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Swimming in liquid topaz

Dive Log 11:
Greater Antilles -- Dutch West Indies -- February 5, 2007
Saint Martins: 1st Dive
Saint Martins: 2nd Dive

Greater Antilles -- Dutch West Indies -- February 2007

In 2007, I thought I was about to have another complete turnover at both stores, and started training a new crew, when the plans of the employees I expected to be leaving suddenly changed.

Now overstaffed, I took the opportunity for a vacation. Luck was with me as the rules for international travel to the Caribbean had just been changed that January, requiring a passport instead of just a driver's license and birth certificate. This sudden change left all of the cruise lines short on qualified travelers.

Having renewed my passport just the year before, I managed to book another Windjammer Barefoot Cruise, to a section of the Caribbean that I'd not yet explored, at a steal of a deal. Had a room intended for 4 people, at half the price for one.

February 2007 1 February 2007 2 February 2007 4 February 2007 3

Left my snow-covered home in Arkansas in the middle of the night, drove to Memphis before dawn, caught a flight to Atlanta, and then an International flight to island of Saint Martins/Sint Maarten.

Saint Martins/Sint Maarten is the smallest island in the world to be divided into two countries. And it has the kind of turbulent history that you hear about on almost every island in the Caribbean. Having originally been settled by South American Arawak Indians, the island was next claimed by Columbus for Spain. Then it was claimed by the French, then the Dutch, back to the Spanish, back to the Dutch, then the English, French again, and Dutch again. The pattern of these three European powers taking turns controlling the island would continue for centuries.

Today Saint Martins/Sint Maarten is split between the French and the Netherlands (Dutch), and is a part of the Dutch West Indies, which in turn is part of the Greater Antilles island chain, that starts below Florida with Cuba, includes Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and many others. This long chain of islands then arcs South along the eastward side of the Caribbean, and down to South America, where it is known as both the Lesser Antilles and the British West Indies, which includes Granada.

The Windjammer collected it's travelers onto a bus at the airport on one side of the island, then took us across the mountain top and into the country on the other side, where we boarded the S/V Polynesia. Another Windjammer sailing vessel sat next to the Polynesia, also gathering its passengers for the week.

Saint Martins: 1st Dive -- February 5th

The first dive on Saint Martins was to an underwater park. It was a shallow, easy dive, but there was a lot of turbidity in the water, which made it hard to see the park's sunken mini-sub.

Unlike my previous Windjammer cruise, the Polynesia had their own on-board Divemaster, a European who, even though a nice guy, was perpetually in a bad mood, and spoke English with a Caribbean accent. The reason he took us on such an easy initial dive was to check our skills. Even though I had the most advanced certification of any diver, he blamed me for this, since I was honest about it having been 7 years my last dive. Diving is like riding a bike, and the routine of assembling your equipment is so repetitious, that you never forget it. Plus, swimming is second nature to me. So I considered this novice dive to be nonsense.

But there did turn out to be drama on the dive, when we returned to the Polynesia. A crewman reached for a mooring rope, then lost his balance and fell off the side of the inflatable boat, kicking me in the back as he hit the water between both boats headfirst.

No one else moved, they just sat and watched as I immediately got into position to pull him out, holding the boat off from the side of the Polynesia, giving him space to surface. But there were only bubbles for quite a while. Commenting that "He's been down for an awfully long time," I was about to dive in, when a flailing hand finally broke the surface. I grabbed it and yanked him back onto the side of the boat.

Having had a swimming pool since my mid-Twenties, I've saved an uncountable number of drowning creatures, from insects to a baby raccoon (whose cries sound like a human baby -- which will really get you up and moving fast in the middle of the night). And there is a pattern to how they react after being rescued. If it was just a close call, they always take out running, still pumped up from the excitement of fear. But if they were near death when saved, they just sit where they're dumped, taking a long time to collect their wits.

The Polynesia crewman reacted like he'd had a near-death experience, lying exhausted on the side of the boat, the pupils of his eyes completely dilated. I gave him a minute before pulling him the rest of the way into the boat.

Afterwards, that crewman was demoted to below deck duties. I only saw him one other time during the whole rest of the cruise, when he was headed to the kitchen, saw me, stopped and kind of glared. I wondered if he somehow blamed me for his fall and subsequent demotion.

Saint Martins 1st Dive 1 Saint Martins 1st Dive 2 Saint Martins 1st Dive 3 Saint Martins 1st Dive 4 Saint Martins 1st Dive 5

Saint Martins: 2nd Dive -- February 5,2007

With our second dive on Saint Martins, we went back to traditional diving. I have to admit that I was shocked throughout the cruise on the lack of life I saw, and the overall condition of the corals. So many of them were bleaching out, that it often seemed like I was diving through graveyards.

That's why there aren't as many fish pictures, as I usually have in my logs. It was hard enough just to find coral life.

The corals aren't dead yet, but they are dying. My personal opinion is that the pollution of the ocean is to blame, since the damage is always greater in proximity to civilized areas.

While there are a lot of arguments as to why they're dying, the fact is that coral reefs have survived for over Half-a-Billion years, with fossils dating back over 542 Million years ago. Corals have lived through every kind of extinction event from Asteroid impacts to Volcanic global warming, and even the freezing of another Snowball Earth at the end of the Permian Age.

But, it's during the age of man that they seem to be facing their greatest extinction event.

Saint Martins 2nd Dive 1 Saint Martins 2nd Dive 2 Saint Martins 2nd Dive 3 Saint Martins 2nd Dive 4 Saint Martins 2nd Dive 5 Saint Martins 2nd Dive 6 Saint Martins 2nd Dive 7 Saint Martins 2nd Dive 8

Dive Log 12:
Dutch West Indies continued -- February 6, 2007
Nevis: Flower Garden Gulf
Nevis: Hurricane Reef
Nevis: Brimstone Hill Fortress

Nevis 4

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