Today was probably the longest day of our expedition. Buzz, Bob, and I did the dawn mongoose patrol and then we got ready for a trip to Buck Island. I remember we considered doing Buck Island last time, but I voted against it because I didn't have any way of seeing anything while snorkeling. Snorkeling isn't much fun when you can't see anything more than 24inches away. But this time I had glued some lenses from an old pair of glasses inside a mask and it was working well enough that I was willing to give it a shot.
We arrived at the wharf around 11am. We had a few minutes to look through their souvenir shop and then to slather on the sunscreen. I thought about buying Charlie a $17 pickled centipede in a bottle (about 6 inches long), but decided to get him a t-shirt instead. I got one (a t-shirt) for Lucy too.
We got on the boat a bit before noon. It was a large catamaran. We motored out against the waves, wind and current. The waves were choppy, but some were two or three feet, I would guess. When we hit those, we'd get spray over the bow that would soak us -- it felt good.
We saw a green sea turtle. The boat passed directly over it and I got a good look -- at the silhouette, at least -- before the boat passed over.
We passed by Protestant Cay and Green Cay, before we moored at a lovely beach on the lee side of Buck Island. We stopped there for a few minutes to swim and to let people test their equipment. They had passed out fins, masks, and snorkels to people who needed them. Daniel was all set and all I needed were fins. I tried them out and they worked just fine. The beach was unbelieably steep. Just past the edge of the water, it dropped off about 5 feet. I didn't even try to climb up onto the beach. After a few minutes, we set sail for the east end of the island to dive on the reef. While we motored along, we got out the sandwiches we'd prepared and had lunch.
The reef extends like a horseshoe around the east end of the island. Outside the reef, the water is deep and dark blue. Inside, the water is turquoise. The reefs themselves are dark brown with waves rolling in and breaking on them constantly. We came up inside the line of reefs and moored about 50 yards from the reef. The lowered a stairway down into the water and I sat on the stairs, with Daniel just behind me, to put on my fins and mask.
We were required to go through a guided tour of the reef, which involved following the first-mate as he swam in and out of the reef, following a series of interpretive markers on the bottom. There were many different kinds of coral: brain corals, elkhorn, staghorn, and others -- and lots of sponges. We saw a lot of big fish: gaudy parrot fish and a million different kinds. Just as the tour ended, I saw a big school of bright blue reef fish swim by. It was amazing. After that, we were on our own.
The reef has islands of coral that stick up with lower areas between and among them, creating a maze of grottos and alleys among the coral. There are sea fans and sponges waving back and forth with the current and large, brightly colored fish darting back and forth. Its an amazing place.
Daniel was a bit nervous -- he really wanted to head back to the boat, so we did that. Left to his own devices, I think he would have simply stayed there. It took a bit of effort, but I persuaded him to go back out into the reef one more time. Holding hands, we swam back into the reef and in and out of the coral. It was a bit scary to have the twisted shapes of the coral looming up at you, while you rise and fall above it and the waves slap against your head. The snorkels worked perfectly -- I could breathe just fine and only occasionally needed to shake out a bit of water that would get inside.
After making a long circuit, we ran into Buzz, who pointed where we could see some barracuda. Daniel was very excited and swam like mad, moving ahead of me, to follow one for a while. Buzz had told him previously about having followed one which subsequently followed him and, being a good empiricist, Daniel wanted to try it for himself.
After that, Daniel was ready to go back to the boat and I went with him. I helped him get his fins off and, with the assurance he was going to stay on the boat, I went out one more time. I swam around again, losing myself in the coral one last time, and then headed back to the boat myself. I was the first one off the boat and the last one back on.
The ride back was much smoother. The opened a big shade and raised the sail for the trip in. The first mate joked around with the children: he offered Carey a snack and a soda if she would sit in the cooler. I snapped a few pictures. Instead of slapping against the waves, you could feel us moving with them: they would raise us up and push us along. Most everyone was content to sit and rest after the exertions of exploring the reef.
After we were back on shore, we went back to the Fort Christian Brewpub with Paula, Carey, and Alex for some Hammerhead Pale Ale. Before long, the captain, his mate and most of the rest of the passengers were there as well. We sat by the water, enjoying the scenery and listening to live music. Daniel and Jonathon discovered the joys of feeding the laughing gulls, which would dive to catch bits of french fries thrown into the water.
After dark, we went back into the water and tried out the new dive-light that Buzz got at the dive shop. I had wondered about not seeing any invertebrates on the rocks around Cottages by the Sea -- it turns out that they're only out at night. The rocks were covered with huge sea urchins with long spines. We didn't stay out too long, as everyone was exhausted.
Today is our last full day "on island". We need to pull in all the traps and then we're planning to go up to the LEAP place on Mahogany Road so that Buzz can pay his respects to Fletcher Pence.