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Rare Air Episode 23 and November 2017 desktop calendar

Scroll way down for an original desktop calendar for November.

Wow. Two months ago, when I was preparing to post the next Rare Air episode, sharing more documentation from the beautiful day we spent on June 17, 2016, at Waterlemon Cay, I obviously had no idea that within a few days, Hurricane Irma would be reducing Saint John to a “wasteland.” That is the word used by The Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola in his Sept. 12 story describing the destruction of many popular island destinations we visited in 2016 – some of which we returned to this past July.

Unfortunately for us, when we circled back to the parking lot at the Annaberg Sugar Mill this year, it was raining cats and dogs. We sat in our Jeep and ate our lunch in the hopes of riding the storm out, but 40 minutes or so later, we gave up. Deciding to drive to the island’s West End in the hope of finding better weather – the plan paid off, and we were able to experience some unforgettable snorkeling at Hanson Bay. As a result, for the present, all I have to share from Waterlemon Cay comes from 2016. We still hope to return someday soon, but until then, I hope this will whet your appetite.

“In all the guidebooks and even at the park’s visitors center in Cruz Bay, everyone instructs that the Waterlemon Cay island is to be circumnavigated counterclockwise… so that’s exactly what we did. Swimming out the 150 feet to the island, although we did again encounter some schools of fish, the bottom falls away and the sand below becomes darker and darker gray. But then, it starts rising up, with clusters of coral and grass. Kicking and kicking toward the rocks, we had to constantly correct our course, as the currents pushed us this way and that. Making our way along the east side of the island, the coral exploded out of the ground, and fish everywhere carried on without a care in the world for us. We again encountered all the usual suspects, but also, a lunker snapper that swam away from us, looking like a lumbering giant whose subtlest tail movements easily left us in his dust. From our chart, parrotfish, angelfish, hamlet, grunts, damselfish, butterflyfish, trunkfish and sergeant majors are all easily recognizable from those we saw in spades. And thanks to another chart, I can properly list the other primary sights: The gorgeous “common” sea fan, sea rods, whips, stinging coral, red and orange wall sponges, barrel and tube sponges, endless clusters of coral including the striking “brain” variety… and how have I failed so far to mention the long-spined sea urchins we have seen everwhere we’ve gone, including down at Reef Bay beach? Also onmipresent at Waterlemon Bay were the bar jacks, which were the ones we’d watched feeding in Hanson Bay. Here, they were virtually everywhere we looked. All around the island and in the bay we saw neverending schools of tiny bait fish… and always on the perimeter were the bar jacks. When we were sitting on the beach, it was even more evident that the bar jacks were hunting together – some attacking from one side to the benefit of other, strategically positioned beneficiaries.”

“But back below the surface, that trajectory up along the inside of the island had a breathtaking payoff for us. Having seen so much life already, we paused above the surface together before going around the horn. I said, “Here we go around the island,” and down our heads went. There, what happened to us is bound to be the standard physiological response in snorkeling humans; looking to the sinking, darkening depths beyond, one is instinctually drawn in to the island’s shoreline, while I’m certain that eyes widen, heartbeats and respiration quicken and leg kicks increase proportionately in a dash “around the island” to the presumably safer other side. The head swivels and peers into darkness, hopeful and yet fearful of catching some larger movement that will yield a more remarkable tale, and increase the visceral tidal wave. Thankfully and yet sadly, we were not greeted by a friendly porpoise, a giant turtle, or even the lurking reef shark, but in the noticeably warmer current inside the island, we found reefs teeming with what I’m guessing are endless butter hamlets… plus the patrolling parrot fish and bar jacks, and the wall of tiny bait fish.”

“We actually had to push our way through the bait fish into an inlet through the coral to reach the sandy beach on the north side of the island. Twenty-five feet wide at the point where it connected with a stony precipice rising some twenty feet high, the beach thinned into a V on the northern point where seagulls and a pelican roosted. We stretched out and caught some sun, meditating for a few delicious moments and fully understanding how the seconds spent there would serve us in days, weeks, months and years to come. That is our sacred plunder from Waterlemon Cay, our Treasure Island.”

“We also had the privilege of witnessing several large stingrays on this swim, to include two large spotted eagle rays. That was another shared experience with Hanson Bay, where we are hoping to more fully engage our kids in the underwater experience this very afternoon. Swimming back from the island, we both noticed how the island’s mass follows a certain shelf from the shoreline where the water is more shallow… and along its interior edge, that shelf drops off into a dramatic abyss. It was yet another bittersweet second when we reached the shallow shoreline where we had entered, knowing what it meant for the excursion, but also looking into each other’s eyes and understanding how much it all means to us both.”

Featured Video: Rare Air Episode 23

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