The captain arrived at a coral reef called Grecian Rocks, anchored The Encounter, gave us a little intro, and the Besch boys were the first in the water out of about 50 people. I’m thrilled they’re such great swimmers and so adventurous. Most people snorkeled near the boat, but we headed past the bow and off to the edge of the reef. As we kicked along looking down with the sun on our backs, we spotted about 4 barracuda! The captain had named fish we might see, but I didn’t expect barracuda to be the first! Luckily, they seemed to be passive and not very hungry. We told the boys to keep their distance. We swam over sea grass and saw the giant conch shells the captain had described. The conchs were fished to extinction in the Keys, and they’re now being reintroduced and protected.
We came to sand, and then the colorful coral reef. It was like Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish! There were tiny electric blue and neon yellow angel fish, striped black and gold seargent major fish, long trumpet fish, and giant schools of silver snapper fish. It didn’t matter which direction…fish were everywhere. My favorite are the parrot fish, decked out in their purple, bluish green, and pink colors. I just floated and watched as they chomped on the coral. I spotted a symbiotic relationship between a tiny, busy fish cleaning away on a parrot fish’s back. The little fish eats away the parasites on the bigger fish, which is good for both.
The boys were into it, big time. Will, Robby, and Sam have learned the trick of diving down to swim with the fish, and then clearing the snorkel upon surfacing without removing it from the mouth. It’s a cool maneuver that comes in handy, and allows you to free dive. Thom and I dove down quite a bit, once we were past the barracuda! Ben was nervous, and stayed close to Thom, not wanting to try the diving. Thom held Ben by the arm as they swam, pointing out many things.
We heard a loud air horn, and I looked up to spot the captain pointing at guess who…the Besches. He signaled us to come closer. We did, but it’s too bad since that was the best, deepest area we saw. There were giant sea fans, long trumpet fish, and colorful schools of fish everywhere. The coral was the basis for all the life out here, at depths of only one to 20 feet below us. We saw fire coral, brain and star coral, and many soft corals that I thought were plants (sea fans and sea whips). The only plants were the sea grass.
The boys said it was like swimming in a huge aquarium. The visibility was crystal clear for probably 50 or 60 feet. As we swam back to the boat, we again spotted many barracuda, carefully swimming around them. Thom and Will said they came within 10 feet! We climbed back on the boat, and Sam was the last one up. The captain had jokingly warned everyone ahead of time that the last one back had to buy everyone the first round of drinks on St. Patrick’s Day. When Sam came up the ladder, the captain congratulated him, held up his hand, and announced to everyone that Sam would buy the drinks!
We camped right there at the state park where the boat docked. We’ve been so lucky to find a place for our big rig, since this is the height of the season, and spring break for some colleges. Today we’ll drive about 80 miles to Key West. Thom was here 20 years ago, and the rest of us have never been. So we’ll take our time making many stops on the way to see the sights and enjoy the gorgeous azure seas, along with mangrove trees everywhere.