Appreciating Snorkeling

02 May

I have a friend called Heather. Heather is this beautiful, tall blond American girl with a huge smile, and a bigger heart. We worked together for about 6 months in the Bahamas at Stuart Cove’s. She is a diving instructor, just like me. In Heather’s “conventional” life she is a sign interpreter for deaf people. That is what she did before becoming a diving instructor and that is what she is doing now, after finishing her escapades as a diving instructor in the Bahamas. When Chris and I were working in the Bahamas I was a an underwater photographer so I would often find myself on dives with Heather while she was guiding and I was taking photos. Heather and I had this uncanny ability to talk underwater. It sounds strange (literally!) but we would take our regulators out and just talk. I think it was the combination of my high pitched voice (which carries underwater) and Heather’s ability to read lips (due to her occupation), that we were able to have full conversations while scuba diving.

I have to say that now, when I take my regulator out and start talking underwater, Chris puts his fingers in his ears! He says that one of the great things about scuba diving is that you can’t talk underwater! I do love proving him wrong. When I try and talk to Stu underwater, he normally takes his regulator out and retorts with the same response every time. I can’t write that response here, as you can imagine from a lad from South London, it is something that would be bleeped out on the tv! And I know his mom reads this blog, so perhaps she can tell him to watch his language down there, there are young fish present!

So, why am I telling you all this?

Heather, a great scuba diver and lover of marine life, prefers to snorkel then dive. She came to visit us in St. Martin and we would go out to Creole Rock and she would choose to snorkel instead of diving. She would say that it felt more natural, that she just enjoyed it more. I just never understood it.

Here is Heather, Chris and I when she came to visit us in St. Martin.

Scuba Diving and Snorkel in SXM

Now, I haven’t been diving in awhile, so I try and get all the water activity in that I can as I am missing diving terribly. This means that I have been snorkeling a lot. This means that I have been giving some great snorkeling tours in fact! I’ve been thinking about Heather a lot while I’ve been snorkeling; what is that she prefers so much? And I think that I am starting to get it.

First of all, there is no cumbersome equipment. Just fins, mask and snorkel. Everything seems softer without the weights, the tank and the regulator. There is also no noise. Scuba diving, although we are underwater, can be a little noisy. The sound of the bubbles in the water cuts through the otherwise silent world. With a snorkel, there are no bubbles, no sound. Also, and this may be why Chris doesn’t really like snorkeling that much, you can actually TALK to the people you’re with. For me that is a bonus, as I like to share.

“Do you see those purple patches on the sides of that rock?” I’ll tell my snorkelers. “Well, those are the eggs of the Sergeant Major Fish. You know? The one’s with the black, yellow and white stripes. The male sits on top of them and attacks anything or anyone that comes close… watch.”

Then I will take a deep breath, swim down under the water, and point out the purple patch. Then I make fists at the Sergeant Major and shake them, so that they can see this brave little fish swim violently at me.

Try communicating all that without words! It normally comes across as me pointing frantically at a Sergent Major and the the purple patch and then rocking my arms back and forth like as if there was a baby in them and then making fists at the fish. People rarely understand. Who knows how many ways that can be interpreted…. Most of the time we get to the surface and they say “What the heck where you trying to tell me down there?”

Also, while snorkeling, the fish don’t seem to react the same way as they do to someone on scuba. The other day at Anse Marcel we had two Eagle Rays swimming underneath us for almost 20 minutes, super close, just feeding in the sand and gracefully flying through the water. On scuba, the Eagle Rays take one look at us and say “Dude, let’s get outta here!” With snorkelers, they don’t seem to mind us.

I am also appreciating the challenges of free-diving. Getting deeper and staying there for longer. Although I don’t like that feeling of panic that sometimes hits when I am out of air and on my way up. Another friend from the Bahamas, Leon, taught Chris a trick, which he then taught to me. Breath in through your nose on the way up. The air in the mask expands as you ascend and even though it isn’t enough for a proper breath, it takes away that Help-I’m-out-of-air-and-going-to-die feeling.

Another great thing about snorkeling is that the colors are all super bright because it is so shallow. The brown corals are actually red and orange, the blue spots on the Juvenile Damsel Fish are crazy bright, and the sunlight shimmering on the rocks is hypnotizing.

Last things, there are no limits to snorkeling. You can snorkel for as long as you like. You are never going to run out air, build up any decompression time, or worry about holding your breath.

I’m not saying that I don’t love scuba anymore, I’m just saying that I am starting to understand what Heather was talking about. It is only now, because scuba diving isn’t an option for me, that I am truly learning to appreciate snorkeling.

So come sign up for a snorkel tour and get me out of the office!!!

(Sally wrote this blog 🙂 )

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