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Sailing with Charlie: Snorkeling

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“You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” This quote most definitely applies to snorkeling where expectations, trepidation, apprehension and fear rule.

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Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre
Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre

Recently Charlie went snorkeling at the BVI’s Smuggler’s Cove. For a very long way, in water less than 10-ft there was nothing spectacular – a lot of dead coral, broken tree branches, and some human rubbish. But when you looked closely there was some interesting sea life. There was a lizard fish, cleverly camouflaged, a group of sea urchins, a feather duster, a small growth of staghorn coral – and then under a cluster of dead coral, a puffer fish poking its smiling face out, its huge eyes staring at the intrusion with its pelvic fins rotating at pace to keep it in place. Further on, some large rocks were adorned with multi-colored lichen and small anemones. Charlie wasn’t disappointed but many tourists would have been – it certainly wasn’t like the usual scenes in a tropical undersea documentary.

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On another occasion Charlie took a group of visitors, neophytes, snorkeling from a yacht he was captaining. As they were gearing up the usual questions arose, ‘How deep is it?’ ‘Are there sharks in these waters?’ ‘Where are the jellyfish?’ and more. Charlie: ‘Wait and see, it’s a different world down there.’

Off they went and the usual complaints arose, ‘My mask is leaking.’ ‘I can’t touch the bottom.’ ‘Something touched my leg.’ Charlie quickly addressed the issue and with a big smile advised his flock to follow closely and not to panic. ‘If anyone is uncomfortable, we can turn back at any time.’ He advised. 

Charlie had a white board and magic marker so he could write descriptions of what they were seeing instead of stopping and explaining. He’d just write and point as they went by points of interest. Elkhorn coral, sea fan, sea urchin, ‘don’t touch,’ brain coral. Then, out from a pile of rocks, a moray eel poked its head and opened and closed its mouth. Before Charlie could write ’moray eel’ a woman in the group screamed, started thrashing around and gasping for air, her snorkel slowly sinking… Charlie immediately guided the group back to the boat and fortunately no-one drowned.

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Some folks can snorkel over the most wondrous reef with schools of colorful fish, vibrant corals and undersea flora. They’ll return to the boat and complain, ‘That was rubbish, where are all the big fish?’ Others will jump in and then almost as quickly jump out, ‘Sharks! There are sharks under the boat.’ Almost always the ‘sharks’ referred to are remoras, harmless fish, scavengers that feed on leftovers from their hosts. Barracudas are often feared because they are territorial and don’t swim away like most other species. They have rows of sharp ugly teeth and open and close their mouths, possibly to pass water over their gills to get the much-needed oxygen. However, they are harmless to humans.

Once a visitor, a fisherman, reported to Charlie that a barracuda had once bitten his toe almost clean off. It transpired that the said barracuda had just been hooked and landed in the boat. No wonder!! 

Charlie tells all his guests, ’There is nothing in the sea that will aggressively attack a human. Normally any attacks are mistaken identity or defensive in nature and no, sea urchins that deposit spines in your foot are not aggressive and no-one’s fault but your own – NOT an attack! Watch your step and enjoy the undersea world, it’s a magical part of nature. 

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Julian Putley is the author of The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI; Sunfun Calypso; and Sunfun Gospel. 

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Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.

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