So it has been some time since we’ve had access to the Internet and even if we did we’ve been a little bit busy so please excuse the lapse in attendance to the blog. Things have been a little crazy here on Sundowner as we worked to get ready for guests to come and visit us.

My best friend from childhood and his wife were coming to see us! Our first non family visitors! Alan had always promised to come pay us a visit but we didn’t really know when or where he’d show up. Well it seems that Panama was the place and so we started to research how to get to San Blas from back in “reality”.

Excitement was running high as not only were our friends coming to see us, but they were also bringing with them a hoard of goodies from back in the states which Dani had been painstakingly researching and ordering over the course of months! She’d been having them delivered to her Mom’s house. (Thanks Robin!) Alan was going to package our loot up and haul it down with him. I know this may not mean much to many people but once you’ve been living in the third world for about a year you will understand what a big deal this is and how exciting it can be.

So we had all the dates set and arranged and everything was sorted. We’d pick them up in the East Lemon island group and head back to the swimming pool. We motored over to the East Lemons to await our guests. We dropped anchor in the unfamiliar spot and then got a call from an unfamiliar boat on the radio. It was Wooden Shoe letting us know that the hotel Alan and Amanda were staying at had called to let them know that a flight had been delayed and that they’d not make it to us on the day we scheduled. Shucks. Well that night we got blasted by a 30+ kt squall and stayed up on anchor watch so we weren’t quite as bright eyed and bushy tailed as we hoped the next rainy morning when our friends finally arrived.

It was still a fond welcoming of friends though. We decided to high tail it out of the East Lemons and make the most of the week we had left by heading back to the Swimming Pool. So we cranked up the motor and headed back over. I’m sure at this point Amanda and Alan were questioning their decision to stay a week on a boat since it was overcast and the waves had picked up even in the channel as we dutifully motored back to our favorite anchoring spot.

Though they were troopers and made the most of it. No serious bouts of mal de mar.

As we are heading along on the two or three hours it takes to get from East Lemons to the Swimming Pool, Dani was down below, literally rolling around in her loot. Alan said to her, “You go on down there, we know it is like Christmas.” And boy it sure was. The treasure trove of stuff covered half the boat and it took Dani most of the trip to stow it all away, though I’m sure much of that time was spent playing with her new stuff.

We got back to the swimming pool and went for an initial snorkel in waters with more current and debris than I’d encountered since we’ve been here. Amanda said she brought a Chinese Dragon with here (a rain God or spirit), and I think she wasn’t joking. Despite the murky waters, I shot a barracuda that was then attacked by a shark which was then attacked by myself. (I won, I chased the shark off). As I’m swimming back to the dink holding the fish by the spear I turned around and see the spear gun is missing (it usuually just trails along behind me by the shooting line). The shark must have bit clean through it and I didn’t notice. Poor Alan… I’m shouting at him, “Get this fish back in the boat!” So here is Alan, having never spear fished, having to haul a scary big barracuda back to the dink while I paddle around in a fury looking for the missing gun. I couldn’t find it.

I swim back to the dink and yell at Alan to get in. We start up the motor and mercifully I found the gun floating down current about 10 minutes later. That was enough excitement for opening day. Well almost enough. The fried barracuda seemed to be a big hit that night. Thanks for helping me land it Alan.

The next day we decided to go buy some coconuts and lobsters from the Kuna. We’d not been to “Victor’s Island” before but with guests looking to see some of the local stuff it seemed like a prime time. So we hopped in the dink and headed off.

Victor’s island (named for Victor, the long time kuna anchor fee guy in these parts) turned out to be a pretty little island that actually had a store that sold crackers, canned beans, sugar, and coconuts, of which we purchased some. They had no lobsters though.

Our friends on a tropical island.

Coconuts found.

Amanda and her umbrella which I believe would have come snorkelling with us if she’d been able to put a float on it. 😉

All went well except that Alan dropped a coconut on my foot. Youch!

We were somewhat perplexed about dinner but on heading back to Sundowner we spot a Kuna boat heading off at high speed that looked suspiciously like one of the boats that sells lobster. We all started yelling and waving and finally they turned around and headed back. Sure enough they had what we were after.

Big langostas.

I negotiated the price for two big four pound lobsters and they threw one small one in gratis. Then one guy asks if we have any beer, he’d trade another for beer. Sure! Dani hands over a couple and we get another lobster. The Kuna all head off laughing and having a total blast. I think they were drunk at this point. And so we hang a sack of lobsters off the side of the boat for safe keeping while we take that evening to go explore Quinquindup, a nearby island.

Dani and I had been to a few cruiser burns over at Quinquindup (where we burn our trash on the beach). Its a really beautiful beach but in the past it had been pretty buggy. Luckily the Chinese Dragon brought wind out of the west with it so there were no bugs and we really could enjoy the island. It was perfect.

And we even burnt some trash. Ah, cruising life.

