Tobago Cays: An Exercise in Idealism

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Swimming with Sea Turtles in Tobago Cays

photo 1A turtle swimming lazily along through the anchorage. Kitiara Pascoe photos.
Swimming with the fishes

No time for weeping at the beauty though, I must see beneath this wonderland. I pull on my shorty wetsuit and snorkel gear; the water is 28 degrees Celsius but after an hour in the water it can still chill you.

Within five minutes I’m immersed in a sea of obscene clarity. I swim down to the keel bottom and check the depth, planting myself beneath the boat and peering upwards. I love her for bringing me here and give her lead-filled underside a hug.

Immediately past the boat is water too shallow for anchoring and so it’s an easy swim to the first outcrops of reef. As a nature reserve, no spearfishing, Hawaiian slings or indeed fishing of any kind can take place and so the fish are surprisingly friendly.

I swim straight through a shoal of sergeant major fish and they weave and bloom around my yellow fins, one taking the time to tap on my mask and say hello. I’m in love.

Coral of every shape, size and colors form these outcrops that spring from the flat white sand bottom as suddenly as the New York skyline springs from the Atlantic. Partially hidden around the coral fringes lie huge lobster, unthreatened by humans and laying low for passing food.

Their long feelers poke out from under the rock and give them away. Troops of electric blue fish, no bigger than my thumb, nibble on invisible things and rainbow colored parrotfish eye me curiously. Trumpetfish, with their slim bodies and trumpet mouths drift on unseen currents and barely flick a fin. I could spend hours here.

Searching for Turtles

As I cruise along the reefs I keep my eyes peeled for signs of turtles and try not to be disappointed when I see none. There are so many anchored boats here, perhaps the whole idea of an anchorage in a turtle watching area is ironic– surely the turtles avoid it like the plague. I fin around the bay in a big circle and content myself with the extraordinary reef fish and the occasional conch crawling surreptitiously along the seabed.

It’s getting into afternoon and my stomach calls me back to the boat. I swim warily, looking out for dinghies and their treacherous outboards. With my head mostly above the water through the anchorage to check for these dangerous monsters, I almost miss the fellow dreamily swimming below me. So lazy is his stroke that I barely notice him, despite his size. But I catch myself, and dive beneath.

The turtle half swims, half drifts along the seabed, pausing to gulp a string of eelgrass. He looks at me casually and continues his slow pace through the water, unperturbed by my presence. I forget oxygen, I forget dinghies, I forget lunch. I drift along with him, keeping my distance but keeping pace. He is nature slowed right d o w n… He even blinks in slow motion.

Eventually my lungs cramp for air and I allow myself to rise the short two meters to the surface. I swim slowly back to the boat and watch the turtle gliding below. I see people chatting on their yachts, drinking their beers and laughing with their friends and wonder if they realize they’re only meters away from one of the world’s most majestic animals.

It breaks my heart to leave the turtle and I vow to return to the water later that day. The Caribbean is a big place and these pockets of extreme postcard idealism are not as abundant as you would think looking at the brochures. But the places they do exist in are as painful as a broken heart- you will wonder how you could ever return home.

KitPascoeAuthor

Twenty-six year old Kit Pascoe had never sailed until 2013 and was convinced by her partner to set off on a tiny yacht to the tropics from the UK. Almost 10,000 ocean going miles later and she’s cruised the Caribbean and is now exploring Panama. She is a regular contributor for Yachting Monthly and her adventures can be followed on her blog Kitiarawanderland.com.

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