The number of snorkelers drop like flies today. Yes, the wind and rain picked up over night and the water looks choppy, but a little rain never hurt anyone. Well, that's what six of us (a.k.a Team Adventure) think….until the boat ride. The wind throws rain drops at our exposed skin with enough force that we cringe with every hit. The pain is quickly forgotten as the boat rears with the waves and our focus redirects to holding on for our lives. I hear someone joke about wearing their mask and snorkel. Since my eyes are squinted to keep the rain from damaging my retinas, this doesn't sound like a joke. I slide the mask on expecting great visibility, but the horizon has disappeared into a sheet of grey. A ghostly outline of Heron Island looms behind us as if the waves crashing over the reef crest have already started to wash the island away. Really, the only sight is of the other five snorkelers sitting with their masks on. Some have switched to their snorkels to make breathing easier. Fits of excited and nervous giggles erupt from the snorkels as we laugh at each other. We look ridiculous.
Pete, our trusty boat captain, makes a quick grab for the rope and secures the boat to the Coral Canyons buoy. He warns us to watch out for four factors: waves pushing us against the reef crest, an outgoing tide sending us into the ocean, a current running parallel to the reef, and cold water lowering our body temperature. Needless to say, we had to be aware of our surroundings at all times which is difficult when there is a peaceful underwater world that makes you forget about the raging storm above. Shortly after diving into the surprisingly warm water, Kare and I spot two sharks resting on the bottom, but a green sea turtle flying through the water quickly distracts us. We swim with it until it dives into the depths and we continue on. We pass over the resting sharks again, but this time there's only one. Kare and I look at each other as if saying, "Uh, should we be worried?", and proceed to shrug our shoulders in answer. We catch up with the rest of the group and let the current float us along the reef.
Four more members join our group. They are tiny yellow pilot fish who decide that we look like a safe haven in the open ocean and stay with us, mostly Rachel, for the duration of the snorkel. Clownfish city stretches out beneath us and we take turns diving down for a closer look. As I kick my way to the surface, I see Daniel pointing behind me. A white tip reef shark headed my way veers to the right and Daniel follows close behind with his camera. Another turtle swims by with three fins and a shark passes in the shallows. And another shark. And another one. By the end of the snorkel, we tally close to ten sharks total. We'll never know whether these were different individuals or the same few circling us, but they seemed pleased to observe us as we observed them.
The fourth factor kicks in, and the snorkelers with chills decide it's time to go. As the rain and wind pick up, we signal to Pete and he drives the bright yellow boat towards us. Thousands of raindrops break through the water's surface leaving trails of bubbles behind, and a giggle of excitement escapes me as I swim through the carbonated water. The boat reaches us and we cling to its sides like remoras to a shark as it spins in the wind and current. Some are brave enough to kick themselves over the sides of the boat while others wait in the thrashing waves to climb up the ladder. Once we're safely on the boat, huge smiles spread across our faces at our accomplishment this afternoon: we snorkeled in a monsoon!
2012 College of Idaho alum, 2010 Australia Expedition Participant