos del Mar, Aqua Scuba, Ramon's, are probably the ones that go most frequently. Amigos Del Mar may go everyday at that time of the year. I know Ecologic and Island Divers go once in a while.

I have heard good things recently about Ramon's, but I have no personal experience with them. You could not pay me enough to go with Aqua Scuba. There is a reason they are priced so far below the other operators. I have been with Amigos, but my buddy thumbed the dive at 95ft. We surfaced and surface swam 200 yards to the boat with another diver who had also bailed out. I don't think any of them will force you into deco. The people who exceed the decompression limits either do not know any better or do so willingly. Many who go to the GBH do not even use a computer. Those are the ones to watch out for.


All that said, if you and your buddy train appropriately and dive your plan, and if there is no freak problem with a PFO or some other lurking health issue your largest exposure is being a witness to an accident. I view all diving that way. I am willing to help, but I will not put my safety at risk to do so. I look out for me and my buddy. That's it. Unless I am being paid to worry about the other divers, I do not do so.


I think you are much more likely to get bent doing the local dives than the Blue Hole run. So many people have dove the exact same profile on that trip. All of the shops seem to run it about the same. It is a tested series of profiles. However 80ft for a 50 minute local dive followed by 80ft for a 50 minute dive after 1hr SI is more likely to bend you. People seem to get into that profile regularly on the local dives from AC.

As far as the cattle boat comment. They are not allowed to exceed 6 divers per DM per the BTB. I also think the larger boat makes for a much more comfortable 3hr ride to the site especially if it is rough. So with whom would I go? I would bring my own gear from home or rent at home and dive either Ramon's or Amigos Del Mar and realize that you are not responsible for anyone other than you or your buddy.

---------- Post added August 22nd, 2013 at 10:16 AM ----------

If you will be in AC for a few days, get Peter Jones to do some progressively deeper dives with you in the few days leading up to your BH trip. I know he likes to teach in that manner for people going to the BH.

This is very helpful, thanks. We both have our own gear and will be bringing it from home, so I'm not concerned about the quality of the equipment; we'll just need tanks and weights. I think we'll be OK as long as we just dive our plan. I've read all of these horror stories of DMs "pressuring" you to stay with the group, but I don't really know how they could do that. What are they going to do? Physically pull you with the rest of the group? I sure hope not.

About the deeper dives--I was wondering about this. We weren't sure we wanted the blue hole to be our first dive because it might be good to shake the rust off, but if we do progressively deeper dives, won't we have some residual nitrogen the next day that could keep us from going deep on the GBH dive? I know on my last dive trip (2 days, 2-tank dives, first dive max depth 90 ft subsequent dives all max 65 ft) we were done by 11:30 AM but my computer still didn't indicate I was free of residual nitrogen until 7 AM the next morning. (I doubt in Belize with the farther distance to the dive sites we'd be done by 11:30.) Or maye we could dive nitrox on the prior dives to prevent that? (I've never dove nitrox, but am going to get trained on it next month... I understand we couldn't dive nitrox in the GBH itself because it's too deep for nitrox and would cause risk of oxygen toxicity.) Thoughts you have on this would be welcome.

Also, is Peter Jones with one of the dive shops on AC?
 

AWMIII

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Diving Nitrox the day before would help. However, you are getting me into a discussion that may be a bit above my head, but here goes nothing.

The residual nitrogen that you have a day after diving would be in the slowest nitrogen loading and unloading tissues. A bounce dive to a deep depth like the GBH would only really load the fastest loading and unloading tissues. Believe it or not, your computer's algorithm knows this and will take it into account. Many of the people who go to the bh do not even use computers on this dive and the operators do not ask about the previous days dives. I would say that doing the GBH dive as your first dive of the trip is a bad idea. Diving Nitrox the day before cannot hurt especially if you dive it to a 21% model.

No DM is going to keep you down. They want the group to stay together at depth so that they can watch for people going too deep. If you descend to 95ft and no further, you will have no trouble staying above the group who may be at 130-150. The DMs know this and are really only concerned with people wandering off at depth and/or going too deep.

Peter is a technical instructor who lives in San Pedro. I am sure he will be along soon to correct my discussion of decompression theory.
 

cubbiegirlem

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Diving Nitrox the day before would help. However, you are getting me into a discussion that may be a bit above my head, but here goes nothing.

The residual nitrogen that you have a day after diving would be in the slowest nitrogen loading and unloading tissues. A bounce dive to a deep depth like the GBH would only really load the fastest loading and unloading tissues. Believe it or not, your computer's algorithm knows this and will take it into account. Many of the people who go to the bh do not even use computers on this dive and the operators do not ask about the previous days dives. I would say that doing the GBH dive as your first dive of the trip is a bad idea. Diving Nitrox the day before cannot hurt especially if you dive it to a 21% model.

No DM is going to keep you down. They want the group to stay together at depth so that they can watch for people going too deep. If you descend to 95ft and no further, you will have no trouble staying above the group who may be at 130-150. The DMs know this and are really only concerned with people wandering off at depth and/or going too deep.

Peter is a technical instructor who lives in San Pedro. I am sure he will be along soon to correct my discussion of decompression theory.

Very interesting and helpful, thanks! I love learning about this stuff.
 

peterbj7

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AWMIII is almost right - I used to be an active tech instructor here, with my own dive shop. Now I don't teach much - mainly specific "problems" such as yours. But he's right that the best way to do a deep dive like the BH is to build up to it. In the BH there's effectively no bottom, and to build confidence I like to make progressive dives on the sloping bottom we have on the Barrier Reef - however deep you are you can always drop just a few feet to a hard reference bottom. Because there's always stuff to see it's nowhere near as intimidating.

This is best done over two or three days, depending on time available and your experience level. The PADI AOW course teaches you to dive to 100ft (it doesn't "allow" you to as you're allowed to dive to whatever depth you want). But the AOW course "deep dive", just one of them, can be as shallow as 61ft, so you don't necessarily learn much from it. The "deep diver" course in theirs teaches you to go to 130ft, but again anything deeper than 100ft meets standards, and the course if run by the book only contains two "deep" dives. I do it rather differently, with four deep dives, all to 130ft, and obviously spread over 4 days. But you may not have time for that. In any case, I don't "officially" teach any more because of local regulations, although I am certified to do so.

What is your experience of "deep" dives, and what do you regard as "deep"? Assuming it's adequate, I suggest two days of local diving with the first dive each day being deep, ideally preceded by a "confidence building" day. After those three days, all being well, you should be able to face the BH with a lot more confidence! For operational reasons I'd prefer to do that with Island Divers. Chuck 'n Robbie's is still very much in existence, but I have no idea of their PADI status. They still have a good reputation.

obviously you can't use intros for the BH dive - it's best for the 60-100 ft range. But it'll be a good idea to use it for at least one dive per day. Nitrogen is retained in the body for a couple of days or more, and you don't want it to rise steadily. The other key factors are to avoid alcohol as much as possible during the trip, don't drink coffee before diving, and keep well hydrated (with water). And always ascend slowly, especially the last few feet - take a minute going from the safety stop to the surface.
 

chillyinCanada

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Why did you call the Blue Hole dive at 95'?
 

AWMIII

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My buddy (wife) thumbed the dive because she could not equalize. Now we both know that if she was at 95ft, she had equalized. I think it was stress or fear on her part. She was very upset about it later. I never brought it up with her afterwards. She does not like to receive any diving tips or instruction from me.
 
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