That night we ate the lobsters and plotted our snorkelling adventures the next day. Despite the slightly murky waters and overcast skies, we did have some good snorkelling. We headed out to a spot the cruisers call the “Japanese water garden” and also another spot near the anchorage that as of yet has no name.

Sights from our underwater adventures:

Blue tangs

Coral formations in the water garden

Nurse shark sightings

Jelly fish that were easily avoided if you spotted them. No one was stung.

And finally, we got to show Amanda a conch shell. Everyone has seen them but they’re hard to describe. We made a conch ceviche one day for the guests and it was great to find a shell and say, “See, this is what we ate!”

Besides good food and good swimming, I was just happy to see my friends. Alan and I haven’t gotten to hang out in a long time, but like so many times in our lives, we spent time apart and reunited like not a day had passed in the in between. So we spent our days playing chess like old times and our nights sipping cocktails and feasting on fish. (As a side note, Amanda tells me I need to use Chilli oil to get my “Asian style fish” recipe more authentic, looking forward to finding that stuff!)

All too quickly the days and nights had dwindled and so off to the Lemons we headed once again.

We’d spent as much time as possible in the swimming pool during one last snorkel and only dropped the hook just as the sun was going down.

The next morning we saw our friends off in the launcha and waved goodbye, sad, but filled with fond memories. Thanks for the visit!

Swimming with WILD dolphins

Tate sleeping in the morning
It started out a day like any other. I awoke to find my very strange wife Dani taking pictures of me as I slept. I brushed it off to hormones, got up and relaxed in the cockpit with my morning coffee and pipe. Undeterred by my suspicious facial expressions she continued to follow me around with the camera. Oh it’s just going to be one of those days I thought to myself.
Tate's coffee in the morning

As the sun rose higher in the sky and the temps got warmer…Ahem, I mean as the deck started to cook the bottoms of my feet I developed an exit strategy from my peeping tom wife and the heat, I called it “work”, something Dani likes to see me do. I began, what I tell her, the painstaking job of scrubbing the bottom of the dinghy and our boat. It mattered not that the water felt superb and I spent most of my time harassing the small crabs and tiny lobsters that have made the undergrowth their home. No this was work gosh darn it!
Tate cleaning the dinghy bottom

Still unable to escape the lens of my brilliant though slightly deranged photog I take up an offer to go fishing with my old buddy Steve…remember Steve from SV Tango? He taught me to spear fish in the wild waters of Providencia back in June. Not only did he and his wife Vicki decide to join us in the Swimming Pool, the two other boats that we met and hung out with for weeks on that lush green mountainous island in the middle of the Caribbean sea, SV Motu and SV Nimue, also came.

Steve back in Providencia getting me hooked on fishing.

It was a very happy reunion and many sundowners were had. I guess sending them all emails of my tasty catches here in the Holandes was motivation enough for them to leave the comfort of marinas in Bocas del Toro, Panama and head 270 miles east to the wilds of these little Kuna Islands.

I bid Dani goodbye and Steve and I headed back out to a hot new spot we found the day before. It was a very long distance from our boat outside the reef where a huge partially submerged winch the size of a 25 gallon drum marked the steel work boat shipwreck and the reef area we remembered. The debris scattered along the San Blas reefs is a constant reminder of the importance of navigation due-diligence and precaution…There’s nothing quite like seeing a diesel engine at the bottom of the sea.

We jumped in and separately started the reef hunt in 15-20 feet of water. After about 15 minutes of scouting these two tunnels connected by a cave in the middle I swam under and saw the biggest Dog Snapper I’ve ever seen out here, about 25 pounds. Unfortunately when he saw me he swam up and away only giving me his narrow profile to take aim at, which I resisted hoping for another, better shot. That better shot never came though and I was left fishless and out of breath.

A bit frustrated we continued our hunt on this section of 2 mile long reef, pulling the dinghy as we canvassed the uncharted waters. An hour and a half later I was once again swimming on the surface in 15-20 of feet of water scanning the bottom when my eyes focused on what I thought was a rock but ended up being a 20lb Black Grouper. In the second it took my brain to make a plan the Grouper shot off under a rock. Damn! I slowly swam to the bottom hoping to find him hiding under the ledge but like a ghost he was gone. ARGH! Today was just not my day.

Totally defeated now and after having giving up on getting anything to bring my ever fish hungry wife I swam away from the reef and out to sea, just snorkeling and taking in the sights. About a quarter mile straight away from the reef I found the ever familiar 25-30 sandy bottom “ledge” that follows the reef line here in the Holandes. Swimming on the surface following the drop off I saw two Permits swim by roughly 5 feet under the water.

We don’t really like the Permit so I pass them up but give the ledge a good look over with my 15 foot exploration dives. On the next dive down I see a group of now FIVE Permit swim over the top of me. Wow that’s unusual, I wonder what’s going on? I swim down yet again and suddenly from my depth I see above and away from me in the far distance two shimmery, almost mirror like creatures swimming in a pair. I can’t quite make out what they are but they are beautiful and I’ve never seen anything like them. I give the pair the old “cold shoulder” and turn away which of course makes them more interested and they swim closer to me.

