Snorkeling Tip Number 131: Learn How to Swim
Maroma Beach, Quintana Roo, Mexico – On a sunny day, the Caribbean would beckon. Visibility would be good to a hundred feet or more. The Palancar Reef, one of the world’s premier diving and snorkeling areas, is a short boat drive away. But today it’s pouring – tropical rain. Drenching rain. Thunder in the distance. Lightning strikes visible on the beach to the north. Rain pours through the thatched roof of the palapa.
“Okay, time to go,” says the captain. “Everybody with a purple wrist band follow me.” He leaves the palapa, wades through the running water, and heads for the boat. “And please take off your shoes before you get in the boat, okay?” More thunder.
We huddle below deck in a cramped, humid compartment not quite big enough for all of us. But we’re all in there. The captain sticks his head in. “We’re taking off now.”
At the dive location, we gather topside for “instructions” from the captain. “First, has anyone not snorkeled before?” Several people, amazingly, raise their hand. “This is a snorkel.” The captain is holding up one for everyone to see. The rest of the instructions take maybe twenty seconds. “Okay, who here cannot swim?” Again, amazingly, a couple of people raise their hands. “Okay, I’ll have a life ring with me in the water,” the captain says. “You two hold onto the ring. Okay, is everybody ready?” We begin jumping into the dark murky water.
Within minutes we’re strung out a hundred meters across the ocean and, because of the strong current, we’re also swimming for our lives. The captain dives down to show us a lobster. The closest snorkeler to him kicks his fins, creating a sand storm. Visibility: zero. More swimming for our lives. The current gets stronger. It’s wise to keep up with the captain, whose bright yellow flippers are about the only visible thing underwater. The two people who can’t swim are holding onto the life ring.
We swim (furiously) back to the dive boat. “Okay, let’s go to a second location.” The captain looks at me for reassurance that his idea is a good one. I nod toward a sister dive boat behind us, driving rain making her appear like a ghost ship in distress. She’s barely visible. Diesel fumes and smoke swamp our view as we pull away.
At the second location, more currents, more extreme swimming (forget snorkeling). Nobody cares about the fish or the lobster or the reef. Crackling thunder splits our ears as we surface momentarily. Again, we’re strung out across open water. The captain is yelling at the laggards. It’s time to reboard.