Sunday, October 7, 2012

Snorkeling in Surf

It has been a while since we did any snorkeling, so we were excited when our friends Mike and Karen on 'Chapter 2' suggested we join them for a dive trip to a nearby reef. They picked us up in their inflatable and we motored across choppy seas toward a reef on which the surf was breaking about a foot or two high. Picking a spot where the bottom was coral rubble and sand, we anchored the dinghy and while Karen and Mike put on their dive gear, Rani and I swam towards the surf line to find a suitable spot to cross over onto the outside of the reef.

Even though it was near high tide, the corals under us seemed awfully close as we approached the surf. Holding each other's hands and kicking furiously we were able to punch through two lines of surf without too much difficulty, although Rani was breathing furiously on the other side. As we passed over the edge of the reef, the water suddenly transformed from frothy white into a startling blue and acres of colorful coral gardens sloped off into the depths.

Mike soon joined us, but it was apparent that Karen was having trouble getting across with her gear. She was pushed back by each wave and kept standing up, unable to keep swimming against the surging water. I offered to swim back to her and help her by bringing her gear across the reef and Mike consented. When I reached Karen, she was out of breath and exhausted from the ordeal, but eventually I coaxed her into trying the swim without the gear. I strapped on her BCD and tanks and set off across the reef with her, but soon found I had too much weight on with my own 4 pounds + her 12. By the time I realized this, though, I was in the surf and being pulled down under with each big wave. My snorkel kept filling with water and I started to panic as I ran out of oxygen due to swimming too hard ad breathing too little.

It is remarkable how quickly you can go from feeling in control of a situation to outright panic. I should have stopped and inflated the BCD fully to compensate for the extra weight, but instead I thrashed my way across the reef lunging through each wave and gasping for air. When I finally made it into deeper water, my legs cut up from the coral, I felt like I could not stay afloat with the extra weight pulling me down. Fortunately Rani swam to me and found the right hose to inflate the BCD. Lesson learned - don't volunteer to wear dive gear if you are not comfortable with its operation. Although I have had a brief lesson in using a BCD, I could not find the right button to press when panicked. I could also have breathed from the tanks, which would have avoided swallowing water through the snorkel.

After we had recovered from the crossing, we spent an hour or so swimming along the reef, Mike and Karen below us at about 25 to 30 feet. Rani and I would free dive down to maybe 10-20 feet to get closer to the corals and to listen to the distant songs of humpback whales. We were able to distinguish both the more melodious songs of the males and the shorter talk of the females communicating with their calves - magical. The corals on this reef were varied in form and color, looking like they had been carefully planted, perhaps in the rock garden area of a botanical gardens. Most were only a foot or two in diameter and there were hundreds of such formations in all directions, with the occasional canyon dividing one garden from another.

The return trip across the reef was easier with the waves pushing us across and we all felt much better after a tot of brandy and a bowl of warm mulligatawny soup on board Ladybug.

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