By seven-thirty our biobay tour group was ready to rumble.
Our fellow adventurers were, to say the least, a mixed bag. There was a chubby Canadian couple with three rambunctious young boys; a severely-sunburned quartet of Scandinavian seniors (how do you say “sunblock” in Swedish?); and a gay couple from Wisconsin whose age difference was so vast they gave the term “May-December relationship” a whole new meaning…
Our tour guide was drearily perky. Clad in a t-shirt that read “I Glow in the Dark,” she introduced herself as Cate with a “C” before regaling us with a host of arcane information about the history of the bio-bay, its current state of decline, and its shaky future.
After a stunningly long fifteen minutes one of the Canadian urchins raised his hand and asked, “But what makes the people glow?”
Everyone heaved a sigh of relief—this, after all, was the question we all wanted to ask (even those of us who had done a little reading beforehand and thought we knew the answer).
Cate paused. She cleared her throat. She shifted from foot to foot. Was it possible she didn’t know the answer?
“It’s magic!” she said at last.
But the little boy wasn’t about to fall for this. “No it’s not, it’s science,” he stated baldly.
Cate smiled lamely. “Of course it is!” she agreed.
“But what causes it?” continued the persistent little guy, who clearly had a future as a D.A.
Cate looked blank.
“Bioflagellates,” one of her male colleagues exclaimed, rushing in from the sidelines. “When you disturb them, they glow.” He shot Cate’s persecutor a stern look. “Kind of like when someone disturbs you and you start crying.”
“I do not,” the little boy sulked.
Clearly it was going to be that kind of night.
After our less than inspiring orientation, we were loaded into a yellow school bus that appeared to have migrated south from Mayberry RFD around 1960.
It was pleasant enough cruising through Esperanza in this antique conveyance but when we hit the deeply potholed road leading to the beach the ride was slightly less relaxing (think permanent disability).
Once we arrived at our destination we were herded over shallow dunes to a pontoon boat moored in a shallow, murky bay. It was a moonless night (one of the chief criteria for optimum viewing of bioluminescence is a lack of light), which made progress difficult over the uneven terrain. But soon we were all safely on board.
The first of the evening’s many spontaneous whoops of delight erupted from the passengers when the boat gurgled out into the water, agitating millions of tiny flagellates into states of frenzied luminescence. The boat’s wake glowed like neon.
Yes, it was pretty cool.
Although I’ve spent a good part of my life on islands and am perpetually mesmerized by the sight of the ocean, I’ve never been terribly keen on actually getting into the water. On a childhood visit to Daytona Beach a crab bit my toe, which first gave me doubts about aquatic immersion. A few years later I saw Jaws, which sealed the bargain.
Ten years ago, during a visit to Key West, Michael signed us up for a clothing-optional snorkeling cruise. I was fine with the “clothing optional” part, but the prospect of snorkeling left me cold. However, I agreed to go, and at first everything seemed fine.
The boat was beautiful, the captain was appropriately jolly, and the passengers who actually took off their clothes looked fine in their birthday suits.
But it was February, and although we were in Key West, it was an unusually chilly month and the water was downright cold. Nonetheless, every last person donned flippers and a mask and leapt into the water with gay (yes, I said it) abandon—except the captain and me.
“Too chilly for these old bones,” was his excuse. And when I offered no excuse at all he said, “Let’s play cards.”
While Michael and his fellow snorkelers thrashed around in the choppy waves the captain taught me to play two-handed solitaire, which got us through the better part of the afternoon.
I still have a photo of me, taken after Michael had hauled himself back onto the boat and thawed out for a few minutes in the sun, with the captain’s pet bird perched atop my head.
I still play two-handed solitaire when I can convince Michael to join me.
Which isn’t often.
[Stay tuned…I’ll tell you the outcome of our biobay experience tomorrow!]