Monday, May 11, 2015

Stewart visits: lionfish, deep dives, porpoises, and other adventures.... all in only 44 hours.

My good friend Stewart and his wife, Alex, just spent a week in the BVIs before she headed home and he remained to spend the weekend with me.

Friday morning, before he arrived, I did errands on shore and, as I paddled out past Angel's Rest (Peter's house/bar) I saw a gray back appear for a moment about ten yards away. A minute later it appeared again. I kept station, paddling gently against the wind, and waited.... and saw two porpoises. They hung around about 20' from me, practically performing with a close tandem "stitching" for a couple minutes, swimming slowly above and below every few seconds. So cool! These are the first wild ones I have ever seen near by.

About 2pm or so Stewart showed up and we raised sails and headed to Hansen Bay, eager to pursue Peter to his favorite anchoring spot, sail, swim, and otherwise squeeze every bit of adventure from the little time we had.
As we approached Angel's Rest we noticed it moving: Peter had decided to pull anchor and head home for the evening. No worries: Peter would probably be out again Saturday. We dropped anchor and snorkeled a new "low-energy"* reef I've been enjoying, one with lots of little reef fish and live coral, Stewart enjoyed my hi-tech fresh-water rinse system,
and we enjoyed sunset and dinner.

In the morning I swam early, then we headed for Salt Pond. I figured this would allow us to get a nice sail, enjoy some large waves, see one of the nicest "energetic"* reefs I know, and enjoy some fairly clear water (the waves have been stirring up Hansen Bay and we could only see about 30'). Stewart took the helm while I relaxed a bit by the mast.

As we approached Salt Pond, the kayak surfed down a wave, then drifted back and hit the end of its line hard, pulling the shackle right out of the plastic. I can't recall if we swore, but we changed our plans and our course, choosing the pursue the drifting, blowing kayak. Here is where we ran into some trouble: we had our full mainsail up and, while we had been struggling to steer and planned to reef it in Salt Pond, found it very hard to do the fine steering we needed to retrieve the kayak.... or even keep it in sight. After about ten minutes we caught it on our third try (thank goodness for heaving-to and for the strap on the kayak stern) and tied it on a long nylon line (given to me by Seth, Stewart's father), and sailed into Salt Pond where we caught the mooring closest to the entrance reef.

Once there, we hauled the kayak aboard, installed shackle and a long bungee (nice shock absorber!), and relaunched it. Then we explored the reef for a half hour (during which I showed Stewart how to equalize pressure as one dives) and, when we returned, I scraped some oysters from the keel and fed them to the reef fish... and then managed to snap the handle right off the scraper. No worries: I still have two others.

Waves made the mooring spot a bit rough, so we decided to sail back to Hansen Bay for lunch

and anchored near Angel's Rest.

I cooked up a couple omelets, but could not find my ham, so they had onion, mushroom, swiss, and spam. Tasty! Then we swam over to Angel's Rest, bought a couple rum punches (tasty and strong: one each turned out to be a good limit for us lightweights), and admired the engineering and creativity of Peter's design. Then into the water to swim the hundred yards back home.

On the way one of us pointed off to our right, north-west, and said something to the effect of "what is that gray thing sticking up about 40' away?" We peered at it and realized it looked like a flipper and a porpoise nose... of one just lolling in the water, relaxing. It disappeared after a quarter minute or so, but I found it very exciting.

Once aboard, we relaxed, read, and rested, waiting for the it to be time for a sunset swim and letting the ethanol dissipate. By 5:30 we could wait no more and paddled to our dive spot and slipped in, anchoring the kayak. Beautiful reef... but a bit murky from the sediment stirred up by the weather. I tried diving down and swimming a few feet above the coral (I dove 20' and and Stewart definitely dove deeper than 15' quite easily) and the view went from flat and green to various colors and varied topography and loads of little fish.... and a lionfish.

I called Stewart and pointed it out to him, then dove again, pulled the marker ribbon from my pocket, and placed it several feet from the fish. From the surface one could hardly see the 9" fish 20' below us, but the ribbon made it far easier to locate in the chaos of coral. I thought for a few minutes and couldn't resist: "I want to get it now: are you up for going back to the boat and retrieving the spear with me?" I said. In five minutes we were back near the spot, dropped me off to find the ribbon on the edge of the drop-off to the depths, and, in another five, the fish rose out of the water on the end of the spear. We brought it home for measuring and photos,

then fed it back to the sea.

The next morning we paddled to the same reef as early as we could bear, after a cup of coffee hot from the (French) press, dropped anchor, and began to seriously scan the reef for lions out hunting for breakfast. After about a half hour I saw one, called to Stewart to come keep an eye on it for me, and swam off to retrieve the spear from the kayak. Approaching the kayak I spotted ANOTHER lionfish hunting.

"Stewart!" I yelled, "I've found another one! I'll shoot this one and then come over there to get that one!" He nodded and have me a thumbs-up, I quickly assembled the spear... dropping the point and having to dive for it just six feet from the lionfish... then regained my breath, dove, and speared it.

While Stewart watched the fish for me, he actually saw it attempt to ambush something, but could not tell if it was successful or not. Good hunters, those lionfish.

I swam to Stewart, towing the kayak with the dying fish in the bow; breathed and relaxed for a bit; then dove, stalked, speared the lovely, venomous, possibly poisonous, invasive predator; and set it beside the earlier catch.

"Um... did you know you have a nosebleed?" Stewart asked. "Your mask has a bunch of blood in it."

I pulled my mask off and emptied out the pink liquid. Apparently so many dives to such depth were stressing my sinuses a bit and mush have broken a few little blood vessels, but it didn't seem life threatening and sharks like fish blood, not mammal blood, so we kept searching for more beauty and more lionfish. We found lots of the former, but none of the latter... and I will return to that reef again, seeking both.

We headed back to Coral Bay, stopping at one of my favorite reefs for finding little lobsters, but the water was murky (6' visibility) and, I think, someone had taken all the lobsters, despite the fact that they were undersized AND in National Monument waters! I could really go on about this and the human tendency to use our intelligence to justify what we wish to believe and do rather than ... but I digress.

We sailed into the harbor, wing-on-wing,
caught the mooring, and took Peter's dinghy to shore. A big (24"? 30"?) iguana relaxing in the water by the shore startled us as it swam away. Stewart bought us very good burgers at Skinny Legs, then started hitching (no buses on weekends) to Cruz Bay. It took about five minutes, but he snagged a ride, caught the 1pm ferry and the 5pm flight to Boston (same one I will be on May 20!), and, I assume, is now back at work.

I love having my friends and family visit! And I love having them depart and getting my space back. So far I enjoy each aspect rather than pining for company when alone and pining to be alone when company visits. It is so human (and probably drives us to great feats... and self destructive behavior) to think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but probably does not help our happiness.

 * as of two minutes ago, I am tentatively classifying reefs by whether they are in quiet/deep water ("low-energy") or in places that receive a beating ("energetic"). The corals are VERY different

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