Monday, March 27th
Weather: Partly cloudy with light winds and a brief sprinkle of rain
Route: Alexian's anchorage --> Highborne Rocks --> Alexian --> Octopus Garden --> Alexian
- moderate current and cool water at Highborne Rocks and the Octopus Garden
- seeing many types of small fish, sponges and corals, especially brain coral
- eating lunch on the beautiful, sandy beach along the left leg of the "H"-shaped cay
- enjoying a relaxing roast chicken dinner with wine on the Alexian
We were feeling lazy this morning and not quite up to making a complicated breakfast. We relaxed over our standard cold cereal, juice, fruit, yoghurt and tea/coffee.
After poring over all our available reference material and discussing every option we decided to snorkel at two sites -- Highborne Rocks and Octopus Garden. It would be a long dinghy ride and the water near the sites was too shallow to anchor the Alexian so we agreed to take a lunch and visit both sites before returning to the boat.
'Mounting the expedition' to find a good snorkeling spot:
First, lower the dinghy onto the water and mount its motor. It was quite a production for the three men to offload the dinghy, maneuver the motor from its stand at the stern down onto the dinghy, then remount the motor without injuring themselves or dropping the motor into the ocean. They would only have to do this once during the trip. In the coming days we would pull the dinghy behind the boat.
Meanwhile the three women made a picnic lunch.
Now load 4 lifejackets into the dinghy, get the 3 snorkeling bags from the forward hold, wait for 6 people to rub in biodegradable sunblock, wriggle into wetsuits, gather hats, water bottles, towels, cameras, etc. and lower two kayaks onto the water.
When everyone is finally ready to leave, get the helmsman into the dinghy, get passenger #1 into the dinghy, form a line to pass everything to passenger #1, get passengers 2 & 3 into the dinghy while passenger #4 holds the mooring line, make elbow room at the stern for the helmsman to start the dinghy motor, make room at the bow for passenger #4 to jump aboard with the mooring line.
For this trip, when four people were in the dinghy the two life-jacketed kayakers, First Mate and his wife, paddled off towards the first snorkel location -- Highborne Rocks. They were waiting to help us beach the dinghy on Highborne Cay near the first site.
Initially it was not obvious to us where the coral was. A few of us scouted around for the best spot before signaling to the less confident swimmers, who were a little apprehensive in the moderately-strong current. Despite the warm sun, 30 minutes in the cool water made us appreciate our wetsuits. The water was incredibly clear but the best coral and fish gatherings were in the deeper water where the current was the strongest. It was humbling to realize that at the whim of the changing tides I could be swept away.
I wished we could have stayed here longer but everyone else was ready to warm up on the beach and eat lunch -- pork, hummus and lettuce sandwiches for them, peanut butter and lettuce for Hubby and I. This first foray made us realize that snorkeling sites here were going to be small clusters of corals not long offshore reefs. Rather than spend so much time hunting for the Octopus Garden site we decided to return to the Alexian to get its exact GPS coordinates from the charts.
The decision increased our time in the dinghy, which no one was happy about. Leaving the Alexian again and heading north, the Captain had to navigate the shallow water between the rocks and shore, then avoid Harbour Rock at the top of the left leg before reaching the deeper water around Octopus Garden. We found a small patch of tall soft corals and sponges, some different than what we had seen at Highborne Rocks. The patch was so small we were not sure we were in the correct spot, even with the coordinates. Within 30 minutes we had perused the whole site more than once, doing our best to see new activity or fishes. It was a little disappointing to not be able to explore further from the dinghy without fear of being taken away by the current. The one benefit was that we burned more calories than usual swimming in the currents.
Back on Alexian we wriggled out of wetsuits, rinsed off ourselves and our gear a little using the fresh water shower hose near the dive platform and tried to hang up, lay out or dry off wet stuff. The side of the boat looked like a laundry line. Not thinking about the danger, we carelessly dripped water through the galley to the cabins below. Stepping down onto the wet galley floor became treacherous, as the Captain demonstrated. He managed to catch himself from falling but pulled his back out by doing so. After that incident we left a shower mat on the galley floor just below the step and were more careful from then on. The mat helped to keep the galley dry and prevented sand from being tracked inside too. The Captain carried on bravely but even after taking aspirin we could tell he was in a lot of pain.
We were scheduled to moor at Warderick Wells tomorrow night, so called the Land and Sea Park HQ before 16:00 to reserve a mooring ball. According to our original itinerary we were going to eat dinner at the much-lauded Xuma Restaurant tonight, but later realized that the restaurant is closed on Mondays. With the Captain not able to climb down into the dinghy it was just as well that we weren't able to go.
Instead, we loaded jerk-spiced chicken thighs, potatoes and pineapple into the small oven. While waiting for dinner to roast we made a Baba Ganoush appetizer from the roasted eggplants from last night's dinner to spread on crackers and the First Mate's wife treated us to fried plantain appetizers. Steamed veggies and a bottle of white wine completed the dinner entree. Dessert was tea, biscuits and chocolate.
The men gallantly insisted on washing the dishes, giving the women time to examine tomorrow's charts and read the reference materials. Clouds began gathering as sunset faded to darkness. We would not see many stars or the moon tonight.