July 6, 2013
The winds were only going to be down for one day before picking up for another round of strong wind (southeasterly this time) and rain. We decided that we needed to make the most of our last day of sun.
With a bit of spontaneity, we arranged a day trip to snorkel the pass. We invited anyone in the anchorage who wanted to ride aboard Full Monty and spend the afternoon drift snorkeling in the pass. After a quick check of the tide, and distance calculations to the pass, we told everyone departure was at 1 pm.
It also took some figuring on how to handle the dinghy situation. There were going to be 20 people onboard, so one dinghy would not be enough for shuttling people back and forth from the big boat to the pass. Therefore, we decided to tow two extra dinghies for the trip.
Wil was concerned about losing our good anchor spot to any newcomers that might arrive while we were gone. He really liked that spot because that’s where the fish tended to hang out! Therefore, right before hoisting anchor, he dropped some chain with a plastic bottle tied to it. Now, we would be able to return to our exact position. (Consider this to be some foreshadowing!)
Everyone piled aboard with their snorkel gear and snacks, and we were off. Our guests included crews from Sueño, Flour Girl, Voyageur, Sirius, and Scott Free.
Over an hour later, we arrived at the pass. As we approached, we discovered that we were too late, and the tide was already going out. We decided to anchor a safe distance just south of the pass, so anyone who wanted to snorkel near the boat could do so. Then, we donned our snorkel gear and hopped into the dinghies. Maina (s/v Voyageur) stayed with the big boat.
As we dinghied closer to the pass, we saw that the current flowing out the pass was really too strong even for drifting with the dinghies. Therefore, we dropped swimmers in the water further away from the pass, so they could drift towards the pass and then be picked up. However, the current quickly became even stronger, and trying to keep tabs on almost 19 people became difficult. I had stayed in our dinghy to watch anyone near me, but before I knew it, I had a handful of people hanging onto two lines I was dragging out behind the dinghy. Even though I had the 25 hp engine, it was tricky trying to tow so many people out of the fast moving water. It didn’t take long for everyone to realize we needed to call it quits and return to the big boat.
Upon returning to Full Monty, some of us took a more relaxing snorkel around nearby coral heads. Along with the usual fish, we saw unicorn fish that literally have a single horn shape protruding from their heads. We also saw crown-of-thorns sea stars. The crown-of-thorns, also known as “mother-in-law’s cushion”, are beautiful, but they have poisonous thorns and are damaging to living coral.
Justine and I also heard about a couple of small (3-4 feet) black tip sharks that were swimming around, so we snorkeled over for a look. This was our first experience of swimming with sharks, and we were very happy to notice that they were particularly shy. However, on our return swim, I glanced back to make sure Justine was right behind me, and both sharks were following us. I motioned for Justine to turn around, and I quickly moved next to her. In my mind, if we made ourselves look bigger, we might scare them away. I changed to a vertical position and spread my arms out wide. Sure enough the sharks turned away. We quickly, but calmly, swam a more direct route back to the boat.
Soon it was time to pack everything up and begin our journey back to the southeast anchorage. It was rapidly approaching sunset, and the wind was starting to pick up. With everyone aboard, the extra dinghies tied to the transom, and the anchor up, I throttled forward.
As the boat moved away from our little day anchorage, I glanced back to see the sunset. What I didn’t expect to see was two dinghies floating away towards the pass! I yelled that the dinghies were loose, quickly turned the boat 180 degrees around, and aimed downwind and down current from the dinghies. As I tried to block the dinghies from going any further, we had all hands on deck trying to grab them. After a couple of failed attempts, David (s/v Sueño) dove in and swam for them. Soon, both dinghies were retrieved and more securely tied to the transom.
By the time we got moving again, the sun was below the horizon and rain clouds were moving in. The wind had picked up to about 15-20 knots on the nose, and since we were pulling two dinghies, our forward progress was just 3 knots. Everytime the wind would gust, we risked overturning a dinghy. We finally had to switch the dinghies to the other side of the boat where the wind wasn’t directly on them.
With the sun gone and night upon us, this meant we had to navigate back to the southeastern anchorage without being able to see the many coral heads. Hoping that the Navionics and GPS on the iPad were pretty close to reality, I was able to follow our previous track in reverse. That was all fine and dandy until the track suddenly disappeared! While Wil raced inside to turn on the chartplotter, I frantically searched the Navionics archives for the track. Thank goodness I found it and was able to get the track back again.
It was dark, it was windy, and soon a light rain began to fall. After having been snorkeling, everyone was starting to get chilled. I donned my foul weather gear and continued to man the helm.
Normally, we don’t drink a drop of alcohol when we’re underway, but the day had been long and we needed to take the edge off. Along with the snack foods, the wine and beer came out. Wil and several of our guests (kids included) were very thoughtful of my position at the helm, and they kept me fed and watered.
Eventually, we could see the mast lights from our anchorage. We followed our track back towards where we had been anchored. As we neared our spot, Wil was able to light up the float with a flashlight. We were so relieved that we’d marked our anchor spot. We could drop anchor and not worry about dropping on or getting tangled in coral heads.
When snorkeling a pass with a large number of people (especially children), all swimmers should have their assigned group & dinghy with a main person to keep tabs on everyone in that group.
When hours in the day matter or specific tides are needed, and there is a large group for an organized trip, know that transitions take longer, and more time is needed to do anything.
No matter how calm things might be, never tow a dinghy (or two!). Conditions can deteriorate on a moments notice.
Never count on one method of navigation. Always have a backup, or be prepared to do deadreckoning.
Deadreckoning doesn’t help if you’re in the dark and surrounded by coral heads. Don’t get yourself into that situation to begin with.