After a full day of sailing through the British Virgin Islands we moor for the night in front of a natural park called The Baths for the enormous granite boulders that hold water like outdoor bathtubs. Looking out to the white sand beach, the crystal-clear water and the vibrant palm trees, it feels like we are moored inside of a postcard to paradise. It has, however, been an exhausting day at sea and I seat myself on the deck to examine a small scar on my ankle. Each scar has a story and this one’s is still fresh.
Earlier in the afternoon, with the boat bobbing gently to its anchor, we leapt off the stern and into the warm waters. We’d been sailing hard all morning and needed a break. The starboard-side reef was just the break we were looking for.
“YOOO COME CHECK THIS OUT!!” shouts Tyler a few hundred yards in front of me. Liz and I stick our snorkels in the water and kick our fins over his way. “There’s a tunnel in the reef that’s big enough to swim through,” he says, pointing down to a small, dark hole 15 feet beneath his floating feet. It seems far too tight to fit through but Tyler dives down and seems to make it just fine, Liz following close behind.
I take a deep breath and plunge down to the sandy seafloor, looking straight ahead at the coral tunnel. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be any imminent danger so I kick myself forward, through the mouth of the tunnel and out the other side, my open palms brushing the pebbles beneath me. As I pass through I feel a sting on my ankle but immediately forget it as what I see before me is breathtaking, like passing from the material to the spirit world.
There are enormous, purple urchins the size of beach balls and long-fingered anemones flowing to and fro with a serenity most humans search entire lifetimes for. As I look down swimming over the reef, I feel like I’m in the opening scene of Finding Nemo in which Nemo is on Mr. Ray’s back, awed by the display of color and life surrounding him.
A glint catches my eye and I look to my right to see a school of fifty or so blue fish. I catch up and swim above them for a while as they pass from algae-covered rock to algae-covered rock, flowing gracefully though the reef like a blue ribbon of water itself. When I finally bring my head up, I see two white gulls passing overhead. The color of the ocean is so rich that it shades the underside of the wings a light turquoise.
It isn’t until I’m pulling myself up into the boat that I notice the small cut on my ankle, presumably from the tunnel. I smile. I look at it kind of like a stamp on a passport, a small reminder of an experience worth remembering.
Back in front of The Baths, the sun has set and the stars are out, in brilliant fashion.
“WOW!!”, cries Fatima. “The stars have fallen into the sea!”
Turns out we have moored in bioluminescent waters, where each movement stirs up a flurry of glowing lights, like stardust. Despite my exhaustion, I strap on a pair of goggles and a snorkel before diving overboard. As I plunge into the black water, I am surrounded on all sides by a galaxy of glowing lights. The magic of the ocean, it seems, is limitless.