In the dark, our crews of six bobbed like stray lobster pot markers in a five-foot swell a half mile off the shore of the barrier island where we camped. The waves were whipped up by a strong wind moving westward along the Straits of Florida, 90 miles north of the Cuban shoreline. We wore masks and fins, and carried diving lights but the wind and strong current stirred the sand along the reef and cut visibility underwater to about a foot. Nearby, the Polynesian-style war canoes we’d muscled out from its mooring rolled in the waves. To the east, a thunderstorm rumbled toward us and lightning lit the foaming horizon. No sharks…yet.
A more unlikely scenario for our intrepid group of 12 from Troop 353 would be difficult to concoct. Yet there we were, wave-tossed and in something approaching peril at sea – and by our own choice at that.
And it had already been a long, busy day.
We awoke at dawn, waded to the docks and caught 22-foot Dusky outboard sportfishing boats. One of our crews headed offshore and into the five- and six-foot-swells stilled churned up past the reefs by the remnants of that soaker tropical storm. The other crew took off for the channels and inlets closer in. Our goal: catch dinner.
Both boats accomplished the task during a long day of fishing – pulling in tuna, grouper, mackerel, and a couple of spiny rock lobsters we spent hours diving for in the “back country” up into the Gulf of Mexico. Back at the dock, the captains cleaned the fish and we waded our bounty ashore in time to begin dinner prep. Hot wood fires and the stove, and a combined chow line for the freshest fish you ever tasted. Even non-fish eaters ate heartily.
Nope – it was time for a little night snorkeling. Into the war canoes we piled, and paddled heartily away from shore. In what can kindly be termed windy conditions and well out past the immediate sight of land, we hurled ourselves into the wine-dark sea clutching underwater flashlights – and immediately began to drift rapidly toward Key West, or quite possibly Mexico. Visibility was something less than the Bronx River after a strong rain. So we struggled to stay in groups, using the buddy system, calling out and helping our mates when we could.
And finally, we pulled ourselves back into the canoes and rowed against the wind and current for Big Munson – having already worked off most of that huge fish dinner, and ready for a night under the stars.
Next: On the reef