I hang suspended, hovering, 30 feet high. Although the temperature is warm, in the 80s, the ground looks as if it’s covered in snow.
Descending to the sea floor, we find a sandy bottom. You’ve heard of white sand beaches? Ever wonder what happens to those beaches when they go underwater? They’re still white. But do they look the same?
Light loses its warmer colors as you go deeper, and algae or silt can change colors. In the Pacific Northwest, when we get an algae bloom the sea turns emerald.
But in the land of the Grand Turk, the waters are nearly clear and the ocean is blue, in all its brilliant shades. In the shallows, the sand picks up a slight turquoise tint.
So who is this Grand Turk, and where does he hang his hat?
It’s not a guy, it’s a place, and it’s nowhere near Turkey. In fact, it’s in the Caribbean Sea. Part of the Turks and Caicos, the island of Grand Turk sits east of Cuba and north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
They didn’t name it for a sultan, or a large bird that gains fame around Thanksgiving, or the leader of a rebellious young gang with political leanings. Grand Turk is named after a local cactus that wears a fez.
We were in Grand Turk for a week, with 6 days of diving. Normally we did two dives in the morning, leaving the rest of the day free. There were variations, but ultimately I did ten morning dives and one night dive.
Whenever they happened, they all followed the same pattern. Motor from the resort, following the shallows 1000 yards offshore to a drop off – a wall, a place where the bottom could hit 7000 feet. From there we’d head north or south to various dive sites. We’d drop in, in 30-35 feet of water, and once everyone was at the bottom we’d head to the wall.
Speaking of the bottom, where did we leave off?
Ah yes, floating in a column of clear warm water, just above a white sandy bottom, 30 feet deep. A light blue tinge infuses the view as you look off into the distance over the sand, but warmer colors are more defined close up. Garden eels poke their heads out of the sand, waving in a liquid breeze that only they feel. Stingrays patrolled the underwater beach. Here and there, reefs mushroom from the sea bottom, providing homes for various corals, which in turn provide lodging for various small fish.
But this was just a starting point. The wall was the goal. In places the entry was spectacular.
Following our white carpet, we’d approach the wall. Along the edge were fringing reefs, sometimes with gaps framing the open ocean. Looking off into the void within those gaps, that slight tinge of blue in the water became deep blue; intense, going from an electric azure to pure blue to cobalt blue, providing a stunning offset against the white sea bottom. We’d swim through the gap, drop over the side and head further down.
Once on the wall the white sand was gone, reducing the reflected light. But because of the clarity of the water light remained ample, even as we descended to 80-100 feet.
The wall was steep, a 70-80 degree angle heading down. Even with the good visibility, the light eventually petered out below us, hiding unknown depths.
What we’d find on the wall would vary from site to site. Corals and sponge, some of significant size. In some places the coral looked great, in others not so much. There were fish here and there, but no vast schools. The occasional shark would swim by, cruising along in the blue, sometimes more than one. If we were lucky, we’d see a sea turtle, a tank of the underwater world, nibbling away at this and that.
While we’d start the wall at 80-100 feet deep, we’d gradually work our way up, and once our tanks hit the halfway empty mark we’d head back to shallower waters. We’d then meander back to the boat, lounging on our underwater beach and getting in a swim at the same time. Because air lasts much longer in 30 feet of water than in 80, we’d have plenty left in the tank when we got back. I was getting 50-60 minute dives, and could have stayed longer if the dive master had allowed it.
Then we’d head back to resort, sometimes for an interval before the next dive, sometimes for lunch. Afternoons were ours. (But that’s another story.)
Evenings would be a time to break out the camera, to capture sunsets.
Sometimes we’d have company.
But they would enjoy it in their own ways.
The resort had a sailboat. I meant to try it, but afternoons were often breezy or taken up with other things, and I haven’t sailed a catamaran style boat- only more conventional sloops.
Maybe, if there’s a next time…
One night, I did indulge in “next time” – a night dive. It’s been years since I’ve gone on one. They’re a whole different trip.
We headed out for the wall as the sun was going down.
After arriving on site, we geared up and I got a more in-depth briefing. The dive guide and I entered at twilight.
The underwater world looks different at night, when everything is pitch black except what your flashlight shows. It’s spooky, but cool at the same time.
Different creatures roam the reef after dark. It wasn’t long before we found an octopus, the only one I’d seen that trip. Later, an eel swimming free rather than hunkered down in a hole, and later still, another one. Lobster sightings were more common. And on the tail end of the dive, heading back to the boat, I encountered a cuttlefish with an attitude.
Cuttlefish are strange looking critters. Similar to a squid, they have an oblong body with a nest full of tentacles on the end, and an eyeball you might expect on a space alien.
This one, when I came upon it, rather than making itself scarce in the black waters, faced me down. About 15 inches long, body facing towards me, tentacles reared up behind it and facing me as well, it looked like Medusa on a bad hair day. We ogled each other for a minute as I kept him on the edge of my light beam, but once I shifted it off, ZOOM! He was gone like a shot.
But that may not have been the most memorable part of the dive.
Swimming along the wall, in the dark, the senses are focused, attuned to different things. The feel of the water seemed almost warmer. Colors seemed brighter. And somehow, way off in the distance, I heard something special.
Sometimes shrieks, sometimes croons, sometimes a sub-harmonic bass you could almost feel more than hear. There be whale song – the soul of the ocean.