Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Trip to the Sea

By Lou Lunte, deputy state director

My daughters, wife and I get out often enjoying the bounty of what Idaho offers; from its legendary rivers and lakes, to its canyons, mountains and deserts.  Even with all that, we find ourselves drawn to the ocean once a year, which takes us away from Idaho for a trip to the Oregon or northern California coast.  

On these journeys to the coast my daughters love walking the beach, looking for shells and peering into the tidal pools.  Yet invariably, sometime during the trip comes their request – why can’t we go to the “warm ocean”.  My wife’s and my inadequate answer had always been – maybe someday.  Well, that someday finally came.

A few botched flights, long layovers and a night in Miami and we were finally on the final flight to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.  With the anti-motion sickness patch affixed behind my ear, I watched my daughters gaze out the airplane window at the ocean quickly coming up to the plane.  Suddenly we had landed and our two week adventure with the “warm ocean” had begun.

Landing in the Virgin Islands © Lou Lunte

A taxi cab transported us on the narrow, windy roads to the dock were we met my sister and her husband with whom we’d be spending the next two weeks.  Years ago they figured out they preferred to winter in the Caribbean.  As we loaded our small bags – “swimsuits and t-shirts is all you’ll need”, my sister had advised – onto their 38’ catamaran sail boat we began to sense what our life would be like for the next few weeks.

The first night we all slept well on the boat; thankfully the patch was working for me.  In the morning we launched the catamaran with a warm breeze in our faces and the sun on our shoulders.  A few hours later we were at another island tied up to a mooring buoy in a small bay ready to try our first snorkel.  Anxious and excited we sorted and fitted fins, masks and snorkels.   It was time to take the dingy ashore and get our first look at the undersea world.  Wow!  It was absolutely amazing.  

A whole new world opened up before our eyes – creatures and colors we had only seen on screens or pages.  My daughters, both good swimmers, were completely at ease within 10 minutes.  They quickly learned to dive down and clear their snorkel when they surfaced.  We were hooked.

Snorkeling in the "warm waters"© Lou Lunte
For the next two weeks we lived on “island time”, digitally disconnected and with no need to track time.  When the winds were good we’d sail from island to island, first in the US Virgin Islands and then the British Virgin Islands.  Guided by my sister we explored amazing bays and reefs, spending lots of time in the water, on the white sand beaches and occasionally visiting the local cafĂ©/bar.

We saw colorful underwater “Christmas trees” and beautiful coral; we swam with the spotted rays and sea turtles.  We watched in amazement as a four foot barracuda chased and caught a food fish.  Every day and every snorkel brought something new and spectacular.

Coral © Lou Lunte

Mostly we went where the water was blue and the reefs were alive with color.  Yet, even in paradise it was unavoidable that we also saw reefs that were bleaching or smoothed in silt from sediment runoff.  We saw anchor scars in broken corals and we witnessed a conch grave yard – thousands of shells piled on top of each other.  It made us realize that whether in the Caribbean or in Idaho, we must take care of those things we value or they will be lost.

As we flew home to Boise feeling more relaxed and mellow than we had in ages, we all agreed that we should not wait so long to make our next visit to the “warm ocean”. And yet, it was still wonderful to come home to Idaho.
Sunset © Lou Lunte