We spent all day Saturday playing “tourist” on a boat, a local favorite called the “No Rush.”
It is an older catamaran that holds about 24 people, plus crew. It is the crew that makes it a favorite, they are long-time friends to many aboard. That, and the fact that the No Rush lives up to its name. This catamaran raises sails when ever it can. Most of the newer and larger touring cats tend to motor out to the reef and back. When you sign on to No Rush you have to plan on letting the rest of life rush past you and put your faith in the winds.
A very therapeutic and congenial experience.
This occasion was a birthday celebration for Denise, a neighbor and friend who runs her own artisan bread baking business. In fact, we toasted some of her cranberry-walnut bread for breakfast that morning. Fresh-baked bread is only one of the ways that our island life is improving gastronomically — but that is a story for another time.
Nearly half of the 18 passengers — all full-time residents of Ambergris Caye — were former San Diegans. There seem to be a lot of us here on the island. Maybe there is a natural migration from the Southernmost California county to this little island — kindred souls in terms of meteorological temperament, idyllic surroundings and — let’s be honest — San Diego is very much an island writ large. It is the closest thing the U.S. has to Ambergris Caye, with the possible exception of the Florida Keys. More likely, one couple moved here, friends and relatives visited and eventually followed the same path. One couple drives a Chargers-themed golf cart. Not surprisingly, they were season ticket holders their entire adult lives. There was a lot of heartbreak expressed aboard the “No Rush” when the topic came up.
A day-trip consists of sailing north for about an hour, to an especially calm section of the barrier reef just south of a fairly new national aquatic preserve known as Mexico Rocks. En route, one of the island’s most dedicated sailors Gerry Neumann and his sailing student, Andrew, sail by us on their own catamaran. Gerry maneuvers alongside to greet us and take our photo. I take a few of them, which we exchange later in the day. Gerry moves off and ends up shadowing a school of stingrays and a couple of dolphins.
Captain Steve drops anchor in a shallow, sandy stretch behind the reef and everyone drops over the side to snorkel among the coral and tropical fish. On this particular day the wind was up and so was the chop just inside the reef. Since it was the first time in months that I’d been out to the reef, a little chop wasn’t going to dissuade me. I swam out as close as I could to the far edge, where the bottom drops away precipitously into an impenetrable indigo blue Caribbean void.
The closer you get to the eastern edge, the choppier and more dangerous the reef becomes. Sometimes I am amazed there is any reef left at all. The winds from the east push towering waves toward us only to have them grind down, as if on a cheese grater. If there were no reef, there would be no Ambergris Caye. Somehow all that height and power dissipates on the reef and somehow the fragile ecosystem beneath the waves survives. By the time the water reaches our shore it is sun-dappled slop, no more riled than the water in a bathtub.
There was a strong current Saturday, pushing me back toward the boat. You learn to seek the path of least resistance on the reef, aim for deeper channels and stay off the shallows atop the coral formations where waves could lift and smash you on to that cheese grater, with painful results, turning you as black and blue as fan coral. The best show is along the reef walls, where fish of every pattern and hue imaginable dart in and out of passageways. Persistence pays off and in my search for cosmically beautiful corals and fish, I wasn’t disappointed. No turtles, no sharks, no eels, rays, barracuda or dolphins — but they will be there on another, calmer, day.
There were plenty of Blue Tangs, snapper, Sergeants, Angelfish, grunts, wrasses and butterflyfish. To abscond with a familiar bumpersticker: My worst day snorkeling is better than my best day working.
I love to hover motionless near a coral formation, arms and legs drawn in, and wait for the skittish fish to slip back out from their caves. If you are really calm, some cosmic all-clear signal sounds and soon there are colorful finned commuters darting to and fro, in and out of passageways, bunched together in silvery schools cruising on some invisible watery expressway to locations unknown. Aquatic life takes over when you stop chasing it.
The No Rush crew, meanwhile, fishes for snapper and hunts down a few lobster for their signature ceviche dishes.
The water around the boat is no more than 3-4 feet deep, warm and brilliantly clear and far calmer than on the reef. Snorkeling exhausted or exhausted from snorkeling, we gather in the water for much of the rest of the day, hanging on to floats, sipping Belikin beers and rum punches, handed down to us by the crew. We talk and joke much as your neighbors might at your annual Fourth of July backyard barbecue. Except here, the reef is our back yard. And every day is like the Fourth of July.
The call for ceviche and a lunch of stewed fish and chicken and potatoes with warm flour tortillas draws everyone out of the water for a while. We’re just as quickly dive back into the water for the “siesta” round of flotation, digestion, discussion and doing a slow roast in the sun.
Around 2 p.m. the last stragglers reluctantly leave the water and the anchor’s lifted and the sails hoisted. With the stiff breeze at our backs, we make it all too quickly back to port.