Belize Blue Hole 2018Latest update November 24, 2018 Started on September 5, 2018
Situated in the center of Lighthouse Reef off the coast of Belize, the Blue Hole is a giant marine sinkhole that is 318 m in diameter and 407 ft deep.
Outfitted with two submarines, an extensive high resolution sonar array, remotely operated vehicles, and a team of trained geologists and biologists, along with submarine pilots, and featured guests, Aquatica Submarines is setting out to explore and map this oceanic phenomenon.
Our home for the next month is the R/V Brooks McCall. She’s 175 ft work ship with a 10,000 lb A-Frame on the back deck, and a 5000 lb A-Frame on the Starboard side, as well as a boom crane on the Port side. We’ll be using all three on this expedition. The aft A-Frame for launching our two submarines, the smaller A-Frame for doing CTD Casts (oceanography post coming!), and the boom crane for moving various equipment, around the deck.
Our ship crew is incredible, we’re being fed very well by our ship cooks Sharyl and Shannon, the decks are being nicely repainted at sea by two Able Bodied Seamen Kelvin and Donny, our bridge crew has been driving the ship for our 6 day transit south, that’s Capt’n Brian, 1st Mate Tom, and 2nd Mate Brad, and down in the engine room (where the cool kids hangout) is Chief Engineer Duke, Darnel, and John.
Our aquatica crew includes the big-B boss Harvey Flemming, who is leading this expedition, and our ops team who were introduced a few posts ago. We’ll be taking on 10 more people in the next couple of days, and it’s going to be a FULL boat. I look forward to it. The Brooks McCall has tons of deck space, we currently have our workshop container, the Stingray 500, and our Boston Whaler (Topside support boat called a ‘tender’) on deck.
We spent a good chunk of the sunshiney day yesterday building 3 dock frames. We’ll install dock floats when we get to our anchor site near the Great Blue Hole, and then we’ll have a 16 x 30 foot dock alongside the ship for all of our operations. It’s slick. We’re limited to ‘Light Internet Usage’ as we on a beau coupé ($$) expensive satellite, but you can check out more photos on
Instagram @aquaticasubs @thomasbodhi, @croslandseville, @theerikabergman
*Rounding the Yucatan Peninsula *
We’ve been steaming steadily across the Gulf of Mexico. The R/V Brooks McCall is a solid ship, but she ain’t the speediest. We’ve finally broken through the storm front we were traveling in, and today was clear and warm and the seas settled down to 2 to 4 foot swells and light wind chop. Hopefully, somewhere around 4 am, we’ll make our turn south around the Yucatan Peninsula and then it’s a straight shot down to Roatan, Honduras. We’re hoping to pick up a bit of speed as we cruise down with the current.
Upwelling seas near shore, and the sharp jut of land protruding into the Gulf set some ripping currents around the corner of the peninsula. Our course is set wide, well outside of the massive flows of water curving around the Gulf. Sunsets are getting brighter, and our bellies are full of turkey and gravy, so we’re pretty happy campers out here at sea.
3 days down - 3 to go
Dive Site Background – Geology!
*Note – I am not a geologist. I am but a lowly chemical oceanographer turned submarine pilot. Please feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken here, there’s lots of material on blue holes to read up on. We’re looking forward to having Dr. Andre Droxler onboard for the expedition, looking forward to learning so much more as we dive and sonar scan the interior of the Great Blue Hole. The oceans were once about 500 feet lower than they are today. We do know that sea level is rising, that’s why poor Florida and Venice are under the microscope when it comes to discussion of sea level rise. They’re the first to flood as each new inch of water creeps up. But the Great Blue Hole holds evidence of much longer time scale ocean rise. There have been several cycles of quaternary glaciation over the past several hundred thousand years. What the hole tells us is that sea level rose dramatically (50-100 feet in as many years), and then stayed settled at that level for several thousand years, then another dramatic rise, and a settling period. These are indicated by the “terraces” in the blue hole, the longer sea level sat at that level and eroded away limestone inside this giant cave, the larger the terrace at that depth. Eventually sea level rose up to current levels, and eroded away the ceiling of the cave, which collapsed into the perfect blue circle we see today. We know how much of the cave was above sea level, and for how long, by the size of the stalactites which grew while the cave was dry. Now submerged, the stalactites have become marine ecosystems which we’ll be exploring!
Days At Sea
And we’re off! Our first full day at sea today, the air is warm and humid and the wave height is down after a tumble cycle of a transit through the night. The tires and chains on the sides of the ship lifted and clanged against the hull with every big wave set. It was like getting rocked to sleep nicely and then tackled by your big brother, then lulled again, then blasted awake by a steel on steel thunder clap right next to you head, and a vibration as the force passes through the ship like an earthquake.
We each took turns being awoken and stepping outside to triple check the tightness of everything strapped down to the deck. All is well and now as we transit south things are getting a little smoother. It’s tell overcast in the Gulf, but the water has become a gorgeous deep blue and we’re looking forward to steaming into the sunny Caribbean.
Most explorers will agree I’m sure - the best method for packing gear is to first “explode” over a wide area, and then strategically condense, asking yourself as you go, “Is this piece absolutely required?” In our case that meant 8000 pounds of gear spread across our shop, then meticulously inventoried and neatly packed into our 10 foot workshop shipping container. We have a work bench with a vice, sturdy shelves, our big compressor built in near the door, and a heap of gear loaded down the center which we’ll unload as soon as we reach our destination.
The submarine was packed into its own container, we simply remove the side tanks and the thrusters and lift the sub into place. Then we pack the dive tanks into the container in saddles built above the sub. A layer of plywood roofing, a weather proof cover and away she goes on the truck. It was a four day drive down from Vancouver the Texas where we offloaded the sub onto our Expedition Ship. The R/V Brooks McCall.
The ship crew built welded tracks onto the deck, and built two dollies. Each submarine will be launched and recovered each day with the a-frame, and then winched up the tracks on the dolly. Then we can service each sub on deck each night and be ready to roll again each morning. Pretty slick!
MEET THE TEAM
We're so excited to bring you along with us on our journey to Belize, and into the Great Blue Hole! Our entire team at Aquatica Submarines is looking forward to this extensive series of scientific dives and high resolution 360 sonar mapping and we are each proud of the teamwork it takes to make this expedition a success.
In the coming weeks we'll be showcasing some of the legwork it takes to bring the submarine from our HQ in Vancouver, B.C. all the way to the dive site 40 miles off the coast of Belize.
Some of the players you'll hear from are Will, Cros, Bodhi, and myself - Erika. We're the ops team of the Stingray 500 - we're a finely tuned team of goofballs who have a knack for science and engineering and a love of all things deep ocean.
We're keeping things fresh on Instagram and Instagram story too. You can interact with us here on open explorer and on Insta @aquaticasubs
Think of this as our Reddit AMA for our 2018 Expedition to the Great Blue Hole!
The deep azure mysteries of the sea will soon be uncovered as leading submarine and subsea technology company Aquatica Submarines announces a historic expedition to the bottom of Belize’s Blue Hole this Fall 2018. Ocean Unite co-founder and Virgin Group founder, entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Branson, Acquanat, documentary filmmaker and ocean conservationist Fabien Cousteau (grandson of the famed oceanic explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau), and submarine partner the Roatan Institute of Deep Sea Exploration (RIDE). Aquatica has also enlisted a team of scientists, explorers and filmmakers to share the beautiful mysteries that await at the bottom of Belize’s Blue Hole. Multiple submersibles will descend to the bottom of the Blue Hole to collect scientific data, focusing on a complete sonar scan of the interior.
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