CURRENT LOCATION: On a Mooring Ball in Ensenada Dakity
18 17.417' N, 065 16.839' W
Our eyes are itchy and the entire boat is covered with grit. Initially, both Sheryl and I thought we were on the receiving end of a particularly bad dose of Sahara dust (which routinely gets carried across the Atlantic on tropical waves), but conditions continued to get worse throughout the afternoon yesterday. This was more than dust, but let me start from the beginning.
Sheryl spent the morning cleaning the decks on Prudence, while I scoured the growth off the bottom of the dingy. There was a hint of rain on the horizon, but we never got more than a few drops. With clearing skies and a clean deck, we loaded up the kayaks with snorkel gear and did a little bit of snorkeling on the nearby reef. However, more on our trip to the reef later. First, let me explain the thick and gritty air.
On the way out to the reef, Sheryl and I both noticed that the dusty skies were sufficient to hurt our eyes. It is not uncommon for me to react this way to a wave of Sahara dust, but I am usually the only one who is sensitive to it. It was curious to have Sheryl responding similarly.
Upon our return from snorkeling, there was a fine layer of grit on the boat (especially noticeable on Sheryl's clean deck and my clean floor in the salon). Sheryl suggested that it was ash, rather than dust. A quick computer check revealed that she was correct. There had been partial dome collapse of the Soufrière Hills Volcano on the island of Montserrat at close to midnight the previous night. This resulted in an ash column which was estimated to reach 40,000 feet above sea level. It took prevailing winds about 12 - 13 hours to carry the ash to Culebra (about 240 miles away).
As for our excursion to the reef, the underwater visibility was somewhat poor, but we did get a chance to visit with the Bigeye Scad, the same fish which followed us around the last time we brought the big boat out here to Dakity. Again, these cute schooling fish joined us and followed us everywhere. We swim to shallow water, they swim to shallow water. We dive deep, they dive deep. If Sheryl and I stayed about 20-30 feet apart, the fish couldn't decide what to do and swam quickly back and forth between us, like a runners trapped between two bases by fast-throwing ball players.
Of course, we didn't even have to go to the reef to see our share of fish. The boat is constantly surrounded by a shimmering silver river of very small fish (like those we photographed recently in a post which referenced 'Wild Kingdom'). I guess that in their tiny fishy brains, Prudence is a big fish which will protect them from predators. Well, it is not working. We occasionally see the little ones flee above the surface of the water, chased by an unseen enemy. But, those slightly larger predators are also prey, as we watched a fairly big barracuda (at least 4ft) feeding directly under the boat. This is the largest barracuda we have seen here in Puerto Rico (they don't seem to be as numerous as they were in the Bahamas, thank goodness).
To round out our day, we joined Rick & Debbie aboard Miss Heidi for drinks in the evening. A few libations seemed to help ease the pain of volcano ash in everyone's eyes, and Rick's homemade corn chips were absolutely divine. Once again, good conversation with friends was the perfect way to end another day in Paradise.