Note from Tortola: Snorkeling 101

Let the record show that yours truly has snorkeled not once, but four times in as many days. And like previous years, it’s pretty much wasted on me. It’s tragic, I know. But I joined in, each time this week because…I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would catch the “bug” and be all about this popular sport.

But it’s not happening.

Oh I enjoyed myself alright. And I especially enjoyed flopping around next to my fish-for-a-wife Betty Ann, who really loves snorkeling. I marvel at how much she loves it and I get as much enjoyment out of watching her explore with excitement all that stuff down under the water as I do snorkeling for myself.

Here’s why:

Let’s start with the mask. When you do these group snorkeling things they hand you a mask that feels three sizes too small, but your afraid to loosen it up for fear of drowning outright when it fills up with water upon entering the water. And let’s not even discuss the mouth piece that’s been used by perhaps hundreds of people on previous trips, and you just pray to God that they really do disinfect those things before dumping them into the hold for the next lucky guy to use.

On this trip though I discovered something new. “Swimmies,” or girdles as they call them in these parts…but who cares what name they’re known by because neither name does little to boost ones masculinity index. It’s a floatation belt that you strap around your waist to add buoyancy while in the water. Now, I swim just fine, mind you, but the running joke Betty Ann and I share is that for some weird reason, if I’m not moving in the water, I just sink. I sink like a rock, actually. I eventually come back up, somewhat, but for sure just floating around on the surface of the water is not one of my gifts in life it seems. So bring on the bright yellow “swimmie” and lets watch Kevy flop around looking for fish and whatnot. 

Next, I put on those ridiculously uncomfortable flippers and then have to walk backwards, or try my hand going forward like a duck until I stumble and crash over something. And now I’m standing on the stern’s swim platform and of course by the time I get my mask on and get set to slip into the water like Jacques Cousteau, the damn mask is all fogged up again. But I jump in anyway hoping for the best, praying I didn’t just land on some poor sucker. And at this moment I’m thinking to myself, I don’t have gills or fins so someone please tell me; Why am I doing this?

Whatever. On snorkel dive number three the whole flotilla of thrashing bodies head over to a series of caves that are supposed to be the spotcave shot.bvi for all things wonderful under the water. (I really was content to just photograph the caves above the surface, from the boat, but no, here I am too.) Now mind you, we’re one boat load of snorkelers totaling ten, joining other boats with even greater numbers per boat, and we’re all basically headed in the same direction. Not being totally smitten with the whole enterprise, I’m upright, with mask on top of my head about half the time anyway looking around for things like large boats that want to run us down, or sharks, and basically anything with teeth that could eat me. (The fish I love the most are the ones I enjoy eating, like tuna, swordfish and the like, and I just have to wonder when I’m in the water if it might be “get back” time, etc. So I’m on the lookout just in case.) Then, I see this glob of people colors all haphazardly heading towards one little cave and I start thinking this looks like the rotary on Morrissey Boulevard at rush hour in South Boston, which, if you’ve been there, can’t end well at all.

At this point I’m also remembering that the skipper told us to be careful of the surf pushing us onto the rocks, and to be on the lookout for stuff that stings and bites and God knows what else. And, might I add, the skipper… he stayed on the boat. That alone should have told me something.

So into the cave I go and I remember the First Mate on the boat telling us to allow our eyes time to adjust to the low light levels. Great. Where the hell is my light? Of course I have no light. I look around and see absolutely nothing. (I thought, why in hell would any marine life want to be in a cave anyway with a bazillion human beings thrashing around above them?) Next came the surf, which did sweep us in even deeper into the cave. I look down through my mask wondering if this would be the last thing I would ever remember seeing and I see this happily crazed athletic woman diving beneath me. When she surfaces, she tells me that when the surge rolls in, I can avoid its impact by simply diving under for a bit. Right.

With that suggestion I realized that I was done with cave snorkeling. I began to swim out and to get away from banging into other snorkelers when of course a wave does hit me and rolls me onto  some rocks just below the surface, where I do get stung by something that I cannot see nor want to see. The sting wasn’t that bad, actually, it just smarted for awhile and slowly dissipated, adding to the overall wonder of the experience. (I was, however, able to cash in my sympathy card later on being the only snorkeler who got stung on the boat afterwards.)

I made my way out alongside a reef where it was quite pleasant and I did see lots of colorful fish of various sizes. Some were pretty, and others rather homely. Fan coral was waving about and things were crawling around near the bottom. It was all very nice but I thought to myself that it was something I could see in most any issue of my National Geographic Magazine, or on the Internet from the comfort of my armchair. I know, bad attitude!

Truth be known, I snorkeled for other reasons that day too. Because the unspoken ritual with these outings is when we all swim back to the boat and take off our snorkeling gear, the crew hands out ‘pain killers.” They’re not pills. These “pain killers”come in a glass with ice and some kind of concoction that’s topped off with a healthy dose of rum. They help everyone to remember what a good time that they just had.

When the skipper heard that I had gotten stung, he said, “I think that you need another “pain killer.”

Being the good sport that I am, naturally, I agreed.

Kevin Lee

Photo by K.Lee


Author: Kevin Lee

In a nutshell, Kevin fesses up to the following: He's a retired youth advocate-counselor, a blogger, writer, photographer, rower, Friends Minister, grandpa of six and married to a terrific woman for 43 years and counting!

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