Last night, Sarah and I, after a later than usual dinner decided to take a quick dip. As is our usual choice we gathered towels and such aft near the transom steps, our regular swim platform, and as it was already fully dark on a yet moonless night we were drawn to gaze for a few minutes at the overwhelming number of stars. Because we are moored just offshore at Playa Tortuga on the uninhabited Nature Preserve that is Culibrita we had near best conditions for stargazing, a day we were rewarded with the full show of constellations, a planet -Jupiter has been easily recognizable transiting with Venus this summer, and the vast band of the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon.
After a few moments of astral revery we decided that we would go forward following a quick dip and lie down on the foredeck. This is where it is roomy and flat enough to lie down while looking aloft.
Swimming after dark is actually not such a good idea, and we only indulge occasionally on a strict dive in, swim directly back, and get out basis. Predators are most active at night and can react erroneously to sudden movement or bright flashes from jewelry, clothing... who knows what. Rather than find out what might be under the boat using our keel as cover while lurking we keep it short. We were the only boat in the harbor and the darkness provided further reason to strip and skinny dip. I'm usually ready first, and just before taking the plunge I thought I saw small reflections on the water typical of moonlight glimpsed on wavetops; but somehow weirdly different. Anyway - in I went... Dive in, hold the fully stretched pose, feel the cool cleansing burst, glide to the surface, hustle back.
Even before I could get back to our swim ladder built into the stern, Sarah was imploring me "Look, look!".
I said, catching my breath, and now a little worried, "What? Where?"
"All around you" she exclaimed.
One's first impulse in this moment isn't of wonderment and awe, but more so about what might be ready to take an experimental chunk out of you. Yet her voice held no concern, only real surprise and amazement in the tone of - Look quick and see something special.
I stopped my back to safety crawl and began to tread water. All around me, and more so because of me - I saw it. Bioluminescence. The movement of my arms on the surface was creating a sparkling light show. I was stirring up and exciting a chemical reaction from tiny organisms that live in some of the more remote, not yet trashed, sewered or plasticed bays hereabouts. The concentration of these organisms can vary from 5 to 95 % - so we have learned. Ours was probably a lower percentage, yet the results were still very apparent. Each swing of my arm or even a wiggle of my hand would release a trail of bright sparkles causing a pattern through the water describing that movement - but for only a few seconds. The effect was like aquatic fireflies that only lit up if you waved you hand through the air and then darkness if you didn't.After treading water for a few minutes, amid my own micro fireworks, it occurred to me that something else also living in these waters might take an unwanted interest in my movements, and reluctantly I headed for the swim ladder.
Now it was Sarah's turn and we shared our discovery in "wows", and "amazings " and "look at thats " while she created patterns for me to watch. Back on the transom step I could see even better than in the water the effects of her movements- the lights like sudden small but intense electrical charges, not just illuminating, but following the flow of the surface disturbance. Tiny spots came so quickly alit, a faded away in a second or two, but the total effect was of a trail through the water, lighting, lingering briefly, and gone; staying only at the spot where the surface disturbance was ongoing. So rewarding was this game of Create-a-Sparking-Pattern that after Sarah's treading water light show I fetched an oar from our dinghy and we took turns using it as a tool to make better and longer lasting patterns for one another while finally mastering the technique of quick circles needed to create near complete figure 8 trails of now-I-am-here, now-I'm-not light.
We reflected that the moonless night, and distance away from city lights had combined to show us what we might have otherwise missed in other conditions, or just by going to bed without the swim.
While reading about Vieques , one of our upcoming stops, we had noted the highly recommended Bioluminescent Bay tours offered there. For $40 US you can join a guided tour, by kayak only, into one of two bays, that are now quite protected, that have a consistent
bioluminescent presence. Some other cruisers we have spoken to, or reviews that we have read, have said this was an amazing "don't miss it" experience. Quite often when we hear these superlatives we are disappointed. Someone else's "Amazing" can be your "Very nice", or "Pretty interesting ". There can be a pattern of let down if expectations are too high. But the surprise, the unexpected discovery by chance of this phenomenon was ours alone in that moment. We smiled knowingly to each other at the shared satisfaction of serendipity and Nature's wonder.
Sarah quipped "That will be $40 please", and yet it was, most especially for us, totally free.
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