Back in early January we were out on a hectic conch diving trip to the reef. We had a total of six people to feed, four of them visiting teenagers. We needed at least a dozen conch. And before dinner. At the speed at which I clean 18 conch,we needed them well before dinner. We were searching in these waters:
La Gringa and I dropped the hook and popped over the side to check out this new spot we had never dove on before. We only found a couple conch there, and decided to move on, but while in the water I spotted what possibly could be some european ballast stones. We were in a hurry, so I just jabbed a waypoint on the GPS back on the boat before we moved on. But we always meant to come back and look around.
Yesterday, finally, eleven months later, we did go searching. No hurry, if it's a ballast pile it's been sitting here for hundreds of years already. We dropped the hook on the GPS coordinates:
There's the first obligatory 'concerned dog on the boat' photo. But I want you to also notice a specific stern cleat just barely visible in that photo. It's located on that slanting section of the deck right between the outboard and the Boston Whaler logo. It's mounted at an angle. This is a better view from an earlier photo:
See how nicely it's mounted on a down-angled part of the deck there? But that photo is with the boat in a protected marina. Just so you can picture that particular cleat on the photo at anchor. The water was not glassy smooth offshore yesterday, as you can probably tell from the first photo.
Well, I was sitting on the other side of the outboard with my flippers on, my faceplate down, snorkel between teeth, setting up the camera for underwater mode, getting ready to slide overboard when I hear this "thump-SPLASH-ThumpTHumpTHUMP" noise. Then I hear this familiar voice yelling 'Help! Help me!" I turned to look, and there was La Gringa. I cannot say her eyes looked panicked, because I could not see her eyes. Or her face, or even her head. What was in sight was that part of my wife suspended from that very cleat by the bottom of her bathing suit. She had slid down that slanted section of deck to get in the water, and the cleat caught under the seat of her bathing suit bottom perfectly. She was completely suspended, butt in the air, the rest of her hanging down into the choppy water like a pinata on an elastic cord. Except pinatas don't squirm and kick and yell for help. She turned that conservative bathing suit bottom into a long skinny thong bikini quicker than you can say "Holy Smokes!" And the thumping noises were her legs kicking against the side of the boat as she dangled there face down like a bungee-jumper snagged on a bridge abutment getting dunked into the ocean as the boat rode the chop. "Help! glub glub HELP! glub..." is how I remember hearing it. And that bathing suit elastic was stretching thinner and longer right before my eyes.
I had the camera in my hand, but didn't dare. I scooted over to her side of the boat and grabbed her bathing suit bottom where the cleat had poked a hole in it. I was able to pull it back up far enough to slip it over and free of the top of the cleat. This of course completed the dropping of La Gringa face first into the ocean. My last glimpse of her for a few seconds was of a very loose bathing suit disappearing into the choppy seas immediately after a startlingly white flash of skin. I learned things about my wife that I am not sure I was aware of.
After making sure she wasn't hurt....I had to work at keeping a straight face. It helped that we immediately went snorkelling. It's hard to hear people chuckling underwater. That's a picture that will stay with me for a long time. I don't want to hear any more about me getting jammed in the bow locker upside down. This beats that. I had britches on. Well, she's gonna get a new bathing suit out of it, at least.
To her credit, after recovering from her impromptu bathing-suit elastic testing experience, La Gringa got back into the search, and managed to keep herself unsnagged from the boat hardware. It was much later in the day before she could laugh about it.
Okay, back to the search. We just ordered a new underwater metal detector, and are expecting it any day now. We are checking out potential sites, and wanted to return to this one. We started looking for the ballast stones that I had thought I got a glimpse of almost a year ago.
We swam a slow pattern back and forth searching. The water was somewhat cloudy, which gave us a bit of a spooky experience. We are spoiled, after a couple years diving these waters. We are accustomed to seeing what's around us for fifty yards. The visibility here was down to maybe thirty or forty feet. We were looking in every crevice:
We worked our way up to the nearest reef structure, where we think a ship would have been heeled way over and scraping as it got driven over sharp edges.
We think the ballast in the bottom falls out once the boat is actually past the reef and rolls back upright for a moment until it hits the next rock. That's when things are getting jumbled around inside the hull like dozens of rocks in a clothes dryer. We looked for hard structures that stuck up to within six or eight feet of the surface, something that would have been around three hundred years ago and was capable of poking a hole in a strong wooden hull and rattling it in the storm:
We saw the usual reef dwelling community. A zillion fishes, and things I don't even know the names for. Like this minerature fortress on an alien landscape:
That's maybe only a foot in diameter. But inside are hundreds, if not thousands, of little 'purple coral city' inhabitants, busy living their little crustacean lives, secure inside their walled citadel on the sea floor where fish can't pick at them with coral crushing teeth. I could just see a few of them inside the openings, waving their tiny feathery fronds, filtering life from the seawater. Staking out their spot for generation after generation down at the blunt end of the food chain. Things get sharper as you progress.
And the afternoon got darker as we moved into the time of day and
(notice no bathing suit bottom images in these photos...)
to the point where one starts wondering if there are any big scary shapes with teeth just out of visual range
We found the ballast. It's thinly spread out along a rough line on the bottom in about 14 ft. of water. Yesterday the ocean here was really stirred up, with suspended sand. And it had gotten cloudy, which cut the available light underwater by quite a bit. But this is what the ballast looks like after several hundred years under settling sediments and marine growth:
The stones are different from anything that occurs naturally here. These islands are marine limestone, and nothing else. Maybe some sandstone here and there. All sedimentary. The stones the early sailors used for ballast is granite, and slate, and other dense, igneous river rocks. It could be European, and most likely is. This area is sandy. Anything small and dense would have landed on a soft sand bottom, and it would not take too many years and storms to cover it over. I would suspect any large items like anchors and cannon could have been found already and hauled away. They could have even been salvaged at the time of the wreck if it were not alone. There have been treasure hunters through here before. But I doubt if anyone ever combed the bottom between the pile and the reef with a modern metal detector, taking their time about it. So, we have added this to our list of places to check out once we have the new detector and the hookah compressor working on our boat. It doesn't have to be gold or silver coins, a belt buckle or cannonball would be a thrill in itself. We even get a charge picking up a broken bottle fragment and imagining what the last person to handle it would have been like, three hundred years ago before a howling storm destroyed the ship and scattered it's contents all over the ocean bottom.
Don't you just wonder what interesting stuff could be just an inch underneath that soft coral sand?
So, we had to call it quits for yesterday. Our shark lookout said he was tired and ready to go home:
And La Gringa was definitely in the mood to be someplace dry and comfortable when Happy Hour started. Too much adventure for one day.
And I was thinking I need to revise my mental list of places where the sun don't shine.