GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND — Just back from Mexico, I had hoped to write more about my trip, but my computer--with all my notes--missed its plane connection.
Since I couldn't work I decided to go scuba diving. That always cheers me up.
The island's scuba-diving hangout is the Tides Inn, and I end my days there at least a few times a week. Operated by the Underwater Explorers' Society, the Tides is the type of place that likes people in bathing suits and T-shirts, even at night.
I bike to the Underwater Explorers' Society about an hour before sunset, grill a couple of hamburgers with friends or eat a couple of spicy Bahamian chicken patties, and then grab my diving gear for a night scuba dive.
To many people, scuba seems like an awfully exotic and dangerous sport, the way I think of sky diving. In truth, it's a peaceful, easy sport, very good for non-athletes like me. It also has great brag potential with non-divers. ("Sharks? Oh, sure, I see a lot of them." The diver then yawns.)
But even good shark stories don't have as much brag potential as night dives. Look at ocean water at night, and it looks solid black. Heaven knows what lives down there--big, grouchy and hungry, just waiting for a juicy human.
Most experienced night divers, including me, encourage those thoughts in the uninitiated, supposedly for good-natured amusement. I really think we're venting our own embarrassment at the memory of the fear we felt the first time and might still feel. After hundreds of night dives (note the casual brag), I still wonder about the things down there just before jumping into that cool blackness. Sharks do feed at night, you know.
Like Swimming Into the Sky
But in my night dives, I've only found beauty down there. Leave your diving light off, as we do most of the time, and night diving is like swimming into the early evening sky. You can still just see because the stars are out.
Many of the smallest undersea creatures create their own light. Simply move your hand through the water and that movement creates bioluminescence, as though you were holding sparklers in your hands. Look in the distance and see a small chain of lanterns floating by--salps, barrel-shaped sea creatures.
Turn on your light and look for sleeping fish. Some of them, like parrot fish, sleep so soundly you can actually pick them up and swim around with them under your arm.
Lobsters and crabs carouse at night. Bahamian lobsters don't have claws, but they do have long tentacles. They roam the ocean floor and coral freely, occasionally side by side, brushing against each other gently, using their tentacles like blind men's canes, moving with the jerkiness of a happy old couple trying to make it home after their first night on the town in years.
After about 45 minutes of gliding around with lobsters and the like, most of us, excited, return to the balcony at the Tides. We talk loudly if any non-divers are around, soaking up their looks of admiration at our bravery, and we invariably fall prey to the lore-magnification syndrome, something fishermen in particular know very well.
A Record Shark
With each repetition of a good story, things grow. If a person was lucky enough to see something unusual by himself, it really grows. I personally grew a nurse shark (about as dangerous as bad breath) from 2 feet to 7 feet in three conversations, probably a record.
A good deal of drinking goes on during this time, especially if the dive has been blessed with at least one dramatic moment: riding a large turtle or spotting a school of large eagle rays, for instance.
Some of the non-divers around us refer to scuba as "a really neat exercise," but they are wrong. It's hard to work up a sweat floating gracefully through the ocean.
But water itself--for instance, in a pool--can be a great place to do some simple exercises. Walk across the shallow end of a pool briskly a few times and you'll find you can sweat in water. Combine walking and simple swimming (any stroke), and you'll dramatically increase your strength, endurance and aerobic capacity.
Water creates a natural, non-impact environment for exercise. Take a friend with you to the pool. It's nice to tell someone they are all wet and have them take it as a compliment.
Beginning 25th Week Waist: 43 inches 35 inches Right biceps: 12 3/4 inches 12 1/2 inches Flexed: 13 inches 13 3/8inches Weight: 201 pounds 175 pounds Height: 6' 1" Blood pressure: 128/68 118/68 Pulse: 64 62 Bench press: 55 125 Hunk factor: .00 .33