I get my gun orientated out in front and I turn upward at what now look like Pompano though I’m confused because the Florida Pomapano doesn’t get this big nor do they have the long flowing dorsal fins that decorated these fish. At a range of about 8 feet from the end of my gun I take my chances and fire at the larger of the pair above me. BAM! It was the longest shot I’d ever landed! Up to the surface I swam as the unidentified rooster looking fish hung, stunned momentarily from the impact. I got a breath of sweet fresh air and saw that I had shot the fish through the ribs, or gut if you will…it’s a bad shot. The middle of the fish below the spine is softer and it’s easy for them to flip around and rip off of the spear and shooting line.

Just about the time I got a breath or two the fish came back to life and starts fighting like hell, swimming with all it’s might straight down to the bottom. I try my best to stay on the surface while holding onto the gun but the fish is pulling me under. This fish is fighting harder than anything I’ve ever encountered and I almost drop my weight belt to keep from being submerged but resolve in my heart to not lose this fish or my gun, Dani after all needs to eat. I take the deepest breath I can and take off under the water pulling hard hand over hand down the shooting line and to the fish on the end of the spear. Finally at about 20 feet I am able to grab the end of the spear and I control the fish by the gills and swim to the surface.

I am really tired by this point. Not only had I cleaned the bottom of the boat and the dinghy earlier and had been swimming for hours in the brutal sun but I had just wrestled this crazy fish all the way to the surface. Once saturated with oxygen I “dispatched” the fish as quickly as possible. WHEW! What in the Mother of God had I shot I thought as I gazed upon this alien being? Thankfully Mr. fighting fish had given up the ghost and I was free to swim back to the dinghy, which was “conveniently” still a full quarter mile towards the reef. It took all the energy I had to carry this 15 pound shimmering mythical creature back to the dinghy and once I finally had it and myself back onboard I dropped all my gear and sat in the rolly waters trying to regain some life. I was BEAT.

Ten minutes later Steve came back to the boat and I shared my experience with what he calls a “Rooster Fish” as we head back on the outside of the reef looking for an opening to get back into the anchorage. Not feeling safe in the breaking waves we opt to head all the way back around to the large opening we trust. Just as we cross behind BBQ island, where the boats are anchored on the other side we see a couple bottle nosed dolphins jumping out of the water. I had heard other cruisers talk of the dolphins in this area but I hadn’t seen any until now.

A bit nervous but filled with excitement I donned only my mask and naturally jumped in the water. After all swimming with wild dolphins had always been a dream of mine and while I wasn’t sure how they would react to me I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me up. Steve turned the motor off and drifted while I had my wildlife encounter sans Go Pro of course!

I didn’t see any dolphins at first but the sea was alive with their loud clicking, whistling and squeaking so I knew they were close. I try to mimic a dolphin’s swimming motion with my body and legs together and I saw one start coming towards me head on before he was joined by ELEVEN others…In a group like synchronized swimmers all twelve dolphins swam horizontally around me with their headed cocked to the side like an inquisitive dog in a large 12 foot circle. There were ten adults about 8 feet long (400-500 pounds) and two calves at 4.5 feet sticking closely to their mothers. It was as if a group of people were watching me and the noises as they chattered to each other were jaw-droppingly awe inspiring. So foreign, loud and diverse it’s something that will forever fill my memory unmatched.

They split up from their large circle and surrounded me still keeping about 12 feet away. At this point I started to swim down under the surface, like a dolphin and I saw a mother and calf come down from behind me and swim directly underneath me, my outstretched hands brushing the tops of their dorsal fins as the passed. Once in front of me they both vertically oriented their bodies to me so I could see their full white underbellys and tilted their heads looking straight at me. As they floated there almost not moving they spoke back and forth to each other and I could hear the distant noises from the rest of the pod. After about 10 minutes in the water they swam away and I got out back into the dinghy. Completely shell shocked and in a state of disbelief at what just happened.

Nearly speechless Steve and I made it back into the anchorage where Tom aboard Gris Gris informed me I had landed an African Pompano and it’s the first he’s seen out here (10 years).

A little research online showed this fish to renowed for it’s fighting ability and prized as one of the world’s best Shashimi fish. Dani was bound to be ecstatic! I was hopeful during my time away from the boat that she would have let the camera cool down but she had not. Promptly upon my arrive she thrust a Booker’s Bourbon on ice with a slice of orange into my hand and demanded a photo. Still in a dream like state and not being able to formulate words I hold up my catch and smile for the pretty lady.
Tate with an African Pompano

She had not forgotten that it was my birthday that day, I had turned 34 and that drink was my gift…well that as well as a huge pot of chocolate colored roux gravy with meatballs and sausage that she had been cooking all day for a party later with the original group from Providencia. I have the BEST wife!

I doled out large pieces of the Pompano to our friends in the anchorage and we headed over for my birthday dinner aboard Britts Michael and Anne’s SV Nimue, a Contest 44 (Google it). We were joined by Steve and Vicki on SV Tango and Stephen and Marja from SV Motu. It was a fantastic party and I entertained our friends with my tall tales of the sea while my wife shared our delicious Louisiana home cooking making for very empty bowls. It was eaten so fast and thoroughly there wasn’t time for photos. Sorry baby.

Now you see I’m a very difficult person when it comes to treats. I don’t like candy, chocolate or cakes. I told Dani the best thing she could do was stick a candle in a piece of sausage and call it a day. Marja however stole my heart as she baked me a RUM cake. A incredible soft, unsweet cake similar to pound cake that was inundated with rum. Now this…this is something I could eat! Working with what they had I turned 30 instead of 34 and we all partook of this mouthwatering desert.
Tate's birthday rum cake

How could I had asked for a better day? I had landed a prized fish, swam with dolphins and had a party with some dear friends of ours we met in another country months ago. To boot Dani wrote this memory for me. This will be a day to always remember…a day for the Tate history books.
San Blas Providencia group

Providencia, Colombia June 2015

I will always wonder though if Dani picked up that shiny red telephone to Neptune and asked for a favor. Gotta love this girl. <3 Tate and Dani on my 34th birthday

A scary day, a scary year

It’s that time of year again. Costumes, candy and haunted houses. HALLOOOWEEEEEN! Back home in Louisiana the leaves are changing colors and the temperatures are cooling off as the summer fades to fall and Tate and I spend numerous hours (ok, maybe not that long;) looking at our five little nephews dressed as pumpkins and superheros as our family homes are decorated in orange and black. Here on Sundowner the spirit is a decidedly different. Far from the reaches of candy aisles and leaves besides palm fronds, Halloween for us is more than an excuse to gorge on Skittles…it marks the day we moved aboard Sundowner in 2014…it is our liveaboard anniversary and today is the first. Happy First Anniversary to us.

This time last year there was a strong cool breeze in the air and everyone around us was getting ready to go trick or treating and to costume parties. Instead of joining our friends in the quest for diabetes and hangovers Tate and I were frantically clearing out the rest of possessions from our apartment and finally around 8 pm we locked the door on our land based dwelling for the last time and handed over the keys. We had finally done it! After 5 long years of planning and preparation we had successfully moved onto a boat, OUR boat, our new home. We celebrated that night with margaritas at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Carretas. How very UNHalloween of us, I know.
Tate's moving truck
The salon area with all our stuff

What started out as a strong breeze quickly turned into two months of nearly 40 knot winds blowing nonstop at the dock. Soon the temperatures plummeted into the 30’s and 40’s (This is October and November in New Orleans we are talking about here people) and we wondered if we had made a mistake. Why was mother nature punishing us so?

We had hoped to enjoy some of the best 60 and 70 degree temperatures that typical Louisiana falls bring but instead we were met with what we loving referred to as “The Artic Winds”, dropping the temperatures in the boat into the 40’s. Each morning I trudged down the dock to my warm car trying my best to not be blown off into the water on each side. I got dressed and fixed my hair and makeup in the parking lot while telling my frozen core that it was worth it. That one day it was absolutely going to be worth it.
Tate smoking his pipe with the lantern on
Dani playing cards with wool blanket

Kept alive by my hot water bottle and coffee we organized the boat and got her ready to leave. The winter holidays came and went and we bid farewell to our family and friends. That was it…it was time to leave. Still unsure of the route we would take we headed to a nearby anchorage next to Rabbit Island near Slidell. Finally off the dock and we sat at anchor trying to decompress and take in this new found freedom.
People on the dock at our departure
Tate and Dani aboard Sundowner at departure
Sundowner leaving the marina
Dani sailing and helming the tiller
Tate and Dani First night hanging out
Tate smoking a cigar on his first night

Very first sunset at anchor in our new life.
First night sunset

Mother Nature however did not want us to sit for too long, she had other plans. As a hard January freeze rode down the country the temperature inside the boat dropped into the 30’s. “OK THAT’S IT” Tate said as I lay next to him in the vberth trying desperately to keep alive. “I draw the line at gloves and hats in bed” he said. I suppose my two layers of gloves and my many layers of hats snuggled up to him was just too unsexy. We made plans to leave shortly after. What started as a possible bad omen was transformed into a catalyst thrusting us forward straight across the Gulf of Mexico to Key West and into our new life.
Dani after a very long watch
Sunset on the last night before Key West

Arrival in Key West, January 2015.
Dani and Tate on their arrival to Key West

We have learned a lot after living aboard for exactly one year we today as I write this I am happier than ever. Somehow we keep getting happier.

Living and moving about on Sundowner and just boats in general takes practice. In the beginning Tate and I, well maybe more I, wore “boat bruises” on various parts of our bodies. “I promise he doesn’t beat me” I had to tell land lubbers as they looked on suspiciously at my green and black markings. Boats are smaller than houses, Sundowner is smaller than most and I would constantly bang into this or that while cooking, walking and just plain living. Over time however we have become more agile and can fly around our old gal down below and up on deck without hitting or straining anything. We’ve gotten used to living in this confined space and now she feels plenty big enough of the two of us.

Out here cruising we have been on TONS of other boats, most quite a bit larger and definitely more complicated than Sundowner. We can honestly say that after a year we wouldn’t change anything about our boat. We wouldn’t go bigger and we certainly don’t want more amenities (read complicated systems). One of the things I am most proud of Tate for is his unwavering determination to make Sundowner a simple and self sufficient boat.

She is run completely on solar power (500 watts) and batteries. We don’t have pressure water, A/c, heating, Tvs or anything that is too power hungry. We have an Engel MT45 for our ice and cold beer and many Caframo fans to keep things comfortable. We have the non electric Monitor windvane, a manual SeaTiger windlass, and simple chartplotter and VHF with AIS receiver. We have the Airhead composting toilet and a solid propane stove and oven. We have the easy Rainman watermaker and I wash our (very few these days) clothes in a bucket. All of our needs and many wants are met.

We live at anchor, and LOVE it. Aside from our forced stay at a dock at Marina Hemingway in Cuba we have always lived on anchor. The marina provides nothing for us and in fact Sundowner doesn’t even have a shore power hookup.

Key West Jan 2015
 photo top-mast.jpg

Cuba, Marina Hemingway Feb 2015

Isla Mujeres, Mexico March 2015
Sundowner Finally anchored

Providencia, Colombia June 2015
 photo SundownerRainbowKarl.jpeg

Holandes Cays, San Blas Panama Sept 2015
Sundowner Swimming Pool

I can not tell you the amount of people out here who work constantly on their boats. This breaks, that breaks, this needs repairing etc. Usually it has something to do with their overly complicated systems like refrigeration, navigation, generators, electrical set up, watermakers, and plumbing. I have heard time and time again that cruising is “working on your boat in paradise”. This has not been the case with us. Rare is the occasion (it’s actually a bit exciting) that we have to fix something onboard. Granted we just did a 5 year refit, the system problems that plague many other boaters don’t faze us. Tate designed the systems to be simple and idiot proof. I want people to know it IS possible to cruise without a laundry list of boat projects, we are doing it.

Living aboard for a year has completely changed the way we think about dwellings. Seeing other people on their boats (motor and sail) and also seeing how some of the rest of the world modestly lives has been an eye opener. You don’t actually have to have all that stuff (and the debt and expense) to live really comfortably and happily. I would argue without the huge debt that comes with large houses and everything to fill it with you might actually live happier with less.

We aren’t sure what the rest of our lives hold for us. Buying a house somewhere isn’t top on the list that’s for sure (granted we don’t/aren’t going to have kids). We love Sundowner and have toyed with the idea of living on her forever…I mean she’s paid for and meets all of our needs. Being debt free and living on a boat has opened a world of possibilities for our future. There’s no telling what the Pacific side of the world has in store for us. If you were ever concerned with how you will acclimate to life aboard I beg you to keep an open mind and give it a shot.

This first year aboard has been absolutely LIFE CHANGING! We are healthier than ever before, have made many deep and fulfilling connections with kindred spirits, have seen jaw dropping sights on land and at sea and are having the TIME OF OUR LIVES. Any of you “on the fencers” reading this need to get out here! If we had to throw in the towel and go home tomorrow WE can honestly say that the past 5 years of hard work and sacrifice has been worth this one unbelievable year, no question. The good news is that we ARE going to continue, through the Panama Canal (February?) and beyond. This trip is just getting started and we ooze with happiness about what the future may hold.
Tate with Nassau

Tate’s latest prized catch…25lb Nassau Grouper
Dani with 25 pound Nassau Grouper

Y’all have fun and eat some candy corn for us both.

Two minutes underwater

What do you do all day when you are surrounded by beautiful bluegreen water dotted with small brush filled islands and air that brings 90+ degree temperatures? Well swim, naturally. However this is not so natural to many many people we meet. I’d say about half of all cruisers we’ve met don’t swim regularly and if they do it’s usually no more than a dip to cool off. Interesting Tate and I have always said to ourselves. Truly there is a whole other world under the sea, one we get more familiar with everyday.
Dani Free Diving

The waters of Key West and Cuba in January and February were far to cold to entice a deep and evolving relationship with the sea and it wasn’t until we sailed to Isla Mujeres, Mexico in March this past year that we took our first step into the water. This began a life changing experience that was accelerated in Providencia by the introduction of spearfishing. These days Tate and I freedive together most everyday around noon for 3 hours give or take. There is a seemingly unlimited amount of different seascapes under the ocean’s surface with a variety of sealife. It hasn’t gotten old yet, if anything it gets more interesting all the time.

Little fish eating a sea urchin
Eagle Ray San Blas

Oh the mornings are so relaxing. I think I’ll get up and make Tate and I some delicious Colombian coffee and sit in the cockpit to watch the palm trees and the sun rise higher in the sky. Yes that is quite nice. I wonder if it will rain today? Perhaps it will, or maybe not. Are there any new boats in the anchorage? Gosh that one anchored really too close to our neighbor. Oh well, hopefully we won’t have a Chocosana later. Man it’s really getting hot, thank goodness for all this canvas my mom made us. Looks like the Kunas are raking the sand again…we really need to ask them about that.

Oh is it time already? How does noon creep up so quickly everyday? Wow look at the water clarity over the side of the boat. I can see a starfish on the bottom, when did he get there? I bet the snorkeling will be splendid. Ok let’s get ready. I’ve got to put on some facial sunscreen and my still somewhat damp bikini and long sleeved lycra shirt. Next I’ll put my hair up in a tight bun for the swim cap, it’ll never get long with the saltwater damage. Grab our fins, masks, snorkels, weightbelts, knives, light and the gun. Ok Ok Tate I’m coming, just let me dog down a few portlights and close the front hatch in case it rains! Alright into the Porta Bote – let’s shove off. OUCH! damn that black seat is always so frigging hot!

Where should we go today? Perhaps we should go beyond the reef on the north side and look for lobsters under the rocks, or maybe out to the “Dog Pound” (Tate’s favorite) for Dog Snappers and the Groupers that like to live at the bottom of the ledge. To the Dog Pound it is. On our way through the large reef cut we can clearly see the sandy grass swaths that lie 25 feet under the boat. I’m daydreaming of finding large conchs down there. We anchor for a short time to look for conch and examine the steep reef ledge.
Steep Ledge of the reef

Time to jump out of the dinghy. I hope I don’t jump onto a shark, what are the chances of that anyways? Probably slim. Ok into the water, ah it feels good, a perfect temperature. An immediate and quick 360 scan around myself assures me there are no large predators to be concerned with. There never have been but I always check, must have been those Jaws movies when I was a kid. It’s so pretty under here, all the fish just doing their daily routine of swimming from this place to that. Thank goodness for my fins, I don’t know how I’d swim around out here without them.

I take a few deep breaths and dive down about 15 feet to purview the grassy areas for conchs. Ohp, running out of air, time to go back up. Hurray I made it, man air is great! Let’s go a little further. I want to dive right away again but I need to give my body time to recover. Now ready? Down to the bottom to get a closer look! I descend rather quickly with the 6 pounds on my weightbelt but they give me PERFECT buoyancy at the bottom.

I swim parallel to the bottom straining my eyes for anything thing spirally, spiked and covered in grass that could be a conch. Damn, nothing. Holy smokes I need air. Geesh that’s a long way up. It’s ok just relax you’ll be fine. Right, just relax. As I slowly fin my way to the surface a rather large seaturtle with a 3 foot long shell lazily swims along the bottom. OH HOW COOL. Don’t lose sight of it…GASP, Ah, back to the air. But wait where’s the turtle!? Quickly a deep breath and back down to look for him. Gosh it’s a lot harder to make an immediate dive, brain cells regenerate right? Nothing, he is gone. Oh well at least I can breathe again.

So where is Tate anyways? I scan the horizon for his tell tale safety orange snorkel tip or bright blue fin sticking straight up in the beginning of a descent. The surface is pretty flat so I easily spot him and with no conchs I swim to him and relay my grand sea turtle adventure. He hasn’t had any luck either so we swim back to the dinghy and move onto the Dog Pound. I really wish we had an easier way to get into the dinghy but clambering over the side will have to do for now. We get the motor started first then try to raise the anchor, it’s stuck. Shoot.

Everyone whose not the Captain back into the water to dislodge it, that’s me. Right back in the water and down to the anch…Geesh I can hardly swim 2 feet under the surface without my fins and weight belt. One more try pulling myself down along the anchor rode and I reach it and set us free. Back into the dinghy and we are off. Using eyeball navigation and the location of an island and some sailboat wreckage I throw the anchor back overboard. Hope there’s no sharks…remember Dani statistics are your friend. I jump in and survive another day.

Tate goes to the reef area and I go the opposite direction to the ledge. We’re still in snorkel/fin sight distance in calm seas. The current is a bit stronger out here but I’m in need of some good exercise anyways. I slowly make my way to the ledge and spot a Black Grouper 25 feet down on the sandy bottom. Hmm, look how he just floats there, swaying with the current. He’s thinking “nothing to see here I’m just some seagrass on the bottom”. I watch him amazed for a few minutes and he seems unthreatened by my presence. I want to yell to Tate but he’s much too far away by now. I can’t waste opportunity though so I go slowly down filming and taking pictures of Mr. Grouper until I’m 10 feet from him at which time my threat status was elevated and he fled.

Definitely at the end of my air now, time to ascend. Why or why can’t we breathe under water like we can on the surface? I spend so much time underwater I have to remind myself that it’s a particularly dangerous place for someone without gills, I almost forget that we are just guests under there. Back to the surface and I continue my inspection of the ledge and find a large stingray at the bottom. I move into shallower waters where I search under every rock for lobsters to no avail.
Stingray under the surface

I scan the reef line every few minutes to locate Tate. Sometimes I see him sometimes not. I know he’s over there somewhere but there’s nothing I can do from over here in any event. I swim a bit closer to the reef to try and sight him but along the way I’m romanced by a multitude of colorful little fish congregating around a coral head. I dive shallow for a closer look. Aren’t they all just so neat? They have their own little environment here in the ocean. A little neighborhood. Bigger fish swim by all the time, busy to get where they are going.
Little Fish around Coral heads
School of bigger fish

Hey look it’s a shark! Oh it’s just a nurse shark, pretty harmless but he’s about 7 feet. I watch intently and swim closer to observe him. How come I never see them eat any fish? Hunting out here must be hard work, no wonder they are so skinny looking. He swims away.
Shark in the Valley of the dogpound

I swim along the reef casually looking for Tate while watching the world play out underneath me. Oh there he is…WAY over there. Ok well at least he’s alive. I’m sure he’ll be fine, he wants to live just like I do. I spend another hour or so watching large Triggerfish and Permit swim by every so often.
Queen Triggerfish

The sun is starting to go down and the surface of the water gets a little choppier. Eventually I head back to where I think Tate might be. I tread water as high as I can looking for him. It’s hard because he can stay underwater for so long but after 5 or so attempts I spot him. I take my time swimming to his roundabout location wondering if he’s had any luck catching dinner…
Dani at the waters surface

Tate and a nurshark
Two minutes without a breath. It’s a long time. Back in my lubberly days I would have thought it was impossible. So much can happen in those 120 seconds. The human mind has the odd ability to seemingly accelerate the speed of thought at times. When I take that last big gulp of air in preparation for the coming apnea, time both slows down and speeds up. My mind races but the world goes into slow motion around me.

I’ve been scouting out the area. Short little dives to around 15ft. They’re quick and easy and really just to give me a look at the bottom way “down there”. I don’t like to spend a long time on the scouting dives because I want to be able to “breath up” and head down on a long dive when the time is right. And the time is just about right.
Ocean Triggerfish in the

Today Dani said she wanted a snapper. Dani has some type of cosmic link to the fish kingdom. It is like the girl has a direct line to God. “Yes Mrs. Dani, the red line for you.” “Oh hello again Neptune, how are you? Yes, what’s that? Snapper today? Of course, I’ll inform Tate immediately.” And so it goes. Today she said she wanted snapper, must be a good day for snapper.

Despite all her connection with the under water world she still has an odd trepidation about it. We were getting ready to head out and I’m all set in the dink warming up “crappy”, our 3.5hp Tohatsu. I look back up at the boat and Dani hardly has her bathing suit on. She has to go through a big long ritual before getting into the water. I can hear her up there saying something about the vital requirement of putting conditioner in her hair lest the salt water wash it right off her scalp and leave her bald. But eventually she makes it into the dink and we head off to the “pound” where there are usually snappers and finally we set the anchor.

I’m in the water in a flash. Right before I start to dive I can hear Dani muttering something about deadly sharks under the dink. I think that is why she always lets me get in the water first.

Anyway, all these memories are spilling through my head as I take my time getting ready for a real dive. I’m gulping huge lung fulls of air and then exhaling them very slowly over about 10 seconds. I do this five times. Then I exhale very deeply with my hand on my stomach to compress my diaphragm all the way and finally I take a huge finally breath before leaning over forward and tucking one leg up under my body. As I go head down I kick that leg one time and it starts my descent. I usually just let my weights take me down from there. No sense kicking and burning oxygen when gravity will do the work for me.

At first it’s a huge haze of bubbles from the splash but soon the vision in front of me clears and I’m heading down the ledge. I pinch my nose and pop my ears after about a body length down. I can hear my heartbeat in my newly cleared ears. My eyes roam over the hole I’ve been scouting out.
Tate spearfishing in the valleys

The reef is paved with highways. Cuts between the reefs which fish seem to like to swim along. I think of them as fish highways. This one has a hole or tunnel at its end and I suspect a snapper is inside of it. I saw him swimming there. A big dog snapper. I’m letting myself glide slowly in between the reef into the highway before I angle my body to skim along the bottom. It takes me about 20 seconds to get down there and orient myself. I’m very calm, almost still in the water. There is still plenty of time.
Valley in Dog Pound
Beautiful Rockbed in the Dogpound

I pop my ears again. Sometimes I try what is called the “Frenzel” ear clearing technique but its hard to do and I’m no pro. Today I just pinch my nose again and blow to pop my ears. This causes my lungs to tighten for the pressure required to pop, but it has the side effect of pressing up against your heart as you do it. I’m thinking about how they actually can test a lot of heart functions just by doing an EKG while you pop your ears. I’m wondering if the fish hear it. Sometimes it also makes me want to go up for air. I have a diaphragm contraction but I calm myself and make sure I’m not biting my snorkel. Biting down uses oxygen and I’ll need all of it.

So I give a few leisurely kicks and I’m off on the fish highway. I’m approaching the hole and gliding along the bottom which is strewn with rocks. My spear gun is pointing out in front of me and I’m wondering if a fish is home. Its been around forty seconds since I’ve taken a breath. I’m twenty feet below the surface and I’m wondering if Dani will let me cook the snapper in the asian style I’m so found of or if she’ll demand sushi. Damn, maybe I’ve counted my fish before they were hooked. Oh well, no wood to knock on down here.
Tate free diving in a cave

On I go. The hole is right in front of me now. It is a black maw into which I cannot actually see. The light difference between in the hole and out of the hole is too extreme. I put my hand into the cave and grab a hand hold to remain perfectly still and then carefully move my mask into the shadows and wait for my vision to clear. I’m cursing the fact that my spear gun has no light mounted on it that would give me illumination in this darkness and wondering how all these snappers hang out in darkness, but it isn’t surprising since they have giant eyes. I’m relaxed. My heart is thudding slowly. I feel good, calm and easy. I’m very lightly holding myself in place with my left hand, not squeezing my hand hold because squeezing burns oxygen. I wait. Its been over a minute since I’ve taken a breath.

I see something in the hole flick. It is a fish. My heart rate increases and I curse myself for the petty excitement that is costing me oxygen. But still I wait. I can just make out a tail fin, that means the fish is headed away from me. But soon it turns towards me. I stay perfectly still. Fish are stupid. If you lay on the bottom and remain still they eventually get curious about what you are and head your way. It is a waiting game. A deadly waiting game. If you wait too long, you die. If they don’t wait long enough, they die. I’ve been laying on the bottom for 20 seconds. Its been 80 seconds since I’ve had a breath.

Our friend the hole fish is stupid. He approaches. He is about six feet back in his cave. The cave is all rock with sandy bottom and straight. There is nothing for my spear to snag in so I mentally decide to take the shot if he comes another foot closer. Then the fish really takes off, he is heading right at me at high speed. I don’t want to shoot at his face so I flick my gun and he sees this then turns to run. It was a fatal mistake. When he turns his side to me I squeeze the trigger as softly as I can. I try to let the gun shooting be a “surprise”. The spear releases and flashes into the darkness and I immediately duck my head out from under the cave and look up to make sure the way is clear to the surface. I’m still holding my gun but I didn’t even check to see if I hit the fish.

I don’t have to wait long to know I’ve connected. The tell tale rattle of the fish struggling with the spear jingles like music in my ears. I start to haul in the shooting line as I let go of my hand hold and start to float off the bottom. Arm over arm I’m pulling in the line, finally the slack is gone and its me vs the 15lb dog snapper at the other end of the line. He is hopelessly overmatched but the shooting line is still in the hole and as I float up some the line angles on the cave’s entrance giving the fish some help. I pull harder and can feel the fish and spear banging into stuff below. This is burning up a lot of oxygen but at this point its not in my thoughts. I’m in a zen like place where all that really matters is getting this fish out of his hole. I’m pulling like crazy.

The fish is at the entrance but the spear snags. Damn it! I have to kick downwards to get into the cave again where I can grab the spear itself. I pull it out and the fish with it. He doesn’t have much fight left in him. He got beat up pretty bad on the cave walls and scales are everywhere. I’ve been underwater 110 seconds now. My body is starting to let me know. My stomach is having contractions and I’m actively suppressing my need to gulp in oxygen. Even so I take the time to look around myself and make sure the shooting line is clear. It would never do to head upwards only to get tangled up. I’m clear. I push off the bottom with my free hand. I’ve let my gun go by this point since it floats and when I get to the surface I’ll retrieve it. The push gets me going and then it is only a few kicks to the top.

I use all the air in my lungs to blast the water out of my snorkel and take a big breath. My body is screaming for air and it is like Christmas when I get it. My adrenaline is going now. I’ve got the fish! I’ve got the fish. I grab him by the gills and get my dive knife out to brain him on the way back to the dinghy. Dani is off in the distance, probably looking for lobsters she can never seem to find. I start kicking.

The fish is in the dink and Dani has spotted me now. She is heading back, curious as a cat to find out why I’m in the dink after only about an hour in the water when I usually swim for much longer. Her face lights up at the sight of the big dog snapper I hold up proudly to show her. Her smile is so radiant. I’d fish just to see that girl smile. I tell myself I’m okay if she just wants sushi. But then her vision clouds with worry and she ducks her head back into the water. Shark watch, you know?

After clearing a fouled anchor we’re on the way back to Sundowner. Our hair is drying in the wind and sun. I note that Dani’s hair is still on her head, which is probably due to the “conditioner” she puts in it before every outing. I guess if I go bald I can just say it isn’t male pattern baldness but not using salt water conditioner. Dani catches my eye and knows I’m about to tease her. Instead I just hold up the fish again. And there is that smile. 120 seconds without a breath and a 1 second breathtaking smile. Who knew they were linked?