Approximately 4 miles offshore from where we are moored in Marathon - is Sombrero Light. Several mooring balls are available to use while enjoying the reef. Coleen and I decided to go out on a snorkel dive boat as this would be our first experience. It was a large motor catamaran that practically flew across the water at 13 knots! We were out to the reef in no time at all. We were both very excited and quickly donned our wet suits and snorkel gear. We each had an inflatable snorkel vest too.
Unfortunately for us, although the seas had been dead calm all week - a norther had blown in overnight with 25 mph winds and now we had 3 foot waves. The captain threw out some fish food as soon as we arrived to bring some fish to the surface too. Between that and the waves it was a rough way to start.
I managed to get Coleen safely down the very long ladder and into the water. The waves were pounding us against the side of the boat and I could not persuade her to let go of the ladder. Finally she put her face in the water - only to see that we were literally surrounded by fish -all around our arms, legs and torso. It was like swimming inside a huge school of fish. This only served to terrify her more - and it overwhelmed me for a minute too! I had not expected that. I was thinking that we'd see maybe a few fish if we looked hard!
After a few more patient minutes of being pounded by waves while holding on to Coleen at the ladder I finally persuaded her to let go, hold my hand and come away from the boat. It was actually possible to float along on top of the waves while snorkeling and only now and then did a wave crash over my snorkel giving me a mouth full of water. Poor little Coleen would not put her face in the water again. She was too scared to look. I couldn't get her to use her flippers either. Finally I took her back to the boat and helped her up the ladder. She really tried and was very disappointed, but it was just not to be for her that day.
After getting her settled I went back into the water and had the most amazing time of my life! The reef was literally overflowing with all sorts of fish, coral, and sponges. It was very overwhelming and yet I was in awe too. There were hundreds of fish - all colors, shapes, and sizes. A multitude of colorful purple sea fans were constantly waving in in the current.
Between each reef shelf was a valley of pure white sand teeming with its own variety of sea creatures. In one of these valleys a lone barracuda was keeping watch. He seemed to look at me eerily but wasn't moving at all. I had read that they won't really bother you unless you are wearing something flashy. I did a quick mental inventory of my apparel and decided I was probably ok. Still I decided to give him a wide berth.
I had to work pretty hard not to let the waves sweep me beyond the boat. And I was taking in what seemed like gallons of water - but I didn't care. I just wanted to see as much as possible. I cannot even begin to list all the things I saw, there was just too much many and quite frankly I am not that knowledgeable -- yet. What I do know for sure is that I am totally smitten. I cannot wait to get out there again!
The next day I went to the library and found three really good books on coral reefs and have begun to study them in earnest. On my next adventure I'll know a lot more which will make it even more fun! Also, we'll go on our own boat next time - with it's nice comfortable swim platform and I will rig up a line for Coleen to hold. I'm confident that she will try again if we pick a nice calm day -- and don't feed the fish.