Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass   September 2005
Sharing the Secret Place
by Stephanie Martin

I have been blessed in my cruising life with snorkeling some of the most beautiful, pristine and remote reefs in the Caribbean and Bahamas. All of us have special spots that seem beyond comparison. So beautiful and rare are some of these places that I have felt for the moment that I and my companions were the only humans ever to swim those little jewels in the water. I know of course that this is not true, but isn't it just bliss to have that feeling even for a little while? As though a perfect little slice of brilliant color, water and life was put there just for us to discover.

I am going to tell you about one of these little secrets. While sailing in Los Roques with guests aboard we came upon old friends Patti and Mike on Galadriel. They were headed east; we were headed west. We were anchored at Carenero. I had our guests Clifford and Adrianne in the dinghy and we were looking for a passage to get over to the reef that stretches outside between Cayo Romanso and Carenero. Patti and Mike's dinghy was tied to the mangroves and we saw them stand up in ankle deep water and start walking towards us. They told us the reef out there was magical and offered to show it to us the next day. Of course, we gladly accepted their invitation.

Off we went the next day at about noon when the sun was high and bright in a deep, clear, blue sky. The shallows shimmered and sparkled in blues, pinks, silvers, and golds ahead of us as we carefully stepped in sand patches through very shallow coral. When the water got to be about a foot deep we sat down, put on our fins and began a long swim over healthy patches of live golden coral dotted with purple fairy basslets, blennies, wrasses and even a very chubby porcupine fish who appeared to have eaten too much to get out from under his chunk of coral.
Then came the really shallow part (as in suck in your gut or get scraped!). A 30-foot swim over a very close encounter with coral and suddenly we were in a blue hole. Such a great contrast, it took my breath away. Twenty feet of deep turquoise with schools of bar jacks, yellow tails and blue tangs all around us. Towering from the bottom along the walls of the hole were huge structures of staghorn coral; some black and skeletal; some living, golden and covered with new growth. Mike and Patti led us through shallow openings in the coral from one blue hole to the next, each more spectacular and filled with life. Finally we were outside the reef in a deep swell where the ocean seemed limitless.

There was more to come as we surfed back through the passages and came to a gigantic bowl about 30 feet deep, maybe 200 yards wide, and a quarter-mile long. The outer reef was on one side and the shallow inner reef we swam over was on the other. In between was a hidden world of some of the fattest, healthiest and most varied fish I have ever seen all in one place. The surf pounded on the reef to one side of us and small and large fish of all shapes, colors and sizes calmly danced with the ocean near its inner wall while they looked for lunch.

Midnight parrots three feet long swam with hawksbill turtles. Tiny damsels and rock beauties were all at peace with each other. Huge living conch, which we had seen so little of, slept on the bottom, burrowed in the clean white sand alongside rays with only their buggy eyes and tails visible. Scrawled filefish about 18 inches long skimmed the bottom for tasty morsels while a two-and-half-foot-long trumpet fish with a long purple snout and lime-green body floated by a school of ocean surgeons. Mango parrots, stoplight parrots and queen angels as big as serving platters strutted their flamboyant colors.
The light changed as we swam all the way around the bowl and it shone under the ledges to reveal a six-foot green moray fluttering behind a series of passages. A five-foot barracuda patrolled the entrance to the smaller holes like a troll under a bridge, his eye following us wherever we went in his territory. Blue tangs darted back and forth among hundreds of sergeant majors, and grunts. Goat fish harvested the bottom while gobies waited on healthy brain coral for other fish to pass by needing cleaning services.
All too quickly three hours had passed and we decided to head back. Skimming over the shallow reef we again found ourselves swimming over the shallow patches of coral. Coming back we stopped to notice the very tiny juvenile wrasses feeding on  new coral polyps.

Above the water the sun shone bright in the blue sky and the sound of the wind still honking along was a shock to my ears after three hours of underwater silence. I will have the magic of that afternoon snorkel with me for life and it will be a very hard act to follow.

One of the best things about cruising is finding those secret places and sharing it with friends. Thanks, Patti and Mike!
Stephanie Martin and Tom Lane are cruising the Caribbean aboard Mima.

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