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Day 2 – Swims, Sails, Runs, Yucca, Rastas, Tunicates (pelagic, and budding)

_HPP3315Yes. That’s a lot for the title of tonight’s blog. But when you have many memorable things happen in a single day, you give these stories the attention they deserve.

We woke up to lovely skies in White Bay, Peter Island. Coffee, fruit, quiet beginnings. We plotted a course for our first swim as the wind picked up. Captain Chad suited up to join us. I think he was curious to see what we’re really doing out there in the waves…We set out into confused seas, the chop and swell a challenge to read. The wind making circles in the bay. Our swimmers never balked. They dug in and swam. Every time we stopped I’d ask “How’s everybody doing?” Each time I heard a chorus of “Good!” We pressed on. Visited along the way by a sting ray and a turtle, schools of Blue Tang and thousands of little tiny silver sides, we hugged the shore and hit our turn around point. There we split up, some had had enough and we headed back – a still formidable swim. A few intrepid souls went on for another few hundred yards. Good to see this group listening to their bodies and pacing themselves for this week of activity.

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Captain Chad dons his swim gear. Natalie is a model of strength and beauty in the water.

Back on board where Will whips up some eggs. They vanish in a few minutes – a protein boost for the rest of the day. Sails up, we’re going for a drive. We guides finish up our boat duties and actually catch an hour in the sun and breeze. Not in a hurry, we sail around for a while and everyone relaxes. Sailing on Promenade will do that to an active bunch – the quiet locomotion has a calming effect. Everyone just eases back and goes along for the ride.

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Photo Mar 25, 1 14 37 PMWe land in Brandy Wine Bay, Tortola, where Felix dinghies to shore for some errands and Captain Chad, Will and guests Natalie and Sonia take to the winding hilly roads for a run. They meet some goats. The rest of us eat lunch which consists of pulled pork, the best cold slaw I have ever had, and an enormous bowl of boat-made Yucca chips. Yes, I said Yucca. Addictive. Fantastic.

The runners return, sweaty and more than deserving of their share of the Yucca chips. We set sail back to Peter to an anchorage in Great Harbour. The wind and swell are building, and we can find some shelter here.

There is some resting, some reading, some snacking and some chatter. The group has gelled already and feels like they’ve been together on this boat before, comfortable with each other both at play and rest. We guides map out our afternoon swim, doing our best to avoid any portion that heads us directly into the wind. We plunge in and head to our first waypoint. A big and elegant spotted eagle ray makes an appearance. We head into the corner of the harbor where there is a small beach and used to be an old anchor (Sorry Hopper, still not there). I’ve swum here dozens of times and feel very at home leading this group of guests to this point of the swim, when quite un expectedly I am approached by a Rasta man in a small motorized dory. He starts to yell at me about his fishing nets and that we can’t swim here. I’m confused and sputter a little. The more questions I ask the more agitated he gets, telling me we can’t swim near his nets or in the path of the fish on their way to his nets. Still confused, I ask where we can swim. He yells at me some more and and says we have to go out and around, not along the shore. I ask one more question and he shouts that he’ll have me arrested and our boat dragged out of the harbor! This has gotten a little comical, and our swimmers have gathered around me and are as confused as I am. He mutters and putters away, and we plot a new course so as not to upset him further. On later consultation, Felix responds: “No no no. The ocean is free”. Yeah! So there.

As we hit the shore (well away from the nets) we are treated to a ride – the wind is pushing us smoothly along the cliff walls, thousands of silversides teaming around us. I take advantage of the boost and lengthen my stroke, getting all the glide I can from each one. We hit our mark and turn around to head back, now into the wind for just a short stretch. We shorten strokes, bury heads a little deeper, and push through. I don’t see these kids skipping a beat. They just swim.

Back to Promenade where some of us loll around in the blue off the stern. Nicole says she sees a sea snake. Not possible I tell her, not here. She says “It’s swirling around right below you!” I look and think it’s an old cut buoy line, 25 feet down, twirling in a spiral. I look again…this is a living thing – it’s clear and segmented, with gold centers to each segment – something I have only seen one other time in my life – decades ago. It is a chain of pelagic tunicates, newly budded.

Now I know what you’re saying. What the hell is that? Tunicates are a part of a phenomenal little phylum, not quite vertebrates but way too advance to be invertebrates. Most are sessile or stuck to reefs and rocks, these are free swimming in the deep. They undergo asexual reproduction in the amazing act of budding. This is an occurrence that happens once in a while, somewhere at sea. And now at this moment, we are looking at a swirling, budding chain of burgeoning pelagic tunicates. Soon they will mature and break apart, but we are catching a glimpse of this amazing natural event. Trust me, if you’d been here, you would have been excited.

Back aboard, bushwhackers await. More Yucca chips, now with boat-made hummus. Stir fry dinner and strudel for dessert. As we replace the calories we’ve incinerated today, we discuss the days adventures of air, land and sea. It has been a full one, and it’s only the first full one.

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After dinner I do a quick marine naturalist slide show and we talk more about the amazing creatures around us in this beautiful blue sea. The group asked great questions and eats it up, and Nicole’s boon sighting of the pelagic tunicate has her glowing.

Once again, they’re all to bed and I’m sitting here in the quiet, amazed by this thing I get to do, these things I get to see, these people who travel here to dive in and immerse in the abundance around us. So game, so appreciative, so open to what comes, it’s clear they won’t let a moment go to waste.

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There’s a dinghy headed to shore at 530 am for dropping awesome crew member Jessica (we’ll miss you!), and our runners will also be on it. Up the hills of Peter they’ll climb, while I’m hopefully still fast asleep.

We’ve got a plan for our travel and swims tomorrow, but as always we know we have to stay flexible and be ready to let go of newly budded ideas and head for somewhere else if that’s what the sea wants.

But one idea is becoming more and more fixed in my thinking: These kids are ready for whatever comes our way.

– Heather

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Kev Shilka says:

    That is awesome Nik. I had the good fortune to see a tunicate while diving near Pago Pago. The dive master I was with said that the tunicate is a mystery to paleontologists. He also called it a sea squirt.

    • Nicole says:

      I saw another one, too! It was so beautiful… like a string of little glowing lights. What a treat to see!

  2. Amy Schoening says:

    Heather- I am following you guys each day and loving it. Sounds like TBE beginning of a magical trip.
    You are all so lucky!!
    A

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