A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about water

Soaring Through The Wild Blue

A Unique Exploration of a Florida Crown Jewel

semi-overcast 78 °F


I am soaring through the wild blue. Superman is envious of my perfect form. The landscape below is interesting. I pass over huge bowls of limestone, their bottoms flat and sandy. I speed up as I glide over the lip - a victim of physics. The grasses on the sides of the rock reach out and try to grab me as I hurl along inches above their emerald tips. Then I pass over another rim of different rocky bowl. It is as though I’m filming one of the dramatic aerial scenes with an I-Max camera. You know this scene: The camera soars along a rocky mountain range before narrowly skirting by several jagged peaks and over the valley far below. The effect leaves the viewer thinking they are truly flying, though they are sitting firmly in their seat.

I am NOT sitting in a seat. I AM flying! A surge of tingles erupts at the base of my neck spreading downward through my body to the tips of my toes. I forget about everything, and start a series of lazy barrel rolls. My face holds a wide madman’s grin. This is as good as it gets.

Suddenly, I realize I have done one barrel roll too many. My intake is clogging and my engine coughs at the sudden moisture build up. I thrust myself upward and break through the surface of the water with a choking gasp. I force the water through my snorkel with a gust of breath that clears the airway. I pause for a moment to ease my breathing and take in my surroundings.

I’m bobbing along the Rainbow River in central Florida. It may be the most beautiful river I have ever seen. I think this is because of my choice of exploration technique. Snorkeling a river is far more intimate than other modes - kayaking or canoeing cannot compare. You can look at a beautiful woman, or you can make love with her. Which would you rather do?

Snorkeling reveals the underwater realms in their awesome hidden splendor. Now, I realize not all rivers are equal. Many rivers have terrible visibility-a condition of their hydrology, surrounding lands, trees, and geology. This is not my problem today. The Rainbow River has superb water clarity. The limestone beneath the river filters the water before releasing it by hundreds of springs. The springs on the Rainbow move so much water through that the entire river purges itself every four hours. This is a watery dream.

The water is relatively warm, holding through the winter months at 72 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m wearing a thin wet suit, fins, snorkel and mask. I’m comfortable enough, though slowly getting chillier as the day goes on.

The river holds a steady one knot current. This doesn’t sound like much, but when soaring over those grassy rims of bedrock the flow enhances the feeling of weightless flying. I’m STILL grinning about it. This is a drift dive. This means the river current carries me downstream and I won’t be ending where I started.

The riverbed is beautiful. The main channel rises and falls. There are deep holes and shallow grass beds. I swim over steady sandy slopes and level bedrock. It is an interesting landscape unto itself. The swaying grass is mesmerizing. There are sunken logs and trees to explore, the hiding places for snails and turtles. The underwater springs percolate through the sand and bedrock, often changing my speed as I float over them. Some of the springs were large “caves” that I dove down to explore.

The wildlife under water is tolerant of me. I watch two different types of turtles. They held still for a minute before paddling off to hide in the dense grasses. One of them was a good-sized slider; its bright lines along its head and tail were very vibrant in the bluish clarity.

I love interacting with fish under the water. I didn’t bother them at all. To them, I was just a very strange ungainly fish (to be fair, I have no idea what a fish‘s opinion of me is). There are small schools of bluegills swimming around me. I wiggle the tip of my index finger at them. Sure enough, one of them stops, turns around, and looks at me face-to-face - mere inches apart. It slowly swims up and gives my finger a quick peck to see if it was edible. Realizing it isn’t, it swims off. I did this to other bluegills, and had two fish come up to me and peck me on the eye of my goggles. It was so cool!

I also saw a large gar in one of the deeper holes. The gar is an interesting looking fish with a long narrow crocodile like snout. It had beautiful one-inch spots on its body, to aid in camouflage and artistic delight.

The dive is over and I pass my gear up to the dive captain before climbing up the ladder. I sit down, dripping water, and shivering. I reflect on my day and smile.

One of my philosophical mantras is, “Go with the flow.” Well, today, I did just that.
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Posted by Rhombus 11:10 Archived in USA Tagged turtles snorkelling fish water rivers flying springs florida exploration Comments (2)

Life On The Lido: An Alaskan Cruise

A Mariners Life, Death of a Camera, Humpback Spectacular, Favorite Weekly Photos

semi-overcast 55 °F

I want to start this weeks essay by giving some insight about life on a ship. I’ve talked about this lifestyle before, and every so often I get inspired to share a few more details. However, I’m not sure quite how to start explaining the bizarre place that I call home, because I’m not sure I can do it justice. It is a potent melting pot of personalities, moods, emotions, lust, friends, love, lovers, spats, teamwork, laughter and tears.
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I have worked on this boat for almost two years, which is a long time in the boat world. Time is funny here. I am chained to the clock on an hourly basis, though the passing of days and months has no real meaning. I rarely know what day of the week it is, and even more rarely know the date. They don’t matter.

Instead, my day revolves around my work schedule which changes every week. This week, I’m working from 1 am to 1 pm. Next week, I’ll be working from 7 am to 7 pm, and so on. It’s weird getting used to a different sleep cycle every week, but I like it. I like to shake things up, and this schedule keeps me on my toes.

While this job is still a job, my fringe benefits are my life experiences that I would not trade for anything. It’s easy to live in this moment.

