Getting up close and personal with seven-foot sand sharks at the Florida Aquarium?
No, that wasn’t it. Let’s see … coming up on a sunken airplane and fearing I might find the dead pilot, all bloated and rotting still in the pilot seat?
That was a close second. I always imagine the dead bodies of those who may have been lost in the crash when I come up on a sunken vessel or plane. Viewing footage from the sunken Titanic really freaks me out.
But, I’ll have to confess that my actual scariest moment underwater up to this point was when I got spooked by a starfish. Yes. A starfish. Those super cute little critters that barely move at all and can’t hurt anything. I can blame that one on Phillip as he brought it up right next to my face when the water was murky from us scrubbing the bottom and we knew sharks could be around so I was on high-alert. Inches from my watery goggles, that thing looked like a carnivorous octopus. So, I felt highly justified in my momentary full-body starfish freak-out. But, that moment was recently one-upped when we were cruising this last November in the Berry Islands by my to-date scariest moment underwater.
Although our sail from Devil’s-Hoffmandown to Chub Cay in the southern Berry Islands, Bahamas was not a fun one, it was rough upwind romp in 18-22 knots of wind (yuck!), thankfully Plaintiff’s Rest handled it incredibly well.
Especially considering this was her first time sailing in six months as she had just weathered hurricane season astonishingly well hunkered down in Great Harbour Cay. She beat and bashed her way right down the Berry Island chain to the inlet near Chub Cay.
Phillip and I were both thrilled when we finally got some wind-block and felt the conditions ease up. We had decided to sail down this way before making our way over to Eleuthera to visit some friends of our who have a house on Frazer’s Hog Cay. The story of how we met Steve and Pat and our completely random but instantly un-severable friendship is always a fun one to share. Feel free to check it out in this fun blog post: Cruising Is About People: Steve & Pat, This One’s For You!
Steve and Pat are the type of people cut from the same cloth as Pam Wall, extremely well-traveled, resourceful, kind, incredibly funny, and wildly entertaining. They’re the kind of people you feel every moment spent with them was one not wasted. Phillip and I were excited for the opportunity to spend another memorable few days with Steve and Pat while on their ball there off of Frazer’s Hog Cay before we headed off to Eleuthera with the very loose plans to potentially take the “I-65 route” down to the BVIs in 2020. That was the plan … and those always work out to a “T” when cruising, right?
For the moment, we had no idea what future lay in store other than a few fun days likely spent snorkeling, spear-fishing, beach picnicking, kitesurfing, and often ending with a fun community dinner each night on the island followed by a rousing game of Mexican Dominoes which … can get pretty heated! That was how we spent our time last time at Frazer’s Hog Cay and it was actually Steve who taught us both how to spearfish back in 2018.
During that trip, I speared my first lobster! It was a thrilling crunch through this guy’s shell that got me hooked on spearfishing!
Especially for lobster as they rarely flee. Yeah, that’s right, I like prey that can’t run away. I’m that guy. Although, they can slide down your spear, though, which is exactly what this guy did, crashing right on my face, causing me to have an absolute flip-out. (Those are real.) I ended up dropping him down to the bottom in my thrashing and coughing, but thankfully he wasn’t able to get off the spear so I was able to retrieve him. I was told it made for an exceedingly entertaining show from Steve and Pat’s front row seats in the dinghy.
In light of that experience last time, Steve was excited to get us out again for another spear session in the Berries. Our first day, we dove right around their house and Phillip speared several lobsters!
Man, that was a tasty dinner. Although I got absolutely creamed in Mexican Dominoes that night, it was worth it for the fresh shellfish! Day two, the crew packed up on a fellow islander’s toot-around boat, lovingly named the Chub Tub and headed over to picnic and snorkel on Bird Cay.
Again, Steve had us armed with spears in case we spotted anything swimming around that could be equally tasty for dinner. That day, spearfishing in the Berries, however, left me with a lasting, albeit frightening memory. Who here is familiar with lionfish?
Along the Gulf coast, there has been a big push in the last 5-10 years encouraging fishermen to hunt and kill as many lionfish as possible, as they are invasive, unnatural predators in our Gulf waters. Sadly, lionfish are carnivorous with no known predators and the ability to reproduce all year long. As such, they stand as a deadly threat to native stocks such as snapper and grouper as well as algae-eating parrotfish. So, when the crew spotted a lionfish during one of our beach picnic outings, Steve was the first to hand me a spear. Any enemy of the mesmerizing ecosystem in the Bahamas is an enemy of mine, so I did not hesitate.
I dove down to where two lionfish had been spotted, just a few feet under water, hiding among some rocks and coral. I was nervous but excited as I drew back my spear, aiming directly for the body. Then the worst thing happened. I speared the first lionfish clean through on the first shot without issue.
Why is that the worst thing to have happened? Because it made me undeservedly confident. Then another terrible thing happened. I shot the second lionfish clean through. The crowd was going wild!
Then a terrible thing happened. A third was spotted and I went after him with reckless abandon, feeling like the true lion tamer I thought I was. If my head could have fit inside of his open mouth I would have stuck it in there just to hear the roar from the crowd. I was undefeatable! I was a champion! I was … delusional.
With my spear cocked and aimed at the third lionfish, I let it go and watched it pierce into the rocks around the lionfish. He wriggled and retreated but he was not speared. I followed down further, got closer, cocked and aimed but missed again and when I did, on the verge of my ability to hold my breath, that’s when my scariest moment underwater occurred.
As soon as the spear left my hand and struck the rock, that lionfish burst out of his hole, with all quills fully fanned out and he started steaming toward me.
It was just for a second before he turned back around, but I think my heart stopped. I know I pissed my bikini. I sucked in a mouthful of water and breached the surface hacking and coughing and flailing as fast as I could away from those rocks, envisioning an army of lionfish chasing me. Although I was, again, a wildly-entertaining flailing Annie mess, this time was far more frightening than the lobster-face encounter. I’m pretty sure all lobsters can do is pinch and snip you. But, the thought of being poisoned underwater? No thank you. The thought of instant paralysis and sinking earned that frightening fish the win for the day. Although I was brave enough to go back to get my spear, I couldn’t see that bastard lionfish anymore when I did and I’m not sure I would have aimed at him again … that day anyway. For the time being, he will be, for me, the one that got away. But, I was thankful for those I was able to spear. And, that I had at least killed two of those terrible predators.
Take that Lionfish 1 and Lionfish 2. As for you, Lionfish 3. I hope we meet again someday beneath the deep sea.