I am startled! It happens every time I put my face in the water, with face mask and snorkel tube. I’m only knee deep or a little more, and the scene is so bright and intimate! No longer hidden by reflection, it’s a scene from a child’s fantasy. The yellows are so yellow, the blues so blue. A damselfish appears, stars gleaming from its sides. I push off gently, keeping my fins quiet. A blue tang sails past. At the base of a big brain coral just by our place, a squirrelfish peeks out. One must navigate between the brain and a spreading elkhorn coral, its tips so sharp and bright they look like they’ve grown overnight.
Virtually every portion of the shoreline of Cayman Brac is like this. Find a place to get in, and the scene opens up for your delectation.
Striking off to the big gorgonian now, where fishes like to play. Glance around — where’s my buddy? Bob my head above the surface. Yes, there’s a fin above the surface as my dive partner goes underwater. We never drift out of each other’s sight. It’s one of our simple safety rules, along with snorkeling into the current, if any, and saving a bit of breath and energy in case we need it for an emergency.
Propelling myself to deeper water I seek the Mountainous Star Coral. It rises from the bottom in fifty feet of water. Will hover above it for a few moments, gathering air and calming my body, then duck-dive to let my legs drive me under and, fin-powered, take a look around. Here, a trumpet fish hangs diagonally in the water column. There, an orange filefish and there too, my buddy dives past waving gaily. I roll to face upwards. There’s the mirrored surface high above. A lazy kick starts my ascent, which speeds up as my lungs expand.
Is this the best snorkeling in the world? Read on … right to the end.
|My Coral Garden
|In northwest coral gardens
Of blue-striped grunt and snapper
I look for one called stoplight
For nurse shark sleeping quietly
A ball of fry we come upon
They move apart and in my heart
|we frolic with the school
and squab of many hue
and peer in every cranny
to show my Brit companion
she dives completely through it
she’s partly fish and proved it
In Montserrat, I once dove quite deep. The sand was black, the water clear and the small boat anchor lines were taut with high tide. So I’d be able to measure my depth along the rope when surfacing.
But it was nice down there. No buoyancy at all! I scarcely wanted to leave. I’m not at all suicidal but this was like the blue silence of the depths. I decided to return to the surface, and gave a lazy flip. But I was in no rush.
|Fairy Hill, Jamaica
|In dreams of times-that-have-been I see
Two giant mantas soaring, winging
Across my path I brake by hands
And stare, and flip by practiced finning
|And U-turn back still under to cross
Again the under-lip of cave
And rise and surface there and catch
My breath, my sense and save
|This mem-ory and ponder still
“Development” at Fairy Hill
Hotels on every strand and Cay
Throughout the once- wild Caribbee
NB: In my memory’s eye these great fish were huge. Looking them up
today I find that one can weigh 3000 pounds. My sedan weights 2000.
|In the Solomon Sea
|Two decades later I’m informed
Humpback Dolphin is the term
For the pod I was adopted by
If only briefly on the fly
|One was a show-off, or why else
Did Big Guy upend himself
Vertically, bumping coral head
With his own, or was he led to
|Dislodge some creature
As his menu feature?
Dispela taim long Islan’ Kiriwina, mi ibin hamamas moa. Olsem wanem mi yet, mi bihainem sampela tripela pis oli call ’em Dolphin, long nambis ples long Trobrian’ Islan. Orait, na sem taim mitupela Etna i’save “snorkel long hia, na dispela sinting oli kamap, tasol Etna i’ lusim wara na ranaway liklik. Emi porait liklik but mi, nogat.
And this is the same place where, at low tide, two small children gathering sea lettuce shyly offered us a handful, a memory we will savor forever, like humpback dolphins joining me as I snorkeled in the Solomon Sea, Papua New Guinea.
|Hmm … why are seashells a bit rare here?
|We dredged out all the seashells
And canalized for boats
Depauperate of seashells now
O’er empty sand we float
|In other seas I searched for shells
And found a great abundance
Hundreds of species, thousands of shells
In numbers like redundance
|My fins spun me ’round coral heads
For tritons, zebras, augers
Donax on the littoral
Tulipa and vases
|Milk conch, Rooster tail, Fighting,
Prickly cockles too
“Man-eating” in the Trobriands
And boxes as for jewels
|Tulips, helmets, turkey wings
Cones, pretty purpuras
Tellins, cones, purple shells
|At bottom, all a person has is his integrity
And all a country has is its environment
It’s difficult to think of the greatest snorkeling experience here on Cayman Brac. From shore and from boats, in “X” Coral Gardens, a somewhat secret place, where we usually see schools of fish and when lucky see nurse and other sharks.
And other places on the Brac: a daytime view of a clinging crab called a king crab; a huge Permit, was he just overgrown or what; some looming tarpon; diving the wreck of the Prince Frederick, a 19th century wreck and legitimate part of our history — many happy experiences and perhaps the best lie in the future!
MAYBE THE HYPE IS TRUE! PERHAPS CAYMAN BRAC IS REALLY THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD TO SNORKEL
You don’t need to be Crocodile Dundee to snorkel here. You don’t need ten thousand bucks or 20 hours of flying. No need for an armed escort, nor an armed guard for your car parked on the road by the sea.
You’re not likely to be hit by a box jellyfish. Sea itch maybe (seasonally) and don’t step on a sea urchin. The food and water are safe and the accountant at your resort is honest.
FOR ME of course it’s the best. I’m 71 and can roll out of bed and snorkel. I’ve done other stuff before — swum the hulks of WW2 landing craft in the south seas. Now I can just snorkel to my heart’s content, like this time, listen:
|Teaching a new snorkeler to snorkel-dive
The initial duck-dive is the hard part
The so-attentive onlooker
(a snorkeler but not a snorkel-diver)
Gets so involved that after snorkeling for 40 years
SHE SNORKEL-DIVES FOR THE FIRST TIME
And the three of us gambol in the clear water
And soft waves watching finny friends below
And diving conch and putting them back
Right side up
We watch our skin go bronze in the low sun
And never want to come ashore
Only hunger drives us in
And in this regard (overall experience) Cayman Brac may well be
the best place to snorkel in the world!