To say it takes a special kind of weirdo to live and work on a ship for months on end is an understatement. As one of our chief engineers has said, “You have to be a little crazy to work on a boat.” As another crewmember put it, “I’m sitting next to my girlfriend, who is sitting next to her ex-boyfriend who is sitting to his girlfriend, who just happens to be my ex-girlfriend. We are all talking about poop, and for some reason, it’s okay.”

So it goes. I work hard. I take advantage of my limited down time, and make the most of the opportunities given on a daily basis. It’s a fun job, and one I will never forget. I get to taste a different flavor every day- a life of variety. I wish we all could be so lucky.

Life on the Lido
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Our lido deck is the highest deck on the ship. It is one of our favorite places for the crew to hang out, especially when the weather is beautiful, when we are watching wildlife, or looking for some personal time. It is off-limits to our guests. This offers us a refuge to relax, and let our guard down. To work on a ship with paying guests is to be in a continual state of courtesy.
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The lido is a wonderful place where some of my favorite memories have taken place on this boat. From this deck, I have watched countless whales, dolphins, birds and feeding frenzies. I have awoke to a gorgeous dawn after an amazing night of stargazing in Mexico. I hugged a friend as greenish northern lights danced across the sky. I have spent many hours stretching my body and mind, while watching this tranquil world slip by at ten miles an hour. My fondest memories have been simply lying around up here with my fellow crewmembers-my very dysfunctional, but loveable family.

Humpback Whale Spectacular
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My camera can’t land cartwheels. I was very sad to find this out, because it meant that I was without a camera for the best whale show I’ve seen up here in Alaska. It started with a humpback calf breaching right off of our starboard beam (the middle of the ship). We stopped to admire its graceful form arc into the air before it smacked into the water with a tremendous splash.

The rest of the pod surfaced not too far away, blasting their breath into the air in a misty vertical cloud. We hove to, not moving. The pod dove and surfaced right off of our bow. Then it proceeded to swim right off of our rub rail within talking distance. All of the crew was on the fantail when it passed by. It was an amazing moment (an understatement). They dove as they passed us, and I was able to see their giant flukes from up close as they slipped easily into the water.

When the whales surfaced again, they had formed a bubble net and surged through the surface 150 yards off our stern. Humpback whales are the only whale in the world that uses a bubble net to trap food. What is truly amazing is that these whales work together to form a giant bubble net with over a dozen whales participating in the ring. While humpback whales range all over the world, the whales here in southeast Alaska are the only whales that feed cooperatively in this fashion. We happily motored away, getting ready for our morning activities.

Later that afternoon, we returned to watch the humpback whales. Their numbers had grown in our absence. There were now seventeen whales in the area. I’ve never seen so many humpback whales in one spot before. To top it off, there were well over a dozen bubble-net feeding! To say it was awesome is an understatement, but words cannot do this day justice.

My First Terrarium
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My friend Tiffany introduced the concept of a terrarium to me a couple of weeks ago. A terrarium is a collection of small plants that are contained glass enclosure. It’s like an aquarium, only instead of water, it is filled with earth and plants. Tiffany wanted to build one, and she enlisted me to help her with her project. It sounded cool, and so we set up a date to go out and collect plants.

It was just after 1 pm, in the afternoon and I had just finished work. I changed into my street clothes in record time, and stepped off ship onto the wooden dock of Petersburg, Alaska. We were excited. We were free, if only for a few hours, and we weren’t going to waste a minute of it. Tiffany and I grabbed a couple of bikes and rode into town. We stopped at the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine, and went in search of a likeable place to collect plants.
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The bike ride was fun. I still get a kick out of pedaling off on a good bike on a random adventure. Remember that feeling of your first one hundred yard bike ride before you toppled off in jubilation? I’m talking about that thrill in your stomach. Biking is one of the few activities that still can spark the exuberance of youth in an adult.

I digress. We found Petersburg hiking trail on the north side of town. We parked our up the trail in the forest, and set about walking the trail. It wasn’t long before Tiffany began pulling tiny plants out of the forest by their root system and putting them into the Tupperware we had brought along for the job. She instructed me to go and collect dirt. I accepted my task with a sigh, mumbling to myself about being, “just the dirt guy.” It wasn’t long before I had scraped together a couple bags of good forest earth, and she had several likeable ferns, clumps of mosses and the like.

Satisfied, we walked further along the trail to a park bench where we spent the majority of our freedom. We took turns reading to one another out of her books. I read philosophy to her, and she read to me about Morocco. We sipped our wine, and talked the afternoon away while friendly locals said, “hello” while they walked their dogs.

When the wine was gone, we walked back to our bikes and rode back to the ship. Tiffany grabbed our terrarium containers, and we took our bounty out on the dock to build our little gardens. It was a lot of fun. I put a good layer of the black earth I had picked, and then carefully as I could planted my choice of plants.

The result was a tiny forest scene. It looked really cool, especially after I put in a small plastic silver back gorilla into my “forest.”
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Favorite Photos of the Week
I’ll leave you with my favorite shots from this week.
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It’s been a good week. You’ll be happy to know I found an identical camera body in Juneau. I feel like a new man, reborn again with a good camera in my hand, and the wilds of Alaska before me.

Cheers!

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Posted by Rhombus 07:13 Archived in USA Tagged islands water wildlife towns whales alaska oceans photography forests terrariums Comments (0)

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