Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sailing the Spanish Virgin Islands, Part 4

Nan checking out Bahia Mosquito from the dinghy prior to our night excursionIt was cool and threatening rain the next morning, a good excuse to sit in Quetzal's covered cockpit and drink endless cups of coffee. Our plans for the day were modest so there was no hurry. We were simply going to sail about six miles down the coast of Vieques, from our current location at the eastern end of Ensenada Honda to the mouth of Bahia Mosquito.

When we were all sufficiently caffeinated, curiosity overcame inertia and we decided to explore our little end of the bay. We maneuvered the inflatable dinghy into the water from its storage location on the foredeck and attached John's new outboard motor, a huge improvement from his oars-only propulsion of trips past. As soon as everyone was aboard the dinghy, it started to rain lightly. Nobody seemed to mind. Getting wet is to be expected when traveling by dinghy. John steered us toward a break in the mangroves, which turned out to be a narrow channel to a tiny circular inlet about thirty yards across. There wasn't much to see except raindrops falling on the water, more mangroves and numerous basketball-sized moon jellyfish floating in the shallow water. John turned the dinghy around and asked what we wanted to see next. Dallas suggested checking out the shoal we had skirted to get into the bay to see if it offered any good snorkeling.

We stopped back at Quetzal to put on swimsuits and grab snorkeling gear, and then motored the dinghy the mile or so over to the shoal. The tide was low, exposing stinky weeds and crunchy growth that John didn't want to risk puncturing the dinghy on, so we anchored in about four feet of water instead of trying to beach it. Dallas, Genie and I went over the side frogman-style and paddled around looking for signs of life. There weren't many, just small bits of living coral growing here and there in the cracks of dead, sand-scoured coral remnants, and the occasional small fish. In the deeper water, the bottom was covered in sea grass. Dallas stuck up his head to voice his disappointment to John and Nan in the dinghy and swam back to climb aboard. Genie suggested swimming the mile back to Quetzal for the exercise and I agreed provided I could keep on my mask and fins. I was glad I did because there were dozens of the moon jellyfish to swim around that I wouldn't have been able to see otherwise. The dinghy paced Genie, which was fortunate because she eventually pooped out.

After regrouping at the boat, we pulled up the anchor and headed out of Ensenada Honda. We put up the sails when we reached open water and aimed southwest away from land to catch the trade winds in a smooth broad reach. John's simple plan was to go out until we were halfway to our destination and then jibe to head back in. In no time, we were at Bahia Mosquito, tied to one of two very exposed mooring balls. It would be an uncomfortable night, but it would be worth it because we were going to see the single greatest instance of phosphorescent phytoplankton in the world.

Everybody except Genie jumped into the dinghy for a daylight excursion to see where we would be going after dark. The water in the channel leading to Bahia Mosquito was very shallow, no more than four feet deep and then no more than six feet deep well out into the bay. As with Ensenada Honda, there was not much to see except mangroves lining the shores. It was difficult to imagine one of nature's greatest light shows happening in this location. The photo above shows Nan scouting the bay from the bow of the dinghy.

We tolerated Quetzal's rocking and rolling as best we could, carefully juggling our plates and cups through dinner and waiting for nightfall. There was still no moon, so it would be very dark again that night. John suggested we get going while there was still a little light. We grabbed some towels and our best flashlight and piled into the dinghy again. Dallas stayed back this time but Genie went along. She was intrigued by the idea of skinny dipping in phosphorescence.

At first, we couldn't figure out what we should be looking for. Would the phosphorescence be similar to the little glowing sparkles you see in a boat's wake at night? As we entered the channel, I looked at the outboard's wake and noticed that it was glowing. I thought it was maybe the whiteness of the bubbles catching the remaining daylight, but it was much more than that. The whole wake was glowing a weird consistent pale green. Just then, Nan and Genie "oohed" and pointed from the bow. The fish we were scaring with the outboard were shooting away in flashes of pale green like underwater meteors. It was spectacular! The trails they left were about six feet long and faded quickly, just like real meteors. I trailed my hand in the water. It glowed like it was bathed in radioactivity.

We pointed the flashlight around until we found a bird poop-covered buoy we had spotted earlier and tossed a loop over it. Everyone suddenly had cold feet about going into the water--it was just too creepy and weird--everyone, that is, except John, who pulled off his T-shirt and did a kind of spinning cannonball into the water. The splash was psychedelic! When the water settled, there was John treading water surrounded by the glow, like some radioactive sea monster out of an old science fiction movie.

No comments: