Breathing through a tube

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Written August 6, 2005

I'm quite proud of myself and my nine-year-old boy. We went out today on a boat from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Florida, to White Bank Reef, and snorkeled for the first time.

Joe is quite comfortable swimming underwater with a snorkel mask on his face. He does it in the neighborhood pool back home, and he did it a lot at the beach in Fort Lauderdale earlier in the week. I, on the other hand, don't like water on my face at all, and I certainly don't like being in water that's deeper than my neck. But because I try to be a good dad, and I knew Joe would love to see a coral reef first hand, I suggested that we go, while my wife and four-year-old went on a glass-bottom boat tour.

We slathered on sunscreen, I rented a mask and flippers (he had his already), and we rode out with about thirty others on the El Capitan to a spot five miles out. Joe struck up a conversation with a family from Las Vegas that had been snorkeling many times before. I wasn't sure what to expect on the boat, but we were able to stay dry and in the shade for the ride to and from.

The water was pretty calm. Getting into the water was no big deal -- we didn't have to fall off backwards like scuba divers. Joe quickly spotted a barracuda beneath us -- we were told they enjoy the shade of the boat.

We followed the other divers out to the reef, maybe thirty yards from the boat, a mountain of hard and soft corals, brain corals and fan corals. We saw plenty of sergeant major fish -- so called for their yellow and black stripes -- and saw several more barracuda, including one that seemed to come quite close. Joe saw a yellow stingray.

We had to go back to the boat twice. The first time I had trouble with sea water getting into my mask, and to tell the truth, I noticed myself getting slightly panicked. Back at the boat, I put more Vaseline on my mustache (to make for a better seal with the mask there) and tightened it, and added some air to my snorkel vest. I did a better job at keeping calm and taking deep breaths and started to relax and enjoy what I was seeing beneath the waves. The second trip back was because Joe's life vest was riding up on him and he was having a little trouble staying afloat. He wanted to ride back on my back, but I couldn't hold him and me both up. We made it back all right, the guide adjusted his vest and we went back in, but stayed a bit closer to the boat this time.

At length, I found myself more comfortable with my face in the water and breathing through the snorkel than trying to hold my head above the surface. I started to take my time going from place to place. The only thing I allowed myself to be paranoid about was knowing Joe's location at all times.

We just beat a thundershower as we returned to the dock. We met up with Mom and little sister and Joe announced that snorkeling was "Awe. Some."

We queued up for dinner at the famed Fish House, but there was a long wait, so we bailed and headed for Ballyhoo's, near mile marker 97. AAA Tourbook said it was where the locals ate. The food was great, although not as inexpensive as the AAA Tourbook had led us to believe.

We drove a little ways further down US 1, just for the heck of it, listening to some Beach Boys tunes. Joe spotted an enormous lobster statue next to a tourist trap. The store was closed, but we stopped to get a photo of the lobster.

As I say, I'm very proud of Joe and for myself. There was a time when trying something this new would have been avoided at all costs. There was a time when we would have given up at the first sign of trouble. Instead, we stayed with it, and when something didn't seem quite right, we kept our heads, made adjustments and kept going. We lived out the immortal words of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Don't panic. Also, always know where your towel is.


mad okie Author Profile Page said:

We went snorkling for the first time ourselves down in Cozumel, unfortunatly it was from the shore (not from a boat), the water was choppy and the sky was overcast, it was a chore to get back to the pier, and not being a strong swimmer made matters worse. we may try again the next time we head that direction, weather permitting

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 12, 2005 6:22 AM.

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