Monday, August 23, 2004

(Snorkeling and Speedboats)

Grand Cayman today, and because of how we have been trading around it was my turn again to go ashore even though I had been on the last cruise. The shore excursion manager had a few empty spots in a fairly new tour that included taking out your own boat and going snorkeling.

The tour started with a short lesson on how to drive the rigid-bottom inflatable boats. Each couple (or person, in my case) was given their own boat with a 25hp engine, a front seat with an actual steering wheel and controls, and a double back seat. We were to all follow the leader, with another guide bringing up the rear. It gave everyone the chance to feel like they were in control, but in a very controlled way.

We first drove out to look at the water. We were supposed to go to an island first, but they deemed the water to the island to be too rough. I don't know whether this was the case (it looked about as calm as I have ever seen the ocean), or if they were being lazy. However, we headed to the second site, which was to be our first snorkel site. It turns out that the underwater visibility was very poor there, so we headed back toward this ships to go to the two backup sites. In this shot you can see the submarine, the cruise ship, and the pirate cruise tour all right here, as well as some other people snorkeling.

Something that I REALLY liked about this tour over the other snorkel tours that I have taken is that they not only had a MUCH better snorkel, but that they actually gave us fins. I realize this would normally be taken for granted, but nearly every tour that I have taken since being with Carnival is devoid of fins. It is nearly impossible to get very far down in the water without them, which is likely the point.

Our first stop was Cheeseburger Reef. There were lots of people snorkeling in the area, and I could see why. It is called (I assume) Cheeseburger Reef because the coral looks a lot like ground beef. Of course, the main point of being here was to see all of the fish. Once again, I will apologize for the quality of the disposable underwater camera, one day when I grow up and get big I'd like an underwater digital camera. I tried a different camera this time, and I liked AND disliked it. It had a flash, which was nice. I also happened to notice that it comes apart easily, and does NOT have a disposable camera inside. It turns out that this is sold as a disposable, but is basically the cheapest non-disposable underwater camera in the world (only a dollar more than the non-flash disposable). Inside the watertight case is a VERY cheap reusable camera, so from now on I am going to keep reloading it with 35mm film rather than buying the much more expensive disposables. I would also like, at this point, to thank the guy in the photo lab, who graciously develops my film and puts in on my CD's for me. He does it for free, because the lab on this ship isn't set up for it, and there is no pricing table for it (and I have helped them out with their computers quite a bit).

What I didn't like about the camera (and you will see this extensively in these pictures) was the flip-up viewfinder. There is a normal one, but they (rightly) assumed that you wouldn't be able to hold it up to your eye when underwater and wearing a mask. So, they have a larger, flip-up sighting device to use when wearing a mask. Unfortunately, it isn't quite sized right, and tends to aim the camera WAY too high. The result is that the pictures are taken from too far away, and the subject is at the VERY bottom of the frame (and often partially off the bottom). It isn't a big deal, as I can adjust for it the next time I use it, but it DID mess up a number of pictures.

Some of my favorite fish (I think that I have mentioned before), largely because they are black, are these. It is hard to tell in the picture, but they are VERY black with a brilliant blue edge. There were also lots of striped fish, as well as some very large fish that I never quite caught on film. Even though he warned us profusely that they are harmless and NOT sharks, last week a woman on the tour freaked out, jumped out of the water and yelled "Shark!," much to the consternation of the guides who had warned her.

We piled back onto our respective boats (not exactly an easy feat for many of the people, as there aren't any ladders to get into them) and headed for our final stop. It looked like we were heading right to the pier where we get off the tenders, but it was just to the right of them and only about 40 yards from the shore. A large number of years back, a sail freighter decided that they could make better time by putting a diesel engine in their boat. They weren't very good at it at the time, and one night during a storm the engine vibrated enough to put a hole in the boat. They were able to make it to Grand Cayman, where a boat tugged them to an area close to the pier with the assumption that they would fix the hull. Unfortunately, the water got into the cargo hold. This wouldn't have been a big issue (other than wet cargo) if the particular shipment this trip hadn't been rice.

Rice, as I am sure you are aware, expands a bit when it gets wet. Normally it would have just blown in a rather spectacular fashion through the hatch that they had loaded it with, but luck was not with them in this case. The weakened hull gave way instead, blowing an immense amount of rice out of the bottom of the boat, sinking it quickly. Since it was only in 20 feet of water, a significant amount of the boat stuck out, and was a hazard to boats coming to the pier for a great many years. Finally, the U.S. declared it a hazard and really wanted to blow something up anyway, and now it doesn't stick up anymore. Since blowing something up underwater doesn't exactly fling shrapnel everywhere like it does on land, the boat just kind of unfolded to lie flat, like unfolding a paper boat. I don't think that this was what I was shooting for in the picture, but it gives you an idea. It makes for a great diving spot, and I really wish that I had my gear with me for it.

However, it isn't too deep, and I was able to explore it for a while. Unfortunately, the camera cut off about half of the engine, which was absolutely gigantic (in the viewfinder, the engine filled the whole frame and the swimmers weren't in the picture). The boat was really large, so it took a while to swim from the engine to the bow, where there was a HUGE winch (presumably to pull up the anchor) and a pile of chain that probably covered the anchor. It doesn't look that big, but here is a picture of me near it. You'll have to take my word that it is me. :)

We buzzed around a bit more, then took the boats back and thanked the Aussie guide (I don't know how he ended up in Grand Cayman). I had a number more pictures, but most were disappointingly cut off, and didn't display what I wanted. :(

The next day was Jamaica, which was James's turn to go in. Unfortunately for him, we ended up having a boat drill. You can see all of the self-inflatable life rafts (in the white barrels). While up there, I got a nice picture of another ship's life boat out for a spin, as well as the "Cool Runnings" catamaran that I had taken a few weeks before to the falls. Perhaps "ool Runnings" would be more appropriate in this case . . .

I have just finished Notes From a Small Island, another book by Bill Bryson donated by the lovely Mrs. Farrington. It took me longer to read than the three others that I have read so far by him. I liked it, but not as much, and it didn't tend to be as hard to put down. It basically about England, but more exactly it is about a 7-week journey around England that he took just before moving back to the U.S. He had lived there for 20 years, and wanted to kind of see it all before coming back. He really does a good job of showing just how small Great Britain is, and a lot of its culture. However, he really allowed his mood to affect his view of the surroundings, and often went to bed with a sour description of a certain place that he gave a glowing description of the next day. Granted, he admits to doing this, but it seems to give him a bit less credibility in his observations (while also making him decidedly more human). I am now reading I'm a Stranger Here Myself, which I am liking better. It is basically a bunch of small stories about re-acclimating himself to living in the States after a twenty-year hiatus. It isn't written the same way as his other books, as it is more a collection of articles that he wrote for an English paper every week. It not only chronicles a great number of differences between us and England, but it also is a great comparison of life here now with what he had left 20 years before. He is able to much more objectively look at our life through the eyes of someone from England while still understanding everything here very well. The look at the "new" U.S. isn't quite complete, as he is living in Hanover, New Hampshire. As anyone who knows anything about that area knows, it hasn't been overrun with the onslaught of modern advances as much as most of the rest of America.

Well, it is after 3 am, I have people from the office boarding at 6 am, and I have to publish this and go to the post office in the morning. Good night .  .  .