Key West Snorkeling- The Privilege of Sharing a Peak Experience
Every once in a while, on our Key West snorkeling adventures, we get the opportunity to present a life changing experience to one of our guests. It’s always exciting, heart-warming, and just plain fun. When Kristi, an old friend, arranged this snorkel trip, her biggest concern was setting everything up so that her mom, Patricia could make her very first snorkel. Patricia has some real issues with her feet and ankles, so making sure the boarding ladder was as user-friendly as possible was a major priority. Captain Jeff spent two days prior to the trip scratching his head in West Marine and Home Depot. His first plan was to attach wooden steps to the metal ladder, but that would require drilling holes in the ladder which would compromise its strength. Next, we thought about wrapping the rungs with rope, but that didn’t really provide a large enough surface for the foot. We wanted the ladder to be nice and wide and cushiony. What to do?
The salesman at West Marine suggested we buy rubber pipe insulation at Home Depot and attach it to the ladder. Ugly! How about fitting a “noodle,” that floating thing you use in the water to each rung? It would be soft and cushiony, wide enough for a foot to comfortably grip, and non-slip. Perfect! Captain Jeff made it so.
The day of the trip dawned bright and beautiful. It was a perfect day for a snorkel, just a light breeze, sunny skies, and clear, beautiful water. We met Kristi, Gary, Jim, and Patricia at Conch Harbor, and soon we were bound for Cottrell Key about five miles northeast of Key West.
Patricia assured me that she was not nervous. She said she loved the water, but just had some strength issues with her feet and legs. I told her I would be her snorkel partner for the entire swim, and she replied, ” Gary said you’d hold my hand. Will you?”
“Of course,” I laughed. “I’ll be your best buddy.”
With that said, she climbed down the ladder, we got her mask and snorkel adjusted, and we were off. Right away, I spotted a variegated sea urchin. Fearlessly, she extended her hand to hold it. Patricia is a middle school science and social studies teacher and she was eager to see all the little creatures.
We swam about twenty feet from the Namaste’, Patricia holding on to her pink noodle for support, and me with my arm around her so she knew I was there, too. Kristy swam by our side, offering encouragement and support. You could tell she was bursting with pride. Her mom was doing splendidly!
I spotted a familiar shape on the bottom, a large Three-rowed Sea Cucumber (Isostichopus badionotus). The ”three-rowed” refers to the number of podia or feet the little critter has, rather than the number of spots on his back. I had shown Patricia photos of sea cucumbers on the way out, so once again, she extended her hand fearlessly to hold it and get a good look. After a short examination, she asked about the best way to release it. I motioned that she could just let it go. It floated slowly to the bottom and resumed it’s slow and deliberate trek across the bottom.
We swam a little more, observing soft corals, sponges, and a hogfish. All the while, Kristi was at her mom’s side commenting on the interesting things we saw, helping with little adjustments of her mask, and just making sure Patricia was having a great experience. My arm was protectively around her waist all the time except when I dove to the bottom to bring up little creatures for her to examine. Patricia was wide-eyed and fascinated, loving the ocean, her sweet daughter, and life in general. Every now and then, I’d look up and see Jim standing on the boat, proudly taking photos of his wife and daughter.
Patricia told me she was tired and ready to go back to the boat. We’d done a lot of swimming and seen some really cool creatures. With Gary’s help, she made it back up the ladder to Jim’s waiting embrace. “You kids go on and have some fun now, ” she said as we swam off to continue our snorkel. As I swam away, I saw Jim and Patricia, proud as two teenagers giving us “kids” a happy thumbs-up. It was a truly satisfying moment for me. There’s nothing like sharing our love of the ocean with someone so brave and eager to experience it, and nothing like seeing the pride and love of a family in action when a loved one steps out of her comfort zone for a peak experience.