Catching Some Rays In The Rain

This has been far too short a trip, I think, and today is my last day diving, as there is a minimum 18 hours decompression time between last dive and flying, so I will make the most of my time today.

We boarded the boat, the usual group of us, and headed out. With L, B, and I, there are also two couples traveling together from California (R and K left yesterday). They are great people and we have had many fun conversations. I am happy to have had the chance to share the trip with them. One observation about this vacation for me: I have met many more people than on some of my other trips, and divers in general are a very social group. I wouldn’t want to do a trip involving me just staying at a resort, but a dive trip is not, by any means, that type of trip. 

OK – onto the dives of the day. The first dive site is the wreck of the Oroverde. 

 

When we arrived at this dive site, as with every site, our team draws a sketch on the markerboard informing us of the lay of things under the sea, and what we can expect. This is one of those boards. I have looked at these maps trying to recall what I am seeing, but at times have struggled to discern my location once underwater.

 

The Oroverde was a banana boat that had a history of use smuggling drugs (marijuana, to be specific). Apparently the crew set the boat on fire, and her remains were sunk as an artificial reef. She was originally sunk further out, but the storm surge from Hurricane Gerald moved her carcass further inland, where her bow now sits on the sea floor, simultaneously rotting, growing coral, and harboring fish.

 

Just off the bow of the ship are the remains of bicycles. The explanation is that dive masters here can’t afford cars, so they have bicycles instead. When they no longer need the bikes they ride them off the back of a boat, in scuba gear, and deposit them near the wreck. There aren’t many bikes here, so I suspect this is an apocryphal story.

 

Much of the ship lays in pieces, having become a home to large schools of fish.

We started by following with the full group, but eventually L and I broke off, headed toward a nearby dive site called Paradise Valley. As we veered off I became acutely aware that L was making me take the lead. I knew he wouldn’t let me get lost, but this made me at least a little bit nervous. I’m still fairly inexperienced, and really would rather not bring us up to a different dive boat.

 

I followed a sand chute up and the next one down, weaving a path back toward our boat. Along the way I reached this tunnel, guarded by a massive fish (see it to the left?). L went ahead and I followed behind, swimming through the opening where the fish had been standing guard.

 

Other than the wreck there wasn’t honestly a lot to see at this site, so I ascended to the waiting boat and we moved to our next site.

The next site, names after a group of trees on the shore, was “Thirteen Trees.”  

 

I saw anemones here. I feel like this was, in fact, the first site where I saw any anemones.

 

If anything this was the “Thirteen Christmas Tree Worm” site. There were plenty of Christmas tree worms here.

 

And plume worms. Which are basically like Christmas tree worms in a different configuration

 

We did get to see a lemon ray taking shelter under a coral outcropping, which was very cool.

 

And more Christmas tree worms.

 

And even more Christmas tree worms. I like them a lot.

 

A school of blue tangs was hovering nearby.

 

Finally, as we were preparing our ascent, I crossed paths with this cow fish. Adorable!

The last dive of the day took place after lunch, at Stingray City. It isn’t really a city, its a site that is frequented by gobs and gobs of rays. There are two Stingray City sites: one for snorkelers and one for divers. Obviously, the site for divers is deeper. Usually the resort i’m staying at visits Stingray City on Thursday, but since I am leaving Thursday afternoon, they moved the visit to Wednesday, which was really great of them. We arrived at the site in a bit of chop, and a cold rain was falling as we tied up to the mooring line. Given the conditions, we were anxious to get out of the rain and into the water.

Stingray City rocked. As soon as we hit the water the stingrays started coming to town.

 

Mostly we saw females. The males are much smaller. These, by the way, are South Atlantic Stingrays. Everybody seems to ask, so I’ll just head this off: these are not the rays that killed Steve Irwin. Those were bull rays.

Our guides suggested that we assemble in a circle, but frankly the tidal surge was tossing us around a bit and if I went back I would carry some extra weight with me.

 

Here the rays are mugging L. They are looking for food. Each boat is allowed to feed them a maximum of 1 lb of squid, and the rays are ready to get everything they can.

It isn’t unusual to be mobbed by 3 rays at a time. In their zeal for food they came at us like giant pancake-shaped hungry puppies. Absolutely adorable.

 

This is the mouth of a ray in the process of accosting me. (BTW: My nails look horrible in that photo, but that’s because my tissues have absorbed so much water. I swear they’ve been trimmed.)

 

See the yellow fish there? That’s a snapper (I think). The snapper here are very aggressive. A ray tried to eat my thumb and another tried to eat some of my other fingers. No big deal. The snapper, however, left me with severe abrasions.

 

As the food was used up, the rays departed, with the exception of this one, who settled down on the sandy bottom.

We pushed forward through strong ocean currents and returned to our crew on a sunny boat. After a nice ride through some minor chop we found ourselves back at the dock. Along the way, a flying fish skimmed across the surface of the Caribbean, and I gazed north to the cloudy skies that await me back in Michigan. What a trip this has been!

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