The weather was not perfectly still. A big Northwest gale had passed, still the ocean surface scalloped energetically. The tide was going out. Albert found an island, Gumelemi Cay, that looked like it could have great snorkeling. We inched off the channel and anchored in an idyllic, though bumpy cove off a teeny island. Albert brought his underwater camera.
We put on snorkels and fins and fell into the water. There was a pretty good current and it sent us whizzing over muddy clumps of grass, not coral gardens. Still I didn’t want to be a spoilsport. We were hoping this would be the best snorkeling of our lifetime.
The coral bordered a cut between a ledge island and the larger island of Guana Cay. As we headed towards it, waves were breaking on one side. Our idea was we’d stay on other side. As we approached we could see that the coral bank must drop off on the breaking waves side. Then I saw this really big huge fish, the size of a cat, with very funny twiddling fins. I touched Albert and pointed. We willingly followed it for maybe one stroke, then we were both abruptly swept across the reef, and into a very strong current.
I love to swim, I am a strong experienced swimmer, and we have snorkeled together many times, but as I got swept over, water filled my snorkel and I couldn’t seem to recover from it. I found myself guzzling seawater. Gasping I hollered “I’m heading back!” With relief, I registered that he was also heading back.
I had another few seconds of getting really pooped by waves before I could come up for air and look around for Albert. He was pretty near, clearly going through a similar experience. I got off the snorkel and got on my back, and I saw Albert was doing the same. I said, “I’m not sure if I can make it.” I tried to see the boat. “Oh my God!” I couldn’t see the boat right away and thought maybe we were really being swept away faster than we were swimming back. Then I saw the boat. I didn’t really have any energy for fixing the gear on my head, and the snorkel was useless in this chop, so I just flipped it up and gasped on my back, the snorkel getting wacked against my head by the waves.
“That’s good, do the back stroke.” Adrenaline helped. “We’re halfway there,” Albert said. It was such a relief to see we were getting closer rather than further away.
When I got to the boat, my energy was so depleted my arms and legs were like rubber. Somehow I pulled myself up the ladder and Albert followed.
“My knees are knocking. I don’t know if it’s because I’m scared or because my muscles are totally drained.”
“Yeah, that was pretty intense.”
In the days since, we’ve talked over what could have happened. If we had gone just a little further, what if we’d been swept out to sea.
As it was happening, I could see that he needed to save himself and I needed to save myself. We couldn’t really help each other. It took us thirty minutes to get back to the dinghy.
The day before it had been my birthday. I am never my best self on my birthday. Albert gave me a birthday card that reads “Jenny- Happy 58th trip! Like the moon and the stars seem to revolve around the Earth, I revolve around you. Thank you for being you, my partner and help-mate. I will always be here for you.” Love Albert.
And on my birthday, I didn’t like the card. “But you won’t always be there for me!” I am not a person who takes our mortality lightly. And yes sure, he revolves around me but what does that mean, anyway? And as though I was still menstruating, I wept. “You didn’t get me a birthday present?” The card was it.
But now, I’ve got these pictures.